They’ve been so close, the four of them. But what about now?
There’s always something different in Ella’s room, something new, something trending, but at the same time, fitting right into the design as if it had been there all along. This time, it’s a new desk chair: delicate whitewashed woodwork, a perfect match to the bookshelves that Ella’s had for years.
“Niiice,” Mimi says.
Ella gives it a careless glance. “Oh, that? Yeah, my mother ordered it the other day.”
Mimi rolls her eyes. To Ella, getting new furniture is about as mundane as changing her linen.
Shoshana spreads out her notes on the floor. She’s still acting too quiet. Mimi glances at her, at Ella, and back again.
“Going to get us some refreshments,” Ella says, jumping to her feet. The clatter of footsteps echoes behind her.
“Totally awkward,” Shoshana mutters in Mimi’s direction.
Mimi shrugs. She’s not going to agree, make Shoshana feel even more out of place. But she can’t exactly lie, either.
“How many pages of notes d’ya have?” she asks instead. “I have four pages, but most of it is blank spaces where I missed stuff, and the rest doesn’t make any sense.”
Shoshana flicks through her notes. “Nine and a half. Shouldn’t take us too long.”
“All night, you mean?”
“That depends how much we actually study.”
“Ha ha.” Mimi flops down on her side, runs her hand over the soft carpeting. Something flutters in her chest. Nine and half pages of Shoshana’s small, neat handwriting… that’s a lot. It’s gonna take them a long time. They might not even finish.
Ella’s back, balancing a jug of pastel pink smoothie and a huge bag of plantain chips. Good; food is always a distraction.
“Started without me?” she asks Shoshana, staring at the notes.
“Nope, just figuring out how many pages we’ve gotta get through,” Mimi says, after a long pause.
“So, what’s the verdict?”
“Too much,” Mimi says, closing her eyes. “Maybe I’ll just go to sleep till the test is over.”
“Heey… no you don’t,” Ella pokes her playfully. “Any of you know where Tzippy is? She’s late.”
Shoshana shrugs. Mimi shakes her head. “Thought she’d be here already.”
“I know, me too.” Ella frowns at the phone. “Should I call her? Or—”
The phone jangles noisily in response. Ella dives for it, gives the others a triumphant look. “It’s Tzippy,” she says as she answers.
“All of us. You’re on speaker, we wanna know wheeeeeerrre you aaaaaaaaaaarrrre,” Ella sings. “Because you’re late, late, late…”
“Oh dear, did I interrupt the choir practice?” Tzippy asks. There’s a grin in her voice, and Mimi feels her tense muscles loosen. Tzippy’s great; she’s exactly what they need here. Someone to lighten the atmosphere, get them back on track. Back to how they’ve always been. Come on Tzippy, tell us you’re coming in five.
“Sooo… I’m really sorry, but I can’t come in the end,” Tzippy says. Her voice sounds anything but sorry. Ella starts to frown, but then Tzippy goes on. “You know my cousin Sima? The one who’s almost 30? Weeeellll… don’t tell anyone, but she’s getting engaged tonight! So we’re all packing into the car to drive to Monsey for the l’chayim!”
“Aaaaaahhh!” Ella squeals. “Omigosh, no way, so cute, who to?”
Mimi cheers softly. They all know Tzippy cousin Sima; she’s been on the head staff at camp for the past hundred years. Hilarious, spunky, and super friendly, this is going to be one epic engagement.
“Can’t say till it’s official,” Tzippy says. “Listen, guys, my mother didn’t even want me to tell you this, but obvs, I couldn’t just let you down without explaining. So keep it quiet till I give you a buzz that it’s official, will you?”
“Sure thing,” Ella says.
“Hey, we’re gonna be stuck in here studying all night, don’t forget. Who’s there to tell, Juanita?” Mimi puts in.
Tzippy giggles. “I know, I know, but I had to tell you that. Listen, I’m going, enjoy studying! Don’t miss me too much!”
“Such nice news,” Mimi breathes into the silence. Ella nods.
For a moment, the three of them sit together in the moment.
Then Shoshana makes a move toward her notes: sudden, stiff, uncomfortable. “I think we should start studying,” she says pointedly.
Later, much later, when she’s finally alone, Mimi sits up in her bed, hugging her knees and thinking about the four of them.
Elementary school, when they’d banded up as a tight foursome and spent recess playing whatever was the latest craze: jump rope, or trading collections, or tag. Summers in camp, lounging by the pool or under trees, with that comfortable familiar feeling of always having someone to fall back on. The transition to high school, picking out desks at the back together each year, studying parties, sharing notes, sharing lunch, sharing secrets. The shopping sprees, the birthday surprises, the shakes and waffles and sushi jaunts.
Her throat constricts.
They’ve been so close, the four of them. But what about now? Everything feels shaky, off-kilter, not the same anymore. Will they withstand this, come close again, or is this the beginning of the end? Can their little group handle more pressure, more separation? What about the way Kayla’s constantly trying to hang out with them at recess? And when they get up to 12th grade, and then seminary? Life?
It hurts to swallow.
But it hurts more to admit that she has no idea what will happen to their friendship.
And that nothing in her life feels permanent anymore.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 910)
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