Unhinged Page 26

I glare at him. “I don’t have the mosaics.”

“Pardon?” Morpheus asks, the anger in his voice edging me closer to the wall. Paper towels slide under my feet. “I gave you one thing to do. One. You’ve no idea how important they are to our cause.”

Squaring my shoulders in determination, I shake my head. “Doesn’t matter. I’m not leaving yet anyway. So stop bullying me.”

“Bullying?” His true face appears, barely visible beneath Finley’s features. The jewels under his eyes flash, as if someone implanted multicolored fiber-optic lights beneath his skin. The dark markings they’re connected to are nothing but faint shadows, an echo of the brilliant weirdness that is Morpheus.

“There’s no need for me to bully. You are coming to Wonderland. Your heart, your soul—they’re already there. Try as you might, you will never be able to remove yourself from a world that beckons to your very blood. From a power that begs to be unleashed.”

I cringe, thinking of my bizarre dance with the clown minutes ago and my magical mishap last night with the willow branches.

“You will meet me after school,” he continues, “in the north parking lot. And bring your mosaics. After we decipher them, we’ll decide our next step. No more excuses. You belong to Wonderland now.”

I lift my chin. “I belong to myself, and I’m not leaving until I’m ready.”

Morpheus scowls, and the hint of jewels blinks a brassy orange—daring and impatient. He studies Jeb’s necklace. “You belong to yourself, aye? You expect me to believe this isn’t about your human toy?”

“No, this is about the Shop of Human Eccentricities.”

His smudged eyes narrow, lit by a glint of interest. “You had a memory, did you?”

“As if you’re surprised. You triggered it.”

“Ah,” he says and pulls back with a dreamy look on his face, neither denying nor confirming my observation. “Those were good times. Mutants, butterfly wings, and tulgey shelves.”

I shoot him an irritated glare. “That’s just it. What do tulgey shelves have to do with anything? Why that memory?”

He shakes his head. “Why are you asking me? Your subconscious was the one that chose to remember it. Perhaps it had less to do with the shelves than how you were triumphant against them. Hmm?”

“Stop dancing around my questions. I want to know … since when is being only half of something the best of anything?”

His mouth purses. “Being a full-blood netherling does make Red superior,” he agrees, and I suppress a flush of annoyance at his egotism. “But weaknesses can also be advantages in the right hands. Pure netherlings can only use what is in front of us, as it is. Queen Red can animate loose vines, chains, other things. But you can create life out of the lifeless by making something entirely different. As a human child, innocent and filled with fancies, you learned to use your imagination. That’s something we don’t experience.”

My head’s spinning, trying to absorb his explanation. It fits perfectly with what just happened … how I crafted marionette strings out of water stains to trap the toy clown. Also, the metal butterflies I formed in my memory. “I’ve never understood that. Why netherlings don’t have typical childhoods.” My statement is more rhetorical than anything. I know better than to expect an explanation.

Morpheus’s dark eyes deepen with a wistfulness I’ve never seen before. “Perhaps that’s a discussion we’ll have one day. For now, just know that I have faith you can meet Red head-on and win. When have I ever put you in a situation that you couldn’t handle?”

I open my mouth to start a list, but he shushes me with a fingertip on my lower lip. My jaw clamps tight as I consider whether it would be worth it to bite him. The one thing that stops me is I’m pretty sure he would like it.

“You always come through victorious,” he insists. “With panache.”

“No thanks to you,” I grumble.

He clicks his tongue. “Stop being cranky. You know what that does to me. Makes it impossible to concentrate.” He holds my gaze just long enough for me to see the faint sparkle of fuchsia under his eyes. The color of affection. “The biggest disadvantage to your human side is that you’re a slave to your mortal affections and inhibitions. That’s what we need to work on before we’re off to Wonderland.”

My guard goes up—a knee-jerk reaction. “And how do you plan to work on it?”

“Let me worry about the logistics.”

At that moment, the bathroom door swings open.

Morpheus draws me close, hands on my waist. I struggle to pull away, but it’s too late. Although the light shining from the hall is blinding, I can make out a girl’s silhouette and blond hair.

“M?” Taelor’s voice breaks the silence. “Why did you want me to meet you here—” She steps into the dimness, a look of shock on her face as she recognizes me.

Morpheus’s lips turn upward in a smile of pure satisfaction.

Blood rushes to my face.

He set me up.

Just before I break free he manages to kiss my forehead.

I wipe it away with the back of my hand. A furious scream burns inside my chest, but I stifle it. All I need is to draw a bigger audience. Morpheus would love that.

“I hate you,” I mouth silently.

“Sorry, beautiful,” Morpheus says to Taelor without breaking our gaze. “Alyssa followed me in. We had some reacquainting to do.”

Taelor’s mouth gapes. Shock and hatred flash in her brown eyes.

I grab my backpack and shove past, pausing in the hallway to face her. “It’s not what you think.”

Her mouth finally closes enough to form a sullen smirk. “It never is with you, is it? You have Jeb so fooled. Perfect, innocent little skater girl.” There’s so much poison dripping from her words that I could swear she’s been soaking her tongue in arsenic.

Morpheus looms behind her—a silhouette of wings and bravado only I can see. He offers a half bow, the master puppeteer acknowledging his puppet. Taelor’s been waiting for a year to get back at me for stealing her boyfriend, and Morpheus has found the perfect way to ensure nothing interferes with his plans to make a martyr of me.

My chest burns. I have no way to convince Taelor of my innocence, so I start for the stairs and concentrate on the forward momentum of each foot, blocking out their conversation. I don’t have to hear to know that Taelor is grilling Morpheus for details about how well “acquainted” we are. He couldn’t have found a better unwitting accomplice, or one with a bigger mouth.

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