Author's Note: My abject apologies for how long it's been since I've updated this story. I can only plead real life that got in the way and took my muses with them. At any rate, I now have a better idea of where I want to go with this story so hopefully it won't take years before this story is finally finished.
Georg glanced up and met Maria's eyes as she walked into the dining room for breakfast. Her eyes gave him a small, private greeting although he suspected she had gotten nearly as little sleep as he had. (She was as lovely as always but he rather thought he could see the faint trace of shadows under her eyes that spoke of a sleepless night.)
He glanced around, warmth settling into his chest as he realized that all the children's expressions had visibly brightened at the sight of Maria.
There was a brief silence which he finally broke by saying, "Kurt, I believe it's your turn to say grace."
Kurt hesitated and it was Brigitta who spoke up. "Shouldn't we wait for the Baroness?"
Georg met Maria's eyes before he glanced around the table. "The Baroness left to return to Vienna late yesterday evening." He paused and then added, "She will not be returning."
The children, he noted, didn't bother to hide their relief although none of them was bold enough to say it aloud. Kurt did open his mouth but then closed it again at a warning glance from Friedrich. At any other time, he might have been irritated at this unmannerly display of relief at a guest leaving but he was still so filled with happiness that he had no room left for any other emotion, let alone an unpleasant one.
It was another few moments before Kurt bowed his head and half-mumbled the grace and they all began eating.
He considered— briefly—and then discarded the idea of announcing his engagement while they age. He didn't doubt the news would make them too excited to eat and he didn't want them going hungry.
He leaned back contentedly to watch as Maria silently spread jam on a piece of toast for Gretl. Gretl smiled at Maria so brightly that he felt a catch at his heart. How could he even have thought of letting Maria go? His children needed her as much as he did.
He waited until they were all finished eating (except Kurt) before he met Maria's eyes again and nodded slightly as her eyes shone at him.
"Children," he began and then paused as they all looked up at him. He had not stopped to think about what he was going to say, how he was going to announce this news. He finally said, plainly, "I have some news. Fraulein Maria is not going to be your governess anymore."
He wasn't sure what reaction he'd expected but he could only stare as his children leaped up out of their seats and went to Maria, ranging themselves around her, as she stood up as well. Gretl wrapped her arms around Maria's waist as if she would never let go again. Brigitta slipped her arm inside Maria's and Louisa put a hand on Maria's shoulder (rather surprising him, since Louisa was the least demonstrative of his children, but it warmed his heart to see this evidence of how much Louisa too cared for Maria). Only Liesl remained in her usual place, although she, too, had stood up staring at him.
"Please let Fraulein Maria stay," Marta said pleadingly and suddenly everyone was talking in agreement, a confusing babble of sound, much like it had been earlier for her return. Kurt's voice rang out last as he said, "She just came back! You can't let her leave again!"
"Children," Maria said softly but the one word from her silenced everyone. "I think you should let your father finish."
Georg allowed himself to smile the way he'd wanted to all morning. "I have no intention of letting Fraulein Maria leave again," he began. "What I meant was that Fraulein Maria is not going to be your governess because she is going to be your new mother."
"You mean—" Kurt burst out and then stopped.
"Oh, Father!" Louisa exclaimed.
"Oh, I knew it!" Brigitta chimed in, all three speaking at once.
Maria smiled in the general laughter that followed these reactions. "I would love to be your mother if you will let me," she said softly.
Georg met her eyes and wondered if it was possible for a heart to burst with love.
There was a chorus of "Yes" and "we will" and he saw the tears threatening in spite of her smile and knew she was feeling much the same rush of emotion he was.
He knew he loved her and needed her in his life but he didn't think he'd quite realized, to the full, until that moment, just how much his children loved her too. She completed them all; she was the one that made them whole again, a family again in the best sense of the word…
He moved over to her side, extricating her gently from the children, to slide his arm around her waist. "I think they all approve," he told her dryly and she laughed, her eyes glowing up at him.
He smiled at her before pulling her closer to brush his lips against her temple, instead of her lips, mindful of their fascinated (and beaming) audience.
He drew back all too quickly, letting his arm fall from her waist. Much as he enjoyed having Maria in his arms, there were some things his children did not need to witness.
Instead, he turned to face Max, who had also stood up and now approached them, accepting Max's hand. "Well, Georg, congratulations although I cannot say I'm very surprised."
