Review of Indian Paintbrush (Carson Chronicles #3) by John A. Heldt

My reviews for the first two book in the series:
Review of River Rising (Carson Chronicles Book 1) by John A. Heldt
Review of The Memory Tree (Carson Chronicles Book 2) by John A. Heldt

indianpaintbrushDescription: Arizona, December 1943. After surviving perilous six-month journeys to 1889 and 1918, the Carsons, five siblings from the present day, seek a respite in their home state. While Adam and Greg settle down with their Progressive Era brides, Natalie and Caitlin start romances with wartime aviators and Cody befriends a Japanese family in an internment camp. The time travelers regroup, bury old ghosts, and continue their search for their missing parents. Then old problems return, new ones emerge, and a peaceful hiatus becomes a race for survival. In INDIAN PAINTBRUSH, the sequel to RIVER RISING and THE MEMORY TREE, seven young adults find love and adventure as they navigate the home front during the height of World War II.

 

Having read and reviewed John Heldt’s previous two books in the Carson Chronicles series, I was looking forward to reading this one for a couple of reasons. One, I very much enjoyed the first two books, and two, I love reading stories that take place during World War II.

The Carson siblings embark on their third time-travel journey in Indian Paintbrush while they continue their search for their time-traveling parents, Tim and Caroline. In the first two books, they traveled to 1889 and 1918, following an itinerary left behind by their father, which was to be used to find the parents in case something happened to them. While the Carson siblings have almost crossed paths with their parents, they haven’t yet been successful in finding them.

The search for the elder Carsons is just the setup, however. Much of the meat of the story revolves around the time period. Heldt doesn’t disappoint with rich historic detail about what life was like during World War II. Cody Carson, the youngest brother, is a medical supply driver, and one of his stops is a Japanese-American internment camp (Gila River Relocation Center). Another example of the time period is the aircraft-training facility, Thunderbird Field, where three of the Carson siblings find employment, and the sisters, Natalie and Caitlin, date airmen. These were real locations in Arizona. I particularly enjoyed the meeting of celebrities Bob Hope, Rita Hayworth, and Orson Welles at a nightclub table and the dancing to Big Band music and the Glenn Miller Orchestra.

Not only does Heldt have a firm handle on writing historical fiction, but his characters are deep, invigorating, and realistic. The interactions between the siblings and their in-laws (Adam and Greg, the two oldest brothers, are married to women they met in 1889 and 1918) are portrayed with believable dialogue, some humor, and just the right amount of emotion.

The Carsons don’t go looking for trouble, but it seems that trouble is determined to follow them no matter what era they’re visiting. They endured a flood in 1889 and forest fires in 1918, and now, with the war going on, national security is high. The draft is in full force, and there are three Carson brothers who are the right age to serve their country. Also, in a time where knowledge of future events could be especially dangerous if spilled, the Carsons must be careful who they trust.

One of my favorite parts of the story involved the romances between Natalie Carson and airman Nick Mays and the romance between Caitlin Carson and Casey McCoy. Natalie, the older sister who has had a bad or tragic past with boyfriends, falls in love with a 30-year-old airman who is training pilots in the States. Nick is a man who is troubled by the loss of his wife at Pearl Harbor to the Japanese and wishes to enlist to get his revenge. Casey is a cadet who is in training to fly for the Army Air Force and hopes to serve, which would mean leaving Caitlin stateside. He’s got Southern charm and is Caitlin’s first true boyfriend. Both sisters fall deeply in love with these men, and the men return the affections. The task of telling their men about the future and asking them to come with them and give up everything they’ve ever known mounts as the story unfolds.

While Cody is helping at the internment camp, he befriends young, beautiful Naoko Watanabe. When he finds out her mother is dying from ovarian cancer and knows that she could be treated in 2017, the conflict of bringing a whole family to the future surfaces.

As the story unfolds, the stakes get higher. We meet some old friends from the first two books, which is a real delight, but more than anything, the way Heldt handles the reader’s investment in the characters is a balancing act of precision. I stand in awe at his ability to grip my emotions. I cried my eyes out at times. I was wooed and swayed in the sweet and steamy romance scenes. I was on the edge of my seat during a chase down. I didn’t want the story to end because I was a part of it and loved being there with the Carsons, yet I needed to know what happens next.

I’m happy to know there are at least two more books to look forward to in the series, so I don’t have to say goodbye to this family yet.

