Mrs. Alice Wright was a troubled old neighbor but she always had the best intentions. As a 62-year-old lady, she was always found sticking her nose in someone else's business. Yes, she was a little nosy, but she did what was best for Hillford County.
One afternoon in late October, leaves fell from the trees and gave the ground a brownish-red hue. Alice sat on her porch in her rocking chair slowly rocking back and forth. She silently scanned over her land to the Rochdale Farm.
With her cup of tea held against her lips, she slowly slurped her tea. She saw Theodore Rochdale heading out of town in his beat-up truck, dressed in a button-down and jeans.
Now, where is he going dressed up like that? He ain't never worn no button-down before. After Alice finished her tea, she headed over to the Rochdale Farm to see Esme Rochdale, Theodore's older sister. They lived on neighboring farms for over 20 years. You would think they would be like bookends, but these two women couldn't be more different.
Alice was on the plumper side of life and she was more outgoing than anyone you'd ever meet. Esme was thinner and she always stayed in the house. She never left because she didn't have many friends to go out with.
Alice made it her life mission to be friends with Esme. She always came over after the fields of corn have been all shucked up. She would sit down at Esme's kitchen table, ask for a cup of tea, and almost always talk her to death.
Esme would make her some tea and she would sit across from her, silently knitting with her needles. She never spoke back to Alice, possibly because she would talk right over her, but she would stop occasionally and nod her head to make it seem as if she was listening.
Alice asked where Theodore had gone that late in the afternoon.
"He's going to go pick up an orphan boy from the orphanage," Esme said.
"An orphan?" Alice was taken aback by this information. "Why are you adopting at your age? You're just quite too old to be adopting a child."
"Oh never mind that. You're an old bat yourself, you know!" Esme said. She couldn't stop the redness flooding her cheeks.
"Hey! It's a term of endearment!" Alice laughed. Esme just rolled her eyes.
"Anyway," Esme continued. "you remember Dorothy, right? The family from down the road?"
"Of course!" Alice turned up at the sound of her name. "Dorothy Yates. How could I forget? Her husband cheated on her with Mary Beth Ann from Turnipy Town. This is why I don't trust turnips. They're filthy little-"
"Yes, I know," Esme interrupted. "I heard that she's going to adopt a little girl the other day when I went down to the Farmer's Market and I sent a message saying that I wanted to adopt a child, too."
"What child are you thinking of getting?" Alice asked.
"We told her that we wanted a boy between the ages of 11 and 13," Esme smiled at the thought of a new orphan boy running around doing errands for her. "You know me and Theodore are getting up in age. We need someone to help Theo take care of our farm."
"You know you're right," Alice said pointedly. "But taking care of a child is dangerous. It's risky, I'll tell ya'."
"What do you mean, Alice?" Esme asked, all of a sudden getting scared. This was one of those conversations where Esme did really listen to Alice. However little that chance was.
"Well, the boy from Bubbly Brooks burned the house down when his adopted parents told him he could not go find his mother. Then that girl from Lezzie Lane poisoned her adoptive father 'cause he wouldn't let her go to a party. And then that-"
Esme had heard enough. "It's a good thing we're not getting a girl then, right Alice? And Theo's got his heart set on this. And as for orphans being 'dangerous', it can be dangerous having your own children too, you know."
"Yeah, but-" Alice tried to butt in.
"Thanks for stopping by," Esme hitched up her dress to avoid it ripping if she suddenly had to stand up. "Theo should be home soon with the boy and we must get him prepared for plowing."
"Yes, but I still don't think-," Alice tried again.
"Thank you, Alice. Lock the door when you leave please."
Meanwhile, Theodore arrived at the orphanage. There was no sign of anyone being inside but a young man in his early 20s, popping gum loudly and listening to music. He was staring blankly at his phone as his thumb scrolled up and down on the screen. His name tag read "Hello I am Connor."
"Hi, I'm Theodore Rochdale. They told me to come today and pick up a little boy." Theodore hooked his fingers in the loop of his pants and rocked on the heels of his feet.
"Sir, do you see a boy in here?" Connor blew a big bubble and popped it on the word "boy".
Theodore looked around but he didn't see any boys. He only saw one girl in the corner and a lady behind another desk. Maybe I should've tried my luck with her, he thought. "No, but I-"
"Look, there's only one kid in here," Connor pointed at the girl in the corner. "And that she is not a he. Go ask her."
"Oh, ok." Theodore never knew how to respond to people who gave him a bad attitude. He would normally just respond with a smile and walk away. This time, he knew if he didn't come home with a boy, Esme would not be happy.
Theodore walked over to the child. She sat with a beige burlap sack in her lap. Her head was hung down. As she slowly rocked back and forth, the chair kept hitting against the wall, making a steady, soft thump-thump sound. Her long brown hair swung back and forth.
"Hi, I... I'm Theodore." He held his hand out for a handshake. "Can I ask you your name, miss?"
