| First of All |

First of All: Chapter 1

My eyelids fly upward, and I exhale so quickly that my lungs hurt. He’s alive. He’s alive!


Mike is dead in a ditch after being mugged.

There’s no doubt about it. I take a shuddering breath and try to think coherently, my palms sweaty on the windowsill.

My husband is missing. Maybe he was on his way home, slipped in the rain, and hit his head. What are his chances if we don’t get him to a hospital ASAP? I should really go out and look for him.

I pull the hood of my sweatshirt tighter and peer outside at the downpour. The steady thrumming of drops against the ledge is calming. Resting my forehead on the cool glass, I close my eyes, breathe in and out. Mike is not dead. He’s helping an insomniac old woman cross the street. He’s rescuing a soaking wet kitten from the uppermost branches of a tree. He’s—

“Home sweet home! How you doing, Bay?”

My eyelids fly upward, and I exhale so quickly that my lungs hurt. He’s alive. He’s alive!

He is so dead to me.

I turn around slowly, clenching my teeth hard enough to crack something, and try my best to remember all the inspirational shiurim and classes I attended on marriage a mere five months ago. But I can’t remember any of it, and really I just want to scream, because I am SO FRUSTRATED.

“…and then the guy starts lugging home three cases of water, and I’m thinking, this man is going to keel over. So I ask him if I can help, and of course, he insists on inviting me in and giving me butterscotch candies. Here, don’t let anyone ever say Mike Leiber doesn’t bring his wife gifts.”

He laughs and tosses me a wet butterscotch candy. I just stare at him, hands at my side, and it falls to the floor with a crinkle of cellophane.

”Bay?” Mike says uncertainly, moving closer toward me, his scarf now dangling in his hands.

I watch it trail through the puddle, maroon and tan plaid fringe plastered to the floor.

“I thought you were dead,” I say tonelessly. And only when I say it aloud do I realize that I was actually terrified.

“Oh. Oh, no,” Mike says, horror — and is that amusement? — coloring his voice. “Bayla! I feel so bad. I was on the way home from Maariv when I saw the old man. I didn’t even think to look at my watch.”

I know, I know I should be grateful. I should be thanking Hashem that I’m married to Mike Leiber, selfless, generous, and kind. But why does he have zero regard for time?

I know it’s not me, but sometimes I wish it was about me. Then we could work on it, discuss why he doesn’t want to come home to his wife. Maybe it’s my sheitel. Can’t get used to the itchy thing. But really, how do you train your husband to look at his watch every once in a while? Shock treatment? Just kidding. Maybe.

“Mike. Michoel. Tzvi. Chaim. Leiber.” I try to sound teasing and endearingly exasperated, but I think all that comes through is exasperated. I pull my sweatshirt sleeves over my hands until only my thumbs are peeking out. “You can’t just come home an hour and a half after leaving for Maariv and expect me not to be panicking. Honestly, if I weren’t panicking, you should be insulted.”

Mike laughs and hangs his coat on the back of the closet door. “Can I make you a hot chocolate? With whipped cream? And then you’ll tell me about the big meeting with Lara tomorrow, and I’ll say all the right things, and then you won’t be mad anymore?”

See, that’s annoying. Why does he have to be so likeable? I can’t keep stewing anymore.

I shrug indifferently. “Yeah, I guess so.”

He’s relieved. “Awesome.”

“Be right back.”

If we’re going to sit in the brightly lit kitchen, then I’m putting on concealer and mascara. And my itchy sheitel instead of a tichel. He should at least feel bad that he missed out on my company while he was saving an old man from hernia injury.


Lara is in a mood. It’s obvious in the way she’s furiously swiping across her screen and clicking her Ferragamo boot toe against the floor.

I grit my teeth. I need her to be in a good mood for this meeting. Maybe I can spike her coffee? I pull a mirror out of my drawer and give myself a quick once over. Makeup: natural but full. Sheitel: smooth and pretty and yes, still itchy. And my ribbed midi dress with lace-up boots are the perfect blend of classy and contemporary.

Which sounds like I’m writing an ad. Well, I am, kind of. Advertising myself and why I’d be perfect for the Cherry Street showhouse job. And since Lara is an incredibly visual person, the perfect ensemble is going to play a big part in me landing the coveted position. Shallow, maybe, but those are the rules of the game.

Nina gives me a thumbs-up as I pass her desk, I wink back. She’s great, Nina, and I love that she has no interest in the competitive part of Lara Cohen Design. Give her receipts and numbers and spreadsheets and she’s as happy as Mike when there’s potato kugel in the oven.

Shira is on the phone with the Manhattan office, I hear her snapping at poor Hannah, the secretary. Though really, it’s poor Shira. It can’t be easy being the only single employee at Lara Cohen’s. Just like it wasn’t easy being one of the two single workers at Lara Cohen’s. But as of five months ago, I’d flown into the sunset with Mike, leaving Shira far behind.

And now that the newlywed haze has cleared a bit, I am so ready to prove my worth to Lara Cohen. I can do this, I know I can. I have some amazing ideas on how to design the showroom, and Lara answered my very confident-sounding email — that totally belied the fact that my hood was pulled almost to my eyebrows and I was shaking with nerves as I typed — with a terse note that she’d be happy to hear them out.

I’m almost at her desk when my phone pings. Shoots, forgot to shut it. I duck into the kitchen and glance at the screen before powering it off. Our family WhatsApp is blowing up.

Isn’t Bayla having that meeting today?

Omg I think you’re right.

Bay? You there?

Kay, Bay, hatzlachah darling, you got this!

Go impress Lara with your sparkling wit.

Mimi. No one cares about her wit. It’s her fabulous eye for design.

Whatevs. I need a meatball recipe, btw.

Bay, you there?

They’re hilarious. And also maybe a little bit certifiable. But they’re my big sisters, and I love them. Now I need to check my makeup again. I flip the phone to selfie mode and snap. Okay, still dewy and fresh. Game face on.


I spoon sesame chicken onto both our plates and heap rice on the side. The rice is sticky and clumpy, and the chicken looks like it’s been asked to cross the street into oncoming traffic.

“Yum, this looks amazing, I’m starving,” Mike says enthusiastically, pouring us each seltzer.

I say nothing, just watch as he unwraps his scarf, a puddle growing steadily around his feet as he jabbers on, oblivious to my stony expression.

I raise my eyebrows and purse my lips before I realize that I’m looking exactly like my mom and relax my face. But honestly, I don’t need pity compliments. I need foolproof recipes.

“So how was the meeting?” Mike says between enthusiastic bites.

I go to the fridge and take out an apple.

“It was great,” I say softly to my Macintosh, amazed at how I can feel like a total failure and a complete success at the exact same time.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 779)

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