Alice Finds a Clue
Alice stood in the sparse convent room that was to be her home for as long as Foil thought best, but how long? Julia Marie had left her to unpack her things and get settled. She would be back to fetch her later and then begin to help Alice acclimate to convent life. She was in a tiny room, not much larger than her walk-in closet at home. Loneliness swept over her in a wave and she felt a pang of missing Foil. Tears welled up in her eyes. “Oh dear,” she said to herself, “don’t be so silly, Alice! This is an adventure, girl! Get ahold of yourself,” and she wiped the tears away, taking out a tissue and blowing her nose for good measure.
Alice looked around her at the sparsely furnished space. Everything felt cramped and small; certainly nothing like her bright and beautiful room that she had just come from at the Scorvino’s house. Saying goodbye to Momma and Papa Scorvino had been hard, as well, and she remembered them now with love and fondness. In her new room, there was no color anywhere and she had a feeling of being hemmed in by the large crucifix of Jesus staring down at her. She put down the bag she had been holding, her blue case, and sat down on the bed, hearing the springs give way in a creaky groan. She wasn’t even a heavy girl, but she would not be getting a good night’s sleep on this bed. It was designed to be uncomfortable; made to be that way so that no person would want to stay in bed, want to lounge around or even fall asleep easily. Alice stared at Jesus and felt just a little sad, like a stranger in a strange land.
She looked up at the one window in the room and sighed. It was set a bit too high to see much, except a tiny patch of sky and the occasional glimpse of a few birds flying past. There was no sign of trees or greenery, no flowers and no garden, like at home. She was a naturally cheerful girl, full of hope and giggly laughter, but in this space, well, she wasn’t sure if she would ever feel comfortable. “I will just try to make the best of it,” she sighed and turned to unpack her case. She had been told by Foil to bring only the bare necessities, so regretfully she had to leave behind her favorite lipstick, her pot of pink rouge and all her lovely hair ties. She was a girl coming into her own as a woman and she loved the accoutrements of growing up. In keeping with Foil’s instructions, she had not brought any of her prettiest dresses. Instead, she only had the one that she was wearing. But she would put that away in favor of something very plain and simple. Over that she would wear the outfit of an aspirant and play the part of a young woman seeking to enter the church. She was glad to have Julia Marie as a guide for this part of her task in the convent. She knew enough about the Catholic church’s rituals to fit into the community of nuns, but she didn’t have a very good grasp of the bible and the lessons in it. She went to church mostly for the community of people, not necessarily for any of the biblical teachings. She felt out of her depth in that area and though there was something a bit odd about Julia Marie, she honestly couldn’t quite figure out what it was, she did trust and like her.
Though Alice had left so many of her special things behind, what she had decided to bring was a diary. She was determined to take careful notes about everything she saw and experienced. She had not even told Foil about her private diary because she didn’t want him to worry about something being discovered; he might caution her against having such a thing. The diary was hidden inside her case under a false bottom that she had fashioned herself. Alice was a young woman with a quick mind and a good sense of what was needed from her and she had come prepared to write as much as possible about her adventures. But she had to be careful. She brought it out now and looked at it, the clean, empty, lined pages waiting for important information to be put down for her eyes only. She had wanted the diary with the scene of a summer’s day on the front, bright, lush grass and ducklings waddling into a clear pond. That would have been a perfect girl’s diary, but instead, she chose one with a dark grey cover. This could be hidden. It was small and nondescript. It looked as if it might even have bible verses in it. In fact, it was about the size of a small bible. She could hide it away in her aspirant’s robes and no one would be the wiser. This was how she intended to keep track of her observations and she would make sure to always carry it with her. When in her room, she would keep it in her small case, tucked away in the false bottom. She could not be too careful about her secret writing. The only other item of any importance that she had brought was a watch. This had been given to her by Bella’s parents on her birthday and she cherished it with all her heart, for the inscription on the back read: “to our new daughter, welcome home.” The Scorvino’s had opened their hearts to Alice and she was exceedingly grateful to them for their love and support. She had finally found a home and it was one she cherished deeply.
