Sunday, August 8, 2010

The Gathering Storm - Chapter 1

The Gathering Storm
Summerside Press (August 1, 2010)

Bodie and Brock Thoene


December 22, 2008

Hampstead Village, London, England

The sun set as I rode the Northern Line from central London north to Hampstead Village for the scheduled interview with the woman I had come to know as “Loralei B.G.”

Lora had escaped from the Nazi Blitzkrieg as a young woman. Over fifty years had passed when the old woman read my early non¬fiction account about the Kindertransport of Jewish children and the evacuees during the Blitz. She contacted me through the publisher.

Her letter read:

I am a Christian Zionist, not Jewish by birth, but by heart and through marriage. I was born in Texas to a mis¬sionary family, though I grew up in Europe. My mother was American. My father was an Austrian and among the leaders of the Christian resistance opposing Hitler. He was killed by the Nazis in France during the war. I was very involved with the refugees. Perhaps I could add details to your research.

Over ten years’ time I received Lora’s story in bits and pieces by post. The true identity of Lora remained a closely guarded secret because her son was a member of the Israeli government. I was faithful to answer her letters at a box in northwest London. Before the era of e-mail we became old-fashioned pen pals.

Though uncertain of Lora’s true age, I guessed she was in her late seventies or early eighties. Though I knew many details of the elderly woman’s past, I knew surprisingly little about her present life. When the letters began to come less frequently, I wondered if her health was failing. Perhaps the old woman’s sense of dignity was one reason she did not want to meet me.

Now, as Lora approached the end of her life, she reached out to me. I received a telephone call from her granddaughter, also named Loralei. It had come one month earlier, summoning me to a home on Church Row in Hampstead Village.

“Will you come for dinner on December twenty-second? Your old friend would like to meet you before Christmas.”

I knew the Hampstead street well. My husband and I frequently met friends for supper at the Holly Bush pub around the corner. How strange it seemed to me that I had probably passed Lora’s house a hundred times over the years and had never known she lived there.

The aroma of roasting chestnuts greeted me as I emerged from the tube station onto Hampstead’s High Street. It was the stuff Christmas carols were made of. Irresistible.

Shifting a big bouquet of roses, I buttoned my jacket against the sudden chill and fished for the heavy one-pound coins in my jeans’ pocket. “One, please.”

“American? Done in a minute.” The chestnut seller stirred a fresh batch over the coals of his brazier. “The south?”

“Close, Henry Higgins. Arkansas, originally. Then central California.”

His eyes brightened. “Arkansas. Y’all?”

“Arkansas may have seceded from the Union since I left. I’ve lived in London for ten years.”

“Then you’re almost home.”


He scooped the warm chestnuts into a fist-sized, brown paper bag. “Very hot. Take care. Cheers, thanks, and happy Christmas.”

Pocketing the paper sack, I used it as a hand warmer. Striding quickly past shops, restaurants, and my favorite creperie, I made my way toward the Georgian townhomes lining Church Row.

Christmas garlands and twinkle lights gave the village a feel like something out of a Dickens’ novel. I shelled a hot chestnut and popped it into my mouth. Nothing like it on a cold winter’s night.

The directions to the house simply said, House on the end of the row—right. Corner of Holly Walk and Church Row.

Eighteenth-century construction had not included street num¬bers on houses. Instead, fan-shaped windows called fanlights, above the front doors, contained a unique pattern used to identify the res¬idence. Like a logo, letterhead on household stationery reproduced the pattern of the residence’s fanlight. The image was then copied on all answered correspondence. This assured even an illiterate messenger could look at an envelope, compare the patterns, and deliver mail to the correct residence.

I walked briskly to the imposing brick townhouse. Christmas lights beamed from every window. I could plainly see in the leaded glass of the fanlight the images of a nightingale and a rose.

Beautiful, I thought. It was so much like the Lora I had come to know through correspondence: the rose and the nightingale; a story by Oscar Wilde; or a poem by Keats. Like much of London, coded in the very building was the memory of a distant, more noble, age.

I suddenly wished I had not worn jeans and my usual black ostrich cowboy boots. I had meant to honor Texas, the state of Lora’s birth, but I was acutely aware I was underdressed. And, worse yet, I looked like an American tourist. The dignified elegance of the Church Row townhome made me self-conscious.

I rapped the brass lion’s-head knocker on the black door and announced my arrival. Holding the roses beneath my chin, I smiled, hoping the flowers would be noticed, rather than my casual attire.

