From the top deck of the Athlon, Pearl shivered. Sinclair Inlet lay so faint in the distance it faded to a mere speck. A speck. That’s how big Pearl felt as the steamer sliced through the vastness of Puget Sound. Only unlike the steamer, she had no sense of direction, no definite course for her future besides the lofty goal of becoming the first person in her family to graduate from high school. The last time she’d been on the Athlon was two years earlier when she attended her cousin, Charlotte’s wedding, now she was moving into Charlotte’s empty room to attend Seattle High. Waves lapped at the hull of the steamer. A sprinkle of salt hung on the breeze and Pearl licked the salty spray from her lips. Her teacher, Miss Ambrose, first raised the question about her future prior to the final eighth grade exam. “Have you given any consideration to what you will do next year?” Embarrassed, Pearl admitted she’d given it little thought. “Since there’s no high-school in Port Orchard, I’d have to go away to school. Mama’s busy with my little sister and the farm. Papa works in Shelton and only comes home once or twice a month. When he’s home, there are chores that require my help. Even though my parents want me to continue with my studies. I don’t think I can leave. My family needs me.” From the creases of concern across Miss Ambrose’s forehead, Pearl guessed her teacher had heard similar tales from other students many times before. Miss Ambrose placed her hands on Pearl’s shoulders, and gazed at her. “It’s often hard on families, but you owe it to yourself, and your family, to further your education if you can.” Miss Ambrose shook her head without attempting to hide her dismay. “You’re a smart young woman. Think about it.” Standing on the bow, gazing out over the water, white foam churned beneath the hull like drifts of snow, cold and threatening. Crossing the immense body of water alone, a shiver surged through her as she remembered a sister ship of the Mosquito Fleet, the Clallam, sank two years earlier resulting in the drowning of more than fifty souls. The thought of the passengers leaving home, never to return, washed a sinking feeling of unease over her. What if something happened to her in the strange big city? Engulfed in indecision and uncertainty, Pearl shuddered with the same anxiety she felt last spring talking with Miss Ambrose. Pearl gripped the side rail so tight her fingers turned red and stiffened. Though she loved being an only child, after Edna’s birth, Pearl delighted in having someone with whom she could share her days. Now, moving away, leaving Edna behind, the loneliness she’d known as an only child would be felt again not only by her, but by Edna as well. She closed her eyes hoping to erase the memory of her promise to Edna to always being there. Alone, adrift on the vast ocean, clouded in the unknown, her spirits as damp as her hair from the salt water spray, Pearl went inside to sit and wait for the boat to dock. A middle-aged man about a decade younger than her father, with a clean-shaven face and a kind smile, scooted across the varnished mahogany bench to make room for her. He nodded. “Please, Miss, have a seat.” Tendering a smile, Pearl set her luggage down and smoothed the navy-blue twill skirt Mother had made especially for the occasion, and sat next to the man. The cold from the wood bench penetrated her clothing. She shifted her position and clutched her arms to her chest and rubbed them. “Traveling alone?” The stranger eyed the two pieces of baggage at her feet. Uncomfortable and uncertain how to respond, Pearl pulled the suitcases closer and glanced around the numerous passengers lining the many benches. She suppressed her nervousness. “Yes sir.” “Who, or what, takes you to the big city?” “I’m going to live with my mother’s older sister and her husband, in Seattle, while I attend high school.” The man’s head bobbed with obvious pleasure. “I believe that is wise. I imagine these modern times are going to require much more education than was required in my day. I consider myself quite lucky. My parents were hardly well to do, but I managed to become the first in my family not only to go to high school, but to attend university. My name’s Lucien. Doctor Lucien Chapman.” “I’m Pearl Mooney. Pleased to meet you, Doctor Chapman.” Pearl took in the stranger’s dark suit and the top hat sitting on the doctor’s lap, and the black bag at his feet. “Do you like being a doctor?” “It’s hard work. Long days, but it’s extremely rewarding.” Pearl nodded her understanding. “Do you know Dr. Wilkes in Port Orchard?” “No. I’m sorry, I don’t. My practice is in Seattle. I’m on my way back home. I take the steamer once a week to visit the navy yard in Bremerton and help the naval doctor there with his needs.” Pearl sat enthralled by the accomplished man who put her at ease and spoke to her like an adult, not a child, though she had no clue as to what to say to him. “Do you know what course of study you wish to pursue?” Having never considered her future, other than not wishing to become a seamstress like her mother, Pearl blurted out the first thing she thought of. “Do I need to go to the university if I want to be a nurse?” “Ah.” Doctor Chapman rubbed his chin. “Not at this time. Most nurses don’t have even their high school diploma. Heck, when I became a doctor near twenty years ago, most doctors didn’t attend any university or medical school. Still today, most don’t have medical degrees but I expect it won’t be long until it’s required. The field of medical arts is growing and changing rapidly. Can’t say I’m up to date on the latest, but I can assure you, your high school education will pay off.” Chewing on her lip, Pearl turned to peer out the window. It seemed a lot brighter outside. The meeting with Dr. Chapman and her memory of Edna’s birth, sparked a thought. Perhaps she would study to become a nurse. The Athlon gently turned. Looking through the big windows, the distant shoreline came into view and reached out to the water like welcoming arms. A short distance beyond the waterfront, steep hillsides rose high above the city. Not far from the Coleman dock, Pearl spied what she guessed was the towering Alaska building which Papa told her stretched over two-hundred feet into the sky and was the tallest building in Seattle. A group of seagulls, keeping pace with the boat, flew alongside, welcoming her to her new life. Now, with the skyline of Seattle within view, a last-minute tremble of fear gripped her. “You’ll be fine. I’m sure you feel the pressure of not only making your parents proud, but also your teacher and the town.” Pearl nodded. He’d plucked the words right from her head. “It’s okay to be nervous. But remember, in spite of the uncertainty, the vastness of your opportunities is endless.” Out the window, the sound stretched endless. Pearl swallowed. Dr. Chapman was right. Her whole future stretched out before her. She had the power now to sink or to swim. As the Athlon jockeyed into its place at the dock in Elliot Bay, Pearl’s optimism soared as tall as the clock tower of the Colman Terminal building. She thanked Dr. Chapman, lifted her luggage along with a boost of self-confidence, and marched down the plankway. Her stomach churned and her head spun, panicked at the thought of reaching the bottom with no one there to meet her. On shore, tall stacks from port-side businesses spit dark sooty smoke into the otherwise clear sky. Pearl glanced ahead to the hillside where her aunt and uncle lived. Massive mounds of dirt from the work being done to knock down hills to level the city and make it easier to navigate, rose like misplaced crumbling forts amidst the modern brick castle looking buildings that extended to the sky. Gulls squawked overhead, diving toward the disembarking passengers hoping for tidbits of food. Above the noise a man’s voice rose from the hubbub of disembarking passengers. “Pearl Mooney.” His arm shot into the air with a grand waving motion. The knot in Pearl’s stomach released as she returned the wave. Stepping out of the crowd, Pearl looked back across the water, past the ships and tug boats, to the mass of land on the other side. Back to where her journey began a mere hour earlier. Yet here in Seattle with its skyline streaked with towers jutting into the sky, Pearl felt a world away. And she knew her journey was just beginning.