Page 10


"I don't get it," Luce said. "What do we do?"

"Scrub-a-dub-dub," Arriane said, almost singing. "I like to pretend I'm giving them a little bath." With that, she scrambled up the giant angel, swinging her legs over the statue's thunderbolt-thwarting arm, as if the whole thing were a sturdy old oak tree for her to climb.

Terrified of looking like she was asking for more trouble from Ms. Tross, Luce starting working her rake across the base of the statue. She tried to clear away what seemed like an endless pile of damp leaves.

Three minutes later, her arms were killing her. She definitely hadn't dressed for this kind of muddy manual labor.

Luce had never been sent to detention at Dover, but from what she'd overheard, it consisted of filling a piece of paper with "I will not plagiarize off the Internet" a few hundred times.

This was brutal. Especially when all she'd really done was accidentally bump into Molly in the lunchroom. She was trying not to make snap judgments here, but clearing mud from the graves of people who'd been dead over a century? Luce totally hated her life right now.

Then a tease of sunlight finally filtered through the trees, and suddenly there was color in the graveyard. Luce felt instantly lighter. She could see more than ten feet in front of her. She could see Daniel ... working side by side with Molly.

Luce's heart sank. The airy feeling disappeared.

She looked at Arriane, who shot her a this-blows sympathy glance but kept working.

"Hey," Luce whispered loudly.

Arriane put a finger to her lips but motioned for Luce to climb up next to her.

With much less grace and agility, Luce grabbed the statue's arm and swung herself up onto the plinth. Once she was fairly certain that she wasn't going to tumble to the ground, she whispered, "So ... Daniel's friends with Molly?"

Arriane snorted. "No way, they totally hate each other," she said quickly, then paused. "Why d'you ask?"

Luce pointed at the two of them, doing no work whatsoever to clear brush from their tomb. They were standing close to each other, leaning on their rakes and having a conversation that Luce desperately wished she could hear.

"They look like friends to me."

"It's detention," Arriane said flatly. "You have to pair up. Do you think Roland and Chester the Molester are friends?" She pointed at Roland and Cam. They seemed to be arguing about the best way to pvy up their work on the lovers' statue. "Detention buddies does not equal real-life buddies."

Arriane looked back at Luce, who could feel her face falling, despite her best efforts to appear unfazed.

"Look, Luce, I didn't mean ..." She trailed off. "Okay, aside from the fact that you made me waste a good twenty minutes of my morning, I have no problem with you. In fact, I think you're sort of interesting. Kinda fresh. That said, I don't know what you were expecting in terms of mushy-gushy friendship here at Sword & Cross. But let me be the first to tell you, it just ain't that easy. People are here because they've got baggage. I'm talking curbside-check-in, pay-the-fine-'cause-it's-over-fifty-pounds kind of baggage. Get it?"

Luce shrugged, feeling embarrassed. "It was just a question."

Arriane snickered. "Are you always so defensive? What the hell did you do to get in here, anyway?"

Luce didn't feel like talking about it. Maybe Arriane was right, she'd be better off not trying to make friends. She hopped down and went back to attacking the moss at the base of the statue.

Unfortunately, Arriane was intrigued. She hopped down, too, and brought her rake down on top of Luce's to pin it in place.

"Ooh, tell me tell me tell me," she taunted.

Arriane's face was so close to Luce's. It reminded Luce of yesterday, crouching over Arriane after she'd convulsed. They'd had a moment, hadn't they? And part of Luce badly wanted to be able to talk to someone. It had been such a long, stifling summer with her parents. She sighed, resting her forehead on the handle of her rake.

A salty, nervous taste filled her mouth, but she couldn't swallow it away. The last time she'd gone into these details, it had been because of a court order. She would just as soon have forgotten them, but the longer Arriane stared her down, the clearer the words grew, and the closer they came to the tip of her tongue.

"I was with a friend one night," she started to explain, taking a long, deep breath. "And something terrible happened." She closed her eyes, praying that the scene wouldn't play out in a burst under the red-black of her eyelids. "There was a fire. I made it out ... and he didn't."

Arriane yawned, much less horrified by the story than Luce was.

"Anyway," Luce went on, "afterwards, I couldn't remember the details, how it happened. What I could remember - what I told the judge, anyway - I guess they thought I was crazy." She tried to smile, but it felt forced.

To Luce's surprise, Arriane squeezed her shoulder. And for a second, her face looked really sincere. Then it changed back into its smirk.

"We're all so misunderstood, aren't we?" She poked Luce in the gut with her finger. "You know, Roland and I were just talking about how we don't have any pyromaniac friends. And everyone knows you need a good pyro to pull off any reform school prank worth the effort." She was scheming already. "Roland thought maybe that other new kid, Todd, but I'd rather cast my lot with you. We should all collaborate sometime."

Luce swallowed hard. She wasn't a pyro. But she was done talking about her past; she didn't even feel like defending herself.

