The next few minutes were a confusion of noise. Mrs. Horn, who’d rushed out at the sound of Annie’s shriek, sobbed into a handkerchief. Mr. Eisen left the large wall map where he was marking Nazi advances with green pins, and shook Moe’s hand firmly, thrilled to have a real soldier to talk to. Jerry Solomon looked abashed; Harry Cohn took in the scene with a bemused look.

The other boarders milled around in a noisy, chattering group, thrilled to see their little Moishe Boruch safe and sound and so grown up. Abe Levine, standing a little apart, sported a broad smile.

And Annie? Her treacherous cheeks glowed, but her voice was controlled as she thanked Mr. Levine for his kindness to her brother.

The front door opened. Yeruchum Freed walked in from shul.

His dark eyes took in the scene — most unusual in the quiet calm of the Freed Hotel — and fell upon his son, who stood before him, silent. It seemed to Annie that the rest of the crowd had faded into dimness, and there was only father and son, two pairs of identical ebony eyes staring at each other.

As always, Yeruchum kept his composure. Only Annie, schooled in reading her father’s ways, saw the slight tension in his shoulders. Was he happy to see his only son? Still furious at the wayward child who’d cast his lot with strangers? She had no idea.

A strange thought flashed through her brain: Perhaps Papa himself doesn’t know.

Yeruchum spoke in a low and steady voice. “Shalom aleichem, Moishe Boruch,” he said. His gaze fell on the other young men. “I see you’ve brought friends.”

He shook his son’s hand. Solemnly. Courteously.

Like a man shaking the hand of a stranger.

And now it was time to feed the returning heroes. Mrs. Horn, her tears wiped away, rushed into the kitchen and came out with a feast. For once, the boarders respected the family’s privacy and allowed Yeruchum and his guests to sit together in the dining room while they chattered outside on the porch or in the parlor.

Sitting at the head of the table, his face a mask, Yeruchum watched as Moe, Abe, Jerry, and Harry attacked Mrs. Horn’s brisket (thank Heaven she’d cooked too much for Shabbos and had enough leftovers for four hungry men!), a green salad hastily put together, a variety of kugels and kishke, peas and carrots (for tonight’s dinner; she’d have to cook some more later) and three types of cakes.

When the endless appetites of four healthy young men were finally satisfied, there was time for talk. Annie’s eyes danced as Abe related his adventures. Moe sat quietly, on his face a contentment not usually seen in his sensitive features. Jerry, on his third piece of cake, also had nothing to say. Surprisingly, it was Harry who kept a conversation going with Yeruchum, as he asked him questions about the hotel and its residents.