Page 16


Luce cracked her knuckles. Maybe Cam only liked it because its polished pinkish stone stood out among the mostly gray ones? Or because of the intricate whorls in the crest along the top? She raised an eyebrow at him.

"Yeah." Cam shrugged. "I just like how the headstone explains the way he died. It's honest, you know? Usually, people don't want to go there."

Luce looked away. She knew that all too well from the inscrutable epitaph on Trevor's tombstone.

"Think how much more interesting this place would be if everyone's cause of death was chiseled in." He pointed to a small grave a few plots down from Joseph Miley's. "How do you think she died?"

"Um, scarlet fever?" Luce guessed, wandering over.

She traced the dates with her fingers. The girl buried here had been younger than Luce when she died. Luce didn't really want to think too hard about how it might have happened.

Cam tilted his head, considering. "Maybe," he said. "Either that or a mysterious barn fire while young Betsy was taking an innocent 'nap' with the neighbor boy."

Luce started to pretend to act offended, but instead Cam's expectant face made her laugh. It had been a long time since she'd just goofed off with a guy. Sure, this scene was a bit more morbid than the typical movie theater parking lot flirtations she was used to, but so were the students at Sword & Cross. For better or worse, Luce was one of them now.

She followed Cam to the bottom of the bowl-like graveyard and the more ornate tombs and mausoleums.

On the slope above, the headstones seemed to be looking down at them, like Luce and Cam were performers in an amphitheater. The midday sun glowed orange through the leaves of a giant live oak tree in the cemetery, and Luce shaded her eyes with her hands. It was the hottest day they'd had all week.

"Now, this guy," Cam said, pointing to a huge tomb framed by Corinthian columns. "Total draft dodger.

He suffocated when a beam collapsed in his basement. Which just goes to show you, never hide out from a Confederate roundup."

"Is that so?" Luce asked. "Remind me what makes you the expert on all of this?" Even as she teased him, Luce felt strangely privileged to be there with Cam. He kept glancing at her to make sure she was smiling.

"It's just a sixth sense." He flashed her a big, innocent grin. "If you like it, there's a seventh sense, and an eight sense, and a ninth sense where that came from."

"Impressive." She smiled. "I'll settle for the sense of taste right now. I'm starving."

"At your service." Cam pulled a blanket from his tote bag and spread it out in a scrap of shade under the live oak tree. He unscrewed a thermos and Luce could smell the strong espresso. She didn't usually drink her coffee black, but she watched as he filled a tumbler with ice, poured the espresso over it, and added just the right amount of milk to the top. "I forgot to bring sugar," he said.

"I don't take sugar." She took a sip from the bone-dry iced latte, her first delicious sip of Sword & Cross-prohibited caffeine all week.

"That's lucky," Cam said, spreading out the rest of the picnic. Luce's eyes grew wide as she watched him arrange the food: a dark brown baguette, a small round of oozy cheese, a terra-cotta tub of olives, a bowl of deviled eggs, and two bright green apples. It didn't seem possible that Cam had fit all that in his bag -

or that he'd been planning on eating all this food by himself.

"Where did you get this?" Luce asked. Pretending to focus on tearing off a hunk of bread, she asked,

"And who else were you planning on picnicking with before I came along?"

"Before you came along?" Cam laughed. "I can hardly remember my bleak life before you."

Luce gave him the slightest of snide looks so he'd know that she found the remark incredibly cheesy ...

and just a little bit charming. She leaned back on her elbows on the blanket, her legs crossed at the ankles.

Cam was sitting cross-legged facing her, and when he reached over her for the cheese knife, his arm brushed, then rested on, the knee of her black jeans. He looked up at her, as if to ask, Is this okay?

When she didn't flinch, he stayed there, taking the hunk of baguette from her hand and using her leg like a tabletop while he spread a triangle of cheese onto the bread. She liked the feeling of his weight on her, and in this heat, that was saying something.

"I'll start with the easier question first," he said, finally sitting back up. "I help out in the kitchen a couple of days a week. Part of my readmittance agreement at Sword & Cross. I'm supposed to be 'giving back.'"

He rolled his eyes. "But I don't mind it in there. I guess I like the heat. That is, if you don't count the grease burns." He held out his upturned wrists to expose dozens of tiny scars on his forearms,

"Occupational hazard," he said casually. "But I do get the run of the pantry."

Luce couldn't resist running her fingers along them, the infinitesimal pale swells fading back into his paler skin. Before she could feel embarrassed by her forwardness and pull away, Cam grabbed her hand and squeezed.

Luce stared at his fingers wrapped around hers. She hadn't realized before how closely the shades of their skin matched. In a landscape of southern sunbathers, Luce's paleness had always made her feel self-conscious. But Cam's skin was so striking, so noticeable, almost metallic - and now she realized she might look the same to him. Her shoulders shivered and she felt a little dizzy.

"Are you cold?" he asked quietly.

When she met his eyes, she knew he knew she wasn't cold.

