In the dark parlor of their house, John Klessig sat on the dark green sofa and rubbed his back against its scratchy upholstery. His oldest sister, Mary, shifted Emma, one of their younger sisters, on her lap and squeezed his hand very hard. John sat up straight and then wiggled just a little more, bumping into Johanna.
“Eight-year-old boys should sit still,” Mary whispered.
Boys his age shouldn’t have to sit still on a sunny spring Friday when there’s no school, John thought.
Baby Ida waved her little arms as she lay in the basket nearby. John nudged it with his foot to make her rock.
Mary pinched his arm. John sighed and prepared to pinch her back when he spied his mother scowling at them.
John squirmed away from his bossy sister and stared out of the window. Little new leaves were just starting to sprout from the oak tree on this sunny day.
John stared at Mr. Jaehnig perched on Mama’s best guest chair. He had so much beard that it covered his whole stomach. Mama could scrub the pots with such a huge scratchy-looking thing.
“Most of our guests left the inn last summer after my husband died,” Mama said to Mr. Jaehnig. “The family staying here now is the Youngbauers. Mr. Youngbauer is building their new cabin.”
Mrs. Youngbauer did not smile very much and had a strange way of saying her words.
John liked to practice speaking German with the guests, for he’d been born here in America and spoke English at home. Fillmore had English school in the winter and German school in the summer when they could find a teacher. His friend Gottfried Goldammer spoke both English and German and sometimes teased John when he didn’t know a German word.
John slumped his shoulders again. The shiny buttons of his jacket jingled when they clanked together. This time Mary did not pinch him. She yawned. Emma sat still as a mouse on her lap. Johanna sat next to them, her dark blue eyes huge and round in her scared-looking face.
Mr. Jaehnig just sat there, silent. Wouldn’t he say anything? Papa would never have been so quiet. Even Mama had nothing to say. When the clock chimed three times Mr. Jaehnig put his hands on his knees and pushed himself up. “I take my leave now, Frau Klessig.”
At last! Now John could go outside and play. Mama got up, but turned around quickly with her finger out at John to tell him to stay put. She accompanied Mr. Jaehnig.
Mary and John tiptoed toward the door to listen.
“So, it is agreed, then, Frau Klessig?” Mr. Jaehnig said, his deep voice booming in the entry room with the chandelier and the staircase.
John peeked around the doorway. Mr. Jaehnig held his felt cap in his hands and turned the brim.
“Yes, Herr Jaehnig. It is agreed,” Mama answered. And she closed the door behind him.
Mary pulled John’s sleeve and he followed her quickly back to the sofa where she tucked Emma back onto her lap. He dove in place next to Johanna.