Henrietta ran her hands through her short hair. “You’re sure they won’t mind?”
“Honey,” said Grigor, her amazing, wonderful boyfriend. “You’ve already met Baba. Why are you worrying now?”
“Because I haven’t met your parents yet, and they still think you’re their daughter, and I’m terrified that they’ll hate me and then you’ll hate me…”
“Henrietta, please stop,” Grigor said calmly. “If Mama and Papa decide not to like you, Baba will call one of the Aunts or Uncles and tell them to take me. It’s sort of the advantage of being the grandson of the most well connected octogenarian in Florida, everyone listens to her.”
“You make it sound like you’re a teen, still able to be adopted,” Henrietta sighed. “How is it that this is so easy for you?”
“I grew up knowing that once Baba was on my side, everything was okay forever,” he said, kissing her forehead. “Come on, we’ll miss the first candle.”
She laughed and followed him out to the car, where he held the door for her. It was great dating someone like Grigor, he was so calm and steady, which she needed, badly. He also adored Stella, which was requirement number one in a partner. Stella had been Henrietta’s friend since grade school, the two were in no way going to split because one of them was dating. She relaxed into Grigor’s side after he opened the car door to let her out. Somehow the car trip had been much shorter than expected.
“Henrietta, come in, come in,” called Baba Osinova as Grigor rang the bell. “You will help me with the sufganiot. I need stronger hands to put the filling in.”
“I… but… okay,” she said as she was dragged off away from the bustle and into a small kitchen.
“Don’t worry,” said Baba Osinova. “I had a talk with Chana and Debra, and their men are smart enough to go where they point. Everyone will love you, but you needed some time to understand that.”
“And the cooking?” Henrietta asked. She got the feeling Baba Osinova did absolutely nothing without a really good reason.
“I never let anyone I don’t trust into my kitchen,” she said. “Nobody argues the right to be here once I ask you for help. Also, you have good strong hands and I have arthritis. The filling is here. I’ll get the dough.”
After cooking a batch of cheese and jam filled doughnuts and taking them out, Henrietta was feeling less nervous. She sat quietly and respectfully as parents told children the story of Chanukah, and as they lit the candle on the menorah.
“That’s beautiful,” she told her boyfriend. “Thank you for inviting me.”
“Of course, I love you,” he said.
“Ewww,” called a small child of indeterminate gender. “Kissing stuff!”
“Hush, it’s cute,” scolded a pre-teen girl.
“Be happy that they’re happy,” advised Grigor’s teenaged brother, Tomas, as he made a face “It’s not everyday you get to see two people that sickeningly in love.”
“Hey!” Grigor protested, swiping at Tomas. “Get back here, Brat!”
Henrietta laughed as they wrestled a bit and Grigor planted a big wet kiss on Tomas’ cheek.
“Presents!” called an uncle that Henrietta was unsure bore any actual relation to the family. Also, she was half sure that like her, he wasn’t Jewish. “I have gelt!”
The kids swarmed him as he passed out little bags and boxes with chocolate coins and small toys. Grigor tapped her shoulder.
“I got you something for Christmas, but I think you need it earlier,” he said, passing her a box.
She plucked the silver ribbon off the white box and lifted the lid that had been straining it. Open, the box held a mass of the highest quality faux fur she’d ever seen.
“This isn’t real is it?” she asked.
“Nope,” Grigor said with a grin. “Certified dead-bunny free. Try them on!”
She stood, somehow aware and also unconcerned about the audience she’d gathered as she slipped into the coat and hat from the box. “It’s beautiful, I love it,” she said, hugging Grigor. “I didn’t get you anything near as nice as this! I thought the presents were mostly for the kids.”
“They are, and you give me wonderful gifts everyday, every time you text me in the middle of the day to say you love me, every time you send me memes that you know I’ll like. You’re my gift, Henrietta.”
“Now who wants challah?” asked Baba Osinova from the kitchen, buying them a moment of privacy as the door was rushed by hungry guests.