Hinges groaned as the door opened. A beautiful young woman in her midtwenties beamed at me. Her hair was thick blond, shoul¬der length, and framed her oval face. With blue eyes and straight white teeth, I noticed the clear family resemblance to a photo Lora had sent of herself and her husband from those desperate years before the war.

“You must be Missus Thoene?” The young woman pronounced my name correctly in the accent of an American who had long lived in England. “Tay-nee? Is it? Welcome. I am Loralei Golah.” She was wearing jeans and a red wool cardigan like mine.

I resisted the urge to mention our identical red sweaters. So she shopped at the street merchants’ stalls in Covent Garden? I laughed. “You pronounced Thoene right. So few do. But call me Bodie. Thoene is for author bios.”

Loralei said cheerfully, “Yes. Sunny eyes. Green. Like a forest in this light. Red curls. And the boots! Lora would love them. Her heart is half-Texan, you know. Yes, Bodie suits you.”


“So good to meet you. Loralei? Lora’s granddaughter? You rang me. I recognize the smile in your voice. Happy Christmas.”

Loralei inhaled the roses. “Oh, lovely! So beautiful! Who would think? Roses in the dead of winter. Must be grown in greenhouses, don’t you suppose?”

Feeling instantly welcome, I stepped into the warm mahogany-paneled foyer. A row of coats was draped on a rack above an umbrella stand. When Loralei hung up my coat, hot chestnuts dribbled out.

I retrieved them, feeling like an idiot. “Kent. You can get every¬thing out of season. Tomatoes, even.”

Loralei headed off down a corridor and grinned back over her shoulder as a signal I should come along.

Happy to see me, I thought.

The aroma of basil and oregano in simmering sauce filled the house. Loralei said, “But winter tomatoes don’t hold a candle to the ones from the garden in summer.”

I followed Loralei into a living room decorated with fine antiques and wreathed in reds and golds for the holidays like an Oxford shop window. An eight-foot Steinway filled one end of the room, overlooking French doors and a garden. The instrument was open and sheet music of J. S. Bach was unfurled above the key¬board. The grand piano was more than mere decoration.

A small, drab bird fluttered in an ornate cage beside the piano.

“A nightingale,” Loralei said. “I found her in the garden a month ago with a broken wing, the same day I rang you.”

“She seems to be doing well,” I marveled. “Nursing wild birds never worked out for me as a kid. I always ended up burying them in the flowerbed in shoeboxes.”

“That’s why she lives beside the piano. My husband sings to her.”

“You’re married.” I noticed her ring for the first time.

“Enough about me. Look! We’re both wearing jeans and red sweaters. I’m so glad. I wondered if I should dress up a bit. I’ve made pasta for dinner. There’s Chianti. Garlic bread. Tri-color salad with balsamic. Hope the tomatoes are all right.”

We both laughed, and I decided I liked her immensely and instantly. I followed her into the kitchen where marinara sauce steamed in a saucepan.

The table, antique pine, was set for two.

“Will Lora…?”

“Not tonight. I’m sorry. But she has a Christmas gift for you—and a request for you. Please, sit down. Make yourself comfortable.”

I obeyed, trying to conceal my disappointment. “Will she know I’m here?”

“She knows. I’ll be right back.” Loralei bounded up the stairs to the bedrooms. Doors opened and closed. I heard voices. A man’s deep voice. The elderly voice of a woman. Was that Lora? The young Loralei laughed like a bright bell. Moments passed, and she returned with a thick black binder. I knew what it was. For several years I had been encouraging Lora to comb through her diaries and set down her own story.

“I’ve been typing it all out so you could read it. It’s all here. Everything. She’s written a book, you see. Her story, like you wanted her to. The full story. Changed the names, but the story…all the same. Before the war. And then the Blitz. She said you wrote her once and said you would stay up all night to review a manuscript if only she would write it down.” She paused, hesitant for a moment as she searched my face. “Did you mean it? I mean, that you would like to read it?”

“Would I? I’ve begged her to write it down!”

“Well, then, she asked me if you would…would you read it? Tonight?”

I was ecstatic. Of all the interviews I had conducted and all the personal accounts I had gathered, not one person had ever taken me up on the suggestion that the stories should be set down.

