Back Into the Routine – Henry, Konrad

Now, back to Henry for bit… then on to Konrad for the very end.

**

Henry blinked when he received the email from Konrad. He opened it and smiled faintly as he read the message. The kids had all had a fairly good first day and they had already made a few friends among their classmates. He was going to give them a snack – some apples and peanut butter – and then they would start doing any homework they might have.

Nodding, Henry returned his attention to his work. It had been two weeks since he’d been in the office. It had taken that long to get the kids settled in his home. Now, their furniture and personal belongings were in place. Liese had been to see a child psychiatrist, who confirmed that she was bipolar. She was responding well to her medication, for which Henry was grateful.

Today, since the kids had begun school, so he felt safe going back to work. Now, he just had to get back into the swing of things at his office. Most of his day was spent reading reports and gathering information. His team was specifically tasked with dealing with Singers and other such beings.

He was just reading over a report that detailed what the Bureau knew of the Singer that had killed Kamile and Adrien. It had vanished, presumably banished by Adrien as a last act before his death. It would be some time before the demon would be able to gather enough strength to harm anyone. The question was: where had their gifts gone?

Members of the Cross Families had five distinct gifts. There were the True Crosses, like Adrien. They banished demons or purified the vessels they had chosen to inhabit. They could also use their power to heal members of their family and a host of other things that went along with fighting the demons directly.

Then, there were the four Defenders. Kamile had been one such, called a Staff. She was, specifically the Balchunas Staff. Each Defender summoned a magical weapon: a staff, lance, sword or hammer. In addition to summoning their weapon, each Defender had a secondary gift. Staves had the gift of Reading – knowing the thoughts of those around them. Lances had the gift of Seeking – being able to locate the other Defenders and their True Cross. Swords had the gift of Seeing – an intuition that allowed them to know someone’s true nature. Hammers had the gift of Knowing – an intuition that allowed them to anticipate trouble before it came.

In any case, their deaths meant that their gifts were passed on to someone in the next generation. Henry chewed at his lip. Had any of the kids inherited the gifts of one of their parents? He hadn’t noticed them as having any gifts. However, it was entirely possible.

“Montgomery,” he said, glancing over at her. “How would I be able to tell if one of the kids became a Cross or a Staff?”

She stared at him for a moment before her brows furrowed. “If a Cross sings, they can… sort of feel it,” she said. Then, she shrugged. “If one of the kids is a Staff, they’ll start being able to read people.”

“Some say even latent Staves can do that, though,” Ryoga added. He shrugged when Henry frowned at him. “What can I say, Boss? Everyone I knew who was Hammer – either at that time or who went on to be one later – was strangely intuitive.”

“Liesel acts like a little Hammer,” Daryl said, nodding.

“Noted,” Henry said. It was entirely possible that their parents’ gifts had been inherited by someone in Alleman. He looked over at Sachiko. “See if you can get word to Havensburg, Alleman. Either the Engel Cross or the Balchunas Staff might have awakened there as well.”

“You got it, Boss,” she said, nodding.

At that point, Henry began pulling up the contact information for the local Council of Elders. He presumed that the Elders in Fair County had gotten in touch with them. However, if one of his children was the Engel Cross or Balchunas Staff, he needed make sure they were aware.

When he looked back down at the clock, it had gotten rather late in the evening. The members of his team were grabbing their jackets and heading out for the day. He was about to call them back when his telephone rang. Scowling, he lifted the handset out of the cradle. “Shepherd,” he said, wondering who it could be at that hour.

“Mr. Henry?” a childish voice said. “It’s Johannes. We wondered… did you want for us to wait dinner until you got home or… were you going to eat at your office?”

Henry blinked. It hadn’t occurred to him that the kids would wait for him. Perhaps it should have, though. “I’ll be there in half an hour,” he said, his tone gentle. “Did Konrad make something or do you need me to stop and pick something up?”

“Brother made Fleischpflanzerl and potatoes and green beans,” Johannes said, sounding both pleased and excited. “It should be ready by the time you get here.”

