| Follow Me |

Follow Me: Chapter 55 

"No matter how you do it — no matter where your culinary skills are at — we know it’s never about the food, it’s about the people behind it”


Ruthie left. Deena dried her face, threw her tissues into the garbage. Then she braced herself and pulled the door open.

She was walking down the hallway toward the elevator when a figure approached. Her first instinct was to shrink back, duck into the restrooms, and hide her tear-streaked face.

But it was too late, the person was too close.

Moe Mossberg.

They stopped walking at the same moment. Deena felt heat rise to her cheeks. She moved over to the left to let him pass — at the same moment that he moved to let her pass.

Quickly, she shifted to the right. Quickly, just as quickly as she did, he did, too.

Okay, she was not doing this. They were not going to do a sidewalk shuffle.

She stopped walking and let him take the next step.

And he stood there, waiting for her to take the next step.

Mossberg’s mouth twitched. Deena smiled awkwardly, conscious of the mascara streaked over her cheeks. “Sorry,” he muttered. He gestured to the left. “Go ahead.”

Deena made her way around him and hurried off to catch the elevator. As the doors slid apart and she stepped inside, she heard a voice that sounded like Yochi Hersko ask, “Ah, so you met her?”

Thankfully, nobody was in the elevator to see her black-streaked face turn red.

Ten minutes later, she stood in front of the ballroom doors and whispered a prayer.

The audience was a blur of faces.

Deena’s knees felt weak as she stood in front of her presentation table. In the front row, over to the side, she spotted Pessie and Ruthie sitting together. She caught Pessie’s eyes and Pessie lifted two thumbs up. Deena gave her a tiny smile.

Then she lifted her chin.

“Well, I guess I owe you guys an apology. Although I’m not sure how upset you are, it looks like Pessie gave you a great time here, huh?”

A cheer rose up, and Deena felt her breathing relax as the familiar Nuts & Basil voice took on its own life, as if to say, I’m here, I won’t betray you.

But Nuts & Basil would have to wait now, show some respect to Deena.

“Before I go back to my dough here,” she said, “I’d like to offer a little… explanation.”

Backs straightened. Everyone’s eyes were glued to her.

Do it, a voice in her head commanded.

Her voice felt strange to her; she was shocked by her own control.

“Hello, back there, sir? You can turn the camera back on now.”

She kept her gaze away from Pessie and Ruthie, afraid that familiar faces would make her lose her courage, and instead locked her focus on Ilana Kurlandski, the Torontonian lawyer.

“I’m sure you’re all wondering about this ring,” she began, lifting her bejeweled finger in the air, “so I’ll explain. This ring means a lot to me. It’s… a gift, from my late husband, Zev. I’m sure you realize what that means…

“So obviously, this isn’t really about a ring. A ring is never just a ring, right? Just like food is never just food. We women all spend so many hours in our kitchens. Some of us like experimenting with exotic new recipes, some of us stick with our tried-and-true rotations. But no matter how you do it — no matter where your culinary skills are at — we know it’s never about the food, it’s about the people behind it. The feelings.”

It was quiet for a moment. Then Deena watched as Mrs. Lieberman stood up and started clapping. Following her cue, more guests stood up, some clapping, some simply staring at Deena with a level of reverence.

Feeling strangely exposed, Deena summoned her Nuts & Basil voice back.

“And now… back to our sfogliatelle!”

She walked around to the other side of the table and assessed the foods in front of her.

“I’ll put my rings in my pocket now,” she said, winking at the audience. “And let’s hope they stay safe in there.”


The hallways were quiet by the time Yochi made it back to their suite.

He stuck his card in the key slot. The door beeped, and he paused at the entryway, watching Pessie walk over to the closet with a pile of laundry in her hand. The entire evening was a fog in his head, and he let out the last few chaotic hours in one breathless, “Whoa.”

“You can say that again,” Pessie said as she stuffed the laundry into a garbage bag and closed the closet door. Then she sank into a sofa in the living area and whistled.

