Uh, Lil," Lily Robbins' mom said from the back door. "You've
picked a strange time to garden, hon." She glanced at her
watch. "Our train leaves in an hour and a half."
Lily tried not to give her mom the I-am-so-not-gardening-right-now-Mother
look and instead held up the plastic Ziploc bag she'd
just filled with Oxford soil.
"I'm just getting some dirt to leave in Paris," she said.
One corner of Mom's lips twitched into her almost-smile. "Don't
they have enough there?"
Again Lily controlled her face, and she smothered a sigh, too, just
to be on the safe side of attitude.
"It's a spiritual thing. Mudda told me I should do it."
"I definitely wouldn't question your grandmother - bizarre as
the woman can be sometimes." Mom blinked. "Did I say that?"
"Nobody'll ever hear it from me," Lily said. She got to her feet
and brushed the dirt from the knees of her jeans - or at least, she
tried to. English spring dirt was practically mud, and it stuck to
denim like Elmer's Glue.
"I hope you didn't pack all your clean clothes." Mom's mouth
was twitching again. "I'm assuming you're all packed."
"How many journals did you cram in there?"
Lily couldn't stifle the sigh this time. "Only two - in my suitcase."
"And in your backpack?"
"One. But I need them, Mom!"
"And you're going to need a chiropractor, too." But before Mom could
say more - and Lily was sure there was more - there was a yell from inside
the house that turned Mom immediately on her heel. When Lily's adopted
ten-year-old sister, Tessa, let out a bloodcurdling scream like that, she was
either winding up to belt Joe or getting ready to hurl some frustrating
object against the wall. Lily suspected it was the suitcase Mom had told
Tessa to pack.
Betcha she can't get it closed, Lily thought, as Mom disappeared inside
the back door. The last time Lily had seen it, there were four inches of
Tessa's belongings rising above the lid line, and she'd still been pulling stuff
out of her drawers. Dad said it was because she'd been in and out of so
many foster homes, she was used to taking everything she owned with her
wherever she went.
And Mom's complaining about me carrying a couple of journals, Lily
But she had to reconsider that as she climbed the back stairs to change
her jeans. It wasn't that Mom, or Dad, or even Tessa, or Lily's brothers,
Joe and Art, actually complained about her spiritual stuff - like keeping
journals and lighting candles and dropping off and picking up dirt in their
travels. It was more that they didn't understand it, except for Dad, and he
wasn't going with them to Paris.
And neither was the only other person who "got it."
Lily squinted through the dim upstairs hall light at the clock, which was
barely visible against the faded-daffodil wallpaper. She still had time to run
across the street to St. Margaret's and see Sister Benedict before Kimble
and Ingram showed up to say good-bye.
She made a move toward her bedroom door to tell Mom, but she could
hear her in there, coaxing Tessa in a voice that was balancing on a tightrope
of patience. Not a good time to interrupt. She considered asking Dad, but he
was at the bank, getting some Euros so they wouldn't have to exchange
money when they first arrived in Paris.
I just got used to pounds and shillings here, Lily thought, as she headed
for the boys' room. Now it's Euros, for Pete's sake - one more reason to
stay here instead of running off to France for a month.
Lily shook her mane of red hair and with it shook off that thought and
the dozen others that always followed like little cars on a toy train. Save it
for Sister Benedict, she told herself. She'll keep you from becoming a train
The boys' door was ajar, and it was obvious that Joe, her eleven-year-old
brother, wasn't in there, because it was as quiet as a British bank - andthat was quiet. People in England, Lily had found, always talked in whispers
But the quiet didn't mean her 18-year-old brother, Art, wasn't in there.
In fact, the more deathly silent a room was, the more likely Art was occupying
it, especially today. He was in one of his moods.
Lily took a deep breath, steeled herself for possible projectiles, and
tapped on the door.
"What?" came the voice from within.
Lily pushed the door open and flashed a smile so forced it hurt her lips. Art
didn't see it. He was lying on his back on one of the sagging twin beds. His
short, curly red hair was brilliant against the dingy pillowcase, his hands
folded over his chest, and his eyes closed. At least he didn't look as if he were
going to pick up the bedside lamp and hurl it at her.
"Could you give Mom a message for me?" Lily said.
Art answered in a voice soaked in contempt. "If I see her."
