Read an Excerpt
Lily's Passport to Paris
By Nancy N. Rue
ZonderkidzCopyright © 2003 Nancy N. Rue
All right reserved.
Chapter OneUh, 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 thought.
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 wreck.
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 - and that was quiet. People in England, Lily had found, always talked in whispers around money.
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 warm.
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 about that."
"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 to Paris?"
"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 young-sounding way.
"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 her head.
"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 eyes.
"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?"
"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.
Excerpted from Lily's Passport to Paris by Nancy N. Rue Copyright © 2003 by Nancy N. Rue.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.