A big 5 out of 5 stars!

Purchase Indian Paintbrush on Amazon

Excerpt from Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful (Chapter 3)

While the summer of 1918 was rough because of one childhood illness after another, Hannah enjoyed the last two weeks outside before school resumed.  Ma had a piano in the living room, which she seldom played, but Hannah began taking lessons on it. The busyness of raising a family afforded her little time to devote to hobbies.  

Soon enough, the dexterity with which Hannah’s nimble fingers moved over the keys felt as natural as breathing.  She was a fast learner, and making magic with music was quickly becoming her favorite hobby. Notes printed on a piece of paper creating a song never failed to awe and inspire the young girl.  Ma often hummed along to the familiar tunes her daughter played as she dried dishes every evening.

By Christmas, the First World War ended.  The children had decorated the pine tree with a popcorn-strung garland, an assortment of handmade ornaments from school, and a few carefully placed candles.

Both Christmas Eve and Day had separate dinners that were planned to the point of perfection.  Other than Lucy’s mother, only the immediate family gathered to partake in both meals. Everyone dressed in their finest, shoes polished, and under Ma’s eagle eye, not a hair out of place.  It was the one time of year when Erik and Harry would allow their mother to dictate what they wore.

After dinner on Christmas Eve, the family attended church to hear the story of the birth of Jesus, the miracle of light that came into the world.

The service ended, and the family walked the short distance down Madison Avenue to their home.  Snow was falling lightly. It had a magical quality when Hannah looked upward and imagined the angels dusting their wings off.  She skipped ahead, kicking up the fresh thin layer of snow on the sidewalk. She was laughing, when an icy wetness suddenly hit her in the back of the head.

“Ow!”

Her mood evaporated as she spun around to glare daggers at her brothers.  

“Hey, how dare you!” she said.

Harry had the audacity to look innocent, while Erik couldn’t help but chuckle.  The adults and Amy hung back farther, lost in conversation.

Hannah quickly knelt down and grabbed a handful of snow, formed a ball, and chucked it at her brothers.  It missed, flying between them and ended up smacking Pa in the side of the face.

Both boys were briefly shocked, before dissolving into laughter.

“Oh, you’re in for it now, Hannah-panna,” Harry teased.

“Be quiet!” Hannah shouted.  “You started it!”

The adults were upon them a few seconds later.  Pa was wiping his cheek with his gloved hand, but it was Ma who was angry.

“Who threw that?” she demanded.

“It wasn’t us.  It was Hannah,” Erik said.

“Yeah, but I wasn’t aiming for you, Pa” Hannah said.  “One of them hit me in the back of the head.”

“A likely story,” Harry said coyly, smirking.

Ma’s eyes shifted to her younger son.  “Actually, it sounds about right. Come.  We will discuss this once we’re inside.”

Pa pretended to be stern, but when he walked past Hannah and the boys, he half-smiled.  He winked at Hannah, and then his face was impassive once more. As Hannah watched her parents retreating down the road, she grinned.  

Once back inside their small home, Pa worked at starting a fire in the grate, while Ma sat Erik, Harry, and Hannah on the sofa to give them a brief lecture on how to treat each other with more respect, “most especially on Christmas.”

“How is pelting each other with snow when it’s already freezing outside a Christ-like attitude?”

Pa, finished with the fire, came to his wife’s side, and wrapped an arm around her.

“I think, perhaps just this once, we might excuse the children.  It is Christmas, after all. There will be plenty of time for extra chores in a few days.”  He smirked knowingly.

“Hmm,” Ma murmured, although her eye twinkled as she exchanged a look with her husband.  

Walking into the living room, Amy said, “Why don’t we sing carols and hymns?  I’m sure Hannah’s just bursting to play for us.” She grinned at her little sister.

Hannah bounced up from the sofa and darted to the piano nestled between the fireplace and the Christmas tree.  She had been waiting all day to play. All those weeks of practice would finally pay off when her family heard how much she’d learned since September.

“I like ‘O Tannenbaum,’” Grossmutter said.  “Is good German song.”

“I don’t know all the words in German,” Harry said weakly.

“You can learn it with a few tries,” Ma said.  

Hannah found the music in one of her songbooks.  

A bit unsure, she said, “I haven’t really practiced this one a whole lot.”

“That’s all right, dear,” Pa said, pulling up a chair.  “The important thing is to enjoy ourselves.”

