Nicklaus Fleischer was the smallest boy in his class.
He was also the smartest boy in his class, if his teachers were to be believed. He was a twelve-year-old doing schoolwork which would be suited for someone at least three years older. That didn't mean much when the Hirsch boys were chasing him down the road. Nicklaus was by no means out of shape; he did plenty of chores back at the farm. All of the brains and exercise in the world wouldn't have made his strides any longer, though.
It was Anton, the older of the two Hirsch boys, who caught up with him first. Nicklaus was brought to a screeching halt when Anton grabbed the strap of his lederhosen. He knew that freckled face was smirking behind his back.
"Let me go!" Nicklaus shouted, twisting and pulling and trying to get free of the older boy's grasp. He was so close to home. He could see the estate house just at the top of the hill. If only he'd been a little faster
"God, you're such a baby." Emil, the younger of the two Hirsch boys, was quick to deliver a kick to their captive's shin. Nicklaus cried out, and both of his legs buckled beneath him. He looked up at the estate house. Somehow it seemed to look farther away than it had, before. "Do you have any money, or not?"
Nicklaus shook his head in reply. It was a lie. His father had given him a couple of papiermarks. They were a reward for the chores he had done, and Nicklaus had ridden his bicycle into town with the intention of buying himself a chocolate or two. The sweets had since been eaten, but there was still a little change in his pocket.
"I think he's lying." Anton scowled, and crouched down in front of Nicklaus. He was head and shoulders taller than the other boy. "You are lying, aren't you?"
Nicklaus flinched as Anton leaned closer. A blow to the stomach sent him tumbling to the ground. With the wind knocked out of him, Nicklaus could do nothing to keep Emil from rifling through his pockets. It didn't take him long to find the neatly folded papiermarks, and stuff them into his own pocket.
A blow to the face from Anton left Nicklaus seeing stars. When his vision cleared, he could see both of the Hirsch boys standing up. He was relieved when they turned to take their leave.
"Teach him to lie," Emil muttered as he and his brother started walking.
Nicklaus was left to try and collect himself. It took him a few moments before he could sit up. He sniffled a little, and wiped the tears from his eyes. One of them was rapidly swelling shut. His nose was bleeding as well, leaving bright red spots on what had been a tidy white shirt. His knees were skinned from falling off of his bike when he had first spotted the Hirsch brothers.
His bike. The walk back to it seemed to take an eternity. Nicklaus was glad to see that it was undamaged from the fall; it meant that he would make it back home faster. It also meant he would have to explain the condition he was in sooner. He wasn't looking forward to the conversations that he would be having with his father and grandfather.
Nicklaus sniffled again, trying to ignore the taste of blood in his mouth. He carefully righted his bicycle and got back on before starting home. He could see the hop vines, tall and green beyond the fence. They would be ready to pick soon. The thought of helping with the harvest was of some small consolation to his current state of affairs.
Once Nicklaus reached the estate house, he came to a stop. Uncle Gunar's car was in the driveway. Nicklaus was not terribly fond of his uncle, and the feeling was mutual. His uncle was far bigger and far scarier than he could ever hope to be, though. Nicklaus wound up standing on the porch, staring at the door and wondering whether he should go inside at all.
The voice caused Nicklaus to start, and quickly turn around. His grandfather stood not a few feet away, and his smile quickly melted into a worried frown. Nicklaus bowed his head, as though it would hide his swollen eye and bloody nose.
"Nicklaus, come here," Oswald said, stepping forward to draw his grandson into a hug. He didn't seem to mind that blood was getting on his shirt. Nicklaus finally broke down into sobs, dampening his opa's shirt with tears, as well. Oswald shushed him gently and held him close.
Nicklaus held his grandfather close in return. He tried to tell him what had happened, but only managed a few halting, stuttered syllables. He hiccupped a few times, and finally managed to apologize for ruining his opa's shirt.
"It's all right, Nicklaus," Oswald said with a gentle smile. He pulled back from Nicklaus a little to get a look at him. "Let's go inside and get you cleaned up, all right?" He smiled again, and picked Nicklaus up as he stood.
Nicklaus was quick to cling to his grandfather. He could finally feel his body start to relax. His grandfather always had a way of bringing him a certain calm. Then again, Oswald was a doctor. He wasn't just a doctor, but a very good one. He was the best doctor in the world, as far as Nicklaus was concerned.