How could you not see her? Lily thought. She checks on you every
seven seconds, for heaven's sake. If it wasn't to make sure his blood sugar
wasn't too far up or too far down, it was to try to pull him out of a black
mood or make sure he wasn't about to spiral down into one.
Lily had thought more than once that it was no wonder Art got irritable.
Between finding out he had a disease called diabetes and having Mom
hover over him in very un-Mom-like fashion, he pretty much had a right
to be cranky as far as Lily was concerned.
Lily softened a little. "I'm bummed out, too," she said. "I'm sure Paris
is going to be great and all that, but I've got friends here."
"Bully for you," Art said. "I've got friends back in Jersey -"
"Well, so do I -"
"Who are right now packing to go to State Finals with the jazz band I
started," Art moaned. "One more thing I've had to give up because of this
stupid disease, so don't go there with me, all right?"
He opened one blue eye just wide enough to glare at her like some kind
of pirate. Lily felt all sympathy fade away.
"Sorry," she said. "Would you just tell Mom I'm going to see Sister
Benedict, and I'll be back in time to leave for the train station?"
"Whatever," Art said, and let his eye slam shut again.
Lily went downstairs to the kitchen, scribbled a note to Mom, and
leaned it against the goodies for the train that were stacked on the table.
Somebody was bound to see it there.
It was starting to drizzle again as Lily crossed busy Woodstock Road.
She pulled up the hood of her rain jacket and charged ahead. She was used
to rain, cars going down the "wrong" side of the road, and everyone speaking
in clipped, proper-sounding tones. Some people even told her she was
starting to sound rather British herself.
But one thing that never ceased to amaze her was St. Margaret's, and all
the other churches in England that she had visited, for that matter. They
were so seasoned with age and holy looking, inside and out.
Lily ran her hand across the pale stone of St. Margaret's wall as she cut
a corner amid the tall trees that bent over the peaked roof. She could
almost feel the prayers of centuries of people who had entered before her,
right there in the cold, damp stone. She always sensed them, as she did
now, passing under the covered walkway where the statue of Christ
looked down from his cross. Even as she pushed open the heavy door, she
could hear Sister Benedict in her head, reminding her that God wasn't
only in the churches.
Remember where he spoke to you in London, she would say, her eyes
murky-brown with age, twinkling in her cobwebby face.
Lily did remember. But the churches, especially St. Margaret's, were still
special places to her, filled with their holy silence. Besides, this was where
she had first discovered her pilgrimage guide.
And then as if Lily had called ahead for a reservation, Sister Benedict
stepped out from a row of chairs on the slate floor into the shaft of light
Lily let in as she entered. The old woman smiled so that the whole cobweb
of lines danced to life.
"How do you always know when I'm coming?" Lily said.
Sister Benedict cupped a gnarled hand around her ear. "You were humming?
What were you humming? I don't hear so well, you know."
Ya think? Lily thought. But she just smiled at her Anglican-nun friend
and tucked her arm through the frail woman's elbow draped in her gray
flannel cape. Though it was spring-warm outside, there was always a chill
in the church. Lily was anxious to get to Sister Benedict's cozy cell of a
room where there would be an inviting cup of tea, sunlight streaming
through the tiny window, and the glow of candle flames to make her feel
Once they were settled in her cell, Sister Benedict looked at Lily over
the top of her nose, which reminded Lily of a cone full of marbles. "So this
is your last day in Oxford for a while. I trust you've a good deal of worry
"It's only for a month!" Lily said, and then she sagged. "A whole
month. Am I an ungrateful little creep for not being happy that I get to go
"Ah, Lily Love. Drink your tea and think about what you've just said.
Does our good God make 'creeps'?"
Lily sipped. She could practically feel the freckles on her forehead folding
as she creased it. "I guess not," she said. "It's just that, for one thing,
I'll miss Dad. We're getting along again, you know, after all the stuff that
happened in December. And he understands my pilgrimage, too. Not that
Mom's mean about it or anything. I just don't always think she exactly gets
it, especially since she has to spend so much time worrying about Art."
Lily stopped for a breath. "He's in one of his funks again."
Sister Benedict nodded. "I expect it's very difficult for him."
