In the Attic

Where did they follow Berling?

**

Calliope wasn’t sure what she was expecting when they followed Berling.  However, she was sure it wasn’t the place he led them to.  Still, she had to admit that it had potential.  She looked at Berling.  “Are you sure that your dad won’t mind?”

“He never even comes up here,” Berling said, shrugging.  He grimaced at Johannes and Maggie.  “I wasn’t sure how you’d feel about it, though.”

“Why?” Johannes said, frowning.  “Because it’s the attic?  I think it’ll be pretty cool, once we clean it up a bit.”

“Hang curtains,” Maggie agreed.  “Put up a table and a bookshelf.”

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A Place for Ourselves

Another series of drabbles…

**

Johannes looked around the front yard to his friends were sitting.  “We need someplace for us,” he said.  When Calliope frowned, he added, “My sisters and their friends have their playhouse.  We need someplace like that!”

For a moment, they all just stared at each other.  Then, Berling took a deep breath.  “I might know of someplace like that,” he said.  All eyes turned to him and he smiled.  “No one would bother us and it would be easy to get to and we could keep our stuff there.”

Calliope grinned.  Bouncing to her feet, she said, “Lead the way!”

Pushing Their Luck

“Are you done coloring?” Berling asked, nodding towards Johannes’s book.

Shrugging, Johannes said, “I am for now.”  He squinted up at the sky.  Clouds had begun to gather and they had the look of rain about them.  They were dark and looming.  “I think I’ve pushed my luck as far as I should for one day,” he said.

Calliope looked up at the sky and frowned.  “Where’d those clouds come from?” she asked.  She shook her head at Leonas.  “It wasn’t like that when we came out.  That’s why I wore my hat.”

“Hans’s right.  Let’s get inside,” he said.

Together Again

Johannes looked up when he heard feet running over the grass.  “And, you’re back,” he said, smirking at his cousin.

“Did you miss me?  Were you going to cry?” Leonas said, settling down in the grass beside him.  Their friends joined him a moment later.

“I may have done.  I was bereft without you,” Johannes said, nodding.

“Cally pointed out that we shouldn’t leave you alone.”

“I doubt there’s going to be any danger on the school grounds,” Johannes said, rolling his eyes.  Then, he folded his coloring book closed.  “Though, we can’t be too careful.  Right?”

“Right,” Calliope said.

Don’t Let It Throw You…

“Hans,” a familiar voice called.  He didn’t need to look up to know that Leonas had called to him.  No one else had quite that shade of green to their voice.

Hearing Leonas call him again, he looked up from his coloring book.  “Yes, Leo?” he asked, tilting his head.

Leonas chuckled softly when the girl beside him gasped.  He turned to her and nodded.  “I told you that was his real voice.”

“It’s so deep,” she breathed, her cheeks flushing.  Then, she spun on her heel and ran away giggling.

Johannes turned back to his book with a sigh.

Some Things You Never Outgrow…

Coloring was something that Johannes always thought he would outgrow someday.  After all, only little kids liked coloring books, right?  However, when he’d reached the age of thirteen and still enjoyed seeing a picture go from simple lines to vibrant colors, he decided that he’d never outgrow his love of coloring.  It was his hobby, as much as needlework was for his sisters or woodworking was for Markus.

So, he settled down in the grass with his book and turned to the first uncolored picture.  Then, he laid out his crayons and began humming softly to himself while he colored.

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.

Back Into the Routine – Johannes

So… now we’ll follow Hans for a while.

**

Johannes glanced around as the other kids began running around, playing. He hugged Herr Braun a bit closer and then sighed. Her headed over to the dome-shaped climber at the center of the playground and climbed under it. He sat there, hugging his bear and thinking. It had been nice to see Liesel and Frieda when he came out to play, even though they had been headed inside.

“Hey, Hansel,” a voice called.

Blinking, Johannes looked up. Miss Brighten had introduced him to the class as Johannes. She’d called him that all morning. Who knew his nickname? How? He blinked at the pair of blond boys that were grinning at him. “How’d you know that people call me Hansel?” he asked, tilting his head to one side and blinking again.

One shrugged. “It’s what we’d call you at home,” he said. “I just guessed. I’m Fritz and I’m really good at guessing.” He pointed at his brother and said, “He’s Erik.”

