The scent of the holy oil hung heavy in the air, sickeningly sweet. Chiara watched as her mother’s lips, eyes, ears and forehead were anointed, listened to the mumbled prayers, the weak responses. Her heart ached.
"You were right to send for me." Father Adamo Bianchi, ministrations complete, turned to his youngest sibling. "She doesn’t have long."
Chiara lifted adoring eyes to her brother’s face. It had been many years since she had seen him. "I wasn’t sure you would get the message. I wasn’t sure where you were."
There was an uneasy moment. Chiara waited to see if it would be priest or brother who would respond. A stiff arm wrapped momentarily around Chiara’s shoulder, then dropped away – it was the priest in the room. "I have been summoned back here to see the Holy Father. He wishes me to be here now, in Rome."
A shudder of fear ran up her spine. "Here? Now?" He answered with a shrug. Chiara struggled to control her pounding heart, but fear was fast taking control.
Adamo looked back to his mother, frail, pale, wracked with coughs and rattling lungs. He worked the inside of his cheek, chewing it slowly. The subtle reaction did much to comfort his sister; there was still some of her brother in there, buried beneath the holy robes.
At the mention of their sister’s name, Chiara’s heart again began to race. Adamo had finally returned home; it was too early to get into the situation with Livia. She could lie about their in-between sister, but it was ingrained in Chiara that lying was wrong. Lying to a priest, even if he was your brother, was a sure trip to the gates of hell. "She knows. She will get here when she can."
Adamo’s head tilted slightly. He turned, watched with interest as Chiara felt beads of perspiration break on her forehead. Chiara knew her heart read like an open book to this man; that fact would never change. She thought for a fleeting moment that perhaps it was pity in his eyes. "Our mother is dying, has not even hours to live, and her own daughter is too busy to be here? I can’t imagine what could possibly detain her at a moment like this. What could be so important that she cannot see to this one last gift to the woman who gave her life, raised her, nourished her?"
"I... I don’t..."
"Be careful, Little One, lest your soul be damned to hell for lying to a man of God." They were the words of both priest and brother, but the sparkle in his eye was indeed the brother she had grown up with. "You have her confidence, and you wish not to betray it. That’s admirable, Chiara, but I sense in your reaction that she might be in some trouble. An oath asked to conceal wrong is not an oath to be trusted." His hands were on Chiara’s shoulders. He pulled her close in a tight hug. "You have done more than enough already for your family. You have been here for our Mother in her time of need. You always were here for her, and for us. I feel the burden placed on your shoulders by your sister is too heavy. Let me share it. You can trust me." He squeezed tighter.
Months of worry, of fretting, pacing, thinking, ebbed together in a rush of tears, a long overdue release of emotions. The man holding her – could he be trusted? Was he a Bianchi or a priest? The scale tipped towards Bianchi. She had to trust him. "She is with His Holiness. She was summoned to see him."
The hug released as Adamo’s arms dropped. "She is with the Holy Father?"
"And this does not alarm you?"
Chiara nodded again, then shrugged. "The first time, it did. Now, it petrifies me."