The rest of the shopping trip went well, and Erika bought some really nice things, but she still wasn't able to shake Ethel's unkind words. Although they'd been mild compared to the ones she'd heard from German Christians right before the war had started, she still couldn't help but feel as if she were reliving the past.
They took the subway home, and Erika found a place of honor on the mantel for her new menorah. Later, she lit the candles and said the blessing for that night. She and Yuri sat on the sofa holding hands as they watched the candles burn like a beacon in the dark.
"It looks so lovely," said Yuri. For the first time, he thought perhaps something had been missing from his childhood.
A few nights later, Bennett and Janice invited them to a candle lighting ceremony at the church.
The church's interior was almost completely dark as they entered the sanctuary. Each of them took a candle from a box beside the door. When everyone was inside, an usher walked up and down lighting all the candles, and when they were all burning, Reverend Pendleton led the congregation in singing 'Silent Night.'
Erika recognized the tune right away. It was a song she'd sang in German many times with her class mates in school.
The next song was called 'O Holy Night'. Erika had never heard it before, but she thought it was beautiful.
In the glow of the candles, with the cadence of voices singing in English, Yuri was transfixed. It was like nothing he'd ever experienced before. The closest he'd come likely would have been the military hymns he'd learned in the Soviet army. The candles made him think of Erika's menorah. He'd never associated candles and music with entering a sacred space before - in fact, the whole idea of a sacred space was totally foreign to him. He didn't quite know how to explain it, but when the service had ended, he felt a vague sadness.
"Did you enjoy the service?" Bennett asked him as they were leaving the church.
"It was nice," he told the older man.
"How did you like it?" he asked Erika.
"It took me back to my childhood," she told him. "I remember my classmates and I holding candles and singing "Stille Nacht' in the school cafeteria. I wasn't the only Jewish child in my class. There was also a boy named David and a girl named Gretchen. All of us sang right along with the others. We knew it didn't really belong to us, but other than that, we never thought anything of it."
On Christmas day, the Hills invited Yuri and Erika over for dinner again. After the meal, the family exchanged gifts. The Hills gave both Yuri and Erika warm coats.
"It's the most beautiful thing I've ever seen," Erika said as she ran her hand over the soft white faux fur. "But we haven't anything to give you."
"That's all right," Janice said with a smile.
"If we'd known ahead of time, we would have brought presents for you as well," said Yuri.
"They don't even celebrate Christmas," said Ethel.
"That doesn't matter," said Pauline. "All that matters is we're together."
Roger smiled as he gave her hand a squeeze.
In January, the Hills took Yuri and Erika to Broadway to see a musical called 'The Show Boat'. They both enjoyed it very much. Later that month, Erika was putting away the clean sheets and towels when a wave of dizziness overtook her. She felt as if her bones had turned to jelly as she slid toward the floor.
Right away, she felt Yuri's strong arms around her, supporting her. She rested her head on his shoulder as he carried her to the bed and gently laid her on it.
"Are you all right?" he asked anxiously.
"I don't know what happened." Her voice was almost a whisper. "All of a sudden, I just felt so weak!"
"Why don't you just stay here and rest for a bit," Yuri suggested.
"I need to get dinner started - "
"I'll take care of dinner," said Yuri. "You rest."
He prepared a delicious dinner of chicken Kiev, but she could hardly eat any of it at all, and she went to bed early that night.
The following morning, she awakened feeling nauseous. She made her way into the restroom and vomited into the toilet. She flushed, then rinsed her mouth out and washed her face.
She turned and looked into Yuri's concerned eyes.
"I'm taking you to the doctor," he told her.
"But you can't miss work," she protested.
"I'll tell them it was an emergency," he said.
They took the bus and subway across town to the office of the physician the Hills used, Dr. Downs. It was located in a four-story building. They took the elevator up to the second floor and entered the waiting room.
It was immaculate, with walls painted white. Two comfortable sofas with a lamp in between them were against one wall. Several paintings adorned the walls. The receptionist sat at a desk across from the sofas. She looked up as they entered.
"Can I help you?" she asked.
"My wife needs to see the doctor," Yuri told her. "She isn't well."
The receptionist took down their information, then told them to have a seat.
"The doctor will be with you shortly," she said.
Erika sat beside Yuri on one of the sofas, feeling awkward. She hadn't been inside a doctor's office in years. While in Auschwitz, she'd tried desperately to hide every cough or case of the sniffles that came upon her. She'd known that any sign of illness was a virtual guarantee of selection. She'd performed heavy physical labor while suffering from slight fevers. It was amazing I never fainted, she thought. The only thing that kept me going must have been my strong desire to live.
Suddenly Yuri nudged her.
"They're calling you," he told her.
Eagerly she jumped to her feet and looked around.