Page 9


But before she could speak, Daniel had turned on his heel and was walking quickly toward the door. Luce watched as the shadows crept over his head, swirled in a circle, then rushed out the window into the night.

Chapter Four

GRAVEYARD SHIFT

Ahhh, Tuesday. Waffle day. For as long as Luce could remember, summer Tuesdays meant fresh coffee, brimming bowls of raspberries and whipped cream, and an unending stack of crispy golden brown waffles. Even this summer, when her parents started acting a little scared of her, waffle day was one thing she could count on. She could roll over in bed on a Tuesday morning, and before she was aware of anything else, she knew instinctively what day it was.

Luce sniffed, slowly coming to her senses, then sniffed again with a little more gusto. No, there was no buttermilk batter, nothing but the vinegary smell of peeling paint. She rubbed the sleep away and took in her cramped dorm room. It looked like the "before" shot on a home renovation show. The long nightmare that had been Monday came back to her:

the surrender of her cell phone, the meat loaf incident and Molly's flashing eyes in the lunchroom, Daniel brushing her off in the library. What it was that made him so spiteful, Luce didn't have a clue.

She sat up to look out the window. It was still dark; the sun hadn't even peeked over the horizon yet. She never woke up this early. If pressed, she didn't actually think she could remember ever having seen the sunrise. Truthfully, something about sunrise-watching as an activity had always made her nervous. It was the waiting moments, the just- before-the-sun-snapped-over-the-horizon moments, sitting in the darkness looking out across a tree line. Prime shadow time.

Luce sighed an audibly homesick, lonely sigh, which made her even more homesick and lonely. What was she going to do with herself for the three hours between the crack of dawn and her first class? Crack of dawn - why did the words ring in her ears? Oh. Crap. She was supposed to be at detention.

She scrambled out of bed, tripping over her still-packed duffel bag, and yanked another boring black sweater from the top of a stack of boring black sweaters. She tugged on yesterday's black jeans, winced as she caught a glimpse of her disastrous bed head, and tried to run her fingers through her hair as she dashed out the door.

She was out of breath when she reached the waist-high, intricately sculpted wrought iron gates of the cemetery. She was choking on the overwhelming smell of skunk cabbage and feeling far too alone with her thoughts. Where was everyone else? Was their definition of "crack of dawn" different from hers? She glanced down at her watch. It was already six-fifteen.

All they'd told her was to meet at the cemetery, and Luce was pretty sure this was the only entrance. She stood at the threshold, where the gritty asphalt of the parking lot gave way to a mangled lot full of weeds.

She spotted a lone dandelion, and it crossed her mind that a younger Luce would have pounced on it and then made a wish and blown. But this Luce's wishes felt too heavy for something so light.

The delicate gates were all that pided the cemetery from the parking lot. Pretty remarkable for a school with so much barbed wire everywhere else. Luce ran her hand along the gates, tracing the ornate floral pattern with her fingers. The gates must have dated back to the Civil War days Arriane was talking about, back when the cemetery was used to bury fallen soldiers. When the school attached to it was not a home for wayward psychos. When the whole place was a lot less overgrown and shadowy.

It was strange - the rest of the campus was as flat as a sheet of paper, but somehow, the cemetery had a concave, bowl-like shape. From here, she could see the slope of the whole vast thing before her. Row after row of simple headstones lined the slopes like spectators at an arena.

But toward the middle, at the lowest point of the cemetery, the path through the grounds twisted into a maze of larger carved tombs, marble statues, and mausoleums. Probably for Confederate officers, or just the soldiers who came from money. They looked like they'd be beautiful up close. But from here, the sheer weight of them seemed to drag the cemetery down, almost like the whole place was being swallowed into a drain.

Footsteps behind her. Luce whirled around to see a stumpy, black-clad figure emerge from behind a tree.

Penn! She had to resist the urge to throw her arms around the girl. Luce had never been so glad to see anyone - though it was hard to believe Penn ever got detentions.

"Aren't you late?" Penn asked, stopping a few feet in front of Luce and giving her an amused you-poor-newbie shake of the head.

"I've been here for ten minutes," Luce said. "Aren't you the one who's late?"

Penn smirked. "No way, I'm just an early riser. I never get detention." She shrugged and pushed her purple glasses up on her nose. "But you do, along with five other unfortunate souls, who are probably getting angrier by the minute waiting for you down at the monolith." She stood on tiptoe and pointed behind Luce, toward the largest stone structure, which rose up from the middle of the deepest part of the cemetery. If Luce squinted, she could just make out a group of black figures clustered around its base.

"They just said meet at the cemetery," Luce said, already feeling defeated. "No one told me where to go."

"Well, I'm telling you: monolith. Now get down there," Penn said. "You're not going to make many friends by cutting into their morning any more than you already have."

Luce gulped. Part of her wanted to ask Penn to show her the way. From up here, it looked like a labyrinth, and Luce did not want to get lost in the cemetery. Suddenly, she got that nervous, far-away-from-home feeling, and she knew it was only going to get worse in there. She cracked her knuckles, stalling.

