n Monday Hadas doesn’t come to school, so I spend lunch period in the bathroom again. On Tuesday, when she’s still home with strep throat, I venture out onto the school grounds. It’s gorgeous outside and I’m too hungry to hide in the bathroom this time. Batya waves at me; I wave back, but I keep walking. I need to find my way with the tenth graders, no more hiding behind other people’s popularity. I think of Sari’s words at the wedding, how she said I was brave. Well, this has to be either the bravest or the dumbest thing I’ve ever done. I make my slow way over to the picnic table, aware that Tamara and the group are watching me from the bench with slitted eyes. Without any drama or aplomb, I sit down and unwrap my salad. Cue applause. The conversation grinds to a halt for only a fraction of a second, before starting up again. These girls have Stonesworth upbringings, after all.

On Wednesday, when Hadas returns, we sit at the picnic table together, laughing and giggling over pictures from the wedding. No one talks to us, and if I’m going to be honest, I think I would have had more people interested in me if I wasn’t with Hadas. But I don’t care. Hadas is a true friend, a soul sister, and I’m lucky to have found her, and even luckier that she didn’t give up on me.

Tamara puts up a flyer advertising an end-of-the-year pool party. The class tries to play it cool, but you can tell they’re all super excited.

We don’t go, of course, and the first day of summer vacation, Mommy takes us out for ice cream. Do I feel like a total loser? Maybe just a little. But at least I’m not spending lunch in the bathroom anymore. At least not until school starts again.

Tzippy moves to Eretz Yisrael in middle of July. We hug tearfully in the airport, my hands wrapped tightly around her as she struggles to keep her sheitel in place.

“Rachel Ahuva,” she whispers in my ear, “please call me. I’ll be so homesick.”

I nod through my curtain of tears, trying to smile, but I feel heartbroken. There are too many what-ifs and could-have-beens floating around in the air.

I gaze out the window on the drive back, completely silent. I spy Mommy and Abba exchanging glances, and it’s only once we’ve passed the “Welcome to the Outcrop” sign that Abba clears his throat. “Hey, Rachel Ahuva, Mommy and I were talking...” The other kids studiously pretend not to be listening, Chunah starts humming aloud.

“It’s okay guys, this concerns you, as well,” Mommy says, hiding a smile.

“We decided that if any of you aren’t happy in Stonesworth, we’ll try to make it work so that you can go to school in Brownsfeld. This offer is for the three big kids only, sorry Chunah and Simchi.”

Chunah shrugs. “Hey, I’m happy here.”

Sari shakes her head. “I love my friends.”

Tzviki shakes his head. “Love the yeshivah. Thanks, though.”

I’m the only one who is silent, which I think they predicted. Finally, I shake my head as well.

“Nah. I’m not one to back down from a challenge. I’m good here.”

Mommy and Abba look at each other, surprised. Abba swings into the driveway. “Glad to hear it, peanut, we really would have missed you,” he says lightly.

Mommy leans back and touches my knee. “Are you sure, hon?”

I nod, the tear tracks from earlier making my face stiff.  “Yeah. I’m just brave like that,” I say, winking at Sari. She winks back.

Abba clears his throat. “Well then… how about a two-week family vacation in Brownsfeld?”

We all cheer and scream, although I know a trip back to Brownsfeld will never be the same for me again. Not after my winter vacation trip there. But I’ll get to spend time with Shiri and Rus and maybe, just maybe, in the old swing sets and parks of my childhood, I’ll find myself again, laughing and curly-headed and lighthearted.

(Excerpted from Teen Pages, Issue 763)