"Are you okay?" he asked, putting a hand on her back.
"I'm fine," Luce said. She'd barely stumbled. It was Cam's books that had taken the spill.
"Well, now that we've knocked over one another's books, isn't the next step for our hands to accidentally touch while we're picking them up?"
Luce laughed. When she handed him one of the books, he held on to her hand and squeezed it. The rain had soaked his dark hair, and big drops gathered in his long, thick eyelashes. He looked really good.
"How do you say 'embarrassed' in French?" he asked.
"Um ... gкnй," Luce started to say, feeling suddenly a little gйnee herself. Cam was still holding on to her hand. "Wait, aren't you the one who got an A on the French quiz yesterday?"
"You noticed?" he asked. His voice sounded strange.
"Cam," she said, "is everything okay?"
He leaned toward her and brushed a drop of water she'd felt running down the bridge of her nose. The single touch of his forefinger made her shiver, and suddenly she couldn't help thinking about how wonderful and warm it might feel if he folded her into his arms the way he'd done at Todd's memorial.
"I've been thinking about you," he said. "Wanting to see you. I waited for you at the memorial, but someone told me you left."
Luce got the feeling he knew whom she'd left with. And that he wanted her to know he knew.
"I'm sorry," she said, having to shout to be heard over a clap of thunder. By now they were both soaked from the streaming downpour.
"Come on, let's get out of this rain." Cam tugged her back toward the covered entrance to Augustine.
Luce looked over his shoulder toward the gym and wanted to be there, not here or anywhere else with Cam. At least, not right now. Her head was brimming with too many confusing impulses, and she needed time and space away - from everyone - to sort them out.
"I can't," she said.
"How about later? How about tonight?"
"Sure, later, okay."
He beamed. "I'll come by your room."
He surprised her by pulling her in to him, just for the briefest moment, and kissing her gently on the forehead. Luce felt instantly soothed, almost like she'd been given a shot of something. And before she had a chance to feel anything more, he'd released her and was walking quickly back toward the dorm.
Luce shook her head and splashed slowly toward the gym. Clearly she had more to sort out than just Daniel.
There was a chance it might be good, fun even, to spend some time with Cam later tonight. If the rain let up, he'd probably take her to some secret part of the campus and be all charismatic and gorgeous in that unnervingly still manner of his. He'd make her feel special. Luce smiled.
Since she'd last set foot in Our Lady of Fitness (as Arriane had christened the gym), the school's maintenance staff had begun to fight the kudzu. They had stripped the green blanket away from much of the building's faзade, but they were only half finished, and green vines dangled like tentacles across the doors. Luce had to duck under a few long tendrils just so she could get inside.
The gym was empty, and pin-drop quiet compared to the thunderstorm outside. Most of the lights were off. She hadn't asked if she was allowed to use the gym after hours, but the door was unlocked, and, well, no one was there to stop her.
In the dim hallway, she passed the old Latin scrolls in the glass cases, and the miniature marble reproduction of the pietа. She paused in front of the door to the weight room, where she'd happened upon Daniel jumping rope. Sigh. That'd be a great addition to her catalog: September 18: D accuses me of stalking him.
Followed two days later by:
September 20: Penn convinces me to really begin stalking him. I consent.
Ugh. She was in a black hole of self-loathing. And yet she couldn't stop herself. In the middle of the hallway, she froze. All at once she understood why this whole day she'd felt even more consumed by Daniel than usual, and also even more conflicted about Cam. She'd dreamed about them both last night.
She'd been wandering through a dusty fog, someone holding her hand. She'd turned, thinking it would be Daniel. But while the lips she pressed against were comforting and tender, they weren't his. They were Cam's. He gave her innumerable soft kisses, and every time Luce peeked at him, his stormy green eyes were open, too, boring into her, questioning her about something she couldn't answer.
Then Cam was gone, and the fog was gone, and Luce was wrapped tightly in Daniel's arms, right where she wanted to be. He dipped her low and kissed her fiercely, as if he were angry, and each time his lips left hers, even just for half a second, the most parching thirst ran through her, making her cry out. This time, she knew they were wings, and she let them wrap around her body like a blanket. She wanted to touch them, to fold them around her and Daniel completely, but soon the brush of velvet was receding, folding back on itself. He stopped kissing her, watched her face, waited for a reaction. She didn't understand the strange hot fear growing in the pit of her stomach. But there it was, making her uncomfortably warm, then blisteringly hot - until she could stand it no longer. That was when she jolted awake: In the dream's last moment, Luce herself had seared and splintered - then had been obliterated into ash.
She'd woken up soaked with sweat - her hair, her pillow, her pajamas all wet and suddenly making her so, so cold. She'd lain there shivering and alone until the morning's first light.
Luce rubbed her rain-soaked sleeves to warm up. Of course. The dream had left her with a fire in her heart and a chill in her bones she'd been unable to reconcile all day. Which was why she'd come here for a swim, to try to work it out of her system.