Henry blinked and nodded. “I’ll be right there,” he assured the boy one last time. Then, he hung up his telephone. He gathered his coat as he typed the word into his computer’s translation program. It returned the translation of food, which was no help at all. He was certain that it was a specific type of food. The question was: What? Clearly, it was something that went well with potatoes and green beans. At the same time… Konrad seemed to think that anything went well with potatoes and green beans. The only other vegetable he seemed to like was cabbage. His younger siblings seemed to agree.

 

Konrad peered out of the kitchen when he heard the door open and close. “Welcome home,” he called, giving Henry a weak smile. “I’m sorry if Hansel bothered you while you were working.”

“It’s fine,” Henry said, shaking his head. “I just lost track of time. It wasn’t anything that couldn’t wait until tomorrow.” He shed his coat, hanging it on the tree by the door. “He said you made fleisch…” Henry trailed off, obviously struggling with the word.

“Fleischpflanzerl,” Konrad said, nodding. “Flattened meatballs? You’d probably think they were like little hamburgers.”

“Hamburgers,” Henry said, his eyes widening. He nodded as he stepped into the kitchen. “Now the potatoes and green beans make sense. Not salad?”

“We’re eating them hot, so…” Konrad trailed off with a shrug. He pitched his voice a bit louder and called his younger siblings. They were scattered all over the house. Markus was in the basement, working on some project. His sisters were in their room, playing with their dolls. He realized that he didn’t really know where Johannes had gone. His brows furrowed.

At that moment, Johannes bounced into the house from the back garden. He paused to struggle out of his coat and then he washed his hands. With them still dripping, he hugged Henry. “Welcome home,” he sang.

“Hey, Sprout,” Henry said, lifting him up to set him on his hip. “Did you have a good day at school?”

Johannes frowned and then shrugged. “I made friends of two boys,” he said, his wide eyes locked on Henry’s face. “They’re Erik and Fritz and they live down the street from us, next door to Maggie!”

“That’s good,” Henry said, setting the boy back on his feet. He smiled as Liesel and Frieda came into the room. “Did you learn anything interesting in school today?” he asked.

Liesel grinned. “Emmy can hold her breath longer than anyone in the class,” she said, nodding. “Clara almost fainted trying to beat her record and Ms. Weatherly told us it’s not good to hold your breath for so long.”

“People need to breathe or they die,” Frieda added, nodding. Her eyes were wide and her tone was very serious. She pointed at the refrigerator and added, “Mr. Hopkins taught us how to draw teddy bears. Liesel’s looked better than mine does, but he said mine looks good too. I just need to practice.”

Henry looked at the two drawings that were pinned to the refrigerator with magnets. One was a very basic bear with circles for each of the paws and a round little body and head with half-circle ears. However, the other bear looked like a girl of far more than eight years old had drawn it. There was even a bit of shading in it.

Konrad had been at a loss as to what to say about the difference. On one hand, he wanted to praise Liesel for how well she’d done. On the other hand, he didn’t want Frieda to feel bad about her own effort.

Henry only hesitated for a moment before he smiled. Nodding at Frieda, he said, “Your bear looks very nice. Keep working at it and I’m sure you can do even better.”

Liesel nodded. “That’s what Mr. Hopkins said,” she agreed.

Meanwhile, Konrad had returned his attention back to the hamburgers and potatoes. He laid out the burgers on a platter. The potatoes went into a bowl. The green beans went into another bowl and he carried the vegetables over to the table. “Markus Adrien,” he called. “Dinner’s on the table.”

Markus appeared at the doorway to the basement, flushed and panting. “Sorry,” he said, his voice breathless. That was when Konrad noticed that he was also a bit pale.

He was about to speak when Henry said, “All right there, Chief?”

Grimacing, Markus held out one hand. “I cut my finger a little bit,” he said. As Henry caught his wrist, he apologized again.

“I’m not angry,” Henry said, his tone calm. He guided Markus over to the sink and ran the hand under cold water, washing away the blood, so that he could see the cut.

Konrad set the platter of hamburgers on the table and directed the others to sit down. It gave them something to do and got them out of Henry’s way. “Is it all right?” he asked, his voice soft.

After a moment, Henry nodded. “It’s not deep,” he said, his voice soft. “It’s just that it’s in a spot with a lot of capillaries.” He wrapped Markus’s hand in a towel, pressing down on it for a moment. “Hold that there while I get a bandage.”

