Page 26

"That's enough," her father interrupted.

"Yes, Lucinda is a serious student," Miss Sophia added. "She had no ill will toward Todd Hammond, What happened was an accident, no more."

The officer glanced toward the open doorway, as if wishing Miss Sophia would relocate herself outside it.

"Yes, ma'am. Well, with these reform school cases, giving the benefit of the doubt is not always the most responsible - "

"I'll tell you everything I know," Luce said, balling up her sheet in her fist. "I don't have anything to hide."

She took them through it as best she could, speaking slowly and clearly so she would raise no new questions for her parents, so the cops could take notes. She didn't let herself slide into emotion, which seemed like exactly what everyone was expecting. And - leaving out the appearance of the shadows - the story made a lot of sense.

They'd run for the back door. They'd found the exit at the end of a long corridor. The stairs dropped quickly, steeply off the ledge, and she and Todd had both been running with such force, they couldn't stop themselves from tumbling down the stairs. She lost track of him, hit her head hard enough to wake up here twelve hours later. That was all she remembered.

She left them very little to argue over. There was only her true memory of the night for her to grapple with - on her own.

When it was over, Mr. Schultz gave the police officers an are-you-satisfied tilt of his head, and Miss Sophia beamed at Luce, as if together they'd succeeded at something impossible. Luce's mother let out a long sigh.

"Well mull this over at the station," the thin officer said, closing Luce's file with such resignation, he seemed to want to be thanked for his services.

Then the four of them left the room and she was alone with her parents.

She gave them her very best take-me-home look. Her mom's lip trembled, but her dad only swallowed.

"Randy's going to take you back to Sword & Cross this afternoon," he said. "Don't look so shocked, honey. The doctor said you're fine,"

"More than fine," her mom added, but she sounded uncertain.

Her dad patted her arm. "We'll see you on Saturday. Just a few more days."

Saturday. She closed her eyes. Parents' Day. She'd been looking forward to it from the moment she'd arrived at Sword & Cross, but now everything was tainted by Todd's death. Her parents seemed almost eager to leave her. They had a way of not really wanting to deal with the realities of having a reform school daughter. They were so normal. She couldn't really blame them.

"Get some rest now, Luce," her dad said, bending down to kiss her forehead. "You've had a long, hard night."

"But - "

She was exhausted. She briefly closed her eyes and when she opened them, her parents were already waving from the doorway.

She plucked a plump white flower from the vase and brought it slowly to her face, admiring the deeply lobed leaves and fragile petals, the still-moist drops of nectar inside its center. She breathed in the flower's soft, spicy scent.

She tried to imagine the way they would have looked in Daniel's hands. She tried to imagine where he'd gotten them, and what had been on his mind.

It was such a strange choice of flower. Wild peonies didn't grow in Georgia wetlands. They wouldn't even take to the soil in her father's garden in Thunderbolt. What was more, these didn't look like any peonies Luce had ever seen before. The blooms were as large as cupped palms, and the smell reminded her of something she couldn't quite put her finger on.

Chapter Twelve


in the hazy dusk over the cemetery, a vulture circled. Two days had passed since Todd's death, and Luce hadn't been able to eat or sleep. She was standing in a sleeveless black dress in the basin of the graveyard, where the whole of Sword & Cross had gathered to pay its respects to Todd. As if one unenthusiastic hourlong ceremony were enough. Especially since the campus's only chapel had been turned into the natatorium, and the ceremony had to be held in the grim swampland of the cemetery.

Since the accident, the school had been on lockdown, and the faculty had been the definition of tight-lipped. Luce had spent the past two days avoiding the stares of the other students, who all eyed her with varying degrees of suspicion. The ones she didn't know very well seemed to look at her with a faint hint of fear. Others, like Roland and Molly, ogled her in a different, much more shameless manner, as if there were something darkly fascinating about her survival. She endured the probing eyes as best she could during class, and was glad at night when Penn dropped by to bring her a steaming mug of ginger tea, or Arriane slipped a dirty Mad Libs under her door.

She was desperate for anything to take her mind off that uneasy, waiting-for-the-other-shoe-to-drop feeling. Because she knew it was coming. In the form of a second visit either from the police, or from the shadows - or both.

That morning, a PA announcement had informed them that the evening's Social would be canceled out of respect for Todd's passing, and that classes would be dismissed an hour early so the students could have time to change and arrive at the cemetery at three o'clock. As if the whole school weren't already dressed for a funeral all the time.

Luce had never seen so many people congregating in one place on the campus. Randy was parked at the center of the group in a calf-length pleated gray skirt and thick, rubber-soled black shoes. A misty-eyed Miss Sophia and a handkerchief-wielding Mr. Cole stood behind her in mourning clothes. Ms. Tross and Coach Diante stood in a black-clad cluster with a group of other faculty and administrators Luce had never seen before.

