"Cut my hair like yours," she said.
"What?" Luce gasped. "Your hair is beautiful."
It was true: Arriane had the long, thick locks that Luce so desperately missed. Her loose black curls sparkled in the sunlight, giving off just a tinge of red. Luce tucked her hair behind her ears, even though it still wasn't long enough to do anything but flop back down in front of them.
"Beautiful schmootiful," Arriane said. "Yours is sexy, edgy. And I want it."
"Oh, um, okay," Luce said. Was that a compliment? She didn't know if she was supposed to be flattered or unnerved by the way Arriane assumed she could have whatever she wanted, even if what she wanted belonged to someone else. "Where are we going to get - "
"Ta-da!" Arriane reached into her bag and pulled out the pink Swiss Army knife Gabbe had tossed into the Hazard Box. "What?" she said, seeing Luce's reaction. "I always bring my sticky fingers on new-student drop-off days. The idea alone gets me through the dog days of Sword & Cross internment ... er ... summer camp."
"You spent the whole summer ... here?" Luce winced.
"Ha! Spoken like a true newbie. You're probably expecting a spring break." She tossed Luce the Swiss Army knife.
"We don't get to leave this hellhole. Ever. Now cut."
"What about the reds?" Luce asked, glancing around with the knife in her hand. There were bound to be cameras somewhere out here.
Arriane shook her head. "I refuse to associate with pansies. Can you handle it or not?"
"And don't tell me you've never cut hair before." Arriane grabbed the Swiss Army knife back from Luce, pulled out the scissor tool, and handed it back. "Not another word until you tell me how fantastic I look."
In the "salon" of her parents' bathtub, Luce's mother had tugged the remains of her long hair into a messy pony-tail before lopping the whole thing off. Luce was sure there had to be a more strategic method of cutting hair, but as a lifelong haircut avoider, the chopped-off pony was about all she knew. She gathered Arriane's hair in her hands, wrapped an elastic band from her wrist around it, held the small scissors firmly, and began to hack.
The ponytail fell to her feet and Arriane gasped and whipped around. She picked it up and held it to the sun. Luce's heart constricted at the sight. She still agonized over her own lost hair, and all the other losses it symbolized. But Arriane just let a thin smile spread across her lips. She ran her fingers through the ponytail once, then dropped it into her bag.
"Awesome," she said. "Keep going."
"Arriane," Luce whispered before she could stop herself. "Your neck. It's all - "
"Scarred?" Arriane finished. "You can say it."
The skin on Arriane's neck, from the back of her left ear all the way down to her collarbone, was jagged and marbled and shiny. Luce's mind went to Trevor - to those awful pictures. Even her own parents wouldn't look at her after they saw them. She was having a hard time looking at Arriane now.
Arriane grabbed Luce's hand and pressed it to the skin. It was hot and cold at the same time. It was smooth and rough.
"I'm not afraid of it," Arriane said. "Are you?"
"No," Luce said, though she wished Arriane would take her hand away so Luce could take hers away, too. Her stomach churned as she wondered whether this was how Trevor's skin would have felt.
"Are you afraid of who you really are, Luce?"
"No," Luce said again quickly. It must be so obvious that she was lying. She closed her eyes. All she wanted from Sword & Cross was a fresh start, a place where people didn't look at her the way Arriane was looking at her right now. At the school's gates that morning, when her father had whispered the Price family motto in her ear - "Prices never crash" - it had felt possible, but already Luce felt so run down and exposed. She tugged her hand away. "So how'd it happen?" she asked, looking down.
"Remember how I didn't press you when you clammed up about what you did to get here?" Arriane asked, raising her eyebrows.
Arriane gestured to the scissors. "Touch it up in the back, okay? Make me look real pretty. Make me look like you."
Even with the same exact cut, Arriane would still only look like a very undernourished version of Luce. While Luce attempted to even out the first haircut she'd ever given, Arriane delved into the complexities of life at Sword & Cross.
"That cell block over there is Augustine. It's where we have our so-called Social events on Wednesday nights. And all of our classes," she said, pointing at a building the color of yellowed teeth, two buildings to the right of the dorm.
It looked like it had been designed by the same sadist who'd done Pauline. It was dismally square, dismally fortresslike, fortified by the same barbed wire and barred windows. An unnatural-looking gray mist cloaked the walls like moss, making it impossible to see whether anyone was over there.
"Fair warning," Arriane continued. "You're going to hate the classes here. You wouldn't be human if you didn't."
"Why? What's so bad about them?" Luce asked. Maybe Arriane just didn't like school in general. With her black nail polish, black eyeliner, and the black bag that only seemed big enough to hold her new Swiss Army knife, she didn't exactly look bookish.
"The classes here are soulless," Arriane said. "Worse, they'll strip you of your soul. Of the eighty kids in this place, I'd say we've only got about three remaining souls." She glanced up. "Unspoken for, anyway ..."