“Yes, Mr. Henry,” Markus said, his voice faint. He sat down beside Konrad and looked up at his brother with teary eyes. “I’m sorry,” he breathed again.

“Accidents happen,” Konrad said, his tone gentle. “You don’t need to apologize.” He waited until Henry had bandaged Markus’s hand and then he grimaced. He probably shouldn’t have let Markus work in the basement without supervision.

Frieda said grace and then they began plating their food. Henry waited until everyone had their food and then he looked at Markus. “Do you want to tell me what happened?”

“I was shaping wood and… the knife slipped a little and… then there was blood and… I sort of panicked a little,” Markus said, his voice strained. Tears welled in his eyes and he shook his head. “I thought that you’d be angry at me.”

“I’m not going to be angry that you hurt yourself,” Henry said, his tone gentle. He looked over at Konrad and shook his head. “It’s not your fault either, Konrad. Like you said: accidents happen.”

“I should have been keeping a better eye on him,” he murmured. “I… didn’t even know that Johannes went outside! I was focused on making dinner.”

Henry nodded slowly. Turning to Johannes, he said, “If you want to go outside, you need to let someone know, Sprout.”

“I’m sorry,” Johannes said, his eyes wide. “I saw Maggie in her yard and I wanted to ask her if she knew Erik and Fritz, since they live near her.” He looked up at Konrad. “I didn’t mean to worry you, Brother.”

Shaking his head, Henry said, “So long as we learn from our mistakes, there’s no need to apologize.” He looked over at Markus and said, “If you hurt yourself, you need to tell me or Konrad right away. We’re not going to be angry or tell you that you can’t do your carving. At the same time, we need to know if you’re injured, so we can make it better.”

“I’ll remember,” Markus said, his voice soft. He grimaced and then said, “I kind of… left a mess downstairs.”

“We’ll clean it up after dinner,” Henry said, nodding.

Konrad heaved a soft sigh and focused on eating. At first, he’d felt like they were burdening Henry – intruding in his life. Now, he realized that Henry didn’t mind looking after them. On top of that, Konrad wasn’t quite ready for the responsibility of looking after his younger siblings. He closed his eyes and said a silent prayer of thanks that his parents had planned what would happen if they were killed. Without Henry, they probably still wouldn’t be getting back to a sense of normalcy. With him, they were already back into their normal routine.

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Back Into the Routine – Henry

The start of my new writing for this universe.  Henry brings the kids to school for their first day back… then, he’s off to work.

**

It was the first day of school for the kids.  Henry had made certain that their paperwork was in order the previous week.  The Elders in Fair County had helped him out there.  However, he wanted to see the kids to school himself, rather than just putting them on the bus and sending them on their way.

They met with the principal first.  He outlined how Konrad’s schedule would go.  He would be finishing out the school year with them, but most of his classes would either be the online classes that he’d already been doing or distance learning classes that he could do on his home computer.  He only had to take English literature and physical education at the school itself.

Then, he brought Markus down to the class that he would be joining.  He peered into the room and smiled.  “Mr. Goldblum,” he said, “this is your new student: Markus Engel.”

Markus glanced at Henry and then greeted the teacher politely.  He glanced around at the students that would be in his class as Mr. Goldblum pointed to a desk.  “We’ve a space for you right there, Markus,” he said.

Henry started to leave, but paused when he heard Markus say, “My name is spelled with a k, Mr. Goldblum.”  He spelled it for the teacher, while the students chuckled to themselves.  Henry glanced at Markus and sighed in relief.  The boy was giving the teacher a sheepish grin.  Whatever his classmates intended, he was confident enough that he thought they were laughing at Mr. Goldblum’s mistake.

Nodding, Henry followed the principal to the second grade class to which the girls were both being added.  Ms. Weatherly greeted them with a sunny smile.  “Now, which is Elisabeth and which is Frieda?” she said, looking from one to the other.

Liese grinned.  “I’m Elisabeth,” she said.  Her voice held no hint of self-consciousness.  She glanced over at Frieda and said, “She’s Frieda.”

“We call her Liese,” Frieda added, her voice soft.  In the same soft voice, she spelled the name for the teacher.

