Tormented by the question of 'what if...' Home for Hanukkah, Sergeant Isaac Janko has never forgotten the baby his girlfriend gave up for adoption years ago. But he didn’t realize how angry he still was.... More than time separates them.... A chance meeting at Temple brings Zehava Elbaz face-to-face with the first and only man she's ever loved. She sees a deep and hidden pain in him, one she blames herself for... An invitation to Hanukkah brings them together.... The two must confront their pain and loss. They have only eight days to face their past, and win each other's trust, but it is a time for healing, reconciliation and miracles….
Except this morning, of course. All the shops were locked up tight for Shabbat. They would open later in the day, after sundown. The nostalgic throwback reminded him about how home he was. He slowed to a stop at the edge of the blacktopped playground area to consider the new center. A fence separated it from the street. The chain-link didn’t disguise the effort toward cheer conveyed by colorful wall art covering every inch of the building facade.
The city of Dallas could be seen in the distance on one corner of the mural, a neighborhood ice cream shop that closed when he was in high school closer to the front, and a dozen familiar faces made up the people. Walking around the gate, he frowned at the man depicted in the bottom right corner. It showed a ramrod straight figure walking away, a duffle on his back and, upon a closer inspection, he recognized himself.
“It took a year to finish all of it.”
The low-keyed chime of her voice ricocheted to his bones and crumbled his reserve and determination like so much ash and smoke. Steeling himself, he slid his hands into the pockets of his shorts and turned. Despite the cool temperatures, heat flash-fired through him. Zehava always had that effect on him.
The center was her personal project. He knew that, the reason why he’d come. He could lie about a lot of things, but not her. She wore a dark green turtleneck, a lighter, camel-colored jacket, jeans, and a pair of running shoes. Wariness shadowed her eyes and she had trouble meeting his gaze. Jaw tight, he couldn’t suppress a flare of triumph at her discomfort.
“It’s lovely. I didn’t know you still painted.”
“Only projects like this and for some classes I teach here during the week.” She folded her arms and unfolded them. A part of him wanted to set her at ease, but he couldn’t quite bring himself to act on it. Resentment slithered across his skin like a sand rash.
“Well, it’s good work. I’m particularly fond of my place in it. Walking away.” Was that how she saw him? The man who left?
“Not walking away.” She shook her head and her chin finally came up. “Walking toward the future. Defending our country, and lonely because you had to leave us to do it. Inspiring because it’s not an easy choice and even harder to live with. Brave because no one here can truly imagine what you faced, so we hoped and prayed you’d come home, safe from hate and harm.”
Uncomfortable with how close her description struck, Isaac dragged his attention away from her. She’d matured beautifully. The softness of her features had taken on an aristocratic bearing, but she was too thin, and her mouth too lush.
“It’s good work,” he repeated. So many words bottled up in his throat and threatened to choke him. “I should get going.” He gave her a quick, abrupt smile, the action physically painful, and jogged toward the fence. The sooner he got the hell away, the better for both of them.