Sins. There were so many of which the nun had proven guilty, did she dare to ask for favors of the Lord? But the proximity of Julian's mother—so close and yet so very far—had inspired Sister Dana to prostrate herself and feverishly pray.

"Please let her come and take him away. Please let her come and take him."

She had been lying on the cold, hard stone before the altar in the chapel for three-quarters of an hour, maybe more. She checked her watch. Melanie's Bible class was at seven. It was now 6:55. She would have to hurry. She got to her feet, rubbed her arms and the fronts of her thighs, then humbly genuflected.

With a last impassioned plea in her eyes, she gazed up at the Saviour. Then she turned to brave the bitter-cold outside.

The wind was stiff. It blew her habit into billowing pitch-black wings that flapped and beat along her ribs as if enraged at flightlessness. The expression on her face—a grimace—grew fixed. Tears streamed from her eyes. Her gloveless hands curled into fists against the chill. She broke toward shelter.

At Melanie's door Sister Dana paused to blow her nose. Her face felt frozen. She worked her jaw to restore some circulation. Then she knocked.

No answer.

Dinner hour was over; the girl should be back from the cafeteria.

She knocked again, then opened the door to look inside.

The room was dark. She made her way to the lamp. Something snapped underfoot and she started. She groped for the light, and in its flash beheld the scene.

"Melanie?"

The girl lay just as Julian had left her—eyes closed, limbs arranged in a sleeplike pose. Blood still smeared her mouth. On seeing it the nun went wild within.

"Melanie!"

She rushed to check for vital signs. Thank God; the girl was breathing. She dabbed at the blood. No cuts? No scratches? She could find no wounds of any kind.

Julian! She must have bitten him in self-defense… when he attacked her. There had been a struggle, that was clear; the room was a shambles. All the bedclothes were rumpled. And Melanie's clothes? Fearfully the nun explored for evidence—zippers, buttons. All were fastened; the clothes were simply disarranged. Relieved, she gently stroked the victim's scalp.

"Poor baby. Poor baby. What did he do to you? Did he hurt you? Are you Marcy again, my love?"

The nun was crying. It was so unfair. How could God be cruel those not guilty? She nearly cursed a faith that taught, "God's Will is perfect." But she resisted. And, instead, she knelt to pray.

"Dear Lord, oh Father, help me understand. Help my Marcy. Whatever she has done to deserve such punishment, please forgive. Or punish me in her place. And certainly punish him—Julian Papp. Make him suffer, Lord, eternally for what he has done!"

She gasped, abhorred by what she had just invoked.

"I'm sorry, Lord. It's hard. I'm trying. Forgive me? Forgive him, too? Oh God in Heaven, please forgive us all!"

She wrapped the covers around the girl, leaned forward, kissed her lightly on the cheek, and left to carry the urgent word to Sister Zoe.

 

Julian finally...

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