Ms. Weatherly nodded.  “That’s a very pretty nickname,” she said.  “There are your seats, girls.  Welcome to the class.”  Then, she pointed towards two empty seat.  Henry noticed that they were near each other, but not at the same table.  He was relieved that they didn’t seem bothered at not being seated in the same group.

That just left him with Johannes.  He looked down at the boy, who was still hugging his oversized bear close.  “Are you ready, Sprout?” Henry asked, his tone gentle.  Wide, hazel eyes met his own and smiled.  “You want to meet your teacher and your classmates?”

“Can I keep Herr Braun with me?” he asked, his voice faint.

As Henry glanced at the principal, the man nodded.  “I explained the situation to Miss Brighten,” he said, his voice soft.  “She understands that he’s not ready to… let it go yet.”

“Thank you,” Henry said, nodding.

Miss Brighten was talking to the students when they arrived.  Henry listened as she spoke, curious as to what she would be saying.  Was she giving them a lesson?

“Today, we’re going to have a new friend joining us,” she said.  “His name is Johannes and he came here from Maine.  Can you all say that name with me?  Johannes?”  The students repeated the name a few times.  Then, she nodded encouragingly.  “Now, Johannes brought a friend with him from home because something very scary happened to him recently.  You all have cuddly friends that help you when you’re scared.  Right?”

“I have a doll,” one little girl said, raising her hand.

Miss Brighten nodded.  “That’s right, Emily,” she said.  “So, until Johannes is feeling less scared he’s going to bring his friend with him to school.  All right?”  There was scattered agreement from the kids and she smiled.  “Well, good,” she said.

The principal tapped on the door and smiled.  “Are you ready for us?” he asked.

Miss Brighten smiled at the principal and then nodded.  “Good morning, Mr. North,” she said.  Her greeting was echoed by several students.

Nodding at the kids, he said, “Hello, children.”  Then, he waved at Henry and said, “This is Mr. Shepherd.  He’s Johannes’s guardian.”

“Thank you for understanding about the bear,” Henry said, his voice soft.

“It’s fine,” Miss Brighten said, extending her hand.  As he shook her hand, she said, “It’s very nice to meet you, Mr. Shepherd.”  In a softer voice, she said, “You are a saint for taking in these kids.”

“Their parents were dear friends,” Henry said, shaking his head.  “They needed someone and… maybe I did too.”  He gently ushered Johannes forward and said, “Go ahead and say hello to Miss Brighten, Sprout.”

Johannes looked up at her, hugging the huge bear to his chest.  “Hello, Miss Brighten,” he said, his voice soft.

“Hello, Johannes,” Miss Brighten said, crouching down to look him in the eye.  “Does your friend have a name?”

“He’s Herr Braun,” Johannes said, his voice soft.  “Braun means brown, because he has brown fur and brown eyes.”

“Herr Braun is a very large bear, isn’t he?” Miss Brighten said, smiling.  She beckoned him into the room and said, “Ryan, can Johannes and Mr. Braun sit beside you?”

“Yeah,” a boy with dark hair said.  He smiled as Johannes sat at the desk beside his own.  Henry smiled when he saw that there was a chair beside the desk.  Johannes set the bear in the chair and gave Miss Brighten a shy smile.

“He’s still learning English,” Henry warned her, as she turned to bid them a good day.  “Sometimes he’ll slip into Allemani or Leituvan.”

“I know Allemani, so that shouldn’t be a problem,” she said, grinning.  Then, she waved and added, “Thanks for the heads-up, though.”

Henry watched Johannes for a moment longer.  When he seemed to be settling in all right, Henry gave the principal a weak smile and nodded.  “Thanks for letting me tag along until they were settled.”

“No problem at all,” the principal said, waving his words away.  He nodded.  “We’ll be bussing them home.  Konrad should arrive first, so… if you aren’t home yet, he can get them off the bus.”

Nodding, Henry said, “I’ve got to get going, but I’ll try not to stay late at work.”  He wanted to be there when they got off the bus that first day.  He was well aware that Jocelyn would have other ideas.  After all, he’d been off for two weeks.

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.

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Unexpected Concerns

This is the story that introduces Konrad and his siblings.  I wrote it just over a year ago.  It fits with the story that I’m writing now, which is why I’m posting it now.

