Moe stared at the two young men, uncomprehending.

“Family?”

Abe laughed. “Well, friends of family, let’s call it. I’m Abe Levine, and this is Jerry Solomon.”

Still dazed, Moe shook Abe’s outstretched hand. Friends of the family? These well-dressed fellows sure didn’t look like his father’s type. And what other family did Moe have?

He found his voice. “Can you… Are you… Have we ever met?”

Jerry shifted his weight from one leg to the other, clearly uncomfortable, but Abe seemed very much in charge of the situation. “I’m a friend of your sister.”

If Big Bear Bob and Lieutenant Nolan had joined together to wish him Gut Shabbos and started dancing the hora, Moe would not have been more shocked. This handsome, modern man a friend of his sister? A friend of Annie?

Finally taking pity on his obvious confusion, Abe hurried to explain. “My grandmother had a fall. Your sister came to her rescue, and they became friends. My Bubbe suggested that we meet, and we did, with your father’s permission. And we became…” here, for the first time, he paused, “we became friends.”

Friends? Could it be? Moe had often teased his sister about her “suitors,” but he’d never imagined she would really meet someone. Okay, she was already 19, and girls did get married — but Annie?! His baby sister, meeting someone? Maybe getting married to him?

In the seconds that followed Abe Levine’s explanation, Moe felt a flurry of emotions. It was like a bayonet (a horrible weapon; Moe had loathed bayonet training) lancing repeatedly through his heart.

Stab! A prick of jealousy toward the man who might one day take his place as Annie’s protector and best friend.

Thrust! A wave of shock at the thought of his sister — and, incredibly, himself — growing up into adulthood.

Jab! A shudder of resentment that Annie had kept this secret from him.

Stronger, though, than any of these dagger thrusts was the thrill of joy that overcame him, as he realized he was no longer alone. He had a friend on this army base, someone to mark his accomplishment with him. And — if what he suspected was true — he might soon have a brother.

His dark eyes grew bright and he gave Abe Levine an uncertain smile. It felt good, really good, not to be alone.

On this unseasonably warm and sunny Sunday morning, surrounded by chatting boarders and busy with her chores, Annie Freed felt more alone than she’d ever been.

The hardest part was not having anyone to talk to about Mr. Levine’s sudden, unexpected disappearance from her life. It hurt. Yes, she knew that not every shidduch idea worked out, and yes, they’d only had two dates (a date and a half, really!). Yet he’d seemed polite and caring, and she couldn’t understand how he could have ended this without a word, if not to her then at least to her father.

And there was no one to talk it over with.