He turned over the page on his desk calendar. Tomorrow was the first day of December, and he couldn't put off a decision much longer, although the very idea irritated him. No matter what he decided about Christmas, it would mean an unwelcome disruption after three months of peace and quiet at the villa. The first tranquil period, really, since Agathe's death almost five years before. He shook his head, forcing himself to push aside his own feelings and to consider, instead, what would be best for the children. His family was doing well, thank heaven: safe from the Nazi threat, at least so far, and thriving, secure in the hard-won love of their father and under Fraulein Maria's care.
It was a damned lucky thing, he thought, that their governess had come back when she had, that remarkable day in August. He'd seen less eventful days during the war! When the day had dawned, he'd been preparing to tell the children about his engagement to Elsa and their likely departure for boarding school. But by sunset, he'd come to terms with what he'd known all along, deep inside: that he wasn't going to be able to go through with the marriage.
That same day, Fraulein Maria had returned. Georg could still recall the emotions that had washed over him when she appeared on the terrace – relief, hope, and even joy, in admitting to himself the feelings that had begun to grow between them, flickering to life the night of the children's puppet show, and flaring briefly the night of the party. He'd been so shaken by those feelings that he'd behaved inexcusably toward her minutes later, when Max invited her to dinner. Now he'd be able to apologize for his rudeness and, hopefully talk to her about what was happening between them .
But that late August day had ended with more surprises. He'd sent Elsa back to Vienna, grateful for her gracious exit. But Elsa had been wrong about one thing: when he found Maria in the gazebo, he ran into a wall that seemed made more of bricks than glass. She answered his gentle inquiries about her absence politely, but distantly. He thought – he knew – that she'd run away because of him, and he considered apologizing, but how could he apologize for a wrong she wouldn't even admit existed?
For a few anxious days, Georg had expected the worst: that she'd be gone as soon as another governess could be arranged for, just as she'd promised. But much to his surprise, just a day or two before school started, she informed him, quietly and without meeting his eyes, that Reverend Mother had agreed that she could stay on with the von Trapp children, at least until things "settled down." He found himself hoping that day was in the far, far distant future.
Since then, life at the villa had been curiously agreeable. Or even, he had to admit, what one might call happy. Of course, he knew that she'd have to go back to Nonnberg eventually. The Nazi threat still loomed over Austria. And Max tried to warn him that the neighbors were talking about Captain von Trapp's unusual arrangement with the governess who might have come from Nonnberg Abbey but had danced in his arms nonetheless, run away and then returned just as he broke his engagement. Georg pushed all those worries away; it was as though they were living in a bubble – his family and his household, floating along gently on a tide of laughter and music and warm feelings. He wasn't going to let that outside world intrude any more than he absolutely had to.
Was Christmas one of those times? Happily, a welcome distraction presented itself: the grandfather clock in the corner chimed nine times. Nine in the evening. Fraulein Maria should be here soon.
They'd come a long way since her return. Although she had reverted to the ugly, shapeless clothes of her early days at the villa, she had regained the sparkle and fire he remembered in the governess he'd first met last summer. She not only looked him in the eye now, but they talked, and even laughed together, easily and often. About the children, of course, but lately, about music and books and history and any number of things. Occasionally about his military service, very rarely about Agathe and never about her past.
In the last few weeks, without saying anything to acknowledge it, they'd started a new ritual: after putting the younger children to bed, and with the older ones left to read quietly, she'd come back downstairs shortly after nine o'clock and join him in his study for a drink – that is, he drank brandy and teased her for sticking to the cup of tea she'd bring with her. Knowing about her sweet tooth, he always had a plate of biscuits or cake on hand. When the clock struck eleven, they would cross the foyer together, climb the first flight of stairs, share an awkward little smile on the landing, and then depart for their separate rooms, hers in the staff wing and his in the family wing. And that was that.
He told Max that there was nothing improper between himself and the girl, and he almost believed it himself. After all, as a widower, his days of romance and passion were behind him. A veteran of a long and extremely satisfying marriage, and a colorful history with the ladies before that, he seemed to have lost interest in women entirely. There had been a few empty encounters a year or so after Agathe's death, that taught him he wasn't going to be able to resurrect the rakish Georg von Trapp he'd been in his twenties: his body was still working, but his heart wasn't in it anymore, not the way he needed it to be.
Indeed, he'd been almost relieved to break things off with Elsa. Fond as he was of her, he was dreading what would happen after the wedding, when he wouldn't be able to put her off any longer with talk of honor and respect. Georg did not to want to have to pretend to feel desire for Elsa or anyone, where there was only emptiness.
Of course, if he were honest with himself, he'd have to admit that over the summer, he had been tempted by the little governess. A fanciful image of her had somehow lodged in his mind, triggered by an outing with the children for ice cream: in his mind's eye, she stood soaked to the skin the way she'd been that day by the lake, but strangely enough, she was lapping at a strawberry ice cream cone, licking the occasional drop off the tender inside of her wrist. The very idea left him sleepless for a week, until he was able to train himself to top the imaginary Fraulein off with a starched wimple whenever she appeared in his thoughts. At least all those years of mental discipline were good for something.
Most of the time lately, though, when he was around Fraulein Maria, he simply felt peaceful. Once in a while, he'd catch himself admiring the coppery glint of her hair in the firelight, or be caught by that sparkling blue gaze, and for a moment, he'd feel almost brave enough to – to what? Reach for her hand? Declare feelings she wouldn't welcome and he didn't understand himself? He didn't want to jeopardize the delicate balance they'd achieved, the fragile happiness that seemed to have taken hold in the household. He didn't want to do anything to frighten her. And what was the point, anyhow, when at some point in the hopefully distant future, she'd be returning to Nonnberg? So Georg remained quiet, not knowing whether to think himself noble or a coward.
