A New Life

This is the second part of the story with the Engels.  Now, back in West Virginia, they stop by Henry’s job so that he can touch base with his team…

**

Johannes trailed along behind Shepherd, holding tightly to his hand, even as he hugged his bear to his chest.  He liked the bear.  It was soft and cuddly.  Even with Markus focusing most of his attention on Frieda and Konrad focused on Liesel, he didn’t have to feel alone.

He felt much less alone now that he had met Shepherd.  The older man had given him the attention he’d been missing for the last week.  He couldn’t blame his brothers for not paying attention to him.  His sister needed them, after all.  He was the youngest, the smallest and the quietest.  That meant he was overlooked a lot.

“I just need to check in with my team,” Shepherd said, as he flashed his identification at two men wearing uniforms.  His voice was soft and blue, like the fluffy, dark clouds that made light rain.  “Then, we’ll head to my house and figure out the sleeping situation.”

“How many bedrooms does your house have?” Konrad asked.  Johannes noticed that his brother was speaking more quietly than normal, with blues so pale that Johannes could hardly see them.

Shepherd chuckled and Johannes looked up at him.  In spite of the smile on his face, Johannes thought that maybe, he wasn’t really amused or happy.  “Three bedrooms,” Shepherd said.  He ruffled Johannes’s hair.  “We’ll figure out something for the short term.  I’m pretty handy, so it won’t take much effort to fix up the attic into two or three more bedrooms.”

“We don’t mind sharing,” Frieda said, looking up at him.  Her voice had started it’s normal vibrant golden tone, but faded to pale yellow as she added, “We shared at… home.”

Shepherd nodded.  “Konrad’s a young man, so he needs his own space,” he said, in the same gray-blue voice as before.

Johannes made a curious noise.  When Shepherd crouched to meet his gaze, he said, “Muti put Konrad and Markus together.  She said I needed my own room, because I was a baby.”

“You’re not a baby anymore, Hansel,” Shepherd said, smiling.  It was a genuine smile this time.  “You’re a big boy, like Markus.  Now, Konrad needs his privacy.”  He straightened and then said, “Would you like to press the button for the elevator?”

“We’re going up?” Konrad asked.

When Shepherd made a noise that meant they were, Johannes bounced forward and hit the top button.  Catching Shepherd by the hand again, he said, “Frieda can hit the button for the floor, if she wants.”

“That’s very nice of you, Johannes,” Shepherd said, as the elevator chimed and the doors slid opened.  He ushered them into the car and then looked at Frieda.  “Press the button that says seven, please.”

Frieda reached up and hit the button with the number seven on it.  Johannes frowned as he noticed a bunch of dots below the number.  “What are dots for, Herr Shepherd?” he asked, touching them.  They were raised, so that he could feel them with his fingertips.

“Blind people read by touching them,” Shepherd said.  “It’s called Braille.  These dots mean ‘number’ and then the other set mean the number for the floor: one through ten.”

Johannes nodded and then the door slid opened once again.  He let Shepherd lead him off the elevator and kept close to him as they moved into a large open office area.

“Hey, Boss,” a young woman said, grinning.  She had red-brown hair that was tied back in a ponytail that fell over one ear.  Her gaze scanned them and then she looked back at Shepherd.  “Are these the kids?”  Her voice was a pinkish-orange color that was all sharp angles.

“Yup,” Shepherd said.  He looked at Johannes.  “I need to check my voicemail, Johannes,” he said.  “Can I have my hand back, please?”  He smiled and ruffled Johannes’s hair then, as Johannes let go of his hand.

While Shepherd watched his computer run through the start-up routine and fussed with his telephone, Johannes wandered around the desks of other people in the office area.  He peered over the edge of one desk at a man that was typing quickly at his computer.  He had dark hair and angular features.

His gaze drifted to Johannes and he smiled.  “What’s your name?” he asked, his voice soft.  His tone was gentle, the way that Konrad spoke to birds when he wanted them to come to him.  “I’m Ryoga.”

“I’m Johannes,” he said, grinning.  He liked the tealy color of the older man’s voice, with its fluffy edges.  “Brother calls me Hansel… most everyone calls me Hansel, but my name is Johannes.”

“Johannes is a big name for a little boy,” someone with a deep purple voice said.  His voice was all angles and edges too, like the young woman who had greeted Shepherd.

Looking up, Johannes found a tall man with brown skin behind him.  “Muti gave me that name when I was a tiny baby,” he said, shrugging.  “Johannes Liutauras Emil Gilbert Engel is my full name.”

“You have a very big name,” Konrad said, his voice soft.  He grinned at Johannes said, “Markus and I are both named after family – our uncle and Vati.  I’m Konrad Dieter and he’s Markus Andrien.”

“Why’d you end up with the kids?” the woman with the red-brown hair asked.  When Shepherd shot her a sharp look that was almost a glare, she frowned.  “I mean, if they’ve got uncles…” she trailed off, shrugging.

“Our uncles are in Alleman,” Markus said, frowning at her.  His eyes narrowed.  “We didn’t even know how to contact them for the funeral so… yeah.  No.” He heaved a sigh when Frieda started crying.  Even as he hugged her, he continued to send the woman an angry look.

