Unhinged Page 60

I know I need to think beyond this world, to what this means for Wonderland. Red is one step ahead of me. She’s seen five of my six mosaics. I can only hope she wasn’t able to interpret them, because they show the results of a war that is only just starting to play out. She wants to alter the ending to her benefit, and I need to find the last mosaic so I can be a step ahead.

But she’s got Jeb.

I hold his locket to my lips to taste the metal, burying my face behind a curtain of hair. Our plans for London, our life together. His chance at being a world-renowned artist … it can’t be gone.

If it is, I don’t know how to go forward.

The door slams shut, making me jump. I shove my hair back and look up.

I nearly scream when I see Jeb standing there. I’m off the floor in an instant. He’s wearing his black jeans from yesterday, but that’s all. Even his feet are bare. Sunlight shimmers on the dusting of chest hair between his pecs. His olive skin glistens with sweat, and colorful paint smudges his torso, covering several of his scars. There’s not a hint of magic to him, yet he’s the most spellbinding thing I’ve ever seen.

I’m about to tackle-hug him, but my netherling senses give me pause. Something’s not right. He hasn’t acknowledged me.

A dusty white rabbit wiggles in his arms, wrapped up in the long-sleeved T Jeb had been wearing under his polo. Judging by the grass tangled in Jeb’s hair, he’s been outside chasing the animal. He’s so intent on his catch, he doesn’t notice anything else.

“Jeb?”

“I need more paint,” he says, but the words aren’t directed to me. “She didn’t leave enough.” His voice is rough, like it hurts him to talk. He rubs the rabbit’s ears, seemingly oblivious to the way it’s struggling to get free … to how it’s wriggled out of the shirt he had wrapped around it and is leaving bloody scratches on his chest and arm. “I’ve got to have more. To prove that I’m an artist.”

Everything about this is wrong. The way he’s talking, the way he’s moving.

I step closer, cautious. He’s in a trance of some kind.

I notice his mouth, the unnatural color of his lips: dark purple.

I look around for Chessie. He’s hovering up by the skylights, watching Jeb with wide, curious eyes.

Jeb holds the rabbit in front of his face, one hand braced around its neck. “It’ll be so fast, you won’t feel a thing.”

I react without thinking. “Jeb, stop!”

My scream startles the rabbit. Its back claws thrust and leave a welt on Jeb’s chin. Cursing, he drops the animal, and it hops by me. I dive out of the way as Jeb races after it, pounding the floor with his bare soles. He skids into the easels and knocks them over. The glass panes fall and bust into glittery shards.

It’s a strangely familiar scene. Jeb is so determined, so focused. I was where he is once, chasing a mouse across a table that was set for tea, driven by an unquenchable appetite. There are so many different kinds of hunger. Mine was for food and experiences I had never lived. Jeb’s is for his art, and to prove he’s the best.

He manages to regain his balance, pursuing the rabbit as it darts from one side of the room to the other, so relentless he doesn’t realize he’s about to run through the glass and gouge his feet.

“Jebediah Holt!” I’ve never used his whole name before. It feels dry and unnatural on my tongue, as if I’ve been licking cotton. He cocks his head and slows down enough for me to lunge at him. His shoulders hit the wall. I crash into his chest, and we both grunt with the impact.

“Al?” He cups my face tenderly, trying to come back, though still far away. “I’m so …”

“Hungry,” I offer, smelling the same familiar fruity, sweet scent that first hit me when I came in the door. That’s what was in the decanter on the loft’s floor. Jeb’s been drinking Tumtum juice. Red used it to channel his desire to prove himself into a gluttonous frenzy of artistic passion. That’s why he painted all night nonstop and never called, texted, or went home.

Only one thing can cure him of the effects of the juice, and that’s to eat a handful of Tumtum berries whole. “Chessie,” I say, holding my voice from trembling, “Tumtum berries. Try the minifridge.”

Chessie zooms up to the loft but comes back in a few seconds, empty-handed.

The rabbit bounds by, gracefully hopping across the glass without cutting itself. I fall on my butt as Jeb pushes me aside and heads straight through the shards. I can’t get up fast enough to stop him.

I concentrate on the glass on the floor, magnetizing it so it clumps together like a crocodile’s scaly tail. It sways out of the way each time Jeb’s soles come near it. With the path cleared, Jeb gains on the rabbit.

The prey hops toward the door. I scramble up and get there first, just in time to throw it open and let the frightened animal escape. I slam the door shut and press my lower back against the doorknob, blocking Jeb from following his would-be blood donor.

“Get out of the way.” Jeb’s voice is raw. His eyes lock on mine, but he can’t seem to focus. It’s like he’s looking through me. His jaw twitches and he grinds his teeth.

“Chessie!” I screech. “Berries!”

Chessie buzzes to the bathroom and disappears into a half-opened drawer. The wood rattles as he winds his way through the contents and into the next drawer. Only forty-eight more to go.

Jeb grips my arms, fingernails gouging my tender skin through my sleeves, muscles straining as he tries to move me away from the entrance. He’s always been able to lift me as if I weigh nothing, but this time, I imagine the doorknob behind me being a fist and envision its fingers uncurling, just like the doorknob that morphed into an old man’s hand in my Shop of Human Eccentricities memory. Cold metal spikes cinch and curve tight around the waist of my jeans, holding me in place.

Jeb strains harder, frustrated.

Desperate to bring him back, I tug him down and kiss him, gentle and coaxing.

Come back to me, my lips say.

He clamps his mouth shut and keeps struggling to move me aside. There’s a small ripping sound as the metal fingers at my waistband start to lose leverage. I grip Jeb’s bare shoulders, dragging his body close so there’s no space between us. His torso presses mine, and I kiss his throat. Even through my layered shirts, the unnatural heat of his skin scorches me.

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