But now she was somewhere else, far away from those she loved and as she looked around her, she once again felt sad to be there. Sitting on the bed, she heard a noise and turned to see a piece of paper being slid under her door. She jumped up, scooped the note from the floor, and opened the door, expecting to see someone standing there. But as she looked up and down the hallway, she saw no one. Everything was eerily silent and she wondered how she could have missed someone’s footfall and also how anyone could have disappeared so quickly. Closing the door, she opened the paper and saw written upon it a bible verse. The handwriting was neat and in pencil.
Everyone who does evil hates the light,
and will not come into the light for fear that
their deeds will be exposed.
Were the words a threat? She couldn’t tell; she wondered aloud, “who is everyone?” and she read the verse to herself again. Could someone be saying that she had done evil? Or she was there to uncover evil? If that was what she was meant to do, she wasn’t sure how to go about it. She wasn’t scared or worried, but simply puzzled by this message. The person wanted to remain anonymous, but why? And what did they mean by giving her this particular bible verse? She knew that going to Aunt Eleanor or Mother Superior as she was meant to call her now, was the best thing to do, but she hesitated.
“Can I handle all of this on my own,” she wondered. Only moments before she had felt lonely and alone, but now, presented with a puzzle and what she knew to be a clue in the case, she felt that she had a purpose for being there, after all. Surely Foil would want her to find out as much information as possible before she presented herself to Mother Superior with the bible verse. “I will hold on to this for a little while and make sure that I write down all the details in my diary about this incident. Let’s see, what time was it slipped under my door,” and she looked at her trusty watch.
A Talk with Julia Marie
Alice was deep in thought, writing in her diary and trying to remember all the details of her time in the convent so far, when there was a confident knock at the door. She jumped in her seat, shutting the diary instantly mid-sentence and scrambling to tuck it away in her case, just managing to get it under the false bottom and put away when the person knocked again, this time a little harder. She forced herself to breathe slowly and then opened the door to Julia Marie. “Oh, it’s only you,” said Alice, with a distinct sense of relief.
“What a strange thing to say,” laughed Julia Marie, “of course it is me. I told you I would return to fetch you and here I am!” And she smiled at Alice.
“Yes, of course you did! Yes, I was putting away my things and forgot about the time,” said Alice in a little rush. She felt nervous all of a sudden and scared, but wasn’t sure why. Everything was so new and different. She was such a young, inexperienced person in so many ways, but here she was being entrusted with a weighty task by Foil to discover anything she could about the convent and its inhabitants. Perhaps Julia Marie noticed Alice’s face change or maybe she just knew that Alice needed a friend to talk to at that moment, more than she needed to be walked around the convent, for she said, sweetly, “may I come in, Alice?”
“Oh, of course! Where are my manners? Yes, come in” and she moved aside for Julia Marie to enter her tiny room. With the two of them standing together, the room felt even smaller, but Julia Marie added a warmth to the space that had not been there before and Alice suddenly felt better. Looking around, Julie Marie chose the wooden desk chair and Alice sat down on the bed, which creaked beneath her.
“Oh, my, that’s a loud one!” and Julia Marie giggled. Alice heard a bit of an accent in her words, but couldn’t place it. “None of the beds in the convent are very comfortable, I’m sorry to say, but you get used to it over time. After a long day of work, you won’t even notice the springs anymore,” and she laughed a little harder.
Alice smiled; she didn’t feel lonely anymore. “I’m sure I’ll be fine,” said Alice, wanting to show that she was okay with anything that came her way.
Julia Marie continued, “these rooms are very small and it does take some time to get used to them,” and she glanced up at the giant crucifix of Jesus hovering above them both. “I found the tiny window to be too small when I arrived. I wanted to see more of the world around me, but now it doesn’t bother me anymore,” and she paused here, looking at Alice.
