Sakura, with no last name, was found in spring on the doorstep of Queen Mary Orphanage in a small town called South Hampton in St. Joseph Island. Her mother mysteriously disappeared after leaving the baby girl in a basket along with a note that said My daughter’s name is Sakura and a necklace with a pink diamond pendant in the shape of a cherry blossom flower.
Sakura was a shy, quiet girl. Her childhood lacked the love and affection that one receives from one’s parents. From early on, she knew she didn’t have a mother or a father and longed to have them.
Mrs. Byrd, the headmistress of the orphanage, didn’t like Sakura very much, and neither did her pretty little daughter, Tara. The blond-haired, blue-eyed girl enjoyed tormenting Sakura and making fun of her, isolating the girl from the rest and setting her as a target for her amusement.
Tara knew she was pretty, and everyone adored her. She had her mother and most of the staff at the orphanage wrapped around her little finger. Many times, she would tell her mother, and everyone else for that matter, lies about Sakura. Mrs. Byrd, always believing her beloved daughter, would punish Sakura, slapping the little girl on the cheeks, spanking her backside, taking away her toys and books, denying her meals, and making her kneel on the concrete floor from midday until midnight without any food or water, all in order to teach her a lesson.
Eventually, she grew accustomed to being alone and learned to endure the harassment. When she was told to pray for forgiveness for being a naughty girl, she prayed instead she’d get adopted by a nice family who loved her and to leave this horrendous place where no one liked her. Then she’d daydream about it happening, about her going far away and living with her very own family.
It appeared as if her prayers were answered, for Sakura’s dream did come true one day.
The family she wanted to belong to appeared when she had turned seven. It was during the summer, and the children of Queen Mary Orphanage were invited to have a picnic with the Princetons, the wealthiest family on St. Joseph Island and sponsors of the orphanage.
Sakura knew the moment she stepped out of the bus and onto the neatly paved pathway and exotically beautiful garden that she wanted to be here. When she stared up at the enormous mansion like those castles in fairytale books, she sucked in her breath with wonder.
“Whoa! So pretty! So big!” the children murmured with delight. And Sakura agreed with them.
The man of the house came out to greet them. He was very handsome with gray eyes and blond hair. He had a nice smile on his face as he greeted every one of them, and Sakura felt her heart quicken with happiness as his eyes met hers. There was kindness within those eyes that Sakura had never received from anyone before.
The man ushered the children to the garden with a gentle, rolling lawn and magnolia trees, where delicious food and sweet drinks waited for them to enjoy. That was when the rest of the family came out, and Sakura instantly fell in love with them and knew she wanted to be with them.
They were a big clan of a family, just like she’d always wanted, and she did her best learning their names when they were introducing themselves to everyone.
The nice father’s name was James, and the pretty mother’s was Brenda. The oldest son was Nicolas, who was twelve years old and had blond hair and gray eyes like his father, complete with glasses. He looked kind and at the same time serious, just like his father. Then there were the ten-years-olds, non-identical triplets: Tristan with brown hair and blue eyes, Logan also with brown hair but with gray eyes, and Sebastian with blond hair and sky-blue eyes.
The boy with chestnut-brown hair and cobalt-blue eyes was eight-year-old Hayden. He had a mischievous look about him as he introduced himself. Next to Hayden were the non-identical twins, Alaina and Darcy, at six years old. Alaina, the older sister, had honey-blond hair and blue eyes, and Darcy, the younger brother, had ink-black hair and mauve-gray eyes. And then there was the baby of the house, Conrad, at four years old, with golden-brown hair and gray eyes, hiding his face behind his mother’s skirt.
Sakura couldn’t take her eyes off all the children because they fascinated her. She felt a sense of longing as she watched them play with the other children, especially with Tara.
It wasn’t until late afternoon that Sakura became aware of one of the boys, Sebastian, watching her.
“Where are you from?” he asked. “You’re not from around here, are you?”
Sakura shook her head as she gazed at him, marveling at his blond hair that glittered like white gold under the sun and his blue eyes, the same color as the beautiful summer sky that shone and stretched endlessly beyond the horizon.
She knew what he meant, for the majority of the population living on St. Joseph Island knew one another, and she, a half-bred little girl who’d been cast away by her own parents who knew no one, was a rare specimen indeed.
“Her mother threw her away when she was a baby,” Tara said behind Sebastian. “Mommy said she’s tainted, a devil’s daughter, and no one wants her.”
Cheeks flushing with shame, Sakura felt the urge to run away and hide. After all, she didn’t want this boy to know she was a throwaway, a piece of rubbish no one wanted, not even her own mother or father.
Perhaps Tara was right. Perhaps she was tainted. Perhaps she was a devil’s daughter, and that was why no one wanted her.
“How could a mother throw her own daughter away?” Nicolas asked. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose and made a frown very much like his father when he was contemplating something very important. “That’s just mean.”
Tristan stepped toward her and pulled her hair. “Maybe you are the devil’s daughter. Your hair is so black.”
“And your skin is so white,” Logan put in, pinching her cheek.
