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"I'm sorry," Luce said, lowering her voice, too. So someone else here knew what it was like to go through a major loss.

"It's okay," Penn said, squirting conditioner into her palm. "It's actually a really good school. I like it here a lot."

Now Luce's head shot up, sending a spray of water across the bathroom. "You sure you're not crazy?" she teased.

"I'm kidding. I hate it here. It totally sucks."

"But you can't bring yourself to leave," Luce said, tilting her head, curious.

Penn bit her lip. "I know it's morbid, but even if I weren't stuck with Udell, I couldn't. My dad's here."

She gestured toward the cemetery, invisible from here. "He's all I've got."

"Then I guess you've got more than some other people at this school," Luce said, thinking of Arriane. Her mind rolled back to the way Arriane had gripped her hand on the quad today, the eager look in her blue eyes when she made Luce promise she'd swing by her dorm room tonight.

"She's gonna be okay," Penn said. "It wouldn't be Monday if Arriane didn't get carted off to the nurse after a fit."

"But it wasn't a fit," Luce said. "It was that wristband. I saw it. It was shocking her."

"We have a very broad definition of what makes for a 'fit' here at Sword & Cross. Your new enemy, Molly? She's thrown some legendary fits. They keep saying they're going to change her meds. Hopefully you'll have the pleasure of witnessing at least one good freak-out before they do."

Penn's intel was pretty remarkable. It crossed Luce's mind to ask her what the story was with Daniel, but the complicated intensity of her interest in him was probably best kept to a need-to-know basis. At least until she figured it out herself.

She felt Penn's hands wringing the water from her hair.

"That's the last of it," Penn said. "I think you're finally meat-free."

Luce looked in the mirror and ran her hands through her hair. Penn was right. Except for the emotional scarring and the pain in her right foot, there was no evidence of her cafeteria brawl with Molly.

"I'm just glad you have short hair," Penn said. "If it were still as long as it was in the picture in your file, this would have been a much lengthier operation."

Luce gawked at her. "I'm going to have to keep an eye on you, aren't I?"

Penn looped her arm through Luce's and steered her out of the bathroom. "Just stay on my good side and no one gets hurt."

Luce shot Penn a worried look, but Penn's face gave nothing away. "You're kidding, right?" Luce asked.

Penn smiled, suddenly cheery. "Come on, we gotta get to class. Aren't you glad we're in the same afternoon block?"

Luce laughed. "When are you going to stop knowing everything about me?"

"Not in the foreseeable future," Penn said, tugging her down the hall and back toward the cinder-block classrooms. "You'll learn to love it soon, I promise. I'm a very powerful friend to have."

Chapter Three

DRAWING DARK

Luce meandered down the dank dormitory hallway toward her room, dragging her red Camp Gurid duffel bag with the broken strap in her wake, The walls here were the color of a dusty blackboard - and the whole place was strangely quiet, save for the dull hum of the yellow fluorescent lamps hanging from the water-stained drop-panel ceilings.

Mostly, Luce was surprised to see so many shut doors. Back at Dover, she'd always wished for more privacy, a break from the hallwide dorm parties that sprang up at all hours. You couldn't walk to your room without tripping over a powwow of girls sitting cross-legged in matching jeans, or a lip-locked couple pressed against the wall.

But at Sword & Cross ... well, either everyone was already getting started on their thirty-page term papers

... or else the socializing here was of a much more behind-closed- doors variety.

Speaking of which, the closed doors themselves were a sight to be seen. If the students at Sword & Cross got resourceful with their dress code violations, they were downright ingenious when it came to personalizing their spaces. Already Luce had walked by one door frame with a beaded curtain, and another with a motion-detecting welcome mat that encouraged her to "move the hell on" when she passed it.

She came to a stop in front of the only blank door in the building. Room 63. Home bitter home. She fumbled for her key in the front pocket of her backpack, took a deep breath, and opened the door to her cell.

Except it wasn't terrible. Or maybe it wasn't as terrible as she'd been expecting. There was a decent-sized window that slid open to let in some less stifling night air. And past the steel bars, the view of the moonlit commons was actually sort of interesting, if she didn't think too hard about the graveyard that lay beyond it. She had a closet and a little sink, a desk to do her work at - come to think of it, the saddest-looking thing in the room was the glimpse Luce caught of herself in the full-length mirror behind the door.

She quickly looked away, knowing all too well what she'd find in the reflection. Her face looking pinched and tired.

Her hazel eyes flecked with stress. Her hair like her family's hysterical toy poodle's fur after a rainstorm. Penn's sweater fit her like a burlap sack. She was shivering. Her afternoon classes had been no better than the morning's, due mainly to the fact that her biggest fear had come to fruition: The whole school had already started calling her Meat Loaf. And unfortunately, much like its namesake, the moniker seemed like it was going to stick.

She wanted to unpack, to turn generic room 63 into her own place, where she could go when she needed to escape and feel okay. But she only got as far as unzipping her bag before she collapsed on the bare bed in defeat. She felt so far away from home. It only took twenty-two minutes by car to get from the loose-hinged whitewashed back door of her house to the rusty wrought iron entrance gates of Sword & Cross, but it might as well have been twenty-two years.

