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.She would steal from her sisters.She built up a cache under her bed.Of course she kept it all secret.When it was discovered — well, naturally, nobody wanted to talk to her again.”Lucia had never known about the thefts, about why Francesca’s exclusion had come about.But then, you never asked questions like why.It had been easy, she thought wonderingly, easy just to ignore Francesca, to behave as if she didn’t exist — for in a way she didn’t anymore.As for Lucia, she had just gone along with what everybody else had been doing, as she always did, as she had been encouraged to do since she was a toddler, never questioning.She had scarcely noticed when Francesca had literally disappeared, when the pale solitary ghost in the refectory or the dorm had evaporated, never to return.“What happened to her?”“She’s dead,” Rosa said.“She killed herself.”Despite her own turmoil, Lucia was shocked.Dead, for a handful of cheap jewelry? How could that be right ? … She should not think such thoughts.Yet she couldn’t help it.And she became afraid.“I can’t change,” she said desolately.“Look at me.I’m a big stupid animal.My head is full of rocks.I stink.I know you can smell it.I can’t help it, I wash and wash …” Though her eyes prickled, no tears came.“Maybe it’s better if I die, too.”“No.” Rosa reached forward, pulled Lucia’s arm out from under the table, and took her hand.It was the first time anybody had touched Lucia for weeks.It was as if an electric current ran through her.Rosa said, “You’re too important to lose, Lucia.Yes, you’re different.But the Order needs girls like you.”Lucia said weakly, “Why? What for?”But Rosa drew back, subtly, breaking the touch.You weren’t supposed to ask.Ignorance is strength.It said so, in big letters on the wall before her.Lucia said quickly, “I’m sorry.”Rosa said, “It’s okay.” She stood up.“Everything’s going to be okay, Lucia.You’ll see.”Lucia, weak, starved, sleep-deprived, clung to that.In her dazed, hurting state, all she cared about was that her isolation should end.And she did her best to ignore the small voices in her head that even now asked persistent, impertinent questions: How can it ever be made okay again, how, how? And what do they want of me?* * *Rosa booked Lucia into the downbelow hospital.The doctors said her condition wasn’t too serious, though she had lost more weight than was healthy for a girl her age.She was given some light medication and put on a special diet.Rosa encouraged Lucia’s friends to come visit her.They came slowly and shyly: Pina the first day, Idina and Angela the second, Rosaria and Rosetta the next.At first they stared at Lucia with wide, curious eyes, as if she hadn’t been among them for weeks — and, in a sense, she hadn’t.They talked to her, feeding her little dribbles of gossip about what had been going on during her “absence.”It took three days before any of them could touch her without flinching.But gradually Lucia felt old connections mending, as if she were a bit of broken bone being knitted back into the whole.The change in her mood was astonishing.It was as if the sun had come out from behind clouds.After a week in the hospital the doctors discharged her.She was sent back to her dormitory, and her work in the scrinium, though the doctors insisted she call back every few days for checks.She knew she should not reflect on any of this, nor analyze it, but simply accept it.She had to learn again to live in the moment.Brica went to work in her father’s bakery.Chapter 26When she was with Regina, Brica remained withdrawn, sullen, somehow defeated.But away from Regina, Amator reported, she was more open, lively, willing, and she would socialize with the younger workers when the day was done.Amator was no doubt embellishing the truth; Regina was sure he would not miss an opportunity to slide a knife blade of difference between mother and daughter.But she didn’t begrudge her daughter her bit of happiness.As soon as the money from Amator started to come through, Regina began to search for her mother.What made that hard was that so much of Rome was so obviously unplanned.The historic core of the city had always been the seven hills, easily defended in the days when Rome had been just one of a number of squabbling communities.The first Forum had been built in the marshy valley that nestled between the hills’ bluff protective shoulders.But since then, away from the monumental heart, the city had simply grown as it needed to [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]