He stood at the bottom of the staircase, holding tight to the newel post. There were so many people milling around, lots of people with cameras, big cameras, and wires and cords and lights. And that big - no, very big woman standing in the middle of the entry, practically shouting at Father. He couldn't figure that out, either. How could she be smiling when she was yelling at him? And what had Father done to make her shout so?
He didn't want to be here. He would much rather be with the other boys, safely stowed away upstairs, playing games and looking out the windows at all the cars and vans and trucks. He sighed. Father hadn't wanted him here, either, but Sister Mary Rose said he had to. That was something else he didn't understand. Sister kept saying he was "perfect". She never said that before...
The shouting lady was pulling Father over towards him now, and he moved around to the other side of the post, still holding onto it. The closer they got, the more he realized how she towered over Father. She was a giant. And she smelled. Not like the babies, but like someone had dumped a whole roomful of flowers around her. He sneezed.
A dead giveaway.
"Oh, this must be the one!"
Before he realized the real peril, he felt himself grabbed by two meaty hands and swept up from his hiding spot, hugged too tightly to this huge woman. Her necklace dug into his cheek, and he wriggled to get away, but she just held on tighter.
"Oh, what an adorable little boy! He's just perfect for this! The viewers will just eat him up!" She tilted her head so she was talking directly into his face. He tried to turn away as yet another smell assaulted him, just like the janitor's old cigars. "They will absolutely eat him up!"
"Yes, well, I'm still not sure this is a good idea, Mrs. Whitticomb. I realize you're doing this for the good of the orphanage," Father seemed very nervous, "but really, the child is easily...excited, and all this activity..."
"Oh, nonsense, Father! After all, a word from you and I'm sure he'll do exactly what's he's supposed to." She squeezed a little tighter still, and her voice altered as she again turned to look at him. "Won't you, boy?"
He stilled immediately. He knew that tone. It usually came from Sister Margaret, and always meant be quiet and behave or spend time praying. And that made his knees hurt.
"Excuse me, Miz Whitticomb. We're just about set to start here." A man with a lot of wires coming from his head stepped up next to them. "The kid ready?"
The woman sighed and abruptly he found himself set down in front of her. She stepped back and looked at him, a frown on her face.
"These aren't the clothes I selected, Father."
He looked up at the priest, worried now. He'd looked at the clothes the father had left for him, and pushed them under the bed before getting into his Church Clothes. Father had told him how important this thing was he was doing, and he hadn't wanted to disappoint. But now it seemed that's exactly what he'd done.
"These won't do at all, Father! We don't want people thinking we're clothing these children better than our own, after all."
He felt a spark of anger at that. He'd gotten these clothes as a special present. Father had said a bene...benefacker had sent them, just for him, so he'd have something nice to wear.
"Take him out and get him dressed properly, Father, and quickly. I can't have these reporters standing around all afternoon."
He was hustled back upstairs, Father stammering apologies as they went. That made him angry, too. Father didn't have to be sorry when it was that woman who was so nasty. He didn't understand why they didn't just make her go away.
Father fished the clothes out from under his bed, and shook the dust off them.
"Better put these on quickly, Alvin. We mustn't keep the nice lady waiting."
"But she's not nice, Father! She's..."
"Now, now, Alvin. She's trying to help out the orphanage, get people to send us clothing and toys and other things for the children here. We should be thankful she's willing to go to all this trouble." Father smiled softly. "And we'll go for an ice cream afterwards. How's that?"
Alvin scowled but did as he was told. His nice clothes were hung carefully in his locker, and the others put on. He didn't like them at all. They were too big, and smelled like those white balls the sisters kept in the closets, and they itched. He looked up at Father, his face hot.
Ice cream couldn't fix this...