Splintered Page 40

Slivers of my past play out like movies across the black screen of his wings. I’m a newborn, lying in my crib. A soft satin blanket swaddles me—red with white-ribbon trim. My window is open, and a summer breeze whispers under eyelet curtains, swaying the mobile over my head. Rocking horses and ballerinas dance above me.

It’s the song that woke me. Not the mobile’s music but his. The moon shines, and he’s there, a moth silhouette hanging on the outside of my screen. His deep voice drifts in, cooing and gentle:

“Little blossom in white and red, resting now your tiny head; grow and thrive, be strong and keen, for you will one day—”

Before I can summon the verse’s end, I’m thrust into another memory. This one’s hazy, as if I’m looking through smudged glass. I realize it’s because I’m dreaming. I’m a toddler, not more than three, walking with a six-year-old Morpheus along a black, shining beach. His small wings curl over us for shade. I hold his hand, awed by the glistening spectacle in front of us: a tree made of jewels. Morpheus crouches to point out the maze on the tree’s base, then rolls up his lacy sleeve cuff to reveal a matching mark on his forearm. I turn my ankle, making the connection. He helps me press my birthmark against the trunk. As the doorway opens, he jumps to his feet and dances around. “We have the keys! We have the keys!” his small voice exclaims in childlike glee. I giggle, bouncing along behind him.

Then I’m back in my house two years later. It’s Saturday morning, and I’m drawn to the screen door by Morpheus’s lullaby—now as familiar as the pink-rose linens upon my daybed. The scent of a spring storm breathes through the mesh. He waits in moth form on the other side. It’s our routine: I play with him, my childhood friend, throughout my dreams at night—exploring our enchanted world in the glimpses he gives me—then I see him in intervals throughout the day as the insect. Lightning blinks, and I shiver at the door, fearing the storm. But his teachings are already embedded within my head, coming alive in a fluttery sensation of confidence that pushes me to find a way out. Soon I’m dancing with my moth in our garden. Mommy sees. Rushing outside, she carries long, sharp scissors and snips at flower petals while screaming, “Off with your head!” When I realize what she’s really after, a strange discomfort stirs inside. I’ve seen how the petals tatter beneath the blades. I don’t want her to ruin my moth’s pretty wings. I throw my hands over the scissors to stop her. The moth escapes unscathed. But I’m not so lucky . . .

Coming out of the trance, I drop to the ground and clutch aching palms to my chest. The scars throb as if freshly cut. Morpheus bows over me, smoothing my hair. “I told you that you were special, Alyssa,” he murmurs, the weight of his palm strangely comforting on the top of my head. “No one else has ever bled for me. The loyalty of one child for another is immeasurable. You believed in me, shared new experiences with me, grew with me. That has earned you my sincerest devotion.”

At last, I understand. The other memory, the one I assumed was real all these years, was tinged by what my dad thought had happened. By what he witnessed when he glanced out from the kitchen window where he was making pancakes. He thought I was dancing behind Alison, when all the while I was trying to protect my friend.

Someone I thought was my friend. Does a friend fly away and leave you bleeding and heartbroken?

I’m wrung out. All the revelations jumble in my mind, too much to absorb. The trauma my body’s faced over the past several hours takes its toll. My bruises throb, and my limbs feel as heavy as stone.

Still on my knees, I droop against Morpheus’s thighs—a solid support. The cool leather of his pants cushions my cheek. I close my eyes. Yes . . . I’ve been here before, held safely against him.

At first, I think I’m imagining it when he bends over to scoop me into his arms. But when the scent of licorice and warm skin surrounds me, I know it’s real.

“You left,” I accuse him, fighting to stay awake. “I was hurt . . . and you left me.”

“A mistake I vow on my life-magic to never make again.” Even though he’s cradling me close, his response sounds far away. But distance doesn’t matter; he gave his word. I’ll be holding him to it.

My eyes squint open to see shadows fold over us. Or is it wings?

For an instant, concern for Jeb resurfaces in my mind; then I drift into a dark and dreamless sleep.



I’m warm . . . too warm. A blue haze blinks bright, then fades—like the sun refracting off waves. The flow of water trickles somewhere close, and even closer, there’s the rustle of clothes.


“Take it slow, luv.” Morpheus sits beside me—licorice-scented skin, wild blue hair, tattooed eyes with jewel-tipped points. I remember now. He carried me here from the mushroom lair. I woke up midflight before passing out from my fear of heights, then woke again for an instant as he tucked me in his bed.

The blue haze is actually sheets of falling water, drizzling from the elegant canopy attached to the bedframe. Liquidized curtains.

Morpheus’s wings slice through the waterfall, which curls back and leaves him dry. Each time he shifts, the watery curtain moves with him, as if some sort of invisible barrier stands between him and the downpour.

I try to sit up, but the pile of blankets is too heavy. Claustrophobia makes my heart pound.

“Morpheus?” My voice cracks, rough and gritty, as if I’ve been sucking down dry saltines. It must be from all the tears I swallowed in the ocean.

He lies beside me on the mattress, leaning on his elbow. His fingers weave through the strands of platinum hair splayed out on the pillow around my head. “You were crying in your sleep. Are you in pain?”

I nod, working my hand through the blankets to touch my throat. “Jeb,” I murmur.

Morpheus frowns. “Your friend’s safe and resting in the guest chambers. Which means you are mine for now.” He starts to pull the blankets back.

What felt like bindings a minute ago now feels like armor being peeled off. I’m not sure what I’m wearing underneath the covers, so I clamp the last remaining blanket in place at my collarbone.

Morpheus leans close. His hair brushes my exposed shoulder, tickling and soft. “Shy little blossom,” he whispers, his sweet breath cloaking me. “We’re simply going to meld your pain away.”

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