"Yeah, and when it's difficult for him, it's difficult for the rest of us. It's
like he can frost up an entire room just by coming in - another reason I'm
not looking forward to this trip. Nobody has much fun when he's all
frozen-up like that. He used to be so cool - I mean - not that I don't still
love him - I mean - he's my brother, but right now it's hard to like him. Is
that bad, you know, with him having diabetes and everything? Should I just
understand him, spit spot, just like that?"
Lily dusted her hands together, and Sister Benedict chuckled in her
"You are not Mary Poppins, Lily Love, and if you were, I suspect I
wouldn't be able to bear being 'round you."
"Then forget her!"
Lily watched as Sister Benedict struck a match against the rough-hewn
table and lit one in the line of candles that was always present there.
"A prayer for Art," the sister murmured. "Come, Holy Spirit, come."
Lily closed her eyes and whispered yes. But the prayer wouldn't stay in
"It isn't just Art anyway," she said when Sister Benedict had opened
her eyes again. "I know I have a better attitude about going to Paris than
I did about coming here."
"Ah, yes, I remember."
"But I'm still kind of nervous about a whole new place. What if I get
homesick again? What if Kimble and Ingram find new friends to replace me
once I'm out of the country? What if they figure out they'd rather just be
the two of them and shut me out when I come back?"
Sister Benedict blinked, lit match in hand. "I hardly know which to light
a candle for first, Lily Love." She touched the flame to wicks as she named
them off. "Homesick. Missing Ingram. Missing Kimble." She chuckled as
she shook out the match just before it began to singe her fingertips. "I don't
think we need to pray that Ingram and Kimble will not become a twosome
in your absence. I should imagine it would be more likely that the queen
will take up belly dancing."
Lily snickered. Maybe that was stretching her anxiety a little. With
Ingram being all about the ages of castles and the dates of kings and Kimble
being all about cosmetics and available blokes - boys - they probably
weren't going to run off together while Lily wasn't looking.
Besides, Lily and Ingram were thirteen-looking-at-fourteen, and Kimble
was a year older. The thought of dating somebody, much less teaming up for
life, wasn't in the near future in Lily's mind or Ingram's. She knew that. Kimble
would have said it was, but Lily knew better. A lot of what Kimble did
and said was to protect herself from all the things she had to deal with at
home. Dad and Mom had explained that to Lily.
She looked up from the dancing candle flames to see Sister Benedict
watching her with that I-know-what-you're-thinking look on her face.
Lily knew she probably did.
"It wouldn't be this hard," Lily said, "if I didn't feel like all my friends
back home had fallen off the face of the earth."
"You've still not heard from Reni?"
Lily shook her head, and she could feel her heart dipping down to meet
her stomach. "She hasn't emailed me in two weeks. The only person who
emails me anymore is Mudda - you know, my grandmother. And she tells
me stuff like 'don't forget to go barefoot once a day no matter where you
are,' and 'write down one important thing that happens every day.'"
"Wise old crone, that Mudda."
"I get an email once a week from Suzy, but that's just Suzy. She probably
does it like a homework assignment. Kresha doesn't have a computer,
and Zooey only writes her name when she absolutely has to. But Reni."
Lily swallowed the lump in her throat. "She's my best friend. At least, I
thought she was."
Sister Benedict kept nodding as she lit another candle. Now the little
cell was flooded with light, and Lily could better see the smile that always
made her want to smile, too, no matter what was happening. Sister Benedict's
funny thin hair and the shelf her ample bosom made across her chest
made Lily want to burst into guffaws sometimes. But the sister's smile
brought on genuine joy. Right now, however, it was bringing tears to Lily's
"Why does everything have to change all the time?" Lily burst out. Her
breath snuffed out one of the candle flames.
"Ah, Lily Love." Sister Benedict carefully picked up the matchbook
and slowly relit the wick. "Change will happen whether we stay where we
are or move about. That is life itself." She peered keenly at Lily, the candlelight
flickering, wisdom-like, in her eyes. "Especially when one is on a
pilgrimage with the Lord, as you are."
"But you're my pilgrimage guide! How am I supposed to go on without
"You can't go on unless you aren't with me. It's time you let God be
your guide." She put up her hand before Lily could even open her mouth
to protest. "You know how to do that. He has shown you again and again."
Lily gnawed on a thumbnail. "I can do it here, because I know this place
now. But everything's going to be different in France."
"Indeed it will.