Disclaimer: I own none of the characters in this work of fiction and receive no profits from this story.
"Do they have candy in America, Mother?" Gretl wondered as Maria guided a hairbrush through the girl's loose blond curls.
"Certainly they do, Gretl. Do you really think I'd take you to a country where they don't have chocolate? What must you think of me," Maria mused playfully, tickling her daughter's side before tying a bow in her hair. Brigitta was already curled up in her corner of the berth, her eyes straining in the dim light to read the pages of her book, and Marta was waiting patiently for her turn with the hairbrush. Louisa and Liesel were in the berth above them, and Maria could hear the low hum of their whispers as they shared the secrets that only sisters can enjoy.
"Do I have to go to school in America?" Marta wondered. The children had made a game out of guessing about their new home, and Georg and Maria indulged them with relish. Life had been challenging since their sudden departure from Austria. They'd spent only a few days in Switzerland before deciding to proceed to America. Maria worried that the change would be too great for the children to bear, but they only seemed excited about the possibilities that waited across the Atlantic.
"Of course you have to go to school, darling, but you like school."
"That's why I wanted to know!" the girl giggled. Maria brushed Marta's hair quickly before plaiting it in braids, and finally she rose to her feet and waited for the girls to scramble under the covers of their bunk.
"When will we be there, Mother?" Gretl asked, peering over her sister to look out the small porthole in their berth. She pressed her fingers against the glass, but she could see nothing but the open darkness of the Atlantic.
"Oh, it will take some time. You heard your father this afternoon. We have lots of ground to cover before we reach New York."
"Lots of water, you mean," Gretl replied.
Her mother laughed and said, "Yes, lots of water. Now come along, girls, it's time for bed. It's been a long day, and you'll want to be rested if we're to go exploring tomorrow." The family had boarded the ship in the late afternoon, and in the bustle of checking tickets, validating visas, and settling into their small pair of rooms, there had been little time to venture around the ship. There were only about one hundred passengers on the boat, so it was a ship of some size, but Georg assured them that it was hardly the largest liner on the sea. Nonetheless, the children looked forward to exploring the ship after they had a good night's rest; Georg even promised to arrange a meeting with the captain.
Maria kissed the girls goodnight and shut out the light before peering in on her older daughters in the top berth. Liesl was sitting up in bed, hugging her knees as she peered out at the sea, and Louisa was curled on her side, her head on her hand as she talked with her sister.
"And what are you girls up to?" Maria wondered.
"Just talking, Mother," Liesl smiled.
"Talking about how wonderful it is to be sitting for a while," Louisa sighed dramatically. Maria laughed and leaned onto the mattress.
"And only a few months ago you told me you wanted to go into the mountains every day."
"Into the mountains, Mother. Not over and across them!" Louisa exclaimed, drawing a chuckle from her mother and sister. "I don't know if I've ever been so tired."
Though they'd had a few days of rest in Switzerland, the strain of the escape had certainly taken its toll on the children. Marta sprained her ankle on the third day of their journey, but she bravely tried to carry on by foot despite her injury. The result was a slow recovery period and a tender ankle for the better part of the week that they were in Switzerland, but a doctor assured her that it would mend with rest. They had all endured a few bumps and bruises in the journey, and Maria certainly understood Louisa's relief to finally be in only one place.
Liesl continued to gaze out the window, and Maria wondered about the destinations to which her mind was traveling. The girl had been guarded in the early days of their journey, and both Georg and Maria suspected that the shock of Rolf's betrayal was bearing on her conscience. She'd taken Liesl aside and reminded her that she was happy to listen whenever she wanted to talk, but thus far the girl was content with her thoughts.
"Do we really have to go to bed now?" Liesl wondered, and Maria was suddenly struck by the silliness of giving a sixteen year old girl a bedtime. The young woman had discovered love, war, music, and fear in the slim scope of a month's time. Surely she could stay up until ten o'clock.
