The Dark Divine Page 1

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Chapter One Provigal

AFTER LUNCH

"Grace! You have got to see the new guy." April bounded up to me in the junior hallway. Sometimes she reminded me of the cocker spaniel I used to own--she trembled in excitement over just about anything.

"Hottest guy ever?" I almost dropped my backpack. Stupid combination locker.

"No way. This guy is totally nasty. He got kicked out of his last two schools, and Brett Johnson says he's on parole." April grinned. "Besides, everybody knows Jude is the hottest guy ever." She jabbed me in the side.

I did drop my back pack. My box of pastels dumped out at my feet. "J wouldn't know." I grumbled and squatted to pick up my shattered pastels. "Jude's my brother, remember?" April rolled her eyes. "He did ask about me at lunch, right?"

"Yeah"--I picked through the chalk bits--"he said, 'How's April?' and I said, 'She's fine,' and then he gave me half of his turkey sandwich." I swear, if she had a disloyal bone in her body, I'd worry April was only my friend to get close to my brother--like half the other girls in this school.

"Hurry up," she said, glancing over her shoulder.

"You could help." I waved a broken pastel at her. "I just bought these on my way back from the cafe."

April crouched and picked up a blue one. "What's with these anyway? I thought you were working with charcoal."

"I can't get it to look right." I plucked the piece of chalk from her fingers and stuck it back in the box. "I'm starting over."

"But it's due tomorrow."

"I can't turn it in if it isn't right."

"I don't think it looks that bad," April said. "Besides, the new guy seems to like it."

"What?"

April bounced up. She grabbed my arm. "Come on. You have to see this." She sprang toward the art room, pulling me with her.

I clung to my pastels. "You are so weird."

April laughed and quickened her pace.

"Here she comes," Lynn Bishop called as we rounded the corner to the art department. A group of students congregated in front of the doorway. They parted to

either side as we approached. Jenny Wilson glanced at me and whispered something to Lynn.

"What's the big deal?" I asked.

April pointed. "That is."

I stopped and stared at him. This guy more than pushed the limits of Holy Trinity's dress code in a holey Wolfsbane T-shirt and black, dingy jeans, shredded at the knees. His shaggy, dyed-black hair hid his face, and he held a large sheet of paper in his pale white hands. It was my charcoal drawing, and he was sitting in my seat.

I left the group of bystanders and strode up to the table. "Excuse me, you're in my spot."

"Then you must be Grace," he said without looking up. Something about his raspy voice made my arm hairs stand on end.

I stepped back. "How'd you know my name?"

He pointed at the masking tape name tag on the supply bucket I'd left out during lunch. "Grace Divine." He snorted. "Your parents must have some God complex. I bet your dad is a minister."

"Pastor. But that's none of your business."

He held my drawing in front of him. "Grace Divine. They must expect great things from you."

"They do. Now move."

"This drawing is anything but great," he said. "You've got these branches all wrong, and that knot should be turned up, not down." He picked up one of my charcoals between his thin fingers and drew on the paper.

I was ticked off by his audacity, but what I couldn't believe was the ease with which he wove thick and thin black lines into striking charcoal branches. The same tree I'd been agonizing over all week came to life on the paper. He used the side of his pinky to smudge the coal on the trunk---a major "don't" in Barlow's class, but the rough blending had just the right effect for the tree's bark. I watched him shade along the bottom of the branches, but then he began to fix the knot in the lowest one. How could he have known what that knot was supposed to look like?

"Stop it," I said. "That's mine. Give it back." I grabbed at the paper but he pulled it away. "Hand it over!

"Kiss me," he said.

I heard April yelp.

"What?" I asked.

He leaned over the drawing. His face was still obscured by his shaggy hair, but a black stone pendant slipped out of his shirt. "Kiss me, and I'll give it back." I grabbed his hand that held the charcoal. "Who the hell do you think you are?"

"So you don't recognize me?" He looked up and pushed his hair out of his face. His checks were pale and hollow, but it was his eyes that made me gasp. The same dark eyes I used to call "mud pies."

"Daniel?" I let go of his hand. The charcoal pencil plinked onto the table. A million questions slammed against one another in my brain. "Does Jude know you're here?" Daniel wrapped his fingers around the black pendant that hung from his neck. His lips parted as if to speak.

Mr. Barlow came up to us, his arms crossed in front of his barrel-like chest. "I told you to report to the counselors' office before joining this class," he said to Daniel. "If you cannot respect me, young man, then perhaps you do not belong here."

"I was just leaving." Daniel shoved back his chair and slumped past me, his dyed hair veiling his eyes. "See you later, Gracie."

I looked at the charcoal drawing he left behind. The black lines laced together into the silhouette of a lone, familiar tree. I brushed past Mr. Barlow and the group of students in the doorway.

"Daniel!" I shouted. But the hallway was deserted.

Daniel was good at disappearing. It's what he did best.

DINNER

I listened to forks and knives clinking on plates and dreaded my turn in the infamous Divine family daily ritual--the "so what did you do today?" part of dinner. Dad went first. He was quite excited about the parish-sponsored charity drive. I'm sure it was a nice change for him. He'd been holed up studying in his private office so much lately that Jude and I joked that he must be trying to start his own religion. Mom told us about her new intern at the clinic, and that Baby James had learned the words peas, apple, and turtle at day care. Charity reported that she got an A on her science test.

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