“At home,” said Alice, “I have a lovely, large garden and big windows in my bedroom that look out onto it. I already miss it,” and her voice quivered. She looked down at her dress and pretended to smooth out some non-existent wrinkles, so that Julia Marie did not see the tear role down her cheek. Where this sudden wave of emotion had come from, Alice didn’t know, but she wanted to be braver than she was acting at the moment. She was mad at herself for being so silly! “Pull yourself together, girl!” she thought, and masked a sniffle by moving on the bed and making the springs squeak again. But Julia Maria was a wiser person than Alice knew, and understood instinctively that Alice needed some kindness, as she tried to settle into the strange new world.
“Why don’t you tell me a little bit more about your life at home,” said Julia Marie, encouragingly.
“Oh, yes, well, home is lovely,” said Alice with a twinkle in her eyes. And she proceeded to tell Julia Marie all about how she came to the Scorvino’s house, her friendship with Bella, the wonderful room she lived in and how much she loved her life there. By the time she had detailed all of this Alice felt quite settled and even a little happy. She had a home to go back to and that was so important to her. She belonged somewhere and knew it; she was someone’s daughter now and, of course, she also had Foil. He would always be there to protect her; she knew that in her heart. Julia Marie could see that as the minutes passed and Alice got more animated in her conversation about home, she also seemed more relaxed. Yet, time was ticking away. She needed to show Alice around the convent and help her understand what her role would be as an aspiring aspirant, so that she could fit into the community of sisters.
There was a pause in Alice’s chatting, when Julia Marie said, “shall we go, Alice? I do have a lot to show you and we’ll need to help with dinner preparations so that you can get acclimated to your new chores in the kitchen.”
“Oh, yes, of course, yes. I had forgotten all of that, yes, let’s go,” and she stood up quickly. In that moment a white piece of paper fluttered to the floor and Alice realized in horror that she had failed to put the bible verse into her diary when she tucked it away quickly into her case. Julia Marie had seen the paper fall and stooped to pick it before Alice had time to grab it herself.
“What’s this?” asked the girl. Turning the paper over in her hand and reading the bible verse.
Alice hadn’t wanted to share the verse with anyone and was kicking herself for being so sloppy about her first big clue. There was nothing to do now, but tell the truth and in doing so, she had to take Julia Marie into her confidence and trust that she wouldn’t say anything right away to Mother Superior.
“I . . . I . . . um, I, it was slipped under my door,” and she looked at Julia Marie to see her reaction.
“What do you mean?” said her new friend. “Where did it come from? Who slipped it under your door? Did you see anyone?” All the questions came tumbling out of her in quick succession, her voice rising in concern.
“I don’t know the answers to any of your questions,” said Alice, frankly. I was sitting on my bed, when someone slipped the paper under my door. I got up quickly and looked out, but there was no one there. I didn’t know how someone could disappear so fast! If I was a better detective, I would have some way to check for finger prints, but I’m just me,” she said in a frustrated tone.
Julia Marie had to giggle at this declaration. “You’re just a girl,” she said. And she looked at Alice with curiosity and wonder. “It’s a strange place to be, isn’t it?” she asked Alice. “I’m sure this convent holds many secrets and mysteries. I’ve only been here for just under a year and I feel that I still do not know it well, myself. I feel safe here, but sometimes I’ve wondered why I came and what I’m searching for in my own life,” and she stopped and looked down at the bible verse again. “What do you think it means,” asked Julia Maria. “Everyone who does evil hates the light,” she read. “What an awful thing to give you,” and she shivered. “Do you think someone is trying to warn you off? That’s what it seems like to me. I wonder who would do this?”
Alice had listened to Julia Marie talk, ask her questions, and ponder the verse and she sensed that there were no truer words about the convent, especially. She felt that she was being warned, but didn’t want to say it out loud. The convent was both a mysterious and maybe even a dangerous place. “Please don’t tell anyone about this, Julia Marie,” said Alice, with a pleading tone. “I want to keep this to myself for a while,” and she reached out and took the piece of paper from her friend.