“Can I run through it once before you start singing?” she asked.

At her father’s nod of approval, Hannah’s fingers began moving across the keys, slowly at first, but then picking up the pace as she grew more comfortable with the tune.  Her grossmutter had been mouthing the words, perhaps even singing softly in German, during the practice run. Ma and Pa sang along in German, the song familiar from their childhood, and Grossmutter belted out the words with gusto.  Amy’s pretty voice lingered in the background, the words somewhat unsure but right all the same. The boys were embarrassed as they stumbled over the foreign words, but after a while, they joined in.

The family continued for the better part of the next hour singing songs of the season.  Turning off the lights, save the candles burning dimly on the tree, Ma suggested they end with “Silent Night,” in both German and English.  The children knew this song well in German, as they sang it every year at church on Christmas Eve. It was the perfect way to wind down the evening and usher in the night’s dreams of what tomorrow would bring.

“Well done, Hannah,” Pa said, smiling proudly and clapping his daughter gently on the shoulder.  “I think it’s high time we all retired for the evening.”

“Thanks, Pa,” Hannah replied, smiling from ear to ear.  She stood from the piano bench and went upstairs to her room.

After everyone was ready for bed, the parents worked on tucking each child in.  Before Hannah could turn in for the night, however, she ran downstairs to hug her grossmutter goodnight.

The old lady was sitting in the armchair nearest the piano, the light from a single lamp the only illumination.  An open book perched on her lap on top of a blanket.

Grossmutter smiled, the wrinkles on her face crinkling deeper.

“Is not time for bed, child?”

“I just came to say goodnight.  What were you reading?”

“The Bible.  First Christmas story.  Not all this nonsense about der Weihnachtsmann.”

“What?”

“Not what, child, who.  You call him Santa Claus.”

“Oh.”  Hannah giggled.  Hannah recalled being frightened by Grossmutter when she was smaller.  Perhaps it was the stern-sound of the German language or the way her face could turn as firm as a stiff board, the wrinkles hiding any youth left.  She knew better now. Coming to Grossmutter’s side, Hannah gazed inquiringly at the Bible. “I can’t read it.”

“Is German Bible.  You know Martin Luther made Bible into German from old Latin?”

“Yes, I learned about that in Sunday school.  I can’t imagine not understanding what was being read in church.”

“Yes.  If you like, I teach you some German.  You understand?”

“You want to read the story to me?” Hannah asked, her eyes lighting up like the candles on the tree.

“Not too much, but ja.”

Grossmutter patted the arm of the chair, and Hannah sat and listened.  The old woman’s knobby finger moved slowly across the yellowed, tattered page.  Hannah wondered if the Bible had been hers since she was a little girl. At the end of the passage, Grossmutter kissed Hannah and beckoned her to bed.

Upstairs, the family exchanged goodnights, kisses, and hugs. Filled with the joy and excitement of Christmas, Hannah lay awake for a while, posed on her right side, her gaze out the window.  The snowflakes continued their ballet just beyond the pane, and the lackadaisical whirl of white lulled her into sleep soon enough, the music from earlier in the evening the perfect companion to the dance.

* * *

“Your father would like your attention,” Ma said in a mock-stern voice on Christmas morning as the children tore open their presents.

“Huh?” Hannah asked, pulling her eyes away from a new pair of shoes she had been admiring on her feet.  “Why are you wearing your coat, Pa?”

Amy, Erik, and Harry looked up simultaneously, their fingers stopped mid-tear with the wrapping paper they each clutched.  An amused smile curled Pa’s lips.

“Is something wrong?” Erik asked.

“Pa looks like he’s up to something,” Harry said.  “I know that look because I’ve worn the same one.”

“Well, since you asked so kindly,” Pa said.  He reached into one of the deep front pockets of his long coat and withdrew a tiny black puppy.

Hannah was the first to rush forward, holding her hands out.  “Oh, he’s adorable! May I hold him?”

“Yes, you may, and she’s a girl.”  Pa laughed easily as he handed the puppy off to his youngest.  

Hannah cuddled the puppy close.  The dog licked her chin, and she giggled.  “She’s so soft.”

Her siblings gathered around her.  

“Is she ours?” Harry asked.

“She sure is,” Pa said.  “Ma and I decided it was high time for a dog.  She’s a Labrador. She’ll grow quite large.”

