Part One: In which Gillian and her sons get stranded on the way to visit Grandma for Christmas.
Part Two: In which Gillian is befriended by other stranded travelers: Louise and Henry, grandparents.
Part Three: In which Gillian accepts an offer for a four-wheeler ride to the diner with her sons.
They were still removing and stacking their snow gear when the waitress appeared with two hot chocolates and three coffees. "I can bring some juice or milk if you want, but I thought you'd want something warm first." She sat the tray on the table and distributed the mugs in front of everyone. Henry told her she was a genius and a gem and the woman smiled broadly. Within a minute or two, she had taken everyone's orders and run off again, towards the kitchen this time.
Gillian wrapped her hands around the mug. Despite her best gloves and the woolen blanket Henry had provided, she was chilled and the coffee felt wonderful. When she picked it up and sipped it, she found that it tasted wonderful, too. Jack already had a hot chocolate mustache, while Steve was rather noisily sipping his cocoa by the spoonful, stirring it between each dip.
"Thank you both so much! That was just what we needed, I think."
Louise smiled. "It does clear the head, moving fast in the cold air. It did us good, too." She gripped her husband's fingers and smiled at him and Gillian felt a twinge of something a lot like sadness at the show of love between them. She ruffled Jack's hair and his smile was a reminder of how much she still had to be grateful for.
The group took a leisurely breakfast, chatting and eating, and, for once, Gillian's boys didn't seem to grow restless. They used the paper and crayons the waitress bought them and played table games like dots and hangman or drew strange scenes together. Henry nodded at the boys. "Looks like you done right by these boys. Santa should be pretty kind to such good children." The boys beamed at the compliment, and Gillian ducked her head toward her coffee mug to hide the sudden tears that stung in the corners.
She and the boys weren't starving by any means, but neither was she going to be able to spoil them this year, not with the expense of maintaining two households to manage. Her husband's opportunity in New York had been a very good one. "Too good to pass up," he'd said. "The opportunity of a lifetime." And she had acquiesced. Seeking peace even when her heart begged her to argue, just as she always had.
When it was time to go back, Henry offered to take the boys for some extra spins around the hotel lot, "If it's okay with your mother." Gillian didn't stand a chance against the two sets of puppy eyes. She laughed and agreed, making Henry promise to come back as soon as he was tired and not let the boys keep out longer than he wanted.
Louise and Gillian waved off the boys, then went to the coffee bar in the hotel lobby. Maxine, the front desk clerk, was there talking with a man that turned out to be her husband and the manager of the hotel. Roads eastward were opening back up, but westward, another front had dumped another
When she looked up again, Louise was watching her. "I think I might be about to stick my foot in it," she said, "but I have to ask. Where is the boys' father?"
"But I thought you said you guys came from Chicago."
"We did. The boys and I still live in Chicago, but my husband has been in New York for a few months now. For business."
Louise frowned. "Aren't you and the boys his business?"
Gillian felt a defensive speech rising to her lips, but bit it back down. In her heart, she felt the same way and there was no reason to try to defend this separation to this woman right now. Instead, she just nodded.
"Do you still love him?" Louise asked.
"Yes, I still do. I'm just not sure he still loves me."
"Have you told him?" Gillian was confused and it must have shown on her face. Louise went on, "I mean, have you told him recently? It can easy to forget to say it, but we all need to hear it. Faith is easy to lose if no one is reminding you of your blessings."
Gillian made a silent promise to herself to call Phillip that night after the boys fell asleep, and this time to talk about her own feelings, instead of only about the boys.
(to be continued)