Chapter 3: "With All of You Here By My Side"
The forest canopy spread out before them like a bright green sky. Sorell couldn’t recall the last time that she’d felt this close to genuine excitement. But she still hung toward the back end of the group. Sorell had always been an observer of life; in many ways, it was the only way that she really lived at all. She watched others and experienced life vicariously through them. Sorell could already see the furtive glances between that doe-eyed boy and the sweet blonde girl…there were sparks there. She could see the tragedy behind Lesedi’s eyes. She could see the hope and faith in the Old Man, the resentment in big brother Felix, and the purity in little brother Asher. Sorell watched and knew every one of them in her own way, and yet she had never spoken to a single one of them outside of introductions. And there was, of course, one of them that she knew in a very different way.
Claire Smyth slowed down and settled in beside her. “What are you doing all the way back here?” Claire asked.
Sorell’s stomach tightened as she attempted to meet Claire’s eyes with her own. “I…uh…I’m just thinking about some things. That’s all. I like to keep to myself, if you please.”
Claire held silent for a moment and Sorell’s hope that the conversation was over swelled. But Claire pressed further and continued to ask questions and pry for answers. Sorell didn’t respond at all. She had nothing to say…nothing other than memories that were too hard to share. Sorell had to steel herself against those old feelings and bury them, as she had been doing for most of her life. Since the last time that she had seen Ms. Claire Smyth.
Little Rella was small for a five year old; all of the other girls and caretakers around The Redrush Home for Girls were very quick to remind her of that. But today was the day that Rella was going to meet her new family. And what a family it was going to be! Her new mother was going to be the famous Claire Smyth. Miss Getty, the headmistress of the orphanage, had just told her this morning…and it wasn’t even a joke! The real Claire Smyth was coming today to spend some time with Rella. And then, after a few weeks of getting to know each other, Ms. Smyth would be taking her home forever. The adoption papers had already been signed.
Claire Smyth came early that day. She spent hours and hours with Rella, pretending and making up stories, dancing and singing, talking and playing. Rella had never laughed so much in such a short amount of time. Claire did not leave the Redrush Home until well after sunset.
“You do know that you’re coming home with me in a few weeks, don’t you? They told you that?” Claire asked as she slid a note into a colorfully knit purse and handed the gift to Rella.
Rella’s face was one big smile. She couldn’t even speak without simply chirping with excitement, so she only nodded enthusiastically.
Claire looked relieved. “Good. I was hoping that I wasn’t spoiling something for you. This bag is just a little gift to welcome you to my family. You can read the note after I go; it’s a quote from a wise gentleman that I once worked with. Stunning words. Unfortunately, I have to leave now for an event. But I will see you again in a few days. We can play some more then…and maybe I’ll have another gift for you.” Claire winked, hugged Rella, and then went on her way.
Rella hungrily yanked the note out of the bag and opened it.
Life is like the sea; it may seem at peace on the surface, but there are always currents below that swirl and guide. But both sides are part of one sea and both are necessary.
Claire (Mommy, if you’d like)
Sorell remembered that day so clearly; how could she ever forget that? In many ways, it was the day that she’d stopped being Little Rella. It was the last time that she’d felt that excitement…until this journey.
“So,” Claire ventured again, “what is your story, Sorell? Where did you come from?”
Sorell stopped in her tracks and allowed her gaze to meet Claire’s. “You really don’t know? I sort of hoped that you were just pretending—acting or something. But you honestly don’t remember me at all.” Tears burst from Sorell’s eyes; she had been trying so hard to keep them in, but simply couldn’t hold anymore.
“I’m sorry, I encounter so many people. I just don’t recall.” Claire looked stricken.
Sorell wiped her eyes fruitlessly and sniffled. “I grew up in the Redrush Home for Girls. This is the first time I’ve ever gone more than a stone’s throw away from there. Does that mean anything to you, Claire Smyth?”
Claire’s face went pale. “Sorell. Little Rella? Are you that same little girl?”
Sorell nodded fiercely. “Yes! You left me there! You held me in your arms and told me that we were going to be a family! And then you disappeared!” Sorell tried to compose herself. “I have imagined this moment every day since then and yet I feel somehow unprepared. How could you have just left me there after that?”
Claire staggered back and settled against a tree. “Oh god,” she whispered. “I always wondered what became of you. I never wanted to hurt you; not that sweet little girl. My marriage fell apart and I just sort of…redirected my life. I’m so sorry.”
Sorell’s eyes popped wide. “Redirected? I spent my life trapped in that home, watching people live their wonderful lives from my window; I was completely alone in the world. And worse yet, I saw you every week in the papers; sometimes announcing your new lover, sometimes celebrating a charity, and sometimes just to guess about your next major life event. I read every word just so that I could be closer to you, hoping that maybe there would be something about me in those articles…that you were coming back to adopt me. But that headline never came. I suppose it was silly of me to hope like that. I was just a stupid child who didn’t know that you had redirected.”
Claire Smyth was now sobbing into her hands, mumbling apologies and begging forgiveness. Sorell was too busy sobbing into her own hands to notice.
The Old Man approached and rested a calming hand on each of their shoulders. “I don’t think that it’s a coincidence that the Woman called you both here. You two were almost a family once, but life led you each down a different path. Now you’re back together. This odd journey of ours may be more important than any of us understands. We need to trust each other, believe in each other, and care for each other. We are all family now…none of us has to be alone anymore.”
Everyone nodded and moved closer. Claire reached out to Sorell and took her hand. “He’s right. I may not be your mother but I can do my best to be your friend. Can you forgive me?”
Sorell wanted so badly to answer, to hug Claire, to accept her. But it was too much for her right then; all she could do was squeeze Claire’s hands in her own. It wasn’t much, but it was enough for a new beginning.