"Thank you, Max."
Max turned to Maria. "Fraulein, congratulations and," he added with a glance at Georg, "my condolences for having to deal with Georg here every day."
Maria laughed a little. "Thank you, Herr Detweiler," she said with only a hint of irony in her tone.
Gretl distracted him by slipping her hand into his and he looked down at her with a smile. "Does this mean Fraulein Maria will live with us forever?"
He bent and lifted Gretl into his arms so he could smile into her eyes. "Yes, Gretl, she'll never leave us again. Will you like that, darling?"
Gretl nodded enthusiastically and he laughed softly, kissing her cheek, before setting her down again.
He glanced around at his smiling children and thought, yes, we are going to be a very happy family. He remembered saying that when telling his children of his engagement to Elsa, as if saying the words aloud would make them come true, but he had not truly known it, had not truly felt it. Now, he did know—they were going to be happy. No, he corrected himself, they already were a happy family.
On an impulse, before he even realized he was going to speak the words, he found himself suggesting, "Now, how about we all go on a picnic today?" He wanted to spend the day with his family. He had to send a notice of his engagement to the newspaper and he needed to go into town to buy Maria's engagement ring, among other errands, but they would wait until later, until tomorrow. For one day, he thought, he wanted to think of nothing but his family, wanted to bask in this joy.
"Oh, yes!" He smiled at his children's eagerness, meeting Maria's eyes as she nodded ever so slightly, giving him a bright smile.
"Uncle Max, will you come with us?" Marta asked.
Max. He realized he had, momentarily, forgotten about Max's presence. And friend though Max was, on that one day, Georg did not want Max there.
He directed a pointed look at Max, who smirked just a little, before he answered Marta. "I'm sorry, Marta, but I have some business to take care of. You all will have to go without me today."
"Come along, children, so we can get ready for the picnic," Maria said, smilingly ushering the children ahead of her.
Liesl turned back from following Brigitta out the door. "Yes, Father?"
"I'd like a moment with you."
"Certainly, Father," she agreed.
He glanced at Max. "If you'll excuse us, Max."
Max waved his hand in a dismissive gesture. "Don't worry about me, Georg."
He guided Liesl out of the dining room and, after a moment's thought, into his study.
She gave him an inquiring look. "What is it, Father?"
He studied her for a moment—his daughter who had grown so much. For a fleeting moment, it was as if he could see her as the little girl she had been, the first child that had brought him and Agathe such joy by her arrival. He felt a wave of tenderness for her.
He had not planned out what to say and settled for saying, simply, "I have something I wanted to give you." He reached into his pocket, pulling out the folded handkerchief which he'd placed there that morning.
He put the handkerchief on his desk, unfolding it to reveal Agathe's rings on the simple gold chain. He lifted the chain with one careful hand to show it to Liesl.
Her eyes were fixed on the rings, her lips parted slightly. "Those are… those are Mother's rings," she murmured softly.
"Yes," he said gently. "Now, they are yours. I decided that you are old enough to have them."
Liesl blinked rapidly, as her eyes grew too bright and sparkling with sudden tears. "Oh, Father…"
"Here." He stepped forward to clasp the chain around her neck before stepping back to see her face.
She managed a somewhat tremulous smile as she reached up with one hand to touch the rings. "Thank you, Father."
He returned her smile, lifting one hand to brush her cheek with his knuckles in his usual gesture of affection. "My little Liesl," he murmured, and saw her smile soften at the endearment which he had used to call her when she'd been younger, Gretl's age, but had gradually stopped using.
"You haven't called me that in years," she said.
"Well, you are no longer very little, are you?" he smiled. "You've grown up so much in these past few years, are quite the young lady now." He paused and then found himself adding, almost involuntarily, "I only wish your mother could see the young lady you have become."
Liesl's hand lifted to touch the rings again. "I wish that too," she said, so softly he could hardly hear it.
The words reminded him that Liesl, of all his children, would remember Agathe best. "Liesl," he began again, rather abruptly.
"Do you—are you truly happy to know that I will be marrying again?" he asked, a little awkwardly. Even days ago, he would not have thought to ask the question but now, for the first time, he wondered if it would be difficult for Liesl to see someone replacing her mother.