Loralei blushed and, suddenly shy, said quietly, “She combed through her diary. Dictated into a recorder. Changed the names, of course. Pseudonyms. She wouldn’t write it any other way. Details she wouldn’t trust to anyone but you. I’ve read your books…and she…well, it would mean so much to her to have you review the manuscript. Offer suggestions. And, maybe someday…if you know a publisher perhaps?”

I felt cheered by the prospect of hours spent reviewing a manu¬script no one had ever read before. What a gift!

We ate spaghetti while Loralei gleaned the details of my life and work. I answered her questions between bites of pasta. “I’m forty-four. Three kids in college. Family originally from around Fort Smith. University of Hawaii alum. Long story there. Working on my Ph.D. at London University. Married to Brock Thoene, Ph.D. in history, among other things. Researcher, writer, and director of an American study-abroad program in England.”

When we finished dinner Loralei led me to an overstuffed chair before the fire. The black-covered journal was open on my lap: The Book of Hours—L.B.G. Part One. War Years.

Loralei patted my shoulder. “It’s a quick read, I think. Quicker to read than it was to write. Only Part One. I’ll wash up and bring coffee…coffee or tea?”

“Coffee, please.”

“White or black?”


“Go on…enjoy.” Loralei poked at the coals in the fireplace. “I love a good fire and a good read. She hopes…well, it reads like a novel, but she needs the help of an expert. Your help.”

“I love a good story. Her letters are the bright spot of my day when they come. Always have been.”

I suddenly realized this young woman knew a lot about me, but I knew nothing about her except the color of her eyes, that she cooked great pasta, liked red sweaters and boots, and wore a size six jeans.

Mellow baroque music played over the BBC. The fire crackled and embers glowed as the story of one life unfolded.



A time to get, and a time to lose;

A time to keep, and a time to cast away.

Ecclesiastes 3:6-17



Brussels, Belgium
May 8, 1940

The night before everything about my ordinary life changed forever, I dreamed a dream.

It was dark and I sat on a boulder in a garden where the stone of a tomb had been rolled away. A rose tree grew with thirty-six white roses in bloom beside the great stone. A nightingale sang in the branches among blossom and thorn.

I heard a soft voice like wind chimes sing, “And if I want him to live until I return, what is that to you?”

Sleeping or half-awake, I saw thirty-five men and women, each dressed in the costume of a different generation. They gathered outside the gaping mouth of the grave. They were discussing some¬thing. What was it? The war? The Jewish refugees who slept in the dorms of Alderman Seminary? The conversations seemed familiar to me, but I could not quite make out what they were saying.

The first in line, a pretty woman of middle age, with gentle brown eyes and soft curls, was wrapped in a cerulean blue shawl. She held a torch aloft. Stooping low, she entered the cave, fire first, carrying the flame into the darkness without terror. A golden glow emanated from the hewn interior. Flickering light cast her shadow onto the feet of the tall young man who was second in line. He looked down at her shadow, then at his toes and smiled, before turning his face toward where I observed. He beckoned to me.

I did not move. I wondered how he had seen me dreaming about him….

By and by the woman emerged, smiling, from the tomb and said quietly, “Death is conquered at last. It truly is empty. He is risen indeed.”

She passed the torch to the man. He entered as she had and returned, declaring her proclamation to the next in line. And so it went through the hours of the night, from one witness to the next and then the next. One by one, they left the garden, and I could hear their footsteps and their voices. “Don’t be afraid,” they declared. “The tomb is empty. Death is no more.”

Finally, the last of the thirty-five, his face concealed, emerged from the tomb and looked to the right and then the left. The sun was rising. “Who’s next?” he called.

I was the only one remaining. I stood, and the light was too bright for me to see clearly. Lifting my hand to shield my eyes, I felt the handle of the torch pressed into my palm.

“It’s your turn now. The long night is almost over. It’s your turn to stand as witness. You shall be the Watchman on the Walls.”

This, then, is my story.


May 9, 1940

Light shone through the stained glass flanking the green lacquered door of the stone cottage. Ruby red blossoms and emerald glass leaves made puddles of color on the flagstone steps. I stepped onto a rose-hued pool, shifted my valise, and fumbled for the latch key. Though my mother had died four months earlier, the engraving of my parents’ names remained unaltered on the brass lion’s-head door knocker: ROBERT & JANET BITTICK.

The lock clicked and turned. I wiped my feet and entered the dimly lit foyer. It was almost curfew in Brussels. I closed the blackout curtains. Today, May 9, 1940, was my twenty-second birthday. My first birthday without Mama. The house felt especially lonesome.

