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CHAPTER 2. FIT TO BE TIED

Luce had a piece of paper with her schedule printed on it, a half-empty notebook she'd started to fill at Dover in her Advanced European History class last year, two number two pencils, her favorite eraser, and the sudden bad feeling that Arriane might have been right about the classes at Sword & Cross.

The teacher had yet to materialize, the flimsy desks were arranged in haphazard rows, and the supply closet was barricaded with stacks of dusty boxes piled in front of it.

What was worse, none of the other kids seemed to notice the disarray. In fact, none of the other kids seemed to notice that they were in a classroom at all. They all stood clustered near the windows, taking one last drag of a cigarette here, repositioning the extra-large safety pins on their T-shirts there. Only Todd was seated at an actual desk, carving something intricate onto its surface with his pen. But the other new students seemed to have already found their places among the crowd. Cam had the preppy Dover-looking guys in a tight cluster around him. They must have been friends when he was enrolled at Sword & Cross the first time. Gabbe was shaking hands with the tongue-pierced girl who'd been making out with the tongue-pierced guy outside. Luce felt stupidly envious that she wasn't daring enough to do anything but take a seat closer to the unthreatening Todd.

Arriane flitted about the others, whispering things Luce couldn't make out, like some sort of goth princess. When she passed Cam, he tousled her newly chopped hair.

"Nice mop, Arriane." He smirked, tugging on a strand at the back of her neck. "My compliments to your stylist."

Arriane swatted him away. "Hands off, Cam. Which is to say: In your dreams." She jerked her head in Luce's direction. "And you can give your compliments to my new pet, right over there."

Cam's emerald eyes sparkled at Luce, who stiffened. "I believe I will," he said, and started walking toward her.

He smiled at Luce, who was sitting with her ankles crossed under her chair and her hands folded neatly on her heavily graffitied desk.

"Us new kids have to stick together," he said. "Know what I mean?"

"But I thought you'd been here before."

"Don't believe everything Arriane says." He glanced back at Arriane, who was standing at the window, eyeing them suspiciously.

"Oh no, she didn't say anything about you," Luce said quickly, trying to remember whether or not that was actually true. It was clear Cam and Arriane didn't like each other, and even though Luce was grateful to Arriane for taking her around this morning, she wasn't ready to pick any sides yet.

"I remember when I was a new kid here the first time." He laughed to himself. "My band had just broken up and I was lost. I didn't know anyone. I could have used someone without" he glanced at Arriane"an agenda to show me the ropes."

"What, and you have no agenda?" Luce said, surprised to hear a flirting lilt in her voice.

An easy smile spread across Cam's face. He raised one eyebrow at her. "And to think I didn't want to come back here."

Luce blushed. She didn't usually get involved with rocker guysbut then again, none of them had ever pulled the desk next to her even closer, plopped down beside her, and stared at her with eyes quite so green. Cam reached into his pocket and pulled out a green guitar pick with the number 44 printed on it.

"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 answerand who knew what she would have answeredArriane 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 flatteredand 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 asideyeah, righthe 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 roomand 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 kidsand 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 the 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 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 divided 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 himshe 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 theLuce, 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 angrier 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.

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

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?"

Luce swallowed. Arriane hadn't mentioned anything about probation, and it didn't make sense that that would prohibit her from making new friends. But the word was enough to make Arriane clench her fist and throw a fat punch that landed on Molly's right eye.

Molly reeled backward, but it was Arriane who caught Luce's attention. She'd begun convulsing, her arms thrown up and jerking in the air.

It was the wristband, Luce realized with horror. It was sending some sort of shock through Arriane's body. Unbelievable. This was cruel and unusual punishment, for sure. Luce's stomach churned as she watched her friend's entire body quake. She reached out to catch Arriane just as she sank to the floor.

"Arriane," Luce whispered. "Are you okay?"

Luce gasped. Then one of Arriane's eyes popped back open. "Scared ya, did I? Aw, that's sweet. Don't worry, the shocks won't kill me," she whispered. "They only make me stronger. Anyway, it was worth it to give that cow a black eye, ya know?"

"All right, break it up. Break it up," a husky voice boomed behind them.

Randy stood in the doorway, red-faced and breathing hard. It was a little too late to break anything up, Luce thought, but then Molly was lurching toward them, her stiletto heels clicking on the linoleum. This girl was shameless. Was she really going to kick the crap out of Arriane with Randy standing right there?