She gave him a sweet, bright smile, a smile that made her look momentarily so much like Agathe that it caught at his heart. "We all love Fraulein Maria. If we had been able to choose anyone to be our new mother, we would have chosen her." She paused and then added, more seriously, "And I want you to be happy, Father."
His heart melted and he stepped forward to hug Liesl, this dear eldest daughter of his, kissing her forehead before he drew back. "I do not think I could be any happier or prouder than I am at this moment," he told her honestly before he added, more briskly, "Now, go and get ready for the picnic."
She gave him a last, bright smile before she left. "Yes, Father, thank you."
He watched her hurry upstairs before he went to tell Frau Schmidt that he and the children would not be home for lunch and ask for a picnic basket to be packed.
That done, he went upstairs to change into a less formal jacket and by the time he came downstairs, it was to find Maria and his children ready and waiting for him in the front hall. His gaze passed over them all, pausing as he noted that both Brigitta and Louisa were wearing the "play-clothes" which Maria had made for them, Louisa even wearing the matching handkerchief over her hair. A smile tugged at his lips and he gave in to it as he descended the stairs.
"Now, are we all ready?" he asked.
A chorus of "Yes, Father" greeted him while Maria smiled.
"Well, then, let us be off," he said and laughed as Kurt burst out with a "Hurrah!"
"Have a good day, children," Max said, his voice half-drowned out in the burst of chatter as his children left and it was left to Brigitta to glance back at Max with a happy grin.
"We will, Uncle Max. We will see you this evening."
He exchanged glances with Max before he left, following the children and Maria out into the sunshine. Once outside, he sucked in a deep breath of the crisp, clean air of the morning, feeling his heart lift, filling with joy. And for once, he resolved to push all unpleasant thoughts and his lingering worries over the Nazis and the fate of Austria out of his mind and simply enjoy this day.
The day was lovely and he found it amazingly easy to keep to his resolution. It would be almost impossible to feel gloom or worry when surrounded by his smiling children, he thought, and they were amazingly cheerful. He had never, he realized, seen them quite so relaxed, so carefree, and he knew it was because of Maria—Maria and, he suspected, because of their new knowledge that she would always be with them.
They piled onto the bus to take them into Salzburg and because there weren't enough seats left for all of them, he had Marta sit on his lap, while Gretl sat on Maria's lap. Friedrich and Kurt had to stand, holding on to the handle-bars provided for the purpose and they all laughed as the bus came to a halt and the boys collided with each other. It was entirely undignified, the bus seats uncomfortable, and the space cramped, all of which explained why he had never before been on the bus—and he had never enjoyed himself more.
He was almost sorry to reach the Untersburg but it was beautiful there too, the blue skies stretching above them and the green, unbroken carpet of grass stretching before them.
The children raced ahead, calling to each other and laughing, leaving him and Maria behind.
"Children, be careful," she called out as Marta almost stumbled but caught herself and ran on, chasing after Brigitta and Louisa.
He glanced at Maria, shaking his head with mock disappointment. "My children have grown quite wild lately."
She laughed. "Perhaps they have, but it is good for them, I think. After all, they will only be young once."
She made a gesture with a hand to where Liesl and Louisa were spreading out the picnic blanket and then shot him a distinctly mischievous glance. "Shall we race to the blanket, Captain?"
And the words were barely out of her mouth before she was off, leaving him to blink and stare—and then run after her.
He was not so unfit, he liked to think, but she did have the advantage of him and reached the picnic blanket a few seconds before he did. She almost fell onto the blanket, breathing hard and laughing, her hair wind-blown and her face flushed. And she looked so beautiful that she had a greater effect on his breathing than the run had.
Maria grinned at him as he discarded his jacket. "I won."
He met her eyes, trying to appear displeased and not burst out laughing. "You had an unfair advantage, taking me by surprise like that."
"There's no need to be a poor loser, Captain."
He lost the battle with his laughter and gave in to his amusement. "You, my dear, are a minx," he accused, his tone making the word an endearment, as he tapped her nose lightly with his finger, almost as he might do to Gretl or Marta, and then caught her hand in his, lifting it to his lips for a quick kiss.
He belatedly became aware that his children were watching them with a mixture of fascination and surprise when Kurt chimed in, saying, "It's all right, Father; Fraulein Maria beat me in a race too."
This statement produced a general burst of laughter that he joined, noting the slight flush that colored Maria's cheeks.
