Sophie was mightily confused when she woke up hours later. Part of her wondered why morning should be dark. Then she remembered. They had made a mad dash from their former hideout to this quiet place in the deep woods. For a second, Sophie felt at peace. She couldn’t hear anything save the low call of some night birds in the woods and murmuring voices below.
Marie was already up. Sophie quickly pulled on a sweater over her dress, slipped on her shoes and made her way quietly down the stairs. Something about this place made her want to tip-toe about, afraid that any noise would break the tranquility.
The smell of frying bacon made her stomach growl. She pushed the door to the kitchen open. Everyone but Karl was there. Wilhelm offered her a seat next to him and set a mug of coffee in front of her. She thanked him with a smile.
Wilhelm sighed. “Still in bed.”
Sophie’s heart dropped. “Sometimes I wish I could just yank him right out of bed and talk some sense into him.”
Marie nodded vigorously from where she sat near the stove. “I lost Philipe but that doesn’t mean I’m just going to quit.”
The elderly lady that had taken them in turned from the stove. Her kind eyes searched each of their faces and compassion seemed to radiate from her. “You all need rest. Stay here for a few days and refresh yourselves.”
“That sure sounds good to me.” Sophie replied. “I’ve hardly been able to think with everything that’s happened.” She looked up at Wilhelm to see if he agreed.
Wilhelm looked lost in thought.
“Wilhelm?” Sophie gently nudged his foot with her shoe. “What’s wrong?”
“I’m worried about Karl. It’s like he’s in his own little gloomy world.”
Sophie rested her chin on her hand. “The whole thing with David made him question his leadership abilities, failure to rescue more Jews during our mission caused him to feel defeated, and Philippe’s death,” Sophie paused. “It yanked the the carpet right out from under him.”
“What can we do?”
Marie suddenly pushed her chair back and stood. “Don’t you remember?” She asked.
Sophie looked at her, confused and startled. “Remember what?”
“Remember what happened with, David?” Marie began to pace noisily in front of the windows facing the back yard. “From what I’ve heard, he didn’t seem like some horrible person who wanted to kill you all. It seems more to me that none of you were paying attention to his grief and left to suffer on his own, it drove him to what he did.”
Sophie glanced at Wilhelm. She couldn’t even begin to read his face. Anger? Understanding?
“Just wait, Sophie.” Marie interrupted. “Karl feels responsible for Philippe’s death and all this trouble we’ve been having. I know he does! Don’t take this the wrong way but have any of us been willing to step away from our comfort zone and cry with him?” Her pause was punctuated by silence. “I’m not saying I like how Karl has handled himself but I’m afraid he may let the grief overwhelm him like David did, just in a different way.”
Sophie blinked, tears welling in her eyes. “You’re saying if we would’ve paid attention to David’s pain things may have turned out differently?”
Marie sat back down and stared at both Wilhelm and Sophie. “Listen, I’m not saying what happened was anyone’s fault, but in my book, when someone we love is lost, we go after them. We tell them we care.” Tears glistened in her eyes. “He’s your brother, Sophie. Don’t be afraid of him.” She suddenly laughed, choking back tears. “Go and knock some sense back into that stubborn head of his.”
Karl turned over in bed scowling. Why had Wilhelm pulled the curtains open to let the sunlight in? Eyes burning, Karl blinked. How long had it been since he had seen such brilliant light? He couldn’t remember.
This place was peaceful. There wasn’t that tense feeling of dread that had permeated the walls of their former hideout. He could smell bacon. It smelled wonderful.
He swallowed hard. No. He didn’t deserve any kind of comfort after the way he had destroyed his friend’s lives.
Slowly, on legs weakened from not eating enough, Karl stood and made his way to the window. His room was near the back of the house and the window looked out into the deep forest. Blue sky overhead and warm sunshine gave promise of a beautiful day. A spring breeze made the curtains flutter and Karl breathed deeply. The scent of freshly turned earth took him back to the days when he had helped his father in their small kitchen garden.
Karl felt his lip tremble and moisture burned his eyes. No. He couldn’t cry. He couldn’t show weakness again.
A soft knock made him turn. The door opened and his sister came in, bearing a tray with bacon, eggs, and a tall glass of milk. His heart hurt. She was the one he had let down the most.
“Good-morning.” She placed the tray on the table beside the bed. They both stood there, staring at each other until Sophie cleared her throat.
“Karl, can we talk?”
Every muscle in Karl’s body tensed. He didn’t want to talk. He knew he’d start crying if he did.
“Sure.” He swallowed the lump in his throat and sat down on the bed.
“You look a little better this morning.” Sophie sat across from him, her eyes studying his face.
“Must be the fresh air.” Karl glanced at the breakfast tray to get away from his sister’s scrutiny. In all honesty, his stomach screamed at him to be fed but he couldn’t eat a bite. The painful lump in his throat wouldn’t let anything pass.
Karl watched his sister. What did she want?
“You ever think about him?” She suddenly asked.
Karl raised one eye-brow a talent only he had perfected out of their family. “There are a lot of hims I’ve known over the years.”
Sophie looked out the open window. “Philippe. Do you ever think about him?”
Karl shifted uneasily. “Sometimes.”
“You remember what he said right before he died?” Sophie continued to look out the window.
“Soph, I don’t want to talk about this. You know I don’t.” Karl felt the lump in his throat growing. The grief was nearly choking him now.
Sophie didn’t seem to hear. “I told Philippe not to let go…I told him that it wasn’t fair, that it was my fault. You remember what he told me?”
“He said, ‘Sophie, don’t do that. That kind of guilt can be a dangerous thing. We don’t always get certain choices in this life, but there’s a plan in this.’” Sophie turned and looked at him. “Karl, it’s not your fault. None of it is. I don’t know why it had to happen, but none of it is because of you.”
Karl stood. The burning moisture in his eyes became tears on his face. “Sophie. I should’ve made sure you all were safe. I should’ve planned more. I should’ve had reinforcements. It was selfish of me to think we could do it all ourselves. It’s my fault! You hear me. It’s all my fault!” His knees suddenly became weak and he sank to the smooth floorboards.
“Karl. There are many things we should’ve done. We can’t go back and change it and we can’t and shouldn’t live in the mistakes we’ve made. You are a valuable part of our group. I want you to live again.”
Sophie’s gaze met his. “We need you—“
For the first time in what felt like forever, Karl let himself cry.