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Normal: Chapter 48  

“Mmm.” Something clicks in Mimi’s brain. She hesitates, then switches off the music. “You… you nervous, Kayla?”



imi takes one last bite of the giant waffle they’ve been sharing, then reluctantly puts the spoon down.

“Sooo good, but I’m done here,” she says.

“Looks like it’s time to get the bill and head off, then,” Ta says.

They’ve been in Philadelphia just a few hours, but already Mimi feels like she’s in a different world. Shopping, restaurant, and now the hotel; how did she ever go so long without a vacation?

The hotel rooms are neat and clean. Minimalistic. White walls, white linen, soft lighting. Nice. She and Kayla are sharing a room, and while Kayla sits herself primly at the desk, Mimi kicks off her shoes and spreads herself out on the bed with a rapturous sigh.

“I could get used to this,” she says.

Kayla, busy writing in her notebook, doesn’t reply.

Mimi unwinds her earbuds and sticks them in her ears. Music, a comfortable bed, and nothing — nothing at all — that she has to do. Bliss.

“…think?” Kayla’s voice filters dimly through the music in her ears. Mimi sits up, pulls out one earbud.

“What was that?”

“I was asking you what you think about the competition. What format it will take. Will we have buzzers to press to answer questions, or will they question each contestant in turn, and eliminate those who respond inaccurately?”

“I have no idea.” Mimi covers a yawn with her hand. “Mrs. Price didn’t say?”

“I didn’t ask.” Kayla clears the desk: pen tucked into the spiral binding of her notebook, notebook in the front flap of her suitcase, tissue box lined up at military angles to the tray holding cups, napkins, and a hotel kettle. “I’m just wondering now. In essence, the difference is the speed in which responses must be calculated.”

“Mmm.” Something clicks in Mimi’s brain. She hesitates, then switches off the music. “You… you nervous, Kayla?”

“Nervous?” Kayla looks like she doesn’t understand the word. “What, about the possibility that I won’t win?”

“Yeah. Or just, you know, of answering questions on stage, in front of so many people…” Mimi trails off. Kayla’s just so different to her; will she even relate?

Kayla mulls this over.

“I guess it would, in theory, be embarrassing to get an answer wrong in public,” she says thoughtfully. “But I would like to think that I have as good a chance of getting them correct as any of the other contestants.”

As good a chance.

Kayla’s so matter of fact, so… unconcerned, that Mimi wants to laugh. She thinks of how nervous she is before every gymnastics performance, forget the fact that she knows the routine in her sleep.

Her stomach flutters a little. She’s nervous, even if Kayla isn’t. Because… because they’re sisters. She cares. She wants it to go well for Kayla.

And she might never really understand her sister; they’re too different for that. But she can… accept her. And maybe that’s all that matters.


The stage is huge and imposing, and it’s the biggest auditorium Mimi has ever seen. Kayla’s gone backstage with one of the women in charge, and they’re sitting in the middle of the second row, facing 20 empty chairs on a darkened stage.

“If Kayla wins,” she says, “our school will get a big grant or something, right?”

“That’s what Mrs. Price told us,” Ma says. “It’s one of the reasons we made the effort to make it work. We have a lot of hakaras hatov to the school.”

Mimi looks straight ahead. There’s a babble of noise around, muted conversations forming background music of sorts. She’s in a bubble, just she and her parents, and if she doesn’t ask now, she never will.

“Why did Kayla switch schools?” she blurts. “She was always… happy in Shemesh. And, and…” And I was happy where I was. Without her.

Ma looks over her other shoulder, at Ta.

“You don’t know?” she sounds surprised.

Mimi shakes her head.

“I guess… we thought you knew. Or figured it out.” Ta leans over. “Look, Shemesh Academy is a top-notch school, at least scholastically speaking, which was important for Kayla. And, of course, it specialized in differentiated learning and catered to Kayla’s needs in a way that your school doesn’t have the infrastructure to do.” Ta talks like Kayla sometimes. “But we always knew that hashkafically, it wouldn’t necessarily be a perfect fit for our family. It worked to a certain degree, but last year, we realized it wasn’t suitable for Kayla anymore.”

“And once she was switching, the only choice was to join you in eleventh grade,” Ma puts in. “After all, it is the correct grade for her age, and we couldn’t possibly put her any lower. Or higher, either. To join twelfth grade, when she’s a full year younger even than some of the eleventh graders — it wasn’t an option.”

“Wow.” Mimi isn’t sure what to say. On the one hand, it’s good to finally understand why. On the other hand…

“It wasn’t easy for you, this change, was it?” Ma asks, suddenly, and Mimi blinks. This is Ma? Everything’s-perfect Ma, the one who wants everything to be okay, all the time?

“It was — hard,” she stutters, tears springing to her throat.

It had been hard. With her friends, her classmates, her own self. And yet, when she looks back, she realizes there were pockets of good, too. Kayla was helping her with her work. Kayla was, indirectly, helping her grow.

There’s a loud sound, someone clearing their throat into the mic. Mimi jerks forward; the woman who’d walked Kayla away before is now standing onstage.

The competition is about to begin.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 937)

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