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"This is my room number. Come by anytime."

The guitar pick wasn't far from the color of Cam's eyes, and Luce wondered how and when he'd had these printed up, but before she could answer - and who knew what she would have answered - Arriane clamped a hard hand down on Cam's shoulder. "I'm sorry, did I not make myself clear? I've already called dibs on this one."

Cam snorted. He looked straight at Luce as he said, "See, I thought there was still such a thing as free will. Maybe your pet has a path of her own in mind."

Luce opened her mouth to claim that of course she had a path, it was just her first day here and she was still figuring out the ropes. But by the time she was able to get the words straight in her head, the minute-warning bell rang, and the little gathering over Luce's desk dissolved.

The other kids filed into desks around her, and soon it stopped being so noteworthy that Luce was sitting prim and proper at her desk, keeping her eye on the door. Keeping a lookout for Daniel.

Out of the corner of her eye, she could feel Cam sneaking peeks at her. She felt flattered - and nervous, then frustrated with herself. Daniel? Cam? She'd been at this school for what, forty-five minutes? - and her mind was already juggling two different guys. The whole reason she was at this school at all was because the last time she'd been interested in a guy, things had gone horribly, horribly wrong. She should not be allowing herself to get all smitten (twice!) on her very first day of school.

She looked over at Cam, who winked at her again, then brushed his dark hair away from his eyes. Staggering good looks aside - yeah, right - he really did seem like a useful person to know. Like her, he was still adjusting to the setting, but had clearly been around the Sword & Cross block a few times before. And he was nice to her. She thought about the green guitar pick with his room number, hoping he didn't give those out freely. They could be ...

friends. Maybe that was all she needed. Maybe then she would stop feeling quite so obviously out of place at Sword & Cross.

Maybe then she'd be able to forgive the fact that the only window in the classroom was the size of a business envelope, caked with lime, and looked out on a massive mausoleum in the cemetery.

Maybe then she'd be able to forget the nose-tickling odor of peroxide emanating from the bleached-blond punk chick sitting in front of her.

Maybe then she could actually pay attention to the stern, mustached teacher who marched into the room, commanded the class to shapeupandsitdown, and firmly closed the door.

The smallest tweak of disappointment tugged at her heart. It took her a moment to trace where it had come from.

Until the teacher shut the door, she'd been holding out a little hope that Daniel would be in her first class, too.

What did she have next hour, French? She looked down at her schedule to check what room it was in. Just then, a paper airplane skidded across her schedule, overshot her desk, and landed on the floor by her bag. She checked to see who'd noticed, but the teacher was busy tearing through a piece of chalk as he wrote something on the board.

Luce glanced nervously to her left. When Cam looked over at her, he gave her a wink and a flirty little wave that caused her whole body to tense up. But he didn't seem to have seen or been responsible for the paper airplane.

"Psssst," came the quiet whisper behind him. It was Arriane, who motioned with her chin for Luce to pick up the paper plane. Luce bent down to reach for it and saw her name written in small black letters on the wing. Her first note!

Already looking for the exit?

Not a good sign.

We're in this hellhole until lunch.

That had to be a joke. Luce double-checked her schedule and realized with horror that all three of her morning classes were in this very same room 1 - and all three would be taught by the very same Mr.

Cole.

He'd detached himself from the blackboard and was sleepily threading his way through the room. There was no introduction for the new kids - and Luce couldn't decide whether she was glad about that or not.

Mr. Cole merely slapped syllabi down on each of the four new students' desks. When the stapled packet landed in front of Luce, she leaned forward eagerly to take a look. History of the World, it read.

Circumventing the Doom of Mankind. Hmmm, history had always been her strongest subject, but circumventing doom?

A closer look at the syllabus was all it took for Luce to see that Arriane had been right about being in a hellhole: an impossible reading load, TEST in big, bold letters every third class period, and a thirty-page paper on - seriously? - the failed tyrant of your choice. Thick black parentheses had been drawn in black Sharpie around the assignments Luce had missed during the first few weeks. In the margins, Mr. Cole had written See me for Makeup Research Assignment. If there was a more effective way of soul-sucking, Luce would be scared to find out.

At least she had Arriane sitting back there in the next row. Luce was glad the precedent had already been set for SOS note-passing. She and Callie used to text each other on the sly, but to make it here, Luce was definitely going to need to learn to fold a paper airplane. She tore a sheet from her notebook and tried to use Arriane's as a model.

After a few origami-challenged minutes, another plane landed on her desk. She glanced back at Arriane, who shook her head and gave her a you-have-so-much-to-learn roll of the eyes.

Luce shrugged an apology and swiveled back around to open the second note: Oh, and until you're confident about your aim, you might not want to fly any Daniel-related messages my way. Dude behind you is famous on the football field for his interceptions.

Good to know. She hadn't even seen Daniel's friend Roland come in behind her. Now she turned very slightly in her seat until she glimpsed his dreadlocks out of the corner of her eye. She dared a glance down at the open notebook on his desk and caught his full name. Roland Sparks.

