CHAPTER 3. 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 lining of my Taser treatment today) to a makeup biology review with the Albatross. Which is to say—rain check?
Yours psychotically, A
Luce stood with the note in her hands, unsure about what to do next. She was relieved to read that Arriane was being taken care of, but she still wished she could see the girl in person. She wanted to hear the nonchalance in Arriane's voice for herself, so that she'd know how to feel about what had happened in the cafeteria today. But standing there in the hallway, Luce was ever more uncertain how to process the day's events. A quiet panic filled her when it finally registered that she was alone, after dark, at Sword & Cross.
Behind her, a door cracked open. A sliver of white light opened up on the floor beneath her feet. Luce heard music being played inside a room.
"Whatcha doin'?" It was Roland, standing in his doorway in a torn white T-shirt and jeans. His dreads were gathered in a yellow rubber band on top of his head and he held a harmonica up next to his lips.
"I came to see Arriane," Luce said, trying to keep herself from looking past him to see if anyone else was in the room. "We were supposed to—"
"Nobody's home," he said, cryptically. Luce didn't know if he meant Arriane, or the rest of the kids in the dorm, or what. He played a few bars on the harmonica, keeping his eyes on her the whole time. Then he held open the door a little bit wider and raised his eyebrows. She couldn't tell whether or not he was inviting her to come in.
"Well, I was just swinging by on my way to the library," she lied quickly, turning back the way she'd come. "There's a book I need to check out."
"Luce," Roland called.
She turned around. They hadn't officially met yet, and she hadn't expected him to know her name. His eyes flashed a smile at her and he used the harmonica to point in the opposite direction. "Library's that way," he said. He crossed his arms over his chest. "Be sure to check out the special collections in the east wing. They're really something."
"Thanks," Luce said, feeling truly grateful as she changed course. Roland seemed so real right then, waving and playing a few parting slides on the harmonica as she left. Maybe he'd only made her nervous earlier because she thought of him as Daniel's friend. For all she knew, Roland could be a really nice person. Her mood lifted as she walked down the hallway. First Arriane's note had been snappy and sarcastic, then she'd had a non-awkward encounter with Roland Sparks; plus she really did want to check out the library. Things were looking up.
Near the end of the hall, where the dorm elbowed off toward the library wing, Luce passed the only cracked-open door on the floor. There was no decorative flair on this door, but someone had painted it all black. As she got closer, Luce could hear angry heavy metal music playing inside. She didn't even have to pause to read the name on the door. It was Molly's.
Luce quickened her steps, suddenly aware of every clop of her black riding boots on the linoleum. She didn't realize she'd been holding her breath until she pushed through the wood-grained library doors and exhaled.
A warm feeling came over Luce as she looked around the library. She'd always loved the faintly sweet musty way that only a roomful of books smelled. She took comfort in the soft occasional sound of turning pages. The library at Dover had always been her escape, and Luce felt almost overwhelmed with relief as she realized that this one might offer her the same sense of sanctuary. She could hardly believe that this place belonged to Sword & Cross. It was almost… it was actually… inviting.
The walls were a deep mahogany and the ceilings were high. A fireplace with a brick hearth lay along one wall. There were long wooden tables lit by old-fashioned green lamps, and aisles of books that went on farther than she could see. The sound of her boots was hushed by a thick Persian carpet as Luce wandered past the entryway.
A few students were studying, none that Luce knew by name, but even the more punky-looking kids seemed less threatening with their heads bent over books. She neared the main circulation desk, which was a great round station at the center of the room. It was strewn with stacks of papers and books and had a homey academic messiness that reminded Luce of her parents' house. The books were piled so high that Luce almost didn't see the librarian seated behind them. She was rooting through some paperwork with the energy of someone panning for gold. Her head popped up as Luce approached.
"Hello!" The woman smiled—she actually smiled—at Luce. Her hair was not gray but silver, with a kind of brilliance that sparkled even in the soft library light. Her face looked old and young at the same time. She had pale, almost incandescent skin, bright black eyes, and a tiny, pointed nose. When she spoke to Luce, she pushed up the sleeves of her white cashmere sweater, exposing stacks and stacks of pearl bracelets decorating both of her wrists. "Can I help you find something?" she asked in a happy whisper.
Luce felt instantly at ease with this woman, and glanced down at the nameplate on her desk. Sophia Bliss. She wished she did have a library request. This woman was the first authority figure she'd seen all day whose help she would actually have wanted to seek out. But she was just here wandering around… and then she remembered what Roland Sparks had said.
"I'm new here," she explained. "Lucinda Price. Could you tell me where the east wing is?"
The woman gave Luce a you-look-like-the-reading-sort smile that Luce had been getting from librarians all her life. "Right that way," she said, pointing toward a row of tall windows on the other side of the room. "I'm Miss Sophia, and if my roster's correct, you're in my religion seminar on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Oh, we're going to have some fun!" She winked. "In the meantime, if you need anything else, I'm here. A pleasure to meet you, Luce."
