Page 47

Though Luce felt entirely conspicuous, he was right. None of the other students' eyes lingered on the two of them any longer than they did on anyone else.

At the gates of the cemetery, blue and white police lights flashed, reflecting in the leaves of the oak trees overhead. The entrance had been marked off with yellow hazard tape.

Luce saw Randy's black silhouette outlined against the sunrise ahead of them. She was pacing before the cemetery's entrance and shouting into a Bluetooth clipped to the collar of her shapeless polo shirt.

"I think you should wake him up," she yelled into the device. "There's been an incident at the school. I keep telling you ... I don't know."

"I should warn you," Daniel told her as he steered her away from Randy and the blinking lights of the cop cars, through the oak grove that bordered the cemetery on three sides. "It will look strange to you down there. Cam's style of warfare is messier than ours. It's not gory, it's just ... different."

Luce didn't think much could alarm her at this point. A few toppled statues certainly weren't going to set her off. They picked their way through the forest, brittle fall leaves crunching beneath their feet. Luce thought about how, the night before, these trees had been consumed by the thundering locust-shadow cloud. There was no trace of them now.

Soon, Daniel gestured to a badly bent segment of the cemetery's wrought iron fence.

"We can enter there without being seen. Well have to be quick about it."

Stepping out from the shelter of the trees, Luce slowly understood what Daniel meant about the cemetery looking different. They stood at the rim, not far from Penn's father's grave at the east corner, but it was impossible to see more than a few feet in front of them. The air above the grounds was so murky it might not even have qualified as air. It was thick and gray and gritty, and Luce had to fan her hands through it just to see in front of her face.

She rubbed her fingers together. "Is this - "

"Dust," Daniel said, taking her hand as they walked, He was able to see through it, didn't have to choke and cough it out of his lungs as Luce did. "In war, angels don't die. But their battles leave this thick carpet of dust in their wake."

"What happens to it?"

"Not much, besides the fact that it baffles mortals. It will settle eventually, and then they'll come out to study it by the carload. There's a crazy scientist in Pasadena who thinks it comes from UFO5."

Luce thought with a shudder about the unidentifiable flying black cloud of insectlike objects. That scientist might not be too far off.

"Penn's father was buried up here," she said, pointing as they neared his corner of the graveyard. As eerie as the dust was, she was relieved that the graves, statues, and trees within the cemetery all seemed to have been left standing. She got down on her knees and wiped away the pelt of dust from the grave she thought belonged to Penn's father. Her shaking fingers brushed clean the letters that nearly made her weep.



The space beside Mr. Lockwood's grave was bare. Luce stood up and stamped her foot woefully on the ground, hating that her friend would join him there. Hating that she couldn't even be present to give Penn a proper memorial.

People always talked about Heaven when someone died, how they were certain the deceased were there. Luce never felt like she'd known the rules, and now felt even less qualified to speak about what might or might not be.

She turned to Daniel, tears in her eyes. His face fell at the sight of her sorrow. "I'll take care of her, Luce," he said. "I know it's not the way you wanted, but we'll do the best we can."

The tears came harder. Luce was sniffling and sobbing and wanting Penn back so badly she thought she might collapse. "I can't leave her, Daniel. How can I?'"

Daniel gently wiped her tears with the back of his hand, "What happened to Penn is terrible. A huge mistake. But when you walk away today, you won't be leaving her." He laid a hand over Luce's heart. "She's with you."

"Still, I can't - "

"You can, Luce." His voice was firm. "Believe me. You have no idea how many strong and impossible things you are capable of." He looked away from her, out at the trees. "If there's any good left in this world, you'll know soon."

A single blip of a police car's siren made both of them jump. A car door slammed, and not far from where they stood, they heard the crunch of boots on gravel. "What in the hell - Ronnie, call the central office. Tell the sheriff to get down here."

"Let's go," Daniel said, reaching for her hand. She slid it into his, giving the crest of Mr.

Lockwood's headstone a somber pat, then started moving with Daniel back through the graves near the eastern side of the cemetery. They reached the bent part of the ornate wrought iron fence, then quickly ducked back into the grove of oak trees.

A cold wall of air slammed into Luce as they walked. In the branches ahead of them, she saw three small but seething shadows hanging upside down like bats.

"Hurry," Daniel commanded. As they passed, the shadows reared back, hissing, somehow knowing not to mess with Luce when Daniel was at her side.

"Now where?" Luce asked at the edge of the oak grove.

"Close your eyes," he said.

She did. Daniel's arms circled her waist from behind and she felt his strong chest press into her shoulders. He was lifting her off the ground. A foot maybe, then higher, until the soft leaves of the treetops skimmed her shoulders, tickling her neck as Daniel pushed through them. Higher still, until she could feel the two of them burst free of the woods and into the bright morning sun.

