Sparrow carried the burden of her papa’s secret plan with her to the convent school, where the morning classes were almost over. The school building had once served as the pueblo’s only chapel, and the old school bell had once been used to call the people to Mass. Today, the bell simply clanged for the students’ lunch break. The old wooden pews were reused as benches for students. The priest’s pulpit was where the head teacher at the convent school, Sister Placida, stood to make special announcements to the students, who were all teenage girls from wealthy Mexican families—all except for Sparrow.
Sparrow entered through the back door of the classroom long after the day’s lectures had begun. From her vantage point, she could identify the girls by the dark braids hanging down their backs. One new student was an American named Helen, who had curly yellow hair. Sparrow looked at her with great suspicion. This girl had enrolled at the school after Papa moved away from Mama Nina and Sparrow.
“You’re late again. Where were you?” Josefina asked, leaning toward Sparrow. “Sister Placida was asking for you this morning.” Her book was open, and she kept a ruler under each line to follow what the teachers said. “You caused me to lose my place.”
“I met my papa at the dock.” Sparrow told a little lie, loud enough for the yellow-haired girl, Helen, to hear her. “We are making big plans together.” She wished it were true. If only she had not heard Papa’s real intentions. She prayed the new girl was not who she thought.
“Tell me more at lunchtime,” Josefina said as she moved her ruler down the page. “I mean, tell me everything.” The two girls rarely had any secrets between them. Sparrow squirmed in her seat. Students could not relax on the floor, legs crossed, the way she preferred to sit.
The other girls at school were unfriendly toward Sparrow, and none of them were Native girls. They were the daughters of prosperous Mexican ranchers and dressed in starched pinafores. Sparrow was taller than all of them, and she wore the apron she’d used for collecting herbs with Mama earlier that morning. She slumped down in her seat and picked at bits of fern and willow fuzz stuck to her hem, hoping to be ignored.
The hour before lunchtime dragged on with the recitation of their new vocabulary words: forthright, scrupulous, reliable, stalwart, loyal. Sparrow clenched her jaw as every new word stabbed at her conscience. Should she keep Papa’s secret? Or should she share his plan with someone and ask for help? If she told, would Papa ever forgive her?
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