To start at the beginning ...
The next morning dawned bright and crisp. Gretel laid in bed, unmoving with her eyes closed, feigning sleep as Hansel built a fire on the hearth and lit the stove to make tea. From the corner where her cot was nestled, Gretel listened to her brother’s movements: two mugs set gently on the kitchen table, the rustle of fabric as he unwrapped the cinnamon rolls from the night before to warm for breakfast, the clink of plates and silverware placed next to the mugs. She opened her eyes to a squint and peered across the cottage, but when Hansel turned toward her corner, she quickly closed her eyes and pretended again to be sleeping. She heard him sigh, his sadness permeating the morning air. Gretel still felt the sting of his betrayal and her eyes burned behind her closed lids.
Last evening had been tense, their normal interactions strained. For much of the afternoon, Hansel had busied himself with unpacking the goods he had brought home from the market. In vain, he had attempted to melt the iciness between them, but the chill of the outdoors had crept into the cottage and settled between them. For her part, Gretel had done her best to stay away from Hansel. When he came inside with the sack of flour, Gretel wandered outside to fill the bird feeder that hung near the kitchen window. When Hansel came back outside to unload the sacks of feed for the horse, Gretel ducked back in the house to set the table for dinner.
When it finally came time to sit down to eat, the only sounds to be heard were the scraping of silverware against the plates and the tap of their mugs being set on the table. Near the end of the meal, Hansel had cleared his throat as if to say something, but his sister’s steely stare had silenced him. As Gretel cleared the plates, Hansel had reached out to take her hand, but she had slipped from his grip. This unnatural silence continued through the evening. Even as they sat in their chairs near the fire before bedtime, only the crackle of the blaze and the tick of Gretel’s knitting needles filled the air. Hansel had turned in earlier than usual and Gretel had sighed with relief. And then wept quietly by the light of the fire.
Now as she lay under her quilt, she wrestled with her grief. Hansel’s disloyalty cut her to the quick, but her heart ached to reconcile with him. Her loneliness was magnified with the loss of her one true friend. Could she forgive him for this betrayal? Could she restore their friendship and yet hold her father at a distance? Or would she be forced to forgive him in order to be close to Hansel again? Staring at the ceiling of the cottage, worrying her lip, Gretel could feel Hansel’s eyes on her. When she turned to look in his direction, he quickly turned to look at the fire, suddenly self-conscious. Gretel took a deep breath. Unbidden, another of her father’s sayings came to mind, “Waters lacking forgiveness poison the soil of friendship.” Exhaling completely, Gretel climbed out of bed, wrapped her shawl around her bedclothes and walked to where Hansel sat near the fire. The hand she extended toward her brother trembled, but as she rested it upon his shoulder, she felt strengthened.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered and was surprised to see tears in his eyes, too.