Anna crouches at the top of the staircase; afraid of the darkness of the bedroom, she seeks solace in the light filtering in from below, where her parents sit in the dining room’s dim light. Their soft murmurs waft up to her, soothing, making her drowsy. Most nights she almost sleepwalks back into bed. But tonight she hears something that rouses her.
-“When should we tell them?” Her mother is asking.
-“I’m not sure we should tell them at all,” her father replies, his voice low.
-“Anshel, we must. Soon they’ll know something is happening, they’ll start asking questions. They might tell someone,” her mother ends in a whisper.
A surprise for us! Anna is wide awake now, little hands grasping the wooden banister. She loves surprises.
-“You’re right,” he sounds tired. “But, Dara, let’s wait until we’re ready. Once we have confirmation on the ship, at least. We can tell them the night we leave; there won’t be time for them to tell anyone.”
A ship! Anna wants to shout ‘I won’t tell anyone!’, but she controls herself; she’s a big girl now. She has a yellow star on her coat, doesn’t she? She’d been so jealous of Ilana’s and Hannah’s, but now she has one too. Anna hadn’t understood why Ma frowned while sewing it on.
Her parents must have moved into the kitchen; she can’t hear them anymore. But she’s heard enough, and she’ll never be able to sleep now. A surprise that involves a ship! She has to tell someone.
-“Ilana? Hannah?” she tiptoes into her sisters’ bedroom, feeling her way to the bed in the dark. “Are you awake?”
-“Anna! What are you doing up?” Hannah’s hiss comes from the other side of the bed. “You should be sleeping.” Anna hears… sniffling?
-“What are you doing?” Her eyes adjust to the dark, and she sees both her sisters sitting on the floor, huddled by the wrought-iron vent. The vent leads to the kitchen below; upward drafts carry delicious aromas and, sometimes, surprisingly clear snatches of conversations.
-“We’re just… talking,” Ilana reaches for her, pulling her into an unexpected hug. Ilana’s eyes look puffy. Neither of them looks happy, but Anna is going to change that, right now.
-“I’ve something to tell you,” Anna struggles in Ilana’s arms. “Ma and Da have a surprise for us! I think we’re going on a vacation, on a ship! But we’re not supposed to tell.” Her voice, barely below a whisper, teems with excitement. “You have to pretend to be surprised when they tell us, ok?” She beams at them.
Anna wonders why her sisters exchange a look of such… dismay. Maybe she somehow said it wrong? Sometimes what she means to say is not what comes out. She wants to start again, but Ilana is softly crying again, hugging her tighter. Hannah smooths her hair, a fist pressed to her mouth muffling her words.
-“Shush, Anna. Shush.”
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