"Thank you, Opa," Nicklaus murmured against Oswald's shoulder as he was carried into the house. He closed his eyes. He didn't want to know if anyone else was around to see. It didn't work, though; after all, he couldn't cling to Oswald and cover his ears at the same time.
"You see? You treat that boy like a little child, and he's going to be beaten up like one!" It was his uncle's voice. His uncle Gunar always seemed to be angry about something.
"Gunar, he is a child," Nicklaus's father said. The boy didn't get to hear the rest of the argument. It was soon drowned out by the sound and feeling of his grandfather starting up the wooden steps, and toward his bedroom.
Nicklaus finally opened his eyes once they were in his room, and the door was shut behind. It was good to be back in his own room. He was reluctant to let go of Oswald as he sat him on the end of the bed, though. "It's all right," Oswald said, offering Nicklaus another smile. "I'm just going to get my bag. I'll just be gone a moment, all right?"
Nicklaus chewed at his lower lip for a moment before saying, "All right," in return. He tensed up the moment that his grandfather left the room. He was still tense when Oswald returned, carrying his doctor's bag. His opa had retired, but he kept his bag and its equipment in good condition. The older man was also carrying a damp cloth.
The cloth wasn't just damp, but warm, and Nicklaus winced a little as it was used to clean the blood from his nose and mouth. "Sorry," Oswald murmured. He smiled again, though, and used a dry corner of the cloth to wipe his patient's tears away. "Everything's going to be fine." Everything was not going to be fine; Nicklaus could see his grandfather reaching for the iodine.
"Did you do anything interesting at school today?" Oswald asked as he soaked a bit of clean gauze with iodine. Nicklaus finally jerked his attention away from the bottle. It was rude not to look a person in the eye when you were talking to them, after all.
"We had to write a paper," Nicklaus said. "It was about what we want to be when we grow up." He flinched a little as the gauze touched one skinned knee, barely managing to hold back tears.
"Oh?" his opa said. "What about you then, Nicklaus?"
Nicklaus was silent for a moment. He wondered if he should tell his grandfather. While he was wondering, Oswald was working at disinfecting the boy's other knee. "I want to be a doctor," Nicklaus said, "like you." He was surprised to notice that his other knee had been seen to while he had been pondering.
"You have a kind heart, Nicklaus," his grandfather said, gently resting a finger on the small boy's chest. "You will make a wonderful doctor." He smiled, and drew Nicklaus into another hug. "I'm certain of it."
Nicklaus wished things could have stayed that way forever him hugging his opa, and his opa hugging him in return. He knew better, though. His grandfather would have to leave eventually, for some reason or another. It seemed, however, that he would be leaving sooner rather than later.
Oswald was already packing up his doctor's bag. "I'm going to go back downstairs and help your father with dinner." He looked up, and offered Nicklaus another smile. "Why don't you take a nice hot bath to get cleaned up before we eat, hmm?"
The thought of a hot bath was certainly an enticing one. It was enough to get Nicklaus off of his bed, and back on his own two feet. "All right," he agreed, finally returning his grandfather's smile. "I'll see you in a little bit, then?"
"Just as soon as you come down for dinner," Oswald said, offering up another smile.
Nicklaus gave his grandfather a nod and one last lingering hug before grabbing a set of fresh clothes and heading to the bathroom. It was easy enough to get hot water all he had to do was turn the proper lever. Oswald had told him that they were lucky to have a water heater. They were fortunate to have such a large tract of fertile land, and such fine horses to work it with. They were even more fortunate that they had the money to hire help for the farm work.
Enemy fire had injured Gunar in the Great War, and Nicklaus had seen him limping on occasion. There was no way he would have been able to help his brother and father on the farm. The war had also left much of the nation in a financial crisis. Many people, Oswald had said, could barely afford to eat, let alone have water heaters.
Nicklaus reasoned that perhaps the Hirsch boys belonged to one of those families. Maybe that was why they were always trying to see if he had papiermarks. Nicklaus wasn't given papiermarks often, but he would have been happy to share them with the Hirsch boys if their family was in such desperate need. After all, being able to buy food was much more important than treating oneself to a few sweets.