Luckily, Randy's burly arms closed around her first. Molly tried to kick her way out and started screaming.

"Somebody better start talking," Randy barked, squeezing Molly until she went limp. "On second thought, all three of you report for detention tomorrow morning. Cemetery. Crack of dawn!" Randy looked at Molly. "Have you chilled yet?"

Molly nodded stiffly, and Randy released her. She crouched down to where Arriane still lay in Luce's lap, her arms crossed over her chest. At first Luce thought Arriane was sulking, like an angry dog with a shock collar, but then Luce felt a small jolt from Arriane's body and realized that the girl was still at the mercy of the wristband.

"Come on," Randy said, more softly. "Let's go turn you off."

She extended her hand to Arriane and helped heave up her tiny, shaking body, turning back only once at the doorway to repeat her orders for Luce and Molly.

"Crack of dawn!"

"Looking forward to it," Molly said sweetly, reaching down to pick up the plate of meat loaf that had slipped from her tray.

She dangled it over Luce's head for a second, then turned the plate upside down and mashed the food into her hair. Luce could hear the squish of her own mortification as all of Sword & Cross got its viewing of the meat-loaf-coated new girl.

"Priceless," Molly said, pulling out the tiniest silver camera from the back pocket of her black jeans. "Say meat loaf," she sang, snapping a few close-up shots. "These will be great on my blog."

"Nice hat," someone jeered from the other side of the cafeteria. Then, with trepidation, Luce turned her eyes to Daniel, praying that somehow he had missed this whole scene. But no. He was shaking his head. He looked annoyed.

Until that moment, Luce had thought she had a chance at standing up and just shaking off the incidentliterally. But seeing Daniel's reactionwell, it finally made her crack.

She would not cry in front of any of these horrible people. She swallowed hard, got to her feet, and took off. She rushed toward the nearest door, eager to feel some cool air on her face.

Instead, the southern September humidity cloaked her, choking her, as soon as she got outside. The sky was that no-color color, a grayish brown so oppressively bland it was difficult even to find the sun. Luce slowed down, but got as far as the edge of the parking lot before she came to a complete stop.

She longed to see her battered old car there, to sink into the fraying cloth seat, rev the engine, crank up the stereo, and peel the hell out of this place. But as she stood on the hot black pavement, reality set in: She was stuck here, and a pair of towering metal gates separated her from the world outside Sword & Cross. Besides, even if she'd had a way out where was she going to go?

The sick feeling in her gut told her all she needed to know. She was already at the last stop, and things were looking pretty grim.

It was as depressing as it was true: Sword & Cross was all she had.

She dropped her face into her hands, knowing she had to go back. But when she lifted her head, the residue on her palm reminded her that she was still coated in Molly's meat loaf. Ugh. First stop, the nearest bathroom.

Back inside, Luce ducked into the girls' room just as the door was swinging open. Gabbe, who appeared even more blond and flawless now that Luce looked like she'd just gone Dumpster diving, squeezed past.

"Whoops, 'scuse me, honey," she said. Her southern-accented voice was sweet, but her face crumpled up at the sight of Luce. "Oh God, you look terrible. What happened?"

What happened? As if the whole school didn't already know. This girl was probably playing dumb so Luce would relive the whole mortifying scene.

"Wait five minutes," Luce replied, with more of an edge in her voice than she meant. "I'm sure gossip spreads like the plague around here."

"You want to borrow my foundation?" Gabbe asked, holding up a pastel blue cosmetics case. "You haven't seen yourself yet, but you're going to"

"Thanks, but no." Luce cut her off, pushing into the bathroom. Without looking at herself in the mirror, she turned on the faucet. She splashed cold water on her face and finally let it all out. Tears streaming, she pumped the soap dispenser and tried to use some of the cheap pink powdered hand soap to scrub off the meat loaf. But there was still the matter of her hair. And her clothes had definitely looked and smelled better. Not that she needed to worry about making a good first impression anymore.

The bathroom door cracked open and Luce scrambled against the wall like a trapped animal. When a stranger walked in, Luce stiffened and waited for the worst.

The girl had a squat build, accentuated by an abnormal amount of layered clothing. Her wide face was surrounded by curly brown hair, and her bright purple glasses wobbled when she sniffed. She looked fairly unassuming, but then, looks could be deceiving. Both her hands were tucked behind her back in a way that, after the day Luce had had, she just ouldn't trust.