He scooted closer on the blanket and dropped his voice to a whisper. "Now I guess you're going to want me to admit that I saw you crossing the quad through the kitchen window and packed all this up in the hopes of convincing you to skip class with me?"

This was when she would have fished in her drink for ice, if it hadn't already melted in the stale September heat.

"And you had this whole scheme of a romantic picnic," she finished. "In the scenic cemetery?"

"Hey." He ran a finger along her bottom lip. "You're the one bringing up romance."

Luce pulled back. He was right - she'd been the presumptuous one ... for the second time that day. She could feel her cheeks burn as she tried not to think about Daniel.

"I'm kidding," he said, shaking his head at the stricken look on her face. "As if that weren't obvious." He gazed up at a turkey vulture circling a great white statue shaped like a cannon. "I know it's no Eden here,"

he said, tossing Luce an apple, "but just pretend we're in a Smiths song. And to my credit, it's not like there's much to work with at this school."

That was putting it mildly.

"The way I see it," Cam said, leaning back on the blanket, "location is negligible."

Luce shot him a doubtful look. She also wished he hadn't leaned away, but she was too shy to approach when he was reclining on his side.

"Where I grew up" - he paused - "things weren't so different from the penitentiary-style living at Sword

& Cross. The upshot is I'm officially immune to my surroundings."

"No way." Luce shook her head. "If I handed you a plane ticket to California right now, you wouldn't be totally thrilled to break out of here?"

"Mmm ... mildly indifferent," Cam said, popping a deviled egg into his mouth.

"I don't believe you." Luce gave him a shove.

"Then you must have had a happy childhood."

Luce bit into the chewy green skin of the apple and licked the juice running down her fingers. She ran through a mental catalog of all the parental frowns, doctors' visits, and school changes of her childhood, the black shadows hanging like a shroud over everything. No, she wouldn't say she'd had a happy childhood. But if Cam couldn't even see a way out of Sword & Cross, something more hopeful on the horizon, then maybe his had been worse.

There was a rustling at their feet and Luce snapped into a ball when a thick green-and-yellow snake slithered past. Trying not to get too close, she rolled to her knees and peered down at it. Not just a snake, but a snake in the middle of shedding its skin. A translucent case was coming off its tail. There were snakes all over Georgia, but she'd never seen one molt.

"Don't scream," Cam said, resting a hand on Luce's knee, His touch did make Luce feel safer. "He'll move on if we just leave him alone."

It couldn't happen quickly enough. Luce wanted very badly to scream. She had always hated and feared snakes. They were just so slithery and scaly and ... "Eugh." She shivered, but she couldn't take her eyes off the snake until it had disappeared in the long grass.

Cam smirked as he picked up the shed skin and placed it in her hand. It still felt alive, like the dewy skin on a bulb of garlic her father had pulled fresh from his garden. But it had just come off a snake. Gross.

She tossed it back on the ground and wiped her hands on her jeans.

"Come on, you didn't think it was cute?"

"Did my trembling give it away?" Luce was already feeling a bit embarrassed by how childish she must have looked.

"What about your faith in the power of transformation?" Cam asked, fingering the shed skin. "That's what we're here for, after all."

Cam had taken off his sunglasses. His emerald eyes were so confident. He was holding that inhumanly still pose again, waiting for her to answer.

"I'm starting to think you're a little bit strange," she said finally, cracking the tiniest smile.

"Oh, and just think how much more there is to know about me," he replied, leaning in closer. Closer than he had when the snake came. Closer than she'd been expecting him to. He reached out and slowly ran his fingers through her hair. Luce tensed up.

Cam was gorgeous and intriguing. What she couldn't figure out was how, when she should have been a bundle of nerves - like right then - she still somehow felt comfortable. She wanted to be right where she was. She couldn't take her eyes off his lips, which were full and pink and moving closer, making her feel even dizzier. His shoulder brushed hers and she felt a strange shiver deep inside her chest. She watched as Cam parted his lips. Then she closed her eyes.

"There y'all are!" A breathless voice pulled Luce right out of the moment.

Luce let out an exasperated sigh and shifted her attention to Gabbe, who was standing before them with a high side ponytail, and an oblivious grin on her face.

"I've been looking everywhere."

"Why on earth would you be doing such a thing?" Cam glowered at her, scoring him a few more points with Luce.

"Cemetery was the last place I thought of," Gabbe rattled on, counting on her fingers. "I checked your dorm rooms, then under the bleachers, then - "

"What do you want, Gabbe?" Cam cut her off, like a sibling, like they'd known each other a long time.

Gabbe blinked, then bit her lip. "It was Miss Sophia," she said finally, snapping her fingers. "That's right.

She got frantic when Luce didn't show up for class. Kept saying how you were such a promising student and all that."

Luce couldn't read this girl. Was she for real and just following orders? Was she mocking Luce for making a good impression on a teacher? Was it not enough for her to have Daniel wrapped around her finger - she had to move in on Cam now, too?

***

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

***