CHAPTER 9. STATE OF INNOCENCE
On Monday evening, Miss Sophia stood behind a podium at the head of the largest classroom in Augustine, attempting to make shadow puppets with her hands. She'd called a last-minute study session for the students in her religion class before the next day's midterm, and since Luce had already missed a full month of the class, she figured she had a lot to catch up on.
Which explained why she was the only one even pretending to take notes. None of the other students even noticed that the evening sun trickling in through the narrow western windows was undermining Miss Sophia's handcrafted light-box stage. And Luce didn't want to call attention to the fact that she was paying attention by standing up to draw the dusty blinds.
When the sun brushed the back of Luce's neck, it struck her just how long she'd been sitting in this room. She'd watched the eastern sun glow like a mane around Mr. Cole's thinning hair that morning during world history. She'd suffered the sweltering midaftemoon heat during biology with the Albatross. It was nearly evening now. The sun had looped the entire campus, and Luce had barely left this desk. Her body felt as stiff as the metal chair she was sitting in, her mind as dull as the pencil she'd given up using to take notes.
What was up with these shadow puppets? Were she and the other students, like, five years old?
But then she felt guilty. Of all the faculty here. Miss Sophia was by far the nicest, even gently pulling Luce aside the other day to discuss how far behind Luce was in the writing of her family tree paper. Luce had to feign astonished gratitude when Miss Sophia walked her through an hour's worth of database instructions yet again. She felt a little ashamed, but playing dumb was far superior to admitting she'd been too busy obsessing over a certain male classmate to devote any time to her research.
Now Miss Sophia stood in her long black crepe dress, elegantly interlocking her thumbs and raising her hands in the air, preparing for her next pose. Outside the window, a cloud crossed over the sun. Luce zoned back in on the lecture when she noticed there was suddenly an actual shadow visible on the wall behind Miss Sophia.
"As you all remember from your reading of Paradise Lost last year, when God gave his angels their own will," Miss Sophia said, breathing into the microphone clipped to her ivory lapel and flapping her thin fingers like a perfect angel's wings, "there was one who crossed the line." Miss Sophia's voice dropped dramatically, and Luce watched as she twisted up her index fingers so the angel's wings transformed into devil's horns.
Behind Luce, someone muttered, "Big deal, that's the oldest trick in the book."
From the moment Miss Sophia had kicked off her lecture, it seemed like at least one person in the room took issue with every word that came out of her mouth. Maybe it was because Luce hadn't had a religious upbringing like the rest of them, or maybe it was because she felt sorry for Miss Sophia, but she felt a growing urge to turn around and shush the hecklers.
She was cranky. Tired. Hungry. Instead of filing down to dinner with the rest of the school, the twenty students enrolled in Miss Sophia's religion class had been informed that if they were attending the "optional" — a sad misnomer, Penn informed her—study session, their meal would be served in the classroom where the session was being held, to save time.
The meal—not dinner, not even lunch, just a generic late-afternoon fill-up—had been a strange experience for Luce, who had a hard enough time finding anything she could eat in the meat-centric cafeteria. Randy had just wheeled in a cart of depressing sandwiches and some pitchers of lukewarm water.
The sandwiches had all been mystery cold cuts, mayo, and cheese, and Luce had watched enviously as Penn chomped through one after another, leaving tooth-marked rings of crust as she ate. Luce had been on the verge of de-bologna-ing a sandwich when Cam shouldered up next to her. He'd opened his fist to expose a small cluster of fresh figs. Their deep purple skins looked like jewels in his hand.
"What's this?" she'd asked, sucking in a smile.
"Can't live on bread alone, can you?" he'd said.
"Don't eat those." Gabbe had swooped in, lifting the figs out of Luce's fingers and tossing them in the trash. She'd interrupted yet another private conversation and replaced the empty space in Luce's palm with a handful of peanut M&M's from a vending machine sack. Gabbe wore a rainbow-colored headband. Luce imagined yanking the thing from her head and pitching it in the trash.
"She's right, Luce." Arriane had appeared, glowering at Cam. "Who knows what he drugged these with?"
Luce had laughed, because of course Arriane was joking, but when no one else smiled, she shut up and slipped the M&M's into her pocket just as Miss Sophia called for them all to take their seats.
* * *
What felt like hours later, they were all still trapped in the classroom and Miss Sophia had only gotten from the Dawn of Creation to the war in Heaven. They weren't even at Adam and Eve. Luce's stomach rumbled in protest.
"And do we all know who the wicked angel was who battled God?" Miss Sophia asked, like she was reading a picture book to a bunch of children at the library. Luce half expected the room to sing out a juvenile Yes, Miss Sophia.
