Saskatoon, Canada, September 2002
It was after one o’clock in the morning, and Malcolm Redgrave lay awake in his room in a Saskatoon hotel. He had been a chronic insomniac for most of his life, but there was a difference in the creeping restlessness that stole over him at the end of every summer.
The latest Canadian performance of the Champion Blades tour had wrapped up barely two hours before. Expecting a sleepless night, he had been tempted to join the skaters who habitually stayed up carousing with their fans after each show, but he decided that was a game for the young. Instead he retired to his room, waiting for the sleep that refused to come.
He never took sleeping pills; they aroused too many memories.
At one-thirty, he gave up the battle. He rose, dressed himself casually in light trousers and sweater, and went downstairs.
The hotel lounge was still bright and noisy, and he recognized more than a few voices as he passed by—including the indefatiguable Kenji. He briefly considered the idea of seeking out his old friend, but just as quickly dismissed it; he wanted to be alone. Remembering a favorite sort of refuge during his travels in past Septembers, he made his way to the hotel’s conference room, deserted in the dead of night.
As he flicked the switch to flood the room with artificial light, a feminine figure at the long polished table gave a start. She turned away, but he easily recognized the long raven hair of his most recent student, Hannah Zahavi. His unsuspecting intrusion had caught her sitting alone in total darkness.
"I beg your pardon, Hannah. Are you alright?"
Her back was still turned as she cleared her throat brusquely. "Fine, Guv’nor. I’ll be on my way." She stood up and came toward the door, and for a moment he let himself casually admire the skilled way she obscured her face, with the natural cascade of her wild black locks.
As she reached the doorway, his long thin arm stretched out across it, barring her way. "I noticed you weren’t up to your standards tonight."
She finally turned, staring at him with a drawn and red-eyed face that could have expressed grief, or weariness, or both. "Off night now and then," she ground out.
"You really do overestimate your ability to hide your feelings." Malcolm lowered his arm, but Hannah did not move. She continued to scowl at him for a moment, evidently more than a little angry, until at last she turned and hurled herself into one of the plush swivel chairs with a snarl.
"Munich," Malcolm said simply. It was not quite a question.
The Israeli woman hung her head. "Munich… thirty years today. Or yesterday. Whatever."
Quietly Malcolm closed the door and stepped closer, seating himself at the opposite side of the table’s corner. "I remember that day, and the changes it brought to every athlete’s way of life. If you want to talk, I’ll be happy to listen."
"What’s there to talk about?" Hannah clenched her fists on the tabletop. "My father died before I was born, because he was just too good at his job. He was a policeman who handled his gun so well, they sent him off to shoot targets for sport." She looked away. "But he was a target, instead."
"Do you blame the Olympics, then?"
"Yes," Hannah snapped.
Malcolm weighed his next question, daring to take the tiger by the tail. "Then I wonder, Hannah, why the Olympics always meant so much to you."
For all the emotions that inquiry threatened to expose, there was no outburst; she simply answered the question, in a low, terse voice. "Because… it meant so much to him."
For some time they sat in silence, and then Hannah leaned forward, resting her chin on her folded arms. "What was your father like?"
Malcolm smiled ruefully. "He was a good man. The strongest, bravest fellow in the world—or so I thought, when I was a boy. He didn’t understand why I loved to skate, but he was happy that it made me happy." The coach let out a sigh. "He died when I was nineteen… trouble with his heart, you know. I’ve always wished he could have lived to see the things I achieved."
Hannah grunted softly. "At least he was there for you when you were growing up. At least you have memories—I don’t even have that."
"Memories." His thoughts turning, Malcolm leaned back in his chair, wrapping his arms around himself as a chill crept into his heart. When he continued, he was almost surprised by the steady, calm tone of his voice.
"On the fourteenth of this month, twenty-two years ago… my wife passed away. My Margaret, the center of my life. She was… hardly any older than you are now." He met Hannah’s eyes, making no effort to deny the silent pain in his own.
She raised her head from her arms, with a softness in her expression which he could not recall seeing there before. "I’m sorry. I’ve heard a little about… that."
"Now you know why I came here. Every September, I spend my nights in much the same way as you were spending this one." He shook his head. "Memories… even the sweetest ones, can be very bitter when they’re all you have left. I loved—love—my Margaret with all my soul, but sometimes… God, but sometimes, how I wish I could forget, just for a little while." With a small sense of shame whispering in his heart, he lowered his eyes.
"Even after all this time?" Hannah wondered.
"That's the devilry of time—sometimes it only makes memories all the sharper." He spread his hands, as if to push something away. "Still, it shames me to admit it was a little easier, last year. At least… after what happened. For a while, there was too much hurt in the world to be selfish over my own."
"Did you know anyone who died on nine-eleven?"
"No. Some acquaintances rather badly frightened, but that was all." Malcolm frowned. "It went worse for Kenji. He lost a few friends from his days as an agent in New York. That’s why he felt so strongly about the tributes—and why he was so proud of the fine work you all did."
"That program was really for my father." Hannah drew her heels up onto the edge of her chair and hugged her knees to her chest. "I guess I thought it’d mean more than going to the memorial in Munich last month. Maybe, if it would make somebody feel a little better… If I could show them I know how they feel…"
Malcolm smiled. "I was very proud of you for that, myself."
Dropping her gaze, Hannah acknowledged her coach's quiet praise with a small shrug of futility. "I just wish… I wish it wouldn’t hurt anymore. For anyone."
Malcolm swallowed hard, to ease the sudden tightness in his throat. "You’re certainly not alone in that."
"I hate Septembers," she concluded, a strangely childlike protest against the manifold unfairnesses of the world. And deep in his heart, in the part of him which would have been a wonderful father, it made Malcolm want to hold her.
"Ah, but September is only a page on the calendar." With a hollow smile, he returned the shrug. "Speaking of which, isn’t today the eve of the Jewish new year?"
"Rosh Hashanah," the Israeli murmured with a nod.
"Well, then." Malcolm's face brightened somewhat. "I confess I don't know just how you celebrate it… but perhaps we should take a page from December thirty-first. Tonight let’s resolve to pay our dues of remembrance and move on, without letting the past spoil a perfectly innocent collection of days that happen to be called September. Eh?" He searched her eyes, smiling gamely.
Hannah frowned at him, but the expression soon gave way to a small, grim chuckle, and she offered him her slender hand. "Deal."
"Good." He shook her hand once, firmly, then kissed it and stood up, assuming his best coach’s tone. "Now then, you’d better go and get some sleep. I’ll expect you bright and early for practice."
With a rueful smile, Hannah rose and tossed off a crisp salute. "Right, Guv’nor." As he opened the door for her, she paused, raising earnest eyes to his. "Thanks."
"I believe I’m the one to owe you thanks." Malcolm inclined his head as she stepped past him, then turned out the conference room lights and followed. The lounge had fallen quiet, but he didn’t mind; silence now seemed more restful than haunting. He went back to his room and once more retired to bed.
He slept deeply and well that night.
© 2002 Jordanna Morgan