Hattie stared at her sewing blankly. It stood out at odds and ends, and heavens it wasn’t the best, and Hattie knew it. She held the red string in her hand, swinging the needle tied to it back and forth.
“Hattie, dear, your stitching is, well…” Miss Maple trailed of as Hattie glared at her as she continued to swing the needle back and forth, back and forth.
“Terrible, ain’t it?” Hattie sighed sadly. “It’ll never be good enough, I fear.”
“Not ‘ain’t’, Hattie, ‘isn’t’. And nonsense, you’ll be good enough in no time at all,” Miss Maple scolded softly, coming over to where Hattie sat on the settee, still swinging the needle around so carelessly that Miss Maple had to catch it.
“Now Hattie, if you begin sewing like this, it won’t be so uneven…” Miss Maple said slowly, stitching away so effortlessly that it made Hattie want to cry. Luckily, Bent came to call supper.
“Miss Maple? It’s suppertime. It’s our turn to ring the bell, Hattie. I checked the chart,” he said, pointing to the kitchen, where a paper hung on the wall had the list of whose turn it was to ring the supper bell.
“Oh, good!” Hattie leaped up and shoved her sewing in her basket, making Miss Maple jump away from the hanging needle. She ran out the bell, Bent racing behind her.
“Who wants the first ring?” Bent asked breathlessly.
“Um, you go. I went last time,” Hattie wheezed.
Bent pulled the long fraying rope once and handed it to Hattie as quick as he could. Hattie rang the bell and tossed the rope back to Bent. The deep gonging noise echoed off of the orphanage walls, almost seeming cheerful but taunting at the same time.
Hattie and Bent ran back as fast as they could. After diving behind their chairs, Miss Maple said grace, and then the children sat down around the giant wooden table. A turkey, freshly carved, sat in the middle. A large salad was to the right with a large bowl of jellied cranberry sauce. On the other side of the turkey were mashed potatoes, and a large bowl of creamed corn.
Suddenly Hattie’s friend Danka snorted. “Remember when Judy thought she could make pancakes and flip them over in the pan, and got one stuck on the ceiling? And when it fell on Joseph’s head two weeks later, after we tried endlessly scraping it off and couldn’t quite reach it?”
Judy turned a bright red as she buttered a hot roll out of the batch Miss Cambroon had just pulled out from the oven. Joseph laughed. “It took weeks to get pancake batter out of my hair!”
Mrs. Petersons laughed along. “Do you remember when we had a couple who wanted to adopt, and the guy had to go to the bathroom?”
Miss Maple choked on her turkey. “Yes!” She burst into fits of laughter with Miss Cambroon.
“What?” Hattie asked, giving them a quizzical look.
“Well, the guy had to go to the bathroom, see? So we showed him the old restroom with the handle you have to hold for about thirty seconds,” Miss Cambroon explained. “He flushed it so many times and then came back out. Then he told his wife that they had to leave. She finally decided to, and by then the whole upper floor was overflowing. We had to evacuate the kids to a city building they used to maintain, until the plumbers got it fixed, we had a cleaning service come out, and we had several things replaced.”
“And we replaced that toilet for a different one when the plumber came over,” Miss Maple added.
Hattie giggled. “Do you remember the time that Kent Howards told me he wanted to marry me, and the next day he got adopted and almost wouldn’t leave? He kept yelling, ‘Wife! Wife! I can’t leave my wife!’”
The whole table burst into uncontrollable laughter. “Yes. We’re all one, big family from all over,” Mrs. Peterson sighed. “Where is everyone from?”
Everyone went around saying the places they were born at. If they didn’t know, then Miss Maple helped them.
“You know,” Hattie told her other friend Katie as they washed the dishes, “I think we really are just a big old family.”
“How, Hattie? Here we are, family-less, and you think that this is our family? I don’t understand.” Katie made a face as she wiped a glob of mashed potatoes and gravy off of a plate and into the sink, where Hattie swished it down with the sprayer.
“Well, it’s like this, see. We’ve been together all our lives, and know each other by heart. So, we are family, in a way,” Hattie explained thoughtfully, leaning on the edge of the sink, a dirty plate in her hand. Her long sleeves of her red dress were rolled up to her elbows, soap suds almost up to them.
“What do you do when you have an itch?” she said seriously.
Katie giggled. “Where?”
Hattie wiggled her nose. “Here,” she squeaked, trying to rub it on her shoulder. “Ugh. That doesn’t work.” She reached her hand up to scratch it, but flung soap suds at Katie, who scrunched up her face and squeezed her eyes shut.
Hattie laughed. “Too bad we aren’t real sisters,” she snorted.
Katie grinned and flung a handful of soap suds as Hattie pulled the plate up in her hands to protect herself. The soap sit the middle of the plate and slowly slid down. “Oh, it’s on,” Hattie smirked, pulling her sponge out of the sink and raising it threateningly above her head.
Katie pulled her own sponge out and also raised it up, near giggles. Hattie tried to squeeze the water out of her sponge and onto Katie's head at the same time that Katie threw her sponge at Hattie. Katie’s sponge hit Hattie in the chest, Hattie’s sponge dripped on Katie’s head as Katie tried to block it with her already wet fingers. They stopped, seeing a dripping wet Miss Cambroon.
“Girls!” she scolded. “I am repulsed! I am revolted! That you two could…” she trailed off, seeing the girl’s sad faces. She smiled. “That you girls could have so much fun washing dishes.”
The girls smiled and Miss Cambroon laughed, sweeping the two girls into a tight embrace. “I’m so happy you two are here,” she whispered, her eyes tearing up.
"I'm so happy that your family chose Cantenbrook Orphanage. Where would we be without you?" Miss Cambroon added.
"Lost, and probably homeless," Hattie giggled.
"Oh, pooh. We'd be together, somewhere else. Besides, we're not anywhere else, and we're Cantenbrook's, what do you call it?" Katie retorted.
"Hex?" Hattie supplied.
"No. Gift." Katie whispered back.