That didn't sound promising, but Luce was hung up on another part of Arriane's answer. "Wait, there are only eighty kids in this whole school?" The summer before she went to Dover, Luce had pored over the thick Prospective Students handbook, memorizing all the statistics. But everything she'd learned so far about Sword & Cross had surprised her, making her realize that she was coming into reform school completely unprepared.
Arriane nodded, making Luce accidentally snip off a chunk of hair she'd meant to leave. Whoops. Hopefully Arriane wouldn't notice - or maybe she'd just think it was edgy.
"Eight classes, ten kids a pop. You get to know everybody's crap pret-ty quickly," Arriane said. "And vice versa."
"I guess so," Luce agreed, biting her lip. Arriane was joking, but Luce wondered whether she'd be sitting here with that cool smirk in her pastel blue eyes if she knew the exact nature of Luce's backstory. The longer Luce could keep her past under wraps, the better off she'd be.
"And you'll want to steer clear of the hard cases."
"The kids with the wristband tracking devices," Arriane said. "About a third of the student body."
"And they're the ones who - "
"You don't want to mess with. Trust me."
"Well, what'd they do?" Luce asked.
As much as Luce wanted to keep her own story a secret, she didn't like the way Arriane was treating her like some sort of ingйnue. Whatever those kids had done couldn't be much worse than what everyone told her she had done.
Or could it? After all, she knew next to nothing about these people and this place. The possibilities stirred up a cold gray fear in the pit of her stomach.
"Oh, you know," Arriane drawled. "Aided and abetted terrorist acts. Chopped up their parents and roasted them on a spit." She turned around to wink at Luce.
"Shut up," Luce said.
"I'm serious. Those psychos are under much tighter restrictions than the rest of the screwups here. We call them the shackled."
Luce laughed at Arriane's dramatic tone.
"Your haircut's done," she said, running her hands through Arriane's hair to fluff it up a little. It actually looked really cool.
"Sweet," Arriane said. She turned to face Luce. When she ran her fingers through her hair, the sleeves of her black sweater fell back on her forearms and Luce caught a glimpse of a black wristband, dotted with rows of silver studs, and, on the other wrist, another band that looked more ... mechanical. Arriane caught her looking and raised her eyebrows devilishly.
"Told ya," she said. "Total effing psychos." She grinned. "Come on, I'll give you the rest of the tour."
Luce didn't have much choice. She scrambled down the bleachers after Arriane, ducking when one of the turkey vultures swooped dangerously low. Arriane, who didn't seem to notice, pointed at a lichen-swathed church at the far right of the commons.
"Over here, you'll find our state-of-the-art gymnasium," she said, assuming a nasal tour guide tone of voice. "Yes, yes, to the untrained eye it looks like a church. It used to be. We're kind of in an architectural hand-me-down Hell here at Sword & Cross. A few years ago, some calisthenic-crazed shrink showed up ranting about overmedicated teens ruining society. He donated a shit- ton of money so they'd convert it into a gym. Now the powers that be think we can work out our 'frustrations' in a 'more natural and productive way.'"
Luce groaned. She had always loathed gym class.
"Girl after my very own heart," Arriane commiserated, "Coach Diante is ee-vil."
As Luce jogged to keep up, she took in the rest of the grounds. The Dover quad had been so well kept, all manicured and dotted with evenly spaced, carefully pruned trees. Sword & Cross looked like it had been plopped down and abandoned in the middle of a swamp. Weeping willows dangled to the ground, kudzu grew along the walls in sheets, and every third step they took squished.
And it wasn't just the way the place looked. Every humid breath Luce took stuck in her lungs. Just breathing at Sword & Cross made her feel like she was sinking into quicksand.
"Apparently the architects got in a huge standoff over how to retrofit the style of the old military academy buildings. The upshot is we ended up with half penitentiary, half medieval torture zone. And no gardener," Arriane said, kicking some slime off her combat boots. "Gross. Oh, and there's the cemetery."
Luce followed Arriane's pointing finger to the far left side of the quad, just past the dormitory. An even thicker cloak of mist hung over the walled-off portion of land. It was bordered on three sides by a thick forest of oaks. She couldn't see into the cemetery, which seemed almost to sink below the surface of the ground, but she could smell the rot and hear the chorus of cicadas buzzing in the trees. For a second, she thought she saw the dark swish of the shadows - but she blinked and they were gone.
"That's a cemetery?"
"Yep. This used to be a military academy, way back in the Civil War days. So that's where they buried all their dead. It's creepy as all get-out. And lawd," Arriane said, piling on a fake southern accent, "it stinks to high Heaven." Then she winked at Luce. "We hang out there a lot."
Luce looked at Arriane to see if she was kidding. Arriane just shrugged.
"Okay, it was only once. And it was only after a really big pharmapalooza."
Now, that was a word Luce recognized.
"Aha!" Arriane laughed. "I just saw a light go on up there. So somebody is home. Well, Luce, my dear, you may have gone to boarding school parties, but you've never seen a throw-down like reform school kids do it."
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com