Friend? Elchanan snuck a look in Avi’s direction, just as Avi’s eyes darted to his. He looked as uncomfortable as Elchanan felt
The car was so fancy.
Elchanan looked around, wide-eyed. The pristine, cream leather of the seats; the gentle purr of the engine — nothing like the rattling of his parents’ old Chevy minivan; the built-in navigation system and individual controls for each seat’s A/C and heating.
If it wasn’t for Avi Shine sitting beside him, a stony look in his eye, this could actually be fun.
“The Bordon Road entrance to the forest, let’s see...” Avi’s father pressed a few buttons and scrolled down. “Via the highway... oh, here it is. North Ridge Forest Trails, entrance off Bordon Road, it’s giving us just over an hour’s driving time.” He checked the time, calculating. “That should be fine, as long as there’s no traffic...”
“You sure you have time for this, Ta?” Avi asked, speaking up for the first time. “You have to drive back, too...”
“For you, I always have time,” Mr. Shine said with a smile into the rear-view mirror. “And for your friend, too, of course.”
Friend? Elchanan snuck a look in Avi’s direction, just as Avi’s eyes darted to his. He looked as uncomfortable as Elchanan felt.
“Yeah. Right. Thanks, Ta.” Avi turned his head away, looking out of the window. Elchanan had hoped Avi would sit up front, with his father, but Mr. Shine had signaled them both into the backseat with an expansive gesture, and said, “Go ahead, boys, you sit together back there, I’ll be okay on my own in the front.”
Did Avi’s father think they were friends? Maybe. Elchanan’s father definitely had no idea of the dynamics between the two boys. If he’d been driving them anywhere, he wouldn’t have known any better, either.
But then again, Avi’s father and his own father seemed worlds apart. Elchanan tried to imagine Tatty freeing up over two hours on a regular weekday to drive him and another boy on a class trip. But Tatty never missed seder, and Mommy wouldn’t take off work unless it was an emergency.
Something tugged at his chest. Elchanan breathed in and looked out the window at the street signs rushing by to distract himself. They were almost at the highway.
“So, boys, excited for the trip?” Avi’s father asked.
Avi murmured something noncommittal.
“Yup, sure am,” Elchanan said after a short pause, when the silence stretched too long. “I’ve never done a wilderness survival trip before.” Actually, he realized, that wasn’t strictly accurate. “Well, aside from a couple of shorter trips, in camp. They were overnights. But there, we had counselors with us… now it’s more of a challenge. We need to find our way to the central meeting point ourselves,” he clarified.
“Yes, yes, Avi told us all about that.”
Again, that twinge in his rib cage. Was Avi an only child or something? Or did Mr. Shine just have a lot of free time?
“You have those maps and everything, right?”
Elchanan patted his knapsack. “Yup.” He wondered why Avi was being so quiet. What happened to king-of-the-class Shine, always with some snooty comment up his sleeve? Well, maybe with his father around…
“Avi, you’ve got everything you need?”
Elchanan had a feeling that Avi was just holding back an eye-roll. “Yes, Ta. We’ve got the maps, the instructions, all our stuff… it’s not a long hike, anyway.” He sounded like he was trying to convince himself.
“That kind of depends how long we take to do it,” he couldn’t resist saying. In the rear-view mirror, Mr. Shine raised his brows. “I mean, we’ve got to follow the map right… stay on the trail. You know.”
“We have no reason to make it take any longer than it has to,” Avi muttered pointedly. This was more like the Avi he knew.
“I’m sure you two will manage just fine together,” Mr. Shine said, putting a slight emphasis on the last word.
Elchanan blinked. So he did know.
This pretending game was making him crazy.
Yes, of course. Sure, Ta. Yes, Mr. Shine. We’ll have a great time.
Avi shifted in his seat. He wished they’d arrive already. Actually, scratch that: He wished they were done with the hike and heading back home.
A wilderness survival challenge, of all things. Why couldn’t Rabbi Glazer have chosen a theme park for their graduation trip?
“Shouldn’t be too long, now,” Ta said, as they sped down an empty road bordered by trees. “I think this is your forest, boys.”
Elchanan was leaning forward in his seat, trying to peer between the trees. “Really?”
Avi stifled a snort. “We’re not gonna be able to see any of them in there, you know,” he said, as condescendingly as he dared with Ta in the front seat. “If they’re even there yet…”
“Mr. Kreiser said they’re being dropped off in pairs, remember?” Elchanan thumbed the air behind him. “We just passed the beginning of a trail, I saw the arrow… I’ll bet two of the guys are going to be starting there.”
“Who cares? It’s not our drop-off point.”
“Avi,” Ta said, caution in his tone. Avi slid down in his seat, fist tightening around the strap of his knapsack. Maybe it would be better to just be on the hike already. At least then he could say what he wanted.
The trees blurred outside the window. They’d been driving past the forest for what, a few miles already? How big was this forest? What if they got lost? They could end up walking for days in such a place.
How would they even know where to go? What if the trail just stopped? They didn’t even have a phone to call for help.
“Here we are.” Ta pulled over to the side of the road. There was a low wooden fence separating them from the forest. A small path led into a dense mass of trees. “Looks like that’s where you’ll be starting.”
This was the path? It looked like the trees went on forever in both directions.
Elchanan jumped out of the car.
“Thank you for the ride, Mr. Shine,” he said, flashing Avi’s father a smile. He hitched his knapsack higher over his shoulder and bounced back on his heels, looking like he couldn’t wait to get started.
Avi followed him slowly. “Bye, Ta, thanks for the ride.”
Avi’s father rolled down his window. “Have a great time, boys. Good luck with the trail!” He glanced in his rear-view mirror and edged back onto the road.
Avi watched his father’s car gather speed and disappear into the distance. For once, he wished his father would’ve hung around a little longer.
“Well, time to get started, I guess.” Elchanan jerked his head toward the trees. To Avi, they looked dark, foreboding even. He tried to follow the path with his eyes, but it curved out of sight a few feet away and all he could see were trees, branches, and shadows.
“You coming?” Elchanan was already over the fence, and he sounded impatient.
Avi fingered the map in his pocket. His hands were sweaty. “Ye-ah…” he said.
Then he took a deep breath, clambered over the fence, and followed Elchanan into the forest.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 869)
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