Helen B. Goldman signed the hotel registry form and looked around the lobby that sparkled with Christmas decor. It was a nice place. It was a special place to her; she came here every year just after Hanukkah. Her husband Harry stayed home. He didn't care much for travel, but he didn't object to Helen taking her little trips with her bridge club or her friends from their temple, or once a year to San Francisco for shopping.
Once she was unpacked, she made sure that everything was ready. Eight little gifts, each one neatly wrapped and tagged, were hidden around the suite. A slightly larger present, with a thick envelope taped to the top, went on the side table of the bed in the second bedroom. It was always difficult to place the room service order, since things changed so much year-to-year, but there were some things that stayed the same; a bottle of chilled Riesling, a pot of hot chocolate and a plate of little pastries were so much a part of her yearly pilgrimage that Helen thought of this hotel every time she drank white wine.
Everything was in place, and she'd just settled down to watch the news and wait when the expected knock came at the door.
"Mom!" The hug involved lots of layers of clothing and jingling bracelets. After a year, it was good to see Naomi again, but there was someone more important to Helen that waited quietly for his hug in his mother's shadow.
Helen squatted down, her well-cut wool trousers bunching at her knees. "So, brave traveler, you've returned from across the wide sea. What have you brought from your journey?"
A slow smile spread across the little boy's face like the rising of the sun. Then he flung his arms around his grandmother and shouted, "A hug, Grammy! That's what you asked me to bring you!"
"And a very good hug it is." Helen closed her eyes against unexpected tears. She should be better at this. It had been going on for seven years. She gave a firm squeeze and stood up, holding one small, rather sticky hand. "So where have you been? How was your trip?"
They got caught up on the happenings of the last year as they ate their room-service dinner. When it was time to get ready for bed, there were presents to open. Helen's grandson was very quick at finding all the hiding places, and equally quick at tearing open the bright paper to see what was inside. The puzzles and books were perfect for such a smart little boy, but Grandma was Grandma, and she didn't neglect to include a baseball glove and a ball since he was old enough to enjoy it.
"Naomi, you be sure to play catch with him. He can't play with that by himself."
"Oh, Mom, you worry too much. He does just fine, don't you, sweetie?"
"Huh?" A curly head poked up from behind the new book on the pyramids. Naomi just smiled at him and waved her hand to show it was nothing important.
Later that evening, when everyone was in bed and the rooms were dark, Helen looked out her window across the city and allowed herself a few minutes' regret. Perhaps she hadn't tried hard enough to heal the breach between stepfather and daughter. Perhaps she should have refused Harry Goldman when he proposed.
She had been a young widow with a rebellious daughter who was more than a handful. Harry was a good man, and he tried, tried very hard. It hadn't been Naomi's high-school pregnancy that had ended it, but the way she threw it in Harry's face as though she'd gotten pregnant specifically to hurt him. He warned her before she left that she would not be welcome any longer. She laughed at him and slammed the door behind her. How could it be that Helen could care for both these people, when they could not find it in themselves to even tolerate each other?
In the morning, she would take her daughter and grandson shopping. She would buy Blair shoes and underwear, socks and jeans, a backpack - always a backpack - and some shirts, and then they'd eat lunch at the department store restaurant. She would make plans for the following year, give them hugs and kisses at the train station and check out of the hotel to go home.
Hers was not such a bad life, Helen told herself. Many of her friends were dreadfully unhappy, though that was not her case at all. It was living in fragments like this that was so wearing. But seeing her grandson was like seeing Naomi's father Michael again; how he would have loved this bright, beautiful child. Helen could no more stop these yearly visits than she could stop remembering. The city lights swam and blurred in her sight. "I hope you can see him, Michael Blair Sandburg. He's going to be a rare one, just like you."
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