For the first half of the silent drive with her parents this morning, the neighborhoods had all looked pretty much the same: sleepy southern middle-class suburbia. But then the road had gone over the causeway toward the shore, and the terrain had grown more and more marshy. A swell of mangrove trees marked the entrance into the wetlands, but soon even those dwindled out. The last ten miles of road to Sword & Cross were dismal. Grayish brown, featureless, forsaken. Back home in Thunderbolt, people around town always joked about the strangely memorable moldering stench out here: You knew you were in the marshes when your car started to reek of pluff mud.

Even though Luce had grown up in Thunderbolt, she really wasn't that familiar with the far eastern part of the county. As a kid, she'd always just assumed that was because there wasn't any reason to come over here - all the stores, schools, and everyone her family knew were on the west side. The east side was just less developed. That was all.

She missed her parents, who'd stuck a Post-it on the T-shirt at the top of her bag - we love you! Prices never crash! She missed her bedroom, which looked out on her dad's tomato vines. She missed Callie, who most certainly had sent her at least ten never-to-be-seen text messages already. She missed Trevor Or, well, that wasn't exactly it. What she missed was the way life had felt when she'd first started talking to Trevor.

When she had someone to think about if she couldn't sleep at night, someone's name to doodle dorkily inside her notebooks. The truth was, Luce and Trevor never really had the chance to get to know each other all that well. The only memento she had was the picture Callie had snapped covertly, from across the football field between two of his squat sets, when he and Luce had talked for fifteen seconds about his squat sets. And the only date she'd ever gone on with him hadn't even been a real date - just a stolen hour when he'd pulled her away from the rest of the party.

An hour she'd regret for the rest of her life.

It had started out innocently enough, just two people going for a walk down by the lake, but it wasn't long before Luce started to feel the shadows lurking overhead. Then Trevor's lips touched hers, and the heat coursed through her body, and his eyes turned white with terror ... and seconds later, life as she'd known it had gone up in a blaze.

Luce rolled over and buried her face in the crook of an arm. She'd spent months mourning Trevor's death, and now, lying in this strange room, with the metal bars digging into her skin through the thin mattress, she felt the selfish futility of it all. She hadn't known Trevor any more than she knew ... well, Cam.

A knock on her door made Luce shoot up from the bed. How would anyone know to find her here? She tiptoed to the door and pulled it open. Then she stuck her head into the very empty hallway. She hadn't even heard footsteps outside, and there was no sign of anyone having just knocked.

Except the paper airplane pinned with a brass tack to the center of the corkboard next to her door. Luce smiled to see her name written in black marker along the wing, but when she unfolded the note, all that was written inside was a black arrow pointing straight down the hall.

Arriane had invited her over tonight, but that was before the incident with Molly in the cafeteria. Looking down the empty hallway, Luce wondered about following the cryptic arrow. Then she glanced back at her giant duffel bag, her pity party waiting to be unpacked. She shrugged, pulled her door shut, put her room key in her pocket, and started walking.

She stopped in front of a door on the other side of the hall to check out an oversized poster of Sonny Terry, a blind musician who she knew from her father's scratchy record collection was an incredible blues harmonica player. She leaned forward to read the name on the corkboard and realized with a start that she was standing in front of Roland Sparks's room. Immediately, annoyingly, there was that little part of her brain that started calculating the odds that Roland might be hanging out with Daniel, with only a thin door separating them from Luce.

A mechanical buzzing sound made Luce jump. She looked straight into a surveillance camera drilled into the wall over Roland's door. The reds. Zooming in on her every move. She shrank away, embarrassed for reasons no camera would be able to discern. Anyway, she'd come here to see Arriane - whose room, she realized, just happened to be directly across the hall from Roland.

In front of Arriane's room, Luce felt a little stab of tenderness. The entire door was covered with bumper stickers - some printed, others obviously homemade. There were so many that they overlapped, each slogan half covering and often contradicting the one before it. Luce laughed under her breath as she imagined Arriane collecting the bumper stickers indiscriminately (MEAN PEOPLE RULE ... MY

DAUGHTER IS AN F STUDENT AT SWORD & CROSS ... VOTE NO ON PROP 666), then slapping them with a haphazard - but committed - focus onto her turf.

Luce could have kept herself entertained for an hour reading Arriane's door, but soon she started to feel self-conscious about standing in front of a dorm room she was only half certain she'd actually been invited to. Then she saw the second paper airplane. She pulled it down from the corkboard and unfolded the message:

My Darling Luce,

If you actually showed up to hang out tonight, props! We'll get along juuust fine.

If you bailed on me, then get your claws off my private note, ROLAND! How many times do I have to tell you? Jeez.

Anyhow: I know I said to swing by tonight, but I had to dash straight from R&R in the nurse's station (the silver fining of my Taser treatment today) to a makeup biology review with the Albatross, Which is to say - rain check?

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