Unhinged Page 89

We unload the duffel bags on a wooden bench next to some lockers. Jeb unzips them to check our supplies while laying out his strategy.

“The soccer-ball nets are for the toys, since they can’t be killed. We’ll have to immobilize them to get them inside.” He drags out the walkie-talkies. After testing them, he tosses one to each of us. “We’ll separate into teams. Bug-guts and me, and then you ladies. Stay in contact with your partner via radio.”

The radio is no bigger than a cell phone, so I tuck it into my cleavage.

“The potted trees they’re using are huge,” Jeb continues. “Looks like an actual forest surrounds the dance floor. It’s going to be hard to keep watch through them.” He drags out the night-vision goggles and paintball guns, then looks up, frowning. “I said four sets of goggles.”

“Thomas only had one in stock,” Mom answers.

Jeb scowls. “Okay, we’ll make do. There are two boxes of new donations I haven’t checked yet. Our first priority is to look through those for threadbare toys. And if we don’t find anything, we guard the mirrors on the dance floor.”

“And if we do find something, O-Captain-my-Captain?” Morpheus asks, an acerbic edge to his voice.

Jeb loads one of the paintball guns and aims it at Morpheus’s chest. “Then I shoot the creeper, so we can track it under the black lights, trap it, and send it back to the hole it crawled out of, forever.”

Morpheus and Jeb stare each other down. The tension is palpable. I have no idea how they’re going to work together to get this done. For that matter, I have no idea how I’m going to get through this, knowing how badly I’ve already screwed up.

Mom steps between them and guides the gun’s barrel to the floor. She looks at the three of us, and I can see her putting together what’s happened in her mind. “Before any shooting starts, we’ll have to get the people out.”

Jeb’s intense gaze settles on Mom. I’ve never been so envious of her. “Right. We need to set off each sprinkler head so the whole place gets wet. They’re triggered when their glass globes break. Do you think you and Al can bust them with your magic? Set them all off and send everyone running? That’ll be the signal to clear and then barricade the place. Mothra can take care of the entrance while I short-circuit the elevator.”

Mom nods. “We can do that, right, Allie?” She watches me with a concerned tilt to her head, and I know she sees right through me.

“Sure,” I answer. Jeb’s plan is so well thought out, yet I haven’t managed a coherent thought since he left our house. Obviously our breakup hasn’t affected his productivity like it has mine.

We take the large elevator down. Jeb is in the far corner with the duffel bags, manning the button panel, and Morpheus stands between me and my mom. When we reach our stop, Jeb holds the Door Close button. He focuses on me for the first time tonight. My heart dances.

“Be careful,” he says, his voice deep and gravelly with emotion.

“You, too,” I murmur.

Morpheus’s wings sweep up, an obvious reminder of what happened between us earlier.

I frown as Jeb looks away and opens the doors, leading us out onto the main floor, ignoring me again. Snacks are being arranged in a corner next to a half dozen pool tables with felt surfaces so dark they’re almost invisible. Neon balls, pockets, and cue sticks tempt gamers to play.

At the buffet, a glowing blue concoction fizzes inside a punch bowl, and cupcakes with neon rosettes of icing cover the rest of the table. We tuck our supplies behind the hanging tablecloth, keeping them hidden but close for easy access.

It’s time to blend and search.

We fit right into the ultraviolet scene. The people milling around appear just as wild as Morpheus and me. Some of my classmates even have antennae and two sets of wings like dragonflies—made of wire, cheesecloth, and fluorescent spray paint.

The trees Jeb told us about really do look real, and they are at least three times the size of the ones we made in art class—fat trunks and long branches that stick up from the top like serpentine hair. They’ve been painted white and, against the black lights, add a phantasmal element.

I shiver.

Mom pulls me aside and leans close to my ear. “I know something’s going on with you and Jeb, but don’t get distracted. The only way to make it through this is to remove yourself from your emotions. Be cutthroat and cunning. Think like a netherling queen. Okay?”

I nod. She kisses my temple, leaving the scent of her perfume wafting over me as she splits off from our group to sign in at the chaperone table. Her dress and mask appear to float through the darkness, radiant pink swirling around a shadowy blue silhouette. The student volunteer at the table hands her a fluorescent name tag and complimentary tiara of cardboard, paint, and tinsel. She puts them in place, then walks to a box of donations a few feet away. She turns her back, and the radio in my bodice comes alive with her voice.

“I’ll check this one. Look for the other. Over.” Then there’s static, barely noticeable under the eighties monster ballad blaring out of the speakers above.

“We’re on it,” Jeb tells me from behind. “Get to the dance floor. You should find a spot now, before everyone else shows up.”

“Right,” I mumble.

Morpheus drags a velvet fingertip from my shoulder to my elbow as he passes. “Keep your head about you, Alyssa. I won’t stand for you losing it.” The Wonderland implication behind his words winds a knife through my gut. Then he’s off toward the miniature-golf course.

Jeb shifts his stance behind me, as if he’s leaving, but pauses as a crackle bursts through the overhead speakers, shutting off the music.

“Five minutes till we open the door!” a bubbly teenage girl says over the intercom. “Chaperones, man your stations, and student council members, make your way to the entrance to welcome our fairy-tale guests and take donations!”

Jeb and I wait for the crowd to thin out. I’m concerned that we haven’t found the spirit-filled toys yet. I’d hoped we could do this without Jenara and Corbin and the other students being present. I fidget, and my wing brushes Jeb’s abdomen, causing my face to flush.

He leans in, breath hot on my neck. “You got this, skater girl,” he whispers softly and touches my wing tip, sending warm shimmers through my whole body.

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