"But Fraulein, Jakob is thirsty!"

"No, Fraulein, Jakob already had a cup of tea!" Gretl pouted. "It's time for Teddy to have a turn.

"Jakob is only thirsty because Teddy stole his cup!" Marta retorted, sticking her tongue out at her little sister and crossing her arms.

"Now, girls," Maria warned, gently scolding, "it does no good to argue. There is plenty of tea to go around." With a knowing smile, she picked up the teapot and poured both the stuffed bear and the stuffed dog another cup of tea. Once their cups were full, she topped her own off as well.

The first hour of their little tea party had been enchanting. Fun, even. The girls had regaled Maria with stories of the tea parties that Liesl used to throw for all the von Trapp sisters, and the stories Liesl would tell of growing up having tea parties with their mother. They made sure each of their dolls and animals got a sip of their tea and a crumb of their biscuit. Now, however, going on hour three, her head was beginning to ache and her patience was beginning to wear thin.

This was your idea, Maria, she reminded herself. You wanted the boys to bond with their father.

Kurt and Friedrich were out having a "boys' day" with their father, something that they had all been quite excited about– even the Captain. He had been up early in the morning preparing a picnic lunch large enough to feed an army and humming to himself. Maria had stumbled upon him in the kitchen on the way to make her morning tea and was surprised to see him navigate his way around the cupboards and drawers with ease. He had prepared and packed all their food for the day, insisting that he wanted to and turning down the help Maria offered. To her immense delight, the Captain knew all the quirks of his boys' eating habits– how Kurt wanted his sandwich halved into triangles, how Friedrich did not like the cheese to touch the bread, as well as their preferred drinks and sides.

A screech from Gretl brought Maria back to the present with a now grating headache.

"Girls!" She snapped, reaching between them to break up their fight over the last sandwich. "That is quite enough. If you can't be polite with one another, we will have to end our party."

Two adorable sets of eyes widened with fear.

"But Fraulein–"

"No buts, Gretl. Either we are polite young ladies at tea or the party is over."

"Fine," Gretl huffed, crossing her arms over her chest and jutting out her lower lip.

Once the girls had settled their differences and apologized, Maria took a moment to collect herself, inhaling deeply and reminding herself that she could be back at the Abbey, kissing the floor after another inevitable argument with Sister Berthe. Then, of course, she took another moment to apologize for thinking so poorly of her home and her family there, the Sisters who would welcome her back with open arms at summer's end and finally accept their black sheep into the flock.

They would, wouldn't they?

The voices of the older girls outside drifted in through the open window, saving Maria from following that train of thought and spiralling completely. She rose from her seat and went to see what was going on out on the terrace. Maria had promised the eldest girls free reign for the day, within reason, and they had decided to lounge outside for most of it.

"You don't make a very good Baroness Schraeder, Liesl," Louisa frowned.

"Here Liesl, I'll show you." Brigitta got up from her spot on the ground and sat down next to her older sister on the bench. She sat just far enough to be proper, but a little too close, just as the Baroness tended to when she was with the Captain. It was something that Maria had always noticed and found odd, but she could never figure out exactly why the gesture bothered her. It wasn't as if she wasn't prone to breaking the rules, or that she didn't find it romantic that the two of them wished to be close to one another. Something about it just didn't sit right– perhaps it was the way in which the Baroness had neglected to form a strong relationship with the children. Any relationship, really. Maria could understand that the Baroness was a busy woman with many obligations, but was it so impossible that the children could ever be a part of it? Could Liesl never attend a fitting for a dress? Could Gretl and Marta never sit in and have some input on decorations for around the villa, even if their recommendations were ignored?

Maria shook the negative thoughts out of her head. The Lord had sent her here, to this family, to help them learn to accept the Baroness as their new mother. It would be a futile mission if she herself could not accept it. She took a moment to pray silently, asking the Lord to forgive her for such thinking and to grant her more patience and compassion as the Baroness acclimated to life with seven children.

"No, Brigitta, that's not quite right." Louisa's voice carried through the open window and regained Maria's attention. She looked out to see Louisa approaching her two sisters, still seated close together on the bench.

"Have at it," Brigitta huffed, not pleased to be critiqued in such a manner. She crossed her arms and stood from the bench, moving to sit in the spot that Louisa had previously occupied on the ground.

Louisa, like Brigitta, sat a little closer to Liesl than society would allow if they were a courting couple. Unlike Brigitta, she deliberately touched her knee to Liesl's while sitting, hoping to be sly, then righted herself so that their legs were parallel.

"Now you say something," Louisa instructed, turning to Liesl expectantly.

"What do you want me to say?"

"Anything," Louisa shrugged.

"Hmm," Liesl hummed, "It's a beautiful day out, isn't it?"

"Oh, Georg!" Louisa giggled, an over-the-top laugh that Maria had never heard before, and placed a hand on Liesl's upper arm. "How absolutely hilarious you are!" She crooned.

Maria watched with amusement, despite her unease at how well Louisa mimicked the tone and mannerisms of Baroness Schraeder. She knew that she should go outside and stop the girls from their mockery, but there was something nice about watching them fall over each other laughing. Perhaps they needed to bond over what had to be a tumultuous time in their lives. To be a young girl on the brink of womanhood was difficult enough without the reemergence of their father and the sudden introduction of a woman who could very likely be their new mother. It was only natural that they would be having a hard time adjusting and need to air their frustrations with one another.

However, Maria knew there had to be a balance between their venting and her duties as a governess. She decided to give it a minute before walking downstairs and going around back the long way, giving them a few more minutes to have their fun. Their voices drifted through the open window, punctuated by both sweet giggles and hearty laughter. Maria could hear Brigitta insisting that they enact an entire scene this time, now that they were sufficiently practiced.

