Note – I am so sorry. Even Hanschen's Postcard's offer of Iwan Rhoen signed sunglasses didn't force me to update. Still, life is slowing down now, so who knows? Welcome to the final (albeit short) chapter, and please enjoy!
Thea had decided that red was definitely a good colour on her. She smiled, and pouted, and smacked her lips together to make sure that it wouldn't smudge. She didn't have too much experience with lipsticks, admittedly, but the shade was rosy rather than crimson, so she didn't feel too uncomfortable. She stood in front of the full-length looking-glass in her mother's vanity room, and eyed herself from every angle critically. She'd added some kohl to around her eyes, and brushed out her hair – it looked lovely and curly now it was out of the tight braids her mother insisted she wore. She eyed herself up and down with a critical eye. Yes, the lighter blue dress was lovely, even if it was one of her Sunday best (after all, what Mama didn't know wouldn't hurt her), and she looked…nice. Almost beautiful in fact. Thea was so shocked that she was caught slightly off guard. She didn't know she could ever look this nice. Pity about the glasses, but ah well.
Quietly, and hoping that her Mama wouldn't hear her, Thea placed the lipstick back on it's rightful place on the dresser, and tiptoed out of the room and down the stairs. Quietly, she slipped on a pair of ballet pumps and slipped out the door, silent as a waif. She grinned to herself, and clutched tighter onto the slip of paper in her hand. Then she began to skip down the garden path and through the gate towards the vineyard.
"Is that her?"
"What? Who are you pointing at?"
"Her! Her, over by the stream"
"Anna, that's Bobby Mahler!"
"No! Really? He looks awfully feminine, doesn't he?"
"Well, yes but…Martha, please take your foot off my ankle"
"For God's sake…" Ilse grumbled, turning away from the hedge and sitting down heavily, ignoring the brown stain that the mud and foliage would later leave on her trousers. "It's almost five; where is she?"
"Maybe she got stopped on the way" Martha pondered, peeping through the hole in the hedge that she had enlarged with her fingers.
"More likely she's taking hours making herself look nice" Ilse muttered sarcastically. "As if that's the only thing men notice in young women nowadays"
"Oh, leave her alone" Anna sighed. "We all grew up far too fast. Let her be young"
Ilse was silenced. A breeze ruffled her hair and a crisp burnt leaf danced past her cheek.
"Look! Look, there – I think I see her!" Martha burst out suddenly, remaining as quiet as possible. Anna followed her gaze. "There. Just past the beech trees"
"Yes! That's her alright"
"Finally…" Ilse mumbled. She was ignored.
"Oh, Lord, she's got the blue dress out!"
"Really? I always thought the green suited her better"
"Either way she looks lovely. Poor thing"
"Are you sure we should be doing this?"
"We don't have a choice, Martha. It's done now"
Ilse scrambled to her knees, and looked through the hedge towards the oak: "And where on Earth is Hanschen? Ernst's been here for at least ten minutes" She cast towards Ernst, who was pleasantly reading a book, hunched up beneath the dappled sunlight. "If he doesn't come right now this all goes down the sink. Ridiculous…"
Thea's step and heartbeat quickened when she caught sight of the small boy hunched up below the trees. Her lips stretched and tautened in a small smile. He was waiting for her! How long had he been here, though? Did she look too eager? She smoothed down the front of her dress, and felt the letter in his hands in all its ink stained glory. This was it. Something was going to come of this, she knew. Something good, something really good finally coming from this village of sins.
Although, who was that coming up over the other side of the hill? She squinted and gazed up through the thick lens of her glasses as a figure came up just as she did, mirroring her movements. A tall figure, lean, with very blonde hair…
Oh dear Lord.
How dare Hanschen Rilow steal her moment?
She slowed as the fey boy approached Ernst. God damn him! Couldn't he see that they were about to begin an important moment? Apparently not, as Rilow said something, and then, the nerve, sat down beside the other boy. Her pace slowed, and she clenched her first in frustration. This was not a moment for friendly chats. Still, she and Ernst needed to be alone, so she'd just have to wait until he left.
