Louis Garrison shot up in bed, his eyes wide in terror and his breath coming in rapid gasps. He looked around the dark room in confusion. “Where am I? This isn’t my room.”
There was no one in the bed next to him and he searched the darkness in a panic. “Where’s Tina?”
Slowly, his conscious mind began to make sense of his surroundings. It had been a bad dream. This was his room. He recognized the shapes in the darkness.
He hung his head. Tina was gone now, four centuries away, ripped from him by the Ring of Fire, along with his children, job, and everything but what he had in his car when he was trapped in Grantville that day.
His bladder reminded him he was awake and he stumbled into the bathroom to empty it, without bothering to turn on the light, and then returned to his bed to sit down.
The nightmares had stopped after the first few months. The struggles of keeping Grantville and its people alive had kept him, and everyone else, too busy. Then, the task of opening the restaurant had taken all his time and attention. But the town had made it and the restaurant was doing fine, so the dreams had returned. This was the sixth one this month.
He found a match and lit the candle beside the bed. Noticing the time on the simple clock, he saw there were still a few hours before the sun rose. But, there was no way he could sleep again now, with his heart still racing from the dream.
Reaching down, he picked up his jeans, pulled out his wallet, and found the photo of Tina. He sat for over an hour just staring at the picture, tears running down his cheeks.
Anna Schmidt stared open-mouthed as the aircraft circled through the sky over Grantville. She had heard tales of the flying machines, but seeing one was amazing. The aircraft was noisy, yet it seemed to float above her.
“It’s almost beautiful, isn’t it?” came a voice from behind her.
Anna jumped at the sudden interruption of her thoughts and spun around to see a teenage girl, probably half her own age.
Anna looked up at the aircraft and watched as it flew away from town. “Yes, I have heard of them, but that is the first one I have seen.”
The girl also watched wistfully as the aircraft flew away. “Well, if this is the first time you’ve seen an airplane, then you must be new to Grantville. We see them quite a bit since the pilots are trained nearby.” She extended her hand in greeting. “I’m Veronika Heyder.”
Anna took the girl’s hand. “I am Anna Schmidt. Yes, this is my first time in Grantville. I came to find my aunt.”
“Maybe I can help, what’s your aunt’s name?”
“Her name is Magdalena Bacher.”
The girl’s face lit up. “You’re Magda’s niece! She told us you were coming.”
“You know my aunt?”
“Know her? I used to work with her. She’s probably at the restaurant now. Come on, I’m going there to get something to eat. I’ll take you right to her.”
When Veronika led the woman into his restaurant, Louis Garrison couldn’t help but notice her. She was stunning. Even though she was showing the signs of aging that all German women of the time did and she had obviously just finished a trip from the condition of her plain clothes, she had a grace of movement that was unusual in the working women he knew.
The old woman looked up and her face beamed in recognition. “Anna, you are here!” She rushed over and embraced the newcomer in a fierce hug.
After chatting for several minutes, Magda led her over to him. “Herr Garrison, this is my niece, Anna Schmidt. I told you she was coming to stay with me.”
“Of course,” Louis answered. “Frau Schmidt, it’s a pleasure to meet you. Welcome to Grantville.” He extended his hand in greeting.
Anna was hesitant, but grasped his hand firmly. “Thank you, Herr Garrison. Tante Magda has told me of you in her letters.”
“Has she now? I hope I was described kindly.”
“She said you were very kind to give her work and that you were a fair employer.”
Louis looked at Magda. “That’s high praise from you, Magda.”
The old woman scowled. “Do not let it go to your head. You could not run this place without me.”
Louis couldn’t help but laugh. “Don’t I know it! Frau Schmidt, you must have had a long trip. Would you like a drink or something to eat?”
“No thank you, I am fine.”
“Are you sure? It’s on me.”
Anna looked over at Magda in confusion.
“He means that you do not have to pay,” Magda explained. “Go ahead. Have a drink.”
Anna looked back at him. “Thank you, Herr Garrison. Perhaps I will have a small beer.”
Louis smiled. “One beer for the lady, coming right up.”
He quickly poured the beer and brought it back to the table. “Here you go, Frau Schmidt.”
“Thank you, Herr Garrison.”
“Please, you’re Magda’s niece. That means you’re almost family. Call me Louis. I’ve been trying to get Magda to call me that since she started here.”
“It would not be proper,” Magda protested.
Louis shook his head. “Yeah, yeah, I know, but I would still like you to call me Louis. Frau Schmidt, will you call me Louis?”
Anna nodded. “Of course, uh, Louis. You may call me Anna.”
“Great! Now Magda, I’m sure Anna needs to get settled. Why don’t you take the rest of the evening off? It’s a slow night and Andreas is here. We can handle things for one evening.”
Magda shook her head. “And I will have twice the work tomorrow because of it, but I would like some time with my niece.”
“Right, have a good time. Take her out and show her the sights.” He again extended his hand to Anna. “Anna, it was a pleasure to meet you.”
Anna shot up in bed, breathing heavily and her eyes wide in terror. “The flames! Johann!”
She looked around the dark room in confusion. “Where am I? This isn’t my room.”
Her sobbing caused her aunt to wake up. “Anna, what is it? What is wrong?”
“A dream, Tante Magda, the fire.”
Her aunt held her close. “Shhh, Anna, the fire was weeks ago. It cannot hurt you now. You are safe here with me.”
Louis smiled at the stubborn look on Carole Cunningham’s face. “Carole, she needs the work.”
Carole crossed her arms in defiance. “I will not have another woman cleaning my house like I was some pampered duchess.”
“She’s not cleaning your house, just my apartment. You know I don’t do much cleaning.”
“Well, I wouldn’t exactly call it a pig sty, but you could use a little help.”
“Right, plus you and Bonnie are having a harder time with the stairs every day. Let me hire Anna and you won’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Carole thought for a while. “She won’t be in the main house trying to change things?”
“Just my apartment.”
“Well, I guess it won’t hurt anything. Okay.”
Anna listened as her aunt lectured to her.
“The work will not be difficult,” said the older woman. “He only has a small place and spends most of his time at the restaurant. But that is no excuse to neglect your duties.”
“Yes, Tante Magda, but why are you worried? I have enjoyed this last week and you have shown me so many wonderful things, but I am ready to work now. Besides, he seems like a nice man.”
“He is, Anna, and that is exactly why he deserves your best effort. But he is also my employer and accepted you as his housekeeper because you are my niece. Do not embarrass me. The work will be easy, but you will do your best.”
“Tante Magda, I will not embarrass you. You were kind enough to take me in when Johann died. I will make you proud.”
Magda’s expression softened. “You are my niece, Anna. We are family. I could not let you live on the street, doing unthinkable things to survive. Just do as you should and you will make me proud.”
Louis jerked awake as his partner walked into the restaurant’s office.
Andreas shook his head and chuckled. “Louis, go home! You are no good to us like this. Magda and I will handle the restaurant.”
“I’m sorry, Andreas. I didn’t get much sleep last night.”
“You are still having the dreams about Tina?”
Louis nodded. “The third one this week.”
“You should not be having these dreams. It is not good for your health and it has been four years since you lost her.”
“I know, but I didn’t have them for so long, I thought I was okay.”
“If you were okay, you would not be having the dreams again.”
“I’ll deal with it, Andreas.”
The look on his friend’s face was doubtful. “Very well, but go home and get some rest.”
“Okay, I give up. I’ll go home.”