Star Cursed - Page 47/73

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I wake up with my head lolling on the tea table. The first thing I see is a cup of tea. The second is Sister Cora’s silver rings catching the lamplight as she waves a vial of sharp smelling salts beneath my nose. I want to complain at the awful, pungent scent, but I’m afraid that if I open my mouth I’ll be ill, so I clamp my jaw shut and sit up in my chair.

Cora is kneeling next to me. Her cheeks have some color in them now. “Are you all right?” she asks.

I nod, holding up a hand, waiting for the wave of nausea to pass.

“That was extraordinary,” she says, rising. Her bare feet peek out beneath her blue hem. “I feel almost like my old self.”

I mustn’t give her false hope. Perhaps she can’t tell, but—

“I’m sorry, I couldn’t—”

“Don’t you dare apologize. You gave me precisely what I asked for, and—don’t let this go to your head, but I feel ten times better than after Sophia’s been to see me. I feel like I did two months ago.” Cora picks up the white blanket lying at her feet and folds it. “What you did was absolutely selfless.”

If I didn’t feel as though I’d been run over by a team of horses, I’d laugh. No one else has accused me of selflessness lately. Quite the opposite.

She hangs the blanket neatly over the back of her chair, then hands me my cup of tea. “This was made with grated ginger to help soothe your stomach. Sophia’s been brewing it for me.”

I feel too sick for subterfuge. “I couldn’t save you. I don’t think I can save anyone.”

Sister Cora laughs her loud, raucous laugh. It makes her seem young and full of life, when she is neither. “That is precisely why it should be you, Catherine.”

“Maura’s the one who wants it,” I admit. “She’s willing to do whatever it takes. I’m sure you’ve heard she compelled six girls.”

“I’d back you against your sister any day,” Cora says, sitting down, and a tiny part of me, new and greenly sprouting, thrills at her words. “If she were leading the Sisterhood, would she be able to put her own feelings aside and do what was best for our girls? Or would she be ruled by her emotions? By her pride?”

I lean my head against the soft green and white satin of the chair, thinking of all the accusations Maura hurled at me this afternoon. “I want to help. But what if it’s not enough? If I’m not enough?” I close my eyes, embarrassed by how pathetic I must sound. What if I am too plodding and careful; what if something awful happens because I didn’t get Brenna out in time?

I can hear the smile in Sister Cora’s voice. “Everyone worries about that. I doubt myself every single day. That’s where faith comes in. We must trust in the prophecy and in the rightness of our cause.”

“That’s a great deal of trust,” I say doubtfully, watching the flame flicker through the etched glass shade on her desk. “The prophecy says one of us will die before the turn of the century, too. I can’t place my faith in that. I prefer to believe we have some hand in our fates, that our choices matter as much as our stars.”

Cora leans forward in her chair. “Of course our choices matter, Catherine. They define us. You came here against your will, to protect your sisters and that young man of yours. That speaks to your selflessness, just as your healing does.”

“I don’t understand,” I admit, squinting at her.

Sister Cora puts her hand on my knee. She moves more freely now, as though every gesture no longer pains her. “I want you to trust yourself.”

As though it’s as simple as that.

“Even if you are not the prophesied one, Catherine, I would still choose you as my successor,” she says softly. “Inez is too ruthless, Maura too much like her, and Teresa too young. If the Sisters rise to power again, we must not repeat the mistakes of our past. We need a woman with scruples.”

I stare down into my tea. Am I mad to consider this? To stand up against Maura and Inez, to lead now that I don’t have to? Would it be so terrible to allow Inez control until Tess comes of age? Yes, my conscience says. What would Inez do with four years? Would she truly give up the Sisterhood after such a long taste of power, or would she find a way around it?

“But I still want to marry Finn,” I confess. “To have a family. I know it’s horrible and selfish, but I don’t want to give up my life for everyone else’s.”

Sister Cora smiles. “You may not have to. If things go our way—why, you could work openly as a nurse, and raise your own family, and help lead the Sisters. You wouldn’t have to choose.”

I imagine spending my days in a garden of my own, chasing freckled little girls with Finn’s unruly hair and my penchant for climbing trees. I picture us all snuggled onto a sofa in the evenings, while Finn reads us pirate stories. My daughters might be witches, but if the Sisterhood ruled New England, they wouldn’t have to live in fear of detection. They could learn to wield their magic wisely instead of in fear and shame.

It could be a blessing, not a curse.

Perhaps that is a gift I could give them.

Chapter 13


She and Mei and I are in the front parlor. I’m lounging on the thin brown carpet before the fire, reading Tess’s copy of The Metamorphoses. I’ve heard all the stories from Father, but I wanted to read it myself since it’s Finn’s favorite. Tess is leaning forward on the settee, picking up her tea, repeating a Chinese pronunciation, when her gray eyes go blank. She drops the cup onto the table, and it rolls onto the floor, spilling tea everywhere. It puddles on the table and drips down onto her leafy green skirts.

“Tess?” Tossing my book aside, I scramble across the carpet toward her.

Mei springs into action, sopping up the tea with her faded yellow handkerchief. Tess sits there, staring at nothing, until Mei shakes her arm. “Tess?”

“I’m sorry,” she gasps, coming back to herself. “I felt faint for a moment.”

Mei lays a hand on Tess’s brow. “You don’t feel feverish.”

I pick up the chipped cup, searching for a reasonable subterfuge. “Is it your monthly affliction?”

Tess flushes bright red. “Perhaps,” she squeaks.

“Do you want to go upstairs and lie down? I’ll bring you a hot water bottle for your back,” I suggest.

“Go on. I’ll clean things up here,” Mei offers.

“Thank you.” I toss her my own handkerchief, then lead Tess into the hall.

We’re quiet until we reach the bedroom she and Maura share, down the hall from mine. Maura’s stockings are scattered everywhere, and a lacy blue petticoat is draped over the stool at the dressing table. Tess has taken the bed by the window and hung the curtains Mrs. O’Hare sewed for her years ago. There’s a daguerreotype of Mother and Father on the sill, and her one-eyed teddy bear, Cyclops, occupies a place of honor on her pillow.

“I’m fine,” she insists as soon as we shut the door. “You needn’t fuss.”

“It was another vision, wasn’t it?” She’s pressing her fingertips to her temples.

“Yes. Unhook me?” My fingers make quick work of the row of buttons at her back while I wait for her to elaborate. Tess only sighs as she pulls off the tea-soaked gown. “I can feel you staring at me, you know.”