Holding Hans Chapter 1When things are too good to be true – run!
Hans Meyer bounced his leg and stared at the side door of the high school—again. Where is he?
The sound of an engine behind him on the field made him look, and he smiled at the guy on the riding mower. Pretty. Really pretty. What was his name? Hans had heard it before. Everyone in Ever After knew the names of most everyone else in Ever After. Small towns were like that. But this guy hadn’t been there that long, and he was kind of a cipher. A mystery. Rune. That was it. The name. Rune. A mystical or magical symbol.
Hans shifted on the bench he occupied, glanced at the still-shut door of the school, shoved his glasses up his nose, and gazed back toward Rune. I think he’s pretty. I think, therefore I’m gay. He snorted. Maybe one didn’t inherently follow the other, but in Hans’s case—yeah. Gay. I prefer men, or at least I’m attracted to them physically. He’d noticed that about himself during the two years he’d gone to the public high school. Of course, he’d never had a date or been kissed by someone of either sex. Who’d date Hans? But his gaze had always seemed to follow attractive boys more than girls, and he’d chalked it onto his list of Interesting Facts About Hans. Greta, his twin, had also remarked on it. “Have you considered you may be homosexual,” she’d asked him one night.
“Yes, I’ve thought of it. What do you think?”
She’d shrugged and pointed to the photos on his bedroom wall.
He remembered frowning. “They’re musicians.”
“I’ve never known anyone else who had a photo of Brahms without a beard or of Berstein shirtless.”
“Umm. You have a point.”
One more tick on the gay column and—Hans sucked in air.
Rune had stopped the riding mower and was staring back at Hans. Their gazes actually connected, which made Hans want to run. But in which direction? He swallowed hard. Funny how he’d been pretty casual about advising his best friend, Red, when Red thought he might be gay. About himself? Not as casual.
Rune actually stepped off the mower. Every cell in Hans’s body got very still. Yes, do it. Come over and talk to me or something— Oh shit. What am I saying? He felt himself stand, like another power was in charge of his body. Yes, and he had a pretty good idea that the one in charge was the member of the team that was growing and expanding as he stood there staring at Rune’s glass-cut cheekbones and shaggy hair.
A woman’s laugh sounded behind him. He froze and, across the grass, Rune did too. His gaze moved from laser-focused on Hans’s face, toward the door of the school.
A man’s voice joined the woman’s.
Oh no, not now. Not right this second. Still, Hans slowly turned his head.
The side door to the school stood open and Hans’s father held it for a woman. She was small, dark, and kind of pretty in a sharp way. Even from that distance, the sound of her voice carried. “Oh, Rudolf, you’re so delightful.”
Interesting. That wasn’t an adjective applied to his father frequently. It was nice that someone saw those qualities in him.
Since his father seemed totally enraptured by the woman, Hans turned back to Rune—and sighed. He’d thrown his leg back over the mower and, at that moment, started the noisy thing again. His long legs stretched out to the sides like some cowboy on a small mechanical horse, and the position stretched the worn denim of his jeans tight over the long muscles of his thighs.
The breath emerged from Hans’s tight lungs in a woosh. Oh yes, definitely gay.
Rune cocked his head. Maybe, just maybe, he gave a smile that might have been disappointed, and then he mowed off.
Just as well. Even staring at Rune didn’t make Hans forget the hospital bill. If they didn’t get over to the bank before the finance office closed, his father could wind up having his wages garnished. That would be the end of food.
Rune Christopher copped a quick look back across the expanse of new-mown lawn at the guy. Odd duck—but cute as hell. True, some people wouldn’t think so. He was medium height, skinny, wore baggy clothes and glasses, and seemed to have forgotten to cut his hair in a long time. But there was something about him—an intensity, a focus, that if translated into action suggested it could be formidable and sexy as hell.
The kid had shown up at the school occasionally to meet a man who was probably a teacher. The older dude had that distracted, head-in-the-clouds quality. The young guy, who looked like he should be in the school, not waiting outside it, seemed as if he was taking care of the older man. Sad when kids had to be the parents before it was time. I’ll bet when he was a student, that kid got bullied so bad he never wanted to see the inside of a school again. Yeah. Maybe that’s why he’s out here, not in there. Sure would like to know his story.