“I’m home,” I called, hoping my sister, Jessica, and eight-year-old niece, Gina, might have dropped in. No one answered.

For most of seventeen years the stone headmaster’s cottage bordering the parklike grounds of Aaron Alderman Seminary had been home to our family. But things were changing. Since Easter, every male student in the school of theology had been called up to military duty in Belgium’s antiquated army. The news reports were grim. If the Nazis attacked, few expected Bel¬gium could survive.

The classrooms were empty. Those faculty who had connec¬tions abroad fled the chaos of Europe for England or America. But Robert Bittick remained. Faithful Papa. The Alderman buildings had been leased and were now managed by the Jewish Agency. The seminary was transformed into a transit hospice for Jewish refu¬gees fleeing Nazi-occupied Poland. The ebb and flow of desperate strangers was constant.

Thirty-six Jewish orphan girls from Poland had been given Aryan names and enrolled in St. Mary’s Convent school, where I taught English. Girls were easier to assimilate than circumcised boys. If the Nazis attacked Belgium—if Belgium fell—Jews would be the first to be eliminated. A girls’ convent school like St. Mary’s would remain a safe haven for the children.

With one finger I parted the blackout curtain and peeked out the window.

A thin sliver of forbidden light gleamed from Papa’s office in the chapel. The air-raid warden would soon be knocking on the door to reprimand him. No light allowed. Only stars were permitted to shine brightly over Belgium. Perhaps Papa was immersed in another emergency meeting with the Jewish Agency. His grief over the loss of Mama had been submerged in travel permits and arranging pas¬sage for hundreds of Polish Jews to England and South America and the United States.

Perhaps Papa had forgotten my birthday. Without Mama to remind him, he was hopeless about remembering occasions.

I placed my briefcase on the scarred pine kitchen table. Open¬ing a cupboard I mindlessly stared at the blue floral Meissen china Mama had bequeathed to me in a letter left in her top drawer.

And to my precious Loralei I leave my pair of silver can¬dlesticks brought from Texas and also my best dishes. With them, I leave joy and laughter and the memories of all our special times together….
On last year’s birthday I had come home to a white linen table¬cloth and places set for twelve guests. Since Mama’s death, I had not once set the table with her shining legacy.

Not even a cup of hot tea was waiting for my homecoming this evening. The copper teakettle was cold on the unlit back burner of the stove. Without Mama, the kitchen—neat, quiet, and unclut¬tered—was the loneliest room in the house.

No wonder Papa could not bear to be in the cottage alone.

Papa was Austrian while Mama, Janet, had been born in Texas. They met at a Gipsy Smith revival meeting in 1909 and fell in love. Mama had a Texan’s way of talking like no one else. She ended state¬ments with a question, as if to ask if you really understood what she was talking about? Papa said she enchanted him. From their first conversation he knew she had to be his forever. They married two months after they met and Mama never stopped asking questions. Like a pair of eagles, their hearts were bound for life.

They pastored a church in a German-speaking settlement at Creedmore, Texas. My sister, Jessica, was born there, in 1911. I arrived seven years later. The family returned to Europe as mis¬sionaries after the “War to End All Wars” concluded. Though I had little memory of Texas, Jessica and I spoke perfect American English and considered ourselves Americans. Janet Bittick had not let her daughters forget their mother’s first language. From our childhood, Papa made sure the honor of our U.S. citizenship was prominently noted on our identity papers.

I switched off the lights and retreated down the hall.

The parlor was dark. The keyboard of Mama’s upright piano was open, and sheet music spread out on the stand.

Someone had been visiting. The piano was seldom played since Mama passed away. No one could pound out a song like she did. Honky-tonk and Southern Gospel music. “I’ll fly away, Oh, Glory! I’ll fly away!” Mama could draw a crowd every time.

Perhaps some seminary student in a shining new military uni¬form had stopped in to visit Papa before being called to duty in the Belgian army.

My husband, Varrick, and Jessica’s husband of nine years, Wil¬liam, were together at the border. With most of the young men of Belgium they stood guard against possible invasion by the German army. The horror stories of the Nazi invasion of Poland were fresh in everyone’s mind.

Entering my bedroom, I kicked the door shut with my foot and closed the curtains before turning on the lamp. I picked up the framed photograph of Varrick and me beside the river Zenne last summer. We were squinting into the sun as Mama grinned around the camera and snapped the shutter. Holding the frame against my heart, I could almost see Mama’s face, commanding us to smile and not blink. With a sigh, I turned my back on the memory. What was a birthday, anyway, with so much going on in the world?

