Those eyes were intense, and alluring, and, well, a little bit disarming.
With some loud throat-clearing noises, the attendant interrupted the boy’s trancelike stare. Luce blushed and pretended to be very busy scratching her head.
“Those of you who’ve learned the ropes are free to go after you dump your hazards.” The attendant -gestured at a large cardboard box under a sign that said in big black letters PROHIBITED MATERIALS. “And when I say free, Todd”— she clamped a hand down on the freckled kid’s shoulder, making him jump —“I mean gymnasium-bound to meet your preassigned student guides. You”— she pointed at Luce —“dump your hazards and stay with me.”
The four of them shuffled toward the box and Luce watched, baffled, as the other students began to empty their pockets. The girl pulled out a three-inch pink Swiss Army knife. The green-eyed guy reluctantly dumped a can of spray paint and a box cutter. Even the hapless Todd let loose several books of matches and a small container of lighter fluid. Luce felt almost stupid that she wasn’t concealing a hazard of her own—but when she saw the other kids reach into their pockets and chuck their cell phones into the box, she gulped.
Leaning forward to read the PROHIBITED MATERIALS sign a little more closely, she saw that cell phones, pagers, and all two-way radio devices were strictly forbidden. It was bad enough that she couldn’t have her car! Luce clamped a sweaty hand around the cell phone in her pocket, her only connection to the outside world. When the attendant saw the look on her face, Luce received a few quick slaps on the cheek. “Don’t swoon on me, kid, they don’t pay me enough to resuscitate. Besides, you get one phone call once a week in the main lobby.”
One phone call . . . once a week? But —
She looked down at her phone one last time and saw that she’d received two new text messages. It didn’t seem possible that these would be her two last text messages. The first one was from Callie.
Call immediately! Will be waiting by the phone all nite so be ready to dish. And remember the mantra I assigned you. You’ll survive! BTW, for what it’s worth, I think everyone’s totally forgotten about . . .
In typical Callie fashion, she’d gone on so long that Luce’s crap cell phone cut the message off four lines in. In a way, Luce was almost relieved. She didn’t want to read about how everyone from her old school had already forgotten what had happened to her, what she’d done to land herself in this place.
She sighed and scrolled down to her second message. It was from her mom, who’d only just gotten the hang of texting a few weeks ago, and who surely had not known about this one-call-once-a-week thing or she would never have abandoned her daughter here. Right?
Kiddo, we are always thinking of you. Be good and try to eat enough protein. We’ll talk when we can. Love, M&D
With a sigh, Luce realized her parents must have known. How else to explain their drawn faces when she’d waved goodbye at the school gates this morning, duffel bag in hand? At breakfast, she’d tried to joke about finally losing that appalling New England accent she’d picked up at Dover, but her parents hadn’t even cracked a smile. She’d thought they were still mad at her. They never did the whole raising-their-voice thing, which meant that when Luce really messed up, they just gave her the old silent treatment. Now she understood this morning’s strange demeanor: Her parents were already mourning the loss of contact with their only daughter.