Kayla looks bewildered. “No, it’s fine, you don’t need to apologize. I didn’t mind the question at all”
“I don’t understand something,” Raizy Reich announces one recess. She pins Mimi with a blue-eyed gaze, then transfers the look to Kayla, who continues meticulously underlining sections of her notes, oblivious. “Are you two twins or what? How come you’re in the same class?”
Mimi feels tiny needles creep up her arms. Her face turns a mottled red. Why? Why does Raizy need to start this now, just when things are finally settling down a little?
Kayla turns around, looking first at Raizy and then at Mimi. “Myself and Mimi, you mean?” she asks. Her voice is always pitched too high when she talks to Raizy and the others. Mimi’s fingers curl into balls. She feels like curling up and hiding herself.
“We’re 11 months apart, so we made it into the same grade,” Kayla explains, blissfully ignorant of Mimi’s urgent warning look. Don’t start explaining, just stop there—
“Eleven months? Whoa, that’s crazy,” someone says.
Kayla gives a single, emphatic shake of the head. “It’s not crazy, it’s perfectly plausible. In our case, I was actually born prematurely. I should have been two months younger, and in the grade below Mimi, but I was what they call a ‘preemie.’ ” Her eyes sweep the classroom, avoiding contact with anyone’s face, and she begins talking faster. “When I was born, I weighed a little over three pounds. I was in the hospital for several weeks, receiving oxygen and nutrition via tubes. At the time, they were worried about long-term physical impairments, however, baruch Hashem I gradually attained milestones and was released from the hospital at 12 weeks old.”
“Omg, TMI, sorry I asked.” Raizy shakes her head.
Kayla looks bewildered. “No, it’s fine, you don’t need to apologize. I didn’t mind the question at all.”
Giggles break out from various corners of the room. Ever so casually, Mimi sidles toward the door.
“Hey, everyone, what do you think is happening this afternoon? Last two periods are canceled, you think it’s a breakout?” Hadassah Brunner asks, changing the subject. Bless her.
“G.O. have been reaaallly quiet this year so far,” someone comments. Kayla looks confused.
Mimi’s friends are right behind her when she makes her escape. They find a deserted corner at the top of a staircase and settle down. Ella pulls out a generous bag of snacks and offers them around.
“I didn’t know that. About Kayla,” Shoshana says.
“Yeah, well, I don’t really talk about it. Why does it matter?” Mimi is hot and uncomfortable. She feels like she’s just stepped offstage, out of a burning spotlight. Her head throbs.
“It doesn’t,” Tzippy says. “You’re not her. No one thinks you are.”
“I don’t know, Tzip,” Mimi says. She leans over, plucks a potato chip from Ella’s oversized bag, and munches gloomily. “Maybe that’s what you think, but I feel pretty judged by everyone. Like they’re looking at me as her sister.”
“It’s true,” Ella says. “I mean, I don’t have siblings, but I know that when I meet someone’s sister, I’m automatically comparing them, like if they look alike, talk alike, or whatever… you expect siblings to be similar. That’s why people get so surprised when they meet siblings who are very different.”
“Right. Like where do you come from, anyway?” Tzippy says, pensive. “But it’s not really fair, now that I think about it. So many people are different than their siblings.”
“Tell me about it,” Mimi mutters.
“Look, all you need to do is keep being yourself, and no one is ever gonna think you and Kayla are alike,” Ella says. “I mean, you really are as different as sisters can get.”
“Yeah. I mean, look at Kayla’s math grades!” Tzippy gives a wicked grin.
Mimi smiles reluctantly. “I know, right? Like how did I get a math genius for a sister?”
“She’s super, super smart,” Tzippy says. “I feel like she’s totally bored in our class. Shemesh is way more academic, no?”
“It is. And she is bored. She was telling my parents all about it, last night.” Mimi’s brows draw together in a quick frown, as she remembers the conversation she’d overheard the night before. She’d successfully avoided Ta and Ma all evening, but sometime soon they were definitely going to say something about Kayla’s complaint about her never speaking to Kayla in school. “I wish they’d let her switch back. She wants to, I want her to… like, what’s the issue?”
“She didn’t want to switch?” Tzippy’s eyes are round. “But then why—”
“Who knows? Not me, that’s for sure.”
The bell rings. Tzippy stands and extends a hand to Mimi. Ella shoves half-eaten snacks back into her bag.
Halfway down the stairs, Mimi notices that Shoshana is still sitting all the way at the top, hugging her knees. The thought flashes through her mind: They’ve been schmoozing for half of recess, and Shoshana has barely said a word.
“Shosh? Is everything okay?”
Shoshana leans forward. Tzippy and Ella clatter down the stairs ahead of them. She gives a quick glance around, opens her mouth.
“Guys? You coming?” Tzippy’s noticed that something’s up. The moment disintegrates.
“I’m fine. Everything’s fine,” Shoshana mumbles. She hauls herself to her feet, avoiding Mimi’s eyes, and walks on past her to the classroom.
Mimi looks after her and wonders: Then why do you look like you’re about to cry?
To be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 895)
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