A/N: Thank you for the feedback! I was afraid no one would want to read this after I didn't update in forever, but you guys are wonderful. Here's the newest chapter!
Moritz woke up the next day to the sound of Melchior and his parents talking downstairs in raised voices. It was too faint to distinguish specific words, but the tone implied that Melchior was very upset. Eventually, Melchior's voice disappeared and was replaced by the sound of footsteps running up stairs. They stopped and Moritz heard his friend say, "I don't need your permission, father." The footsteps returned and Moritz collapsed back onto his pillow with his eyes shut just as Melchior thrust the door open.
Moritz couldn't see what was happening and the audio was just as vague. After an initial outburst of cursing and the noise of something hitting the wall, Melchior was silent for a long while. Footsteps, a whispered obscenity, and the groan of Melchior's bedsprings. In a minute or so, the bed creaked again as Melchior presumably stood up, and then a curious thing happened.
If Melchior hadn't made his presence known by placing something small on the table next to Moritz's bed, the hand that gently touched Moritz's hair would have caused the latter boy to jump in surprise and blow his cover entirely.
"Stay safe, Moritz," Melchior said quietly, and then came the sound of him gathering his books, followed by the quiet click of the door.
Moritz opened his eyes but didn't move immediately. Questions were racing through his head, mostly related to what the nature of the argument downstairs, and he didn't remember the thing Melchior had put on the table until he saw it.
It was a ring.
The girls were late that afternoon, and Moritz felt uncomfortable sitting by himself after about ten minutes had passed. It wasn't the sort of day that most people would be enjoying in solitude; the wind was stronger than usual and the sky was dark and grim in anticipation of a storm.
He became even more nervous when he saw two boys approaching. Immediately he wondered why they would be walking in this direction on a day like this. To his knowledge, none of his classmates had to pass through the vineyard to get home. That had been one of the reasons that they had decided to meet here. And the weather didn't encourage an outing either.
Standing up, Moritz squinted into the distance. He saw Martha, distinguishable by her height and dress, walking a short ways behind the two boys, the taller of whom waved his hand in the air and shouted, "Moritz!" in a voice that was too high to belong to any boy his age.
It was then that Moritz noticed the way the "boys" swung their hips when they walked, and that two neat braids were peaking out from the shorter one's cap.
"Anna?" he called back, his confusion fading and a sense of enlightenment coming over him. "Thea?"
The girls rushed over with more urgency and Moritz took in the bizarre scene. Anna was dressed in a uniform from the boys' school and it looked like Thea was wearing the uniform the boys had worn when they were younger. Both girls wore hats and Anna had tucked her hair unto hers.
"The clothes were my brother's," Anna explained with a stern determination in her eyes and the curve of her mouth. "We're disguised because we're going to Priapia."
"Priapia?" The word flew out of his mouth like he'd been scalded by it. "Why? Why are we going there?"
"We think Ilse might have some idea about what to do. About Wendla's child," Martha explained in her calming voice.
"She doesn't. I already talked to her about it!" Moritz said quickly, starting to stumble over his words. He wanted to see Ilse but would she want to see him? Their last conversation hadn't ended well and he was afraid of what she had decided about him during the time since then.
"Why would she have told you anything about it?" Thea asked, and Moritz felt like he'd been hit in the stomach. Anna whispered "Thea, please," under her breath, giving her friend a meaningful look, and the shorter girl exhaled uncomfortably before saying, "Sorry. I didn't… What I meant was that Ilse probably wouldn't have told you much about it because you're a boy and you're not really Wendla's friend. Besides, did you actually ask Ilse for help?"
"No," Moritz admitted, "and I suppose you're right about her being more willing to tell you three." He looked at Martha. "But what's the point of disguises if Martha isn't wearing one?"
The girls exchanged a look and in that brief moment, Moritz watched a thousand previous conversations unfold. Then, Martha looked at Moritz and softly said, "I've spent a few nights in Priapia before. They know me there."
No one spoke for a few seconds. Finally, Anna took Thea's hand and squeezed it. "Let's get going then. The sky looks like it'll break open at any moment and I don't want to get caught by the storm before we even get to talk to Ilse."
With that, the four of them started running and it almost felt like Moritz was with friends.
"I know I've always said that it would be better to be a boy, but these pants are really uncomfortable," Thea said as they crossed over the bridge to Priapia.
"I think that's more of the fact that they don't fit," Anna suggested with a smile, glancing behind them cautiously.
"We always hated those pants," Moritz remembered out loud. "Melchior once said that we should all come to school wearing skirts to protest."
Thea let out a gasp and suddenly seemed to be much more confident about the fact that she was crossdressing.
"It looks like Melchior Gabor isn't the only radical in town, Thea," Martha said with amusement. When Thea blushed dark pink at the comment, the amusement turned into a full blown laugh, a beautiful sound that Moritz realized he had never heard before, at least not since they were much younger.
"Martha," Anna said, recovering from her laughter to say something more important, "you know where Ilse lives, right?"
The tall girl looked around briefly. "I know where she was living, but that doesn't necessarily tell us where she is now."
"Well, we should be able to ask someone, right?" Anna asked.
"Maybe. Let's see what happens."
The dark sky betrayed the time of day. It easily could have been night if they were just considering how many people were outside. There was a man sitting against a tree with a canvas and some dirty oil paints. Moritz glanced at the painting and saw the messy impressionistic beginnings of the stormy sky.
"We could ask him," Thea said with a look at the others that clearly indicated that she had no intentions of asking him herself. Martha squinted at him, maybe trying to see if she knew him, and then walked over to him and began to speak while the other three waited anxiously at a distance.
The plein air artist gestured madly with his paintbrush to Martha, who nodded and pointed to a specific direction. The conversation ended as the man nodded finally and Martha returned to them.
"He said that Ilse has been staying with some poets in that house," she said, pointing ahead.
"Oh, Ilse!" Thea moaned. "What has she done with herself?"
Anna looked at Martha with sympathy and touched her hand lightly before nodding and starting towards the house. Martha began walking as well, leaving Thea and Moritz standing behind them. Moritz saw Thea's body surge forward and her mouth open to speak before a look of regret and defeat crossed her face, and then the girl raced to catch up with her friends. Moritz followed at the tail of the group.
Martha knocked on the door and a wave of anticipation went through the four of them as they waited for someone to answer it. At last, it opened a crack and a face appeared. "What do you want?"
"We're here to see Ilse," Anna said.
The face disappeared for a moment and Moritz heard Ilse's voice from somewhere inside the house. When the door opened fully, it wasn't the man at the door. Instead, Ilse stood there, wearing a bedsheet as a makeshift stola. Thea let out a little gasp but Moritz didn't bother to look at her. He couldn't tear his eyes away from Ilse, who was looking at him with an emotion he couldn't figure out. At last, she spoke.
"Well, are you going to come in or not?"
A/N: Yay, crossdressing! Also, I hope Thea's hypocrisy is more endearing than annoying, but I promise she will get better as the story progresses. She's just a bit off without Wendla. I always think that Martha and Anna are closer to each other and Thea and Wendla are likewise with each other. Not that they aren't all friends, but you get my point. Thanks for reading!