She had to find Penn. If anyone could come up with an explanation for such an impossible occurrence, it would be Penn. With the inscrutable old book tucked under her arm, Luce left her room and raced toward the library.
The library was warm and empty, but something about the high ceilings and endless rows of books made Luce nervous. She walked quickly past the new call desk, which still looked sterile and unlived in. She passed the formidable unused card catalog and the endless reference section until she had reached the long tables in the group study section.
Instead of Penn, Luce found Arriane, playing a game of chess with Roland. She had her feet up on the table and was wearing a striped conductor's cap. Her hair was tucked under the hat, and Luce noticed again, for the first time since the morning she'd cut Arriane's hair, the glossy, marbled scar along her neck.
Arriane was fixated on the game. A chocolate cigar bobbed between her lips as she contemplated her next move. Roland had twisted his dreads into two meaty knots on the crown of his head. He was giving Arriane the hawk eye, tapping one of his pawns with his pinky.
"Checkmate, bitch," Arriane said triumphantly, knocking over Roland's king, just as Luce thudded to a stop in front of their table. "Lululucinda," she sang, looking up. "You've been hiding from me."
"I've been hearing things about you," Arriane said, causing Roland to tilt his head attentively. "Nudge nudge, wink wink. That means sit down and spill. Right now."
Luce hugged the book to her chest. She didn't want to sit down. She wanted to scour the library for Penn.
She couldn't make small talk with Arriane - especially not in front of Roland, who was clearing his things off the seat next to him.
"Join us," Roland said.
Luce lowered herself reluctantly onto the edge of the seat. She'd just stay a few minutes. It was true that she hadn't seen Arriane in a few days, and under normal circumstances, she would really have missed the girl's bizarre ways.
But these were far from normal circumstances, and Luce could think of nothing other than that photograph.
"Since I just wiped the chessboard with Roland's ass, let's play a new game. How about 'who saw an incriminating photo of Luce the other day?'" Arriane said, crossing her arms on the table.
"What?" Luce jumped back. She pressed her hand down firmly on the cover of the book, feeling certain that her tense expression was giving everything away. She should never have brought it here.
"I'll give you three guesses," Arriane said, rolling her eyes. "Molly snapped a picture of you ducking into a big black car yesterday after class."
"Oh." Luce sighed.
"She was going to turn you in to Randy," Arriane continued. "Until I gave her what for. Mmm-hmm."
She snapped her fingers. "Now, to show your gratitude, tell me - are they sneaking you away to see an off-campus shrink?" She lowered her voice to a whisper and tapped her fingernails on the table. "Or have you taken a lover?"
Luce glanced at Roland, who was giving her a fixed stare.
"Neither," she said. "I just left for a little while to have a talk with Cam. It didn't go exactly - "
"Bam! Pay up, Arri," Roland said, grinning. "You owe me ten bucks."
Luce's jaw dropped.
Arriane patted her hand. "No big deal, we just made a little wager to keep things interesting. I assumed it was Daniel you'd gone off with. Roland here picked Cam. You're breaking my bank, Luce. I don't like it."
"I was with Daniel," Luce said, not really knowing why she felt the need to correct them. Didn't they have anything better to do with their lives than sit around wondering what she did on her own time?
"Oh," Roland said, sounding disappointed. "The plot thickens."
"Roland." Luce turned to him. "I need to ask you something."
"Talk to me." He pulled a notepad and a pen out of his black-and-white pinstriped blazer. He held the pen poised over the paper, like a waiter taking an order. "What do you want? Coffee? Booze? I only get the hard stuff on Fridays. Dirty magazines?"
"Thigars?" Arriane offered, lisping through the chocolate one in her mouth.
"No." Luce shook her head. "None of that."
"Okay, special order. I left the catalog up in the room." Roland shrugged. "You can come by later - "
"I don't need you to get me anything. I just want to know - " She swallowed dryly. "You're friends with Daniel, right?"
He shrugged. "I don't hate the guy."
"But do you trust him?" she asked. "I mean, if he told you something that sounded crazy, how likely would you be to believe him?"
Roland squinted at her, seeming momentarily stumped, but Arriane quickly hopped up on the table and swung her legs over to Luce's side. "What exactly are we talking about?"
Luce stood up. "Never mind." she should never have raised the subject. The whole mess of details came rushing back to her. She grabbed the book from the table. "I've got to go," she said, "I'm sorry."
She pushed her chair in and walked away. Her legs felt heavy and dull, her mind overloaded. A breath of wind lifted the hair at the back of her neck and her head darted around in search of shadows. Nothing. Just an open window high up near the library rafters. Just a tiny bird's nest tucked into the window's narrow open corner. Scanning the library again, Luce found it hard to believe her eyes. There really was no sign of them, no inky black tendrils or shuddering gray weather system roiling overhead - but Luce could feel their distinct closeness, could almost smell their salty sulfur in the air. Where were they, if not haunting her? She'd always thought of them as hers alone. She'd never considered that the shadows might go other places, do other things - torment other people. Did Daniel see them, too?