He had tried just giving up his papiermarks to the Hirsch boys before, though. That hadn't stopped Anton from giving him a good punch in the stomach. The simple fact was that they didn't like him, and Nicklaus was puzzled as to why. It was a thought that kept his mind occupied as he bathed, and then got dressed.
Supper smelled delicious, and he nearly took the stairs two at a time as he made his way down to the ground floor. Nicklaus stole a peek into the kitchen. A grin formed on his face when he saw his father and grandfather working over the stove on a few servings of sauerbraten. He stopped short from entering the kitchen when the two older men began to talk.
"Adam," his grandfather started, "Nicklaus seems to have run afoul of the Hirsch boys, again." He didn't sound terribly surprised, and why should he? It certainly wasn't the first time something like that had happened.
"Again?" Nicklaus's father said. Adam didn't sound terribly happy about it, either. "That's the third time this month. How bad was it?"
Oswald sighed as he began to dole the sauerbraten out onto plates. "A black eye, skinned knees, and a bloody nose," he said.
"I worry about him, dad," Adam stated. "He's just
not good at dealing with other children. The headmaster said he talks with his teachers more than his peers."
"That's because he's smarter than his peers." Oswald began to add a side of spätzle to each plate. "And he's
different. There's nothing wrong with that."
"Yes there is," a voice said from behind Nicklaus, causing the boy to start. He quickly whipped around to see his uncle glaring down at him. "You need to man up and start standing up for yourself." He paused to look at his brother and father. "You need to stop babying him." Gunar walked past Nicklaus on the way into the kitchen, and promptly took the boy's usual job of setting the table.
Nicklaus felt guilty. His uncle had a bad leg, and he should not have been the one setting the table. Nicklaus also shouldn't have been eavesdropping. He knew better; it was rude. "Sorry," he murmured.
"It's all right, Nicklaus," Adam said, setting the plates out on the table. "Come grab a chair and get something to eat. You've had a long day."
Nicklaus thanked his father before taking a seat. It wasn't long before the others followed suit. Once they had said grace, Nicklaus finally took a bite of his sauerbraten. It was delicious, but he couldn't keep his attention on his food. He kept glancing around to the others at the table, and thinking about the conversation he had overheard.
Nicklaus's father was right. His every attempt, few as they were, to interact with the other children at school seemed to end in disaster. He did his best to be polite, but he felt as though he had nothing to say to his peers. The girls all seemed to be interested in who had a crush on who, and the boys all played rough games of tag at recess. Nicklaus was interested in neither. He was interested in reading his schoolbooks, and getting his homework in on time. He was a 'teacher's pet', and the only people who liked teacher's pets were teachers.
"Nicklaus, are you all right?" Oswald furrowed his brows in concern from across the table.
Nicklaus realized that he had just been pushing his spätzle around on his plate. He promptly stopped, and forced a small smile. "I'm fine
just thinking." He promptly turned his attention back to his food, hoping that it would take his family's attention away from him.
They were right, though. Nicklaus was different. He suddenly felt very alone. Perhaps a change in conversation was in order.
"The hops look ripe," Nicklaus said. "Are we going to harvest them, soon?"
"They'll be ready to pick in two days." Adam smiled, offering his son a small pat on the shoulder. "Would you like to drive the cart? You've gotten very good at it."
Nicklaus's spirits lifted. Driving the cart was one of his favorite things. The horses themselves were one of his favorite things. The Percherons were huge, and black, and strong, and beautiful. They were so big that Nicklaus felt as though he was on top of the world when he was riding one. He always needed help getting up into the saddle, though. Even his papa and opa needed to use a stool to mount up. "I can do that!" Nicklaus insisted.
"I'm sure you can," Oswald agreed. "For now, though, you need to eat your dinner and get ready for bed. It's gotten late."
Nicklaus hadn't even noticed the hour. It was starting to get dark outside, though. He could see the sun setting over the Alpine foothills through the kitchen window, creating a play of orange and gold light over the landscape. It was a beautiful scene, and he wished that their camera could take pictures in color.
He finished his meal, and went to wash his dishes. Nicklaus had to stand on tiptoe to reach the sink. His father offered to help, but he insisted that he could do it on his own. If nothing else, he didn't want to give his uncle Gunar any further reason to refer to him as 'a little child'. After all, he was twelve, not three.
