| Out of the Woods |

Out of the Woods: Chapter 34

“We’ll be making a seudas hodaah together,” Avi said. His friends and Elchanan’s friends...somehow, it was all the same thing now


“Tell us again about how you heard the search party in the night, but you couldn’t call out to them because there were noises outside your tent.”

“I just can’t believe that you escaped from those criminals so many times!”

“That storekeeper was part of the gang? Really?”

Rabbi Glazer stood to one side, smiling, as Avi and Elchanan recounted their adventures to a rapt audience. It was clear that there would be no learning done today, the first day that the two adventurers were back in class, but maybe this was the most important lesson of all: seeing how the two class leaders, once sworn enemies, now shared knowing looks and smiles as they answered their classmates’ questions.

“It was really thanks to Avi that we even figured out where we were, using the maps,” Elchanan was saying.

“And if not for Elchanan, we’d never have gotten away and up the tree in time.” Avi shook his head. “I still get the shivers thinking about it….”

“And it was Matt who gave us the directions out of the forest.”

“And,” Rabbi Glazer interjected, “I’m sure the tefillos and kabbalos of all your friends helped, too. After all, you boys really experienced some nissim out there.”

Avi and Elchanan nodded fervently.

“We’ll be making a seudas hodaah together,” Avi said. He looked around the classroom, his friends and Elchanan’s friends, and somehow, it was all the same thing now. “You’re all invited, of course.”

“Yes, everyone’s invited, we hope you’ll all come,” Elchanan echoed. Behind them, Rabbi Glazer gave a large, proud smile.

“Bye, Ma, I’m going to Avi’s!” Elchanan hollered.

His mother came out of the kitchen, wiping her hands on a towel. “Already? Isn’t the seudah only in a couple of hours?”

“Yeah, it is, but I told Avi I’ll help him prepare. Not that his mother needs any help.” Elchanan snorted. “She hired a party planner and a caterer and waiters. I think Avi really just wants company.”

“Well, we’ll all be coming later,” his mother said. She looked at him for a long moment. “Stay safe, okay?”

“C’mon Ma.” Elchanan laughed. “Nothing’s going to happen to me walking over to Avi’s house.”

“B’ezras Hashem,” his mother said fervently.

Elchanan whistled as he walked down the road, toward the fancy end of town where the Shines lived. Ever since he and Avi had returned, things had felt… different. The way his siblings looked at him… his parents… it was nice to know how much they had missed him. Worried about him.

It seemed to put something to rest, something that had been bothering him for a long time without him even having realized it.

Elchanan turned the corner and smiled. He was going over to spend the afternoon with Avi Shine — voluntarily. His entire family would be taking the afternoon off to join him at the seudas hodaah. And the entire eighth grade, soon to be graduates, would be coming to join and celebrate with them, all fights and enmity forgotten.

Who would’ve believed?

The doorbell chimed loudly, echoing through the house. Avi opened the door within seconds.

“It’s about time,” he told Elchanan, rolling his eyes dramatically. “My mother and the party planner are totally stressed out. Apparently the flower arrangements don’t match the napkins exactly. My mother keeps asking me my opinion about different colors. I told her you’re really good at this and you’ll tell her.”

Elchanan chortled. “Me? I don’t know anything about napkin colors.”

Avi put his finger on his lips. “You just gotta sound confident.”

“Avi, is that your friend?” Mrs. Shine’s voice floated out from the dining room. Elchanan had visited Avi a few times since their adventure together, but he’d never seen the inside of the dining room – until today. In honor of the seudas hodaah, the Shines had cleared the living room area of the couches, and the entire open-plan room was filled with tables, with a mechitzah down one end.

“It looks like a chasunah in here,” Elchanan blurted, then immediately felt stupid at how overawed he was. This was the Shines’ house, for goodness’ sake.

But Avi’s mother was beaming at him. “Oh, that’s so nice of you to say so! Avi said you have good taste.” She nodded fondly in the direction of her son. Avi carefully averted his eyes.

“So Elchanan, maybe you can help us decide on the colors. See, the napkins are lavender but the flowers are just more of a lilac tone, just a slightly different shade. So the other option is a plain cream napkin, which won’t clash, but it won’t pop either. We’re just not sure. Of course, if there was more time, we could take the flowers over to the paper goods store and try to get a better match, but the only one with a decent selection is over an hour away, and besides, it’s not even open Sundays….”

Elchanan surveyed the table with as much seriousness as he could muster. “The lavender ones look fine,” he pronounced. “I think they’re so similar to the flowers, and you know, with the lighting, I think no one will notice if the shade isn’t exact.”

“You think so?” Avi’s mother asked. She held up the light purple napkin again. “You know what? I think you’re right. Let’s go with this one.”

Avi tugged at Elchanan’s arm. The two boys hurried up the majestic staircase, closing themselves in Avi’s room with twin sighs of relief.

“That. Was. Awesome,” Avi said. He reached over and high-fived Elchanan. “Ten seconds and the Napkin Crisis is averted? Man, you should go into politics.”

“Nah, I’m a basketball kind of guy,” Elchanan said easily. He gave a satisfied smile. “Always happy to help, though.”

“Yeah, well, that was definitely a help. Now let’s just hope that nothing’s wrong with the arrangement of the appetizers, or they’ll need your advice again.”

The two boys laughed together.

“Your house is so nice,” Elchanan said. “Like, that dining room? Whoooa. It’s maybe four times the size of ours.”

A shadow crossed Avi’s face. “Yeah. It’s cool, but you know, there’s only the three of us at home.  It gets quiet.”

“Hey, you want noise, come visit my house,” Elchanan said lightly.

Avi’s face lit up. “I’d love to,” he said.

They sat quietly for a few minutes. Avi traced a circle in the carpet with one foot.

“You know… since what happened… it’s been different,” he said, falteringly. “Like, with my parents… they were always so worried about me going anywhere, anything… but now, I don’t know, it’s strange. It’s almost like they’re more relaxed. Even though they should be more nervous. I don’t get it, but like, it’s kind of — a nice change.”

Elchanan’s brow wrinkled. This wasn’t his sort of thing, but Avi had become a good friend. “Maybe… maybe it was seeing how we’re just, y’know, not really in control, ever,” he said. “Like, who would’ve envisioned what a crazy situation we’d land up in, on a class trip? And how Hashem helped us out of it….”

“Maybe,” Avi said. “But anyway, I’m sure they’ll be fine with me coming over to your place. We can even, if you want, maybe, study together for the next Gemara test?”

Elchanan looked up sharply. Was Shine making fun of him again? The class genius, studying with happy-go-lucky Elchanan who got 70s on his test on a good day?

But Avi looked completely sincere, even a bit nervous. Of him?

“That would be — nice,” Elchanan managed. He hoped that would be true. Hanging out with Shine was actually okay… but learning together?

Avi smirked. “We’ve handled worse,” he said, seeming to read Elchanan’s thoughts.

A beeep interrupted them. Avi jumped up. “Oh, that’s my mother calling.” He picked up a small receiver in the corner of the room. “Yeah, sure, we’re coming.”

He turned to Elchanan. “My mother says it’s all ready. Wanna come check it all out before the guests come?”

Elchanan grinned. “This kind of adventure, I’ll take any day,” he said.



(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 896)

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