Annie Walker drove through the late November darkness, heading home to the empty house that she used to share with Danielle and her family; this year it was Danielle's turn to go home to hubby's parents for the holiday, otherwise Annie could have arranged to share the time with them. Instead, she'd arranged to take on some extra shifts over the long holiday, which was actually considered a time of greater risk both domestically and abroad, even more so this year with the day coinciding with the beginning of Chanukah. She felt a certain pride in stepping forward to help out other operatives with greater family obligations than she had, but none of it made her want to rush home in the chilly darkness to quite that quiet a Thanksgiving Eve.
Traffic congested ahead of her, differently than the usual pattern she was accustomed to at that spot. She glanced around and realized the reason was a short back-up of cars at a church parking lot. The lit marquee announced the annual Thanksgiving Interfaith Service and below the date and time info for service and a reception, the plastic letters spelled out "Happy Thanksgivinukah!"
What the heck, Annie thought, as the cars moved forward and turned in. She decided not to fight to pull into the other lane, and followed an SUV into the parking lot. She succeeded in parking in one of the last available spaces, and headed on toward the sanctuary. She was not normally much of a churchgoer but her family had always made an appearance for a Thanksgiving ceremony, along with Christmas and Easter. Some years they'd been in three different places for the holidays, or stuck on the same base for all of them.
Inside the sanctuary, it was standing room only. An usher welcomed her and handed her a detailed program and she began to regret her impulsiveness; this was obviously a big thing and she'd be there for a couple of hours at least, with a slew of speakers, choral singing from a combined Temple and Church choir, and what she hoped would be quick sermons from a rabbi and a pastor. Well,at least she was in the back. She could make a quiet exit at some point, if she could get through the crowd. Maybe making that quick exit now would be the best idea of all. She started to turned and found her way blocked by a dark well-cut suit.
"Boning up for when I take you home to meet mother?"
the figure said softly.
"Did you follow me?" she blurted out, astounded to see Eyal Lavin beside her, his head capped by a yarmulke.
"Certainly not. I have abundant witnesses who will testify that I have spent the last hour laying out cookies in the reception hall and lending a hand with the potato pancakes. So, neshema, - and nice to use that word in a more proper spiritual environment - I think it is fairly obvious that you have followed me. Come on. I think we can squeeze into the end of that pew over there."
Still amazed, Annie asked "What are you doing here?" He lifted an eyebrow and gave his yarmulke a slight pat. "Praying for the good of the world," he said. His voice dropped. "And doing a bit of work while I do so."
"If you need to be on your own, I ..."
"Trying to get rid of me? Not a chance. Besides, you offer a delightful air of authenticity. Who wouldn't expect me to be chatting up the prettiest girl here? And if we sit together, so much the better. I'm clearly doing interfaith outreach."
They did squeeze into the aforementioned pew, just as the lights slightly dimmed and a choir began to sing as a double row of candle bearers processed down the central aisle. The tightness of the seating had them pressed comfortably together. He put his hand over hers companionably; she felt herself relax beside him. He patted her hand periodically as they sat through the extended service as a giant menorah was lit while a female rabbi intoned prayers and the congregation struggled through responses in Hebrew, and as the pair of religious leaders made their points, speaking of the similarities of Israel and the United States and read aloud a Thanksgiving declaration from the President. One of the hymns was "America the Beautiful". Annie glanced around at the congregation; a couple of faces looked familiar from Langley and she also wondered how many ex-Mossad or current Mossad agents were in the room - she certainly knew of one. The best one, she found herself thinking, affectionately, but she squelched that thought. Certainly, the best-looking one, she modified. It was easy to come up with reasons to be thankful for him, all in context of missions, frequently in matters of literal life and death. One of the speakers mentioned being thankful for those that God had brought into their lives; they both were squeezing hands, impossible to tell who was initiating it, and she knew he too was thinking of the many times they had saved or helped the other. From being impatient, she found herself curiously unwilling for the long program to come to an end.
Perhaps he didn't feel the same; at the first instant of opportunity he was on his feet, assisting her out of the pew and heading toward the reception hall. She recalled he said he was "working" and wondered if she had missed something. "Is something wrong?"
"Absolutely. There must be 500 people here, and I know for a fact that there are no more than 1000 potato latkes." He zipped her through the crowd, past a dreidel demonstration, and to the latke table.
"Never know if it's your last," she said softly, as the arrived and grabbed plates.
"Exactly. Also, disrespectful to the blessing of the food to let it get cold," he added, adorning her latkes with a flourish of applesauce and sour cream. They retreated with their plates to the sidelines. Across the room, there was a flurry of activity and she recognized two of their three children from Halloween chasing each other through the increasing crowd, one of them throwing a pfeffernusse at the head of the other. She felt Eyal tense beside her but someone else intervened. The potato latkes were delicious. Eyal slid his arm around her waist and gave her a little squeeze. She thought it was a bit out of context and went on alert. An elderly man was approaching them; she couldn't tell his nationality - he could have been part of either congregation. "Didn't we meet at the Interfaith ceremony at Georgetown last year?" he asked Eyal.
"Yes, we were both in the kitchen helping with the latkes, weren't we?"
"You had a very good technique with the spatula, I recall. I meant to get your card for that referral for my brother."
"Well, let me make up for that now," Eyal said, and the other man also dug for one of his own. Annie stood by, silent, this was almost definitely "the work" Eyal had mentioned. They exchanged cards. "Oh," Eyal said, "I'm being rude. This is my fiancee, Catherine."
How dare he, she thought. Annie did not wince over his use of her middle name, which at least gave her a paper-thin cover. "A pleasure," she said, leaning forward, with absolutely no choice in the matter but to accept the role for the moment. The three of them made small talk - very small talk - for a few minutes before the man excused himself.
"So I've been demoted. Last time, for Halloween, I was clearly in a wifely role. First I lose the kids, and now this?"
He was grinning, radiating charm and happiness. "Why are you so happy about that?"
"Think of it, neshema. You're not angry with me for claiming you as my fiancee, you're angry because I'm not claiming you as my wife. What's not to be happy about?"
Damn. She was affonted, on entirely the wrong point if she wanted to maintain her "I don't care, really" facade. Eyal was clearly more relaxed now, his business taken care of. They made a slow circuit of the room, picking up some cookies and cheese. Eyal may have been helping out, but he was clearly not well known here, though presumably he had a connection with the parents of the children they had borrowed for Halloween. But he made no move to introduce her there.
"So what are you doing tomorrow?" she asked.
"Alas, I have a flight out at 6am. Otherwise ..."
"Well, we've managed two holidays in a row."
"No, three, this one counts double."
"That's right," she laughed.
Eyal patted his pocket. "I've unfortunately got to be going. Come on, I'll walk you to your car," he said."Unless you want to stay and see if you can sweep up another latke or two."
They went out into the cool of the evening to where her car was parked. "But before we part, neshema, you must know that one of the things I'm most thankful for is our friendship and all that has meant so far," he said, softly.
"I was thinking the same thing, in the service." He nodded as she looked up at him.
"Not just today, but every day," and he leaned down to give her the gentlest of potato-flavored kisses on her lips. "I very much wish I could be here to cook a turkey for you."
"That would insure it being a tastier Thanksgiving"
"Maybe for Christmas, or, better, New Year's Eve," he said, with a smile. "Here's hoping. Well, goodnight."
"Goodnight! And I'll never be able to say this to you again - happy Thanksgivinukah!"