“Only another day. Never mind.”

Replacing the snapshot, I switched on the tabletop radio. Glenn Miller’s band filled the space with “In the Mood.” American big band music was becoming more and more popular these days as everyone dreamed of sailing into New York harbor.

I held my arms up as if Varrick had come into the room and asked me to dance. A moment. Imagination. Then I glimpsed my reflection in the round mirror on the wall. Alone. Same thick blond, unruly mane. Sad blue-gray eyes stared back at me as if I were seeing a stranger within my own reflection. Full red lips curved unconvincingly up at the corners as I tried on a smile. “I want you to smile? Honey? Okay. Pretty. Pretty. Now don’t blink while I just…just…say cheese?”

I would not allow myself to think of other birthdays…like last year. Belgian chocolate cake and presents on the table. Varrick and the young men from the seminary gathered ’round to serenade. Who could have imagined what a difference one year could make? The sudden absence of Mama’s cheerful strength had left me so weak.

I turned out the lamp, opened the curtains, and raised the win¬dow. Sinking onto the edge of the bed, I lay back on my pillow. The scent of lilacs drifted in. I remembered Mama planting the lilac bush on my tenth birthday. The thick bloom of Texas in her accent had returned. “My darling girl? You’re a big girl now. Ten years old? I can’t believe it. Outside my bedroom window at home in Texas? When you were born? There were lilacs. Just beginning to bloom. Happy birthday. Happy, happy birthday, my Loralei. From now on? I’ll always give you lilacs for your birthday. Forever. And when I fly away? Whenever you smell the scent of lilacs, you’ll remember the sweet times of our life…. Can you hold onto that? How much your mama loved you? You’ll remember me…remember us.”

It was past the dinner hour when I heard the sound of Papa and Jessica outside on the walk.

“But are they all leaving Belgium?” Jessica was incredulous. “Tonight?”

Papa replied somberly, “If they don’t make it to France before this begins…”

Little Gina reprimanded, “Grandpa, my daddy won’t let the Nazis in.”

A moment of silence passed. I leapt to my feet and hurried to meet my father, sister, and niece in the foyer. The door swung open, and Jessica, eight months pregnant, threw her arms around me in an awkward embrace. “Oh, Lora, the Wehrmacht is massing at the borders tonight!”

As Papa nudged them into the parlor, Gina piped, “Oh, Aun¬tie Lora! All the Jews in the seminary? Leaving tonight! Going to France. Maybe us too.”

“Papa?” I questioned.

“True.” Papa’s dark brown eyes flashed concern as he glanced toward Jessica.

“But…us?” I put my arm around Jessica’s shoulders. “How can we?”

Papa ran his fingers through closely cropped salt-and-pepper hair. The last months had wearied him immeasurably. “We can’t stay. If they come…”

I understood who “they” were. But could it be that the Nazis intended to invade as they had in Poland? “Papa?”

Jessica replied quietly, “The train station. Chaos. Riots. They all want to get away.”

Papa looked around the room as though choosing what to take away when we fled. “We’re as much in the gunsights now as the peo¬ple we have helped. It will be over in Belgium in a matter of days.”

Jessica, alabaster skin pale and expression weary, spoke the name of her husband tenderly. “William.”

Gina, the image of Jessica at that age, tossed blond curls fiercely and began to cry. “But Mommy! Auntie Lora? Will Daddy come with us too?”

I embraced the child. “Gina, if we must leave”—Papa nodded. It was a certainty— “your daddy will come along after us to France. Soon. He’ll follow.”

Gina clung to my waist and turned her face upward, imploring, “And your Varrick? Him too, Auntie Lora? Will Varrick and Daddy come together?”

“Together.” I spoke confidently, but my knees felt suddenly weak. Leave Brussels? Leave the stone cottage at Alderman Semi¬nary? The only real home I had ever known? Oh, why hadn’t we left Belgium when the other members of Alderman staff had fled? “Papa?” I questioned with a glance toward Jessica. “What about…”

Jessica’s clear pewter eyes became determined. She caressed her belly and drew herself erect. “There are doctors in France. Still a month until I’m due. Gina was ten days late. By then? Surely…”

Papa seemed to gather strength in Jessica’s courage. “Yes. By then, we’ll be in Paris. The French army is the best equipped in the world. Your American passports. Your mama always said, bet¬ter than gold.” Papa instructed us, but his passport was Austrian, a nation now under the control of the Third Reich. “We may just have hours. One suitcase each only. I’ve saved enough petrol over the months from the rations. Enough for us to reach France in the automobile.”


