Maria sat in Dr. Hans Falk's office alone, wiggling her fingers to let out her impatience and nerves. She, along with her husband, had been to Hans's home many times as friends and guests, but she had never come as a patient. Georg was somewhere else in town, meeting a business friend from Vienna for supper, which gave Maria the perfect opportunity to schedule this appointment without his knowledge. She did not want to tell him anything until she had a definite answer.

Finally, Hans came back into the office carrying a chart with a smile. It widened as he closed the door and saw the nervous and impatient Maria sitting before his empty desk. "Are you sure you want to do this without Georg here, Maria?"

"Yes," said Maria right away. "I don't have any other symptoms and I don't want to get both of our hopes up for nothing, in case it is nothing."

Hans's smile widened even further, full of warmth, as he sat down at his desk and folded his hands in front of him. "Well, Maria, you'll be happy to know that it is not nothing and you will bring some very good news home to him. You're six weeks along."

Maria's mouth opened in a silent gasp as her eyes filled with a thousand emotions. Thankfully, she settled on pure awe and the beginnings of joy. "Oh, my…you're sure? Like I said, I don't feel any of the symptoms of pregnancy that I've heard about: morning sickness, strange cravings, more emotional…"

Hans chuckled. "Symptoms always vary depending on each pregnancy, Maria. You were right to suspect when you only had one missed cycle and one late, now missed, to go on. And besides, you may experience those symptoms later as the pregnancy progresses; you're still in the early stages. And perhaps you have experienced pregnancy symptoms without even knowing it."

Maria's wide eyes narrowed slightly in confusion. "Like what?"

Now Hans leaned back in his chair, a bit uncomfortable topic-wise beneath the calm doctor he was. "Well, you may feel more sensitivity in certain areas of the body, and your…how shall I put it…you may have strong cravings of a different kind than food?"

Maria's face turned the color of a ripe tomato as she realized what Hans was trying to say. She had an overwhelming urge to crawl under the sofa and die, not only because of what Hans was describing, but because she had indeed been experiencing those symptoms in the past few weeks.

Hans smiled sympathetically in understanding. "Don't worry, Maria, this is completely natural."

Maria allowed herself to feel reassured and tried to move on to a different topic. "Well…what happens now? I mean, are there certain routines I should follow, certain foods I should avoid?"

"Ah, yes," said Hans, pulling out a small notepad from his jacket pocket and began to write. "I am going to write you a prescription for prenatal vitamins, which I will tell you how and when to take. I'll also make a list of certain foods you should avoid altogether or limit your intake of. But the lists aren't long; the main priority is to remember that you are eating for two people."

Maria nodded, exhaling in quiet excitement. But then one question came to mind which made her blush, but she had to know. "And…what about…um…"

Thankfully, Hans saved her from stuttering more words. "Marital relations will not do any harm to the baby, only keep in mind that the bigger the baby gets, the more gentle it has to be." And then Hans immediately went back to the safer topics of vitamins and dieting, saving Maria the trouble of jumping into the lake of embarrassment.

The whole cab ride home, she didn't know whether to sing with joy or shake with nerves. More than anything, she felt overwhelmed by all of the emotions coursing through her being.

A child…I'm with child!

Maria smiled with such joy she thought her face might break, pressing her hands to her still-flat stomach. She chose to save her nerves and fears at another time, preferably for after she had told her husband and he would be there to help her.

Oh, I can't wait to tell him! Three weeks into their honeymoon two months ago, Maria had gotten her period which put their 'marital relations' on hold for a few days. Maria had been so nervous he would be annoyed with her, but his reaction was the opposite of what she feared. He was completely understanding and sweet, and Maria realized she should not have been so surprised, since he had been married before.

During that period, the two of them had discussed the possibility of more children. Georg had said he could think of nothing better than having children with her, the ultimate proof of their love for each other. Maria felt the same way, despite the underlying nerves and fears she knew she would have if she did become pregnant.

What if it's too soon? We haven't even been married three months! This was a disconcerting thought, but it didn't worry Maria too much, remembering Georg's reaction to her question about the possibility of more children.

Stop worrying, Maria. He will be as happy as you are now.

With that thought in her mind, Maria got out of the cab once it stopped before the villa, wrapping her jacket tighter around her in protection from the chilly November air. Either than that, she barely noticed it; she felt too much inside to feel that much outside.

Georg would not be back until late, so Maria put the children to bed by herself. Her last stop, as always, was the large bedroom of the three oldest girls. As usual, Brigitta was already in bed, curled up with a book. Louisa sat on her bed with the hairbrush ready and waiting for Maria. Liesl sat at their bedroom window, looking out into the night with a faraway, pensive, almost solemn expression.

As Maria sat behind Louisa and began brushing her braids out – a nightly tradition that had started months ago, once Maria had gained Louisa's trust – Maria gently spoke to Liesl. "What's on your mind, Liesl?"

"Tomorrow is going to be a hard day," said Liesl with a melancholy sigh.

Maria looked at Liesl with concern. "Why do you say that, Liesl?"

All three young women turned their heads to look with incredulous surprise at Maria. "What?" asked Maria, putting the brush down, disconcerted by the identical looks the girls were giving her.

"Father didn't tell you?" asked Brigitta, her eyes wide with shock.

"Tell me what?" asked Maria, who was beginning to get worried that she had missed something.

Liesl sighed. "Our mother died four years ago tomorrow."

Maria's eyes widened and she gasped. "Oh…my dears, I really didn't know, I'm sorry."

"It's all right," said Liesl, walking up to Maria. "I just can't believe Father didn't tell you."

"Neither can I," murmured Maria, shaking her head. Not wanting to fall into brooding until she was alone, Maria turned to the girls and asked, "Well, are there any traditions or things you do to remember your mother? I know you have school tomorrow, but still –"

"We usually take flowers to her grave," said Louisa, her voice becoming almost cold. "I don't know what Father will want to do, though, because we always did it by ourselves before…I don't even know if he'll want to be with us or by himself, like he used to…"

Maria sighed, wishing she had an answer to give the young women, but she had none. "Well, we'll all find out tomorrow, I suppose." The four females then fell into somewhat troubled silence. Maria finished brushing Louisa's hair, and hugged each girl before they got into bed.

When all three were settled, Maria paused in the doorway to look at them all. "You know I'm here for all of you, if ever you need anything tomorrow, right?"

They all smiled at her. "We know, Mother," said Brigitta. "Good night."

"Good night, darlings," said Maria after Liesl and Louisa had said the same. But when she closed the door softly behind her, the small smile she had been wearing disappeared from her face.

All of the joy that she had felt upon learning she was pregnant had fled her system by now, and she was no longer feeling excited for Georg's return. Why didn't he tell me? Can I even tell him tonight or tomorrow, due to the circumstances?

The only thing that she could take comfort in was in the word the three girls still called her: "Mother." Maria had never taken that title for granted, ever since Marta was the first to call her that on her wedding day nearly three months ago. And to be called that by the children at this time Maria took as a very precious gift. She felt unbelievable relief that the children were not distancing themselves from her on this day, and were not looking at her or treating her any differently or with less love.

As Maria silently and slowly made her way to what she knew would be her empty bedroom, she was now scared to find out if the same could be said for her husband when he came home...She put her hands to her six-week pregnant belly and closed her eyes in a prayer..

Oh, Mutti, stay with me through this...