“Hi,” Erik said, his voice softer than Fritz’s was. “Why are you hiding, Hansel?”

Johannes hugged Herr Braun closer. “Everyone is playing, but… I don’t feel like playing,” he said, his voice soft. “I’m too sad to play.”

Erik settled down beside him. After a moment, Fritz sat down on his other side. Then, Erik said, “Is it because of what Miss Brighten said?” When Johannes nodded, he asked, “Muti gives us hugs when we’re sad.”

“My Muti went to heaven,” Johannes said. His vision blurred and he rubbed his face against his bear. A moment later, he felt both of the other boys hugging him. He cried for a little while, just letting them hug him.

After a moment, an adult asked, “Is everything all right, boys?”

“Hansel is sad,” Erik said, pulling out of the embrace. “His Muti went to heaven, so she can’t hug him anymore. But he was sad, so we hugged him for her.”

Johannes lifted his head off his bear to see the playground monitor watching them. She was an older woman, like a grandmother would be. She met his gaze and held out a tissue. “Are you all right, sweetie?” she asked. Her voice sounded strained, like she was having trouble speaking.

For a moment, Johannes didn’t know what to say. Then, he shook his head. “I miss Muti and Vati,” he said, his voice soft. Then, he shrugged. “I feel better, though. They wouldn’t want for me to be always sad and Brother says they’re always with us – like guardian angels.”

Nodding, she said, “It’s almost time to go back inside and continue with your classwork. You’ll have music class after recess. Won’t that be fun?”

Johannes smiled. It wasn’t a big smile, he knew, but he was smiling. “I like to sing,” he said, nodding. “Will we get to sing in music class?”

“Probably,” the grandmother said, nodding. “Maybe you’ll get to play instruments too. Would you like that, Johannes?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, smiling just a bit more. He turned back to Fritz as the boy straightened to grin at him. “I feel better now. Thank you!”

“You’re welcome,” Fritz and Erik said at the same time. They climbed out from under the dome and Johannes joined them, bringing Herr Braun with him.

Fritz poked the bear lightly. “Does Herr Braun have a first name?” he asked, his tone curious.

Johannes blinked. In truth, he didn’t have one. He was Herr Braun, but on an impulse, Johannes decided that he should have a proper name. He nodded and said, “Friedrich. He’s Herr Friedrich Braun.”

Erik and Fritz laughed and then Erik pointed towards the climber a few feet away. “Do you want to go on the slide, Hansel?” he asked.

“Yes,” Johannes said. He hugged his bear as he followed the twins over to the slide. “My sisters are twins, but they don’t look the same,” he said, as he watched one of them climb up the ladder to the top of the slide. “How can I know who is who?”

The twin beside him frowned. “I’m Erik and I’m left handed,” he said. “My name has an e in it and so does the word left. Fritz is right handed and they both have the letter i in them.”

Chuckling, Johannes nodded. He would have to look closer at his new friends to see if he could find little differences between them. Even identical twins would have little differences. He knew it would take time and effort, but he also knew it was important. As alike as they looked, they were different people. That was what his sisters always told people after all.

By the time that Miss Brighten was calling for them to go inside, Johannes felt better. He scampered over to the door with the rest of his classmates. Then, he lined up with Erik in front of him and Fritz behind him, while Miss Brighten brought them down to the music room.

Back Into the Routine – Frieda, Liesel

And… the story continues.  Sorry for the delay.  I needed a certain character’s surname.  Emmy is my sister’s character and is used here with permission.

**

Frieda knew that she had a reputation as the quieter twin. Part of the reason for her reputation was because Liesel was so loud. It meant that, by comparison, she was quiet. However, she wasn’t actually all that quiet. She certainly wasn’t shy – at least not when it came to meeting new people. In fact, when it came to meeting new people, she was more comfortable than Liesel was.

By the time that her sister had returned to the lunch table with the carrots, Frieda had already gotten the names of the other girls that were seated around them. “Liesel,” she said, grinning. She waved at the girl across from them and said, “This is Emerson Messer, but everyone calls her Emmy.”

“Hi,” Emmy said, grinning brightly at Liesel.

Liesel waved and then looked at Frieda as she took her seat. Her gaze was expectant. She was waiting to know the names of the other girls.