Fuck off, Christopher. You haven’t got the time or the bandwidth to start collecting wayward youth!
He turned the mower down another row but couldn’t help looking one more time. Too bad. He’s cute as hell.
Hans’s father stood chatting with the woman, and Hans tried to contain his antsiness. Finally, he called, “Father, excuse me.”
His father looked up, still grinning rather foolishly, and waved. “Hans, come here, son.”
Hans released a frustrated breath. Trying not to look as pissed as he was, he walked toward his father and the woman. He’d hocked his watch, so he couldn’t check it, but it had to be getting very late.
As he approached, his father said, “Arachne, this is the boy I’ve been telling you so much about. My son, Hans, musical genius and all around fine young man. Hans, meet Mrs. Arachne Vanderhoof, a fellow teacher.”
Hans extended his hand and tried to meet the woman’s eyes. “How do you do, ma’am?” He cleared his throat. “Father, we have to hurry.”
“Oh right, of course.” The stupid grin left his face and one of his father’s “dark clouds” seemed to take its place. “Excuse me, Arachne. We have an important appointment.”
She pressed a hand to her ample bosom. “Oh dear, I do hope I haven’t made you late.”
Hans shook his head as he pulled on his father’s arm. “No, ma’am, but we do have to get going.”
His father looked confused. That happened a lot in recent months. “Yes, well, see you tomorrow, Arachne.”
“I look forward to it.”
Clasping his father’s arm, Hans walked rapidly in the direction of the bank building.
His father pulled back. “That was rude. I was very rude.”
Hans gazed directly in his face. “No, you weren’t. This is important. Please focus. Greta’s meeting us, and I brought my money. We have to get in there before they close.”
Fast-walking, they covered another block and turned into the bank parking lot.
Greta paced in front of the building. She looked up. “My God, I thought they were going to arrest me for casing the bank. You’re cutting it close, guys.”
His father pulled back again, but through the windows, the big form of the bank security guy approached the entrance, probably to lock up. Hans made a dive for the door, swung it open, and pushed his father inside. Greta followed.
With a wave, Greta said, “Hi, Officer Hanks. Sorry we’re so late. Working stiffs, you know?” She grinned. Greta wasn’t a lot more social than Hans, but she could put on a pleasant front when she had to.
Officer Hanks nodded. “I’ll let you in this time.” But he smiled back. With her brown ponytail, wide blue eyes behind big glasses, and dimples, Greta was hard to resist. Hans had all the same characteristics, with lighter hair and minus the ponytail but not by much. Somehow on him, though, it came out dorky. Or that’s what the kids in school had said before he’d dropped out to take care of his mother. Of course, his father had rightfully observed that Hans could have taught the high school classes he was in, so dropping out had been a small loss, except he never got over the dork-factor.
Hans pulled his father toward the desk of the bank’s credit manager, Mr. Pender, who stared fixedly at his computer screen, fingers flying.
Pender was a nice man who’d been kind and flexible when they’d desperately needed money to pay hospital bills after his mother’s protracted illness. At that time, Hans’s father had been a solid risk and reportedly in line for the principal position at the high school.
Now, Pender looked up with the long-suffering expression of a disappointed creditor. His sigh was audible. “Slipping in under the wire again?”
Hans nodded, “Yes, sir, Mr. Pender.” He pulled the money he’d received from his music lessons, all in cash, out of his pocket and plunked it on the desk. Greta added her paycheck. Then they looked at their father. He just swallowed.
Everything in Hans’s stomach, admittedly not a lot, wanted to come up. His father had said he’d have a small stipend he received from some tutoring he could contribute to the payment. Without it, they were short. Again.
Hans swallowed down bile, forced himself to meet Pender’s accusing stare and said, “We’re just a little short, but I have three lessons tomorrow, so I’ll have it for you before close of business.”
