As they came around the corner of the cinder-block classrooms, Arriane skidded to a halt. “Effect cool,” she said.
Luce nodded, already looking around the grounds. “Cool,” she repeated.
All the other students seemed to be clustered around the kudzu-strangled trees outside the building. No one looked exactly happy to be hanging out, but no one looked ready to go inside yet, either.
There hadn’t been much of a dress code at Dover, so Luce wasn’t used to the uniformity it gave a student body. Then again, even though every kid here was wearing the same black jeans and black sweater, there were still substantial differences in how they pulled it off.
A group of tattooed girls standing in a crossed-armed circle wore bangle bracelets up to their elbows. The black bandanas in their hair reminded Luce of a film she’d once seen about motorcycle-gang girls. She’d rented it because she’d thought: What could be cooler than an all-girls motorcycle gang? Now Luce’s eyes locked with those of one of the girls across the lawn. The sideways squint of the girl’s darkly lined cat-eyes made Luce quickly shift the direction of her gaze.
She noticed that a guy and a girl holding hands had sewn sequins in the shape of skulls and crossbones on the backs of their black sweaters. Every few seconds, one of them would pull the other in for a kiss on the temple, on the earlobe, on the eye. They looked a little rough, but it was obvious how much in love they were. Every time she saw their tongue rings flashing, Luce felt a lonely pinch inside her chest.
Behind the lovers, a cluster of blond boys stood pressed against the wall. Each of them wore a white oxford shirt under his sweater, the collar starched straight up. Their tailored black pants hit the bridges of their polished dress shoes perfectly. Of all the students on the quad, these boys seemed to Luce to be the closest thing to Doverites. But a closer look quickly set them apart from boys she used to know. Boys like Trevor.
Just standing in a group, these guys radiated a specific kind of toughness. It was right there in the look in their eyes. It was hard to explain, but it suddenly struck Luce that just like her, everyone at this school had a past. Everyone here probably had secrets they wouldn’t want to share. But she couldn’t figure out whether this realization made her feel more or less isolated.
Arriane noticed Luce’s eyes running over the rest of the kids.
“We all do what we can to make it through the day,” she said, shrugging. “But in case you hadn’t noticed the low-hanging vultures, this place pretty much reeks of death.” She took a seat on a bench under a weeping willow and patted the spot next to her for Luce.
Luce wiped away a mound of wet, decaying leaves, but just before she sat down, she noticed another dress code violation.
A very attractive dress code violation.
No, attractive didn’t even come close to covering it.
He wore a bright red scarf around his neck. It wasn’t cold outside, but he had on a black leather motorcycle jacket over his black sweater, too. Maybe it was because his was the only spot of color on the quad, but he was all that Luce could look at. In fact, everything else so paled in comparison that, for one long moment, Luce completely forgot where she was.
She took in his deep golden hair and the matching tan. Her eyes ran over his high cheekbones, the dark sunglasses that covered his eyes, and the fullness of his lips. In all the movies Luce had seen, and in all the books she’d read, the love interest was empirically attractive—except for that one little flaw. The chipped tooth, the charming cowlick, the beauty mark on his left cheek. She knew why—if the hero was too unblemished, he’d risk becoming unapproachable. But approachable or not, Luce had always had a weakness for the sublimely gorgeous.
And sublimely gorgeous this guy was . . . but the crazy thing was, it wasn’t the way he looked that kept Luce’s rapt attention. She started to feel that there was something else, something bigger that, after her first glance, almost prevented her from really seeing him at all.
He leaned up against the building with his arms crossed lightly over his chest. And for a split second, Luce saw a flash of herself folded into those arms. She shook her head, but the vision stayed so clear that she almost took off toward him.
No. That was crazy. Right? Even at a school full of crazies, Luce was well aware that this instinct was insane. She didn’t even know him.
He was talking to a shorter, black kid with dreads and a toothy smile. Both of them were laughing hard and genuinely—in a way that made Luce strangely jealous. She tried to think back and remember how long had it been since she’d laughed, really laughed, like that.
“That’s Daniel,” Arriane said, leaning in and reading her mind. “I can tell he’s attracted somebody’s attention.”
“Understatement,” Luce agreed, embarrassed when she realized how obviously awestruck she must have looked to Arriane.
“Yeah, well, if you like that sort of thing.”
“What’s not to like?” Luce said, unable to stop the words from tumbling out. “He’s incredible. What’s his story?”
Arriane cleared her throat. “No one really knows,” she said. “He’s kind of a mystery man. My guess is he’s just your typical reform school asshole.”
“I’m no stranger to assholes,” Luce said, though as soon as the words came out, she wished she could take them back. After what had happened to Trevor—whatever had happened—she was the last person who should be making character judgments. But more than that, the rare time she made even the smallest reference to that night, Luce could feel the presence of the shadows, almost like she was right back at the lake.
Feeling spooked, she glanced back at Daniel. He was the opposite of all the shadows. She watched as Daniel took his glasses off and slid them inside his jacket. He turned to look at her.
His gaze caught hers, and Luce watched as his eyes widened and then quickly narrowed in what looked like surprise. But no—it was more than that. When Daniel’s eyes held hers, her breath caught in her throat. She recognized him from somewhere.
But she would have remembered meeting someone like him. She would have remembered feeling as absolutely shaken up as she did right now.
She realized they were still locking eyes when Daniel flashed her a smile. A jet of warmth shot through her and she had to grip the bench for support. She felt her lips pull up in a smile back at him, but then he raised his hand in the air.
And flipped her off.
Luce gasped and dropped her eyes.
“What?” Arriane asked, oblivious to what had just gone down. “Never mind,” she said. “We don’t have time. I sense the bell.”
The bell rang as if on cue, and the whole student body started the slow shuffle into the building. Arriane was tugging on Luce’s hand and spouting off directions about how to find her locker, where to meet her next and when. But Luce was still reeling from being flipped the bird by such a perfect stranger. Her momentary delirium over Daniel had vanished, and now the only thing she wanted to know was: What was that guy’s problem?
Just before she ducked into her first class, she dared to glance back at Daniel. His face was blank, but there was no mistaking it—he was watching her go.
Copyright © Lauren Kate 2009. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without the prior written permission of the publisher.