The students were seated in alphabetic rows. At the front, Luce could see Joel Bland, the kid who'd won the swimming race last week, blowing his nose into a dirty handkerchief. Luce was in the nowhere land of P's, but she could see Daniel, annoyingly positioned in the G's right next to Gabbe, two rows ahead. He was dressed impeccably in a fitted black pinstriped blazer, but his head seemed to hang lower than everyone's around him. Even from the back, Daniel managed to look devastatingly somber.

Luce thought about the white peonies he'd brought her. Randy hadn't let her take the vase with her when she left the infirmary, so Luce had carried the flowers up to her room and gotten pretty inventive, cutting off the top of a plastic water bottle with a pair of manicure scissors.

The blooms were fragrant and soothing, but the message they offered was unclear. Usually when a guy brought you flowers, you didn't have to second-guess his feelings. But with Daniel, those kinds of assumptions were always a bad idea. It was so much safer to assume he'd brought them to her because that was what you did when someone went through a trauma.

But still: He'd brought her flowers! If she leaned forward now in her folding chair and looked up at the dorm, through the metal bars on the third window from the left, she could almost make them out.

"In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread," a pay-by-the-hour minister warbled from the front of the crowd. "Till thou return unto the ground. For out of it wast thou taken, for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return."

He was a thin man about seventy, lost in a big black jacket. His beat-up athletic shoes were fraying at the laces; his face was lumpy and sunburned. He spoke into a microphone attached to an old plastic boom box that looked like it was from the eighties. The sound that came out was staticky and distorted and hardly carried across the crowd.

Everything about this service was inadequate and completely wrong.

No one was paying Todd any respect by being here. The whole memorial seemed more like an attempt to teach the students how unfair life could be. That Todd's body wasn't even present said so much about the school's relationship - or utter lack thereof - with the departed boy. None of them had known him; none of them ever would. There was something false about standing here today in this crowd, something made worse by the few people who were crying. It made Luce feel like Todd was even more of a stranger to her than he actually had been.

Let Todd rest in peace. Let the rest of them just move on.

A white horned owl crooned in the high branch of the oak tree over their heads. Luce knew there was a nest somewhere nearby with a clan of new baby owls. She'd been hearing the mother's fearful chant each night this week, followed by the frantic beating of the father's wings on the descent from his nightly hunt.

And then it was over. Luce stood up from her chair, feeling weak with the unfairness of it all. Todd had been as innocent as she was guilty, though of what she didn't know.

As she followed the other students in single file toward the so-called reception, an arm looped around her waist and pulled her back.


But no, it was Cam.

His green eyes searched hers and seemed to pick up her disappointment, which only made her feel worse.

She bit her lip to keep from dissolving into a sob. Seeing Cam shouldn't make her cry - she was just so emotionally drained, teetering on the brink of a collapse. She bit so hard she tasted blood, then wiped her mouth on her hand.

"Hey," Cam said, smoothing the back of her hair. She winced. She still had a bump back there from where she'd hit her head on the steps. "Do you want to go somewhere and talk?"

They'd been walking with the others across the grass toward the reception under the shade of one of the oak trees. A cluster of chairs had been set up practically one on top of the other. A nearby folding card table was strewn with stacks of stale-looking cookies, pulled from their generic boxes but still sitting in their inner plastic shells. A cheap plastic punch bowl had been filled with syrupy red liquid and had attracted several flies, the way a corpse might do. It was such a pathetic reception, few of the other students even bothered with it. Luce spotted Penn in a black skirt suit, shaking hands with the minister.

Daniel was looking away from them all, whispering something to Gabbe.

When Luce turned back to Cam, his finger dragged lightly across her collarbone, then lingered in the hollow of her neck. She inhaled and felt goose bumps rise on her skin.

"If you don't like the necklace," he said, leaning into her, "I can get you something else."

His lips were so close to brushing her neck that Luce pressed a hand to his shoulder and stepped back.

"I do like it," she said, thinking of the box lying on her desk. It had ended up right next to Daniel's flowers, and she'd spent half the night before looking back and forth between them, weighing the gifts and the intentions behind them. Cam was so much clearer, easier to figure out. Like he was algebra and Daniel was calculus. And she had always loved calculus, the way it sometimes took an hour to figure out a single proof.

"I think the necklace is great," she told Cam. "I just haven't had a chance to wear it yet."

"I'm sorry," he said, pursing his lips. "I shouldn't press you."

His dark hair was slicked back and showed more of his face than usual. It made him look older, more mature. And the way he looked at her was so intense, his big green eyes probing into her, like he approved of everything she held inside.

"Miss Sophia kept saying to give you space these last couple of days. I know she's right, you've been through so much. But you should know how much I thought about you. All the time. I wanted to see you."

He stroked her cheek with the back of his hand and Luce felt tears welling up. She had been through so much. And she felt terrible that here she was, about to cry, not over Todd - whose death did matter, and should have mattered more - but for selfish reasons. Because the past two days brought back too much past pain about Trevor and her life before Sword & Cross, things she thought she'd dealt with and could never explain, not to anyone. More shadows to push away.


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