She was tempted to open her eyes - yet she sensed intuitively that it would be too much. She wasn't sure that she was ready. And besides, the feeling of the clear air on her face and the rushing wind in her hair was enough. More than enough. Celestial. Like the feeling she'd had when she'd been rescued from the library, like riding a wave on the ocean. She knew for certain now that Daniel had been behind that, too.

"You can open your eyes now," he said quietly. Luce felt the ground under her feet again and saw they were at the only place she wanted to be. Under the magnolia tree near the lake's edge.

Daniel held her close. "I wanted to bring you here because this is one place - one of many places - where I've really wanted to kiss you these past few weeks. I almost lost it that day when you dove right into the water."

Luce stood on her toes, tilting her head back to kiss Daniel. She had wanted to kiss him badly that day, too - and now she needed to kiss him. His kiss was the only thing that felt right, the only thing that comforted her, and reminded her that there was a reason to go on, even when Penn couldn't.

The tender pressure of his lips soothed her, like a warm drink in the dead of winter, when every part of her felt so cold.

Too soon, he pulled back, looking down at her with the saddest eyes.

"There's another reason I brought you here. This rock leads to the path we'll need to take to move you somewhere safe."

Luce lowered her eyes. "Oh."

"This isn't goodbye for good, Luce. I hope it's not even goodbye for long. We'll just have to see how things ... develop." He smoothed her hair. "Please don't worry. I will always come for you. I won't let you go until you understand that."

"Then I refuse to understand," she said.

Daniel laughed under his breath. "See that clearing over there?" He pointed across the lake about half a mile away where a small pocket of forest opened up to a flat, grassy knoll. Luce had never noticed it before, but now she saw a small white plane with red lights on its wings blinking in the distance.

"That's for me?" she asked. After all that had happened, the sight of an airplane barely fazed her. "Where am I going?"

She couldn't believe she was leaving a place she'd hated but where she'd had so many intense experiences in just a few short weeks. What was Sword & Cross going to be anymore?

"What's going to happen to this place? And what am I going to tell my parents?"

"For now, try not to worry. As soon as you're safe, we'll tackle everything else we need to. Mr. Cole can call your parents."

"Mr. Cole?"

"He's on our side, Luce. You can trust him."

But she had trusted Miss Sophia. She hardly knew Mr. Cole. He seemed so teachery. And that mustache ...

She was supposed to leave Daniel and get on a plane with her history teacher? Her head throbbed.

"There's a path that follows the water," Daniel continued. "We can pick it up down there." He curved his arm around the small of her back. "Or," he proposed, "we could swim."

Holding hands, they stood at the edge of the red rock. They'd left their shoes under the magnolia tree, but this time, there'd be no going back. Luce didn't think it would feel so great to pe into the cold lake in her jeans and a tank top, but with Daniel smiling next to her, everything she did felt like the only thing there was to do.

They raised their arms overhead and Daniel counted to three. Their feet lifted off the ground at exactly the same time, their bodies arched in the air in exactly the same shape, but instead of going down, as Luce instinctively expected, Daniel pulled her higher, using only the tips of his fingers.

They were flying. Luce was hand in hand with an angel and she was flying. The crests of the trees seemed to bow to them. Her body felt lighter than air. The early-morning moon was still visible just over the tree line. It dipped nearer, as if Daniel and Luce were the tide. The water lapped below them, silver and inviting.

"Are you ready?" Daniel asked.

"I'm ready."

Luce and Daniel drifted down toward the deep, cool lake. They broke the surface fingers first, the longest swan pe anyone had ever pulled off. Luce gasped at the cold as they surfaced, then started laughing.

Daniel's hand took hers again, and he motioned for her to join him on the rock. He pulled himself up first, then reached down and lifted her. The moss made a fine, soft carpet for the two of them to spread out on.

Water droplets clung to his chest. They lay on their sides facing each other, propping themselves up on their elbows.

Daniel put his hand on the hollow of her hip. "Mr. Cole will be waiting when we reach the plane," he said. "This is our last chance to be alone. I thought we might say our real goodbye here.

"I'm going to give you something," he added, reaching inside his pocket and pulling out the silver medallion she'd seen him wear around school. He pressed the chain into Luce's open palm and she realized it was a locket, a rose engraved on its face. "It used to belong to you," he said. "A very long time ago."

Luce clicked open the locket to find a tiny photograph inside, behind a glass plate. It was a picture of the two of them, looking not at the camera, but deep into each other's eyes, and laughing. Luce's hair was short, as it was now, and Daniel was wearing a bow tie.

"When was this taken?" she asked, holding up the locket. "Where are we?"

"I'll tell you the next time I see you," he said. He lifted the chain over her head and placed it around her neck. When the locket touched her collarbone, she could feel a deep heat pulsing through it, warming her cold, wet skin.


***P/S: Copyright -->Novel12__Com