“Nice work, Montgomery,” Shepherd said, rolling his eyes.  He returned the telephone handset to the cradle.  “Adrien and Kamile wanted for me to care for their children, if something happened.  I’m honoring their wishes because the kids need someone.  I want to do this, for my friends and for these kids.  Got it?”

“Sure, Boss,” Montgomery said, nodding.  She ducked her head as she went back to her work.  However, she didn’t apologize.  Johannes got the distinct impression that she wanted to do so, but something was holding her back.  He looked over at Shepherd and tilted his head.

Shepherd seemed to catch the silent question in his gaze.  “Apologies are a sign of weakness,” he said, shrugging.

Johannes grinned.  “Speaking without thinking is a weakness,” he said, shrugging.  “Vati said we should own our mistakes and try to do better going forward.”

Ryoga chuckled softly and nodded.  “He’s got you there, Boss,” he said.  Grinning brightly, he looked over at Johannes.  “How old are you, Johannes?  Are you the seventeen year old?”

Giggling, Johannes shook his head.  “I’m six,” he said.  “Konrad’s seventeen!”  He looked over at his eldest brother and giggled again when he noticed that Konrad was smiling.

“He’s only seventeen?” a red voice said.  Her voice was like a bell, shattering silence with its cutting edges.

Johannes looked over at the newcomer and frowned.  She was tall and slender with a severe sort of look to her.  She reminded Johannes of Ms. Golding, the teacher that always sent people to the principal’s office at school.  He ducked behind Shepherd’s chair and hugged his bear closer.

“Yes, Jocelyn,” Shepherd said, turning back to his computer.  “Konrad’s just seventeen, as of this past January.”  He frowned when he found Johannes there.  Lifting him, he set Johannes in his lap and then went back to scanning his emails.

Johannes frowned as he opened one email with the subject of “child psychologists?”  He tilted his head to one side and said, “What’s a… p…sychologist?”

“The word is said, psychologist – with a silent p.  It’s someone whose job it is to talk to people about problems they’re having,” Shepherd said, his voice soft.  “I’m trying to find someone who can help Markus and Liesel.”

“Frieda too,” Johannes said, nodding.  “She’s scared that we’ll all go away, like Muti and Vati and… then, she’ll be all alone.”

“Probably all five of you could talk to one,” Shepherd said.  He kissed the top of Johannes’s head and then blinked, frowning, as if he wasn’t quite sure why he’d done such a thing.  He chuckled then and shook his head, before grinning and going back to reading.  “Snow’s the coroner here, but he knows a lot of the doctors in the area, so I thought he might have some ideas about who would be best able to help.”

He sent the email to the printer and then closed down the program.  As his computer shut down, he set Johannes on the floor and headed off to get the page he’d printed.  He frowned when the woman he’d called Jocelyn got in his way.  He sidestepped her and continued on his way.  Johannes scampered to catch up and caught his hand tightly.  “Got something you want to say, Jocelyn?” Shepherd asked, his tone sharp.

“You sure that you can handle looking after five kids, Shepherd?” she asked.  Her voice was quieter, but it still had cutting edges.  “It’s going to mean a lot of changes for you.  You’ll have to rearrange your priorities.”

Shepherd frowned at her for a moment and then nodded.  “I can handle it,” he said, snatching the page off the printer.  He looked at her and then straightened.  “I’m going to need a few more days to get things sorted.  I’ll be back in the office first thing Monday.  All right?”

“Fine,” she said, nodding.

Shepherd nodded and then headed for the elevator.  “Come on, kids,” he called.  “Time to get some lunch.”

Konrad lifted Liesel into his arms and nodded.  “It was very nice to meet all of you,” he said.  Then, he followed Shepherd to the elevator, with Markus and Frieda close behind.  Once they were in the elevator, Konrad looked over at Shepherd.  “Did your friend… think he knew what was going on with Liese?”

“He said she sounded manic,” Shepherd said, frowning at the email.  He grimaced and shrugged.  “It might be a manic episode.”  He looked at Liesel and tilted his head.  Then, he asked a question that no one had thought to ask up to that point.  “Why are you laughing, Liesel?”

“I’m so happy that Markus is all right,” she said, grinning brightly.  Her voice was like pink bubbles that rolled around in the elevator.  “Whenever I start to feel sad about Muti and Vati, I remember that Markus is still with us and I have to laugh.  The bad person didn’t hurt him!”

Konrad sighed and wrapped an arm around Markus’s shoulder.  “We are all glad that he’s all right,” he said, his voice strained.  His eyes glistened with tears as he looked down at Markus, who was hugging Frieda.  “Vati kept you safe, at least.  Right?”

Markus flushed.  “I… don’t remember,” he said, his voice soft.

 

Johannes frowned slightly.  Normally, Markus had a warm, amber voice that was as comforting as his bear.  Right now, his voice was pale and shook.  “Maybe the psychologist can help you remember,” he said, shrugging at Markus.

 

“Maybe,” Markus said.  He smiled, but his voice was still pale and shaky.  He could pretend, but Johannes could see that he was still scared.

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