| First of All |

First of All: Chapter 2

I feel that same goofy smile spreading across my face again. Total cringe, but I dated for six years. I earned it


The house is quiet. Toby Berger leans back on the striped chaise and breathes in the silence. She isn’t used to this. This is something she experienced 40 years ago, and remembers enjoying, like a vague memory of a childhood treat she hasn’t had a chance to try ever since. Until now.

Aryeh comes through the door, whistling. He deposits his tallis bag on the piano, and places a chai latte, Avenue Cafe’s best, on the oak stand next to her.

“The house is quiet,” she says to him.

He laughs. “I know. I love it.”

She makes a brachah, takes a deep sip. “You’ve always loved it. You’ve been an old man since you were 23,” she says smiling.

It had always been Aryeh retreating to his study when things got too loud, while Toby had reveled in the class parties and GO songs and late-night dating DMCs. She’d enjoyed decorating the house for each kallah, all eight of them, and the vorts and the bridal showers and the endless shopping.

But the house had quieted down after Bayla’s wedding six months ago. Her baby was living on the other end of town now with sweet but absentminded Michoel — only Hashem could make such a shidduch — and she and Aryeh were finally alone. And to her surprise, Toby was enjoying it very, very much.

Aryeh runs a finger through his thick white hair, and his yarmulke slides forward. He may have been an old man since 23, but at 63, he still resembles the young yeshivah bochur she once knew, albeit slightly rounder and with more eye creases. Toby smiles at the thought. She places the empty cup back on the side table, makes a brachah acharonah and closes her eyes.

“What are you doing?” Aryeh asks, slightly alarmed.

“Taking a nap,” she murmurs, positioning her face to better catch the sunbeam filtering in through the French picture window. Perfect. She can’t help the smile that drifts across her face.

“The house is quiet. And why not?”

Ma isn’t answering her phone. I tap my pen on the desk irritably until Shira shoots me a dirty look and I stop. Don’t want to set her off, she’s mad enough already that Lara chose me to design the show house kitchen. Okay, I’d kind of been hoping for the whole house, but in retrospect, that wasn’t super realistic. I mean, I’m good, but I’m not that good. Yet.

I check my watch and catch myself smiling goofily at the stainless steel band, remembering the day Mike had given it to me. We’d been celebrating our two-week anniversary, and Mike had suggested we go kite flying, of all things. I spent the entire afternoon trying to catch my breath from laughing so hard.

Haven’t laughed like that in a long time, come to think of it. Too busy trying not to burn supper. I sigh, massage the crick in my neck, and catch Shira glaring at me. Yikes, did she see me staring at my watch?

“Time is moving sooo slowly,” I say, in a futile effort to cover up for myself.

She throws me a fake smile. “Oh, gosh, I’d figure that since you couldn’t stay overtime with the rest of us last night, your inbox must be overflowing this morning.”

Oh, okay, we’re doing that now. Just a tad socially off, Shira.

“It is, I’m just bored.” I flash her a smile and shoot a quick text off to Mike. Hey husband, how are you? I’ll be done in an hour.

The ping is instantaneous. See you then, wife. I feel that same goofy smile spreading across my face again. Total cringe, but I dated for six years. I earned it.


You’d think getting married at 26, I’d be all jaded and mature and totally impervious to things like picnic baskets sitting prettily on the seat when I open the car door. Especially considering that Mike is 15 minutes late and I’m standing outside the office, petrified Shira will come out and see me, and shivering with cold.

But I still let out a high-pitched squeal when I open the car door and see the basket, red and white checkered fabric peeking out of it, sitting on my seat.

“What’s this?” I settle onto the car seat with the basket on my lap. “Can I peek?”

Mike looks positively giddy. “No! It’s a surprise! We’re going on a winter picnic. To celebrate Lara loving your ideas for the show house kitchen.”

I pull down the mirror, check my makeup, approve, and shut it. Then I smile at him and lean my head back, trying to get into a position that doesn’t have my sheitel clip cutting into my scalp. It’s been a long day, but it just got a whole lot better.

Once we’re sitting on the red and white checked blanket in Viola Park — he’s the only guy I know who would think of that — wrapped in our Sherpa couch throws, and eating sushi with forks, drinking seltzer from plastic champagne flutes, do I tell him about the meeting with Lara.

“I told her that modern and greige is very nice, but if we want to wow them, we should do Italian farmhouse. And not like modern farmhouse, all white with French cabinets. No, like full-on, stone arches and colored cabinets farmhouse kitchen. At first, I thought she was going to pass out.”

Mike grins in between bites of his tempura roll. “What would you have done? If she’d passed out?”

I wrinkle my nose at the thought. “Pass out next to her!”

We laugh, I take another slice of California roll. “And then she said it was different, would stand out from the other show houses, and she loved it.”

Mike sticks his fork in the air. “Victory is ours!”

A soccer ball comes out of nowhere and flies over our seltzer cups like a bowling ball heading for a strike. I grab the last piece of sushi out of the way, clutch my Sherpa closer, and Mike kicks the ball straight into the goal post. The boys whoop and before I know it, Mike is goalie, while I sit on a soggy blanket, watching him play, torn between laughing and crying.

Five minutes later, he jogs back. “They’re too cute, they’re out a goalie, and I thought they could use my experience.” He waves at the group of boys staring at him, obviously Mike-struck. Then he lies back on the grass, panting. “I’m oooold.”

Yes, you’re old, I think. You’re 25. So stop playing with children, and enjoy a picnic with your lovely wife, for heaven’s sake.

But all I say is, “Don’t you have to go daven Minchah?”


I look at him, his eyes are closed. I’m kind of still hungry, but the sushi’s all gone.

Anyone hear from Ma today?

I stare at the post, trying to decide how needy and desperate it sounds on a scale of one to ten. I deem it a mere seven, and send it off.

Ping. Ping. Ping. Well, that was fast.

Nope. Radio silence from Pomona.

Spoke to Ta. He took the car to be serviced.

No word from Ma; I voice noted her about Faigy’s bas mitzvah party, though.

Everything okay, Bay? Need something?

Yeah, Bay, how’s it going there on cloud nine?

Ha-ha. It’s cloudy with a chance of being the world’s cutest couple I tap back.

That’ll keep them happy for the next few hours. Until the post-dinner check-in, of course.

That’s when they ask me what I made for dinner. And I go into great detail about the recipe I chose, and the ingredients I bought, conveniently leaving out the part of it burning or flopping or having pepper seeds floating all over it.

Am I talented and capable? No question about it. Possessing some major holes in my home economics education? Absolutely. Thank you, Ma and seven older sisters. Thanks a lot.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 780)

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