Page 3

 A.G. Howard

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“When it’s done,” I mumble. What I really mean is, when I’m ready to let him watch me make one.
He has no memory of our trip to Wonderland, but he’s noticed the changes in me, including the key I wear around my neck and never take off, and the nodules along my shoulder blades that I attribute to a Liddell family oddity.
An understatement.
For a year, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to tell him the truth without him thinking I’m crazy. If anything can convince him we took a wild ride into Lewis Carroll’s imagination, then stepped backward in time to return as if we’d never left, it’s my blood-and-magic artwork. I just have to be brave enough to show him.
“When it’s done,” he says, repeating my cryptic answer. “Okay, then.” He gives his head a shake before tugging his helmet on. “Artists. So high maintenance.”
“Pot … kettle. While we’re on the subject, have you heard from your newest number one fan?”
Jeb’s gothic fairy art has been getting a lot of attention since he’s been going to art expos. He’s sold several pieces, the highest going for three thousand bucks. Recently he was contacted by a collector in Tuscany who saw his artwork online.
Jeb digs in his pocket and hands me a phone number. “These are her digits. I’m supposed to schedule a meeting so she can choose one of my pieces.”
Ivy Raven. I read the name silently. “Sounds fake, right?” I ask, straightening my backpack straps under his jacket. I almost wish she was made up. But I know better. According to some Web searching I’ve done, Ivy is a totally legit beautiful twenty-six-year-old heiress. A sophisticated, rich goddess … like all the women Jeb’s around lately. I hand the paper back, trying to stanch the insecurity that threatens to burn a hole in my heart.
“Doesn’t matter how fake she sounds,” Jeb says, “as long as the money is real. There’s a sweet flat in London I’ve been looking at. If I can sell her a piece, I’ll add it to what I’ve already saved and have enough to cover it.”
We still have to convince Dad to let me go. I refuse to voice my concern aloud. Jeb’s already feeling guilty about the tension between him and Dad. Sure, it was a mistake for Jeb to take me to get a tattoo behind my parents’ backs. But he didn’t do it to make them mad. He did it against his better judgment because I pressured him. Because I was trying to be rebellious and worldly, like the people he hangs out with now.
Jeb got a tattoo at the same time, on his inner right wrist—his painting hand. It’s the Latin words Vivat Musa, which roughly translates to “Long live the muse.” Mine is a miniature set of wings on my inner left ankle, camouflaging my netherling birthmark. I had the artist ink in the words Alis Volat Propriis, Latin for “She flies with her own wings.” It’s a reminder I control my darker side and not the other way around.
Jeb tucks the heiress’s number into his jeans pocket, seeming a thousand miles away.
“I bet she’s hoping you’re Team Cougar,” I say, half joking in an effort to bring him back to the present.
Making eye contact, Jeb works his arms into the sleeves of a flannel shirt he had flung across his Honda’s handlebars. “She’s only in her twenties. Not exactly cougar material.”
“Oh, thanks. There’s a comfort.”
His familiar teasing smile offers reassurance. “If it’ll make you feel better, you can go with me when I meet her.”
“Deal,” I say.
He climbs onto his motorcycle in front of me, and I no longer care if anyone sees us. I snuggle as close as possible, wrapping my arms and knees tightly around him, face nuzzled into the nape of his neck just beneath his helmet’s edge. His soft hair tickles my nose.
I’ve missed that tickle.
He slides on his shades and tilts his head so I can hear him as he starts the motor. “Let’s find somewhere to be alone for a while, before I take you home to get ready for our date.”
My blood thrums in anticipation. “What’d you have in mind?”
“A roll down memory lane,” he answers. And before I can even ask what that means, we’re on our way.
I’m glad Gizmo’s tire is out of commission, because there’s nothing like riding with Jeb on his bike.
Swaying back and forth, our movements synchronize with the curves of the streets. The slick gravel makes him cautious, and he weaves slowly around traffic so he can brake without skidding through intersections. But as soon as we reach the older side of town, where only one or two cars share the road and traffic lights are fewer and farther between, he gives the throttle some gas and we pick up speed.
The rain picks up, too. Jeb’s jacket shields my shirt and corset. Stray droplets lick my face. Pressing my left cheek to his back and tightening my arms around him, I shut my eyes to indulge in pure sensation: the roll of his muscles as he eases into turns, the scent of the drenched asphalt, and the sound of the motorcycle muffled by my helmet.
My hair whips around us as the wind presses in from every direction. It’s the closest I can come to flying in the human realm. The buds behind my shoulder blades itch as if wanting to sprout wings at the thought.
“You awake back there?” Jeb asks, and I notice we’re slowing down.
I open my eyes and prop my chin on his shoulder, letting his head and neck shield one side of me from the soft drizzle. His “roll down memory lane” comment makes sense as I recognize the movie theater, a frequent destination of ours during my sixth-grade year.
I haven’t seen it since it was condemned three years ago. The windows are boarded up and trash nestles at the corners and foundation as if taking refuge from the weather. The Texas winds have knocked the oval orange and blue neon sign from off its perch above the entrance; it’s hunched on its side like a shattered Easter egg. The letters no longer say EAST END THEATER. The only word still legible is END, which feels both poetic and sad.
This isn’t our destination. Jeb, Jenara, and I used to have our parents drop us at the movies, but the theater doubled as a decoy for kids who wanted to sneak a few hours free from adult supervision. We would gather at the giant storm drainage pipe on the other side of the lot, where a concrete incline dipped into a cement valley. Stretching some twenty yards, it formed an ideal bowl for skateboarding.
No one ever worried about flooding. The pipe was made to drain the excess from the lake on the other side—a lake that had been gradually shrinking for decades.