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Normal: Chapter 34

Have none of them grown up in six years?



he is nervous.

For a tutoring session by her younger sister.


Mimi shakes her head. She lays her books out on the desk in order of priority: Kayla will want to start with the assignments, then the studying, beginning with the ones with the earliest due date. She places two pens beside the pile of books and then sweeps everything that’s cluttering the rest of the desk onto the bed: ribbons and cellophane from the mishloach manos theme she’s experimenting with; a chocolate bar; a bunch of loose earrings; some pictures she’s in the middle of sorting into albums.

There. All ready, and on time for a change.

The second hand meets the twelve, and Kayla walks in. She looks totally normal, totally fine, as if nothing happened in school today. As if Mimi hadn’t stood by when the class queen ripped into her sister, as if she hadn’t been a part of the wall of silence that must’ve made everything worse.

She knows. She knows about bullies and bystanders; they had all these social group things in fifth grade when some new girl with weird clothing and a stutter had moved to town. She’d left the school what, six months later? Transferred to Shemesh Academy, and Mimi had never spared her — or the bullying — a second thought. But come to think of it, hadn’t that been Raizy and Mali, as well?

Have none of them grown up in six years?

No, we have, this isn’t the same, we’re not joining in, Mimi reminds herself, trying to justify it. And girls in the class still speak to Kayla, they’re nice to her…

When Raizy’s not around.

Ugh, so maybe they’re behaving like fifth graders, after all.

And yet the weird thing is that she, Mimi, is sitting here filled with guilt, but Kayla looks like her usual self. Not — calm, exactly, Kayla doesn’t generally project a calm kind of image. More like neutral. Reliable. Here because she said she’d be here, and it doesn’t occur to Kayla to do something other than what she’s supposed to be doing.

For a single moment, Mimi sees the world through Kayla’s eyes: black and white, time and order, rules and regulations. Is that why Kayla felt the need to tell the school about Raizy’s plans? Because she simply couldn’t fathom a breach in the way things were supposed to be?

Kayla reaches over and switches the math textbook for grammar.

“We’ll start with this one.”

“Hey,” Mimi protests. “They’re both due tomorrow.”

Kayla looks at her like she’s said something strange. “But we have grammar one period before math. So we should complete that first.”

Oh, come on, Mimi wants to say, but she doesn’t.

Because Kayla’s habits might be annoying, rigid, and even weird, but… there’s something to admire about being able to get the job done, done right, done in order, every single day. No matter what.

“Are you focusing?” Kayla demands, and Mimi thinks, not annoying, just Kayla, and shakes her head a little.

“Yeah. Ready to go. So what are we working on today?”

Kayla doesn’t do the assignment alongside her; hers is done already. She’s doing this just for Mimi, just to help out, and Mimi wonders: How many other teens would give an hour, two, sometimes more, every evening, to help their sister?

And is it Kayla’s sense of duty and responsibility that’s making her do it? Because Ma asked her to, because she committed? Or is it because somewhere, deep down beneath the schedules and rules, her sister cares? Wants to help her out?

She’s lost focus again. Lost it, in her sudden fascination into the workings of Kayla’s mind. You’re spending too much time together, Mim.

“Maybe some fresh air will help you to concentrate for longer periods of time?” Kayla asks, eyes boring into Mimi’s face. She’s trying to be patient, but the lapses annoy her.

“Good idea, it’s stuffy in here,” Mimi says, jumping up to open a window. She’s distracted, but also, the grammar homework is impossibly boring. On impulse, she asks, “Hey, maybe we can start with the math? It will be easier that way.”

Kayla frowns. “But we should do the harder assignment first, regardless, since the capacity to concentrate with high levels of focus tends to decrease over time, rather than increase.”

“But I’d rather do math. I think after that I’ll be able to concentrate better on the grammar.”

Kayla looks like she’s undergoing a tremendous internal struggle.

“Please?” Mimi doesn’t know why it’s so important, just that somehow, suddenly, it is. To know whether Kayla will do this, whether she can do this. Or is she totally bound up in the… squareness of her black and white world, unable to break out even the slightest way?

“O-kay, I guess,” Kayla says, clearly reluctant. She rearranges the desk and regards Mimi. “But now we need to work without interruptions and excuses, okay?”

Wow. Kayla’s done it, adapted her set-in-stone schedule to accommodate Mimi’s request. It feels… huge.

But even bigger than that, Mimi realizes, as she opens the textbook and leans in, is the fact that she, Mimi, understands how big it is.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 923)

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