Pender gathered up the money slowly and spoke low and tired. “We can’t keep doing this, Hans. I know you’re all trying, uh, you and Greta are trying hard, but soon it’ll be out of my hands. The bank will be forced to assume your collateral.”
The ice up his spine froze the words on Hans’s lips.
Greta leaped in. “We understand, Mr. Pender. We’ll have the balance of the payment to you tomorrow, with interest, okay?”
Pender sighed. “It’s not just this. You know that, Greta. You’re seriously in arrears. A little at a time, the shortfalls have been building up. I’ve tried to hide them and gloss them over, but I won’t be able to do it for much longer. We have an upcoming change of management at the bank.” He shook his head. “Things are going to get tougher.”
She nodded and pulled back on their father’s arm.
As Greta and their dad exited out the door, Pender held up a hand to Hans. “Hans, wait a minute.” He watched Greta disappear and then said, “I’m sorry to say this, but I can’t give you more than another ten days.”
If someone hit him with a rock, Hans couldn’t be more stunned. Ten days. “But—”
“It’s my fault. I’ve been too easy about the debt and let you believe we’d carry it indefinitely. Sadly, with the new management, that won’t happen. I’m already getting pressure.” He sighed loudly. “I didn’t want to say it in front of Greta and your father. We don’t want a scene.”
Scene? Shit. He’d gladly dissolve into tears right there.
There was nothing he could say, so he turned and stumbled out of the office and then out the front door of the bank.
On the sidewalk in front, Greta had managed to get their father onto a bench near the bus stop.
Hans wanted to run to her and cry on her shoulder, but that wasn’t fucking fair. Besides, trying to explain in front of their father was just going to confuse him more, which in turn confused Hans. Their father might have been a bit air-headed, but not really out-of-it until lately. Taking a deep breath, Hans walked to the bench and sat beside Greta.
A muscle was jumping in Greta’s jaw and she stared at their father. Uh-oh. Greta’s voice grated. “What happened to the money you were going to have for the payment?”
His father frowned abstractedly. “Arachne invited me to lunch, but then I found I must be a gentleman and pay.”
“Who the hell is Arachne?” Greta’s temper was closer to the surface than Hans’s.
Hans murmured, “She teaches with Father.”
“And she got the money that was supposed to pay our bill? Oh God.” She covered her face with her hands.
Father said, “But I had to.”
Hans patted his back, but he had no words.
Greta stood behind Hans and gripped his shoulders. She knew. She knew as well as he did that the collateral on the loan was their house. And inside the house, was Hans’s piano. But what she didn’t know was that ten days from then, they’d be homeless.
Fifteen minutes later, they got off the bus a block from their house. When their mom was alive, it had been cute, with fresh paint and lots of flowers, partly because their mother loved those things and partly because she’d worked in a boutique to provide a separate income. They’d gotten by fine. Now, the neglect showed, despite Hans trying to keep the grass mowed and a few pansies going in the beds.
As they dragged up the walk, their father stopped at the mailbox. Hans and Greta went on into the house. Man, it sure wasn’t what it had been.
An old second—no make that third- or fourthhand—sofa sat in the living room, along with some half-decent chairs and the piano. Hans’s baby. His pride. It was a Steinway B model, smaller and less costly than their concert grands but still an important instrument. His mother had inherited it from an uncle who’d favored her and knew she played. When she got it, they’d had to clear half the living room to make room for it, but their mom had loved it so much, no one begrudged the fact that the only TV in the house was a small one in their father’s study.
After his mother died, the piano had kind of slipped into the space she’d left in his heart. It also became his only source of income. While he’d been caring for her, he could still have students come to the house for lessons. After she died, he stepped up his schedule. Still, it was tough to get students. He was shy and weird, and the kids knew it. They wanted to study with somebody who could look them in the eye and give them rewards when they did well.
He ran a hand over the piano and then followed Greta up to their two tiny bedrooms that they’d made from one regular-sized bedroom with a pile of reclaimed particle board. That way their father got the master and the third bedroom housed a few old comfortable chairs, the TV, and a lot of books. Oh God. How would they find a place for their father’s books if they lost the house?
