And now the opening pages from chapter one, "Rooted in Love" ...
Gretel paused for moment to push her unruly curls back under her kerchief. She sat back on her heels to stretch her back and brushed her hands on her apron, leaving a dark smudge of dirt across the fabric. She was only about a third of the way through the flower garden, pulling out the stubborn bind weed and turf from around the plants. How long had she been at this tiring task? She checked the sky and guessed it to be about lunch time. Perhaps just a few more feet and then she could stop for a bite to eat.
She bent back over her work and felt the hot sun her neck. Gretel grabbed a handful of dandelions and gave a tug being careful not to uproot the tender buttercups nearby. She moved on to a tuft of burdock that threatened to choke out her cotton candy colored primrose. It was a never-ending battle to keep the weeds from taking over her flower garden. Unbidden, her father's old saying came to mind, "Weeding halts the unwanted seeds we allow to take root in our lives." With renewed vigor, she seized a handful of flixweed and yanked ... hoping to also uproot the control her father still held over her life.
Turning back to her work, another of her father's phrases sprang to mind. "Work while you work, play while you play. A job half done isn't don't the right way." Gretel shook her head and blinked back tears. It had been nearly nine years since that horrible day, but it felt like only yesterday she had stood in the middle of this forest, clinging to her brother's hand and searching in vain for the bread crumbs that would lead them home again.
She remembered the first time that wicked woman, her stepmother, had tricked them into following her into the woods. Gretel had watched her father from under the pine tree as he argued with his wife, but in the end, he had relented. She had felt his rejection as he had turned back to his wood shop, never looking back over his shoulder to see her standing in the shade of the tree. At the time she hadn't understood what was going on, but she could sense there was trouble. That was the reason for her pocketful of pebbles when they set off for their afternoon walk with her stepmother. Her caution had been their salvation.
She smiled ruefully as she remembered the shocked and angry look on the face of her stepmother when they arrived back home in time for dinner. She had been flustered with their appearance and had received them with a stilted, "Welcome home. Wash up for dinner." Gretel remembered the fierceness with which her father had hugged her, but she had not hugged him back. She could not forget how weak he had been earlier that day. Nor could she forgive him for letting her go.
Knock, knock, knock ...
Gretel was startled out of her reminiscing by a noise coming from the roof of the cottage. She squinted against the sun and could just make out the silhouette of Hansel crouched at the edge of eaves. He was hammering in new gingerbread shingles to replace the ones the crows had eaten. Hansel had mentioned over breakfast that a woodpecker had pecked a few holes in the sugary mortar between a few of the shingles which in turn had weakened the them enough for the crows to fly off with several prized cookies. Gretel caught a whiff of the sweet and spicy smell of the gingerbread boy baking in the oven. She had offered to make a ginger scarecrow for Hansel to mount on the roof, but first he needed to repair the damaged shingles.
While Gretel worked in the garden, caring for the sky blue lupine and the dusty purple field aster, Hansel took care of the red and white candy cane shutters and black licorice lattice of the cottage. They were a good team and Gretel was grateful they had each other. She was grateful she wasn't completely alone.
Again, her father's words fluttered through her thoughts, "Blood is thicker than water and family is sweeter than candy."
"Leave me alone," she grumbled to the ironweed she clutched in her hand. "Why can't you just leave me alone?" She stood and angrily brushed her hands against her apron again. She needed a change of scene. She headed to the front porch and sat in the shade of the cottage. In spite of her efforts, her thoughts returned to the past and the day her wicked stepmother successfully abandoned them to the woods.
She remembered being shaken awake while it was still dark. Her stepmother stood over her with her shawl and shoes.
"Get up and get dressed. We're getting an early start."
"Why? Where are we going?"
"Shhh... don't wake your father. Get up and wake your brother."
She had stumbled around in the dark to dress and find Hansel's shoes and cloak. Her stepmother stood at the door tapping her foot with her arms crossed sharply in front of her. Gretel could hear her father's whiffly snore from the back room. She thought for a moment that she might call out to him. But then the fear that he would turn his back on her again clutched at her heart and instead she walked toward the door.
"I'm hungry," mumbled Hansel sleepily.
"We've no time to eat," demanded the stepmother, "you can find some berries along the way."
Gretel felt panic rising in her chest. She had not prepared for this early morning exodus. She had no rocks this time and she looked around the dark kitchen in desperation. It was then that she spotted the coarse-grained bread on the table, left-over from last night's dinner. She quietly and quickly slipped the loaf of bread into the folds of her shawl and grasped Hansel's hand.
As they walked through the woods, she secretly dropped crumbs of her father's bread. He was a baker as well as a woodsman. In fact, he was quiet famous throughout the forest glen for his hearty breads. His love of nature found its way into his culinary expertise as he chose unique and flavorful seeds and seasonings to add to his baked goods - sesame seeds, flax seeds, sunflowers seeds and more.
As you well know, those breadcrumbs we quickly snatched up by the birds and squirrels of the forest and when young Hansel and Gretel found themselves hours later deep in the heart of the forest and utterly alone, there was no trace of those precious morsels left to follow home.
Gretel and Hansel wandered for a few hours longer before finding the gingerbread cottage and the old witch who lived there. Out of desperation and hope, Gretel had continued to drop crumbs of her father's loaf even right up to the cottages front step.
"How about something cold to drink."
Gretel jumped and looked up from her place on the porch. Hansel stood behind her with two glasses of chilled, chocolate milk. She smiled and scooted over to make room for her brother.
As she sipped the cold, creamy milk, she looked down the path that lead from the steps out into the woods. She could see the little blue flowers peeking up from the soft green brush along the edge of the well-worn trail. Every spring those little buds appeared and every spring she tried to ignore their arrival. Little seeds nestled in her father's bread and left behind by the birds. Little seeds that had bloomed and beckoned her to take a walk.
In her heart, she knew those delicate forget-me-nots would lead her all the way home.
#4 - You've got a book deal ... now what are you going to write?!