“Mitchell Woods down the way has a yellow Lab,” Erik said.  “He’s a good dog.”

Amy scooped the puppy up from her sister’s hands and smiled at the dog.  “Does she have a name?”

“Not yet,” Pa said.  “We were going to leave that up to you all to figure out.”

After a morning of debate, the children came up with the name Flossie.  By the end of the day, the new pet was curled up on Hannah’s bed, and from that day forward, Flossie spent many nights sleeping there.

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My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

When I rested a hand on his warm back, and a snore elicited from his mouth, my lips eased into a smile. Tristan shifted, then stirred. He blinked open his brilliant blue eyes and found me.

“Lorna.” He licked his lips, thirsty, unsure. He sat up.

My hand flopped to my side. “Are you okay?”

“Is something burning?”

“What?” Then I smelled it. “The spaghetti!” I darted from the room and down the stairs to the kitchen. An over-boiling pot greeted me. I turned off the burner.

I groaned when I heard Tristan’s soft chuckle. “Was that dinner?” he asked.

“It was supposed to be. Maybe it still is.” I put on oven mitts and drained the water. “I think we can eat these. They’re not too ruined.”

Tristan peeked over my shoulder. “Just add the sauce. It’ll cover any burnt flavor.”

I pursed my lips, half-amused, half-annoyed, and retrieved the spaghetti sauce. After mixing it well, I grabbed a couple of dishes and heaped them with my attempt at dinner. When I set the plates on the table, Tristan already had the salad there, along with the utensils and cups of water.

“Thank you.”

We sat. I murmured a prayer and listened as Tristan gave his usual grunt of “Amen.”

The clang of forks on the edge of the plates and the setting of the cups on the table filled the silence that followed for the next few minutes. I was still picking away at my plate when Tristan finished and shoved his aside.

“As usual, delicious.”

My cheeks warmed pleasantly. “I know it’s your favorite.”

“It’s too bad meat is so expensive. That would be the perfect complement to the rest of the dish. One day, I imagine large meatballs covered with your famous sauce.”

I quirked my lips. “Famous sauce? My sauce is hardly that good.”

He chuckled. “Let me be the judge of that.”

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

I sighed, hating the stinging of tears in my eyes. I debated on whether to follow Tristan, but a moment later, the sound of his heavy footsteps up the stairs told me he was secluding himself and would likely bury himself in his writing for several hours, if not for the rest of the day and into the night. There were nights recently when he didn’t come to bed until I was asleep. Once I’d woken to find him upstairs, his shaggy head lying on the desktop, drool on a piece of paper. The moment I’d entered the room, the creaking of the floor woke him, and I was as much in the dark about his new novel as ever.

I stood and puttered around the kitchen for a while, cleaning some stray dishes and wiping down the counter and table, even though they didn’t need it. When Tristan didn’t return, I went for the ironing board cupboard. I retrieved the address book and took it outside, sitting under the shade of a tree in the back yard, where Tristan wouldn’t see me.

I knew I was being childish. I was playing the game of “If You’re Going to Hide Stuff from Me, I’m Going to Hide Stuff from You.” I tried to tell myself I was considering getting in touch with Tristan’s family because Tristan, for all his qualities, didn’t know what was best for him. That was an ugly thought, but I justified it with what he’d told me about his previous marriage. Hadn’t he locked himself in his typing room when he and Julie argued? Hadn’t she felt pushed away by his moods?

Just as soon as my eyes roamed over the names of his brothers, I snapped the book shut. I stood and paced.

“What are you doing?” I scolded myself. “Talk to him! He’s your husband.” Or did your vows of “for better or worse” mean nothing?

My face heated in shame, yet I couldn’t throw away the address book.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

When Macy showed up at my side door with a large pot and an equally big smile, a subdued John standing behind her, I let them in graciously.

“What did you bring?” I asked. “It smells wonderful.”

Macy set the pot on my stove and turned on the burner. “Just some of my infamous vegetable soup, ingredients courtesy of my little garden. It needs a few minutes to reheat, but then I think we’ll be good to go.”

We hugged.

“Thank you. I’m sure Tristan will appreciate it. Your cooking was always better than mine.”

John, who stood just inside the door, smiled and patted his slight paunch. “She’s not too shabby.”

Macy and I exchanged amused looks, laughing.

“Thanks for coming over, John,” I said, giving him a quick hug.

