Daniel grunted and let go. He dropped to the floor with a thud.
"What else you got, Grigori?"
Luce reeled, thinking he might not get up. But Daniel pulled himself up quickly.
"I'll show you," he hissed. "Outside." He stepped toward Luce, then away. "You stay here."
Then both boys thumped out of the library, through the back exit Luce had used the night of the fire. She and Penn stood frozen to their spots. They stared at each other, jaws dropped.
"Come on," Penn said, dragging Luce over to a window that looked out on the commons. They pressed their faces to the glass, rubbing away the fog of their breath.
The rain was coming down in sheets. The field outside was dark, except for the light that came through the library windows. It was so muddy and slick, it was hard to see anything at all.
Then two figures sprinted out to the center of the commons. Both of them were soaked instantly. They argued for a moment, then started circling each other. Their fists were raised again.
Luce gripped the windowsill and watched as Cam made the first move, running at Daniel and slamming into him with his shoulder. Then a quick spinning kick to his ribs.
Daniel keeled over, clutching his side. Get up. Luce willed him to move. She felt like she had been kicked herself. Every time Cam went at Daniel, she felt it in her bones.
She couldn't stand to watch.
"Daniel stumbled for a second there," Penn announced after Luce had turned away. "But he shot right up and totally clocked Cam in the face. Nice!"
"You're enjoying this?" Luce asked, horrified.
"My dad and I used to watch UFC," Penn said. "Looks like both of these guys have had some serious mixed martial art training. Perfect cross, Daniel!" She groaned. "Aw, man."
"What?" Luce peered out again. "Is he hurt?"
"Relax," Penn said. "Someone's coming to break up the fight. Just when Daniel was bouncing back."
Penn was right. It looked like Mr. Cole jogging across the campus. When he got to where the guys were fighting, he stood still and watched them for a moment, almost hypnotized by the way they were going at it.
"Do something," Luce whispered, feeling sick.
Finally, Mr. Cole grabbed each boy by the scruff of his neck. The three of them struggled for a moment until finally Daniel pulled away. He shook out his right hand, then paced in a circle and spat a few times into the mud.
"Very attractive, Daniel," Luce said sarcastically. Except it was.
Now for a talking-to from Mr. Cole. He waved his hands madly at them and they stood with heads hung.
Cam was first to be dismissed. He jogged off the field toward the dorm and disappeared.
Mr. Cole placed a hand on Daniel's shoulder. Luce was dying to know what they were talking about, whether Daniel would be punished. She wanted to go to him, but Penn blocked her.
"All that over a piece of jewelry. What did Cam give you, anyway?"
Mr. Cole walked off and Daniel was alone, standing in the light from an overhead lamppost, looking up at the rain.
"I don't know," Luce told Penn, leaving the window. "Whatever it is, I don't want it. Especially not after this." She walked back to the computer table and pulled the box from her pocket.
"If you won't, I will," Penn said. She cracked the box open, then looked up at Luce, confused.
THE LIONS' DEN
It had been a long time since Luce had taken a good look in the mirror. She never used to mind her reflection - her clear hazel eyes; small, straight teeth; thick eyelashes; and tumble of dense black hair.
That was then. Before last summer.
After her mom had chopped off all her hair, Luce had started avoiding mirrors. It wasn't just because of her short cut; Luce didn't think she liked who she was anymore, so she didn't want to see any evidence.
She started looking down at her hands when she washed them in the bathroom. She kept her head forward when walking past tinted windows and eschewed face powder in mirrored compacts.
But twenty minutes before she was supposed to meet Cam, Luce stood before the mirror in the empty girls' bathroom in Augustine. She guessed she looked all right. Her hair was finally growing out, and the weight was starting to loosen some of her curls. She checked her teeth, then squared her shoulders and stared into the mirror as if she were looking Cam in the eye. She had to tell him something, something important, and she wanted to make sure she could muster a look that demanded he take her seriously.
He hadn't been in class today. Neither had Daniel, so Luce assumed Mr. Cole had put them both on some sort of probation. Either that or they were nursing their wounds. But Luce had no doubt Cam would be waiting for her today.
She didn't want to see him. Not at all. Thinking about his fists slamming into Daniel made her stomach lurch. But it was her fault they'd fought in the first place. She'd led Cam on - and whether she'd done it because she'd been confused or flattered or the tiniest bit interested didn't matter anymore. What mattered was that she be direct with him today:
There was nothing between them.
She took a deep breath, tugged her shirt down on her hips, and pushed open the bathroom door.
Approaching the gates, she couldn't see him. But then, it was hard to see anything beyond the construction zone in the parking lot. Luce hadn't been back to the school entrance since they'd started the renovations there, and she was surprised at how complicated it was to maneuver across the ripped-up parking lot. She sidestepped potholes and tried to duck under the radar of the construction crew, waving off the asphalt fumes that never seemed to dissipate.
There was no sign of Cam. For a second, she felt foolish, almost like she'd fallen for some kind of prank.
