I run into the trees, slipping on icy undergrowth, until the shrieking and laughter of a foursome of girls is swallowed by the darkness of the barks.

I am panting, loud, gulping breaths breaking the silence of the woods.

You’re not part of them, not anymore — why did you run away like you’ve been bitten?

’Cuz Leeba was there. Couldn’t she have called me? Where do we even stand with each other? And Shiri, we’re kinda friends.

Kinda.

But you’re always excluding yourself… why do you even care?

Maybe because it’s staring me in the face — how alone I am, how others are moving on and having a life, gallivanting on the mountain, giggling… maybe I don’t want to see it so clearly?

I close my eyes, knocking away the avalanche of thoughts. I lean against rough bark, still as a tree trunk myself.

“Naomi, what happened? Where’d ya go?”

Rafi rounds the bend and looks at me quizzically.

I exhale heavily, a balloon of breath hovering in the air between us.

“It wasn’t ’cuz of Leeba, was it?”

That obvious?

“Isn’t she your friend?”

“Sore topic, Rafi,” I say, and break out in a little laugh.

Rafi steps carefully through the trees, and I follow him out and back into the light of the field. We walk along the same circle we stamped out earlier, our steps slow and thoughtful where they were vigorous and energetic not half an hour ago.

“It worries me, Naomi,” he says finally.

I buy some time. “What?”

“I don’t know what happened with Leeba, but she’s never around. Hardly anyone is. And it makes me feel like I shouldn’t go off to yeshivah and leave you so alone…”

I look up at my brother. Tall as I am, he’s a garden dandelion and growing taller still. Inside he’s growing too.

And why should he be burdened like this?

Still, will he be going off next year — would he?

“Rafi,” I blurt, “what’s the story? You’re really going?”

He looks at me, real and honest. “I want to, Naomi. I really think this is what I need. And I applied to two places already…”

I breathe in, a whistle.

And then I face my brother, and for a moment there, in the whip of wind and whirling whiteness, I am square and honest with myself. I know he needs to get away. To be himself, without our background hanging over him, and hard as it would be for me, he deserves my support all the way.

“I’ll make a friend, Rafi,” I find myself saying, and then my voice gains conviction. “By the time you go, I’ll be one of the crowd again.”

Far away, on the lilting breeze, snatches of merriment carry over the trees. What I’m saying is absurd. But Rafi’s eyes are lighting, easing, and he breaks into a run. I race along, fast as the gales, overtaking my lanky brother — hey, anything can happen. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 684)