**

Henry tried to remember the last time he’d seen Adrien and Kamile.  Their first meeting had been pure chance.  They had just come to the United States from Alleman and Henry had just married Ann.  That was eleven years ago.  Kamile had been pregnant then, with what they hoped would be their second child.  Just a few months later, those hopes were fulfilled and Markus was born.

The memory of holding the tiny boy brought a smile to Henry’s face.  It had been shortly after that when Henry had been deployed.  The Engels had settled somewhere in Maine and he’d stayed in West Virginia with his wife.  The families had kept in touch through letters and cards, as well as occasional phone calls.  They’d come down for the funeral of his wife and daughter.  Now, he was returning the favor.

He slipped into the church feeling just a bit out of place.  Religion and faith had always been at the center of Adrien and Kamile’s life.  For him, it was pushed to the edges.  He thought about God and believed, in his own way, but he didn’t make the time to attend church, not even on the big holidays.  Since his wife and daughter had been killed, he had one focus: stopping people like the one who had taken them from him.

The church was already crowded with people.  Two closed caskets stood in front of the altar.  In the front row, to the right side of the church, sat five young people: Adrien and Kamile’s children.  He’d met Konrad when the boy was six years old and he’d held Markus when he was only days old.  However, he’d only seen the younger three in photographs.

The youngest boy was hugging an over-sized stuffed animal of some kind to his chest.  His face was buried in the soft plush.  The little girl beside him was crying softly, while her elder brother rubbed her shoulder.  Markus stared at the coffins as he rubbed his sister’s shoulder, but his face was an emotionless mask.  He looked as if he were in shock.

The other little girl was sitting in Konrad’s lap.  She was giggling as if there was something humorous about the affair.  Konrad rubbed her back soothingly, but he looked as if he was getting close to his breaking point.

Heaving a sigh, Henry moved up to the pew behind them.  A few people shifted over so that he could take his seat.  As the funeral progressed, there were prayers and songs and words of comfort.  Henry could hear three of the five children crying by the end of the service.  Konrad was stoically biting his lip to hold back his own tears while the little girl he held continued to laugh.  The sound had an almost hysterical edge to it.

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A Special Occasion (part 1)

They were going to a holiday party.  It wasn’t the sort of party where you sat around eating chocolates and singing carols around the piano.  It was the sort of party where the men wore suits and the women wore dresses.  Liese and Frieda had the perfect kind of dress to wear at that sort of party.  The top was black velvet and the skirt was red plaid.

Frieda dressed quickly and added a little jingle bell necklace that Anna Beth had given her.  Then, she scampered out of the room, promising to help Liese with her hair when she was dressed.

Liese was actually finished dressing too, but the dress felt too tight.  She frowned at her reflection in the mirror.  She smoothed her hands over the dress and then tilted her head to one side.  Then, she spun around and headed out of the room.  Frieda was in the corridor waiting for her.  She was wearing the same dress, but it fit her completely differently.  The sleeves came down to her wrists and the skirt was below her knees.

Tevas,” Liese said, as her father appeared at the top of the stairs.  “What’s wrong with my dress?  Did it shrink?  Why Friedal’s dress didn’t shrink?”

He smiled at her and then shook his head.  Stepping up onto the landing, he said, “Nothing’s wrong with it, Sweetie.  It’s just… too small for you.  You’ve grown since the last time you wore it.”

Liese frowned and looked down at her dress and then looked over at Frieda.  “But… I got it the same time that Frieda got hers and she can still wear her dress,” she said, looking back at Tevas.  “Why I can’t wear mine?”

“Why can’t you wear yours?” he asked, correcting her syntax.  At her nod, he shrugged.  “Everyone grows at different rates, Liesel.  You’re growing faster than Frieda is right now.”

“So… I’m too tall for this dress?” she asked.

Nodding, he set a hand on her shoulder.  “You’ll have to wear something else,” he said, ushering her back towards her room.

Heaving a sigh, Liesel said, “I wanted to wear the same dress as Frieda.”  She looked over at Frieda and shook her head.  “How will people know we’re twins if we don’t dress the same?”  People already questioned it because they weren’t identical.