“Not a problem.” He glanced toward the doorway to the dining and living rooms, where Tristan’s snores entered the kitchen. “If Macy keeps bringing your husband food, you might need to put him on a diet.”

Macy rolled her eyes. “You need to get back to playing on the men’s baseball league and not just coaching Johnny’s little league, dear. As for poor Tristan, I think he just needs to take it easy.”

I took some bowls out of the cupboards and set the table. “Sorry the kitchen’s such a mess.” I gestured at the stacks of boxes on the floor along the walls.

Macy waved me off. “Well, that’s why we’re here, darling–to help get your house set up. Just think, once all of Tristan’s stuff is moved in, you can start decorating and making it your own.”

“One thing at a time, Mace.” I grinned and went into the living room, where Tristan slumbered. I watched the steady rise and fall of his chest for several seconds, contemplating whether to wake him.

I returned to the kitchen. “I think we should eat and let Tristan grab a bowl when he’s ready. I’d hate to disturb him.”

“Fine by me,” John said, taking a bowl off the table and going to the stove to fill it.

Macy and I gave each other knowing looks that said the same thing: Men.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is available for $4.99 here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Excerpt from Rocks and Flowers in a Box (WIP)

I filled two glasses and placed them on the table. We drew up mismatched chairs and drank. Tristan finished first and sighed with pleasure.

I eyed him over the top of my glass. He gazed out the back window toward his house, the line between his eyebrows deepening. I put my glass down and asked, “So?”

“So, what?”

“Really, Tristan? Do you enjoy playing these guessing games?” My mouth hitched up on one side.

“Maybe.” There was a teasing undertone in his voice, but the crease between his eyebrows was still present.

“We’re married now. I think you can tell me anything.”

He whisked his eyes away from the window and met mine. “There’s nothing I could tell you that you don’t know already.”

“I find that hard to believe,” I joked, then grew serious. “But something’s off about you today.” As happy as I was, doubt poked at me.

“To be honest, I never thought I’d be married again.”

I took his hands in mine. For a moment, I stared at his large, rough hands–hands that could fix anything, from a house to a car, but also had typed and penned thousands of poetic prose, weaving those threads into the fabric of three novels. I met his eyes. “I think this will taking adjusting on both of our parts. We weren’t exactly social butterflies before we met.” I laughed.

The line between Tristan’s eyebrows lessened, and crinkles formed around his eyes as he smiled. “That’s the understatement of the century.”

After the moment of levity passed, I said, “So, enlighten me, O Talkative One.”

“Going through all my things, it’s like digging through the past.” His eyes shifted to the box on the table. “Maybe it would be better if I got rid of most of these things and be more like you. You know, completely start over.”

The tea kettle whistled. I stood and went to the stove, turned off the burner, and added a teabag. I gave a little snort. “My house is filling up quickly, but throwing away everything from your past isn’t the answer, Tristan. You can see how well that served me.” I joined him at the table.

“My stuff is taking over in here. I’m letting go of the house. It’s time I let go of other reminders, too.”

“Of Julie?” I asked quietly.

“Yes, of Julie.” He stared out the window toward his house again, as if his wife’s ghost were looking back at him out one of the windows.

“Hey.” I placed my hand on his arm.

He slowly turned his head, but his eyes were on the table.

I moved my hand to his cheek. “You wouldn’t be forgetting her.”

Eyes so empty and so full lifted from staring at the tabletop. “I know that here.” He pointed to his head. “But here, well, that’s another matter.” He gestured toward his chest.  “Pain and pleasure mixed.”

My lips quirked. “We make quite the pair, don’t we? I can hear Macy asking now, ‘Why can’t you two just be happy? Why do you always have to complicate things?’”

Tristan half-smiled. “Your best friend doesn’t know the half of it. Messy people are like that…complicated.”

Note: Rocks and Flowers in a Box is the sequel to my second novel, Lorna versus Laura.

LIKE WHAT YOU’VE READ?  PLEASE SUBSCRIBE TO MY BLOG, WHERE I POST AN EXCERPT EVERY SATURDAY. ALSO KEEP UP-TO-DATE WITH MY WRITING PROJECTS!

My novel, A Laughing Matter of Pain, is for $4.99 available here.
My novel, Lorna versus Laura, is available for $4.99 here.

My novel, Hannah’s Rainbow: Every Color Beautiful, is available for $5.99 here.