"No note-passing," Mr. Cole said sternly, causing Luce to whip her head back to attention. "No plagiarizing, and no looking at one another's papers. I didn't put myself through graduate school only to receive your pided attention."

Luce nodded in unison with the other dazed kids just as a third paper plane glided to a stop in the middle of her desk.

Only 172 minutes to go!

A hundred and seventy-three torturous minutes later, Arriane was leading Luce to the cafeteria. "What'd ya think?" she asked.

"You were right," Luce said numbly, still recovering from how painfully bleak her first three hours of class had been. "Why would anyone teach such a depressing subject?"

"Aw, Cole'll ease up soon. He puts on his no-guff face every time there's a new student. Anyway,"

Arriane said, poking Luce, "it could be worse. You could have gotten stuck with Ms. Tross."

Luce glanced down at her schedule. "I have her for biology in the afternoon block," she said with a sinking feeling in her gut.

As Arriane sputtered out a laugh, Luce felt a bump on her shoulder. It was Cam, passing them in the hall on his way to lunch. Luce would have gone sprawling if not for his hand reaching back to steady her.

"Easy there." He shot her a quick smile, and she wondered if he had bumped her intentionally. But he didn't seem that juvenile. Luce glanced at Arriane to see whether she'd noticed anything. Arriane raised her eyebrows, almost inviting Luce to speak, but neither one of them said a thing.

When they crossed the dusty interior windows separating bleak hall from bleaker cafeteria, Arriane took hold of Luce's elbow.

"Avoid the chicken-fried steak at all costs," she coached as they followed the crowd into the din of the lunchroom. "The pizza's fine, the chili's okay, and actually the borscht ain't bad. Do you like meat loaf?"

"I'm a vegetarian," Luce said. She was glancing around the tables, looking for two people in particular.

Daniel and Cam. She'd just feel more at ease if she knew where they were so she could go about having her lunch pretending that she didn't see either one of them. But so far, no sightings

"Vegetarian, huh?" Arriane pursed her lips. "Hippie parents or your own meager attempt at rebellion?"

"Uh, neither, I just don't - "

"Like meat?" Arriane steered Luce's shoulders ninety degrees so that she was looking directly at Daniel, sitting at a table across the room. Luce let out a long exhale. There he was. "Now, does that go for all meat?" Arriane sang loudly. "Like you wouldn't sink your teeth into him?"

Luce slugged Arriane and dragged her toward the lunch line. Arriane was cracking up, but Luce knew she was blushing badly, which would be excruciatingly obvious in this fluorescent lighting.

"Shut up, he totally heard you," she whispered.

Part of Luce felt glad to be joking about boys with a friend. Assuming Arriane was her friend.

She still felt unglued by what had happened this morning when she'd seen Daniel. That pull toward him - she still didn't understand where it came from, and yet here it was again. She made herself tear her eyes away from his blond hair, from the smooth line of his jaw. She refused to be caught staring. She did not want to give him any reason to flip her off a second time.

"Whatever," Arriane scoffed. "He's so focused on that hamburger, he wouldn't hear the call of Satan."

She gestured at Daniel, who did look intensely focused on chewing his burger. Scratch that, he looked like someone pretending to be intensely focused on chewing his hamburger.

Luce glanced across the table at Daniel's friend Roland. He was looking straight at her. When he caught her eye, he waggled his eyebrows in a way that Luce couldn't make sense of but that still creeped her out a little.

Luce turned back to Arriane. "Why is everyone at this school so weird?"

"I'm going to choose not to take offense at that," Arriane said, picking up a plastic tray and handing one to Luce. "And I'm going to move on to explaining the fine art of selecting a cafeteria seat. You see, you never want to sit anywhere near the - Luce, look out!"

All Luce did was take one step backward, but as soon as she did, she felt the rough shove of two hands on her shoulders. Immediately, she knew she was going down. She reached out in front of her for support, but all her hands found was someone else's full lunch tray. The whole thing tumbled down right along with her. She landed with a thud on the cafeteria floor, a full cup of borscht in her face.

When she'd wiped enough mushy beets out of her eyes to see, Luce looked up. The angriest pixie she'd ever seen was standing over her. The girl had spiky bleached hair, at least ten piercings on her face, and a death glare. She bared her teeth at Luce and hissed, "If the sight of you hadn't just ruined my appetite, I'd make you buy me another lunch."

Luce stammered an apology. She tried to get up, but the girl clamped the heel of her black stiletto boot down on Luce's foot. Pain shot up her leg, and she had to bite her lip so she wouldn't cry out.

"Why don't I just take a rain check," the girl said.

"That's enough, Molly," Arriane said coolly. She reached down to help Luce to her feet.

Luce winced. The stiletto was definitely going to leave a bruise.

Molly squared her hips to face Arriane, and Luce got the feeling this was not the first time they'd locked horns.

"Fast friends with the newbie, I see," Molly growled. "This is very bad behavior, A. Aren't you supposed to be on probation?"

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