Belleville, Ontario, Canada
Grace McAlister held tight to her sister Katie's hand as they slowly walked across the large open room in the Belleville Town Hall.
"It's all right, Grace. We're going to meet our new family this morning." Katie smiled down at her, but it didn't look like her real smile.
Grace swallowed hard and pushed out her words. "What if they're not nice?"
"Anyone who would take in children who are not their own must have a kind heart." Her words sounded brave, but she still looked worried.
Grace matched Katie's steps as they followed the line of girls who had come with them on the big ship from England to Canada and then on the train to Belleville. She wished she had eaten more of the porridge at breakfast that morning, but her tummy felt funny, and she'd pushed her bowl aside after a few bites. She missed Mum, Garth, and Laura. Where were they? Why didn't they come and take her and Katie home?
Grace and Katie joined the line of girls along the back wall of the room. Miss Delaney, the tall lady with red hair who had come over on the ship with them, talked to two men and an old lady sitting at a long table in the front of the room.
Who were they? Where was her new family? Would they like her? When could she and Katie go home and see Mum?
A buzzing began in Grace's head like there was a bee inside. She squeezed her eyes tight until the buzzing finally went away. Taking a slow deep breath, she opened her eyes. Everything would be all right. Katie promised it would.
She smoothed the pinafore over her green dress. All the other girls were dressed the same, and each wore a blue jacket and straw hat like hers. Most of the girls were bigger, like Katie, who was fourteen. She looked down the row, searching for Millie, the only girl in their group younger than Grace. Millie was six, and Grace was seven. They'd played together on the ship. Would Millie find a new family too? What if no one wanted her? What if no one wanted Grace and Katie?
The buzzing in her head came back. She stepped closer to Katie and leaned against her side. Her sister's arm felt warm like when they used to sit together in the big chair at home and Katie would read her a story.
Miss Delaney crossed the room and stopped in front of Grace. She wore a plain brown dress and small hat, and her pink cheeks were covered with freckles. "All right, girls. I want you to stand up straight. Look smart and be quiet and respectful to the people who come in to see you."
Grace's tummy tightened. She peeked up at Katie. Her sister stood taller and lifted her chin like Miss Delaney.
A side door opened, and a man and lady walked in and came toward the line of girls. The man was tall and wore a black suit and hat. He looked at each girl as he and the lady moved down the line. The lady wore a dress the color of pennies. Her big hat was the same color, with lots of flowers and feathers on top. She had a pretty face and blue eyes. As the lady came closer, Grace could see she had brown hair under her hat.
The man and lady stopped in front of them. The lady looked down at Grace for a few seconds and smiled. She turned to the man. He nodded and then took the lady's arm and they moved down the row.
"They didn't like us?" Grace's voice felt tight and shaky.
Katie put her arm around Grace. "Don't worry. I'm sure there are more families coming in soon."
Grace fiddled with the edge of her pinafore and counted the boards on the floor around her. She thought about Mum and the times they used to go to the park near their flat over the dress shop. Grace liked feeding the ducks and chasing Garth and Katie across the grass. Mum would smile as she watched them from the bench in the shade of the big tree by the pond. Grace wished they could all go to the park again.
"I'd like you to come with me, Grace."
Grace sucked in a breath and looked up. Miss Delaney stood in front of her.
Katie gripped Grace's hand. "Why? Where are you taking her?" Her voice sounded high and scared.
Miss Delaney motioned toward the front of the room where the man and lady stood. "That couple would like to talk to her."
Katie pressed her lips together for a second, then nodded. "Go ahead, Grace." Katie let go of Grace's hand. "Just be sure to tell them I'm your sister and we have to stay together."