He dried off his dishes and cutlery once they were washed, and then well, he couldn't reach the cupboard. Fortunately, his opa was there to take the dishes and put them away. He offered Nicklaus another smile.
Nicklaus quickly returned that smile. "Thank you, Opa." He turned around, and almost winced when he saw the glare that Gunar was directing his way. "If I may be excused, I'm going to bed," Nicklaus said. "Goodnight Papa. Goodnight, Opa." He hesitated for a moment before adding, "Goodnight, Uncle Gunar." It was only his uncle that didn't respond, and Nicklaus gave the man a wide berth as he left the kitchen.
He was tired from the long day; he was tired from school, and his bike ride into town, and running from the Hirsch boys. Nicklaus tried to ignore the way his knees stung as he climbed the stairs. At least the pain faded as he stood in front of the mirror to brush his teeth. He considered himself lucky that the Hirsch brothers had never left him needing stitches.
Nicklaus frowned at that thought. He didn't like the idea of getting stitches one bit. It was a thought he tried to put out of his mind as he finished brushing his teeth. The recent memory of his 'fight' with the Hirsch boys lingered in his mind, however, as he climbed into bed. It wasn't long, though, before there was a soft knock on the door.
"Come in," Nicklaus said sleepily. He smiled a little when his opa opened the door. The old doctor adjusted his bifocals as he smiled at his grandson.
He stepped into the room, and had a seat on the edge of Nicklaus's bed. "You've had quite a day, haven't you?" he asked softly.
It had been a long day. Not all of it had been a terribly nice day, either. Nicklaus licked his lips, and nodded, his gaze drifting away from Oswald.
His opa gently put a hand under Nicklaus's chin, and turned his head to face him, again. "It's all right, Nicklaus. Don't even give those Hirsch boys the satisfaction of troubling your thoughts." He smiled, and gently patted Nicklaus on the shoulder. "You said you wanted to be a doctor, right? Why don't you think about that, instead?"
Nicklaus did want to be a doctor. He wanted to help people like his opa did. He wanted to heal them. "All right," he said, a small smile finally forming on his face.
"Good boy," Oswald said as he started to tuck Nicklaus in. "I meant it when I said you'll be a great doctor. You're a very smart boy, Nicklaus
and very kind. Someone could be the smartest man alive, and they'd be a miserable doctor if their heart was in the wrong place. Don't ever let anyone make you feel bad for being you, all right?"
Nicklaus was so small, though. He was the 'baby', and the 'teacher's pet', and the one who started sniffling and trying not to cry when he got called names at recess. "I'll try," he said, giving a weak, tired smile.
"Good." Oswald smiled in return and gave Nicklaus a small kiss on the forehead. "I want you to have something of mine. You're a young man, now, and every man should have a good way to tell the time."
Nicklaus's curiosity was piqued. His jaw nearly dropped when his opa held up his pocket watch. Surely he wasn't going to give it away. Nicklaus knew that watch was special to Oswald; the man carried it everywhere. It was a fine silver timepiece, its cover carefully engraved with the image of a running horse. His opa always kept it polished to a shine.
Nicklaus stared, dumbfounded, as the watch and its chain were placed in his hand. He held it as though it was made of glass. "I'll take really good care of it, Opa," Nicklaus said quietly. He opened the cover with reverence, and watched the second hand tick.
"I know you will," Oswald said. "My father gave me that watch when I was about your age." He smiled at Nicklaus, who carefully closed the watch and placed it on his nightstand. "It keeps very good time
and the time right now is very late." He leaned forward to place a small kiss on Nicklaus's forehead. "Good night, Nicklaus. Sleep well."
"You too, Opa."
This is Chapter 1 of a sample of the revised story 'Bedside Manner'. The story has been expanded upon considerably, and is on sale for the Amazon Kindle! If you do decide to buy or borrow the full version on Kindle, or purchase the paperback, please leave a review on Amazon - I would love to hear what you think!
Gotta love those characters, I'd love to see where the plot leads sometime. ^_^ Maybe when the books comes to paperback.
Thank you for the kind words! Things get much more interesting after the sample. I'll make an announcement in my journal when the paperback version is available!
This is really good! Amazing characters and ,although the plot line hasn't been concretely established yet, an awesome story... I have to look into this book on Amazon!