“It looks bigger now that all that junk’s gone,” said Rikki. “I suppose there will be room for the trundle-bed. You’d better put some of the spare curtains up at the side window. You don’t want anybody looking in. And I think I know where there are some extra blankets.”
“But nothing at the sky-light,” said Hani. “Because we’ll be able to look up at the stars then. It’s going to be so great.”
“I hope you two girls won’t catch cold sleeping out here,” said Rikki, frowning slightly.
“Oh, Rikki, you worry too much.” Hani put down her pile and gave her former nanny a hug. “Nobody’s going to catch cold. We’ve got feather beds, haven’t we? And that little stove is quite efficient. It’s going to be so cosy.”
“I don’t know,” said Rikki. “You do get some funny ideas. Wanting to sleep out here when you’ve got such a lovely room.”
“Yes, but it’ll be such an adventure,” replied Hani.
“If you say so,” replied Rikki, with a sniff. “Now, I’ll just go and get young Wilhelm to clear this lot up. Then he can go and get the trundle bed.”
“Nice cosy little den you’ve got here,” said Wilhelm a few minutes later, after he’d brought in the bed and she’d helped him to straighten it out. “You two’ll be set up just fine.” He pushed his wild blond curls from his forehead and wiped the sweat from his face.
“It’s great, isn’t it?” said Hani. She’d always liked Wilhelm. He always seemed more like an older brother than one her father’s workers. But now she just wanted him to go away, so she could get on with the room.
“Anything else I can do?” he asked.
“No, no, not at all, thank you,” replied Hani, gently stroking the curtains and blankets Rikki had sent down. Why wouldn’t he just go away? She couldn’t wait to get started making the garage room the cosiest of places.
Rikki had already swept the floors clean, done away with all the dust and polished the small window and sky-light until they shone. All there was left for Hani to do now was to make the room look pretty.
In no time, the bright yellow curtains framed the little window. On top of the normal bed-rolls she stretched out two red blankets. There were so many cushions she didn’t think she would be able to use them all, so she put three on each bed and dropped the rest on the floor.
This is really comfy, she thought. We can use the cushions as seats. It’s going to be so good.
But there was nothing more she could do now. It really was perfect.
The smell of cooked chicken coming from the kitchen was making her hungry. Fantastic!
Must be about half past twelve, she thought. And she’ll be here by two. I wonder whether Rikki has made some strudel. If not we could go to Kellerman’s on the way back from the station.
She really wasn’t sure whether she could bear to wait the extra hour and a half, but at least lunch might take her mind off it.
“Your mother says you’re to eat downstairs in the kitchen with me and Wilhelm,” said Rikki as Hani came out of the bathroom from washing her hands.
“Why?” asked Hani.
“She and your father have something to discuss,” replied Rikki.
“Do you know what?” asked Hani. Why didn’t they involve her in their discussions? She wasn’t a child anymore. Besides, she wanted to find out more about what was going on,because she knew it was something not so nice.
“Now take that frown off your face, young missy,” said Rikki, frowning herself. “You know your mother and father work really hard, and they don’t often have time to sit down and talk, let alone have a meal together.”
Hani sighed. “I suppose so,” she said. “Anyway, what are we having? It smells delicious.”
“Chicken casserole and dumplings,” answered Rikki.
“Now that sounds good,” said Wilhelm as he came through the back door.
“Yes, but not until you’ve washed that muck off your hands, it won’t be,” said Rikki.
“Look, I’m sorry if I was a bit impatient earlier,” said Hani. “Only, you know, I wanted to … well.”
“No problem,” replied Wilhelm. “I had work to do in the garden, anyway. Look.” He held up two muddy hands.
“Bathroom. Now!” hissed Rikki.
“Heil Rikki!” cried Wilhelm, raising his right arm stiffly out in front.
Hani shuddered. Rikki looked as if she was about to faint. Her face had gone quite white.
“Don’t you joke about that, young man,” she said quietly.
“No, sorry,” replied Wilhelm, darting out of the kitchen before Rikki could say anything else.
They ate in silence, all three of them looking down at their food. Hani felt strange. December was such a lovely time. The weather was just as it always was at this time of year – cold, but clean and fresh. Everything seemed so normal. Yet it wasn’t. There was something about to happen and Hani couldn’t be sure exactly what.
“That was great,” said Wilhelm as he wiped his plate clean with a slice of bread.
“Yes, there’s seconds,” said Rikki. “Though I don’t know how much longer we’ll be able to say that.”
Wilhelm looked at Hani and winked.
“She’s coming round,” he whispered. “She likes me really.”
Hani watched Rikki ladle more of the sauce on to Wilhelm’s plate. She would have loved some more herself but she didn’t have Wilhelm’s excuse. He’d been working in the garden all day. She’s done very little – unless you counted the prettying up of the garage room, although Wilhelm and Rikki had done all the heavy work. If she didn’t lose a bit of weight soon, she would get another lecture from her mother.
The doorbell rang.
“I’d better go and get that,” said Wilhelm. “They won’t want disturbing.”
Rikki sat very still, just staring into space. Hani didn’t know whether she should say anything.
“It was the telegram boy,” said Wilhelm ten minutes later. “A telegram for upstairs.”
“I don’t think it was anything too important,” said Wilhelm. “They didn’t look very worried when I gave it to them.”
“Ah, well, we’ll see,” said Rikki.
Hani hoped it wasn’t to do with Renate. Perhaps she was sick? That would be awful.
Oh, stop worrying, she told herself. It’s probably only something to do with one of their meetings. But the uncomfortable feeling would not go away. It was no good pretending things were all right. Things were just not all right at the moment.
She saw Rikki and Wilhelm exchange a look.
“What’s the matter?” she said. “Do you think there’s something wrong?”
They didn’t have time to answer before they heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Hani’s mother came in, holding the telegram in her hands.
“I’m sorry, darling,” she said. “Renate won’t be coming.” There were tears in Frau Gödde’s eyes.
Hani’s heart sank. “What is it?” she cried. “What’s the matter with her?”
“It’s ... it’s nothing too serious,” her mother stammered. “She’s perfectly safe. Just come on upstairs, will you? Vati and I need to talk to you.”
If it’s not too serious, why is she crying? thought Hani.
It seemed to take forever to walk up the stairs to the main lounge. Her mother didn’t look back once, and it reminded Hani a bit of being shown into the dentist by Herr Schröder’s assistant. She never looked at you nor did she ever smile. At least mother smiled occasionally, but obviously not today.
“Sit down, Hani,” said Herr Gödde. “We need to talk to you about Renate.”
“She’s not ill, is she?” cried Hani. “What does the telegram say?”
Her mother raised her eyebrows and mouthed something at Hani’s father. He nodded. Frau Gödde put her hand to her mouth and handed Hani the telegram.
Renate unable to come stop chicken pox stop
Hani felt the relief as a great stone being lifted from her chest as she read the telegram. Renate was ill, but it was nothing much. So she would be coming soon – when the spots had gone. She couldn’t very well go on a train all covered in spots.
“Well, she will come when she’s better, won’t she?”
Her parents didn’t answer. They just frowned. Why were they so bothered? It was just chicken pox, wasn’t it?
It was only later, when she was back in the garage room turning the telegram over in her hand and looking sadly at her cosy den, that she remembered. They’d both already had chicken pox. Here, when they were seven. You were only supposed to have chicken pox once.
Suddenly the winter had lost all its charm.