Page 17


Gabbe must have sensed that she was interrupting something, but she just stood there blinking her big doe eyes and twirling a strand of blond hair around her finger. "Well, come on," she said finally, sticking out both hands to help Luce and Cam up. "Let's get you back to class."

"Lucinda, you can have station three," Miss Sophia said, looking down at a sheet of paper when Luce, Cam, and Gabbe entered the library. No Where have you been? No points off for tardiness. Just Miss Sophia, absently placing Luce next to Penn in the computer lab section of the library. Like she hadn't even noticed that Luce had been gone.

Luce shot Gabbe an accusatory look, but she just shrugged at Luce and mouthed, "What?"

"Wherehaveyoubeen?" Penn demanded as soon as she sat down. The only person who seemed to notice she'd been gone at all.

Luce's eyes found Daniel, who was practically burrowed into his computer at station seven. From her seat, all Luce could see of him was the blond halo of his hair, but it was enough to bring a flush to her cheeks. She sank lower in her chair, mortified all over again by their conversation in the gym.

Even after all the laughs and smiles and that one potential near kiss she'd just shared with Cam, she couldn't shut out what she felt when she saw Daniel.

And they were never going to be together.

That was the gist of what he had told her in the gym. After she'd basically thrown herself at him.

The rejection cut her so deeply, so close to her heart, she felt certain everyone around her could take one look at her and know exactly what had happened.

Penn was tapping her pencil impatiently on Luce's desk. But Luce didn't know how to explain. Her picnic with Cam had been interrupted by Gabbe before Luce had even been able to really make sense of what was happening. Or about to happen. But what was weird, and what she couldn't figure out, was why all of that felt so much less important than what had happened in the gym with Daniel.

Miss Sophia stood in the middle of the computer lab, snapping her fingers in the air like a preschool teacher to get the students' attention. Her stacks of silver bangle bracelets chimed like bells.

"If any of you have ever traced your own family tree," she called over the din of the crowd, "then you'll know what sorts of treasures lie buried in the roots."

"Oh, jeez, please kill that metaphor," Penn whispered. "Or kill me. One or the other."

"You'll have twenty minutes' access to the Internet to begin researching your own family tree," Miss Sophia said, tapping a stopwatch. "A generation is roughly twenty to twenty-five years, so aim to go back at least six generations."

Groan.

An audible sigh erupted from station seven - Daniel.

Miss Sophia turned to him. "Daniel? Do you have a problem with this assignment?"

He sighed again and shrugged. "No, not at all. That's fine. My family tree. Should be interesting."

Miss Sophia tilted her head quizzically. "I'll take that statement for an enthusiastic endorsement."

Addressing the class again, she said, "I trust you'll find a line worth pursuing in a ten-to fifteen-page research paper."

Luce could not possibly focus on this right now. Not when there was so much else to process. She and Cam in the cemetery. Maybe it hadn't been the standard definition of romantic, but Luce almost preferred it that way. It was like nothing she'd ever done before. Skipping class to mosey through all those graves.

Sharing that picnic, while he refilled her perfectly made latte. Making fun of her fear of snakes. Well, she could have done without that whole snake development, but at least Cam had been sweet about it.

Sweeter than Daniel had been all week.

She hated to admit that, but it was true. Daniel wasn't interested.

Cam, on the other hand

She studied him, a few stations away. He winked at her before he began pecking at his keyboard. So he liked her. Callie wasn't going to be able to shut up about how obviously into her he was.

She wanted to call Callie now, to bolt out of this library and take a rain check on the family tree assignment. Talking up another guy was the fastest - maybe the only - way to get Daniel out of her head.

But there was that horrible Sword & Cross phone policy, and all the other students around her, who looked so diligent. Miss Sophia's tiny eyes panned the class for procrastinators.

Chapter Eight

A pE TOO DEEP

When Luce answered the knock on her door Saturday morning, Penn tumbled into her arms.

"You'd think it would dawn on me someday that doors open in," she apologized, straightening her glasses. "Must remember to stop leaning on peepholes. Nice digs, by the way," she added, looking around. She crossed to the window over Luce's bed. "Not a bad view, minus the bars and all."

Luce stood behind her, looking out at the cemetery and, in plain view, the live oak tree where she'd had the picnic with Cam. And, invisible from here but clear in her head, the place she'd been pinned under that statue with Daniel. The avenging angel that had mysteriously disappeared after the accident.

Remembering Daniel's worried eyes when he whispered her name that day, the near touch of their noses, the way she'd felt his fingertips on her neck - all of it made her feel hot.

And pathetic. She sighed and turned away from the window, realizing Penn had moved on, too.

She was picking things up off Luce's desk, giving each of Luce's possessions careful scrutiny. The Statue of Liberty paperweight her dad had brought back from a conference at NYU, the picture of her mom with a hilariously bad perm when she was around Luce's age, the eponymous Lucinda Williams CD Callie had given her as a going-away present before Luce had ever heard the name Sword & Cross.