The little girl looked up. Her big hazel eyes looked inhumanly large for her age. She looked about 11 or 12. As soon as she saw Theodore, her big smile kept growing bigger and bigger by the minute.
"Hello! My name is Octavia but everyone calls me Tai," she said excitedly. "Are you... here to pick me up?"
"I'm not sure. I came to see if you were the one I was supposed to pick up."
"Well, I must be. It was only Lily Waters and me who were getting delivered today. Someone named Dorothy came to get Lily so I guess, you're here for me." Her voice sounded so tiny compared to Theodore.
"Yes, I think that is her name," she said. "She's such a lovely lady, isn't she? She said that someone would be here to com pick me up later this evening. I didn't think anyone would ever come!"
"Well, c'mon, you're with me." Theodore still had his hand outstretched, but instead of shaking his hand, she threw her arms around his neck. He was hesitant at first, but soon returned the hug. Theodore didn't have the heart to tell her that they didn't want her. He couldn't let her down after everything she could've possibly gone through. He'll just leave that up to Esme.
When Theodore and Tai arrived at the Rochdale Farm, he saw Alice's window curtain shift.
"It is so beautiful out here! Look at that apple tree and all those apples. I've never seen that much fruit on a tree since-" She stopped. Her eyes started to water as she thought about her parents.
Theodore noticed it out of the corner of his eye. "It's okay. You don't have to talk about it if you don't want to."
"Ok, thanks." A sniff came from the passenger and al was quiet until they hopped out of the car.
Theodore grabbed his key out of his back pocket and put it in the keyhole. Before he could turn it, Esme was already at the door and opened it.
"Who is this?" she asked, clearly irritated.
"This," Theodore said as he gestured to the girl. "is Tai."
"Tai?" Esme's voice cracked at her name.
"Octavia, but everybody calls me Tai." Tai butted in. She held her hand out, waiting for Esme to return the gesture, but she just looked down at it disgusted.
"Theodore Rochdale Jr. Get in here now." Esme said calmly. Theodore knew that she was on the edge of a breakdown. He'd just have to hope that she'd wait until they were out of earshot.
Octavia was confused. She didn't know why Esme was so mad. Did she not know I was coming? Tai thought. Did she know and then changed her mind?
In the house, Esme paced the floor. She had never been this angry before.
"Esme, listen..." Theodore prompted.
"No, you listen!" she exploded. "Why is there a girl on our porch and not a boy?"
"Dorothy made a mistake," Theodore confessed. "There was a little mix-up at the orphanage and our request for a boy got changed to a girl. It was an accident."
Esme stared at Theodore for a while. "And so why didn't you give her back?"
"Come on now, Esme," Theodore sighed. "She's lonely. She's afraid. She needs someone to take care of her."
"Someone else can take care of her for God's sake!" Esme was so angry that she knocked over a lamp on the coffee table. "We asked for a boy, we're getting a boy!"
"Why can't we keep Tai?" Theodore asked, suddenly feeling defensive of her.
"Because I said so!" The two siblings didn't speak. They both smoldered at each other as they thought things over. Esme suddenly felt bad about blowing up at her brother and Theodore felt bad about pressuring her into keeping Tai. After a few drilling seconds, they both spoke up, only to end up talking over each other.
"No, go ahead, Theodore," Esme said. "I want to hear what you have to say."
"I was going to say, I want to keep Octavia," Theodore said quietly as he walked towards the window. "Look outside, Esme."
Esme walked towards the window next to her brother. Octavia sat against the apple tree with a book in her hand. Her head hung down in its usual position, as she munched on an apple. Her brown hair swinging back and forth as she slowly rocked against the tree.
"What do you see out there, Esme?" Theodore asked.
"I see a girl eating my apples," Esme said blankly.
"No, Esme," Theodore smirked. "Look deeper."
Esme squinted her eyes. "I see Octavia eating the crops I plan on delivery to the supermarket in a few days."
"Esme!" Theodore said, fed up with her sarcasm.
"Fine," Esme sighed. "I see... Octavia. She's reading her book. She's... alone. And she's rocking against the tree like a baby."
"Yes," Theodore smiled. "Like a baby! Don't you see? We have an opportunity to take her in. We may be just siblings but, she's our baby. Do you really want to let her slip out of our hands like this? Who knows who else wants to have a chance like this?"
Esme stared at Octavia. She didn't move for a long time. "Theo, we can keep her. But if she keeps eating my money, she's gone in a matter of a few days, you hear?"
"Loud and clear." Theodore smile spread the more he talked. "Thank you, Esme."
"Don't flatter yourself," Esme said although a smile was creeping onto her face too. "Since you brought her to Rochdale Farm, you show her around the house." Esme thought for some more rules and finally said, "And tell her to stop eating my apples!"
"Sure will..." Theodore said as he walked towards the door to welcome Tai into the Rochdale Farm.