“Next to you is Clara Goldblum,” Frieda said, her voice soft. She was a pretty blond girl with wide blue eyes. Waving at the girl beside Emerson, she added, “This is Ashlyn Montoya.” Ashlyn had dark brown eyes and rich brown hair. Her flesh was a warm brown, as if she were deeply tanned.

“Hello, Ashlyn,” Liesel said, her voice softer than normal. She turned to Clara and said, “Hello, Clara.” Her brows furrowed and she said, “Brother’s teacher is named Mr. Goldblum.”

“He’s my uncle,” Clara said, nodding. She grinned and then shrugged. “He’s really nice as an uncle, but my big brother said that he’s a really strict teacher.”

“You have a big brother?” Frieda said, her eyes wide. “We have two older brothers. Markus is just eleven and Konrad is already seventeen.”

“Your parents waited for six years before they had more kids?” Ashlyn said, frowning.

Liesel frowned and shook her head. “We had an older sister that was a couple years younger than Konrad,” she said, her voice soft. “Her name was Vaiva, but she died when she was only two years old.”

“Muti had pictures of her, so we could see her and not forget about her,” Frieda said, nodding. She frowned and added, “She had pretty blond curls and hazel eyes. Vati said she was a very sick little girl, so the Great Father took her to be with him. That way, she could run and play, like other little girls.”

“Vaiva’s a really pretty name,” Emmy said, frowning.

Nodding, Liesel said, “It means rainbow. It’s a Leituvan name, because Muti was from Leituva.”

Frieda turned to Clara and said, “Do you have any other brothers or sisters?”

Clara nodded. “I have two little brothers and a baby sister,” she said, grinning. “Friedrich and Erik are five and they’re in kindergarten, so they’ll be the same class as your little brother! My baby sister is named Miriam. She’s only two years old, so she’s not in school yet.”

Ashlyn smiled and said, “I’ve got six older brothers and sisters and one little brother.” She giggled and shook her head. “There are eight of us. My Aunt Dora told Papa that he could stop any time he wanted.”

Emmy shook her head. “I’ve got two brothers,” she said, “but no sisters.” Her brows furrowed and she added, “I wonder if I could convince my parents to have a sister for me.”

“I’m sure it doesn’t work that way,” Ashlyn said, shaking her head. She shrugged when Emmy looked disappointed. “You could ask, though. Maybe they’d like to have more kids, but weren’t sure if you would want another younger sister or brother.”

Just then, the lunchroom monitor waved at them to signal that it was time to go outside to play for a while. Frieda closed up her lunchbox. She’d finished everything, except for her grapes. She would eat them on the bus, while she rode home.

Outside, they were given the choice between playing on the equipment or taking some of the toys out to play with. The swings were already busy and there were lines of kids waiting for a turn. Some kids were running around, playing tag or kickball. Frieda wasn’t interested in playing either game.

She looked over at her sister and their classmates. “Maybe we could jump rope?” she suggested, frowning.

“Yes,” Clara said, her eyes wide. She ran over to the toy bin and drew out the longest jump rope that she could find. Then, she held out the other end. “Who wants to swing with me?”

“I’ll do it,” Liesel said, grinning.

Frieda frowned slightly and shook her head. “Don’t swing fast right away,” she said. When Liesel nodded, she and Emmy stepped between the other girls and then began skipping the rope while they swung it. When Frieda got tired of jumping, she switched with Clara. Then, Emmy switched with Liesel.

Frieda and Liesel were jumping together when the playground monitor called the second graders back towards the doors. It was time to go back to class for the afternoon. After she put the jump rope away, Frieda saw Johannes coming out with his class. “Have fun playing, Hansel,” she called, waving to him.

“I will,” Johannes called back, waving back. Then, he grinned and waved at Liesel, just as they both headed back inside the school.

Frieda grinned at Clara and said, “That’s our little brother.”

“He’s so adorable,” Clara said, grinning. “His bear is almost as big as he is!”

“He has it because he’s afraid to be alone,” Liesel said, nodding. She frowned slightly and looked at Frieda. “You are too, but you have me. You don’t need a big teddy bear.”

Frieda smiled and hugged her sister. “Thanks, Liesel,” she said, her voice soft. Then, they were heading back into their classroom. It was time for art class to begin.

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.

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