Page 11


"Luce?" he whispered.

All she could do was nod.

His eyes narrowed. "What did you see?"

Then a hand appeared and Luce felt herself being pulled out of the space under the statue. There was a scraping against her back and then a waft of air. She saw the flicker of daylight again. The detention crew stood gaping, except for Ms. Tross, who was glaring, and Cam, who helped Luce to her feet.

"Are you okay?" Cam asked, running his eyes over her for scrapes and bruises and brushing some dirt from her shoulder. "I saw the statue coming down and I ran over to try and stop it, but it was already ... You must have been so terrified."

Luce didn't respond. Terrified was only part of how she'd felt.

Daniel, already on his feet, didn't even turn around to see whether she was okay or not. He just walked away.

Luce's jaw dropped as she watched him go, as she watched everyone else seem not to care that he had bailed.

"What did you do?" Ms. Tross asked.

"I don't know. One minute, we were standing there" - Luce glanced at Ms. Tross - "um, working. The next thing I knew, the statue just fell over."

The Albatross bent down to examine the shattered angel. Its head had cracked straight down the middle. She started muttering something about forces of nature and old stones.

Chapter Five

THE INNER CIRCLE

"Don't ever scare me like that again!" Callie reprimanded Luce on Wednesday evening.

It was just before sundown and Luce was folded into the Sword & Cross phone cubby, a tiny beige confine in the middle of the front office area. It was far from private, but at least no one else was loafing around. Her arms were still sore from the graveyard shift at yesterday's detention, her pride still wounded from Daniel's fleeing the second they'd been pulled out from under the statue. But for fifteen minutes, Luce was trying hard to push all that out of her mind, to soak up every blissfully frantic word her best friend could spit out in the allotted time. It felt so good to hear Callie's high-pitched voice, Luce almost didn't care that she was being yelled at.

"We promised we wouldn't go an hour without speaking," Callie continued accusingly. "I thought someone had eaten you alive! Or that maybe they stuck you in solitary in one of those straitjackets where you have to chew through your sleeve to scratch your face. For all I knew, you could have descended into the ninth circle of - "

"Okay, Mom," Luce said, laughing and settling into her role as Callie's breathing instructor. "Relax." For a split second, she felt guilty that she hadn't used her one phone call to dial up her real mom. But she knew Callie would wig out if she ever discovered Luce hadn't seized her very first opportunity to get in touch. And in a weird way, it was always soothing to hear Callie's hysterical voice. It was one of the many reasons the two were such a good fit: Her best friend's over-the-top paranoia actually had a calming effect on Luce. She could just picture Callie in her dorm room at Dover, pacing her bright orange area rug, with Oxy smeared over her t-zone and pedicure foam separating her still-wet fuchsia toenails.

"Don't Mom me!" Callie huffed. "Start talking. What are the other kids like? Are they all scary and popping diuretics like in the movies? What about your classes? How's the food?"

Through the phone, Luce could hear Roman Holiday playing in the background on Callie's tiny TV.

Luce's favorite scene had always been the one where Audrey Hepburn woke in Gregory Peck's room, still convinced the night before had all been a dream. Luce closed her eyes and tried to picture the shot in her mind. Mimicking Audrey's drowsy whisper, she quoted the line she knew Callie would recognize:

"There was a man, he was so mean to me. It was wonderful."

"Okay, Princess, it's your life I want to hear about," Callie teased.

Unfortunately, there was nothing about Sword & Cross that Luce would even consider describing as wonderful. Thinking about Daniel for, oh, the eightieth time that day, she realized that the only parallel between her life and Roman Holiday was that she and Audrey both had a guy who was aggressively rude and uninterested in them. Luce rested her head against the beige linoleum of the cubby walls. Someone had carved the words BIDING MY TIME. Under normal circumstances, this would be when Luce would spill everything about Daniel to Callie.

Except, for some reason, she didn't.

Whatever she might want to say about Daniel wouldn't be based on anything that had actually happened between them. And Callie was big on guys making an effort to show they were worthy of you. She'd want to hear things like how many times he'd held open a door for Luce, or whether he'd noticed how good her French accent was. Callie didn't think there was anything wrong with guys writing the kind of sappy love poems Luce could never take seriously. Luce would come up severely short on things to say about Daniel. In fact, Callie'd be much more interested in hearing about someone like Cam.

"Well, there is this guy here," Luce whispered into the phone.

"I knew it!" Callie squealed. "Name."

Daniel. Daniel. Luce cleared her throat. "Cam."

"Direct, uncomplicated. I can dig it. Start from the beginning."

"Well, nothing's really happened yet."

"He thinks you're gorgeous, blah blah blah. I told you the cropped cut made you look like Audrey. Get to the good stuff."

"Well - " Luce broke off. The sound of footsteps in the lobby silenced her. She leaned out the side of the cubby and craned her neck to see who was interrupting the best fifteen minutes she'd had in three whole days.

Cam was walking toward her.

Speak of the devil. She swallowed the horrifically lame words on the tip of her tongue: He gave me his guitar pick. She still had it tucked in her pocket.

