"Well, we're honored," Luce's dad boomed, giving Mr. Cole a big smile. Immediately, Luce could tell that it wasn't just Dad's cannon-hungry Civil War buff side speaking. He clearly felt that Mr. Cole was legit. And her father was the best judge of character she knew.
Already the two men had started trooping down the steep slope at the entrance of the cemetery.
Luce's mom left the picnic basket at the gates and gave Luce and Penn one of her well-worn smiles.
Mr. Cole waved a hand to get their attention. "First, a bit of trivia. What" - he raised his eyebrows - "would you guess is the oldest element of this cemetery?"
While Luce and Penn looked down at their feet - avoiding his eyes as they did during class -
Luce's father stood on his toes to take a gander at some of the larger statues.
"Trick question!" Mr. Cole bellowed, patting the ornate wrought iron gates. "This front portion of the gates was built by the original proprietor in 1831. They say his wife, Ellamena, had a lovely garden, and she wanted something to keep the guinea hens out of her tomatoes." He laughed under his breath. "That was before the war. And before the sinkhole. Moving on!"
As they walked, Mr. Cole rattled off fact after fact about the construction of the cemetery, the historical backdrop against which it was built, and the "artist" - even he used the term loosely -
who'd come up with the winged beast sculpture at the top of the monolith in the center of the grounds. Luce's father peppered Mr. Cole with questions while Luce's mom ran her hands over the tops of some of the prettiest headstones, letting out a murmured "Oh my" every time she paused to read an inscription. Penn shuffled after Luce's mother, possibly wishing she'd latched on to a different family for the day. And Luce brought up the rear, considering what might happen if she were to give her parents her own personal tour of the cemetery.
Here's where I served my first detention...
And here's where a falling marble angel nearly decapitated me...
And here's where a reform school boy you'd never approve of took me on the strangest picnic of my fife.
"Cam," Mr. Cole called as he led the tour around the monolith.
Cam was standing with a tall, dark-haired man in a tailored black business suit. Neither of them heard Mr. Cole or saw the party he was leading on the tour. They were talking quietly and gesturing in a very involved manner at the oak tree, the way Luce had seen her drama teacher gesture when the students were blocking a scene in a play.
"Are you and your father late arrivals to our tour?" Mr. Cole asked Cam, this time more loudly.
"You've missed most of it, but there's still an interesting fact or two I'm sure I could impart."
Cam slowly turned his head their way, then back at his companion, who seemed amused. Luce didn't think the man, with his classic tall, dark, and handsome good looks and huge gold watch, looked old enough to be Cam's father. But maybe he had just aged well. Cam's eyes skimmed Luce's bare neck, and he seemed briefly disappointed. She blushed, because she could feel her mother taking in the whole scene and wondering just what was going on.
Cam ignored Mr. Cole and approached Luce's mother, drawing her hand to his lips before anyone could even introduce them. "You must be Luce's older sister," he said rakishly.
To her left, Penn gagged into her elbow and whispered so only Luce could hear, "Please tell me someone else is nauseated."
But Luce's mom seemed somewhat dazzled, in a way that made Luce - and her father, clearly -
"No, we can't stay for the tour," Cam announced, winking at Luce and drawing back just as Luce's father approached. "But it was so lovely" - he glanced at each of the three of them, excluding only Penn - "to encounter you here. Let's go, Dad."
"Who was that?" Luce's mother whispered when Cam and his father, or whoever he had been, disappeared back up the side of the cemetery.
"Oh, just one of Luce's admirers," Penn said, trying to lighten the mood and doing exactly the opposite.
"One of?" Luce's father peered down at Penn.
In the late-afternoon light, Luce could see for the first time a few gray whiskers in her dad's beard. She didn't want to spend today's last moments convincing her father not to worry about the boys at her reform school.
"It's nothing, Dad, Penn's kidding."
"We want you to be careful, Lucinda," he said.
Luce thought about what Daniel had suggested - quite strongly - the other day. That maybe she shouldn't be at Sword & Cross at all. And suddenly she wanted so badly to bring it up to her parents, to beg and plead for them to take her far away from here.
But it was that same memory of Daniel that made Luce hold her tongue. The thrilling touch of his skin on hers when she'd pushed him down at the lake, the way his eyes were sometimes the saddest things she knew. It felt at once absolutely crazy and absolutely true that it might be worth all of this hell at Sword & Cross just to spend a little more time with Daniel. Just to see if anything might come of it.
"I hate goodbyes," Luce's mother breathed, interrupting her daughter's thoughts to draw her in for a brisk hug. Luce looked down at her watch and her face fell. She didn't know how the afternoon had gone by so quickly, how it could already be time for them to go.
"You'll call us on Wednesday?" her dad asked, kissing both her cheeks the way the French side of his family always did.