"Luce?" Penn said, giving her shoulders a bit of a shove. "You're still standing here."

Luce tried to give Penn a brave thank-you smile, but had to settle for an awkward facial twitch. Then she hurried down the slope into the heart of the cemetery.

The sun still hadn't risen, but it was getting closer, and these last few predawn moments were always the ones that creeped her out the most. She tore past the rows of plain headstones. At one point they must have been upright, but by now they were so old that most of them tipped over to one side or the other, giving the whole place the look of a set of morbid dominoes.

She slopped in her black Converse sneakers through puddles of mud, crunched over dead leaves. By the time she cleared the section of simple plots and made it to the more ornate tombs, the ground had more or less flattened out, and she was totally lost. She stopped running, tried to catch her breath. Voices. If she calmed down, she could hear voices.

"Five more minutes, then I'm out," a guy said.

"Too bad your opinion has no value, Mr. Sparks." An ornery voice, one Luce recognized from her classes yesterday. Ms. Tross - the Albatross. After the meat loaf incident, Luce had shown up late to her class and hadn't exactly made the most favorable impression on the dour, spherical science teacher.

"Unless anyone wants to lose his or her social privileges this week" - groans from among the tombs - "we will all wait patiently, as if we had nothing better to do, until Miss Price decides to grace us with her presence."

"I'm here," Luce gasped, finally rounding a giant statue of a cherub.

Ms. Tross stood with her hands on her hips, wearing a variation of yesterday's loose black muumuu. Her thin mouse-brown hair was plastered to her scalp and her dull brown eyes showed only annoyance at Luce's arrival.

Biology had always been tough for Luce, and so far, she wasn't doing her grade in Ms. Tross's class any favors.

Behind the Albatross were Arriane, Molly, and Roland, scattered around a circle of plinths that all faced a large central statue of an angel. Compared to the rest of the statues, this one seemed newer, whiter, grander. And leaning up against the angel's sculpted thigh - she almost hadn't noticed - was Daniel.

He was wearing the busted black leather jacket and the bright red scarf she'd fixated on yesterday. Luce took in his messy blond hair, which looked like it hadn't yet been smoothed down after sleep ... which made her think about what Daniel might look like when he was sleeping ... which made her blush so intensely that by the time her eyes made their way down from his hairline to his eyes, she was thoroughly humiliated.

By then he was glaring at her.

"I'm sorry," she blurted out, "I didn't know where we were supposed to meet. I swear - "

"Save it," Ms. Tross said, dragging a finger across her throat. "You've wasted enough of everyone's time. Now, I'm sure you all remember whatever despicable indiscretion you committed to find yourself here. You can think about that for the next two hours while you work. Pair up. You know the drill." She glanced at Luce and let out her breath.

"Okay, who wants a protйgйe?"

To Luce's horror, all of the other students looked at their feet. But then, after a torturous minute, a fifth student stepped into view around the corner of the mausoleum.

"I do."

Cam. His black V-neck T-shirt fit close around his broad shoulders. He stood almost a foot taller than Roland, who moved aside as Cam pushed past and walked toward Luce. His eyes were glued to her as he strode forward, moving smoothly and confidently, as at ease in his reform school garb as Luce was ill at ease. Part of her wanted to avert her eyes, because it was embarrassing the way Cam was staring at her in front of everyone. But for some reason, she was mesmerized. She couldn't break his gaze - until Arriane stepped between them.

"Dibs," she said. "I called dibs."

"No you didn't," Cam said.

"Yes I did, you just didn't hear me from your weird perch back there." The words rushed out of Arriane. "I want her,"

"I - " Cam started to respond.

Arriane cocked her head expectantly. Luce swallowed. Was he going to come out and say he wanted her, too?

Couldn't they just forget about it? Serve detention in a group of three?

Cam patted Luce's arm. "I'll catch up with you after, okay?" he said to her, like it was a promise she'd asked him to keep.

The other kids hopped off tombs they'd been sitting on and trooped toward a shed. Luce followed, clinging to Arriane, who wordlessly handed her a rake.

"So. Do you want the avenging angel, or the fleshy embracing lovers?"

There was no mention of yesterday's events, or of Arriane's note, and Luce somehow didn't feel she should bring anything up with Arriane now. Instead, she glanced overhead to find herself flanked by two giant statues. The one closer to her looked like a Rodin. A nude man and woman stood tangled in an embrace. She'd studied French sculpture back at Dover, and always thought Rodins were the most romantic pieces. But now it was hard to look at the embracing lovers without thinking of Daniel. Daniel. Who hated her. If she needed any further proof of that after he'd basically bolted from the library last night, all she had to do was think back to the fresh glare she'd gotten from him this morning.

"Where's the avenging angel?" she asked Arriane with a sigh.

"Good choice. Over here." Arriane led Luce to a massive marble sculpture of an angel saving the ground from the strike of a thunderbolt. It might have been an interesting piece, back in the day when it was first carved. But now it just looked old and dirty, covered in mud and green moss.

***

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

***