Cam's demeanor was casual, as if by some stroke of luck he hadn't heard what she'd been saying. He seemed to be the only kid at Sword & Cross who didn't change out of his school uniform the minute classes were over. But the black-on-black look worked for him, just as much as it worked to make Luce look like a grocery store checkout girl.

Cam was twirling a golden pocket watch that swung from a long chain looped around his index finger.

Luce followed its bright arc for a moment, almost mesmerized, until Cam clapped the face of the watch to a stop in his fist. He looked down at it, then up at her.

"Sorry." His lips pursed in confusion. "I thought I signed up for the seven o'clock phone call." He shrugged. "But I must have written it down wrong."

Luce's heart sank when she glanced at her own watch. She and Callie had barely said fifteen words to each other - how could her fifteen minutes already be up?

"Luce? Hello?" Callie sounded impatient on the other end of the phone. "You're being weird. Is there something you're not telling me? Have you replaced me already with some reform school cutter? What about the boy?"

"Shhh," Luce hissed into the phone. "Cam, wait," she called, holding the phone away from her mouth. He was already halfway out the door. "Just a second, I was" - she swallowed - "I was just getting off."

Cam slipped the pocket watch into the front of his black blazer and doubled back toward Luce. He raised his eyebrows and laughed when he heard Callie's voice growing louder from the earpiece. "Don't you dare hang up on me," Callie protested. "You've told me nothing. Nothing!"

"I don't want to piss anyone off," Cam joked, gesturing at the barking telephone. "Take my slot, you can get me back another time."

"No," Luce said quickly. As badly as she wanted to keep talking to Callie, she imagined Cam probably felt the same way about whomever he'd come here to call. And unlike a lot of the people at this school, Cam had been nothing but nice to her. She didn't want to make him give up his turn at the telephone, especially now, when she'd be way too nervous to gossip with Callie about him.

"Callie," she said, sighing into the phone. "I gotta go. I'll call again as soon as - " But by then there was just the vague buzz of a dial tone in her ear. The phone itself had been rigged to cap each call at fifteen minutes. Now she saw the tiny timer blinking 0:00 on its base. They hadn't even gotten to say goodbye and now she'd have to wait another whole week to call. Time stretched out in Luce's mind like an endless gulf.

"BFF?" Cam asked, leaning up against the cubby next to Luce. His dark eyebrows were still arched. "I've got three younger sisters, I can practically smell the best-friend vibe through the phone." He bent forward as if he was going to sniff Luce, which made her chuckle ... and then freeze. His unexpected closeness had made her heart pick up.

"Let me guess." Cam straightened back up and lifted his chin. "She wanted to know all about the reform school bad boys?"

"No!" Luce shook her head to deny vehemently that guys were on her mind at all ... until she realized Cam was only kidding. She blushed and took a stab at joking back. "I mean, I told her there's not a single good one here."

Cam blinked. "Precisely what makes it so exciting. Don't you think?" He had a way of standing very still, which made Luce stand very still, which made the ticking sound of the pocket watch inside his blazer seem louder than it possibly could have been.

Frozen next to Cam, Luce suddenly shivered as something black swooped into the hall. The shadow seemed to hopscotch across the panels in the ceiling in a very deliberate way, blacking out one and then the next and then the next. Damn. It was never good to be alone with someone - especially someone as focused on her as Cam was at the moment - when the shadows arrived. She could feel herself twitching, trying to appear calm as the darkness swirled around the ceiling fan in a dance. That alone she could have endured. Maybe. But the shadow was also making the worst of its terrible noises, a sound like the one Luce had heard when she'd watched a baby owl fall from its palmetto tree and choke to death. She wished Cam would just stop looking at her. She wished something would happen to pert his attention. She wished -

Daniel Grigori would walk in.

And then he did. Saved by the gorgeous boy wearing holey jeans and a holier white T-shirt. He didn't look much like salvation - slouched over his heavy stack of library books, gray bags under his gray eyes. Daniel actually looked kind of wrecked. His blond hair drooped over his eyes, and when they settled on Luce and Cam, Luce watched them narrow. She was so busy fretting over what she'd done to annoy Daniel this time, she almost didn't realize the momentous thing that happened: The second before the lobby door closed behind him, the shadow slipped through it and into the night. It was like someone had taken a vacuum and cleared out all the grit from the hall.

Daniel just nodded in their direction and didn't slow down as he passed.

When Luce looked at Cam, he was watching Daniel. He turned to Luce and said, more loudly than he needed to, "I almost forgot to tell you. Having a little party in my room tonight after Social. I'd love for you to come."

Daniel was still within earshot. Luce had no idea what this Social thing was, but she was supposed to meet Penn beforehand. They were supposed to walk over together.

Her eyes were fixed on the back of Daniel's head, and she knew she needed to answer Cam about his party, and it really shouldn't be so hard, but when Daniel turned around and looked back at her with eyes she swore were mournful, the phone behind her started ringing, and Cam reached for it and said, "I've got to take this, Luce. You'll be there?"

***

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

***