Frieda grinned.  “We could wear our princess dresses,” she said.  Their princess dresses were short-sleeved with a gauzy overlay that sparkled whenever they moved.  Then, she turned to Tevas and added, “If we wore sweaters with them, they’d be warm enough.  Right?”

“That sounds like a good compromise,” Tevas said, smiling.  “Wear your white cardigans with the candy canes on the pocket.  That way, you’ll still look like you’re dressed for a holiday party.”

Liese nodded and they headed back into their room.  After they were changed, Liese looked at her reflection in the mirror once again.  Her dress still didn’t fall as long on her as Frieda’s did.  However, it wasn’t tight the way her other dress had been.  “I don’t want to be so much taller than you,” she said, pouting.

Frieda shrugged.  “Maybe I’ll catch up to you when we’re older,” she said.  Then, she grinned.  “I doubt that you’ll get to be really tall, like Konrad, Liese.  Don’t worry about it so much.”

Heaving a sigh, Liese nodded.  She would try not to worry about being taller than her sister.  As she came out of her room, she looked up at Tevas.  “Can we buy a new dress for me that’s like Frieda’s is but is larger?” she asked.

“I’ll see if I can find one,” Tevas said, nodding.  He looked from one girl to the other and smiled.  “Go and do each other’s hair.  I’ll see how your brothers are doing with getting ready.”

Frieda caught Liese’s hand and smiled.  “At least you can’t grow out of hair ribbons,” she said, chuckling.

“That’s true,” Liese said, nodding.  They settled down in the living room and Liese began brushing out Frieda’s hair.  Her sister’s hair was soft and blond and straight.  While it was completely different from Liese’s hair, she loved it.  Soon, she had it tied back in a simple hair ribbon.  Then, she pinned it up into a bun and clipped a large bow underneath it.

“How’s that?” she asked, holding up a mirror, so that Frieda could see what she had done in her own mirror.

Frieda giggled and nodded.  “I love it,” she said, grinning.  Turning to look at Liese, she said, “Now, I’ll do your hair.”

This was the part that Liese loved.  She could do anything with Frieda’s straight locks.  However, her curls were harder for her to work with.  Somehow, Frieda never failed to find something pretty to do with her hair, though.

By the time that Tevas and their brothers joined them, Frieda was just finishing.  “All ready,” she said, giggling.  Then, she held up the mirror so that Liese could see what she’d done.  Her hair, like Frieda’s own, was gathered back into a bun.  However, Frieda had surrounded it with flowers and left two long thick curls loose, so that they curled down the back of her head.

“Bouncy curls,” Liese said, grinning.  She looked back at her sister and nodded.  “I love mine too, Friedal!  Thank you!”

Frieda giggled and hopped to her feet.  As they hurried over to join their brothers, she said, “Are we ready to go?”

“I think we are, Princess,” Tevas said, smiling.  He chuckled softly and then helped both girls put on their coats.  “You definitely look like little princesses tonight.”

“I read a book that said all little girls are princesses,” Markus said, his voice soft.  He ruffled a hand through his curls and then looked up at Tevas.  “It was a good book.”

“A good movie too,” Tevas said, as he ushered them out of the house.

Soon, they were settled in the car, on their way to the holiday party.  Liese was happy and excited.  Not only because she felt like a princess in her pretty dress and her bouncy curls, but because she would be going to a holiday party with her sister and brothers and their tevas.  “The party will be lots of fun, right?” she said, looking over at Johannes.

Johannes giggled and bounced his feet.  “Yes,” he said, nodding.  “Tevas said that Miss Jocelyn had a surprise for all of us.  I think it will be a lot of fun.”

This was the first that Liese had heard of any kind of special surprise.  Now, she had even more reason to be excited.  She looked to the rearview mirror and said, “Tevas, what kind of surprise does she have for us?”

“We’ll just have to wait and see,” Tevas said, smiling in the way that parents did when they knew something fun their children didn’t know.

A Heart to Heart

I would credit the creator of the prompt, if I knew who they were.  However, it was a random dialogue prompt that I found on Pinterest, so I can’t properly credit it.

**

The explosion had frightened all of them.  The idea that they might lose the man who had cared for them for the last three years was almost more than they could handle.  If Henry died, who would look after them?  Certainly Konrad was old enough, but would he be able to finish college and watch four younger siblings at the same time?  Would they be separated?

