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Almost imperceptibly, Daniel nodded.

"Yes," Luce told Cam. "Yes."

"I still don't see why we have to run," Luce was panting twenty minutes later. She was trying to keep up with Penn as they scrambled back across the commons toward the auditorium for the mysterious Wednesday Night Social, which Penn still hadn't explained. Luce had barely enough to time to make it upstairs to her room, to slick on lip gloss and her better jeans just in case it was that kind of social. She was still trying to slow her breath down from her run-in with Cam and Daniel when Penn barged into her room to drag her back out the door.

"People who are chronically tardy never understand the many ways in which they screw up the schedules of people who are punctual and normal," Penn told Luce as they splashed through a particularly soggy portion of the lawn.

"Ha!" A laugh erupted behind them.

Luce looked back and felt her face light up when she saw Arriane's pale, skinny frame jogging to catch up with them. "Which quack said you were normal, Penn?" Arriane nudged Luce and pointed down. "Watch out for the quicksand!"

Luce sloshed to a halt just before she'd have landed in a scarily muddy patch on the lawn. "Somebody please tell me where we're going!"

"Wednesday night," Penn said flatly. "Social Night."

"Like ... a dance or something?" Luce asked, visions of Daniel and Cam already moving across the dance floor of her mind.

Arriane hooted. "A dance with death by boredom. The term 'social' is typical Sword & Cross doublespeak. See, they're required to schedule social events for us, but they are also terrified of scheduling social events for us. Sticky predicky."

"So instead," Penn added, "they have these really awful events like movie nights followed by lectures about the movie, or - God, do you remember last semester?"

"There was that whole symposium on taxidermy?"

"So, so creepy." Penn shook her head.

"Tonight, my dear," Arriane drawled, "we get off easy. All we have to do is snore through one of the three movies on rotation in the Sword & Cross video library. Which one do you think it'll be tonight, Pennyloafer? Starman?

Joe Versus the Volcano? Or Weekend at Bernie's?"

"It's Starman. "Penn groaned.

Arriane shot Luce a baffled look. "She knows everything."

"Hold on," Luce said, tiptoeing around the quicksand and lowering her voice to a whisper as they approached the front office of the school. "If you've all seen these movies so many times, why the rush to get here?"

Penn pulled open the heavy metal doors to the "auditorium," which, Luce realized, was a euphemism for a regular old room with low, drop-paneled ceilings and chairs arranged to face a blank white wall.

"Don't want to get stuck in the hot seat next to Mr. Cole," Arriane explained, pointing at the teacher. His nose was buried deep inside a thick book, and he was surrounded by the few remaining empty chairs in the room.

As the three girls stepped through the metal detector at the door, Penn said, "Whoever sits there has to help pass out his weekly 'mental health' surveys."

"Which wouldn't be so bad - " Arriane chimed in.

" - if you didn't have to stay late to analyze the findings," Penn finished.

"Thereby missing," Arriane said with a grin, steering Luce toward the second row as she whispered, "the after-party."

Finally they'd gotten down to the heart of the matter. Luce chuckled.

"I heard about that," she said, feeling slightly with it for a change. "It's in Cam's room, right?"

Arriane looked at Luce for a second and ran her tongue across her teeth. Then she looked past, almost through, Luce. "Hey, Todd," she called, waving with just the tips of her fingers. She pushed Luce into one seat, claimed the safe spot next to her (still two seats down from Mr. Cole), and patted the hot seat. "Come sit with us, T-man!"

Todd, who'd been shifting his weight in the doorway, looked immensely relieved to be given the directive, any directive. He started toward them, swallowing. No sooner had he fumbled into the seat than Mr. Cole looked up from his book, cleaned his glasses on his handkerchief, and said, "Todd, I'm glad you're here. I'm wondering if you can help me with a small favor after the film. You see, the Venn diagram is a very useful tool for ..."

"Mean!" Penn popped her face up between Arriane and Luce.

Arriane shrugged and produced a giant bag of popcorn from her carpetbag. "I can only look after so many new students," she said, tossing a buttery kernel at Luce. "Lucky you."

As the lights in the room dimmed, Luce looked around until her eyes landed on Cam. She thought about her abbreviated dish session on the phone with Callie, and how her friend always said that watching a movie with a guy was the best way to get to know things about him, things that might not come out in a conversation. Looking at Cam, Luce thought she knew what Callie meant: There would be something sort of thrilling about glancing out of the corner of her eye to see what jokes Cam thought were funny, to join his laughter with her own.

When his eyes met hers, Luce felt an embarrassed instinct to look away. But then, before she could, Cam's face lit up in a broad smile. It made her feel remarkably unabashed about being caught staring. When he put his hand up in a wave, Luce couldn't help thinking about how the exact opposite had happened the few times Daniel had caught her looking at him.

