"A lovely lady with a lovely smile," he said. "My name is Friedrich Bhaer, but you may call me Fritz, as everyone does."
Flattered by his compliment, Jo smiled. "It's nice to meet you."
"It is wonderful to meet you as well, Miss March." For some reason, she didn't mind at all when he called her that; instead of making her feel old, it made her feel special.
"Your sons are so cute!" she said as she watched the tousle-haired lads at play.
"They are my nephews, but thank you," said Fritz.
"How old are they?" asked Jo.
"Adam is six, and Daniel is four," Fritz told her. "I wish their dear mother could see them. She would be so proud."
Jo was dying to ask what had happened to her, but she didn't want to seem rude.
"When did you come to New York?"
"About six months ago, right after Minna's accident," he replied. "And you, meine Dame, when did you arrive?"
"What did you call me?" To her, it had sounded just a little like 'minor dummy.'
He smiled. "Meine Dame. My lady."
"What language is that?"
"German. I am from Berlin. Minna wanted her sons to grow up and go to school in the United States, and that is why I came. But you have yet to answer my question."
"Oh!" Jo chuckled. "I just got here yesterday."
"The Kirkes have a beautiful home," said Fritz. "I rent a room in the brownstone beside it, so we are next door neighbors."
Jo couldn't believe her ears. "You rent just one room for yourself and the boys?" She remembered how Ella and Emma had called him 'Professor.'
"To rent an entire brownstone would be far beyond the means of a mere tutor."
"But Ella and Emma called you 'Professor'!"
"I lack the credentials necessary to teach in an American university," Fritz explained.
"So you gave up your career just so your nephews could grow up in America?"
"To me, it was worth it."
Jo watched the children at play as she swallowed a lump in her throat. "You must have really loved her."
He looked into her eyes. "Is that so hard to understand?"
She shook her head. "Oh no, not at all." Her eyes filled with tears as she thought of Beth. He saw them fall, and such a look of tenderness came into his own eyes that she had to look away. This is crazy! she thought to herself. I just met him!
"It's getting late," she called to Ella and Emma. "We'd better head back. We don't want your mother to worry." She glanced back at Fritz. "I guess I'll be seeing you around."
"I hope so," he replied.
Her cell phone rang, and she saw that it was her mother.
"Hi, Mom," she said.
"Hello, darling," said Mrs. March. "How's the nanny job going so far?"
"It's going great, Mom. Charlotte's so nice, and the brownstone's awesome! You wouldn't believe how big the kitchen is, and the cook - it's just like eating in an expensive restaurant every day!"
"I'm glad you're enjoying yourself, dear."
Jo took a deep breath. "How's Beth?"
She heard her mother's heavy sigh. "About the same."
Although hesitant to ask, she had to know. "Has Teddy been by?"
"No." Good, thought Jo. Maybe he's finally accepted it and gone on with his life.
"He's quite a remarkable man," said Charlotte. It was Sunday evening, and they were enjoying a dinner of salad and lasagna. "Always smiles and has a kind word for everyone, and he adores kids, although he has none of his own. He's devoted to those nephews of his. I honestly don't know how he makes it. All their clothes come from the Salvation Army or Goodwill."
"He told me he'd been a professor in Berlin."
"And he gave it up for those two little boys."
"He's the only family they have," Sharon explained. "He couldn't bear the thought of their going into foster homes and possibly suffering abuse."
"What happened to their parents?"
Charlotte sighed. "It happened right after Easter. They were on the turnpike, and it was raining hard. Jake lost control of the car, and it plunged over a guardrail and down a steep embankment into a river. He and Minna drowned."
Jo gasped. "What a horrible way to die! Where were the boys when it happened?"
"Visiting with friends. Jake and Minna were on the way to pick them up."
"Poor little boys!"
"I know. It was such a tragedy!"
We should have them over for Thanksgiving dinner, Jo thought to herself, although she realized it wasn't her place to suggest that.
Over the next couple of weeks, Jo and Fritz saw each other on an almost daily basis. He always greeted her the same way. "Guten tag, Miss March."
Jo waited until the Kirkes had finished eating their Thanksgiving dinner, then retrieved three paper plates from a cabinet. She piled generous helpings of turkey, mashed potatoes, and various other treats onto each plate, then covered them with aluminum foil, put them in a bag, and made her way to the brownstone next door. I hope I'm bringing enough, she worried.
She rang the bell, and when the owner appeared, asked to be directed to Fritz's room. She knocked on the door, and moments later, Fritz appeared, wearing an apron.
"Miss March! What a surprise!" he said. ""Please, come in!"
Jo was taken aback by the topsy-turvy condition of the room. On every available surface lay clothing, books, and toys, and toys also covered the floor. Adam and Daniel sat at a small table, eating bologna sandwiches.
"We had lots of leftovers from dinner, and instead of tossing them out, I wanted to share them with you," Jo announced as she removed the plates from the bag. She took the aluminum foil off them, and the delicious aroma wafted up. There was turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy, salad, rolls, yams, cranberries, and pecan pie. Jo watched, touched, as the boys' eyes grew bigger and bigger.
"I - I do not know what to say," Fritz stammered as the boys reached for the plates with eager hands.
Jo nodded toward the remaining plate. "Aren't you going to eat yours?"
Fritz clasped her hand in both his own. "Danke schon. Thank you so much. You are an angel."
On the way back to the Kirke's, Jo saw something shiny lying on the ground. She stopped to pick it up and saw that it was a plain silver ring. It was almost dark, so she slipped the ring into her pocket and hurried on.
She was about to lie down to sleep when she remembered the ring. She fetched it from her coat pocket and looked at it more closely. She saw that the initials 'M.W.' had been engraved on the inside.
The ring was still clasped in her hand when she fell asleep.