"Children," Maria spoke up, "go run and play while I set out our lunch."
"I'll help you," Liesl volunteered.
Maria thanked her with a quick smile and Georg was on the verge of volunteering as well, but Kurt interrupted him.
"Will you come play too, Father?"
"Oh, yes, do, Father," Friedrich chimed in and Georg could only agree, feeling happier and more honored at his sons' ready invitation to join them than he had felt on receiving his promotion to Captaincy so many years ago.
He stood up, following his sons as they ran off and then caught the ball that Friedrich lobbed at him, throwing it to Kurt next. And so the game was on.
He watched his sons, seeing the ruddy flush on their cheeks from exertion, hearing the exuberance in their young voices as they called and laughed. Kurt gave a triumphant crow as the ball went sailing past Georg's head so Georg had to chase it down before he could throw it to Friedrich, who leaped into the air and caught it easily with a boyish laugh.
Just as it had on their last picnic, the game ended abruptly—this time, with him being the one to make an undignified stumble as he made a fruitless leap into the air in an attempt to catch the ball as it went sailing past and found himself falling onto the grass with an impact that jarred his entire body, making him aware that he was not as young as he once was.
"Oh, Father!" Both Kurt and Friedrich came rushing up and he became aware of the sounds of other footsteps as some of his daughters also came running and he quickly pushed himself back to his feet, not even permitting himself a grimace.
"I'm quite all right," he assured his sons before he turned to face Louisa and Brigitta.
"Father, are you all right?" Louisa gasped out as she all but flung herself against him in a display of emotion that touched him beyond words.
He closed his arm around her in a brief, reassuring hug, kissing her forehead. "I am fine," he said firmly, and then added more lightly, "It is not very flattering that you all seem so convinced that your father is so frail. I am not quite in my dotage, you know."
Louisa gave him a relieved smile as he released her.
Brigitta dimpled up at him. "But you are so very old, Father!"
He laughed, chucking her lightly on the chin. "Just for that, you little minx, you can support your poor old father back to the blanket."
He put his arm around her shoulders, deliberately leaning his weight on her for a moment, until she said in laughing protest, "You know I can't carry you, Father!"
"Ah, but I can still carry you, and don't you forget it," he returned with mock sternness.
"Yes, sir," she said with exaggerated docility, that was spoiled by her smiling glance up at his face before she rested her glossy, black head against his shoulder for a moment.
"Food!" Kurt announced exuberantly as he fell onto the blanket, causing general laughter as Georg and Brigitta came up, followed by Friedrich.
Georg suddenly realized with an odd shock that his son was nearly as tall as he was now and would, no doubt, grow the few inches wanting within the next year or two. When had Friedrich grown so tall? He suddenly heard Maria's remembered voice telling him that Friedrich "wants to be a man like you but there's no one to show him how." He felt a pang of guilt; no, he had not done right by his sons. Kurt was still young enough, his disposition naturally sunny enough, that the last few years had not mattered over much, Georg thought. But Friedrich was a different matter; 14 was an awkward age for a boy, Georg recalled, not quite a child and yet not quite an adult either.
He blinked, pulled from his thoughts by the sound of Friedrich's boyish laugh as he tossed an apple to Louisa, and smiled a little at the sight, his guilt easing.
He would be a better father now, with Maria's help, and Friedrich was a good lad.
He relaxed onto the blanket as they all started eating the lunch of bread, cheese, weiner schnitzel, and apples, realizing belatedly, now that he was sitting down, just how tired he was—and how disheveled. He brushed off some grass from his trousers and he knew his shirt was stained. Just weeks ago, he would have been horrified at the undignified picture he must make—not at all befitting a Captain of the Navy—but now, he could only think that he had never been happier.
He glanced at Maria, only to be momentarily distracted by the curve of her throat as she drank some lemonade. He wanted to kiss the delicate hollow at the base of her neck and abruptly found himself wishing that his children were not there, that he and Maria were alone, so he could.
She must have sensed his gaze, her eyes meeting his, as sudden color flooded her face. Their eyes met and held—she really had the loveliest eyes he had ever seen, he thought rather vaguely—and for just a moment, the rest of the world faded from his consciousness until there was only him and her…
The sound of a swiftly-stifled giggle had her blinking and looking away and he returned to reality and a renewed awareness of where they were—and that they were surrounded by his children, who were not even making a pretense of not being fascinated by this interplay between him and Maria. He felt his cheeks heating and was amazed—he was blushing as if he were the youngest, most callow private!
