Lovely, Dark, and Deep
    “Why, now I think I like it even more,” my mother said. She looked ready to put Veronica on a bun and eat her.
    “I danced in a show,” Veronica told her. “I was a flower.” She held up tiny fingers to emphasize her point, curling them into petal shapes. “I was a dulip.”
    “A tulip,” Gerhard translated with a big dumb grin.
    My mother, no longer able to control herself, scooped up little Veronica in her arms, and asked, “And will you do the dance for me? I love dancing.”
    “Sure,” said the tiny creature with a friendly shrug. And then, in a moment that would set the course of our family history, she looked straight into my mother's smiling eyes and said, “You're pretty.”
    My mother's face brightened even more, if that was possible, and she swooped out of the kitchen with her new prize, so that Veronica could dance for her. “Jack,” she commanded. “Come and play the guitar for her.”
    Jack, who had been the last in line, smiled wryly and left the room.
    My father put an arm on Sandra's shoulder and said, “You didn't need your little girl tonight, did you?”
    Sandra laughed, apparently not at all overwhelmed by my mother's intensity, and said, “Gerhard will tell you that sometimes I would just love to have someone take her off my hands for a while. Veronica can be a handful.”
    “She's beautiful,” I said.
    Sandra's clear brown eyes met mine. “Thank you,” she said. “I think so, but I'm partial, of course.”
    “She looks just like Sandra,” said Gerhard mushily, helping Sandra slip off her coat. I saw, suddenly, that this relationship was much more than it had been four months ago, when Fritz mentioned over breakfast that Gerhard was “dating.” Gerhard was obviously in love.
    I stepped forward to take the coats, which included a tiny velvet one. Veronica had apparently disrobed in the hall, for the fullest effect. This made me smile, and the smile had turned to laughter by the time I reached my bed and tossed the coats on top. My mother, I thought, may finally have met her match.
    Sandra was waiting for me in the kitchen when I returned. “What can I do to help you, Madeline?” she asked.
    I liked her already. “Well, if you don't mind keeping an eye on that garlic bread in the oven, and then putting it in that basket there when it's done. Here's a cloth for the top, to keep it warm.” I tossed her a little red linen napkin, almost playfully. I found that I felt comfortable with Sandra, even though I hadn't exchanged more than a few words with her. I got only good vibes, and it filled me with relief. I looked into all of Jack's pots and pans, keeping an eye on his handiwork while he picked and strummed out a serviceable version of Thumbelina . I peeked into the living room and saw little Veronica leaping around, her ballerina skirt flying dramatically this way and that. It wasn't so much dancing as it was exercising, but it was incredibly cute, and my mother's face was priceless.
    I came back to the stove, stole a glance at Sandra. “My mother is in love with your daughter,” I commented.
    Sandra heaved a sigh. “I'm so relieved. I'd heard that your mother could be kind of intimidating, but I'm not really seeing it.”
    I laughed. “Yeah, well, I'll have to remember to carry a tiny little girl in my pocket. What is she, three?”
    “Yes. She'll be four in May.” Sandra donned an oven mitt and peeked in at the garlic bread. “Gerhard says he wants to throw her a pony party. I think that's a bit much. Gerhard spoils her.”
    “So . . . are things pretty serious? Between you and Gerhard?” I asked casually, pouring some noodles into boiling water.
    Sandra looked at me with a big, mushy smile, and I saw the truth. “I love him, Madeline. I just love him so much. I don't know why I'm telling you, because I have yet to tell him.”
    “Really? Would you like me to tell him?” I joked.
    Silence greeted this statement and I stopped stirring. I felt that I might be

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