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“No,” I say. It can’t be the same insect from the snapshot . . . the one from my childhood. Moths only live a few days. Never years.
“No what?” Jeb asks, oblivious to the moth, intent only on me. “Are you still going through with it?”
My pulse kicks up so loudly in my ears, it nearly drowns out Taelor’s ring tone on Jeb’s phone.
“You’d better leave.” I push him to standing and herd him toward the door.
“Wait,” Jeb says over his shoulder between reluctant footsteps. He turns to face me at the door. “I want to know what you’re doing tonight.”
I peer through the drizzle at the white limo in his driveway, considering one last time if I should tell him the truth. I’m going to London to find the rabbit hole. Even though I’m scared gutless of where it might lead, of who’s waiting inside for me. Of whatever I’m supposed to do once I’m there. I have to go.
But Taelor’s words from earlier rip the fantasy to shreds: “Jeb has way too much talent to get stuck babysitting . . .”
My stomach clenches and I say the hardest thing I’ve ever said. “You don’t have a say in anything I do. You ditched our friendship for Taelor. So stay out of it, Jeb.”
He steps backward onto the porch as if in a daze. “Out of what?” The pain in his voice rips me apart. “Stay out of your plan to hook up with some random loser, or stay out of your life?”
The limo honks and its headbeams cut through the wet haze. Before my resolve softens, I whisper, “Both.” Then I shut the door, turn, and collapse against it.
My spine digs into the heavy wood. Regret fills my already crowded heart, but I can’t let the pain stop me. The second the limo’s wheels grind away on the wet asphalt, I snatch my backpack from the living room. I’m ready to go looking for my past.
Once in the hallway, I hesitate, drawn to my mosaics hung on either side of the mirror. Something is wrong with the Winter’s Heartbeat piece. The silvery glass beads forming the tree throb with light, and the crickets in the background kick their legs in unison. Their wings rub together, making an eerie chirping sound.
Gasping, I squeeze my eyes closed until the chirps stop; then I look again.
The mosaic is normal—still and inanimate.
I groan and back away. A crackle shatters the silence in my room. I left the door ajar earlier, and soft blue light radiates from within. It has to be the moth’s body causing the glow. I ease inside, both relieved and disappointed that it’s just the bulb in the eels’ aquarium.
Heart pounding, I reach to flick on the main light switch.
Lightning strikes, shutting off the electricity, and everything goes black.
I’m squeezing the doorframe so hard, my fingernails eat into the wood. The sound of flapping wings darts from one side of the pitch-black room to the other. My pulse bashes and hammers. Every instinct tells me to run into the hallway, out the front door, to try to catch Jeb so he can protect me.
But I heard the limo leave. He’s already gone.
Something soft swoops by my face. I yelp. Stumbling forward, I skim my palms along the top of my dresser, find my flashlight, and click it on. Yellow light illuminates a painting Jeb once made for me, and jars of bug corpses.
The hairs on my neck stiffen as I move closer to my cheval mirror. The glass is cracked from top to bottom, like a hard-boiled, crystallized egg that’s been tapped all over with a spoon, waiting to be peeled.
What was it Alison said about broken glass? That it would sever my identity?
Jagged puzzle pieces make up my shattered reflection: hundreds of miniature plaid leggings peeking out between shin-high boots and red net petticoat at my thighs; thousands of bustiers draped over another thousand T-shirts. Then a hundred of my faces with ice-blue eyes standing out from smears of green liner.
And there, behind my many heads, fluttering black wings and a soft blue glow. I spin around and shine the flashlight, expecting to find the moth behind me.
When I turn back to the mirror, a scream lodges in my throat. A guy’s silhouette appears behind me in the reflection. The image is distorted and broken into countless pieces, all except his inky eyes and dark, shapely mouth. Those I see clearly. It’s the boy from my memories—all grown up.
INTO THE RABBIT HOLE
“Lovely Alyssa.” The guy’s lips purr that cockney accent I heard at the store. “ You can cure your family. Use the key to bring your treasures into my world. Fix Alice’s mistakes, and break the curse. Don’t stop until you find me.”
What does he mean, “Alice’s mistakes”? Something she did inside Wonderland caused all this to happen?
The weight of my backpack holds me steady as I stare at him, captivated. I’m afraid to turn around and see if he’s behind me, afraid the silhouette and beautiful voice are only figments of a frantic, failing mind.
“Are you real?” I whisper.
“Do I feel real?” he whispers back, his breath hot against the nape of my neck. A set of strong hands wraps around me from behind, causing every nerve to dance inside my body. I twist around. The flashlight’s glow sweeps the empty room, yet the pressure of knowing fingers still trails across my abdomen. Stunned with sensation, I let my hand follow his touch, from my navel to the band of my skirt. My knees give out. Somehow, I’m still standing, as if the phantom guy holds me up.
“Remember me, Alyssa.” A nose stirs the hair at the back of my head. “Remember us.” He starts to hum, a haunting melody. No words ride the music, only the familiar notes of a forgotten song.
The instant his humming ends, so does the embrace. I sway to catch my balance. Within the broken reflections, the moth has replaced him again. Somehow, the moth and the guy are tied together.
I should be terrified. I should be committed. But something about the netherling is sensual and exhilarating, more evocative than anything in my world has ever been.
I reach toward one of the moth’s reflections, aiming for a crack where it’s severed in two. My finger meets the glass, only instead of sharpness, it feels like sculpted metal. Repositioning the flashlight, I realize it’s not a crack in the glass at all . . . it’s a keyhole, tiny and intricate.
I dig out the key from under my shirt, fingers shaking as I take aim.
“Tut,” my dark guide scolds, though I can’t see him anywhere. “I’ve taught you better. You’re forgetting a step.”