I lay in my bed, acutely aware this might be the last time I slept in my own familiar room for a long time. Maybe forever. The door to my room was ajar.

Jessica and Gina occupied the spare bedroom.

Papa’s voice floated down the hallway. “Good night, Jessica. Angels keep you, little Gina!”

Gina’s sweet voice replied in an almost perfect American accent, “You too, Grandpa. Big ones.”

I heard my father’s footsteps approach. He rapped softly and the door swung open. The light shone behind him. His hair was still mussed from his hat.

“Still awake, Daughter?” he asked quietly.

“Yes, Papa,” I answered.

“I almost forgot your birthday.” His voice was sad. “Happy birthday.”

“It’s okay. I almost forgot too. I think for next year I’ll change the date anyway, or it will forever remind me of this night.”

“Things will come right for us again. For the world.” He spoke the words but was unconvincing.

“What now, Papa?”

He crossed his arms. “Mobilization full on. North railway sta¬tion packed with soldiers today. I went to see some of the boys off. So many women and children saying good-bye. I fear our brave boys face an uphill battle.”

“What will become of Belgium? King Leopold?”

“I looked at the signs in the station. The train to Waterloo. It’s only an hour to the battlefield at Waterloo, where Napoleon was defeated by Wellington. Different tyrant, but a tyrant all the same.”

“Will there be another Waterloo?”

“Another battle, yes. Seven years since Hitler destroyed the German democracy. Yes. But whose Waterloo this will be is almost certain. This time the Allies have no Wellington to pull it off.”

“How long can we hold out?”

“Days, I think.”

“I heard from the nuns at St Mary’s. After school. They said Belgian soldiers have been issued wooden bullets. I told them it was only a rumor.”

“Not a rumor, I’m afraid. Belgian officers are passing out wooden bullets. The kind they use in practice maneuvers.”

We considered this bleak information for a long moment. I sighed. “Pointless against German Panzers. Just like what hap¬pened to the Poles.”

Papa agreed. “Someone in the government must think it will make the soldiers feel better about things if their rifles make a big bang…”

“…before they die.”

“Our fortifications against the Germans are built to be impen¬etrable. So the Germans simply go around, or fly over.”

“It is over, then, Papa? The battle for Belgium? Over before it’s started?”

“Oh, Loralei, dear girl. I’m praying for a miracle. Miracles can happen.”

“The Red Sea parted.”

“We will pray.”

I closed my eyes and whispered a prayer for Varrick and William. Would they fight the Blitzkreig with wooden bullets? “The Polish Jews have a saying. God is too high up, and America is too far away.”

Papa replied, “We won’t give up hope. Maybe the Germans will decide Belgium isn’t worth their while. The lowlands of Holland. Maybe the Nazis will turn on Russia instead of us. Yes. We will pray.”

“That’s all that is left to us for the time being.”

Papa was silent for a moment. “God is watching to see what brave men will do. That is everything, my dear. So, happy birthday, my darling girl. I’m sorry I forgot.”

“We’ll celebrate in Paris.”

His voice smiled. “Well, then. There you have it. When we reach Paris, we’ll have a lovely celebration. Until then, we’ll pretend it’s not yet your birthday.”

“Night, Papa.”

“Night, my darling girl.” He turned to go, then paused, head bowed. “And…your mother loved you very much, you know.”

“I’m sure of it.”

“Always said you were the strong one. Stronger than your sister in a lot of ways. Texan at your core.”

“Like Mama, I hope.”

“Your mother always said God loves a good story. Courage and strength. Impossible battles.”

I laughed gently. “Remember the Alamo, huh? These Nazis don’t know what they’re facing if America comes in.”

“America must…” Papa’s voice faltered. “Ah, well. Enough of that. You’ll need to be strong in the days ahead. For your sister’s sake. You’ll need to help her through this. If William doesn’t…I mean, he likely won’t be around when the baby is born.”

“I will, Papa. Be strong, I mean.”

“There’s my girl. There’s my Loralei.”

“You should sleep now, Papa. Thanks for remembering.”

He nodded and padded down the corridor toward his bedroom.

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