Maria sipped her tea, listening to the sounds of the children playing tag. But what really held her attention was Georg. She studied his profile as he looked out over the lake; he seemed lost in his own thoughts. Strong, masculine features-regal, even-gave him an air of authority at first sight. The small scar on his chin, the tiniest of imperfections, added a dash of mystery. His thick, dark hair was peppered with just a touch of gray at his temples, making him look distinguished. And his eyes, a vivid blue that varied its depth of hue with his moods-brightest when watching his children; dark and stormy when he was angry or agitated; the color of star sapphires when they'd meet her own. Without realizing it, she sighed audibly at his handsomeness.

"You're staring at me," Georg stated simply. He smiled when Maria looked away and blushed. "What is it, darling?"

"I was just admiring you, I'm sorry, I didn't mean to stare." She cleared her throat. "What were you thinking about just then?"

"Nothing, really. Just thinking about tonight." Georg tried to sound as casual and nonchalant as he could.

"Are you going to tell me anything about what we're doing, or where you're taking me?"

"Absolutely not, my love. I want you to be surprised." As he leaned over to kiss her, they heard footsteps followed by the voice of Max Dettweiler.

"Aha! Looks like this chaperone is just in time to make sure there's no hanky-panky going on."

"Hello, Max. As usual, your timing is impeccable." Georg said through gritted teeth, as he touched his forehead to Maria's shoulder. She gently kissed the top of his head, and he sat upright again.

"Good afternoon, Max, what have you been up to today?" Maria asked. She truly enjoyed Max's company, if not his eagerness to interrupt the couple every chance he got.

"Trying to find more talent to exploit, I mean, represent?" Georg teased, and Max raised an eyebrow at him.

"Not talent, this time, investors. You have to spend money to make money..."

"And you prefer to spend other people's to make yours. Yes, I know." Maria watched with amusement as the two men bantered.

"If you gentlemen will excuse me, I think I need to go pay some attention to the children," she said, standing up. Georg reached back and took one of her hands, and she leaned over to kiss his cheek.

"Remember, darling, we'll be leaving at 6:15. Meet me in the foyer?" He looked at her expectantly, and she replied with another kiss.

"Yes, love. I'll be ready." The men watched her as she went to join the children in their game.

"So, did you have a successful visit to the Abbey? Is Maria yours now, free and clear?" Max smirked at his friend.

"Max, you do know how to turn a phrase. Yes, we received the Reverend Mother's blessing, and a wedding date six weeks from now."

"Six weeks? Isn't that a little soon?

"To be honest, I'm a bit concerned. But with enough chaperones around, I'm sure any talk will be minimal. And it was either that or wait six months. I'm not sure I could stand that!" Georg laughed gently. "I spoke with my sister, and she'll be here in a few days. She's got some sort of gallery show, then she'll be free for several weeks."

"How is Hede? I've not seen her for quite some time." Max had always been fond of Georg's older sister; and in fact, had nursed a bit of a crush on her the first time he'd come to visit Georg's home while they were on leave.

"She's doing quite well for herself, thank you. And I'm sure she'll be quite a companion for you while you're both on chaperone duty." Georg smirked at Max, remembering his efforts to interest Hede long ago.

XxXxXxXxXx

Georg was lost in thought as he showered and shaved, getting ready for one of the most important evenings in his life. He wasn't sure why he was feeling nervous; after all, Maria had already agreed to become his wife, and they'd gotten the Reverend Mother's blessing. Tonight, though, he was planning to present her with the ring he'd had designed especially for her. He sat on the edge of the bed, opened the small, black velvet box, and inspected the impossibly delicate platinum band. Decorated with a round, pure blue sapphire-Maria- surrounded by a setting of eight small diamonds-representing himself and the children-he hoped it would convey to her the idea that she was what had pulled them all together as a family once again.

As he closed the box, he noticed the gold band on his right hand. He hadn't removed it since the last time Agathe had placed it on his finger. He'd never worn it on any of his deployments, as it was against regulations. It had always been a special moment for just the two of them, when he'd return and she would place it back where it belonged. Now, he knew it belonged with his memories, and not on his hand.

