CHAPTER SEVEN

"Oh my goodness, Clara! Fifty silvers a week! I can't believe it!"

Orianna hadn't stopped hugging her since she heard the news.

"Well, I can't believe Mama agreed to it," Clara said.

Orianna finally released her grip and returned to her sewing desk. "What did he say to her?"

"I don't know. He showed me Jupiter, and the moons— and it was incredible— and then we were talking about how to prove they're moons, and then I asked if I could come back to see them again, and that's when Mama told me to leave so she could talk to Gianpaolo alone. All I could hear was yelling and arguing." Clara squeezed her sister's hand. "When they came out, I thought Mama was going to tell me I could never come back to Gianpaolo's. I have no idea what he said to her. Even when Mama left and I stayed behind to talk to him, I couldn't get him to tell me."

"Well, I'm sure Mama will be happy to have the extra money. What are you going to buy with it? More dresses from me?"

Orianna was putting the finishing touches on Clara's new dress. Just in time for her first day of work on Monday.

"I don't know what to spend it on. I haven't even thought about it. I haven't even spent the money I got from making paper. Except a little on more supplies. And a little on… newspapers."

Orianna giggled. "Simon Brewer's newspapers?" she said coyly.

"Hey! How do you know about that?" Clara asked. "And it's not like that," she added quickly.

"Ruby Rueben told me. She saw the whole thing. She said you looked 'wildly beautiful' when he chased you, and he stared after you longingly when you 'swept off up the riverwall.' She said it was fiercely romantic. I can't believe you haven't told me about it! Your own sister!"

"It certainly wasn't like that at all. There was nothing to tell, Orianna. I just embarrassed myself at the market as usual, that's it. Ruby just gave it a generous spin. I should thank her for making me sound like less of a haughty, short-tempered brat."

"But Simon is kind of dashing, isn't he?" Orianna teased.

"Dashing?" Clara rolled her eyes.

"You like him."

"Yes," she said with sarcasm. "Lying and slandering are just so irresistible to me."

"You like him."

"He's a liar, Ori. He slanders people just to make a few coppers and a name for himself. He's a worse gossip than Ruby, only he gets paid for it."

"Well, Ruby does have a bit to gain by spreading around rumors about you and Simon."

"What?"

"First, put this on." Orianna helped her into the dress.

"Perfect fit on the first try! You have an amazing skill, Orianna."

"Off again. Time for the trimmings."

Clara took off the dress and handed it to her sister.

"So yes, Ruby Rueben," Orianna continued, as Clara put her old dress back on. "Everyone knows she's got her sights on Alfonzo Harmon. So then, if she starts a rumor about you and the reckless Simon Brewer, that might get Alfonzo to pay attention to her and stop obsessing over you."

"What?" Clara struggled to poke her head through the dress. "Me?" She stood there laughing with her arms still inside the dress. "Alfonzo Harmon is not 'obsessed' with me. Honestly Ori, your gossip is drastically inaccurate."

She wrestled the dress on the rest of the way and Orianna came over to help with the buttons.

"You can deny it all you want Clara, but there's a reason we have lunch at the Harmon's at least once a month. Alfonzo's considering you, and his mother knows it. Why do you think she interrogates you every time? How are you so blind? Our mother definitely knows it." She finished the last button and turned Clara around. "And Ruby knows it."

"Well, I don't think Alfonzo Harmon will be 'considering me' much longer."

Orianna shook her head and went back to the sewing desk. "Clara! Alfonzo is rich and young and handsome! He wants to marry you! Why is it so hard for you to accept that boys like you?"

"Oh, no, it's about so much more than 'liking,' Orianna." She lowered her voice, even though they were the only ones home. "I took his job."

"What? How?"

"He wanted to be Gianpaolo's apprentice, I saw him there yesterday morning. He was acting like he had the job already and trying to impress me. But it turns out he didn't get the job. I did."

"Clara! Then why didn't you say no? He's not going to want to marry you anymore if you take his job! That makes him look ridiculous!"

