The Maplewood Orphanage sat at the end of the road like a hungry cat in possession of a fresh kill. Dark windows blocked a view of its shady interior and reflected back only the peachy-blushed faces of Mr. and Mrs. Whitmore and the tall, lifeless forms of pyramid cypress lining the drive.
Mr. and Mrs. Whitmore had come for a child, unable to have their own. The brochure said it was effortless, discreet, and the right thing to do. After a brief questionnaire and a walk through, Mrs. Whitmore spotted the one, Lucy-Lou. She sat in a colorful corner playing with two dolls, setting tea for three.
“She’s perfect, Allen,” Mrs. Whitmore whispered into her husband’s ear.
Mr. Whitmore didn’t know what to think, about any of it really. He was here moreover to cease Mrs. Whitmore’s incessant pleading above all else.
Melinda Gale, the orphanage director, chimed in. “But what about Suzy?” She pointed to a little blonde girl dancing with others. “She’s outgoing, healthy, and has already passed her bench marks for kindergarten.”
Mrs. Whitmore glanced alternately between Suzy and Lucy-Lou. “I don’t know. There’s just something special about Lucy.”
“It’s Lucy-Lou,” Melinda corrected her. “She doesn’t like being called Lucy.”
“That’s understandable. My name is MaryBeth. I’m not just Mary or Beth. I’m MaryBeth.”
Melinda tipped her head. “I must be up front. Lucy-Lou is double the cost of Suzy.”
“Why’s that?” Mr. Whitmore asked.
“Lucy-Lou is a special child,” Melinda said, thumbing the corners of her folders.
“Oh, I knew it,” Mrs. Whitmore said.
Melinda bit at her bottom lip. “If you plan on adopting Lucy-Lou, I have to inform you . . . she has a second face at the back of her head.” Mr. and Mrs. Whitmore’s jaws dropped simultaneously. “Doctors have confirmed that it’s not a conjoined twin, just a mutation in gene expression. Because of this, she’ll cost more in routine care, tutoring, and medical expenses.”
“Well that certainly changes things,” Mr. Whitmore said.
Mrs. Whitmore looked over at what she thought was the perfect child, couldn’t believe how normal Lucy-Lou appeared . . . maybe she could be. “Oh, Allen, look at her. She seems perfectly fine. If we don’t adopt her, maybe no one will. That would be so awful.”
Mr. Whitmore studied Lucy-Lou behind the dark glass of the observation room. She did look like any other normal child. “Has she had any issues since her stay here?”
“Issues?” Melinda repeated. “You mean like health or mental?” Mr. Whitmore nodded. “No, no, of course not. Lucy-Lou is a loving little girl.” When she wants to be.
“All right, then,” Mr. Whitmore said. Mrs. Whitmore joyfully squeezed her husband’s arm.
“Great,” Melinda said. “I’ll bring her in, and we’ll formally introduce you to your new daughter.”
Mrs. Whitmore hid Lucy-Lou’s second face, maintaining Lucy-Lou’s thick hair long and always keeping it brushed down. News of her daughter’s disfiguration could ruin their reputation...