Daniel rolled in with Roland, late enough that Randy had already taken a head count, late enough that the only remaining seats were on the floor at the front of the room. He passed through the beam of light from the projector and Luce noticed for the first time a silver chain around his neck, and some sort of medallion tucked inside his T-shirt. Then he dipped completely out of her view. She couldn't even see his profile.

As it turned out, Starman wasn't very funny, but the other students' constant Jeff Bridges impersonations were. It was hard for Luce to stay focused on the plot. Plus, she was getting that uncomfortable icy feeling at the back of her neck. Something was about to happen.

When the shadows came this time, Luce was expecting them. Then she started to think about it and counted a tally on her fingers. The shadows had been popping up at an increasingly alarming rate, and Luce couldn't figure out whether she was just nervous at Sword & Cross ... or whether it meant something else. They'd never been this bad before...

They oozed overhead in the auditorium, then slithered along the sides of the movie screen, and finally traced the lines of the floorboards like spilled ink. Luce gripped the bottom of her chair and felt an ache of fear swell through her legs and arms. She tightened all the muscles in her body, but she couldn't keep from trembling. A squeeze on her left knee made her look over at Arriane.

"You okay?" Arriane mouthed.

Luce nodded and hugged her shoulders, pretending she was merely cold. She wished she was, but this particular chill had nothing to do with Sword & Cross's overzealous air conditioner.

She could feel the shadows tugging at her feet under her chair. They stayed like that, deadweight for the whole movie, and every minute dragged on like an eternity.

An hour later, Arriane pressed her eye up against the peephole of Cam's bronze-painted dorm room door. "Yoo-hoo," she sang, giggling. "The festivities are here!'

She produced a hot-pink feather boa from the same magic carpetbag the bag of popcorn had come from. "Give me a boost," she said to Luce, dangling her foot in the air.

Luce hooked her fingers together and positioned them under Arriane's black boot. She watched as Arriane pushed off the ground and used the boa to cover the face of the hallway surveillance camera while she reached around the back of the device and switched it off.

"That's not suspicious or anything," Penn said.

"Does your allegiance lie with the after-party?" Arriane shot back. "Or the red party?"

"I'm just saying there are smarter ways." Penn snorted as Arriane hopped down. Arriane slung the boa over Luce's shoulders, and Luce laughed and started to shimmy to the Motown song they could hear through the door. But when Luce offered the boa to Penn for a turn, she was surprised to see her still looking nervous. Penn was biting her nails and sweating at the brow. Penn wore six sweaters in the swampy southern September heat - she was never hot.

"What's wrong?" Luce whispered, leaning in.

Penn picked at the hem of her sleeve and shrugged. She looked like she was just about to answer when the door behind them opened up. A whoosh of cigarette smoke, blasting music, and suddenly Cam's open arms greeted them.

"You made it," he said, smiling at Luce. Even in the dim light, his lips had a berry-stained glow. When he folded her in for a hug, she felt tiny and safe. It lasted only a second; then he turned to nod hello at the other two girls, and Luce felt a little proud to have been the one who got the hug.

Behind Cam, the small, dark room was crammed with people. Roland was in one corner, at the turntable, holding up records to a black light. The couple Luce had seen on the quad a few days before cozied up against the window. The preppy boys with the white oxford shirts were all huddled up together, occasionally checking out the girls. Arriane wasted no time shooting across the room toward Cam's desk, which looked like it was doubling as a bar. Almost immediately, she had a champagne bottle between her legs and was laughing as she tried to pry off the cork.

Luce was baffled. She hadn't even known how to get booze at Dover, where the outside world had been a lot less off-limits. Cam had been back at Sword & Cross for only a few days, but already, he seemed to know how to smuggle everything he needed to throw a Dionysian soirйe the entire school showed up to. And somehow everyone else inside thought this was normal.

Still standing at the threshold, she heard the pop, then the cheers from the rest of the crowd, then Arriane's voice calling out: "Lucindaaa, get in here. I'm about to make a toast."

Luce could feel the party's magnetism, but Penn looked much less ready to budge.

"You go ahead," she said, waving a hand at Luce.

"What's wrong? You don't want to go in?" The truth was, Luce was a little nervous herself. She had no idea what might go down at these things, and since she still wasn't sure how reliable Arriane was, it would definitely make her feel better to have Penn at her side.

But Penn frowned. "I'm ... I'm out of my element. I do libraries ... workshops on how to use PowerPoint. You want a file hacked into, I'm your girl. But this - " She stood on tiptoes and peered into the room. "I don't know. People in there just think I'm some kind of know-it-all."

Luce attempted her best give-me-a-break frown. "And they think I'm a slab of meat loaf, and we think they're all totally bananas." She laughed. "Can't we all just get along?" Slowly Penn curled her lip, then took the feather boa and draped it around her shoulders. "Oh, all right," she said, clomping inside ahead of Luce.

Luce blinked as her eyes adjusted. A cacophony filled the room, but she could hear Arriane's laughing voice. Cam shut the door behind her and tugged Luce's hand so she'd hang back, away from the heart of the party.

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