When Henry had regained consciousness, Konrad had breathed a sigh of relief.  If he was awake, then the worst was surely over.  However, Henry hadn’t recognized him.  In fact, he didn’t remember anything about having adopted five children.  He had forgotten everything that had happened for the last ten years.  In his mind, his wife and daughter had just died.

After that, they took turns sitting at his bedside, praying that he would wake and know who they were.  Frieda was sitting at his bedside when he woke this time.  She looked up from the slipper that she was crocheting when she heard him say the name of his late wife.  She watched as his eyes scanned the room until it fell on her.  She could tell that he didn’t remember her.

He turned away and Frieda knew that he was trying to remember who she was.  After a moment, she spoke, her voice scarcely a whisper.  “Do you miss her?”

In three words, he broke her heart.  “All the time.”

She blinked as tears filled her eyes.  “Can you… look at me?” she asked, her voice faint.  His gaze turned to her then.  He frowned and reached out to her.  In spite of the fact that he was crying, he rubbed his thumb over her eyes.

“Why are you crying?” he asked, shaking his head.

Shrugging, Frieda said, “I miss my teva.”  She looked down at the yarn in her lap and heaved a sigh.  She was surprised when he leaned forward and kissed her brow.  Then, he was hugging her.

“I can’t believe,” he started.  Then, he pushed her back to look into her face.  “How could I forget my girls?  Where are your brothers, Frieda?”

Frieda smiled then, even as she continued to cry.  “Down the hall,” she said.  She rubbed at her eyes.  “You remember now?”

“Everything,” Henry said, tugging gently at one of her braids.  He gave her a gentle, lopsided grin.  “I’m sorry that I scared you, Princess.”

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.

More

A New Addition

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  I had fun with this one…

**

“I had a cat when I was a boy,” Henry said, as he watched Liese play with her new kitten.  She had named the little fluffy white cat Edelweiss, after a white flower and a song her father had taught her.  “We always had an animal in the house: a cat when I was really small, then a dog.  I had another dog when I first moved out on my own.”

Markus frowned at him.  “Why didn’t you have any pets when we came then?” he said.  When Henry looked at him sharply, he shrugged.  “You obviously like animals, but you… stopped getting them.  Why didn’t you keep any more pets?  Was it because you weren’t home enough?”

Henry shrugged and nodded.  “That was part of it,” he said.  He heaved a sigh and said, “When Anne and Emily died, all I had was this old dog we’d gotten when we were married.”  He shook his head.  “He died, as happens with all living things and…  I didn’t know what to do.  I just knew it needed to stop.  Grave after grave after grave… I got tired of burying my friends.”

“It was the last piece you had of them,” Konrad said, his voice faint.

Henry looked at him intently for a moment.  Then, he realized that Konrad was absolutely right.  When Buffy had died, it was like losing Anne and Emily all over again.  It had ripped open a wound that wasn’t quite healed yet.  He nodded slowly.  “I just wasn’t ready for a new pet,” he said, smiling at Markus.  He nodded again.  “I’m ready now, though.  Edelweiss is Liese’s cat, but… she’ll be part of the family.  So, in a way, that makes her everyone’s cat.”

“Edelweiss has enough love for all of us,” Liese said, smoothing the cat’s fur.  In a soft voice, she added, “When she dies, she’ll still be a part of our lives.”  She looked up at Henry and shrugged.  “The dead stay in our heads, because we loved them.”

Henry smiled and looked at Konrad.  “What?” he said, his voice hardly louder than a whisper.

“She means… they’re always on our minds,” Konrad said.  “We think about them often, because we loved them.”  He shrugged and added, “The ones that loved us are never really gone either.”  He touched his chest and said, “We can always find them.”

“Even pets,” Henry said, nodding.

Part of Growing Up

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  Yeah… it’s one of those stories.  Poor Henry…

**

A scream of horror echoed through the house, startling Markus out of a sound sleep.  Markus stumbled out of bed without bothering to put on his glasses and headed down the hall.  The light was already on in the room, as was the light in Henry’s room.  Johannes’s room was still dark and quiet, so he was still asleep, at least.

