Hansel took off is woolen cloak and hung it on the hook by the door. He strode across the room and stood with his chapped hands held out to the fire. Gretel moved to the stove. “Would you like a bit of tea? I was just going to pour myself a mug.”
“Yes, thanks.” Hansel knelt in front of the hearth and stoked the fire. He added a few more logs and, using the bellows, coaxed the wood to a blaze. He stood up and settled into his chair which sat to the left of the fireplace. He scooted the seat a few feet closer to the fire and leaned forward to warm his hands. Gretel handed him his mug of strong tea and took her seat to the right of the fire. She pulled her shawl around her shoulders and cupped the warm mug in her hands.
“How did the morning go? Did you make some good trades?”
“I think so. It was a busy market day. I think the changing of the seasons has stirred up the forest folk. Everyone was there looking to stock their pantries and sheds for the winter. I believe that we will have what we need now. I have another pack out on the front porch that we can unpack a bit later.” He paused and caught her eye, “And I have a surprise for you.”
Gretel immediately felt her face grow warm. She loved that her brother brought her gifts, but she never felt quite worthy of their added expense. This gift most likely meant that Hansel had decided to go without something that he needed. His generous spirit often cost him, making the gift that much more dear for the sacrifice it represented. Gretel set her mug on the small table next to her chair and leaned forward, extending her hand out toward the parcel Hansel held.
It was light, wrapped in scratchy burlap. Twine tied the bundle closed. Gretel glanced up at Hansel and saw the light in his eyes; a reflection of the fire, but also the excitement he felt in giving her this gift. She smiled and unknotted the twine, allowing the package to fall open in her lap.
“They’re tulip bulbs,” Hansel announced, “A mixture of colors. Red, yellow, pink.”
“Wonderful!” Gretel fingered the tear-shaped roots, brushing free some of the loose dirt. “What a delight! Where did you get them?”
Hansel’s smile faltered and then he took a brief sip of his tea. When he put the mug back in his lap, his smile had returend, but it looked forced, fake. “There was a booth at the market. A man there was selling seeds and bulbs. And, of course, I thought of you.” His voice trailed off and his hands twisted his mug nervously. “I thought perhaps we could plant them tomorrow. Maybe in the bed on the south side of the cottage. I could clear out a space near the barberry bush. It’s a little overgrown and could use some pruning. What do you think?”
“That sounds fine. Thank you.” Gretel could sense Hansel’s anxiety, but she hesitated to pry. She didn’t want her inquisitiveness to tarnish this gift. She smiled at her brother and reached across the space between them to pat his knee. “Thank you.”