"Only if you promise that you won't stay up too late?" Maria answered, brushing a lock of Louisa's hair behind her ear as the girl stifled a yawn. She knew that the little ones needed their sleep, but she trusted her older daughters to chase the moon a little longer.
"Of course. I can barely keep my eyes open as it is," Liesl smiled. "Are you going to tell Father that we're staying up?"
"He's probably already asleep himself," Maria mused.
"And what about the boys? Do they get to stay up later, too?"
Maria grinned; even in the depths of exhaustion, Lousia could not resist the opportunity to win a competition.
"You'll be very pleased to know that they fell asleep long ago," her mother replied, glancing over her shoulder to the berths on the opposing wall. The curtains were drawn on each of the beds, but Kurt's foot poked out from beneath his drape to touch the floor. The distant sound of Friedrich's snoring filled the room, causing the three women to laugh quietly amongst themselves.
"I'm going to close this curtain. Just promise me you'll get some rest soon?"
Louisa and Liesl nodded together, but Maria could see the weariness in their eyes. She knew they'd barely last an hour. She kissed their cheeks and drew the drapes closed before turning to the door of the small cabin. The curtains of each berth were shut tight, and the sweet music of the children's breathing filled the room as starlight twinkled beyond the porthole. Maria lingered for a moment, happy like her daughters to be standing still. The rhythm of the sea moved beneath them, and she smiled when she realized that the sea was finally rocking the von Trapp children to sleep.
She left the room quietly and pushed her hands into the pockets of her overcoat. The nights had been cool in Switzerland, but they were icy on the sea in the black of night. She walked through the corridor and climbed the stairs to the deck. She soon realized that the chilly night air had chased most of the passengers into their beds. Only a few lone figures remained on the deck, and one was leaning against the railing with his head bowed beneath a moonless sky.
"Do they have mountains in America?"
Her question caught his attention, and she smiled as her husband turned to face her. He chuckled and nodded his head, the soft timbre of his laughter harmonizing with the rhythm of the sea.
"Some of the loveliest mountains in the world," he replied.
"And guitars? Do they have guitars in America?" She stepped closer and listened as her boots echoed on the wooden planks, but the sound was swallowed by wind that swept around them.
He nodded again, standing taller and watching as she stepped ever closer.
"Will the boy at the market still call me Baroness in America?"
"Likely not," he answered, brushing a lock of her hair behind her ear and drawing her into his arms. She reveled in the refuge of his warm embrace and felt the curve of his smile against her cheek.
"Good," she said, wrapping her arms around him. "I never pictured myself as a baroness. Something about French coiffures and manicured fingernails seems disingenuous." She touched her hand to his cheek. "You're cold. How long have you been out here?"
"Not long enough. Are the children asleep?"
"Out like light bulbs," she replied, pressing her hands to the railing and looking out over the water. It was a moonless night, but the dim lights from the ship cast a glittering reflection on the sea. "I wonder how many other ships are out there tonight."
"A countless number, I suppose," Georg answered, slipping his arm around her waist. He pressed a soft kiss to the curve of her neck. Maria closed her eyes and heard only the whisper of the water against the boat. She enjoyed his touch and the comfort of his presence behind her. The cool wind kissed away the familiar flush of embarrassment that usually accompanied these public displays of affection, and she relished the warmth of his touch as they looked out at the water together.
"Beautiful, isn't it?"
"I can't really see it, but yes, I'd imagine so," she mused, glancing back to admire his profile in the feint light.
"Well, it's the ocean, darling. It's more about what you feel than what you see."
She considered the notion, and after only two or three turns of her thoughts, she remembered her wedding night. She'd been nervous when she stood before him, wearing a robe that was cinched too tightly around her waist, but she found her confidence in the darkness. She remembered the music of their breath and laughter, the way his lips tripped over her skin and the texture of his cheek against her breast. The room was dark when they reached for each other, but she could see him with her hands, lips, and fingers. She felt him everywhere, and despite the darkness, she knew that he was beautiful.
"What are you thinking of?" her husband wondered, stirring her from her thoughts and feeling her start in surprise.