Markus rubbed at his eyes as he peered into his younger sisters’ bedroom.  Henry was sitting on the bed, hugging Frieda and speaking to her in a low, soothing voice.  His sister was sobbing so badly that she was coughing.  He frowned and looked over at Liesel.  “Is she all right?” he asked, his voice soft.

“I think so,” Liesel said, nodding.  She looked over at Henry and tilted her head to one side.  Then, she looked over at her brother and shrugged.  “I woke up and she was hysterically crying.  I went and got Teva.”

“Why’s she crying?” Markus asked, frowning.  He didn’t like seeing his sister so upset.  He was older than her and some part of him felt that meant he should protect her.

Liesel shrugged again.  “Terror. Disgust.  I don’t really know,” she said.  “It’s kind of a toss-up when you wake up covered in blood.”

Markus blinked at his sister’s words and turned sharply to Henry.  “Blood?” he rasped.  “Is Frieda hurt?  Should I call someone?”

More

Conflicts in Opinion

This little scene was inspired by a prompt from Tomi Adeyemi’s site.  I enjoy the interplay between Jocelyn and Henry…

**

“In your heart, you already know what you need to do,” Jocelyn said, her voice soft.  Henry blinked and she nodded.  “There comes a point in everyone’s life when they need to stand or to fall on their own, Henry.  Konrad’s at that point now.”

“I don’t see any reason why I can’t just… help him a little bit,” he said, shaking his head.  “We both know he’s capable.  He just needs some direction – some guidance, so that he can use the right language to help them see that too.”

“I’m not going to ask this of you, Henry,” Jocelyn said, frowning.  “This isn’t a request.  It’s an order: stay out of it.”

Henry frowned.  “Is that the last word you have on the matter, Lady Director?” he asked, his tone just a bit mocking.

She narrowed her eyes and clenched her fist.  “Do not challenge me.”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” he said.  Then, he whirled on his heel and stalked out of her office.  Jocelyn stared after him for a moment, trying to decide if she should follow him.  Ultimately, she decided against it.  He was frustrated as it was.  Once he had a chance to cool down, he would probably come back and apologize for his tone.

She was just about to get back to her work when here was an almost timid knock on her door.  She looked up to find Konrad Engel peering around the door at her.  “Do you know that your office assistant isn’t out here?” he said, his voice soft.  He was wearing a very smart dark blue suit with a red tie that had thin blue stripes running along it at a diagonal.  His usually tousled pale blond curls were tidy and he was wearing glasses that made his eyes look enormous.

“Kim has the day off,” Jocelyn said, nodding.  She folded her hands on her desk and asked, “Is there something I can do for you, Mr. Engel?”

He blinked and stepped into the room.  “It’s doctor,” he corrected, his tone polite.  He gave her a wry smile.  “I wondered if you might be willing to write a letter of reference for me, ma’am.  I have two from my professors and one from my pastor, but… being a director of operations… I thought one from you might carry a bit more weight.”

Jocelyn gave him a faint smile and nodded.  “I would be more than pleased to write a letter of reference for you,” she said, her voice soft.  “I’m honored that you would think to ask me.”

Konrad smirked and adjusted his glasses.  “Teva means well,” he said.  Then he shrugged.  “He’s like a lot of people, though.  He mistakes my social phobia for shyness.”  He looked up, actually meeting her eyes.  Even as his face turned a vibrant crimson, he said, “I’m not shy.  It’s just…” he motioned between them and added, “…this scares me.  The way some people are afraid of fire or heights or caves – that’s how I feel about speaking with women.”

She smiled.  “Is this some sort of therapy session, then?” she said, tilting her head.

“For me, you could say it was very therapeutic,” Konrad said, nodding.  He smiled.  “Here, we had a conversation and I didn’t once embarrass myself or say anything foolish.”

Jocelyn smiled.  Konrad could be charming, when he wasn’t falling all over himself trying to get away from her.  “I’ll give you the letter as soon as I can,” she said.

“Danke schön,” Konrad said, and then he bowed politely before he slipped out of her office.

As she stared after him, Jocelyn was struck by how different he was from Henry.  At the same time, it was clear that the older man had influenced the younger one’s development.  Shaking her head, she murmured, “Henry worries too much.” Then, she opened a blank document and began to write the letter of reference that both of them had requested from her.

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