"Ooh, wait until Roland hears," Arriane said, throwing down her rake. "You're like our dream come true."

Luce opened her mouth to protest, but Arriane had already taken off. Perfect, Luce thought, listening to the sound of Arriane's shoes squishing through the mud. Now it was only a matter of minutes before word traveled around the cemetery to Daniel.

Alone again, she looked up at the statue. Even though she'd already cleared a huge pile of moss and mulch, the angel looked dirtier than ever. The whole project felt so pointless. She doubted anyone ever came to visit this place anyway. She also doubted that any of the other detainees were still working.

Her eye just happened to fall on Daniel, who was working. He was very diligently using a wire brush to scrub some mold off the bronze inscription on a tomb. He'd even pushed up the sleeves of his sweater, and Luce could see his muscles straining as he went at it. She sighed, and - she couldn't help it - leaned her elbow against the stone angel to watch him.

He's always been such a hard worker.

Luce quickly shook her head. Where had that come from? She had no idea what it meant. And yet, she'd been the one who'd thought it. It was the kind of phrase that sometimes formed in her mind just before she drifted into sleep. Senseless babble she could never assign to anything outside her dreams. But here she was, wide-awake.

She needed to get a handle on this Daniel thing. She'd known him for one day, and already, she could feel herself slipping into a very strange and unfamiliar place.

"Probably best to stay away from him," a cold voice behind her said.

Luce whipped around to find Molly, in the same pose she'd found her in yesterday: hands on her hips, pierced nostrils flaring. Penn had told her that Sword & Cross's surprising ruling that allowed facial piercings came from the headmaster's own reluctance to remove the diamond stud in his ear.

"Who?" she asked Molly, knowing she sounded stupid.

Molly rolled her eyes. "Just trust me when I tell you that falling for Daniel would be a very, very bad idea."

Before Luce could answer, Molly was gone. But Daniel - it was almost as if he'd heard his name - was looking straight at her. Then walking straight at her.

She knew the sun had gone behind a cloud. If she could break his stare, she could look up and see it for herself. But she couldn't look up, she couldn't look away, and for some reason, she had to squint to see him. Almost like Daniel was creating his own light, like he was blinding her. A hollow ringing noise filled up her ears, and her knees began to tremble.

She wanted to pick up her rake and pretend she didn't see him coming. But it was too late to play it cool.

"What'd she say to you?" he asked.

"Um," she hedged, racking her brain for a sensible lie. Finding nothing. She cracked her knuckles.

Daniel cupped his hand over hers. "I hate it when you do that."

Luce jerked away instinctively. His hand on hers had been so fleeting, yet she felt her face flush. He meant it was a pet peeve of his, that knuckle cracking from anyone would bother him, right? Because to say that he hated it when she did that implied that he'd seen her do it before. And he couldn't have. He barely knew her.

Then why did this feel like a fight they'd had before?

"Molly told me to stay away from you," she said finally.

Daniel tilted his head from side to side, seeming to consider this. "She's probably right."

Luce shivered. A shadow drifted over them, darkening the angel's face just long enough for Luce to worry. She closed her eyes and tried to breathe, praying Daniel couldn't tell anything was strange.

But the panic was rising inside her. She wanted to run. She couldn't run. What if she got lost in the cemetery?

Daniel followed her gaze toward the sky. "What is it?"

"Nothing."

"So are you going to do it?" he asked, crossing his arms over his chest, a dare.

"What?" she said. Pun?

Daniel took a step toward her. He was now less than a foot away. She held her breath. She kept her body completely still. She waited.

"Are you going to stay away from me?"

It almost sounded like he was flirting.

But Luce was completely out of sorts. Her brow was damp with sweat, and she squeezed her temples between two fingers, trying to regain possession of her body, trying to take it back from his control. She was totally unprepared to flirt back. That was, if what he was doing was actually flirting.

She took a step back. "I guess so."

"Didn't hear you," he whispered, cocking an eyebrow and taking another step closer.

Luce backed up again, farther this time. She practically slammed into the base of the statue, and could feel the gritty stone foot of the angel scraping her back. A second, darker, colder shadow whooshed over them. She could have sworn Daniel shivered along with her.

And then the deep groan of something heavy startled them both. Luce gasped as the top of the marble statue teetered over them, like a tree branch swaying in the breeze. For a second, it seemed to hover in the air.

Luce and Daniel stood staring at the angel. Both of them knew it was on its way down. The angel's head bowed slowly toward them, like it was praying - and then the whole statue picked up speed as it started hurtling down. Luce felt Daniel's hand wrap around her waist instantly, tightly, like he knew exactly where she began and where she ended. His other hand covered her head and forced her down just as the statue toppled over them. Right where they'd been standing. It landed with a massive crash - headfirst in the mud, with its feet still resting on the plinth, leaving a little triangle underneath, where Daniel and Luce crouched.

They were panting, nose to nose, Daniel's eyes scared. Between their bodies and the statue, there were only a few inches of space.

***

***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com

***