“No, I won’t say anything. It will be our secret, for now. We’ll help each other, won’t we Alice? It’s nice to have someone closer to my own age in the convent; sometimes I get lonely too. I don’t have any close family; I came here for a community but it has been hard for me. You’re a lovely breath of fresh air,” and she smiled warmly at Alice.
Alice smiled back, folded the paper with the bible verse and tucked it away in her case. She felt in her heart that Julia Marie was going to make a very good friend, indeed. “Come on,” Alice said, and opened her door, walking out into the silent hallway, “show me what to do and where to go next.”
Closing the door behind her, Julia Maria gestured for Alice to follow her and they made their way down the hall towards the kitchen, the hive of busy activity in the convent.
Foil stood in his Aunt Eleanor’s office, looking distinctly worried. “What kind of threat?!” he demanded of his aunt. “Why didn’t you call me immediately? Why did you wait so long?! His temper was rising and he was beginning to shout and pace. His aunt walked over to him and calmly, but firmly put a hand on his arm, “sit down Seán,” she said, directing him towards a chair. “It’s unclear if it is a threat, really,” said his aunt, “but we might treat it as such, considering what we’ve discovered in the convent so far,” and she sighed. “Alice didn’t tell me right away, I only found out about this today when she and Julia Marie came to me. I would have liked to know sooner, but Alice kept this to herself.” This information did not calm Foil. He was angry at himself for placing Alice in danger, angry at his own folly. “Where is she, where’s Alice?!” Foil was impatient. “She’s coming, Seán. I’ve asked Julia Marie to fetch her from the kitchens where she has been working with some of the sisters on our evening meal. She’s settling in nicely, I don’t want you to upset her, so please try to keep calm when she arrives. I probably shouldn’t have called you, but you said you wanted to know every time there was a development and we felt that this was one,” and here she stopped talking as the side door to her office opened and Alice walked in with Julia Marie. Both young women stood together, Alice already in the role of the aspirant, clothed to be seen as a beginner in the church.
When Alice saw Foil, her face lit up and then instantly fell, as she realized that he was there because of her. He looked very upset, distraught even. “Could he be disappointed in me?” she wondered. She stood silently next to Julia Marie and watched Mother Superior. Alice had already fallen into step with the part she needed to play in the convent. She was a quick study and knew that it would be best to begin to think of Foil’s aunt in her professional role. Whatever it took to fit in was what Alice would do and now she stood waiting to be instructed on her next move. But Foil acted before his aunt could say anything, walking over to Alice and asking, “are you okay?” He looked at her with caring concern and Alice felt her heart swell with love. “Oh, yes, Foil, I’m fine,” she wanted to reassure him as best she could, “yes, I’m completely fine,” she said a bit too emphatically. She felt herself blushing a little as he stood and looked directly into her eyes as if he would be able to discover more than she wanted to say. She was silent then and Foil suddenly realized he was staring. “Yes, well, okay then,” and he appeared slightly embarrassed at his directness with Alice. “That’s good,” and he turned and walked away a few steps, keeping his back to them, as he tried to relax his demeanor in front of all three women.
His aunt’s phone call that afternoon came only a few days after he took Alice to the convent. When Aunt Eleanor called him at the Swine’s agency to tell him about the biblical verse slipped under Alice’s door, he felt alarmed by his complacency. She read the verse to him and called it a “threat,” but as she began to give more of an explanation he barked, “I’m coming now,” and hung up the phone. He didn’t wait for any further information or word about Alice’s actions after finding the verse. His immediate response to this new development in the case was to rush to the scene, he had to see Alice for himself and to discover if she was unharmed. She was his responsibility and if anything happened to her, he would never forgive himself. On the way over in his car, he shouted out loud and cursed. “What the fuck was I thinking! I’ll take her out of there, bring her back home and handle the case myself. It was too risky to keep her there, shit, and the Scorvino’s will never forgive me!” He ranted on in this way as he weaved through the streets trying to get to the convent as fast as he could. And now, standing in his aunt’s office, yet again, with Alice and Julia Marie, he realized that Alice was the stronger of the two of them. It was Alice who was calm and serene, who seemed to be taking everything in stride and who clearly wanted to reassure him that she was, indeed, okay. The emotional effect of seeing her there hit him hard. He felt in a daze, unable to really fathom that she could handle herself and that he was the one over-reacting. “Who was the adult here?” he thought to himself and wandered over to a chair to sit down.
