Finding Forgiveness

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  This is not a happy story, but it helped me understand Konrad’s character a bit better.

**

Henry glanced from the woman that his children called “aunt” to Konrad and frowned.  He knew she wasn’t really their aunt.  When you came right down to it, they weren’t even related to her.  However, her husband was their father’s cousin.  They called him their uncle out of courtesy and, by extension, she was their aunt.  Why, then, was she so cold towards them?

It was a practice in self-control to wait until the woman had left him alone with Konrad.  The moment she had retreated to the kitchen, he looked over at his son.  “What is her damage?” he breathed.  He shook his head.  “I thought, at first, that it was because of how difficult Liese can be or because everyone expected her to just open her house to five kids, but… it goes beyond that.  Most of her anger seems directed at you.”

Konrad grimaced.  He dropped his gaze and shrugged.  “We don’t talk about it,” he said, his voice soft.  “Uncle Roderich… he doesn’t blame me for what happened, but…” he trailed off.  “It’s been easier to just not think about it.”

Henry nodded slowly.  “What happened?” he asked, his voice faint.

“A couple winters ago,” Konrad started, “there was a bunch of us… playing around a frozen lake.  It’s easy to forget how deep that lake is when it’s covered with ice.”

He sighed and looked out the window, to where his brothers and sisters were playing in the yard.  “I fell through it and… Elsa didn’t even hesitate.  She – she just lay down on the ice and reached for me.  She tried to pull me out, but she fell in too.”

Tears welled in Konrad’s eyes and he took a steadying breath.  “The other kids ran off, maybe to get help.  I don’t know,” he said, rubbing at his face.  He shook his head and shrugged.  “I thought we were both going to drown or freeze, but Elsa… she… All of a sudden, she went under and then, I could feel her, holding me.”

He looked over at Henry and shook his head.  “She kicked off from the bottom and pushed me out.  I climbed out of the water and… I looked for her, but she was gone, Teva.”  He took a shuddering breath and wiped at his eyes again.

“I barely made it home and… I told Vati what had happened,” he said, closing his eyes.  “The whole town, it seemed like, was down by the water looking for Elsa, but I knew it was too late.  They found her… hours later.  The paramedics tried to save her, so did the doctors.  They said… she wasn’t dead until she was warm and dead, but…” he trailed off again.

Then, he looked over at Henry.  “No one blamed me,” he said, shrugging.  “It was an accident.  It was the one stupid, careless thing I’ve ever done and it cost my cousin her life, but no one blamed me.”

“Except for her mother,” Henry said, his voice faint.

Konrad nodded.  “Elsa was their only child,” he said, his voice faint.  “Aunt Marta can’t have any more children.  It was a miracle that she had Elsa at all.  Uncle Roderich… forgave me.  Aunt Marta… she tried to forget me, but I knew she never would.”

“You have to forgive yourself, too, Konrad,” Henry said, his voice faint.

Sighing, Konrad nodded.  “Aunt Marta lost a daughter and I can’t do anything to change that, but… she keeps forgetting that I lost my best friend that day.  She died saving me and I would do anything to make it up to her.  I just… How do you repay someone dying to save you, Teva?”

Henry gave Konrad a faint smile.  “By living for both of you,” he said, his voice soft.  “People tell you all the time what you can’t do, Konrad.  I’ll bet that Elsa never told you that you couldn’t do something because you were blind.”

“She told me that I could do anything, if I just tried,” he said, smiling faintly through his tears.

Henry nodded.  “That’s how you repay her: don’t let anything or anyone – even your own frailties – hold you back,” he said.  He glanced over at the kitchen and frowned.  A part of him wanted to tell Marta what Konrad had said.  Another part of him hoped she’d listened from the doorway and knew the pain she was causing Konrad.  However, he also knew that she was hurting and he knew, all too well, what kind of pain she was going through.

“As for Marta… just give her time,” he said, his voice soft.  “Someday, she might be ready to really listen to your side of things and… maybe, she’ll be ready to forgive you as well.”

Konrad nodded.  “Anyway… now you know why she hates me so much,” he said.  He chuckled lightly and rubbed the last of the tears from his eyes.  “You also know why I don’t… just relax and act like a typical teenaged boy.”

“The last time you did, someone died,” Henry said, nodding.  He patted Konrad on the knee.  “It really was an accident and, unfortunately, it’s one that happens far too often.  Like you said, it’s easy to forget how deep a frozen lake really is.”

Nodding, Konrad moved to his feet.  “I’m going to check on the kids,” he said, his voice faint.  “I need some fresh air.”  He slipped out through the back door into the garden.

As soon as he had closed the door, Marta returned with a pitcher of lemonade and several glasses on a tray.  “I forget, sometimes, how close he and Elsa were,” she murmured.  She sighed and then nodded at a photograph on the mantelpiece.  It was one of many showing a young girl with thick dark hair and vibrant blue eyes.  This one, however, showed her with her arm thrown around the shoulder of a boy a head taller than her with white blond hair and red-violet eyes.  Konrad was smiling shyly, while his cousin was beaming.

“Forgiving someone can be difficult,” Henry said, his voice faint.

Marta nodded.  “It shouldn’t be so difficult to forgive a sweet boy like him,” she said, her voice strained.  She shook her head.  “I think… maybe it’s time to let go of the past… to let go of my pain and anger.  Elsa… wouldn’t want me to hate Konrad.  He was her best friend, after all.”

“She really loved him,” Henry said, nodding.  As he said the words, he realized that Konrad had probably loved her too.  “He’d have given anything to change places with her.”

“His brother needs him,” Marta said, shaking her head.  Glancing out at the garden, she smiled.  “Just like he needed Elsa.”

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