Artemis Burkhart had been in the Natasha Bailers Home for Girls since she was three years old. She was admitted with her sisters, Anastasia and Aurora, on that kind of cold winter night that would push any doubtful, schizophrenic, drug-addicted parent over the edge. Especially when faced with the daunting task of having to raise not one, not two, but three daughters. And on that very night, Miss Lillian Bailers awakened in a tremor of concern, a harmony of cries echoing softly from beyond her bedroom window. But when she sat upright in her bed, adjusting her hearing to detect any such noise, she was met with nothing but the soft whooshing of the winter winds coming off the Kennebec River.
A terrible, chilling dream, she thought, turning back over in bed and pulling the thick quilt over her shoulders, hoping sleep would come as quickly as it had gone. But the lingering pang of worry already had its hold on her, and she tossed and turned for some twenty or so minutes before deciding that the only way to alleviate the insomnia was to prove to her subconscious that her dream was, in fact, a dream and nothing more.
She cursed as her bare feet hit the frigid planks and hurried to fetch her plush fleece robe from the hook behind the door, burrowing her feet into matching slippers and hoping to be back in bed beneath the warm pile of quilts in a minute or less. She glided delicately down the hall of the Home s o as not to wake any of the young ones in the rooms nearest to hers nor her mother, Miss Angie, who once tended to the second floor but, in the aftermath of a recent hip injury, was no longer able to tackle the feat of the staircase. She made an abrupt left turn out of the hallway into the wider open area of the first floor where the air was significantly colder, past the Dining Hall and Common Room, finally drawing nearer to the magnificently carved oak door that had welcomed many an unclaimed child in desperate need of a place to call home. After turning two locks and undoing a chain, Miss Lillian Bailers cautiously cracked open the heavy wood to the intimidating weather of a Maine December. There, on the front porch of the Natasha Bailers Home for Girls, the Burkhart triplets were wrapped in a single flannel blanket, cuddled back to front for warmth, sniffling and shivering uncontrollably. Two resplendent heads of fiery red hair curled up in the middle and the rear, and one of soft, dark chestnut hair, balled up in the front.
For a moment, Miss Lillian was frozen where she stood. Most children were brought after car accidents or fires where the parents had perished and there was no safe, viable second option. Some were even brought as infants by a mother attempting to keep her emotions from spilling out, admitting that she was unable to care for the being she’d brought (willingly or unwillingly) into the world. But, in the eight years that Lillian Bailers had been caring for the unclaimed or unwanted daughters of Maine and beyond where she’d watched girls run away to find their parents only to be retrieved and returned by the authorities and she’d pieced her heart back together after witnessing girls ‘age out’ of the system, refusing to take part in the carefully organized program designed to give them opportunity and security as they went forward, never had she seen three beautiful little girls cast away like animals into the snow.
The eyes of the chestnut-haired girl fluttered open as she sleepily tried to make sense of her situation. Her pale nose was nearly blue from the cold and a huff of weak breath cast steam into the air. She lied still for a second and, as if sensing an alien and possibly threatening presence before her, she lifted her dark brown eyes to the figure standing at the door. Miss Lillian stared back, regarding her like one might regard an unfamiliar stray, unsure of its intentions. Finally, in a scratchy, weather-worn, high-pitched voice, the chestnut-haired girl spoke:
“Daddy told us to stay right here, and Rory’s keeping me warm, and Stasy’s keeping her warm, and we are going to stay right here till he comes back.”
That night, Miss Lillian choked back tears of sympathy and called for her sister, Jennifer Bailers, on the third floor who quickly prepared three hot cocoas while Lillian Bailers wrapped the three little girls in quilts she’d torn from her own bed, fetched the warmest clothes she could find in the laundry room, and quickly dressed the beds in a vacant room just two down from her own. And though the dark-haired girl called Artemis fought Miss Lillian’s invitation to stay the night inside, insisting their father would be back for them at any moment, the two called Aurora and Anastasia quickly fell asleep, lulled by the warmth.
Sleep did not find Miss Lillian Bailers for the remainder of the night. Adrenaline was coursing too violently through her veins and her mind was alive with thoughts of necessary next steps to take and information to find. But the bright light of her life’s purpose burned deep inside her chest with the passionate hunger to give these poor, beautiful, unwanted, unclaimed children the home that they deserved.