He removed the ring, and placed it in a box in the top bureau drawer; small, wooden box which also contained Agathe's rings. He had placed them on her finger the day they married, and there they had remained until the day she'd died in his arms. Georg realized that the memories he'd tried so hard to push away because of the pain they caused were no longer painful, but comforting. That was Maria's doing, as well. She'd taught the children that memories were to be kept and cherished, not buried with the dead. And as the children had taken her lesson to heart, he'd found it easier to do the same.

Georg placed the top on the little wooden box, and then pushed the drawer closed. Perhaps one day, Friedrich would want Agathe's rings for his own bride, or Liesl would want them for herself. And when that time came, he would be glad to let them go.

He put on his suit jacket, putting the box with Maria's ring in his pocket, as he smiled to himself. With this ring, he was truly beginning a new life, with a new love he'd never expected to find.

XxXxXxXx

"Liesl, really, I'm sure I don't need lipstick."

"But Fraulein, it would make you look so glamorous."

"I don't wish to look glamorous, I wish to look like myself. But it is very sweet of you to offer." Maria ran her brush once more through her hair, then shrugged at her reflection. It was true, she didn't want to be glamorous-but she did so hope that Georg would find her attractive. This was to be the first night they would be out in town as a couple, and Maria very much wanted to have Georg be proud to be with her.

"Well, what do you think, girls?" Maria left the bathroom, and walked into her bedroom, where the five von Trapp girls were waiting for her. The dark blue chiffon complemented her coloring. A he sweetheart neckline, while still modest, allowed for the small, gold cross around her neck to rest directly on her skin. Sheer, chiffon sleeves ended with a satin band just below her elbow; and the fitted bodice flared out at her hips for the full, layered skirt to move freely about. With her matching shoes, Maria was the picture of simple elegance.

"Oh, Fraulein, you look lovely!" Liesl remarked, and as if she could read Maria's mind, continued. "Father will love it."

"You really think so?" Maria replied, a blush coloring her cheeks.

"You look like a fairy princess!" Marta whispered, as she looked wide-eyed at her governess.

"Why thank you, Marta. I do believe that is the nicest compliment I've ever received."

Gretl ran to hug Maria, but Louisa grabbed the back of her dress. "Oh, no you don't. Don't get her all mussed before Father sees her!" Maria looked up in surprise, then gave Louisa a smile. In her own, unique way, Louisa had just given her approval of both Maria's appearance and of her new status within the family.

Maria remembered the day that she'd finally found out why Louisa had always seemed so sad and distant. When she'd burst into sobs over having come down with a simple cold, Louisa had finally confessed to her guilty feelings over feeling responsible for her mother's death. She'd been the first of the children to fall ill with scarlet fever, and had not only placed the blame on herself for passing it to her mother, but had taken her father's emotional and physical distancing from her and the rest of the children as her fault, as well. They'd talked for a long time before Maria convinced her to talk to her father; but finally the girl had relented, and her stone wall had been torn down.

Gretl's protests brought Maria's attention back into the room. "Oh, come here, sweetheart, and give me a kiss." Maria bent down to Gretl's level, and received a big kiss. "See, if I had lipstick on, I couldn't give you a kiss goodnight!" Gretl giggled, then scowled at Louisa, who simply sighed and shook her head.

"Come on, Fraulien Maria, you don't want to keep Father waiting!" Brigitta was truly the one who noticed everything, and that included keeping an eye on the time. "Aren't you supposed to be downstairs now?"

"Yes, miss!" Maria mock saluted the girl, opened the door, and left her room to meet her love.

XxXxXxXx

She could see Georg before he spotted her. He was in a navy suit, white shirt, and a tie striped in several shades of blue. It comforted her to see him wiggling the fingers of his left hand absently; early on, she recognized that it was a habit of his whenever he was unsure or nervous. Knowing he was anxious also made her feel a bit less so, though that did seem odd when she thought about it. As she walked down the stairs, he could sense her presence, and turned to look. Friedrich and Kurt were standing nearby, and followed their father's attention.

As Maria's eyes met his, all nervousness and anxiety melted away. Georg's eyes seemed to deepen in color, and shone with love.

"You are absolutely stunning," he said, as he took her hand and kissed it.

Maria blushed. "Thank you. And may I say you look incredibly handsome."

He continued to gaze at her for a moment, before offering his arm. "Shall we, darling?"

She took his arm, and smiled at him. "Yes, I'm looking forward to our evening."