"You know, you're not supposed to be in here without a pass," the girl said. Her even tone seemed to mean business.

"I know." The look in the girl's eyes confirmed Luce's suspicion that it was absolutely impossible to catch a break at this place. She started to sigh in surrender. "I just"

"I'm kidding." The girl laughed, rolling her eyes and relaxing her posture. "I snagged some shampoo from the locker room for you," she said, bringing her hands around to display two innocent-looking plastic bottles of shampoo and conditioner. "Come on," she said, pulling over a beat-up folding chair. "Let's get you cleaned up. Sit here."

A half-whimpering, half-laughing noise she'd never made before escaped from Luce's lips. It sounded, she guessed, like relief. The girl was actually being nice to hernot just reform school nice, but regular-person nice! For no apparent reason. The shock of it was almost too great for Luce to stand. "Thanks?" Luce managed to say, still feeling a little bit guarded.

"Oh, and you probably need a change of clothes," the girl said, looking down at her black sweater and pulling it over her head to expose an identical black sweater underneath.

When she saw the surprised look on Luce's face, she said, "What? I have a hostile immune system. I have to wear a lot of layers."

"Oh, well, will you be okay without this one?" Luce made herself ask, even though she would have done just about anything right then to get out of the meat cloak she was wearing.

"Of course," the girl said, waving her off. "I've got three more on under this. And a couple more in my locker. Be my guest. It pains me to see a vegetarian covered in meat. I'm very empathetic."

Luce wondered how this stranger knew about her dietary preferences, but more than that, she had to ask: "Um, why are you being so nice?"

The girl laughed, sighed, then shook her head. "Not everyone at Sword & Cross is a whore or a jock."

"Huh?" Luce said.

"Sword & Cross Whores and Jocks. Lame nickname in town for this school. Obviously there aren't really any jocks here. I won't oppress your ears with some of the cruder nicknames they've come up with."

Luce laughed.

"All I meant was, not everyone here is a complete jerk."

"Just the majority?" Luce asked, hating it that she already sounded so negative. But it had been such a long morning, and she'd already been through so much, and maybe this girl wouldn't judge her for being a little bit gruff.

To her surprise, the girl smiled. "Exactly. And they sure give the rest of us a bad name." She stuck out her hand. "I'm Pennyweather Van Syckle-Lockwood. You can call me Penn."

"Got it," Luce said, still too frazzled to realize that, in a former life, she might have stifled a laugh at this girl's moniker. It sounded like she'd hopped straight off the pages of a Dickens novel. Then again, there was something trustworthy about a girl with a name like that who could manage to introduce herself with a straight face. "I'm Lucinda Price."

"And everybody calls you Luce," Penn said. "And you transferred from Dover Prep in New Hampshire."

"How'd you know that?" Luce asked slowly.

"Lucky guess?" Penn shrugged. "I'm kidding, I read your file, duh. It's a hobby."

Luce stared at her blankly. Maybe she'd been too hasty with that trustworthy judgment. How could Penn have access to her file?

Penn took over running the water. When it got warm, she motioned for Luce to lower her head into the sink.

"See, the thing is," she explained, "I'm not actually crazy." She pulled Luce up by her wet head. "No offense." Then lowered her back down. "I'm the only kid at this school without a court mandate. And you might not think it, but being legally sane has its advantages. For example, I'm also the only kid they trust to be an office aide. Which is dumb on their part. I have access to a lot of confidential shit."

"But if you don't have to be here"

"When your father's the groundskeeper of the school, they kind of have to let you go for free. So" Penn trailed off.

Penn's father was the groundskeeper? From the looks of the place, it hadn't crossed Luce's mind that they even had a groundskeeper.

"I know what you're thinking," Penn said, helping Luce shampoo the last of the gravy from her hair. "That the grounds aren't exactly well kept?"

"No," Luce lied. She was eager to stay on this girl's good side and wanted to put out the be-my-friend vibe way more than she wanted to seem like she actually cared about how often someone mowed the lawn at Sword & Cross. "It's, urn, really nice."

"Dad died two years ago," Penn said quietly. "They got as far as sticking me with decaying old Headmaster Udell as my legal guardian, but, uh, they never really got around to hiring a replacement for Dad."

"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'l friend to have."


CHAPTER 1. PERFECT STRANGERS | Fallen | CHAPTER 3. DRAWING DARK