“Please, Hashem,” she whispered, “give me the ability to help Devory. She has so much pain inside"
Devory’s hands curled tightly around her steaming cup of cocoa. “No.” Her one-syllable reply filled the kitchen.
Mrs. Weiss lifted her mug and grinned. “It was worth a try.” She took a sip and flinched. “Ooh!” Her fingers pressed against her mouth. “That burns.” She stood up and went to the sink. Devory watched her turn on the cold water and dab her lip with it.
“I didn’t realize how hot the cocoa was.” Mrs. Weiss returned to the table and sat down.
Devory noticed a red mark above her stepmother’s lip but didn’t say anything. She lifted her mug and drank. “Ow!” The cup dropped from her hands, splattering on the floor.
Her stepmother was out of her chair and standing beside her. “Are you okay?”
Devory rubbed her sore mouth. “You’re right. It’s boiling.” She couldn’t help but smile clumsily behind her fingers, even though she had accidentally spoken.
Mrs. Weiss’s lips curved upward too. “You want an ice cube on it?”
Devory shook her head.
“Oy, you have a red mark.” Mrs. Weiss touched her own face to show Devory where it was.
“So do you.”
Mrs. Weiss touched her upper lip. “Oh my, you’re right.”
Devory clasped her teeth together to keep herself from talking again. She didn’t want her stepmother to get the wrong message. Nothing had changed between them!
Devory saw the puddle of cocoa under the table and groaned.
“It’s okay,” Mrs. Weiss said. “I got it.” She unrolled a wad of paper towels and wiped up the mess. “There, all clean. I’ll make you another cocoa.”
Devory shrugged indifferently, then began to cough.
“Here, Devory.” Her stepmother was standing beside her, holding a glass of water. “Take the Tylenol.”
Devory took the water, making sure not to touch her stepmother’s hand.
Not a word passed between them while the water in the kettle slowly heated, then boiled. Devory made no eye contact as the cup was filled and the cocoa stirred. Mrs. Weiss placed the fresh cocoa in front of her, then sat down. Devory continued looking at her hands on her lap, not reaching for the cup. After a few uncomfortable minutes, Mrs. Weiss stood up. “I hope you feel better, Devory. I guess I’ll see you in the morning. Good night.”
Devory watched from the corner of her eye as her stepmother left the kitchen. Disappointment overwhelmed her. She pushed the cup of cocoa away and let the tears come.
Mrs. Weiss stood still in the dark hallway, listening to Devory sob. She wanted to run into the kitchen and throw her arms around the sad little girl, but she knew the angry teenager would object.
“Please, Hashem,” she whispered, “give me the ability to help Devory. She has so much pain inside. She can’t go on like this. I can’t go on like this.”
She listened a moment longer to the weeping girl, then sighed and turned toward the steps. There was nothing she could do. Devory had barricaded herself behind a solid wall of anger.
Devory’s crying mingled with spurts of coughing.
Mrs. Weiss couldn’t leave her like this. What if it were Miri in the kitchen? What if she were the one alone sobbing her heart out?
In one quick move, Mrs. Weiss went back into the kitchen. Without a word, she put her arms around Devory and held her. Devory pulled back, but Mrs. Weiss didn’t let go. Gradually, the struggling girl gave up and wept into her stepmother’s shoulder.
Mrs. Weiss stroked the back of Devory’s head, crying soundlessly together with her into her hair.
Miri grasped Eli’s little hand in hers. “Wow! This is amazing! Right, Eli?”
Eli skipped beside her, his eyes taking in the festive sights before him.
Clowns, balloons, music, and a cacophony of happy voices greeted them at the entrance.
“Too bad Ma’s not here,” Miri mused softly. To her utter dismay, Devory had gotten sick in the middle of the night, and her mother had stayed home with her.
“I don’t need a babysitter!” Miri had overheard Devory tell her father.
“Ma isn’t a babysitter,” Mr. Weiss had corrected. “She’s the mother in this house.”
“Well, she’s not my mother.” Miri hadn’t been surprised with the retort. It was the tone with which it had been said that shocked her. There was no anger in it — just a bit of annoyance.
What was with? Miri wondered. Maybe the 101 fever and achiness had weakened Devory’s defenses.
Regardless, Miri was sure Devory wouldn’t step foot out of her room all day.
“Yum!” Malky said, bringing Miri back to the carnival. “I smell pink cotton candy.”
Miri inhaled. “Mmm! Ma loves cotton candy, but don’t tell anyone. She likes to keep it a secret. I mean, how many mothers like cotton candy?”
Miri saw Malky’s eyes sparkle with the fun of sharing a secret. “Don’t worry, Miri, I won’t tell anyone that I know. Not even Ma!”
The little hairs on the back of Miri’s neck popped out. It was the first time any of the Weiss kids had referred to her mother as Ma.
Malky was looking at Miri as if waiting for a reaction.
“I knew I could trust you, Malky.”
Malky seemed to grow an inch. “Maybe we can bring cotton candy home for Ma, and Devory too.”
“Come on, everyone!” Benny shouted. “Let’s hurry! We’re missing the whole thing!”
Mr. Weiss handed him a yellow wristband. “Put this on, and you’re good to go. I’m going to the office to take care of a few things.”
“What do you want to do first?” Malky said when her father had gone. “I want popcorn!”
Miri shrugged. “Don’t we need money?”
“Money!” Benny said. “No way! Ta is one of the main sponsors of the carnival.”
“Wow! I didn’t know that.”
“Hello! He sponsors it every year. We always go for free. That’s why we have these yellow wristbands that say sponsor. Duh.”
“It’s free for everybody,” Malky said. “Benny just likes to show off.”
Miri looked at the booths, rides, and concession stands with fresh, eager eyes. “I’d rather get a snow cone first. You get popcorn, and then we’ll meet and do the carnival together.”
She took Eli’s small hand and led him deeper into the crowd.
“Is this the line for snow cones?” she asked a girl trying to keep two little boys from running off.
“Yeah. We’ve been waiting forever. My brothers are crazy bored if you haven’t noticed.”
Miri laughed. “They’re so cute.”
“So is yours.” The girl’s eyes were on Eli. “What’s his name?”
“Eli,” Miri said proudly.
Eli hid his face in Miri’s skirt. “He’s a little shy, but he’ll warm up soon. By the way, I’m Miri Lax.”
The girl smiled. “I’m Rikki Levy, but everyone calls me Rikki Dee.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 821)
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