Louisa's scolding protest snapped him out of his embarrassment as he turned to see that Kurt had reached out and taken not just one but three apples. He opened his mouth on a reproof at this apparent show of greed but before he could, Kurt protested defensively, "I'm not going to eat them; I just wanted to try to juggle them!"
"Try it, then," Brigitta challenged.
Kurt sat up straighter, taking a breath as he tossed the apples into the air, managing to catch one but dropping the other two, to a chorus of laughter. Kurt joined good-naturedly into the laughter before looking at Maria. "Fraulein Maria, can you show us how you did it again?"
He blinked, turning to stare at his fiancée. Maria could juggle?
Maria colored a little, not meeting his eyes, as she reached for the apples and, before his surprised gaze, actually did manage to juggle the apples before stopping with a victorious flourish. His children applauded and she smiled at them, inclining her head a little, before she looked over at him, her smile becoming tinged with a hint of self-consciousness.
She was adorable.
He reached for her hand, giving it a slight squeeze. "You have hidden talents, Fraulein."
Her smile brightened. "Thank you, Captain."
A brief silence fell that was broken by Brigitta, who suddenly leaned over to touch the chain around Liesl's neck. "Liesl, this is new. Where did you get it?"
Liesl glanced down, one hand lifting to finger Agathe's rings as they hung on the chain, before she glanced up at him and then back at Brigitta. "Father gave it to me this morning," she said quietly. "They're Mother's rings."
"Ooh," Brigitta sighed as Marta scrambled up to get a better look.
"Are they really Mother's?" Marta asked, her voice almost reverent, as she reached out to touch them.
"I remember them," Louisa said, very softly, and Georg glanced at her sharply. Louisa, of all his children, he knew, had taken Agathe's death the hardest. She was not, by nature, the most open or easily trusting and to lose her mother, who had been the single, most important person in her young life—and then to be relegated to the care of a series of less-than-affectionate governesses while her father retreated into a world of familiar but cold discipline—had made her even less inclined to be open to emotion. Of all his children, he was not sure he had ever heard Louisa speak about Agathe before. There was a wistfulness in her eyes, a look of unguarded, lingering grief flitting over her face.
He reached over to touch her cheek with his fingers in a light caress, so her gaze flashed up to meet his small, tender smile, a smile that she returned with one of her own, the slightest curve of her lips.
"But Fraulein Maria is going to be our mother now," Gretl piped up.
He felt Maria's quick glance and met her eyes for a moment before she reached over to draw Gretl into her embrace. "Yes, I am going to be your mother," she said quietly, looking at each of the children in turn. "But I won't be taking your first mother's place in your hearts; she must always have that. I want you to remember her and treasure your memories of her, as I'm sure that she is watching over you all from Heaven and loving you just as much as she did when she was here with you."
Georg had to look away, focusing his gaze on the Untersburg and the other mountains and the blue sky beyond, as he fought to regain control of his emotions. He didn't know when he had last been so moved. Moved and humbled at the depths and strength of Maria's love and understanding. He did not know what he had done to deserve such a blessing—to have found her when he had been so certain that he could never love another woman after Agathe—but at that moment, on Maria's mountain, he was suddenly certain that God was smiling down on him. And he was blessed.
The moment was abruptly broken by Kurt announcing, with the blithe obliviousness of a young boy, "I'm still hungry. Is there more food?"
Amid the general burst of laughter, Maria answered, "The apples are all that's left, Kurt. I'm afraid you ate the rest." She tossed him an apple that he caught with a quick grin of thanks.
"Really, Kurt, I do believe you will have eaten us out of house and home before your next birthday," Georg interjected, leaning over to teasingly pat Kurt's stomach.
Kurt ducked away. "Father, that's not true!" he protested.
"Oh no? What do you think, Marta?" Georg turned to his daughter who giggled.
"Kurt eats more than all of us girls do," she asserted.
"And I think for Kurt's sake we should start preparing to return home," Maria spoke briskly. "That way, we will be certain to return in time for dinner."
That magic word worked its spell as Kurt sat straight up. "Dinner!"
So it was on a general wave of laughter that Maria and the girls began to pack up their picnic materials while Friedrich retrieved their ball.
