A Child's Christmas Wish(8)

By: Erica Vetsch

He shook his head, letting go of the banister to start toward his own room. A sound to his right made him pause. The muffled sound of a woman crying. It seeped under the door and into his chest.

The widow.

Helplessness wrapped around him, and his own grief, never far below the surface, rose up to engulf him. He shifted his weight and a floorboard creaked.

The crying stopped, and he walked down the hall, feeling guilty at intruding upon her sorrow. Grief was a private thing, and it must be wrestled one-on-one. He knew from experience. Well-meaning outsiders weren’t welcome.

He peeked into Liesl’s room one last time to make sure she was still under the covers. His daughter often slept like a windmill, throwing aside blankets and pillows and apt to be sideways in the bed before dawn. A sound sleeper, but an active one.

For once, her head lay on the pillow, the blankets tucked to her chin where he’d placed them upon their return to the farmhouse. Her journey out into the night air didn’t seem to have done her any harm. Of course, she’d been well wrapped up and had Rolf curled up beside her, sharing his warmth. The dog followed him into the room and flopped onto the rug beside her bed, his tail softly thumping the floor. Oscar smiled and smoothed Liesl’s nut-brown hair, his hand engulfing her little head. She looked just like her mother and chattered like a chickadee from dawn till dusk. He’d do just about anything for her.

He shut her door and entered his own room. The weak moon had long set, and faint starlight was the only illumination, but there wasn’t much to worry about knocking into in here. A single bed, washstand, and armoire, all made by him, were the only furnishings.

He eased his suspenders off his shoulders, loosening his shirt where it had been pinned by his braces. Letting the suspenders fall against his thighs, he poured water into his washbasin. Washing quickly, Oscar got ready for bed.

Once in bed, he couldn’t sleep. Stacking his hands under his head, he looked up at the ceiling and thought about the Amakers. He’d known Johann for years. They’d gone to school together, loaned one another horses and equipment when in need, been members of the same congregation, but they weren’t close friends. Oscar wasn’t particularly social, and since his wife’s death, he’d stayed to himself even more.

Still, it bothered him that Johann’s widow was crying down the hall, alone and grieving.

And pregnant.

Every time he thought about that, it was like a fist to his gut. He didn’t want to be responsible, even in a small way, for an expectant mother. Too much could go wrong. He’d have to find another place for the Amakers soon. Maybe even tomorrow. By tomorrow afternoon, he was sure a collection would’ve been taken up, and maybe they could rent a place in town until a new house could be built.

He rolled to his side and willed his eyes to shut and his mind to stop thinking about the woman across the hall.

It seemed he’d only been asleep for a minute when something patted his face. He squinted through his lashes, pretending to still be asleep as the light of a new dawn peeped through the window. Liesl stood beside his bed, her hair tousled, cheeks still flushed from sleep.

“Daddy, the sun is waking up.”

She said the same thing every morning. She’d always been an early riser, and he’d been forced to teach her that she couldn’t get out of her bed until the sun was up. So she waited, every morning, and at the first sign of dawn, she was in here urging him to get up and start his day. He lay still, eyes closed, playing the game.

“Da-a-a-dddyyy!” She patted his whiskers again. “You’re playing ‘possum.’”

He grinned, reached for her with a growl and grabbed her, wrapping a knitted afghan around her. “Brr, it’s too chilly to be standing there in your nightdress. Is it time to milk the chickens?” He rubbed his beard against her neck, careful not to scratch too hard.

She giggled and squirmed, kneeing him in the belly as she twisted in his grasp. “Silly Daddy, you don’t milk chickens.” Liesl took his face between her little hands, something she did when she wanted him to pay particular attention to her. “Daddy, I had a dream last night.”

Which was nothing new. Liesl was an imaginative child who had dreams, both night and daydreams, that were vivid in color and detail.

Also By Erica Vetsch

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