The high metal gates were blistered with red rust. Luce looked through them at the dense grove of ancient elm trees across the road. She cracked her knuckles, thinking back to the time when Daniel had told her he hated it when she did that. But he wasn't here to see her do it; no one was. Then she noticed a folded piece of paper with her name on it. It was staked to the thick, gray-trunked magnolia tree next to the broken call box.
I'm saving you from Social tonight. While the rest of our fellow students stage a Civil War reenactment -
sad but true - you and I will paint the town red. A black sedan with a gold license plate will bring you to me. Thought we could both use a dose of fresh air.
Luce coughed from the fumes. Fresh air was one thing, but a black sedan picking her up from campus?
To bring her to him, like he was some sort of monarch who could just arrange on a whim for women to be fetched? Where was he, anyway?
None of this was part of her plan. She'd agreed to meet Cam only to tell him that he was being too forward and she really couldn't see herself getting involved with him. Because - although she'd never tell him - every time his fist had struck Daniel the night before, something inside her had flinched and started to boil. Clearly, she needed to nip this little thing with Cam in the bud. She had the gold serpent necklace in her pocket. It was time to give it back.
Except now she felt stupid for assuming that Cam just wanted to talk. Of course he'd have something more up his sleeve. He was that kind of guy.
The sound of car wheels slowing made Luce turn her head. A black sedan rolled to a stop in front of the gates. The tinted driver's-side window rolled down and a hairy hand came out and picked up the receiver from the call box outside the gates. After a moment, the receiver was slammed back into its cradle and the driver just leaned on his horn.
At last, the great groaning metal gates parted and the car pulled forward, stopping in front of her. The doors softly unlocked. Was she really going to get into that car and drive who-knew-where to meet him?
The last time she'd stood at these gates had been to say goodbye to her parents. Missing them before they'd even pulled away, she'd waved from this very spot, next to the broken call box inside the gates -
and, she remembered, she'd noticed one of the more high-tech security cameras. The kind with a motion detector, zooming in on her every move. Cam couldn't have picked a worse spot for the car to pick her up.
All of a sudden, she saw visions of a basement solitary confinement cell. Damp cement walls and cockroaches running up her legs. No real light. The rumors were still spreading through campus about that couple, Jules and Phillip, who hadn't been seen since they'd sneaked out. Did Cam think Luce wanted to see him so badly she'd risk just walking off campus in plain view of the reds?
The car was still humming on the driveway in front of her. After a moment, the driver - a sunglasses-sporting man with a thick neck and thinning hair - extended his hand. In it was a small white envelope.
Luce hesitated a second before stepping forward to take it from his fingers.
Cam's stationery. A heavy, creamy ivory card with his name letterpressed in decadent gold at the bottom left-hand corner.
Should have mentioned before, the red's been duct. See for yourself. I took care of it, like I'll take care of you. See you soon, I hope.
Duct? Did he mean - ? She dared a glance at the red. He did. A sharply cut black circle of duct tape had been placed cleanly over the lens of the camera. Luce didn't know how these things worked or how long it would take the faculty to find out, but in a weird way, she was relieved that Cam had thought to take care of it. She couldn't imagine Daniel thinking so far ahead.
Both Callie and her parents were expecting phone calls this evening. Luce had read Callie's ten-page letter three times, and she had all the funny details memorized from her friend's weekend trips to Nantucket, but she still wouldn't have known how to answer any of Callie's questions about her life at Sword & Cross. If she turned around and went inside to pick up the phone, she didn't know how she'd begin to catch Callie or her parents up on the strange, dark twist the past few days had taken. Easier not to tell them at all, or not until she'd wrapped things up one way or another.
She slid into the sedan's plush beige leather backseat and buckled up. The driver put the car in gear without a word.
"Where are we going?" she asked him.
"Little backwater place down the river. Mr. Briel likes the local color. Just sit back and relax, honey.
Mr. Brie!? Who was this guy? Luce never liked being told to relax, especially when it felt like a warning not to ask any more questions. Nonetheless, she crossed her arms over her chest, looked out the window, and tried to forget the driver's tone when he called her "honey."
Through the tinted windows, the trees outside and the gray paved road beneath them all looked brown. At the turning whose westward fork led to Thunderbolt, the black sedan turned east. They were following the river toward the shore. Every now and then, when their path and the river's converged, Luce could see the brackish brown water twisting beside them. Twenty minutes later, the car slowed to a stop in front of a beat-up riverside bar.
It was made of gray, rotting wood, and a swollen, water logged sign over the front door read STYX in jagged red hand-painted letters. A strand of plastic pennants advertising beer had been stapled to the wood beam underneath the tin roof, a mediocre attempt at festivity. Luce studied the images silk-screened onto the plastic triangles - palm trees and tanned, bikini-clad girls with beer bottles at their grinning lips - and wondered when the last time had been when a real live girl had actually set foot in this place.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com