Georg stood up, shaking out his jacket before shrugging into it. He was aware he looked decidedly unkempt, was hardly fit to be seen in polite company. He glanced around at his daughters—at Liesl, who was quietly helping Gretl put her shoes back on, at Louisa, who was once again covering her hair with the handkerchief made out of the old drapes in the governess' bedroom. And he suddenly thought that he didn't care what polite company might think, would defy even the high sticklers of Salzburg society if any saw them on their return trip through the city. There would be, no doubt, some censorious gazes to see them so untidily dressed in public, hardly fitting for a Baron and his children. Well, let them be disapproving! There were more important things than propriety and they were happy in their somewhat disheveled state.
A memory flashed through his mind, his own words demanding, do you mean to tell me that my children have been roaming about Salzburg dressed up in nothing but some old drapes!
He glanced at Brigitta and Louisa, wearing those "old drapes," and had to laugh suddenly.
Brigitta looked up at him with a slight smile. "What is so funny, Father?"
He slipped his arm around her shoulder, dropping a light kiss on her glossy hair. "I was wondering what people would say if they knew that you and Louisa were dressed in curtains."
Brigitta laughed. "They make very nice play-clothes, Father."
"I can see that."
"Fraulein Maria must be very clever with needle and thread," Brigitta said, more soberly.
"Yes," Georg murmured, a smile tugging at his lips as another memory stirred, the pride with which Maria had once announced, "I can make my own clothes." Impertinence, he had thought at the time—but now, it was another facet of his Maria's character that he loved, her self-reliance and her spirit.
Brigitta turned to look at Maria. "Fraulein Maria?"
"Can you teach me how to make clothes like you did with these?" she asked, gesturing to her own outfit.
Maria smiled. "Of course, Brigitta. In fact, I believe I was just about your age when I first learned to make clothes."
"I'd like to learn too," Louisa spoke up, a thread of diffidence in her voice.
Maria's smile softened a little as she put her arm around Louisa. "And so you shall."
"Can I learn too?" Marta chimed in.
Maria laughed releasing Louisa to rest her hand lightly on Marta's head. "We can have a regular sewing class. That is," she added, glancing at Georg quickly, "if your father approves."
Brigitta looked up at him. "Can we, Father?"
He looked from Maria to his daughters. "Well, seeing as how you already know how to climb trees and row boats, sewing seems like the only thing left for you to learn," he said with mock solemnity. "In fact," he added, with a quickly-smothered smile, "perhaps the boys would like to learn too?"
"Not me!" Kurt yelped in prompt dismay.
Maria's eyes met his for a second and he stared as she gave him a quick, almost imperceptible wink before turning to Kurt, her face and voice both entirely serious. "Why, Kurt, now that your father has suggested it, I think I will require all of you children to learn such a useful skill."
Kurt turned to Georg, dismay written all over his face. "You won't make us learn how to sew, will you, Father?"
He kept a straight face only by dint of will. "Kurt, I always thought you seemed destined to become a seamstress."
The boy reacted to the tone quicker than he did the words, his jaw dropping slightly. "Fath—" he began hotly only to stop as Georg gave in to his laughter, laughter in which his daughters and Maria joined.
"Oh, Kurt! The look on your face!" Brigitta gasped out.
After a fleeting second, Kurt's boyish laugh rang out as he joined in with laughing heartily at himself.
Georg reached over to ruffle the boy's hair. He was a good lad, he thought approvingly. It was not always easy to laugh at oneself, especially at his age, but Kurt seemed to have no difficulty.
"Come. Let us go home," Georg finally said, glancing around at all his children.
"Come along, children," Maria chimed in. "Liesl, will you carry the basket?"
"I've got the picnic blanket," Louisa spoke up.
Maria flashed her a quick smile as she stepped in between Gretl and Marta, taking each of their hands in hers.
Liesl and Friedrich led the way, easily carrying the basket between them. Georg carried up the rear with Brigitta walking beside him. They really were a family already, he thought, his gaze passing over each of his children and Maria in turn.
At that moment, Maria lifted her head, her eyes meeting his. Her lips curved into a soft smile, one that he returned, his heart lifting.
Yes, they were a family now and nothing, he thought with a sudden swell of determination, would ever be allowed to keep them apart again. Come what may, they were a family and they would stay together.
~To be continued…~