The girls stumble upstairs to Anders Orphanage's long, cold bedroom.
It's nearly one in the morning; they've been sewing a rush order of dresses
"I can't feel my fingers," one says drowsily. "Is that bad?"
"Try putting them under your armpits," her friend advises. "That works for me."
Gracie sighs and rubs her exhausted eyes. Too many hours of squinting over a sewing machine have definitely caught up with her. She wants nothing more than to go to sleep.
As the others get into bed shivering Gracie finds that one of the younger girls is in her bunk.
"Madeline," she says tiredly, "what are you doing? Why are you still awake?"
"I'm waiting for tonight's story," Madeline says. "You promised you'd tell us one!"
All throughout the room girls Madeline's age nod vigorously.
"But Mads, I said that before we got the order of dr.never mind," Gracie caves in, defeated by Madeline's pleading expression. "Who do you want to hear about tonight? King Arthur? Sleeping Beauty?" This is just a tradition Gracie has with the girls; they ask for stories about the same boy every night.
"Peter Pan!" the girls chorus.
"Well, fine." Gracie gets under the blanket next to Madeline and begins to tell a story. "Once upon a time Peter Pan decided it would be nice to have a dog," she says, looking at her one piece of jewelry - a ring made of thread and a green wooden button. After the first story she told about Peter Pan one of the girls found the button on the windowsill and it was collectively decided amongst the younger girls that Peter himself must have left if there for her. Most nights another button appeared until there was one for every girl in the orphanage, and whenever a new girl comes before long there's one for her too. Try as they might to stay awake nobody has ever seen who put the buttons on the windowsill.
"But not just any dog would do for a boy as clever as Peter, oh no. He wanted to tame a wolf!" The little girls gasp. "Especially since Wendy had managed to while she visited Neverland. Only Peter had forgotten to ask her how she did it, so now he would have to manage on his own."
The girls snuggle into their thin mattresses as best they can and get swept up in the narrative, lovingly touching their green wooden buttons. Even the girls Gracie's age, sixteen, and older enjoy the story - anything to take their minds off cold bones and empty stomachs. By the time Gracie is finished Peter has managed to catch a wolf and tame him by convincing him that he's a puppy.
"Can you guess what he named the wolf?" Gracie asks. Half the younger girls have already fallen asleep with smiles on their faces.
"Wolf?" Madeline suggests. She can be very literally minded when she's tired.
"Actually," Gracie says with an air of mystery, "he named the wolf Anders!"
"Why would he do that?" Madeline asks, wrinkling her tiny freckled nose.
"After all of us at Anders orphanage, of course," Gracie explains, doing her best to tuck Madeline in with the tiny blanket. "Peter loves every girl in this orphanage."
Madeline's eyes go wide. "He does?"
"Mmm-hmm. He knows all your names and tells the lost boys about you."
"How does he know those things?" one of the girls asks skeptically.
Gracie hugs Madeline goodnight and closes her tired eyes. "Because he's just that clever."
"Oh," the skeptic says, apparently satisfied. If anything is indisputable in Anders Orphanage it is the cleverness of Peter Pan.
An hour later Gracie and Madeline wake up at the same moment. They sit up in bed and stare at each other.
"Did you hear that?"
Madeline nods slowly. "Do you think it was."
But now the sound comes through the window again and there is no denying it. Somebody is playing panpipes outside the attic bedroom!
"It's Peter, it's Peter!" Madeline whispers excitedly, rushing to the window in her bare feet and shoving it open the rest of the way. Since Gracie began telling stories about Peter the window has always been left open a crack so he'll know he's welcome.
"Hello Mads!" Gracie hears a boy's voice say.
"Gracie, Gracie, he called me Mads, just like you!" Madeline says excitedly, turning back from the windowsill a moment. Gracie rushes to her side and sticks her head out into the night.
"Hello stranger," Peter tells Gracie warmly. He waits for a response expectantly, floating in mid-air with his arms crossed and a grin on his face.
"We got the buttons," Gracie says. "Thank you." She's too shocked to get out much else.
"Glad you liked 'em, Gracie. It was a good story tonight!"
"Story?" Gracie asks dumbly.
"About the wolf!" Peter and Madeline remind her as one.
"Oh.right," Gracie says, flustered. "Thanks?"