Rounding the corner toward the computer stations at the back of the library, where she thought she might find Penn, Luce ran smack into Miss Sophia. Both of them stumbled, and Miss Sophia caught Luce to steady herself. She was dressed in fashionable jeans and a long white blouse, with a beaded red cardigan tied around her shoulders. Her metallic green glasses hung from a multicolored bead chain around her neck. Luce was surprised at how firm her grip was.
"Excuse me," Luce mumbled.
"Why, Lucinda, what's the matter?" Miss Sophia pressed a palm to Luce's forehead. The baby powder smell of her hands filled Luce's nose. "You don't look well." Luce swallowed, willing herself not to burst into tears just because the nice librarian was taking pity on her. "I'm riot well."
"I knew it," Miss Sophia said. "You missed class today and you weren't at the Social last night. Do you need to see a doctor? If my first-aid kit hadn't been burned up in the fire, I'd take your temperature right here."
"No, well, I don't know." Luce held the book out in front of her and contemplated telling Miss Sophia everything, starting from the beginning ... which was when?
Only, she didn't have to. Miss Sophia took one glance at the book, sighed, and gave Luce a knowing look. "You finally found it, didn't you? Come, let's have a talk."
Even the librarian knew more than Luce did about her life. Lives? She couldn't figure out what any of it meant, or how any of it was possible.
She followed Miss Sophia to a table at the back corner of the study section. She could still see Arriane and Roland from the corner of her eye, but they seemed at least to be out of earshot.
"How did you come across this?" Miss Sophia patted Luce's hand and slipped her glasses on. Her small black-pearl eyes twinkled behind the bifocals' frames. "Don't worry. You're not in trouble, dear."
"I don't know. Penn and I had been looking for it. It was stupid. We thought maybe the author was related to Daniel, but we didn't know for sure. Whenever we went to look for it, it seemed like it had just been checked out. Then, when I came home tonight, Penn had left it in my room - "
"So Pennyweather knows about its contents as well?"
"I don't know," Luce said, shaking her head. She could feel herself rambling, and yet she couldn't make herself shut up. Miss Sophia was like the cool, zany grandmother Luce had never had. Her own grandmother's idea of a big shopping trip was going to the grocery store. Besides, it felt so good just to talk to someone. "I haven't been able to find her yet, only because I was with Daniel, and usually he acts so weird, but last night he kissed me, and we stayed out until - "
"Excuse me, dear," Miss Sophia said, a little too loudly, "but did you just say Daniel Grigori kissed you?"
Luce covered her mouth with both hands. She could not believe she'd just spilled that to Miss Sophia.
She must really be losing it. "I'm sorry, that's completely irrelevant. And embarrassing. I don't know why that slipped out." She fanned her burning cheeks.
Already it was too late. Across the study section, Arriane boomed at Luce, "Thanks for telling me!" Her face looked stunned.
But Miss Sophia snapped Luce's attention back when she shook the book from Luce's hands. "A kiss between you and Daniel is not only irrelevant, dear, it's usually impossible." She stroked her chin and looked up at the ceiling. "Which means ... well, it couldn't mean ..."
Miss Sophia's fingers started flying through the book, tracing down each page at a miraculously rapid pace.
"What do you mean, 'usually'?" Luce had never felt so left out of her own life.
"Forget the kiss." Miss Sophia waved her hand at Luce, taking her aback. "That's not half of it. The kiss doesn't mean anything unless ..." she muttered under her breath and went back to flipping through the pages.
What did Miss Sophia know? Daniel's kiss meant everything. Luce watched Miss Sophia's flying fingers dubiously until something on one of the pages caught her eye.
"Go back," Luce said, laying her hand over Miss Sophia's to stop her.
Miss Sophia leaned slowly away as Luce turned back the thin, translucent pages. There. She pressed a hand to her heart. In the margin was a series of drawings sketched in blackest ink. Quickly done, but in an elegant, fine hand. By someone with a certain talent. Luce ran her fingers over the drawings, taking them in. The slope of a woman's shoulder, seen from the back, her hair knotted into a low bun. Soft bare knees crossed over each other, leading up to a shadowy waist. A long, thin wrist giving way to an open palm in which a large, full peony rested.
Luce's fingers started to tremble. A lump rose in her throat, She didn't know why this, out of everything she'd seen and heard today, was beautiful enough - tragic enough - to finally bring her to tears. The shoulder, the knees, the wrist ... all were her own. And she knew - all of them had been drawn by Daniel's hand.
"Lucinda." Miss Sophia looked nervous, slowly inching her chair away from the table. "Are you - are you feeling quite all right?"
"Oh, Daniel," Luce whispered, desperate to be near him again, She wiped away a tear.
"He's damned, Lucinda," Miss Sophia said in a surprisingly cold voice. "You both are."
Damned. Daniel had spoken of being damned. That was his word for all of this. But he'd been referring to himself. Not her.
***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com