Chapter 4 of A Laughing Matter of Pain

With the release of my newest book, A Laughing Matter of Pain, I’m going to be sharing the first four chapters with you in the month of October! Check back every Saturday for the next chapter. The book is available on Amazon here.

Chapter 4

As the summer wears on, my brother continues to be an enigma. He used to be so easy to understand because he was just like me in many ways. If I’m honest with myself, I don’t even understand why I do or say half the things I do anymore.

In August, Amy surprises us by saying she’s dating someone.

“How did you meet this young man?” Ma asks over dinner one evening.

“I’d like it if you brought him by. I’d like to meet him,” Pa says. The twinkle is out of his eyes, his mouth a firm line.

“We met through a mutual friend from work,” Amy says. “I’m twenty-three, Pa. Really, don’t you think I’m a bit old to be bringing my boyfriend around for my parents to meet? It might not even be anything serious.” Her face flushes. She’s probably twiddling her hands under the table like she always does when she gets agitated. I keep my eyes on her, taking a bit of pleasure in her discomfort, wondering how this conversation will go.

“You’re still a young lady,” Pa says.

“Erik gets tons of calls from girls,” Amy says. “Why should this be any different? I’m five years older than him. Ma, you were my age when you met Pa.”

“Hey, don’t bring me into this,” Erik says.

I smirk, trying not to chuckle at this free entertainment.

Ma sighs. “You’re right. I was, but girls–women–were more mature back then than they are nowadays. The way they flaunt themselves–those flapper girls with their bobbed hair and too-short dresses. All that jazz nonsense, dancing, and illegal drinking. People are wilder than ever.”

I try to imagine Amy dressed as a promiscuous young lady, smoking and drinking. It’s damn near impossible.

“I’m hardly a flapper, Ma,” Amy says. “How often have I told you times change? When will you realize that things aren’t going to just go back to the way they were thirty or forty years ago?”

Ma harrumphs and digs into her food.

One point for Amy.

Pa shakes his head. “Can we please not argue at the table? Amelia Rose, despite your opinion on the matter, you still live under the roof of this house. Your mother and I wish to meet this young man because we want what’s best for you. The matter is closed.”

Oh, the full name. My gaze shifts from Pa to Amy.

“Father,” she groans, removing the napkin from her lap and setting it on the table. “I’m suddenly not hungry.” Amy walks away from the table and leaves through the back door.

“Enough,” Ma says. “Let’s eat before dinner gets cold.”

“Well, I think it’s awful that Amy has a boyfriend,” Hannah states. “I agree with Ma and Pa that it just isn’t right. Next thing you know, she’ll be wanting to get married and moving out.”

I chuckle. “Good one, Hannah-panna. You took the cake on that one.”

“What?” Hannah asks, scrunching her face up at me. “It’s the truth.”

“I believe I already said that was enough,” Ma said.

“But–”

I keep my mouth shut as Hannah’s silenced, but I’m glad to see I’m not the only one who causes tension in this house. I don’t bother Hannah the rest of the evening, although it’s tempting. I’d love to see Amy have the gumption to keep dating this mystery man, but as the day gives way to the next, her bad mood doesn’t lift. At breakfast, she hardly touches her food. She’s out the door for work by the time Hannah comes down.

“You just missed Amy,” I say to Hannah in between bites of oatmeal. “She was in a wonderful mood this morning.”

Hannah rolls her eyes as Ma enters, Irma right behind her. “What did she say?”

“Not two words,” Erik says. “No ‘good morning.’ Nothing.”

I’m about to add my two cents when Ma says, “Amy went to work like she’s supposed to. The rest of you would do well to finish up in here and be about your business. Your father has plenty of work for you boys outside with harvest time upon us and won’t be too pleased if he comes home and it’s not done. Hannah, you’re going to help with the laundry.”

Erik and I get done in the kitchen. I don’t complain too much today about the chores. It’s a nice day–not too hot. Besides, this story ain’t over with Amy, and Hannah’s disapproval of the whole situation adds another layer to it.

While Erik pulls weeds and I pluck lettuce and cabbages, I say, “What d’you think of all this?”

“What?” Erik keeps his back to me.

“Don’t play dumb. C’mon, brother. You gotta admit–this is new for Amy.”

“I say good for her. She’s old enough. I kept wondering when she might marry and move out. She’s well into her twenties, and if she waits too long, her prospects will be all dried up. No man wants to marry an old maid.”