"Good, good, they're sitting down!"
"Anna, we can see. You don't need to commentate on everything"
Anna sat back, put out. "I'm just anxious, Ilse"
"She's stopped moving" Martha muttered. "Should she have done that?"
Three pairs of eyes peeked out through the shrubbery. "I don't think so"
"Do you think she can still see them?"
"Well, we'd better hope so. God, we're taking such a risk with this as it is; why does she need to complicate it by not following the plan?"
"In all fairness, Ilse, she doesn't know what the plan is"
"What on Earth is Hanschen saying?" Martha squirmed.
"I don't know, but it looks like Ernst is enjoying it"
"I didn't need to see that on anybody, let alone them!"
"Did you two see Melchior's essay as well then?"
"No – after Wendla died Mama decided to tell us everything. I couldn't sleep for a week!" Anna shuddered.
"Oh, here we go. Good luck, Thea…"
Thea started to move again. Enough was enough. If Ernst wasn't going to tell his friend to shift, then she would have to do it. It looked as if Hanschen was planning to stay for a while. He had his arm around Ernst's shoulders, and their faces were drawing closer…
"There it is" Anna sighed, watching as Thea turned and fled back down the hill. "She's seen. It's over"
"Thank God for that" Ilse replied, stretching out lazily. "Maybe now she'll learn not to fall for people so easily"
"Will you back off?" Martha suddenly snapped, her face twitching into a reprimanding frown. Ilse looked stunned. "It's horrible enough that she has to go through all this without you taunting her for it behind her back all the time. What do you have against her, anyway? She has never done anything to you except help Wendla out when you vanished. Was that it? Were you jealous? Well, you can stop being childish and leave her be now, because Wendla is dead and it's over. Just because we grew up, it doesn't mean she has to, and you of all people, Ilse Neumann, you should know that"
There was a shocked silence. Ilse shot Martha a look of barely disguised contempt, and then stood up and sauntered off through the trees. Anna glanced at Martha, who was slightly flushed, her breathing erratic.
"Martha…" she said slowly.
"It's alright, Anna" Martha replied quickly, giving her friend a smile. "She needed to be told" she laughed shakily. "I should do that more often"
Anna giggled, and took her friend's hand, hauling her upright and itching a midge bite on her arm. "Come on. Let's go and sort this out"
The two girls walked quickly through the woods, pushing branches and foliage from their faces, heading towards where they knew their friend would be sitting. Sure enough, when they emerged from the woods to the field, there she was, sitting amongst the daisies. She was tugging them out of the ground and throwing them around her. Anna and Martha glanced at each other, and made their way over. Thea looked up at them as they approached. Her eyes were red.
"Hello, Thea. Oh! Are you alright?" Anna said, sitting down beside her friend. Martha was silent, but put her arms around the little girl's shoulders and drew her into a comforting hug.
Thea was quiet for a moment. Then she said: "I don't think I love Ernst Robel that much now"
Anna faked a shocked face. "Really? Why?"
Thea pondered her answer for a moment. Then she shook her head. She wouldn't tell them. This town…this town of sins and sinners. But were they? Maybe they were just human. It wasn't her place to tell. She wasn't a child anymore.
"Well, it's just…he's such an innocent"
Anna suppressed a laugh. Thea smiled gratefully at her friends.
"He's a little too innocent, isn't he? He just doesn't see things that are right in front of him. God knows where he'll end up. He'd make such a useless husband. I've decided that I need someone…stronger. More down-to-Earth. Someone who maybe wouldn't be too romantic, but I could sacrifice that for stability. Wouldn't that be just divine?"
Anna and Martha smiled at Thea.
"That would be nice, Thay" Anna said. Thea nodded and wiped at her eyes.
"It would, wouldn't it?" she said. Suddenly her eyes flickered and her nose crinkled as she caught sight of something over the river. "I need someone like him!"
Anna and Martha followed her point through the meadow and over the stream to where Otto Lammermier was walking with his mother. Anna caught Martha's eye and sighed.
"Oh, dear Lord…"