"From the top!" The precocious young girl instructed. "I will be Uncle Max."

Maria could only shake her head and chuckle. As different as they were, Brigitta had a special relationship with her uncle that was quite heartwarming to observe. Herr Detweiler was able to bring the young girl out of her shell, and Brigitta, shy as she was, always basked in his praise. And while he was a wonderful uncle to all the children, Maria could tell that he reserved a special place in his heart for his bookish niece.

Still, his triumphs as an uncle could not quite justify his other failings in Maria's mind. Even in her inexperience, Maria knew that Herr Detweiler was an inadequate chaperone for the Captain and the Baroness. There was constant chatter among the other household staff that the two were alone frequently, that Herr Detweiler would leave them to their own devices more nights than not, that he took his duties as more of a joke than anything else. At times, it irked Maria to know that the Captain so flagrantly disobeyed the very few rules society had set in place for him, especially after all his early speeches about order and discipline. With a sigh, Maria shook the annoyance out of her head. Perhaps she was simply jealous of the Captain for having a love like that, so intense that he simply could not abide by the conventions of society. It wouldn't do her any good to covet something that strayed from the Lord's plan.

Finally, sick of her own internal monologue, Maria pushed herself away from the window and informed Marta and Gretl that she would be back in just a few minutes.

"We'll make sure that Teddy does not steal your biscuits, Fraulein," Marta informed her proudly, eyeing the small stuffed bear across the table with suspicion.

"Thank you, Marta."

With a final smile toward the girls, Maria turned to exit the room and made her way to the staircase. Lord only knew what trouble the older girls could end up in if she left them alone much longer…

Louisa walked across the grass on cue, headed straight for the bench where Liesl still sat.

"Now," Brigitta instructed, "remember that you are surprised but you are not really surprised."

"Right," Louisa nodded, steeling herself as if preparing to give the performance of her life. She walked off the grass and onto the concrete- their stage of sorts- slowing her pace and accentuating her movements just as she had seen the Baroness do.

"Georg, darling," she cooed, "what a surprise to find you here!" Following Brigitta's gesturing, Louisa took a seat next to Liesl on the bench.

"Hello, Elsa," Liesl, despite her lowered voice and attempt at a stern expression, could not help the small laugh that escaped her. Baroness Schraeder was always seeking out their father, then pretending to simply stumble upon him through some sort of divine romantic intervention. Louisa had her faux-surprise tone perfected.

"Now, about our grand and glorious party," Louisa began, not missing a beat, "I was thinking that we might need more than just string instruments."

"Now, Elsa, I don't think–"

"A choir, perhaps! With a full orchestra!" Louisa exclaimed, waving her hands in front of her as if to illustrate. "Oh, just imagine how wonderful it could be!" Despite her commitment to the role, Louisa couldn't help but roll her eyes at her own spot-on impression of Baroness Schraeder's neverending list of party ideas.

"I don't know," Liesl hummed, "sounds a little extravagant to me."

"Extravagant is fun, Georg!" Brigitta piped up, finally getting to put her impression of her Uncle Max to use. She had heard her father and the Baroness have this argument a thousand times, and she had always enjoyed how Uncle Max managed to push buttons on both sides.

"So, what do you say, Georg?" Louisa asked, placing an impatient hand on Liesl's forearm.

"It's your party, darling, but I don't think it's necessary." Just as her father often did, Liesl flashed her eyes toward Brigitta and pleaded for backup.

"Now that I think about it, Elsa, the ballroom might not be big enough to hold a full orchestra," Brigitta said.

Louisa took a moment to mull over the comment, pouting slightly and pretending to smooth her hair as she did so. It was a perfect imitation of Elsa's gesturing.

"I suppose you might be right, darling." Louisa further deepened her pout and sunk back ever so slightly. It only took her a moment to recover before her eyes lit up with a new idea and her hands clasped together with joy. Just as Baroness Schraeder would, Louisa turned and grabbed both of Liesl's hands in hers. "But don't you think if we just–"


The three young women turned to see their beloved Fraulein coming down the steps of the terrace toward them.

"It's time for you to come in," she informed them. Then, with a small, knowing smile, "I can't take much more of your sisters' bickering all by myself."

Without protest, they all stood from their designated marks and followed their governess inside, still holding in their giggles.

"Are you excited for the party, Fraulein?" Liesl asked.

"I can't say either way since I'm not attending," Maria said evenly.

"Of course you are!" Brigitta exclaimed. "You will have to be there with us!"

"Oh, I don't know–"

"We'll ask father to make sure that you can at least come with us to dinner," Liesl assured her, unaware of the dread Maria harbored for the grand and glorious party.

As the girls made their way inside and upstairs, Maria lagged behind, mind still occupied with visions of Salzburg's social elite, along with plenty of Viennese aristocrats, dancing the night away. It sounded like something out of her worst nightmare. In her mind, there was a glittering mass of dancers, always encircling the Captain and the Baroness, who danced together in the middle of the ballroom. The two of them would likely be in their own world together all night. It was nice to imagine the Captain so happy and carefree, but there was something off about it. She just couldn't picture him completely himself in that environment. Would the elites of Austria really know the boyish grin of the Captain, or his charming little half-smile? Would they ever understand how complex he really was? Would they know him as she had come to?

In an odd way, Maria kind of liked that they wouldn't.

This chapter is dedicated to the persuasive and persistent IDontKnowYourSignal and MsHope. I do hope it lived up to your expectations!