I laugh. “You planning on marrying young?”

“Marriage?” Erik asks incredulously. “I have college first, then find a job. By then, I’ll be Amy’s age. That’s years away.”

“Well, I never know with you, since you have at least a half dozen girls calling you at any given time. Who’s the latest catch? Maybe you should bring her around.”

“We’re not talking about this anymore.” Erik’s neck reddens and I’m sure it’s not from the sun.

I shake my head and return to picking vegetables.

By evening, Amy returns home with none other than her boyfriend. He’s a good-looking guy who’s easy to talk with. He introduces himself to Erik and me in the living room.

“Jack Banks,” he says, his handshake strong.

“Hi, Jack. I’m Harry. So, my sister says she likes you. Lucky you.”

Jack grins and wraps an arm around Amy. “I’d say I’m the lucky guy, but she is quite the doll, your sister.”

Amy’s practically glowing. If it were dark, she could light up the room.

Erik and Jack exchange introductions, and Großmutter, our grandmother who moved in with us a few months back, is saying something in German, but if her smile were any wider, the wrinkles on her face would crumble off.

Irma comes down the steps quietly and enters the room, and Jack gets down on one knee. “And who’s this little sweetheart?”

“Irma,” my littlest sister says shyly.

“What a beautiful name.” Jack picks her up and tosses her up in the air. Irma giggles as he catches her.

Conversation flows naturally, and the lighthearted jokes are in full swing when Pa joins us. For a moment, I wonder if he’s gonna kick this charmer out on his backside. Pa’s taken with him the moment Jack approaches him. For Amy’s sake, I’m relieved. Unlike Erik, I never imagined her as an old maid–not that I’d tell her that.

Before I know it, we sit down for dinner. Everyone seems to have taken a liking to Jack, except Hannah. All through the meal, my little sister sends little-concealed glares at Jack and strikes Amy like a question-firing squad. After dinner, she plays for us, and maybe she’s a bit happier.

As I’m off to bed, I wonder what’s been going on with Hannah and think of teasing her in the morning to get an answer out of her. It’s not like I’d want her to think I’m really concerned or something.

* * *

Weeks pass, and Erik packs for Ohio State. It’s September by now, and I’ve started tenth grade. I’m already being compared to my brother by many of my teachers, and I tell Erik that I have some big shoes to fill.

“It’s true,” I say the night before he’s to leave for Columbus. “Do any of those girls you talk to know just how big your feet are?”

Probably in spite of himself, Erik stops in his tracks as he’s about to put a stack of shirts in his suitcase and looks down at his feet. “You’re exaggerating.”

I roll my eyes. “Don’t you get enough sweet talk from your admirers?”

Erik doesn’t answer for a while. Instead, he resumes packing. When his suitcase is stuffed to the brim, he has a hard time shutting it and resorts to sitting hard on it to get it to close. “You might wanna start shaving, Harry, if you want a girl.”

I smirk. “Maybe I’m trying to grow a beard.”

Erik laughs. “That would be one pathetic beard.”

I shrug. We fall silent and focus on everything in the room but each other. The sun is setting, casting an orange glow on the walls and furniture. The floor is well-worn from years of us tracking mud and sprinting across it to see who could make the most noise. On the dresser–Erik’s stuff in the top two drawers and mine in the bottom two–we share a picture of us from probably ten years ago, our smiles reflecting our innocent mischief.

“Yeah, well…goodnight,” Erik says.

“Goodnight, brother.” I go for nonchalant, but my voice cracks a little at the end. How embarrassing.

The next day, Erik doesn’t say much. Our sisters are crying, of course. Women. It’s not like they’ll never see him again. Ma’s a mess. Pa’s driving Erik down, and I’m still not clear on why Ma is staying home, other than her need to keep the house clean and the rest of us kids fed.

I stand out in the driveway, watching Erik load the last of his things into the trunk.

“Well, don’t do anything too stupid,” he says to me, a smirk on his lips but a plea in his eyes.

“Stupid? Me? Nah. You got the wrong guy.”

Erik half-steps toward me like he’s about to hug me, but he stops and nods. “See ya around.”

“Yeah, see ya.”

I keep my eyes on the back of his head as he gets into the car. As it pulls away, my head’s filled with all the things I just couldn’t say, and I ain’t sure why.

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