The strong smell of herbs and dried flowers wafted from Greta’s room where every inch of space not occupied by the bed she pushed against the wall was taken up with her beakers and potions. All the energy he poured into music, Greta reserved for science, particularly chemistry. That’s why he’d been chosen to leave school and care for their mother. He’d begun teaching himself music on a child’s keyboard and graduated to a piano as soon as he could pull himself up onto the stool. He’d actually built up the pedals with blocks so he could reach them. By the time he was six, no teacher in Ever After knew more about music than he did. Greta, however, needed teachers, books, and labs for her chemical experiments, so when they were fourteen and their mother became an invalid, Greta stayed in school while Hans left.
Greta disappeared inside her room and closed the door so fast he didn’t have a space to tell her about the time limit. Hell. He’d give her a few more minutes.
Inside the door of his tiny room, he kicked off his shoes and sat on the narrow bed to remove his socks. He had three piano lessons the next day. He could take that money straight to the bank or set it aside and just figure the house was a lost cause. Tears flooded his eyes, and he breathed hard. Lost-cause house. Lost-cause piano.
“Hans! Greta! Hans! Greta!” His father’s voice shrieked up the stairs.
Hans was on his feet and racing down the hall before he even considered what it might be. He nearly collided with Greta and they jostled each other for position running down the narrow staircase.
Their father stood in the middle of the living room holding a piece of paper. An envelope lay at his feet.
Greta yelled, “What is it? What’s wrong?”
Hans looked around for the fire, the snake, the attack of insects that would explain that much hysteria. Everything appeared normal except their father. He had a weird, manic expression on his face, somewhere between shock and delight. He held out the paper and Greta took it.
She frowned as she read. “Who’s Oscar Talbert?”
Father shook his head. “I’m not sure, although I vaguely remember my mother had a brother who lived in Europe somewhere. I think it might be him.”
She kept reading until her lips parted and her mouth hung open. Then she smiled.
Hans was ready to burst. “What? Tell me?”
Looking dazed, she held out the paper to Hans, who took it and started reading avidly. As he scanned the lines of legalese on a letterhead of some German-sounding law firm, Greta said, “Father got an inheritance.”
Hans had just gotten to that line on the page. “It doesn’t say how much.”
She grabbed the paper back. “No, but they say Father is Oscar Talbert’s only surviving relative, and they’re going to pay for him to fly to Dusseldorf and find out how much Talbert left him. That doesn’t sound like it’s a hundred dollars.” She grinned.
Father spread his arms to the sides, a look of exaltation on his face. “I knew it. I knew that things had to get better for me soon. All the signs were there.”
Hans had no idea what signs their father had seen, but he’d sure as hell take any good news he could come up with. “How soon do they want him to fly to Germany?”
“As soon as possible,” Greta said. She was smiling but looked wary, as if someone was about to pull the rug from under her.
“I must make plans.” Father’s eyes had that unnaturally bright gleam he got when things were on the upward hill of his roller-coaster emotions.
Hans said, “Let Greta make reservations for you, Father. You go into school tomorrow, explain, and get some time off. You can’t leave before you know what vacation you can take.”
He waved a hand. “Oh, that. They’ll have to understand. After all, this windfall likely means I won’t have to work any longer.”
Greta grabbed his arm. “Don’t assume that.”
Hans burst out at the same time. “Whatever money you get has to pay off the hospital bill.”
“Of course, of course. Don’t worry.” He patted Greta’s hand. “I’ll go into school tomorrow and talk to Principal Johnson. He’ll understand, I’m sure.” He smiled. “So, what’s for dinner? What if I go out and pick-up Italian from Gino’s?”
Greta glanced at Hans. Picking up from Gino’s would cost almost a hundred dollars for three with the tip. She said, “It’s okay, Dad. I have something out defrosting for dinner.”
Father’s face fell for a minute, then brightened. “Well, at least Hans can play for us. That’s entertainment fit for royalty.”
Hans smiled. Playing for his dad and Greta was never a hardship. And he had an idea he might just sleep that night.