"Captain? May I come in?" She had her usual cup of tea with her, but she looked awfully pale, and – perhaps he was just imagining it - troubled, somehow.
"Fraulein Maria! Yes, yes, of course. Come in. What have you come to argue with me about tonight?"
She smiled weakly, and he felt a smile crease his face in reply.
"I'm sorry, Fraulein. I'm glad you're here, actually. I've been trying to decide about what to do with the children for Christmas."
"Christmas? The children told me that since their – that is, that you usually take them to their grandparents. Their mother's parents," she finished awkwardly.
"That's true," he nodded. "The Whiteheads have a chalet near Innsbruck, about three hours from here. We've spent Christmas week with them ever since – uh – she died. But not this year." He shifted uneasily in his chair.
It wasn't really any of a governess' business, but he found himself explaining the situation anyway. "I'm afraid I'm persona non grata with my mother-in-law. We had a difference of opinion, she and I. About what she believes is my failure to – She is disappointed that I didn't marry Baroness Schrader."
"Really?" her blue eyes widened in surprise. "You mean she wanted you to remarry?"
Georg shrugged. "Mathilde – my mother-in-law - she understood that the children need a mother, especially the younger ones. She'd known Baroness Schrader's mother for years. The marriage would have gotten my girls launched into society, and very nicely. But I suspect that my mother-in-law also knew that Elsa – I mean, uh, Baroness Schrader - was no threat to her daughter's memory. It was an ideal arrangement, from Mathilde's point of view."
He paused and added , "Just not from mine," even though he wasn't sure his governess would understand what he meant. It seemed an important point to make.
He hadn't meant to unburden himself in this fashion, and he paused to pour himself a drink and wave her toward the plate of sweets he had waiting for her. But then, somehow, he didn't change the subject after all. "So, you see, Mathilde is not very happy with me. I don't think I'm up to a week of her disapproval. I thought of staying here with the children, but I don't want to disappoint them. I'm not sure I know how to make Christmas here. Their mother, you know, she used to…." He ran out of words.
Fraulein Maria's forceful response took him by surprise. "Oh, please don't do that, Captain! It wouldn't be right! To keep the children apart from their grandparents that way. They need each other. They're all her parents have left of their daughter. And they're all your children have left of their mother," she finished with considerable emotion.
He looked down at the floor, pondering, but he felt her watching him the whole time. "I know," he admitted. "I've been trying to convince myself otherwise for days, but in the end, I know you're right. I'll take them to Innsbruck. Which leaves you. What are your plans, Fraulein?"
There was a long pause before she spoke. "I wanted to talk to you about that, actually, Captain. I'm not spending Christmas at the Abbey. "
"Turned out at Christmas? No room at the inn?" he joked. "That hardly seems appropriate for the season." He closed his mouth quickly when he saw the look on her face.
"Captain. You remember what I told you in August. Reverend Mother only sent me back here temporarily, and I'm afraid the time has come when I must leave. The thing is, I'm not only leaving here. I'm leaving the Abbey, actually. Permanently. I'm not going to be a nun," and here she paused to take a sip of tea. The cup trembled in her hand, and he saw her swallow and furiously blink back tears before she went on, although, with obvious effort, she kept her voice level. "They've found me a teaching job. In Vienna . It's for the best. Reverend Mother has been nothing but kind, they all have, really, but after what happened-"
Abruptly, she fell silent, but he hardly noticed, being too occupied with the strange feeling that his heart had fallen entirely out of his chest and was lying on the floor. It would be an enormous blow to the children, he told himself, thinking back on when she'd run away last summer.
"When will you be leaving?" he asked. "Have you told the children?"
"Just after New Year's," she said. Another sip of tea. "I report to the new school on January fifth. And no, I haven't said anything to them. That's why I thought – if you're all going away for Christmas, I should tell them before you leave. Meanwhile, I know the villa will be empty, with the staff allowed to go home, but I'm hoping you'll let me stay here on my own for the holiday. I'll manage just fine, and I don't really have anywhere else to go. They think it would be too disruptive for me to go back to Nonnberg at this point." The ghost of a smile crossed her face.
"Wait a minute," he said. "Why don't you come with us? To Innsbruck? "
"Oh, Captain. I couldn't interfere with your family Christmas like that."
"Don't be silly," Georg said, feeling a flicker of enthusiasm at the idea. If she had only a few weeks left with them, why not make the most of it? "You are part of this family! The children would not stand for your being alone at Christmas. You know perfectly well that they'll be thrilled. And I've a selfish interest in bringing you along. I don't want to referee their arguments, or hunt down their mittens, and I don't want them waking me in the middle of the night with their bad dreams, either, now, do I?"
He changed the subject before she could raise any more objections and after that, the rest of the evening flew by. As always, when the clock struck eleven, he rose and strode across the room to stand in the doorway, his wordless signal that the evening was at an end. And as always, she scurried by him, out the door, across the foyer and toward the stairs. He hadn't forgotten how to intimidate her, he thought smugly, grinning as he followed her up the to the landing.
"Good night, Fraulein. " He was still grinning.
"Good night, Captain," she smiled.
He watched her disappear up the stairs toward the staff quarters. But then the smile vanished from his face when he remembered that soon, she would disappear from the villa for good.
I hope you enjoyed this first chapter. Rest assured, there are more chapters and much angst ahead. I'll be giving h/ts along the way, but the first goes to mquest. When I first had the idea for this story, she came along with Gypsy Travelers and I slunk away in embarrassment, but since then, her writing has inspired me to be bolder and more confident. Or crazier, I don't know which. And a h/t to lemacd. Anyway, I write about TSOM only for love, and own nothing about it. Please leave me a review, even a short one.