Star Cursed - Page 46/73

I rise to my feet. “You haven’t been to Harwood, Maura. You haven’t seen what it’s like. If I do this, I’m going to do it right.”

“If you do this,” Maura mocks, leaning so close I can smell the lemon verbena she wears. “You’re too chicken to actually do anything, Cate. That’s the problem with you.”

“I will save them.” I plant my hands on my hips, linking my thumbs through the blue sash at my waist. “Just wait and see.”

“You wait. Soon Cora will be dead and Inez will be in charge. She’s going to make me her second-in-command, not you. She’s just using you to get information from Finn.”

I grab her arm, whirling her around, my fingers pressing into the cream taffeta at her wrist. “Can you trust her any more than Elena? Do you honestly think if she succeeds Cora and deposes the Brotherhood, she’ll just step aside when you’re ready to lead?”

Maura gapes at me. “Inez believes in me.”

I shake my head. “I believe in you! I believe that you’re smarter than this.”

Anger flashes over Maura’s face, thinning her lips and narrowing her eyes, and then I’m flying backward a dozen feet. My back slams against the chalkboard, hard, and I slide onto the floor like a rag doll tossed by a giant. My gray skirts pool around me.

My sister looms over me, blue eyes glittering. “I intend to lead the Sisterhood, Cate. I’ll thank you not to get in my way. I’m done playing nice.”

I wince, struggling to my feet, clutching my elbow where it smacked into the chalk tray. That will leave a bruise. “That’s what you’ve been doing, humiliating me by telling everyone how I’ve been jilted, and how stupid I am, and what a coward? Trying to show me up at every turn?”

My sister rubs a hand over her heart-shaped face. “This would all be easier without you here,” she says simply, unsettlingly, and a shiver crawls up my spine.


“What do you mean?” I whisper, heart pounding.

She backs away, moving to stand by Sister Gretchen’s desk. “You make me lose my temper and say stupid hurtful things I don’t mean, and—I can’t forget how you made Elena turn on me. She takes up for you, you know. She says she cares for me, but she thinks you’d be the better leader.” Maura gives a harsh laugh, and my eyes fly to hers. “If it weren’t for you, I would have everything I want.”

I’ve made mistakes, certainly. Perhaps I’ve been thoughtless, stubborn, but I was never unkind on purpose. I love Maura. I would do anything for her.

“I don’t want to fight you, Cate, truly,” she says. “But I’m not going to back down.”

“Neither am I.” I can’t. Not when the future of the Sisterhood and all the girls at Harwood is at stake.

I look at my sister, and even though she’s right here in front of me, in the very same room, she feels oceans away.

I don’t know how to reach her anymore.

• • •

Sister Sophia comes to fetch me during supper, drawing the stares of all the other girls.

“I’m sorry to interrupt your dinner, Cate,” she says, touching my shoulder. “Cora’s asked for you.”

The conversation at our table stutters and stops. Whispers dance through the dining room.

“Of course,” I say, folding my napkin and placing it on the table. Things must be truly dire if Sophia can no longer help.

“Should I bring the rest of your dinner up to your room?” Tess asks. She sits with Lucy and Rebekah and the younger girls at breakfast, but we always eat supper together.

“No, thank you.” I glance regretfully at the roasted sweet potatoes, butternut squash, and chicken on my plate. I won’t want it after a healing session, and it’s better not to do this with a full stomach.

There are five long oak tables in the dining room—four for students and one for teachers. After her fight with Alice this afternoon, Vi made a great show of sitting at our table tonight. Maud came with her, though she keeps looking anxiously toward Alice’s table.

I do, too. I catch Maura glaring at me and look away, fast.

She’s angry with me, and jealous. She’ll get past that. It’s the way of sisters; it’s hardly the first time that a rivalry has sprung up between us.

But this feels more important than who Tess crawled to first, or who goes to town with Mother, or whose turn it is for a new gown. This goes right to the heart of who we are, what we were made for.

Maura has never made any bones about being cleverer, prettier, more ambitious and interesting and talented than me. I used to ignore the stings.

I used to think she was right.

I stand up and walk away from the table, head held high, ignoring the whispers. I’m the one Sister Cora is asking for; I’m the only one who can do this. That’s got to count for something.

Sophia shows me into Cora’s sitting room, then flutters like a bright moth in the doorway. I take the flowered chair angled next to Cora’s. There’s a steaming pot of tea on the table between us. She’s already poured a cup for herself, and now she pours one for me.

“You may go, Sophia. Thank you,” she says.

Sophia slips out of the room, leaving us shrouded in shadows. The gas lamp on Cora’s desk throws a small circle of light that doesn’t quite reach us.

“Sophia said you’d offered to heal me, Catherine.” Cora’s wearing a cornflower-blue dressing gown with a white blanket draped across her lap. Her hair falls in a long plait over her right shoulder. “I thank you for it. Even a few hours to think more clearly would help.”

Panic bubbles through me. “I haven’t found the limit of my healing yet. Perhaps—”

Cora shakes her head. “Don’t push yourself past your limit for my sake. I’ve made my peace with dying, insofar as any woman can. All I hope for is a few hours without such pain, to get my affairs in order.” She sets her cup down and holds out her hand, palm facing up. It’s all very businesslike: tick-tock, no time to waste.

I clasp her hand, soft and still warm from her tea. My magic shudders back at the sickness in her.

I grip her hand harder and think of how we need Sister Cora.

I am not ready to lead. Tess is not ready to lead.

She needs time. We need time.

I cast, and the pain is immediate and blinding.

I gasp, curling into myself, my stomach twisting. My head swims; I feel hot and sick. But I keep pushing against the sickness in her. I think of girls—stuck-up ones like Alice, ambitious ones like Maura, sweet ones like Lucy, desperate ones like Rory. Sister Cora saves half a dozen girls each year from the Brothers. That is reason enough to fight for her, isn’t it?

It’s more than enough.

It feels like knives in my stomach, in my head.

It’s worse than the sharp awfulness of falling off the pigpen fence and twisting my ankle. Worse than any physical pain I’ve ever felt.

My vision blurs, darkness at the edges, but I hang on. I can feel the magic working, can feel the sickness slinking away, shrinking, receding into its dark hiding places.

Eventually I say it out loud: a gasp, a spell, a sob. She cannot die. Not yet.

The magic leaps from my body into hers, leaving me empty, sick, wrung out. My spine feels like an insubstantial, rubbery thing. I slump sideways, my hand slipping from hers. I stop fighting.