Luce smiled her thanks, told Miss Sophia happily that she'd see her tomorrow in class, and started toward the windows. It was only after she'd left the librarian that she wondered about the strange, intimate way the woman had called her by her nickname.
She'd just cleared the main study area and was passing through the tall, elegant book stacks when something dark and macabre passed over her head. She glanced up.
No. Not here. Please. Let me just have this one place.
When the shadows came and went, Luce was never sure exactly where they ended up—or how long they would be gone.
She couldn't figure out what was happening now. Something was different. She was terrified, yes, but she didn't feel cold. In fact, she felt a little bit flushed. The library was warm, but it wasn't that warm. And then her eyes fell on Daniel.
He was facing the window, his back to her, leaning over a podium that said SPECIAL COLLECTIONS in white letters. The sleeves of his worn leather jacket were pushed up around his elbows, and his blond hair glowed under the lights. His shoulders were hunched over, and yet again, Luce had an instinct to fold herself into them. She shook it from her head and stood on tiptoe to get a better look at him. From here, she couldn't be certain, but he looked like he was drawing something.
As she watched the slight movement of his body as he sketched, Luce's insides felt like they were burning, like she'd swallowed something hot. She couldn't figure out why, against all reason, she had this wild premonition that Daniel was drawing her.
She shouldn't go to him. After all, she didn't even know him, had never actually spoken to him. Their only communication so far had included one middle finger and a couple of dirty looks. Yet for some reason, it felt very important to her that she find out what was on that sketchpad.
Then it hit her. The dream she'd had the night before. The briefest flash of it came back to her all of a sudden. In the dream, it had been late at night—damp and chilly, and she'd been dressed in something long and flowing. She leaned up against a curtained window in an unfamiliar room. The only other person there was a man… or a boy—she never got to see his face. He was sketching her likeness on a thick pad of paper. Her hair. Her neck. The precise outline of her profile. She stood behind him, too afraid to let him know she was watching, too intrigued to turn away.
Luce jerked forward as she felt something pinch the back of her shoulder, then float over her head. The shadow had resurfaced. It was black and as thick as a curtain.
The pounding of her heart grew so loud that it filled her ears, blocking out the dark rustle of the shadow, blocking out the sound of her footsteps. Daniel glanced up from his work and seemed to raise his eyes to exactly where the shadow hovered, but he didn't start the way she had.
Of course, he couldn't see them. His focus settled calmly outside the window.
The heat inside her grew stronger. She was close enough now that she felt like he must be able to feel it coming off her skin.
As quietly as she could, Luce tried to peer over his shoulder at his sketchpad. For just a second, her mind saw the curve of her own bare neck sketched in pencil on the page. But then she blinked, and when her eyes settled back on the paper, she had to swallow hard.
It was a landscape. Daniel was drawing the view of the cemetery out the window in almost perfect detail. Luce had never seen anything that made her quite so sad.
She didn't know why. It was crazy—even for her—to have expected her bizarre intuition to come true. There was no reason for Daniel to draw her. She knew that. Just like she knew he'd had no reason to flip her off this morning. But he had.
"What are you doing over here?" he asked. He'd closed his sketchbook and was looking at her solemnly. His full lips were set in a straight line and his gray eyes looked dull. He didn't look angry for a change; he looked exhausted.
"I came to check out a book from Special Collections," she said in a wobbly voice. But as she looked around, she quickly realized her mistake. Special Collections wasn't a section of books—it was an open area in the library for an art display about the Civil War. She and Daniel were standing in a tiny gallery of bronze busts of war heroes, glass cases filled with old promissory notes and Confederate maps. It was the only section of the library where there wasn't a single book to check out.
"Good luck with that," Daniel said, opening up his sketchbook again, as if to say, preemptively, goodbye.
Luce was tongue-tied and embarrassed and what she would have liked to do was escape. But then, there were the shadows, still lurking nearby, and for some reason Luce felt better about them when she was next to Daniel. It made no sense—like there was anything he could do to protect her from them.
She was stuck, rooted to her spot. He glanced up at her and sighed.
"Let me ask you, do you like being sneaked up on?"
Luce thought about the shadows and what they were doing to her right now. Without thinking, she shook her head roughly.
"Okay, that makes two of us." He cleared his throat and stared at her, driving home the point that she was the intruder.
Maybe she could explain that she was feeling a little light-headed and just needed to sit down for a minute. She started to say, "Look, can I—"
But Daniel picked up his sketchbook and got to his feet. "I came here to get away," he said, cutting her off. "If you're not going to leave, I will."
He shoved his sketchbook into his backpack. When he pushed past, his shoulder brushed hers. Even as brief as the touch was, even through their layers of clothes, Luce felt a shock of static.
For a second, Daniel stood still, too. They turned their heads to look back at each other, and Luce opened her mouth. 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.