Whoa,” Yochi repeated. He pulled a large smoothie cup out from behind his back and planted it on the coffee table in front of Pessie. “Ninety-nine point nine percent natural,” he said. “I warned the guy in the kitchen not to put in any syrup, although I think he cheated when I wasn’t looking.”

“Hey, thanks. That’s so sweet of you.”

“Listen, you rescued my tour, Pes. It’s the least you deserve.”

She blushed. “I didn’t…”

“Yes, you did.”

“I rescued Deena. Poor girl, that was awful. But anyway, whatever I did, I’m going to need therapy to get over this trauma.”

“That bad?”

She reached for the smoothie and toyed with the straw. “Well. I guess while I was up there it wasn’t that bad, I didn’t let myself think what’s happening, know what I mean? Adrenaline type of thing. But, like, Yochi — me? Onstage?”

He laughed. “Hidden talents coming out.”

She shuddered.

He sat into an armchair and rubbed his hands over his knees. “Thank you, Pessie. You — you’re a tzadeikes.”

Pessie held up her hands to shield herself. “ ’Kay, ’kay, enough.” She giggled. “I consider myself thanked.”

“I’m serious.”

Pessie made a brachah and took a sip of the smoothie. “Delicious,” she said. Then she put the cup down and pulled a pillow to her chest. “Honestly, Yochi? This was an interesting experience for me. I think… I mean, it made me realize what it is that makes you tick.

“The whole challenge, you know, all the glitches that come up, and stepping in to take the reins, that drive to keep things running smoothly. I guess I can say I get it now. It’s… a good feeling. A great feeling.”

Yochi stared at the lamp next to the sofa, his vision blurring in the tungsten haze. Warmth spread in his chest, filling him with a pleasure that he couldn’t articulate. He shifted in his seat before turning to face Pessie.

“Thank you,” he whispered.

A great feeling? It was just… wonderful. So, so wonderful.

They sat quietly for a few moments. Then Pessie’s phone rang, breaking the peaceful silence.

“It’s my mother,” she said. “Wow, she’s up early. I’ll just say hello, yeah?”


Pessie stood up and walked around the suite, straightening up the place while she chatted with her mother. He waited to hear if she’d tell her mother what had happened at the food show, but she didn’t, they spoke about Chol Hamoed trips and the new outfit Libby had worn on Yom Tov, debating if it was too mature for her, or maybe not, she was entering the parshah now, she could dress up a bit.

Yochi listened with half an ear until he noticed Pessie pause at the counter of their kitchenette, a spacey look on her face.

“So you all ended up meeting at Lee’s Turkey Farm? Cute… really cute.” She was quiet again, and then he heard her say, “I knew Devoiry would move in for second days in the end. Tell her I said I told you so. And who’s coming for the Simchas Torah seudah?”

For a moment, Yochi pictured his in-laws Simchas Torah seudah. It wasn’t a formal sit-down event; everyone showed up different times, whenever hakafos ended at the various shuls they davened. His mother-in-law had surely prepared a hundred rolls of her famous chaluptches. There would be homemade dips and yapchik, and Devoiry would probably chop up a huge bowl of fruit salad and put a cup of strawberry sauce in the center.

The others would send over stuff, too — a deli salad, mini apple cobblers, a mousse for dessert? — yes, Rechy made that every year, but then she got all hysterical when Pinchas got a little high, and she’d ask Pessie to serve it while she policed his drinking.

No veal Milanese or risotto or bocecette alla romana at that table, but they were a cute bunch, those Hartsteins.

A familiar sense of guilt filled his chest. The great feeling sank, drowning in the by-now familiar remorse.

But when Pessie hung up the phone and he resignedly asked, “I guess you wish you could be there and you can’t believe you’re missing Devoiry’s fruit salad?” she responded with a wink.

“The truth?” She brought the smoothie straw to her lips and took a small sip. “I don’t think I’d want to trade this”—she waved the cup in the air—“for squishy peppers in Lee’s Turkey Farm.”

She proceeded to finish the entire drink, and the great feeling grew greater than anything in the world.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 786)

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