| Out of Step |

Out of Step: Chapter 50

Besides, it’s Super Naftoli. If I’m going to be nice to anyone, it should be to him


I feel like whenever I’m feeling happy, math comes along and rains on my parade.

Really. Enough is enough. I frown at the ridiculously convoluted problem on the page, then roll over, letting my math book slide to the floor with a thump.

From my new position, I spy my sewing machine, just chilling out, all cool, on the desk. I really shouldn’t, I need to study….

An hour later I stand and stretch, smiling admiringly at the new chambray skirt I’ve just finished. It’s nothing like Atara’s, of course, just, you know, inspired by hers.

I step neatly over my math book and head downstairs for a post-studying/sewing snack.

Naftoli is sitting at the table, surrounded by a sheaf of neon yellow papers.

“Help,” he says when he sees me. “Belka, you gotta help me.”

“Oh no,” I yawn. “Are the bad guys after you?” I reach for a box of doughnut holes.

He drops his head onto the table.

“Yes,” he says, muffled. “The packing bandits.”

I raise my eyebrows, because there is no way I’m feeling bad for him; he’s the one going to Israel while I stay at home and bake in the muggy Brooklyn summer. And yes, I do feel like he stole my trip.

But then I actually do feel bad for him, because I look at the papers and there are like six different packing lists, because he’ll be visiting so many different sites, and it really is extremely overwhelming.

Besides, it’s Super Naftoli. If I’m going to be nice to anyone, it should be to him.

“Okay,” I say, sitting down and gathering the papers into one neat pile. My doughnut holes will have to wait. “This is what we’re going to do. We’re going to divide and conquer. Get note paper and a pen, we’ll start with basics. You’ll want to go cheap with those, socks from Walmart and bathing suits from Target. Save the fancy stuff for the things that won’t get ruined at Ein Gedi or Masada….” I trail off, jealousy has stolen my voice.

“Bell?” Naftoli looks worried. “You okay?”


I look at him. He’s a good person, a much better person than I am. I guess you need to deserve the chance to spend time in Eretz Yisrael. The truth is, if I had gone for winter vacation, like I’d planned two lifetimes ago, I’d have taken it for granted. There’s no doubt about that. The whole trip would’ve been about the best photo-ops and the most exciting experiences and the pizza and iced coffees. I’d like to think that if I’d be able to go today, it wouldn’t be like that at all. Well, maybe just the iced coffees.


He still looks worried. “Yeah?”

“Do you think I’ve changed this year?” I hold my breath, embarrassed at how badly I need him to validate my hopes.

His look of surprise is almost comical.

“Well, yeah, Bells. Don’t you?”


Have I changed? I keep hoping that I have. But I feel like I let myself down. I get jealous and petty and everything just becomes insignificant in the face of my emotions. I want something concrete, something tangible, to show me I’m different now, different in a good way, obvs, not different in a “fragile leg” kind of way.

My phone pings. Ask your mother about the bungalow! Mine said I can invite the whole gang for Shabbos Nachamu!

Hmm, Shabbos with the ballet group. Ma will probably let me, she hinted as much, even if it’s just from guilt about not sending me to Eretz Yisrael.

But the real question is, am I interested? Now that I can’t dance — momentary stab of pain — do I have anything in common with these girls? Obviously not with Atara, but what about Mali and Pori?

Are they really my friends? Then why have I always felt so competitive with them?

Maybe because we’re all so similar? Amazing at ballet, well dressed, poised….

Then why do I feel like they’re all strangers?


The bell rings just as I’m setting the table. I thrust the stack of glasses into Chemia’s arms before he can protest, shout “saved by the bell,” and rush off to answer the door.

“You know,” I say to Pearlie, leaning on the door jamb casually, “no one really rings doorbells anymore.”

“Guess you’re wrong about that,” she says, grinning.

I can’t help grinning back. She’s wearing grey Toms today that match her eyes and her hair is back in a French braid.

I don’t know how many pairs of Toms the girl has, and honestly, I’d rather not think about it.

A black slinky and navy T-shirt complete her look, and I can’t help feeling super overdressed in my white dress and gold flats. She’s really cute, but she puts absolutely zero effort into her appearance. No makeup, no frills. I think of Atara’s carefully cultivated ensembles and a deep breath rises inside of me. I let it out in a silent whoosh of relief and hold the door open wider.

Maybe Pearlie is the change I’ve been looking for.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 826)

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