"I didn't even know he wanted the job until yesterday! And I didn't even know I could be the apprentice until this morning! Then I didn't even know he wanted to marry me until just now, Orianna!"

"So what are you going to do?"

"I don't know," Clara looked her sister in the eye. "But you can't tell Mama he was after that job. Understand?"

On Sunday, after Father Lorenzo's sermon, Mrs. Lucas dashed off to catch Mrs. Harmon in conversation. Meanwhile, Orianna tried to run off too.

"I must go tell Angelica how much I love her new dress." Orianna looked Clara over with disdain. "I don't see why you couldn't wear your new dress today. Don't you want to show off my flawless handiwork to everyone?"

"We don't wear our best on Sunday to 'show off,' " said Clara. "God doesn't like vanity."

"Look who's suddenly devout again." Orianna jabbed. She was the only one who knew Clara hadn't gone to confession since their father died. Well, Father Lorenzo knew.

"It's a beautiful dress, and I love it," Clara said, trying to smooth things over. "Which is why I want to wear it for the very first time tomorrow on my very first day as an apprentice. For luck."

"I think that luck might have come in handy today." Orianna pointed. Alfonzo Harmon was heading up the aisle, straight for Clara. "Good luck, sister."

"Don't you dare leave me—"

But Orianna was already gone. Clara had to act quickly. She briefly considered hiding in the confessional, but she'd rather face Alfonzo with her stolen apprenticeship than face God with her backlogged sins.

She spotted Ruby, clearly heading for Alfonzo. Perfect, Clara thought, but just to make sure…

"Ruby!" Clara called. Ruby stopped in her tracks as Clara came up to her. "Good morning Ruby, lovely day."

"Yes," Ruby responded.

"Lovely to see you." Clara floundered. She hadn't planned what to say. Usually Ruby just did all the talking. But all she said was,

"Yes."

"Angelica's new dress is quite lovely, don't you think?" Clara cursed herself. Why couldn't she think of any other word besides "lovely"?

"Lovely," Ruby responded. "But I thought you didn't notice things like that."

Ahhh, a sentence at last. Alfonzo was nearly there.

"Well, with a dress that lov— uhh, fetching, how could I not notice?"

Ruby gave a small smile. "Is my new dress not 'fetching' enough for your notice?"

Oh dear God. Clara was starting to wish she had chosen the confessional.

"Ruby, don't be silly. I only mentioned Angelica's so I could compare yours, which is obviously more becoming. Truly, you look more beautiful then ever."

"Clara," said Alfonzo, putting a hand on her arm.

"Alfonzo, doesn't Ruby look splendid in her new dress?" She gestured to Ruby, who was ready to hang on his every word.

"It's quite lovely, Ruby. Clara, I—"

"Oh really, Alfonzo?" said Ruby, grabbing his arm. "Do you really think it's lovely?"

And with that, Clara made her way out a side door into the sunshine. It was a small garden with a statue of the Virgin Mary on her knees. She had only begun to relish her victory over awkwardness, when she noticed Simon Brewer leaning on the door. He tipped his cap.

"Morning Miss Lucas."

Clearly God was punishing her.

"Morning Mr. Brewer. What brings you here this lovely morning?"

"What brings me here? It's Sunday. It's a church." Simon gestured as if she didn't know what building she had just exited.

"I just don't recall ever seeing you here before," she said.

"Good Catholics sit in the back, Miss Lucas."

"Ughhhhh, I don't need any more reminders about how I'm a bad Catholic," Clara whined.

"A bad Catholic? You?" Simon's eyebrows went up suggestively.

Clara groaned and glanced back inside. Alfonzo was looking around as Ruby prattled. His eyes almost landed on Clara, but she ducked back around the door, nearly colliding with Simon.

"I'm… avoiding someone," she explained. "Move over." He didn't.

He gave her a sideways glance. "You seem to make enemies where ever you go, don't you?"

"He's not an enemy, he just… wants to… marry me."

He laughed, "He wants to marry you? And yet you'd rather talk to me? Sheesh, how ugly is this guy?" Simon stuck his head around the door, while Clara tried to pull him back.

