“So, it’s a baby you want?”
The orphanage matron was plump in her tent-like dirty brown uniform, her hair was disheveled, with flyaway gray strands, and a hardness in her eyes. The woman she spoke to was her opposite; slim but muscular in a form-fitting black suit, her auburn hair a perfectly coiffed chignon, and laughing green eyes.
“I do not, actually. I’m looking for a child who needs discipline, and love. One who has had the hardest time adjusting to her time here. A troublemaker, if you will,” the woman replied to the matron’s question.
The orphanage director’s eyes narrowed. She considered her question carefully, then asked, “Why would you want a troubled child? Is it your intention to hurt someone?”
The woman in black laughed, the sound musical and light. She reassured the matron, “Nothing of the sort. I, myself, was a troubled child, and I’ve grown to cherish the same kinds of people. Children with attitudes, children with struggles, all need extra care and precise instruction. I can provide both, as was provided to me.”
“And it’s a girl you’re wanting? That’s the other item I’ve got listed, here, from our earlier call,” the matron moved on.
“Yes. It must be a girl.”
The woman in black smiled when the matron opened her mouth to speak, causing the other woman to hesitate too long.
“Oh, I’ve nothing against boys, matron,” the auburn-haired beauty said, “and I’m sure you have several fine young male troublemakers, but I do have my heart set on a girl.”
“Then a girl, it is,” the matron said and pushed herself away from her desk. She rose from the ancient office chair and ambled to her office door, where she mumbled a few things to an assistant in the anteroom.
“Lizette will gather several prospective candidates in the other room. Then you may see and talk to them, if you’d like.”
Both women waited in silence until there was a single rap on the wooden door, then together they rose and left the office.
In the antechamber, six girls waited, all wearing dirty brown uniforms reminiscent of the matron’s. The youngest was perhaps four, while the oldest was nine or ten. Their eyes were full of distrust and anger. They all either stared at the matron or at the visitor, each one as defiant as the next.
The woman in black paced in front of the children for several moments, pausing before each child, then moved to question the matron’s assistant.
“Could you tell me, please, about each child’s worst transgression?”
With a nod, the mousy assistant moved with the woman, as once again, the woman in black paced the floor in front of the children.
“This is Marie, she’s four, and she bites, hits, and pinches the other children. She listens to no one.”
Down the line the pair went, evaluating the girls. Each had been disciplined for violence at least once. Two of the girls were punished for stealing, one had been caught starting fires, three had been suspected of worse but hadn’t been punished due to lack of evidence.
“May I speak with this one,” the woman in black indicated a girl of seven, named Riley.
At the matron’s nod, the woman knelt in front of the child. She reached out to brush strands of unwashed black hair from the girl’s eyes. The girl stared at the woman, her fingers clenched into fists at her sides. Her back was rigid with pent-up hostility and fear.
“Riley, my name is Anna. If you’ll have me, I’d like to adopt you. Is that all right with you?”
Riley refused to speak. Her eyes, so dark brown they were nearly black, stared into Anna’s unblinkingly.
Anna leaned closer. She whispered into the girl’s ear. Riley’s body eased, her fingers unclenching, and her face changed from a stiff, angry mask to a soft, delighted smile. She nodded to whatever Anna said, though the matron and her assistant couldn’t hear the words.
“Riley is mine,” the woman said, standing up. She smiled at the other women as Riley slipped her small hand into Anna’s.
“But,” Lizette protested, “Riley is one of the most troubled girls here! She’s a liar and a thief.”
The matron hushed her assistant, then gestured for the woman in black and Riley to enter her office. The paperwork was hurriedly done, then Anna and her new daughter were escorted from the orphanage.
Outside, Riley turned to Anna.
“Are you really going to show me how to do all that?
“That, and more, Riley,” Anna Fortune said. “I’ll teach you everything I was taught, and one day, you’ll teach your daughter. It’s the way of the Family. But first, we have to get you cleaned up. You’re to meet our employer today.”