| Jr. Serial |

Home Ground: Chapter 18       

Maybe there’s something to be said for the friends thing, after all. Even if I have around a million years more life experience


“Good morning!”

Aunt Chana is far too bright and cheery for eight a.m. And I’ve spent the night tossing and turning, worrying why I couldn’t get through to Ima.

“Your mother left you a message,” Aunt Chana says, and presses play on her phone.

A message? From Ima? Whew! Relief courses through me like an injection of life.

“Hi, precious.” Ima’s voice fills the kitchen. I’m embarrassed, suddenly aware of my cousins all listening in. Can’t I listen in private? But Ima’s still talking: “What’s up? I see you tried to call. The grids are down, it’s been hard to get service. But they seem to be working better now, so maybe give me a call before school? Love you, honey.”

Ima’s voice, absolutely fine, everything’s okay. My stomach muscles unclench. I’d been… scared. It sounds silly, I know, but when you’re far away from home, and your only connection through the phone, and then that doesn’t work… I don’t know, I just worry.

I don’t have time to call Ima before we have to leave for school, so I send her a quick message. Hopefully, the power grids will be doing their thing later, and I’ll get to fill Ima in on everything that happened since we spoke last.

More noise, more action, more hyper classmates yelling over each other. Welcome to production tryouts. I mean, not really, they’re happening later today, but it’s all anyone can talk about, think about, or breathe, apparently.

“…not going to make anyone suffer through listening to me sing,” Elky Reicher says firmly.

“But you have to, Mrs. Perr said that everyone has to try out for everything,” Gila Pearl reminds her.

“Eh, they say that every year and no one listens except Year Seven.” Elky waves a dismissive hand.

“She sounded for real this year.”

“And what’s she gonna do if I don’t sing? Kick me out of the show? Give me a break.”

I listen to the swirl of conversation as I pretend to organize my bag; no need to look too interested.

“…all so pathetic, really,” a loud, whining voice says, very near my ear. I startle and turn, but then realize that Fraida Berg is talking to Miri, not me.

Fraida Berg. I’ve been in this class for two months, and I already know what she’s like: an eternal pessimist, or, in teen lingo, the party pooper. Trust her to get on her soapbox about the ills of production season. I mean, I can’t say I’m exactly enthusiastic about it all either, but at least I won’t say so to my classmates.

Um, maybe that’s because I don’t exactly talk to them much.

But seriously, can’t she find it in herself to be a tiny little bit positive about something that could be fun?

“…so many missed lessons and then the teachers are stressed and we have to cram for GCSEs and it’s crazy to waste so much time on….”

I resist the urge to roll my eyes. Miri looks uncomfortable, too, trying to get out of the conversation without being too rude to Fraida.

“And there’s so much peer pressure and you know how it’s always the teachers’ favorites who get the big parts? I mean, it’s impossible not to notice. Like last year Penina Erlanger had the main part, and just happens to be that she’s next-door neighbors with Miss Muller….”

I can’t help it; I lean over and tap Miri’s desk. “Sorry to interrupt, Miri, but do you have a… a pen I could borrow?”

She brightens. “Sure! What color?”

“Um, let me see what you have.”

Fraida walks off, bored, and Miri glances over at my desk. My pencil case is lined up neatly alongside my notebooks.

“You need a pen?” she asks.

“Oh. Well, maybe not,” I say, and then I make a face and lower my voice. “You just looked like you needed rescuing from that conversation.”

She giggles. “It was that obvious?”

I shrug.

“Thanks, Ashira, you’re the best.”

Mrs. Sefson strides in right then, and as she begins taking attendance to start English class, I realize that it feels good, it felt good to help Miri out, and that little back-and-forth we had…. I might be totally different from my classmates, live on a different wavelength, have experienced so much more than them… but maybe who cares? I can schmooze and banter with the best of them. I think of Raizy, Miri, even Tammy; they like me, right?

Maybe there’s something to be said for the friends thing, after all. Even if I have around a million years more life experience than them.

And besides, I’d never want to turn into a Fraida Berg, dismissing everything that doesn’t match her mythical perfect standards. I mean, complaining about missing class and production! I shake my head inwardly. I can’t say I’ve been very positive or excited about anything at school, but hello, production, fun. Break from classes, get to be creative, go on stage…. I know, I know, some people are happy with their parts, others not, but like, would she rather that than endless days of boring classes?

Mrs. Sefson collects our assignments — I ended up scrawling something at 11 last night, having totally forgotten about it until far too late — and then claps her hands.

“For today’s class, we’re doing something a little different. I want everyone to get into pairs.”

I turn automatically to Miri, but Shevi in front of us has already turned around, and Miri’s nodding happily and slipping into the empty seat beside Shevi.

Oh, help.

I freeze a moment; so much for new friends. I need a partner, it’s far too awkward to be left with no one, like it’s nice to be all independent and I-don’t-need-anyone, but then it comes to times like this and it’s just plain awkward to be the last one standing.

I glance around. Most people are switching seats and chattering easily with their partners, there’s only me and Fraida Berg and a few others glancing around while trying not to look like we’re still looking for someone to sit with.

Omigosh, I do not want to pair up with Fraida. It’s literally the last thing I need.

Then I spot Tammy, and exhale in a rush of relief. Tammy — how did I forget? She looks slightly uncomfortable, too, like caught in the headlights type, and I know why, too: she’s friends with all the world, but, like, best friends with no one. Actually, it’s funny she didn’t dash over to me as soon as Mrs. Sefson announced the activity, but maybe she just thought I’d sit with Miri.

“Tammy, want to—” I start saying, walking around my desk toward her, and I know she heard me because her eyes flicker up and then away.

And then she turns her back on me, looks at Fraida — Fraida! — and says in a determined, overly cheery voice, “Let’s be partners, okay?”

And I’m left, open-mouthed and alone, as everyone shifts their desks and chairs together to begin working.


To be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 961)

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