Mama was sympathetic. "I know it takes forever to do all those buttons when you'd rather be--"
Reading the letter that's propped up on the fabric table was what I wanted to say. "Having morning muffins," I said instead so that I wouldn't be accused of having more curiosity than Ksnig, our cat.
My eyes kept going to the letter that had arrived this morning: a tissue-thin envelope covered with stamps from America. Mama had said, "I'm too busy adding the braid to Frau Ottlinger's skirt to open it. It has nothing to do with you anyway, Dina." But she smiled to take the sting out of her words.
And my older sister, Katharina! She didn't have as much curiosity as the piece of tailor's chalk on the table. With barely a glance at the letter, she had picked up a package of flannel sheets, neatly hemmed, and gone out the back door to deliver them to a family on Mettau Street.
I was on the fifth button, holes newly drawn in, when at last Mama stood up, arching her back and running her hands over her waist as she left the sewing room for the kitchen. I'd have about three minutes alone while she stirred the soup and added the marrow balls she had prepared an hour ago.
Out of my chair in an instant, I picked up the letter, which crackled in my hand, and tried to read the words through the envelope.
In my mind was a picture of the uncle who had sent it: Mama's rich older brother, who lived in luxury. No wonder! Everyone who lived in Brooklyn, New York, probably did. After his first wife died, he had married again and sailed immediately for America. How romantic it was. I hadn't seen him since I was a little girl, but I imagined him handsome and funny, and the young second wife, Barbara, slim and lovely.
I held the letter up, turning it one way and then another. The name Katharina jumped out at me. "Katharina," I said aloud. "What is he saying about Katharina?"
And I was caught, of course.
Mama plucked the letter from my hand.
"Well, what do you think it says?" I asked.
"I know what it's about," Mama said, "and Katharina does, too."
"Why don't I know? Why is it that everything is kept from me?"
Mama shook her head impatiently. "Nothing can be kept from you for very long." She sighed. "My brother is offering Katharina a place with him and his wife."
I sank down on the chair, my heart thumping in my chest. "And I? Will I go with her?"
Mama shook her head. I could see she felt a little sorry for me. "Only Katharina."
Katharina to go to America! I loved my older sister; she was my best friend. Katharina to go, and not me?
Excerpted from A House of Tailors by Patricia Reilly Giff. Copyright © 2004 by Patricia Reilly Giff. Excerpted by permission of Wendy Lamb Books, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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