Today's Reading

Since I towered over the elfin nun, I had a clear view of the Director's office. Everything in it was shadowed except the boss nun's face. Or rather, the rectangle of face that pressed out between a stiff white headband and a tight, starched bib like bread dough that had risen too much. When she lifted her head to glare at me, the intruder, her rimless spectacles caught the light and hid her eyes behind two circles of silver.

Unbidden, the memories descended. Of Detroit. Of the men in the audience.

I jerked my thoughts away from a past I was determined to bury. 

"Shut the door, Sister," the Director commanded. "And if you disturb me again, all privileges will be revoked."

Her threat was so chilling that I feared food and air might be regarded as "privileges" in this alien world I'd landed in. The only thing that was familiar was the Director's imperious manner. Just like Mamie, she exuded the same cast-iron belief that the world revolved around her.

Undaunted, Sister T asked impishly, "Are you sure? Because look who I have here."

The instant Sister T pushed Sofie forward, the Director's bullying manner vanished. "Sofia," she said, rising slightly from her seat. "Come in, please."

The three of us entered.

"Sister," Sofie said, "I just stopped in to bring you the new girl so that you can sign off on her admission."

"New girl?" the Director asked, her tone sharpening. "But the probationer class has already assembled."

Sister T gestured at the Director's desk. "I put the application that we approved right there alongside her admission form. If you'll simply sign, we'll get her settled in."

My pulse thudded as the Director scrutinized my application. Surely I would be found out now.

Clearly displeased, the Director asked, "Is this the charity position that was confirmed during the time I was away in St. Louis at the Motherhouse?"

"That's right," Sofie answered. "All you have to do is add your signature and we'll get out of your hair."

With a thin smile that appeared to cause her pain, the Director said, "Sofia, if you wouldn't mind, perhaps I could have a moment alone with..." She searched the form.

"Evie Grace," Sofie supplied.

The Director dropped her imitation of a smile the instant the door closed. Tapping my answers with the point of a needle-sharp pencil, she asked, "Your father and mother are both dead?"

"Yes," I replied, only half lying. My father had died when I was young and Mamie, besides never wanting to be a mother to begin with, had told me I was dead to her if I stopped paying her bills and went to nursing school. So, if I was dead to her, how alive could she be to me?

"You graduated from Sam Houston High School?"

"Yes," I answered brightly, since that was one hundred percent true. 

"With a grade point average of B minus?" she added, more disapproving than curious.

"I had to work two jobs to support myself and my mother. When she was alive, that is."

"I see that you worked in the school lunchroom and taught at a dance school. What sort of dance school?" she said, as if she were asking "What sort of prostitution ring?"

"The Bennett Academy of Dance. My uncle Jake owns it. Mostly I helped him teach cotillion and debutante classes."

Another half-truth. It had been years since I'd taught with Uncle Jake. Not since all the Houston swells had fled downtown for the new suburbs, like River Oaks, leaving Jake with barely enough customers to keep the school open. But dance instructor looked better than my other part-time job, babysitting for the women who turned tricks at the nearby train depot.

"And I see that the rest of your schooling was out of state." 

"Yes, Sister."

That was completely true if you considered "schooling" to be learning math from watching the all-night poker games played on the vaudeville circuit and being taught to read backstage by Marvin the Man of Marvels.

Marvin had enthralled audiences by tying his shoelaces, brushing his teeth, and buttoning his shirt. All by himself. And they were all marvels because Marvin had been born without any arms. Marvin could have read without my help, but after four or five shows a day, he was tired of being marvelous, so I held his books and turned the pages, and he helped me sound out words.

This excerpt ends on page 19 of the hardback edition.

Monday we begin the book THE PATRON SAINT OF SECOND CHANCES by Christine Simon. 

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