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Normal: Chapter 53  

“Mostly I’m studying with — Kayla. My sister.” The words are strange and weighty on her tongue



here’s what, three days left of 11th grade? Why is Mrs. Stern calling her over now?

Mimi follows the mechaneches to her office, feeling awkward. She never has too much to do with her teachers. Last time she was in here must’ve been for that make-up Chumash test, the first time Kayla helped her study.

Wow, they’ve traveled a long road since then.

“Sit, sit.” Mrs. Stern pulls out two chairs, seating herself on one of them next to Mimi instead of across from her, behind the desk. Oh, no, does this mean it’s going to be a whole conversation?

Mimi perches gingerly on the other chair and wonders if it will look rude to check her watch. Recess is so short.

“So, Mimi, I wanted to check in with you. How is it going? Studying for the test, I mean.”

The test. The seminary test. Well, the teachers didn’t really call it that, it was more like a final on all kodesh subjects combined, but everyone knew that this was the grade that mattered most.

Mimi shrugs. “I think it’s going okay.”

Mrs. Stern leans forward. “Yes? You’re feeling confident about how it’s going? Any questions on the material or anything?”

Nothing Kayla can’t answer. The words flit through her mind, but she swallows them. “Um, I don’t think so,” Mimi stammers, instead.

“That’s wonderful. I’m so happy you’re feeling like it’s going well.” Mrs. Stern nods slowly, like she’s hoping Mimi will take up the conversation again if she waits long enough.

“So, who are you studying with? Ella, Shoshana…?”

Mimi wants to raise her eyebrows. Why does that matter? But this is her mechaneches asking, so she swallows and says, “Uh, sometimes, but mostly I’m studying with — Kayla. My sister.” The words are strange and weighty on her tongue. Mrs. Stern looks surprised but pleased.

“Oh. That’s good. Very good. Kayla has an excellent grasp of the material. And you, Mimi, you have so many gifts, too. I can see that arrangement working out to everyone’s benefit.”

Mimi doesn’t answer. The whole conversation is getting uncomfortable.

Mrs. Stern shifts gears. “And how about the other finals? How have they been?”

Math, history, biology, earth science… Mimi’s mind rapidly scrolls through the tests they’ve taken recently. It’s been hard, yes, but not — not murderously impossible.

“They’ve been — fine,” she says. “Really fine.”

As she leaves the small office, Mimi reflects on that. They really have been okay, she realizes. Not perfect, not even close, but fine. She’s doing okay, she’s doing her best, and that’s really all that counts.

 IN gymnastics, though, doing okay is not enough.

“Perfect. We need it absolutely perfect! We have less than one week to go until you’re performing onstage.”

“We’re doing our best,” grumbles Lea.

Tova doesn’t hear, but she seems to pick up on the vibe anyway. “Remember, you girls are the top group, this is not gymnastics group 1 where you do a couple cartwheels and mess up on the back flip and everyone claps politely. This is it — you’re the graduates, and you’ve got a reputation to uphold.”

“Isn’t the main thing having fun?” Lea asks again, louder this time.

By now, most of the group has turned to look.

Tehillah calls out, “Sure it is, but now we’re practicing for a major performance. I don’t want to embarrass myself onstage.”

“Me, neither,” Reenie echoes.

“Practicing is hard work, but who says it can’t be fun?” Tova asks, taking the reins again. She doesn’t wait for an answer, just switches on the music and signals to them to begin the routine they know almost in their sleep.

The session goes quickly. Almost too quickly for Mimi. She must be in good shape; it’s not as hard as it used to be to complete the routine. She feels weightless, full of energy.

“Good job, Mimi,” Tova says, as she passes.

Lea stalks past them, nose in the air. Mimi winces. She hurries to change, catches up with Lea just outside.

“Waiting for your ride?”

“Yes.” Curt. Okay. So she really is upset. But what did Mimi do to her?

“Can I… ask you something?”

Lea shrugs.

“You’re… upset with Tova. Why?”

“Why?” Lea turns to her, head-on, incredulous. “You cannot be asking me that.”

“I am.” Mimi looks up and down the road. No car in sight. She can’t really believe she’s doing this, confronting her kinda-friend-kinda-just-fellow-gymnnast on a random afternoon on the street, but it feels like the right thing to do. “I mean, she’s my coach too, and honestly, she isn’t that bad.”

“Easy for you to say. You’re her pet.” Lea makes a face.

Mimi swallows a laugh. As if being Tova’s protégé meant she got off lightly. If gym sessions with the group are hard work, private coaching is a lot more intense.

But that’s not what Lea needs to hear right now.

“I just don’t like the atmosphere,” Lea continues. “Gymnastics is meant to be an outlet, it’s meant to be fun. Not a whole pressurizing, get it perfect or else, thing. Whatever.” She gives a bitter laugh. “Maybe she just has it in for me.”

“Totally not. It’s nothing to do with you, you know. She’s had it hard.” Mimi says. This is weird — standing outside the gym with Lea, having a random DMC in the middle of the street. She’s never really spoken to her before out of gymnastics class.

“She has it hard,” Lea mimics angrily. “Well, I have news for you. I also have it hard. So do lots of people. And we don’t take it out on anyone who happens to be in the same room as us.”

Mimi’s mouth drops open. She half expects Lea to turn and stalk off to wait for her ride somewhere else, but instead, she’s leaning against the wall and suddenly, Mimi sees that Lea is crying.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 942)

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