Chapter One Only

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Lemons. Their delicate scent drifts along gentle breezes in the convent courtyard while nuns tend citrus trees and blooming flowers like ethereal garden fairies. Le Sorelle di Santa Teresa.

Throughout Sicily, the Sisters of Saint Teresa are famous for the delicious pastries they sell to help support the poor and oppressed. But it is not them I traveled five thousand miles to see. I watch from a marble bench, lost in my own thoughts and expectations, as a woman approaches from across the courtyard. Our blue eyes lock. She continues, slowed by age, with the blazing Sicilian sun glistening on her short silver curls, and I rise without hesitation to approach the great-grandmother whose story set our family tree on fire.

Nonna Marie.

We stop, inches apart, gazing in silence.

I haven't seen her since I was a child, but I'd know that face anywhere. And those eyes, of course. A mirror image of mine, set in a face weathered by the joys and trials of eighty-six years. For all the world, she appears to be an old woman standing on a garden path, harboring nothing remarkable or noteworthy. But I know better. Because behind my great-grandmother's eyes lies the key to a divine gift bestowed upon me just weeks before my seventeenth birthday. A gift like no other—so amazing, so unbelievably powerful, that I sometimes wonder if I'm lost in a dream.

"Shilo Marie." The whisper accompanies tears that shimmer in her topaz eyes. No one else calls me by my first and middle name, yet spoken from her lips, it sounds as natural as breathing. "Shilo Marie."

Memories swarm my mind, stories of all she'd been through, and all she left behind. The fall that nearly took her from this world. The shame that brought her to a mountainside convent, miles away from civilization and an ocean away from her family. But she stands before me, contentment gracing her face, strength blazing in eyes that have witnessed miracles and wonders, and cried a thousand tears. I close the gap, and we embrace, wrapped in each other's arms as if we'll stay that way forever. And if that's what she wants, I will wait.

Because what I came here to learn is worth whatever it takes.


"So you are the one." Mother Superior's stiff greeting leaves me wondering if she was less than willing to approve my summer visit. She sits motionless, wrinkled hands folded on her desk. "Marie's great-granddaughter from Chicago."

Rain taps the convent windows, weaving tiny pathways down the panes and onto stone walls that have survived storms and the harsh Mediterranean sun for nearly five-hundred years.

"Yes, ma'am." Not sure I've ever used that term before, but it seems appropriate. "Cedarcrest, actually. Next to Schaumburg." Everyone seems to know Schaumburg, probably because of Woodfield Mall.

Her head tilts. No light of recognition lights her angular face. "As in Schaumburg, Germany?"

"Yes. No. I mean, same name, but it's a suburb of Chicago." My words meet with another quizzical look, reminding me that suburbs are not a thing in some places. "It's a town near the city, ma'am." Another random ma'am, like I have no control over it. Julia would be giggling if she could hear me now, but my little sister's heading back home with our parents...and I am not. Our week-long visit with the Sicilian cousins was crazy fun and ended much too soon.

Now this.

"Please address me as Mother Superior."

Images from "The Sound of Music" dance through my brain. We saw the play at the community theater a few years back. Part of me wants to belt out that song about the hills, just to see if she'll crack a smile, but chances are slim she'll see the humor. I nod.

You've reached the end of published parts.

⏰ Last updated: Jul 17, 2019 ⏰

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