| Out of Step |

Out of Step: Chapter 49

It’s like she brought out the best in me, but I brought out the worst in her


Ihave given up on things like dignity and self-respect and am spying on the Whites from the safety of the porch.

Not like with binoculars or anything, it actually looks very legit. I set Shim-Shim up with some chalk, and I’m industriously coloring a huge smiley face with him. The new grey skirt I sewed with Judy is covered in yellow chalk dust, but I don’t care.

I stand up and make a big show of clapping my hands together to clean them while peering surreptitiously over at the brownstone across the street. All quiet. Then their door bangs open and the three boys come piling out.

I wrinkle my nose. Not because they’re not adorable, just because, well, brothers. Nuff said.

They begin throwing around a frisbee, and I space out, watching the orange disc fly back and forth.

I’m so engrossed, I almost miss Pearlie stick her head out the door, sigh, and then join the game. She isn’t bad but she isn’t great.

All of a sudden, she turns and waves at me.

Mor-ti-fied. Ohmygosh. I got so busy spying, I forgot to hide!

I give her a cold smile, and then swing Shim-Shim up from the floor and head inside.

He barrels back out a second later, screaming, “Stop taking me inside! I want to finish!” So that’s just the cherry on top of my embarrassing cake.

I plop onto the couch and rotate my aching ankle.

Uch, who am I?

When did I start acting so… desperate? Is this what it feels like to be friend-less? Maybe I should just try to make it work with Atara, even though it was obvious that my very presence made her miserable. It’s like she brought out the best in me, but I brought out the worst in her.

What an amazing feeling.

I take a throw pillow and smush it over my face.

I’m tempted to scream, but yelling into a pillow is a bit cliché, even for me.

I remove the pillow from my very flushed face to find Chemia standing over me.

I give a little shriek. “You almost gave me a heart attack!”

He shakes his head in mock-wonderment. “I don’t know why people say you’re dramatic.”

I crack a smile. “What’s up?”

He sits down on the love seat. “I’m guessing you heard about Naftoli? Good coping mechanism with the pillow. I just shouted, ‘It’s not fair!” and stomped out of the room.”

I stare at him. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. I have way more tragic things happening in my life then whatever’s going on between you and Naftoli.”


Chemia’s raises his left eyebrow. Cool, I didn’t know he could do that.

“Oh really. More tragic then your older brother getting to go to a traveling camp in Eretz Yisrael for three weeks while we’re stuck in hot, muggy Brooklyn?”

Oh. No way. Nuh-uh.

“You’re joking.”


And then all I can think to do is shout “it’s not fair” and stomp out of the room.


Ma is putting her best linen on the guest room beds, so I’m guessing Babby and Zeidy are coming for Shabbos.

I grab the quilt cover and help her maneuver the blanket in.

“Ma, is it true?”

Ma’s quiet but she nods slightly without asking me what I’m talking about.

“But why? I’m the one who really wanted to go to Israel, and you said you couldn’t afford it when Babby broke her hip.”

Ma nods again.

I try not to cry, but the tears are welling up, and my throat is closing.

“That’s… just unfair.”

Ma sighs and sinks onto the bed.

“Bella Rena, you know, half a year ago, you would’ve burst in here screaming and shouting. You’ve really changed so much and I’m so proud of you.”

Hmm, distracting me with compliments. Transparent but still appreciated.

“Naftoli had a hard year. I know you did too, but your hardships, baruch Hashem, made you stronger, while Naftoli’s seemed to have shook him.”

I open my mouth to protest, to try to verbalize what it’s been like to lose the thing I love the most, to feel like a bird with its wings clipped, to describe the pain of hearing Atara tell me that I make her miserable, but the words don’t come. Ma’s right, Naftoli has had it so hard. And not just that, Super Naftoli never complains.

He gets down sometimes, but not once has he said that he regrets sticking up for Boruch or taking the rap for him.

He’s really special, Naftoli. If anyone deserves a trip to the Holy Land, it’s him.

That doesn’t mean I’m not going to milk this for all it’s worth, obviously.

“So, can I go to Pori’s bungalow this year?”

Pori invites me to her bungalow every year and every year Ma says I’m too young.

She blinks and then grins. “We’ll discuss it.”

Yes! We finish the beds and then I say, “I’m happy for Naftoli. Really.”

Ma leans over and touches my cheek. “And I’m proud of you, Bella Rena. Really.”

I’m not crying, all this linen flapping blew dust into my eyes.


I’m back on the couch, this time with a smoothie and a book, when the doorbell rings.

Hm, to get it or not to get it.

I laugh to myself. Yeah, right, there’s no way I’m getting up now.

Chemia pokes his head in. “Door for you.” He pokes his head back out.

Sigh. I shuffle to the door and blink in shock.

“Uh, hi, Pearlie.”

“Hey, Bella Rena. Do you guys have a frisbee? My brothers shot theirs into the street and it got flattened by a cement truck.”

I wipe my hands on my skirt. Okay, brothers and sports, I got this.

“Only around two hundred. Size or color preferences?”

Pearlie laughs, a happy twinkly sound that is at odds with her sharp personality.

“If you have a pink, sparkly one, I’d love to see the look on their faces.”

I laugh too. “Brothers,” I say.

“Totally,” Pearlie agrees.

Nuff said.


(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 825)

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