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She doesn’t bother to pick it up. Instead, her expression hardens. “No good-bye yet. First we’re going to talk.”
That flittering presence in my brain taunts me to fight back. A surge of adrenaline kick-starts my tongue. “Thanks, but I’d rather talk to a dung beetle.”
Taelor’s eyes widen, as if she’s surprised by the insult. I smile. It feels good having the upper hand for once.
She takes a few seconds to work up a comeback. “You talk to beetles, huh? Glad to know you’ll have someone to play with once Jeb’s gone. And don’t be thinking you can pull your wounded-friend crap to keep him from moving to London with me next month.”
“With you?” My upper hand just got amputated. I feel like I did when I fell skateboarding—like I have a miner’s cap spotlight on me.
“He hasn’t told you yet?” Taelor’s practically beaming. “I shouldn’t be surprised. He’s always so worried about your fragile state of mind.” She leans across the counter so her face is inches from mine. Her expensive perfume stings my nose. “I’m spending senior year at a prep school in London. I’ve been offered a modeling contract there. My dad’s renting Jeb a flat. It’s win-win all around. Jeb can make connections for his art through the people I’ll meet, and we can hang out at his place on the weekends. Cozy, right?”
My chest constricts.
She eases back. There’s panic behind her expression. Why? She’s annihilated my one chance to ever have Jeb’s friendship to myself again. She’s won everything.
“Wow, you really thought you had a chance, huh?” Taelor taunts. “Just because he asked you to pose for a few sketches, that doesn’t mean he’s hot for you.”
My jaw drops. Jeb’s never asked me to pose for anything. There were times he had his pencil and sketchbook out while we were together, but I never would’ve guessed he was drawing me.
“His art is all about death and tragedy, so of course he likes your mortician style. It’s not a compliment. Don’t delude yourself that it is.”
I’m too stunned to respond.
“We both care about him.” Her voice softens, and it’s apparent that for once she’s being sincere. “But do you care enough to let him do what’s best for him? He has way too much talent to get stuck babysitting you for the rest of his life like your poor dad. Don’t you think that would be a colossal tragedy?”
The urge to scratch out her eyes boils in my veins. “At least I have a dad who cares enough to be there.” The words shoot out like poison arrows. Her wounded expression makes me regret them instantly.
The doorbell chirps and the scent of espresso wafts in.
“Oh, fark.” Jen evil-eyes Taelor as the door slams behind her. “What are you doing here?” She stops next to me, setting down a croissant and a fruit smoothie.
Taelor clears her throat and her mask of nonchalance drops back into place. “Alyssa and I were just discussing London and why she won’t be welcome to stay with Jeb and me.” She snatches up her bag. “It stinks here in the land of the dead. I’m out.”
The minute she’s gone, Jenara turns to me. “One of these days, she’s going to slip up and show Jeb her ugly side.”
I pluck at the edge of my croissant. “She’s why he didn’t want me to go. He didn’t want me getting in the way of . . . them.”
Twisting her fishnet tights with a pen, Jen doesn’t answer.
“Why didn’t you tell me?”
Her eyes fill with regret. “I just found out about her going this morning. And I didn’t know how to tell you when you came in. You’ve got so much crap going on with your mom.”
Folding my Wonderland notes, I study the blank computer again. What does it matter that the website’s gone? Jeb doesn’t have my back anymore, and we’ll never have what we once did.
The sobs I’ve been smothering since my fight with Dad gather in my chest. They burst like a thousand acidic bubbles, silently eating away at my heart. But I refuse to cry.
“C’mon,” Jen nudges. “If anyone can convince him to give her up, it’s you. Tell him already. Tell him how you really feel.”
I think of Jeb’s amazing paintings. Of all the things he can be if given the opportunity. He doesn’t need any more emotional baggage to hold him back. And I’ve got enough to sink an oil tanker. Besides, I can’t bear to have him turn me down to my face. He’s already chosen Taelor over our friendship.
I tuck my notes into a skirt pocket. “Nothing to tell. I crushed on him when we were in sixth grade, so it doesn’t count.” She starts to say something, but I shut her down. “And you’re not spilling, either. Pinky swears are forever.”
A worried wrinkle appears on her forehead as she gathers her prom dress and makeup. “This isn’t over.”
“It is. Jeb’s made his choice.”
Shaking her head, she leaves.
The instant the door closes, I turn to The Crow. The emo guy stares back, his eyes bleeding black tears as if he knows my pain. I have the strangest longing to be in his arms—wrapped up in leather.
I’m waiting inside the rabbit hole, luv. Find me. His gaze burns the challenge into my soul like a brand.
Startled by our deepening connection, I step back and topple the pen holder with my elbow. A pencil rolls off the counter in front. I walk around to pick it up and am surprised to see Taelor’s purse on the floor. She was in such a hurry to leave, she forgot to get it.
I fight the urge to toss her things out into the street. Instead, I lift the purse’s straps to store it under the counter until she comes back. One half of the zipper gapes open, revealing a huge wad of cash.
Almost in a daze, I dig out the money, unrolling the lump of twenties and fifties. There’s over two-hundred-and-forty dollars. If I added it to my savings at home, I’d have enough for a one-way ticket to England with a little left over for a fake passport and expenses; then all I’d have left to do is find an address for the sundial.
It wouldn’t be the first time we owed the Tremonts a debt. In fifth grade, Dad took out a loan from Taelor’s father to help pay Alison’s medical bills. That was how Taelor learned about my ancestry to Alice Liddell in the first place.