As they all walked back up toward the parking lot, Luce's parents gripped her hands. Each of them gave her another strong hug and series of kisses. When they shook Penn's hand and wished her well, Luce saw a video camera clamped to the brick post housing a broken call box at the exit. There must have been a motion detector attached to the reds, because the camera was panning, following their movement. This one hadn't been on Arriane's tour and was certainly not a dead red. Luce's parents noticed nothing - and maybe it was better that way.
Then they were walking away, looking back twice to wave at the two girls standing at the entrance to the main lobby. Dad cranked up his old black Chrysler New Yorker and rolled down the window.
"We love you," he called out so loudly that Luce would have been embarrassed if she hadn't been so sad to see them go.
Luce waved back. "Thank you," she whispered. For the pralines and the okra. For spending all day here. For taking Penn under your wing, no questions asked. For still loving me despite the fact that I scare you.
When the taillights disappeared around the bend, Penn tapped Luce's back. "I was thinking I'd go see my dad." She kicked the ground with the toe of her boot and looked bashfully up at Luce.
"Any chance you'd want to come? If not, I understand, seeing as it involves another trip inside -
" She jerked her thumb back toward the depths of the
"Of course I'll come," Luce said.
They walked around the perimeter of the cemetery, staying high on the rim until they'd reached the far east corner, where Penn paused in front of a grave.
It was modest, white, and covered with a tawny layer of pine needles. Penn got down on her knees and started to wipe it clean.
STANFORD LOCKWOOD, the simple tombstone read, WORLD'S BEST FATHER.
Luce could hear Penn's poignant voice behind the inscription, and she felt tears spring to her eyes. She didn't want Penn to see - after all, Luce still had her parents. If anyone should cry right now, it should be
... Penn was crying. She was trying to hide it with the mildest of sniffles and a few tears wiped on the ragged hem of her sweater. Luce got down on her knees, too, and started helping her brush the needles away. She put her arms around her friend and held on as tight as she could.
When Penn drew back and thanked Luce, she reached into her pocket and pulled out a letter.
"I usually write him something," she explained.
Luce wanted to give Penn a moment alone with her dad, so she got up, took a step back, and turned away, heading down the slope toward the heart of the cemetery. Her eyes were still a little glassy, but she thought she could see someone sitting alone on top of the monolith. Yes. A guy with his arms wrapped around his knees. She couldn't imagine how he'd gotten up there, but there he was.
He looked stiff and lonely, as if he'd been there all day. He didn't see Luce or Penn. He didn't seem to see anything. But Luce didn't have to be close enough to see those violet-gray eyes to know who it was.
All this time Luce had been searching for explanations about why Daniel's file was so sparse, what secrets his ancestor's missing book held in the library, where his mind had traveled to that day she'd asked about his family. Why he'd been so hot and cold with her ... always.
It rained all day on Tuesday. Pitch-black clouds rolled in from the west and churned over the campus, doing nothing to help clear Luce's mind. The downpour came in uneven waves - drizzling, then pouring, then hailing - before it tapered off to start all over again. The students hadn't even been allowed to go outside during breaks, and by the end of her calculus class, Luce was going stir-crazy.
She realized this when her notes began to veer away from the mean value theorem and started looking more like this:
September 15: Introductory flip-off from D
September 16: Statue toppling, hand on head to protect me (alternately: just him groping for a way out); D's immediate exit
September 17: Potential misreading of D's head bob as suggestion that I attend Cam's party. Disturbing discovery of D & G's relationship (mistake?)
Spelled out like that, it was the beginning of a pretty embarrassing catalog. He was just so hot and cold. It was possible he felt the same way about her - though, if pressed, Luce would insist that any weirdness on her part was only in response to utter weirdness on his part.
No. This was precisely the kind of circular argument she did not want to engage in. Luce didn't want to play any games. She just wanted to be with him. Only, she had no idea why. Or how to go about it. Or really, what being with him would even mean. All she knew was that, despite everything, he was the one she thought about. The one she cared about.
She'd thought if she could track every time they'd connected and every time he'd pulled away, she might be able to find some reason behind Daniel's erratic behavior. But her list so far was only making her depressed. She crumpled the page into a ball.
When the bell finally rang to dismiss them for the day, Luce hurried out of the classroom. Usually she waited to walk with either Arriane or Penn, dreading the moment they parted ways, because then Luce would be alone with her thoughts. But today, for a change, she didn't feel like seeing anyone. She was looking forward to some Luce time. She had only one sure idea about how to take her mind off Daniel: a long, hard, solitary swim.
While the other students started trucking back toward their dorm rooms, Luce pulled up the hood of her black sweater and darted into the rain, eager to get to the natatorium.
As she bounded down the steps of Augustine, she plowed straight into something tall and black. Cam.
When she jostled him, a tower of books teetered in his arms, then tumbled to the wet pavement with a series of thuds. He'd had his own black hood pulled over his head and his earbuds blaring in his ears. He probably hadn't seen her coming, either. They'd both been in their own worlds.
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