"Anyone?" Miss Sophia asked again.
"Roland!" Arriane hooted under her breath.
"That's right," Miss Sophia said, head bobbing in a saintly nod. She was just left of hard of hearing. "We call him Satan now, but over the years he's worked under many guises—Mephistopheles, or Belial, even Lucifer to some."
Molly, who'd been sitting in front of Luce, rocking the back of her chair against Luce's desk for the past hour with the express purpose of driving Luce insane, promptly dropped a slip of paper over her shoulder onto Luce's desk.
Luce… Lucifer… any relation?
Her handwriting was dark and angry and frenetic. Luce could see her high cheekbones rise up in a sneer. In a moment of hungry weakness, Luce started furiously scribbling an answer on the back of Molly's note. That she had been named for Lucinda Williams, the greatest living female singer-songwriter whose almost-rained-out concert was the site of her parents' first encounter. That after her mom slipped on a plastic cup, tumbled down a mudslide, and landed in her father's arms, she hadn't left those arms for twenty years. That her name stood for something romantic and what did muckle-mouthed Molly have to show for herself? And anyway, that if there was anyone in this entire school who came close to resembling Satan, it wasn't the receiver of the note, it was the sender.
Her eyes drilled into the back of Molly's newly scarlet-dyed pixie cut. Luce was ready to pelt her with the folded-up piece of paper and take her chances with Molly's temper when Miss Sophia pulled her attention to the light box.
She had both hands raised over her head, palms up and cupping the air. As she lowered them, the shadows of her fingers on the wall looked miraculously like flailing arms and legs, like someone jumping off a bridge or out of a building. The sight was so bizarre, so dark and yet so well rendered, it unnerved Luce. She couldn't turn away.
"For nine days and nine nights," Miss Sophia said, "Satan and his angels fell, further and further from Heaven."
Her words jogged something in Luce's memory. She looked two rows over at Daniel, who met her eyes for half a second before burying his face in his notebook. But that second's glance had been enough, and all at once it came back to her: the dream she'd had the night before.
It had been a revisionist history of her and Daniel at the lake. But in the dream, when Daniel said goodbye and dove back into the water, Luce had the courage to go after him. The water was warm, so comfortable that she hadn't even felt wet, and schools of violet fish swarmed all around her. She was swimming as fast as she could, and at first she thought the fish were helping push her toward Daniel and the shore. But soon the masses of fish began to darken and cloud her vision, and she couldn't see him anymore. The fish became shadowy and vicious-looking, and drew closer and closer till she couldn't see anything, and she'd felt herself sinking, slipping away, down into the silty depths of the lake. It wasn't a question of not being able to breathe, it was a question of never being able to rise back up. It was a question of losing Daniel forever.
Then, from below, Daniel had appeared, his arms spread out like sails. They scattered the shadow fish and enveloped Luce, and together the two of them soared back to the surface. They broke through the water, higher, higher, passing the rock and the magnolia tree where they'd left their shoes. A second later, they were so high Luce couldn't even see the ground.
"And they landed," Miss Sophia said, resting her hands on the podium, "in the blazing pits of Hell."
Luce closed her eyes and exhaled. It had only been a dream. Unfortunately, this was her reality.
She sighed and rested her chin on her hands, remembering her forgotten response to Molly's note. It was folded in her hands. It seemed stupid now and rash. Better not to answer, for Molly not to know she'd even affected Luce.
A paper airplane came to rest on her left forearm. She looked to the far left corner of the class, where Arriane sat holding an exaggerated winking pose.
I take it you're not daydreaming about Satan. Where'd you and DG scurry off to Saturday afternoon?
Luce hadn't had a chance to talk to Arriane alone all day. But how would Arriane have known that Luce went off with Daniel? While Miss Sophia busied herself with a shadow-puppet-focused representation of the nine circles of Hell, Luce watched Arriane sail another perfectly aimed plane at her desk.
So did Molly.
She reached up just in time to snag the plane between her slick black-painted fingernails, but Luce was not going to let her win this one. She snatched the plane back from Molly's grip, ripping its wing loudly down the middle. Luce had exactly enough time to pocket the torn note before Miss Sophia whipped around.
"Lucinda and Molly," she said, pursing her lips and steadying her hands on the podium. "I would hope whatever you two feel the need to discuss in a disrespectful passing of notes could be said before the entire class."
Luce's mind raced. If she didn't come up with something fast, Molly would, and there was no telling how embarrassing that could be.
"M-Molly was just saying," Luce stammered, "that she disagrees with your view of how Hell is broken down. She has her own ideas."