"Alfonzo Harmon?" Simon came back around the door. "Alfonzo Harmon asked you to marry him, and you've chosen me instead? I'm truly flattered Clara, but I'm afraid I don't feel the same way."

"He hasn't asked me, per say! But apparently it's obvious or something." Clara put her fist to her forehead. "And I want to marry him, too. I just can't talk to him right now. You wouldn't understand."

"Oh, it's not hard to understand. Who wouldn't want to marry the handsome university student! Prestigious Wendleman scholar! Gianpaolo's brilliant new apprentice! I already know you're a huge fan of Gian—"

"Oh he's not Gianpaolo's 'brilliant new apprentice,' " Clara spurted, staring off into space.

"He's not?" Simon seemed suddenly very interested. Clara looked back at him as he continued. "He said he was Gianpaolo's new apprentice. He said he assisted on the discovery of Jupiter's moons. He said—"

"What? That's how you found out about the moons? Alfonzo's the one who told you? But why would he go to the press about it? Especially someone like, well, you."

"I wouldn't call it 'going to the press' so much as 'bragging loudly in a public place.' He was boasting to some girls about it. I just took notes," he shrugged. "Better keep an eye on that fiancé of yours, Miss Lucas."

"He's not my— ughhh!" Clara started pacing the small space, face in her palms. "No wonder he gave me the job. It wasn't because of my… anything, it was just because his only prospect went behind his back and divulged everything he had been working toward…" Clara suddenly realized Simon was hanging on her every word. "… nothing?"

Simon pounced. " 'Gave you the job'? You're Gianpaolo's new apprentice? Miss Clara Lucas got the job over her husband-to-be, The Prodigious Alfonzo Harmon?"

"Stop it, Simon, this isn't a story."

"Oh yes it is. And now you're my source."

"No! And you're getting everything wrong. We're not engaged. I didn't get the job over him. Because, as you just informed me, he's the one who revealed Gianpaolo's discovery. He must have realized that and sent him off. Leaving me as the only other option."

"But how were you even an option at all? You have no education."

"I have the same education as Alfonzo! Before university, anyway. My father tutored us together. That's how I knew how to use Gianpaolo's instruments—No. No. I'm not telling you any more. How are you doing this? No. There's no story here."

"Oh yes there is, and I can make a killing off it— Now the lonely old professor is hiring himself a pretty little apprentice girl to assist him with his instruments at all hours of the night."

"Stop it."

"Alfonzo Harmon certainly won't want her after he finds out she's—"

Clara slapped him.

"You will never write anything about this, Simon Brewer. Understand?"

"Right. Wouldn't want to ruin your marriage prospects, now would we?"

"I'd never be allowed back there. Ever. Forget marriage. Mama would lock me in the cellar forever, and I'd never see the stars again. You can't write it, Simon. Please."

She stood there, arms at her sides, eyes fixed on his.

"Miss Lucas, this story is gold."

"Only the parts you made up!"

"It seems like even the truth would ruin your happy engagement…"

"Which is why you can't write anything about this," she pleaded.

She peeked back inside. Alfonzo and Ruby were nowhere to be seen. Almost everyone had gone out the main doors by now. Her mother and sister would be looking for her.

"Very well, Miss Lucas. I won't write the story, but in exchange, you must keep me informed of everything Gianpaolo is doing. Understand?"

"But that wound jeopardize my—"

"Your apprenticeship is already jeopardized, isn't it?"

"Only by your lies," she spat.

"If I don't publish this story, you have to provide me with another. It's that simple, Clara. I just want to know about what he's doing before he publishes, all right? Since there's no chance of you bragging loudly in the streets about it. All right?"

He held out his hand. Reluctantly, Clara took it and the shook. Simon smiled.

"You know Alfonzo will find out eventually. Everyone will."

"I know."

"And the gossips won't need my help to draw those same conclusions."

"I know.

"So what difference does it make?"

"I just need time. To tell Alfonzo myself."

Clara ducked back through the side door and filed out with the last of the crowd. The confessional line was empty, but she continued out the door. She felt as if she had already confessed too much.