More Than Meets the Eye(3)

By: Karen Witemeyer

Zach smirked at her. Evie whimpered.

Hamilton, on the other hand, nodded. “Right. Threaten to kill them. Got it.”

What? Evie’s gaze jerked to her brother. He couldn’t!

Zach must have thought the idea outrageous as well, because he shook his head and sighed. “Look, kid, just because it works for me doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. You got one of them angel faces. No one will believe you capable of murder.”

“Maybe he can cough, like me.” Seth wandered down the aisle, a sudden hacking making everyone turn to look at him. “Act”—he coughed into the handkerchief the sponsors insisted he carry—“sick.”

Zach shook his head. “Nah. He looks too healthy. They’ll assume he’ll get better.” The older boy lifted his hat and scratched at a spot on his head, the meanness leaking away from his face. “We gotta find something else.”

Evie looked from one boy to the next. Was Zach actually helping them? Maybe Hamilton was right. Maybe he just pretended to be awful. Though why someone would want everyone to hate him, Evie couldn’t understand, not when she tried so hard to get people to like her.

Zach eyed Hamilton up and down, then crossed his arms over his chest and leaned back in his seat. “Spoiled rich kid. That’s your angle.”

Hamilton frowned. “But I’m not rich. All I have are one spare set of clothes and the cardboard suitcase the Children’s Aid Society gave me. Same as everyone else.”

Zach unfolded his arms, a devious light twinkling in his dark blue eyes. “Yeah, but with names like Hamilton and Evangeline, it’d be easy as pie to get people to think you come from money. Farm folk resent rich folk. Think they’re spoiled and have no work ethic.”

Evie had no idea what a work ethic was, so she probably didn’t have one. Maybe that was why no one wanted to take her home. Hamilton must have one, though, since people liked him. He’d have to find a way to hide it.

“Start throwing demands around. Then throw a fit. Yell. Scream. Flail around.” Zach was grinning now. A smile that actually looked happy instead of scary.

“And if all else fails, bite ’em.” Seth offered that bit of advice once his cough settled. “Whenever I wanted the nurses to leave me alone, I bit ’em. They stayed away for a good long while after that.”

Zach slapped the frail boy on the back, nearly sending him to the floor. “Good idea! May have to try that one myself someday.” He started chuckling, and the other boys joined in.

Evie laughed, too, even though she didn’t think biting was particularly funny. A kitten had bitten her finger once, and it hurt for two days afterward. But if biting would keep her and Hamilton together, she’d bite someone, too.

“Get back to your seats, children,” Miss Woodson called from the front of the car. “We’re almost to Bonham. You’ll need to gather your belongings.”

Evie shared a look with Hamilton, then climbed off the seat and headed back to where they’d been sitting. Her tummy twisted and pinched at the thought of what might happen when the train stopped, but she remembered what Mama had always told her to do when she felt afraid.

Once in her seat, she folded her hands in her lap, bowed her head, and closed her eyes.

Don’t let them take Hamilton away from me. Please. I need somebody down here who loves me.

An hour later, Evie stood on a raised platform in the local courthouse with Hamilton, Seth, and Zach, waiting for the families to come in and look them over.

“Stand tall, don’t fidget, and speak only when spoken to.” Miss Woodson gave the same instructions she did at every stop as she walked the line to inspect them one last time. She paused to tug Seth’s coat sleeves down over his wrists, then ran a smoothing hand over Evie’s hair. When she moved toward Zach, he gave her such a mean look that she backed away without touching him. “Smile,” she said as she shot a chiding look at the boy slouching in the corner, “and mind your manners.”

The families started coming in, and Evie’s heart raced. Please let someone want me. And Hamilton. Together. Please.

She did everything Miss Woodson had told her. She didn’t fidget. Stood tall as she could manage. Smiled. All while hiding her eyes. She kept her face downcast, watching feet instead of faces move through the courthouse lobby.

Hamilton stood a few feet away, talking with a man and his wife.

“We really only want a boy, one who can help in the fields,” the man was saying.

“Remember the agreement you signed, Mr. Potter.” Miss Woodson joined the group. “Any child you receive must be treated as a member of your family. And if you expect a farmhand’s labor from him, you must offer a farmhand’s wages.”