"Oh, nothing," she lied, grateful that he could not see the blush on her cheeks that betrayed her true thoughts. Her answer seemed to satisfy him, and they stood together a few moments longer, looking out at the darkness and wondering what lay beyond the horizon. The silence was comforting at first, but she felt his hold on her tighten. She knew that something was troubling him.
"I believe the Americans would say, 'A penny for your thoughts?'" she asked, turning in his embrace so she could see his face. The railing pressed into the small of her back, but she brought her hands to his chest, fingering one of the brass buttons on his shirt with a gentle smile. "Please tell me what's troubling you, Georg."
He smiled to reassure her, but it did not reach his eyes. Finally, he sighed. "How is it possible for the right thing to feel so wrong?"
"What do you mean?"
"Leaving Austria, leaving everything behind. I know it's the right thing to do, and I trust it, but it's a victory that feels like defeat."
"It's not," she answered firmly.
"It is, my love, I'm sure of it, only it's a vintage of defeat that I have never tasted."
She considered his words and all that they'd left in their wake. Their home and possessions were boarded up, waiting to be ransacked by their enemies who would want to know where the family had fled. The notion of Nazis in their home was chilling, and Maria shut her eyes to the very thought.
"We can go back someday, can't we? Surely these…people can't stay in power forever?"
"Someday," he nodded. "Only it will be a return to an Austria that neither of us will recognize."
She bit her lip and glanced around the deck. Her breath lingered near her lips. It was getting colder.
In the short weeks of their marriage, she'd learned the language of his body, the science of his moods, and the alchemy of his kisses. He assured her that she could ask him anything she wanted to know, and he promised her truthful answers. She'd been wary at first, new to the luxury of owning someone's heart, but finally she asked him about Agathe. They were eating lunch on the veranda of their suite in Paris, and she simply asked about the children's mother.
"What would you like to know?" he'd asked, setting down his coffee and looking at her with interest. She was surprised that there was no defense or hesitation in his voice. Indeed, his tone reminded her of the gentleman in the dress shop who'd offered to show her the latest selection of ladies' overcoats.
Emboldened by his tone, she simply replied, "Everything."
And so they sat in the sunshine as Georg von Trapp regaled his bride with a love story. He described meeting Agathe at a ball in London and told her about their hurried courtship before the Great War. Maria listened with careful attention, laughing and smiling along with him as he told the story, and she delighted when he detailed the addition of each child to their growing family. With her cheek in her hand, she listened to the delicate retelling of his greatest heartbreak, and she reached for his hand when the story reached its inevitable conclusion.
There were tears in her eyes that day, and the sun was falling behind the hills when Georg finally kissed her palm and offered her his thanks.
"For what?" she wondered.
"For listening. For everything."
They'd talked about Agathe from time to time in the weeks that followed, but she suddenly realized that she had not stopped to think of all that he was leaving behind in their hurried departure from Austria. She was leaving her friends at the Abbey and a collection of unpleasant childhood memories. He was leaving behind the final reminders of his life with Agathe.
She covered his hand with her own, and he drew it to his lips, pressing a kiss to her fingers.
"Do you want to go inside?" he whispered.
"No, not yet. Georg, are you alright?"
"Of course, darling," he smiled, but he quickly determined that she did not believe him.
"You know that you're allowed to miss her. I understand what you had to leave behind in Austria," she confessed shyly.
"I think so. You loved her, and she's a part of you, just as she's a part of the children, and therefore, in some way I can barely explain, a part of me." She watched him consider her words, but she touched his cheek to hold his attention. "And you're not alone. The children miss her, too, and they understand what this all means. Louisa and Brigitta insisted on packing a miniature portrait of her," she said, smiling at the memory of her daughters' thoughtfulness. "Liesl even brought some of her mother's hair ribbons."
"It seems she pocketed them a long time when you weren't looking."
"A great many things happened while I wasn't looking," he sighed bitterly. She bit her lip but held his hand, urging him quietly to abandon the ghost of his grief.
