Part One: Gillian and her sons become snowbound at a hotel stop on the way to Grandma's for Christmas.
Part Two: Gillian is befriended by a set of grandparents, also stranded in holiday travel.
Part Three: Gillian and her boys go tubing with the Balfours.
Part Four: Gillian and her boys have breakfast with the Balfours. Mrs. Balfour and Gillian have a heart to heart about the state of her marriage.
Gillian woke in the middle of the night. She sat up and rubbed her eyes, confused for a moment about where she was. She felt reassured when she saw her boys sleeping in the other bed in the room, then instantly sad again. Tomorrow was Christmas. She checked her phone for the time. Three o'clock. Make that today. Her boys were being brave and understanding about not having any gifts to open in the morning, but Gillian still took it to heart.
It compared poorly to all the other Christmases her boys had celebrated. Usually, Gillian was the one who hosted the parties. Their living room was transformed into a wash of twinkling lights and ribbons. She sent beautiful cupcakes for the teachers at school. She hadn't had the heart for it this year, nor the pocketbook. She wished now that she had stayed home and given the boys a smaller scale holiday. At least there would be gifts and a tree at their own house.
She and Phillip had always loved spoiling the boys together, each trying to make sure that their boys got to experience every joy the season had to offer. Ice skating. Caroling. Baking. Gingerbread houses. Handmade gifts. The season was true family time for them-all about bringing that spark of joy to their children's eyes any way they could.
Gillian knew she could still have done a lot of those things. They didn't all require money. But they did all require heart and hers had been broken.
She'd tried to call Phillip, just as she promised herself she would, but her three attempts had only gotten voicemail. She picked up her phone again to check now, but there were no missed calls or text messages.
Gillian stood and walked back to the window. She could see the tracks their afternoon sledding expedition had left all over the parking lot. There were gaps in the parking lot now. Travelers who were heading east had excavated their cars and continued their journeys, but the road westward had still been unsafe for travel at nightfall. They wouldn't arrive at her parents' house in time for Christmas morning now. Maybe Christmas night, if they were lucky.
Gillian leaned her forehead against the cool glass and watched the moonlight sparkle on the untouched snow on the other side of the road. She turned and looked at her boys sleeping. They both looked small and vulnerable in the king-sized bed. Even ten-year-old Steve's face, which had been looking all too adult, looked pudgy and toddler-ish squished against his pillow. Jack's arm was flung across his brother liked he'd fallen asleep tapping him on the shoulder, which he might well have done. Gillian resisted the desire to stroke their hair. Let sleeping angels rest, she reminded herself.
She shivered a little then, and decided she'd really like a cup of tea. She wrapped herself in a cardigan sweater over her pajamas, left a note for Steve just in case the boys woke, and locked them in the room and headed for the lobby. She didn't want to disturb the boys with her preparation sounds and Maxine had said she'd leave the hot water pot hooked up in case she and the boys needed to make a cup of noodles or something.
The lobby was dimly lit. Apparently the small hotel didn't leave the lights blazing all night. The little decorated tree was still lit, though and it looked pretty reflecting in the tile floor. Gillian crept into the kitchen area and flipped a lightswitch. She made herself a cup of lemon tea in one of the little tan paper cups the hotel provided.
When she turned to go back upstairs, she glanced over at the sofa area. There was someone there, lying on the couch. She looked nervously at the reception desk, debating ringing the bell and waking whoever was resting in the back room. She put her cup of tea down on the counter and circled a little nearer the sleeping person.
It was a man, a man who was a little too long to fit onto the couch fully. A man resting under a hotel blanket, which meant that the clerk must know he was there, but that he hadn't taken a room for some reason. A man who was wearing one red and one green sock on the feet that dangled off the end of the couch, just like Phillip always did on Christmas morning.
The man made a sleep-grumble sort of sound, and shifted on the couch, making the upholstery squeak.
"Phillip?" Her voice was louder this time.
He heard her. He bolted upright. "Gillian?" He stood up and rushed to her side, pulling her into a hug. She wrapped her arms around him and squeezed him back.
"What are you doing here?" she laughed.
"I couldn't stay away. I was going to meet you at your parents' house, but when I called, they told me where you were and I decided to meet you here."
"Why didn't you come upstairs?"
"I got here at two in the morning. I didn't want to wake you all up."
Gillian laughed again. "I just can't believe you're really here!"
He raised a hand to her face and rubbed at the tears that were falling there. "Ah, Gills. It's Christmas. I needed to be with my family. I needed to be with you."
They embraced for a long time after that, until both of them started to shiver a little from sock feet on tile floor.
"Come on," she said, pulling him by the hand. "Wait till the kids wake up and see what Santa brought us!"