This was all new to Foil, this sense of deep caring for another person. It was true he cared for his friends, Arms and Hog, was loyal to them through and through, but this care for a young woman made him feel out of his depth of understanding emotions, his own and hers. He had no idea what Alice thought of him or how she felt. He had never asked her and he certainly wasn’t going to go down that path now. But in every interaction that they had he saw more in her than he did before, more of her character, her values, her beliefs. They had met as total strangers in a terrible situation. He had arrived at Warehouse 1 to save her life, yet she had been the one to save his, to watch over him, and to make sure that he survived. But what was it that he also felt for her now? It was definitely love. He was not in love with her, he knew the difference and she was just a child, but he felt more than fondness when he saw her. His love for her was about protection and devotion. He was not so foolish to believe that he could take the place of her parents, nor did he want that role. The Scorvino’s had opened their hearts to Alice and offered her their parental support and their home. Foil wasn’t looking to be a parent, anyway. But there was something between him and Alice that he couldn’t quite figure out. Might he be acting like an older brother? No, that wasn’t it either. There was no sibling connection there. No, he felt that his role with her was more of a guiding and supportive friend.
But in this way, Foil was very much mistaken. In her heart, Alice felt that Foil had taken over a father’s role with her. She had not known her father well, had only seen him three or four times in her life before he died when she was very young. She had been raised by her mother, but then Alice lost her too and she was orphaned at a critical age. Just 11 when she found herself in foster care, no relatives willing to raise her, lost, alone, and afraid. Luckily, she had landed in a home with “good folks” but she never really felt she had a true family, people she could trust and love. At 18, she aged out of the foster system and was on her own once again. Befriending Bella at church was the first moment a caring person had come into her life since her mother. But her attachment to Foil was born out of a deep and abiding connection that originated in the danger that the two shared when she was kidnapped and he rescued her. That experience solidified for Alice everything that a father figure should be. He had risked his life to save hers and she, in turn, had devoted herself to his care when he couldn’t fight any longer. That experience brought them together and bonded them so deeply, so absolutely that nothing could come between them and their love for each other. To Alice, this is what made Foil like a father to her.
But what should Foil do now? Would there be any more threats? Should he risk leaving her again? There were too many questions rattling around in his head. He didn’t know what to do. Aunt Eleanor watched him carefully as the minutes ticked past in the silent room. They were all waiting for him to make a decision, but it would be the women who propelled the case forward. “Seán,” said a calm voice that seemed far away, he was so lost in his own thoughts. “Seán,” it came again, “I think all will be well and you can trust we will take care of Alice and protect her.” Foil looked up, coming out of his reverie, and glanced at Alice. At that moment she strode across the room and put a hand on Foil’s shoulder, saying, “I can do this! Just give me a chance.” He looked into her blue eyes, then, and felt a wave of trepidation in his heart, but he could see she was calm and, certainly in that moment, very strong. “Okay,” he said slowly, “okay, you can stay, but I don’t want days to go by if something else happens. Promise! You tell Aunt Eleanor right away and I’ll come over immediately!” She heard the command in his voice, the caring gentleness, and felt her love surge for him, once again. “Yes, of course. I promise, Foil, that if something happens again, anything at all, I won’t wait to tell anyone,” and she watched him visibly relax.