"Well, Molly, if you have an alternate schema of the underworld, I'd certainly like to hear of it."
"What the hell," Molly muttered under her breath. She cleared her throat and stood up. "Well, you've described Lucifer's mouth as the lowest place in the inferno, which is why all the traitors end up there. But for me," she said, like she'd rehearsed the lines, "I think the most tortured place in Hell" — she took a long, sweeping look back at Luce—"should be reserved not for traitors, but for cowards. The weakest, most spineless losers. Because it seems to me that traitors? At least they made a choice. But cowards? They just run around biting their fingernails, totally afraid to do anything. Which is totally worse." She coughed out, "Lucinda!" and cleared her throat. "But that's just my opinion." She sat down.
"Thank you, Molly," Miss Sophia said carefully, "I'm sure we all feel very enlightened."
Luce didn't. She had stopped listening in the middle of Molly's rant, when she felt an eerie, sick feeling in the pit of her stomach.
The shadows. She sensed them before she saw them, bubbling up like tar from the ground. A tentacle of darkness curled around her wrist, and Luce looked down in terror. It was trying to weasel its way into her pocket. It was going for Arriane's paper plane. She hadn't even read it yet! She stuffed her fist deep into her pocket and used two fingers and all her willpower to pinch the shadow out as hard as she could.
An amazing thing happened: The shadow recoiled, rearing back like an injured dog. It was the first time Luce had ever been able to do that.
Across the room, she met Arriane's eye. Arriane's head was cocked to the side and her mouth was hanging open.
The note—she must still be waiting for Luce to read the note.
Miss Sophia flicked off the light box. "I think my arthritis has had enough Hell for one night." She chuckled, encouraging the brain-numbed students to chuckle with her. "If you'll all reread the seven critical essays I've assigned on Paradise Lost, I think you'll be more than prepared for tomorrow's exam."
As the other students rushed to pack up their bags and peel out of the room, Luce unfolded Arriane's note:
Tell me he didn't give you that lame "I've been burned before" bit.
Ouch. She definitely needed to talk to Arriane and find out exactly what she knew about Daniel. But first… He was standing before her. His silver belt buckle shone at eye level. She took a deep breath and looked up at his face.
Daniel's violet-flecked gray eyes looked rested. She hadn't spoken to him in two days, since he'd left her at the lake. It was as if the time he'd spent away from her had rejuvenated him.
Luce realized she still had Arriane's revealing note spread open on her desk. She swallowed hard and tucked it back into her pocket.
"I wanted to apologize for leaving so suddenly the other day," Daniel said, sounding oddly formal. Luce didn't know if she was supposed to accept his apology, but he didn't give her time to respond. "I take it you made it back to dry land okay?"
She tried a smile. It crossed her mind to tell Daniel about the dream she'd had, but luckily she realized that would be totally weird.
"What did you think of the review session?" Daniel seemed withdrawn, stiff, like they'd never spoken before. Maybe he was joking.
"It was torture," Luce answered. It had always annoyed Luce when smart girls pretended they weren't into something just because they assumed that was what a guy would want to hear. But Luce was not pretending; it really had been torture.
"Good," Daniel said, seeming pleased.
"You hated it, too?"
"No," he said cryptically, and Luce now wished she'd lied to sound more interested than she actually was.
"So… you liked it," she said, wanting to say something, anything to keep him there next to her, talking. "What did you like about it exactly?"
"Maybe 'like' isn't the right word." After a long pause, he said, "It's in my family… studying these things. I guess I can't help feeling a connection."
It took a moment for his words to fully register with Luce. Her mind traveled into the fusty old storage basement where she'd glimpsed Daniel's single-page file. The file that claimed that Daniel Grigori had spent most of his life in a Los Angeles County Orphanage.
"I didn't know you had any family," she said.
"Why would you?" Daniel scoffed.
"I don't know… So, I mean, you do?"
"The question is why you presume you know anything about my family—or me—at all?"
Luce felt her stomach plummet. She saw the Warning: Stalker Alert flash in Daniel's alarmed eyes. And she knew she'd botched things with him yet again.
"D." Roland came up from behind them and put his hand on Daniel's T-shirt-clad shoulder. "You want to stick around to see if there's another yearlong lecture, or are we going to roll?"
"Yeah," Daniel said softly, giving Luce a final sideways glance. "Let's get out of here."
Of course—obviously—she should have bolted several minutes ago. Like, at the first instinct to divulge any details of Daniel's file. A smart, normal person would have dodged the conversation, or changed the subject to something much less freakish, or at the very least, kept her big mouth shut.