This could be the day! My small body trembled with excitement mingled with fear as I finished buttoning up my plain white blouse. Absolutely everything must go perfectly today, if I wanted to get adopted. My stomach felt like it was filled with balloons all zipping around releasing their air. Fingers shaking with nervousness made clipping a bow into my sometimes unruly bold orange-red hair quite the difficult task. Oh, why won’t my heart listen when I tell it to calm down?
“Hey, think you’ll get picked today?” A girl my age named Nellie got my attention.
“I sure hope so.” I responded with some reservation.
“How long’s it been since you’ve been here?”
“Well, my whole life, so 12 years, I guess?”
Another of my friends came and put her arm around my shoulders.
“You’ll do fine! Just do everything like you practiced, and people will be fighting over who gets to take you home!”
I just nodded, and hoped that I wouldn’t screw anything up.
That night was the music recital at the Brookside Girls Home. The orphanage had a music program for the children living there, and they put on a recital each year. The event was open to the public. The idea was to give people the chance to see some of the talented children that lived at the orphanage, and potentially lead to more adoptions.
I have seen lots of my friends and classmates adopted into good homes, but I was always passed over. Maybe I’m too weird, or too skinny, or maybe no one wants to adopt someone with freaky orange eyes like mine. Maybe I’m just not good enough for anyone. I’ve never been good enough at anything to enter the recital before, but this year I worked really hard to learn the violin. Most of the year since the last recital, my fingers were nearly bleeding from callouses, and my classmates’ ears were nearly bleeding from the instrument’s tortured squeals. But now, I’ve gotten a lot better, and I have a chance to show that I am special. This is my chance to stand out!
By the time evening fell on this northern Michigan orphanage, the front room was packed with people from nearby homes. Mostly younger couples, the audience looked eager for the performance to begin. The head of the girls’ home stood up, facing the crowd in the heavily windowed room, and began to speak.
“Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you all for coming tonight. I think you’re all in for a real treat, but not the Rice Krispy kind! Ha, ha, ha!”
The audience chuckled politely at the pitiful attempt at humor, and waited for the woman to continue.
“My name is Ms. Hayes. I’m the headmistress here at Brookside, and I’ll tell you, that these girls are very talented. I’m sure that every one of you here will find exactly what you are looking for. Unless you’re looking for a boy. Then you’d be disappointed.”
The audience again acted amused to avoid the awkward silence that followed the joke.
“Well, without further ado, let’s start the program!”
I sat in the front row of the room, third from the end. There were two girls performing before me; Amy and Nellie. The building felt really hot, as though we were all sitting in some kind of sauna, or oven. Wearing clothes at all would have been stifling, much less these stiff and uncomfortable dress clothes. Hopefully I wouldn’t be totally drenched in sweat by the time I went on the stage. I took a quick look around, but no one else seemed to be suffering. Maybe it was just me.
Amy played the theme from “Star Wars” on the clarinet, and Nellie played a simplified version Sonatina in C by Clementi on the piano. I couldn’t really pay attention. I was far too nervous. This was my chance to finally get noticed, and maybe even get a family of my own! Oh, man. I had better not screw up. My possible future parents could be out there watching. My life and future were in my hands.
When my friends had finished performing, I slowly made my way up to the small folding platform that served as the stage for the orphanage. My spine felt like it was vibrating with apprehension. I held the violin in a death grip. Hopefully it wouldn’t break in my hands.
After I got onto the stage, I clamped my eyes shut. Ms. Hayes announced my performance and sat back down. I stood frozen for a few seconds, keeping my eyes closed. I was too terrified to even look out at the people. They’d probably be scared off if they saw my fiery irises before they saw that I had more to offer. I’m more than just a weirdo (I’d like to think so, anyway. After the long pause, I lifted the instrument up into position, and drew my bow across it.
The very first note resounded with a beautiful tone that surprised even me as it filled the room. Without hesitating for too long, I continued playing my piece. Ode to Joy by Ludwig von Beethoven. It was one of my favorite songs, and I knew that I could perform it to the best of my ability. Throughout the piece, my eyes remained closed. I put as much passion and feeling into the music as I could. My body swayed back and forth, moving to the melody.
My mind tried to focus on the song, but it would not cooperate. Although my eyes were shut tightly, I could see burning flames. Surrounding me. Burning me. Consuming everything. My body was getting even hotter, almost unbearably. It was all I could do to keep from crying out. I knew that yelling that I was burning up in pain would reveal what a weirdo I was, and decrease if not completely obliterate any chance I had of being adopted.
When I was reaching the end of my performance, with only a few notes left, my eyes could stay closed no longer. It was as though the fire within them forced the lids open like the tide overwhelming a dam. They were glowing with a bright orange intensity that even I could feel. It scared me, but I was too petrified to even move.
At that instant, the sound of an explosion came from the kitchen, one room over. Several employees ran toward the noise, only to come dashing back out.
“There’s a fire! Somebody must have left the stove on!”
“It’s too big to fight! Everyone get outside! Run!”
The confined fire in the kitchen soon grew into a raging inferno which engulfed the building. There was mass pandemonium as children, employees, and guests scrambled out of the orphanage, into the cool September night.
I couldn’t move, frozen in place. How could this happen?! I was so close! So close to finally having a family. That was all I ever wanted! Why did the very universe seem determined to prevent me from being happy?
I sank to my knees and looked up at the ceiling, sobbing and choking on tears. The flames had spread to all the walls of the front room. The blaze surrounded me, but I felt no heat coming from it. I felt nothing. Just when I was at the point of giving up, a figure walked through the raging fire. The flames seemed to part and allow the robed man to pass.
My voice was lost in gasping breaths. I could not form words. Then I heard the newcomer speak:
“We finally found you…Seraphina.”