"...and then I don't feel so bad!"

The von Trapp children were so thrilled to see their beloved governess return that, led by Louisa, they ran to embrace her so quickly that Maria was nearly tackled to the ground.

"Children, I'm so glad to see you," Maria said as she tried to hug each one of them.

"We missed you," was heard coming from all seven children, in a jumble of voices and timing.

"I missed you, too." She looked up to see the Captain's younger son. "Kurt, how are you?" Maria was so glad to see him, and it seemed he'd grown several inches even in the short time she'd been away.

"Hungry," he replied, with a grin on his face.

Gretl stood directly in front of her governess and held a bandaged finger up for Maria to notice. The governess bent down, to get a closer look.
"Oh, now Gretl, what happened to your finger? "
"It got caught," she answered, with an adorable pout on her face.
"Caught in what?"
"Friedrich's teeth." Maria looked up at Friedrich, who smiled sheepishly and shrugged. She stood and took the hands of Gretl and Marta as they all started toward the house.

Maria turned her gaze toward it, both hoping to see him, and hoping she wouldn't quite yet. The butterflies in her stomach began beating more strongly with each step she took. Turning her attention from the house-from thoughts of the Captain-she noticed Liesl walking just a step behind everyone else.

"Liesl, are you all right?" she asked, her voice full of concern.

"Just fair," the young woman answered, almost as a sigh.

"Any telegrams been delivered lately?" Maria couldn't keep the smile from her voice, or her eyes from drifting again toward the house.

"None at all, Fraulein. But I'm learning to accept it. I'll be glad when school begins." Liesl's voice was soft, and Maria didn't quite believe the words she spoke.

"Liesl, you can't use school to escape your problems. You have to face them," she advised. Whether she was advising the sixteen year old, or herself, she wasn't quite sure.

Maria turned toward the younger children again.

"I have so much to tell you..." she began, but was interrupted by Brigitta.

"We have things to tell you, too!"

Louisa piped up. "The most important thing is that the Baroness has gone back to Vienna."

"She has?" Maria's heart began racing, and she tried desperately to keep the hopefulness she felt off her face. She didn't want to have to answer any questions from the children before she saw him.

"Father, look! Fräulein Maria's back! Fräulein Maria's back from the abbey!" The children couldn't contain their happiness, even if they'd tried-and they had no interest in trying.

Maria looked for a third time toward the villa, and this time the Captain was standing on the terrace, staring at her, with the barest hint of a smile on his face. She took a deep breath and tried to keep her voice even.

"Good evening, Captain."

"Good evening," he replied, his voice somehow deeper than she remembered. His smile grew, and his eyes danced.

"All right, everyone inside, go and get your dinner." The governess and their father shared a look over their heads, and Maria blushed and turned her gaze toward the girls.

"Dinner!" Kurt led the shouting, and the charge, as he and Friedrich took Maria's carpet bag and guitar case, and the seven von Trapp children raced toward the dining room.

Now Maria and the Captain were alone.

You can't leave to escape your problems, you have to face them, the words of the Reverend Mother earlier that day, and spoken from her own mouth just moments ago, echoed their refrain through Maria's head.

He slowly walked down the steps toward her. "You left without saying goodbye. Even to the children." His voice was soft, and there was no anger, no bitterness, no harshness. Only a momentary hesitation in his statement. The unspoken question was in his eyes.

"It was wrong of me. Forgive me?" Maria forced herself to breathe, as the two stood facing one another, neither willing to break eye contact.

"Why did you?" This time, Maria heard the hurt and doubt that she'd left behind with her note. She decided the only way to answer was with what she felt was her deepest fault-honesty.

"I was afraid." She exhaled deeply, and closed her eyes.

"Afraid? Afraid of what -of me?"

"No, not of you. Never of you. Of my own...of what...I..."

He took one last step, closing the gap between them. Floundering with how best to answer, she opened her eyes to see he was now close enough to touch. Maria was staring at his tie, then felt his hand on her chin, tilting her face upward, so she was again looking into his eyes. Only this time, she didn't see questions and uncertainty. She saw love.

"Afraid of what you felt, Maria?" If her name on his lips wasn't enough to make her melt, then certainly when his lips met hers it was; in a kiss so warm, so gentle, she felt she was floating away on a dream. When they parted, the Captain pulled Maria into an embrace, and she held him as she nuzzled closer into his shoulder, as he played his fingers in the hair on the nape of her neck.

He kissed her head, then whispered, "Was it this, Maria? Were you afraid of this?" He pulled back a bit, so he could look at her. "Because I was, too."

"Oh,"she sighed. "The Reverend Mother says when God closes a door, He opens a window."

He smiled, and made a mental note to thank the Mother Abbess at the earliest opportunity.

"And what else does the Reverend Mother say?" he asked, as Maria pulled back slightly, to look at him.

"That you have to look for your life," she replied.

"And have you found it, Maria?" the Captain found himself holding his breath, waiting for her answer.

"I think I have," Maria stated, and as she noticed his face begin to fall, modified her statement.

"I know I have."

"I love you."

He leaned in and kissed her again, this time more passionately, and she pleasantly surprised him with the intensity she returned. This time when they paused, he heard her whisper-almost to herself. "Oh, can this be happening to me?" He gave his confession to her in an equally quiet voice, as he moved his mouth against her cheek, her jaw, her neck her ear, peppering her with tiny kisses between his words.

"I have completely fallen for you. Everything you do, everything you say, everything you are. You are my first thought in the morning. You are my last thought before I fall asleep, and you are almost every thought in between...and when I wake up I want to see you next to me."

At that, she looked up at him, with wide blue eyes that told him she would give him anything he wanted. And he needed her to know that what he wanted was her, for a lifetime.

"Maria, is there anyone I would need to go to, to request permission to marry you?" He continued moving his lips against her skin, savoring the taste of her that was sweeter than he'd imagined.

"Well, why don't we ask...the children?" His voice joined hers for the last two words, and they shared a soft chuckle before joining their lips together once more.

THE END