"I only want you to know how terribly sorry I am that all of this is happening to you. I'm ashamed that I didn't think of what it all meant until now."
He brushed his fingers along the slope of her neck. "It isn't for you to apologize, my love, and I can't bear to think of you answering for the faults of the Nazi party."
"I know, but-"
"I understand what you mean, and I'm grateful," he said warmly. "And you're right. I will miss her, but I have her in my heart, and I am comforted that I have the love of my children." He drew her closer and placed a tender kiss on her brow. "I have you, too, my love, so one could hardly say that I'm leaving our homeland empty-handed."
She ignored his attempt at humor and stubbornly pressed the point. "Then what's bothering you? There's something, I know it."
He sighed and stepped away from her, gazing again at the black expanse of the horizon."It's not just the fact that we've left Austria," he explained. "It's the fact that there is no certainty to our futures now." He laughed humorlessly. "I don't even know what we'll do when we reach New York. I've only been there once."
"The Navy. We had some appalling fried food and saw a show before returning to the ship. That's the scope of my memory of the place, and that's where I've chosen to bring my wife and children during a war," he lamented, leaning against the railing with his head in his hands, but Maria rewarded him with her laughter.
"Darling, I'm sure there's more to it than fried food and shows. It could be the perfect place for a new beginning."
He nodded, considering her words, and finally he asked, "Do they have schnitzel in America?"
She grinned and rested her chin on his shoulder, pressing a kiss to his cheek as she answered, "If they don't, we'll show them how to make it."
Georg considered her reply before curling his arm around her waist. "And dancing? Will there be dancing in America?"
"Oh, most certainly," she said, slipping her hand into his. She smiled when he began to hum a nameless tune in her ear and allowed him to carry her away in the warmth of his embrace. They swayed silently and slowly, and she reveled in the soft whisper of his breath against her cheek. She tried to imagine a life without him, a world where she could pass him on the street without knowing the wonders of his love. The mere thought gave her a chill, but her husband gathered her closer to him and brushed his lips over the arc of her jaw. It was an intimate gesture, and she was grateful again for the simple fact of him, for the force of his love and the grace of his goodness.
He finally ventured her name in the darkness. She murmured softly in response, not lifting her head from his shoulder.
"Will you love me in America?" he wondered, whispering the question against her skin and smiling at the way she shivered in his arms.
"Always," she answered firmly, kissing him tenderly and holding his hand over her heart.
She felt his hand on her shoulder. It drifted slowly down the curve of her waist to touch her hip. This was a silent question, but she understood its meaning. Without a word, she nodded and clasped his hand, following him across the deck and down to the quiet comfort of their cabin. She knew that there were more questions to ask and more problems to face, but like Louisa, Maria was too happy to finally be in one place to worry about uncertainties.
Georg shut their door quietly for fear of waking the children across the hall, but then he kissed her with an eagerness that she'd missed on their arduous journey across the mountains. She welcomed his affections and kissed him with equal passion. She was drunk on the sound of her name mixing with his kisses and humbled by the soft words of love that poured from his lips. She realized how much she'd missed him, how much she loved him, and how much she trusted him.
They lost themselves in the darkness, and later, with her head on his chest, he stroked her hair and asked her if she minded terribly their departure from Austria.
"I know you never cared about a title, but it won't be easy in the beginning," he said cautiously.
"Of the people in this bed, who has worn a garment that the poor actually refused from charity?"
He chuckled and brushed his fingers along the smooth slope of her shoulder. "Nonetheless, it won't be easy."
"I don't expect it to be. None of us do," she replied, sitting up on her elbow to look down at him.
"And yet you're oddly calm about it," he observed.
"Will you be there?" she asked plainly.
"Then home is in America," she shrugged, smiling brightly, "and that's where I belong."
Thanks for reading! I have an epic paper due tomorrow, and I've spent the better part of a week tinkering with this little story at night after draining the life out of myself in the library during the day. It was fun to write, and it continues to be a pleasure to read the other great content on this site. Hope you enjoyed! –C.