At first, no one answered the door. The house was cemetery-silent, the blinds closed, but Arnst knew in his nose that two people were inside. So he knocked again, more loudly this time.
He smelled the licorice-hesitant steps of a child and then the door was suddenly swung open. A little girl with flowing red hair and stained glass eyes stood there, her open smile revealing two missing front teeth.
“Hello-can-I-help-you!” she sang out, and before Arnst could answer her, the same mysterious scent came dancing towards him. A woman appeared behind the child, a protective arm wrapped around the girl.
Arnst’s stuttering, doe-brown eyes blinked in surprise to see the same flowing red hair and stained glass eyes. His eyes had never taken in such beauty before, let alone mirrored in two human beings.
But it was really her scent that he fell in love with in that moment.
“Yes?” the woman said cautiously, her stained glass eyes curious despite her clipped voice.
For once in the wunderkid’s life, he felt stupid.
The woman with the stained glass eyes repeated herself. “Yes?” and when Arnst could only stare at her stupidly in reply, becoming more owl-like by the second, the woman cursed under her breath, saying something like dummkopf (which, by the way, means “idiot” in German). And the door was matter-of-factly shut inches from Arnst’s famous nose.
Arnst continued to stand there stupidly blinking, still at a loss. Then he gathered his courage like reins in his shaking fists and knocked on the door again.
The door swung open instantly, only this time it was not the child but the woman who stood there.
“Mrs. Steiner is not at home. May I help you, sir?”
Arnst grabbed her first sentence as though it were a life raft. “And when will Mrs. Steiner be returning?”
“After dinner, around 9 or so, I imagine. I will tell her you called, Mr….?”
“Arnst Vandenburg.” Struck by sudden inspiration, he stuck out his hand and the woman, being well-bred despite her lingering suspicion, had no choice but to shake his hand.
There was a spark between them, in that shared hand clench. Eva pulled back as though she’d been scalded. Her stained glass eyes flashed violet and gold. Then she smiled shyly and shut the door.
Arnst walked home, carrying the woman’s flower-like, wool-heavy scent inside his heart. He carried, too, her name on his tongue, like a lozenge, sucking slowly to prolong the taste.
When Arnst arrived home, he wasted no time telling his mother that he'd met the woman he was meant to marry. His mother dropped the book she’d been reading (which, by the way, was the Bible) and clapped her hands.
“I knew it! I told our no-good neighbors this was to be your year, the year that you’d meet and marry your wife! Tell me, my little wunderkid, what is her name!”
Arnst hung his coat and sat down next to his mother at the kitchen table. He was still inside his head, so he didn’t notice the nervous flutter of his mother’s hands.
“Eva Gruder? The widow? Are you sure?”
Arnst looked up, his doe-brown eyes no longer stuttering but sure as stone. “I smell a winner, mama. I’m sure.”