"Where are your books?" she asked Penn, wanting to detour around a trip down memory lane. "You said you were coming over to study."

By then, Penn had begun to riffle through her wardrobe. Luce watched as she quickly lost interest in the variations of dress code-style black T-shirts and sweaters. When Penn moved toward her dresser drawers, Luce stepped forward to intercept.

"Okay, that's enough, Snoop," she said. "Isn't there research we should be doing on family trees?"

"Speaking of snooping." Penn's eyes twinkled. "Yes, there is research we should be doing. But not the kind you're thinking."

Luce stared at her blankly. "Huh?"

"Look." Penn put her hand on Luce's shoulder. "If you really want to know about Daniel Grigori - "

"Shhh!" Luce hissed, jumping to close her door. She stuck her head into the hall and scanned the scene.

The coast looked clear - but that didn't mean anything. People at this school had a suspicious way of appearing out of nowhere. Cam in particular. And Luce would die if he - or anyone - found out how enamored of Daniel she was. Or, at this point, anyone but Penn.

Satisfied, Luce closed and locked the door and turned back to her friend. Penn was sitting cross-legged at the edge of Luce's bed. She looked amused.

Luce locked her hands behind her back and dug her toe into the circular red rug near her door. "What makes you think I want to know anything about him?"

"Give me a break," Penn said, laughing. "A, it's totally obvious that you stare at Daniel Grigori all the time."

"Shhh!" Luce said again.

"B," Penn said, not dropping her voice, "I watched you stalk him online for an entire class the other day.

Sue me - but you were being totally shameless. And C, don't get all paranoid. You think I blab to anyone at this school besides you?"

Penn did have a point.

"I'm only saying," she continued, "assuming hypothetically you did want to know more about a certain unnamed person, you could conceivably bark up a more fruitful tree." Penn shrugged one shoulder.

"You know, if you had help."

"I'm listening," Luce said, sinking down on the bed. Her Internet search the other day had only amounted to typing, then deleting, then retyping Daniel's name into the search field.

"I was hoping you'd say that," Penn said. "I didn't bring books with me today because I'm giving you" -

she widened her eyes goofily - "a guided tour of the highly off-limits underground lair of Sword & Cross office records!"

Luce grimaced. "I don't know. Prying into Daniel's files? I'm not sure I need another reason to feel like a crazy stalker girl."

"Ha." Penn snickered. "And yes, you did just say that out loud, Come on, Luce. It'll be fun. Besides, what else are you going to do on a perfectly sunny Saturday morning?"

It was a nice day - precisely the kind of nice that made you feel lonely if you didn't have anything fun and outdoorsy planned. In the middle of the night, Luce had felt a cool front brush through her open window, and when she'd awoken this morning, the heat and humidity had all but disappeared.

She used to spend these golden early-fall days tearing up the neighborhood bike path with her friends.

That was before she started avoiding the woodsy trail because of the shadows none of the other girls ever saw. Before her friends sat her down one day during recess and said their parents didn't want them inviting her over anymore, in case she had an incident.

Truth was, Luce had been a little panicked about how she'd spend this first weekend at Sword & Cross.

No classes, no terrorizing physical fitness tests, no social events on the docket. Just forty-eight endless hours of free time. An eternity. She'd had a queasy homesick feeling all morning - until Penn showed up.

"Okay." Luce tried not to laugh when she said, "Take me to your secret lair."

Penn practically skipped as she led Luce across the trampled grass of the commons to the main lobby near the school's entrance. "You don't know how long I've been waiting for a partner in crime to bring down here with me."

Luce smiled, glad Penn was more focused on having a friend to explore with than she was on, well, this ...

thing Luce had for Daniel.

At the edge of the commons, they passed a few kids lazing around on the bleachers in the clear late-morning sun. It was strange to see color on campus, on these students with whom Luce so closely identified the color black. Gut there was Roland in a pair of lime-green soccer shorts, dribbling a ball between his feet. And Gabbe in her purple gingham button-down shirt. Jules and Phillip - the tongue-ringed couple - were drawing on the knees of each other's faded jeans. Todd Hammond sat apart from the rest of the kids on the bleachers, reading a comic book in a camouflage T-shirt. Even Luce's own gray tank top and shorts felt more vibrant than anything she'd worn all week.

Coach Diante and the Albatross were on lawn duty and had set up two plastic lawn chairs and a sagging umbrella at the edge of the commons. Aside from when they ashed their cigarettes on the lawn, they could have been asleep behind their dark sunglasses. They looked utterly bored, as imprisoned by their jobs as the charges they were monitoring.

There were a lot of people out on the commons, but as she followed closely behind Penn, she was glad to see there wasn't anyone near the main lobby at all. No one had said anything to Luce about trespassing in restricted areas, or even which areas were restricted, but she was sure Randy would find an appropriate punishment.

"What about the reds?" Luce asked, remembering the omnipresent cameras.

***

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

***