“If she’s the devil’s daughter,” Alaina butted in, “then we shouldn’t be playing with her. We shouldn’t be talking to her at all. She might give us the pox or something.” The girl shivered and pulled a face. “Has she given you anything nasty yet, Tara?”
Tara laughed. “No, not yet. Not unless nightmares count. Mama said she cries at night, and it sounds like a ghost. So we shouldn’t talk to her at all. Otherwise, she’ll give us nightmares.”
Alaina shivered and hugged Tara. “I don’t want nightmares. Go away, you devil witch. You’re a bad witch just like the Wicked Witch of the West in the Wizard of Oz.”
Sebastian frowned at his sister. “Don’t be silly, Alaina. She’s no witch, and she won’t give us nightmares. She’s just a little girl.”
“Oh? How do you know for sure?” Alaina remarked.
“You’re so skinny and short like a dwarf,” Hayden said. “But those dwarves in books aren’t that skinny like you.”
Sakura blushed, feeling a bit overwhelmed at being the center of attention. She could feel herself shaking from nervousness and took a few steps back to get some space.
“I think she looks like Snow White,” Darcy said. His hand reached out and stroked her hair. “Really black hair and really pale skin.”
Sakura gasped at the intimate contact and turned to look at him. No one had ever stroked her hair before, and for him to do so caused her heart to flutter with a sense of joy.
Darcy grinned at her, his eyes sparkling as he moved his fingers to caress her face, marveling at the soft, pale skin.
Sakura shyly returned his smile, liking his warmth and his gentle, feathery touches. Her heart glowed, and she felt warm all over. She wondered if this was what it felt like to have a real family, to have someone love you and care for you.
Tara laughed hoarsely. “Don’t be silly, Darcy. She’s ugly and a devil’s daughter. Don’t go near her.” She grabbed the collar of his shirt and pulled him back, away from Sakura.
Darcy glared at Tara. “Why’d you do that for?”
“Just get away from her!” Tara snapped.
Darcy scowled. “I don’t want to. I like her.”
“Darcy!” Alaina shrieked. “How could you like her? She’s the devil’s daughter!”
“She’s not the devil’s daughter!” Darcy replied firmly, taking Sakura by the hand.
Tara looked as though she was about to scream her head off but held herself in check before she embarrassed herself in front of the Princeton siblings.
“What’s your name?” Nicolas asked.
Sakura was so conscious of Darcy’s warm hand clasping around hers that she didn’t hear Nicolas. When he patiently asked her again, she glanced up, licked her lips nervously, and said, “Sakura.”
“Sa… What?” Hayden asked.
“Sa-ku-ra,” Sakura said again.
“What does it mean?” Tristan butted in.
Sakura shrugged her shoulders and lowered her head to avoid their gazes. She felt rather ashamed that she didn’t know what her name meant, but she was determined to find out once she got back to the orphanage.
“That name is too hard to pronounce,” Logan said to himself. “Why don’t we give you another name? A nickname?”
“Why would you give her a nickname?” Tara asked in annoyance.
“Yeah! Why?” Alaina shouted at her brother.
“I want a nickname, too,” Tara demanded.
“Your name is easy to pronounce,” Sebastian said. “And it’s kind of short already.”
“How about Sarah?” Nicolas suggested. “It’s a popular name, and it means princess.”
Tara butted in instantly. “But she’s not a princess. She doesn’t even look like a princess. She’s a devil’s daughter.”
“She looks like Snow White to me,” Darcy said again, smiling at Sakura. “We can call her Snow or something.”
“What? Just because she has black hair and pale skin?” Tara muttered unhappily. “She’s plain and ugly like Mommy said. So we should give her a plain and ugly name.”
“Yes, we should do that,” Alaina said, nodding her head furiously.
“What about Sally?” Sebastian suggested. “It sounds pretty close to Sa-ku… Sa-ku-ra.”
“Yes, Sally sounds about right,” Tara said, nodding her head. “She is silly, after all, and it rhymes, I think. Sakura is a silly girl. Sally and silly.” She laughed. “Silly Sally.”
And so Sakura had a nickname that she herself did not have a vote in, and soon the children returned to their play and forgot all about her.
Every night after that day, Sakura prayed the Princetons would adopt her into their family. Then one day her dream came true in the most bizarre way.
The orphanage was on fire and the building burned down, killing Mrs. Byrd, though all the children and staff escaped. After some hard and fast investigation by the police, it was found that Mrs. Byrd had been smoking in the kitchen while the gas was still on, thus leading to an explosion. However, a rumor was spread that Sakura was responsible for starting the fire by leaving the oven gas turned on. Though she had done no such thing, she could not rebuke the claim that Tara and her friends made as witnesses to the whole ordeal. Soon Sakura found herself hated by everyone who knew her, and she lost all hope of adoption.
One week after the incident, James Princeton walked in, claiming that such a nice little girl couldn’t have done such a terrible thing, and since she had nowhere to go and no one would take her, he and his wife would adopt her.
Sakura was so relieved and happy over this man’s kindness that, for the first time in her seven years, she cried in front of everyone. James wiped away her tears, told her everything would be all right, lifted her into his arms, and took her home to his family.