This time, her black Speedo actually fit, and she'd remembered to bring a pair of goggles. She pushed open the door to the pool and stood under the high-pe platform alone, breathing in the humid air with its dull tang of chlorine. Without the distraction of the other students, or the trill of Coach Diante's whistle, Luce could feel the presence of something else in the church. Something almost holy. Maybe it was only that the natatorium was such a gorgeous room, even with the rain pelting in through the cracked stained-glass windows. Even with none of the candles lit in the red side altars. Luce tried to imagine what the place had looked like before the pool had replaced the pews, and she smiled. She liked the idea of swimming under all those praying heads.
She lowered her goggles and leaped in. The water was warm, much warmer than the rain outside, and the crash of thunder outside sounded harmless and far away when she ducked her head underwater.
She pushed off and began a slow warm-up crawl stroke.
Her body quickly loosened up, and a few laps later, Luce increased her speed and began the butterfly. She could feel the burn in her limbs, and she pushed through it. This was exactly the feeling she was after.
Totally in the zone.
If she could just talk to Daniel. Really talk, without him interrupting or telling her to transfer schools or ducking out before she could get to her point. That might help. It also might require tying him up and taping his mouth shut just so he'd listen to her.
But what would she even say? All she had to go on was this feeling she got around him, which, if she thought about it, had nothing to do with any of their inter actions. What if she could get him back to the lake? He was the one who'd implied it had become their place. This time, she could lead him there, and she'd be super-careful not to
bring up anything that seemed to freak him out -
It wasn't working.
Crap. She was doing it again. She was supposed to be swimming. Just swimming. She'd swim until she was too tired to think about anything else, especially Daniel. She'd swim until -
Until she was interrupted. By Penn, who was standing at the side of the pool.
"What are you doing here?" Luce asked, spitting water.
"What are you doing here?" Penn returned. "Since when do you exercise willingly? I don't like this new side of you."
"How did you find me?" Luce didn't realize until she'd said it that her words might have sounded rude, like she was trying to avoid Penn.
"Cam told me," Penn said. "We had a whole conversation. It was weird. He wanted to know if you were all right."
"That is weird," Luce agreed.
"No," Penn said, "what was weird was that he approached me and we had a whole conversation. Mr.
Popularity ... and me. Need I spell out my surprise any further? Thing is, he was actually really nice."
"Well, he is nice." Luce pulled her goggles off her head.
"To you," Penn said. "He's so nice to you that he snuck out of school to buy you that necklace - which you never wear."
"I wore it once," Luce said. Which was true. Five nights before, after the second time Daniel left her stranded at the lake, alone with his path lit up in the forest. She hadn't been able to shake the image of it and hadn't been able to sleep. So she'd tried on the necklace. She'd fallen asleep clutching it near her collarbone, and woken up with it hot in her hand.
Penn was waving three fingers at Luce, as if to say, Hello? And your point is .7
"My point is," Luce said finally, "I'm not so superficial that all I'm looking for is a guy who buys me things."
"Not so superficial, eh?" Penn asked. "Then I dare you to make a non-superficial list of why you're so into Daniel. Which means no He's got the loveliest little gray eyes or Ooh, the way his muscles ripple in the sunlight."
Luce had to crack up at Penn's high falsetto and the way she held her hands clasped to her heart. "He just gets me," she said, avoiding Penn's eyes. "I can't explain it."
"He gets that you deserve to be ignored?" Penn shook her head.
Luce had never told Penn about the times she'd spent alone with Daniel, the times when she'd seen a flash that he cared about her, too. So Penn couldn't really understand her feelings. And they were far too private and too complicated to explain.
Penn crouched down in front of Luce. "Look, the reason I came to find you in the first place was to drag you to the library for a Daniel-related mission."
"You found the book?"
"Not exactly," Penn said, extending a hand to help Luce out of the pool. "Mr. Grigori's masterpiece is still mysteriously missing, but I kind of sort of maybe hacked Miss Sophia's subscribers-only literary search engine, and a couple of things turned up. I thought you might find them interesting."
"Thanks," Luce said, hoisting herself out with Penn's help. "I'll try not to be too annoyingly gushy over Daniel."
"Whatever," Penn said. "Just hurry up and dry off. We're in a brief no-rain window outside and I don't have an umbrella."
Mostly dry and back in her school uniform, Luce followed Penn to the library. Part of the front portion had been blocked off by yellow police tape, so the girls had to slip through the narrow space between the card catalog and the reference section. It still smelled like a bonfire, and now, thanks to the sprinklers and the rain, possessed an added mildewy quality.
Luce took her first look at where Miss Sophia's desk had sat, now a charred, nearly perfect circle on the old tile floor in the library's center. Everything in a fifteen-foot radius had been removed.
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