Religion. Rebellion. Sex. It had the makings of a best-seller. Clio hummed and danced her fingers on the steering wheel of her new Fiat 500 as she zoomed along Strada Provinciale 88. Everything in her dreary, fettered life was about to change.
A line of twisted cypress trees stood at attention along the crest of a nearby ridge. Like the statues of her beloved Italian saints, they kept watch over the neatly mown fields that rolled down the slope toward her. Maybe they were watching over her, too.
Clio was tortured by doubts that her ideas would gel in time for the critical meeting tonight, at which she must, she must, persuade Dr. Jovi that she was ready. If she failed, he would refuse to extend her deadline in the morning - again. If he did that, she would find herself cut loose, without an advisor, without an office or a sponsor, without a Ph. D., and forever without the approval of her patient but demanding academic parents.
Some people would be critical of Clio's need, at twenty-seven years of age, to please her mother and father. Those people had never met her parents.
She was out of time.
Until she'd seen the little statue of Saint Clare of the Cross at the Franciscan Monastery this afternoon, Clio despaired of ever having the clarity of vision to complete her thesis. Oh - she'd come up with a half-baked theory that had sustained her research for the past three years. But Saint Clare had convinced her that she really was onto something, and that would give her the passion and drive to write her final dissertation. Passion. Ecstasy. Bliss.
She laughed out loud. How ironic. She needed passion to complete her thesis about passion.
Long shadows snaked across the green hillside as the early evening sun dipped lower in the Tuscan sky. She would be back in the city within the hour, and still have time to freshen up and go over her notes and sketches before her eight o'clock dinner appointment with Dr. Jovi.
Nevertheless, Clio pressed a little harder on the gas pedal, and leaned into a long curve in the road, thrilled at how smooth and responsive her new car was to her command. The gift from Father was clearly meant as an incentive, and she would make sure he received her long overdue thanks - in the form of graduation, at long last.
Then, free from his prescriptions for her education and her career, she could finally decide how she wanted to live her life.
A pair of headlights flashed over the rise in the dimming light up ahead, and Clio slowed a little, prepared to pass another vehicle on the narrow winding road. The other car took shape suddenly in the gloom, larger than hers. Waves of loud music rolled toward her, punctuated by sharp shouts and laughter. Her pulse kicked. They weren't slowing or pulling to the side, the maniacs. Some young idiots, probably drinking.
Clio gripped the steering wheel tighter, and seconds later they were upon her, hogging the centre of the road. There was no room.
She veered sharply to the right as the car hurtled past with inches to spare. Violent grinding and metallic screeching ripped the air as her wheels slammed into the low barrier at the side of the road. The steering wheel tore from her grip. Her car was hurled up like a stone from a catapult.
Everything blurred. Light and dark flashed. The seatbelt jerked her hard against the seat. Air whooshed from her lungs. Squeals. Crunches. Thuds. The world quaked. Sharp pain shot through her head. Dark and silence enveloped her. Music and shouts echoed in her head, a sickening counterpoint to the terrible drumbeat of her heart.
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