| Fiction |

Package Deal

When she married him, she didn’t realize his twin was part of the package

Naami laid the album down on the gleaming coffee table and sighed.

“Remind me,” she said into the phone. “Why am I supposed to be excited about getting my wedding pictures?”

Chava clucked her tongue. “You should be grateful. I didn’t get my album until after my second anniversary.”

“But it’s beautiful.” Naami pictured her sister’s showpiece: gilt-edged, leather-bound. Hers was identical. Her lips turned down. It wasn’t the outside that mattered.

Chava’s baby was crying in the background. Chava always cut their conversations short, and Naami felt silly, like maybe she should be the one who needed to be somewhere, do something. But she didn’t have to leave to work for another half hour, the house was spotless, and she’d cut up the vegetables for supper already.

“I’m so sorry, Naami, I need to go!” Chava sounded breathless, feet thumping up the stairs. Her phone beeped and cut off. She had terrible service on the second floor.

Naami slid her phone across the table, and fingered the album again. Even though she would never tell her sister, it wasn’t really the album that was the problem. It wasn’t the bridal poses, the chuppah pictures, the requisite ring-to-finger shot that could’ve been copy-pasted from a million other albums. It was the family pictures. Her in-laws.

It was Shosh.

 

Yitz really was the perfect husband. Naami smiled as she served the chicken cutlets. He’d come home right on time, as usual, complimented the flowers that matched the napkins, and handed her a chocolate doughnut he’d picked up “just because.” Really, she was so lucky.

“How was your day?” he asked.

“Great!” It was a script. She said the same thing every day, but honestly, how different was one day from the next? “Um, I was talking to Chava. She said we’re lucky we got the album already. Lots of people wait ages for theirs.”

“Mmm.” Yitz was peering at his phone. That wasn’t like him. A tinge of annoyance colored her good mood. As if he sensed it, her husband looked up. “Sorry, Naami. I’m just a little nervous, waiting to hear from Shosh. Their fourth date was today, remember? I’m waiting to hear how it went.”

“Why does she have to text you?”

Yitz blinked. “What do you mean? She always talks to me about her shidduchim. It’s easier than hashing it out with Ma, you know how she is about Shosh’s shidduchim. There’s a lot of pressure.”

She liked it that he said “Ma” and not “my mother.” That meant she was really part of the family now, not just an add-on. And she did know what he meant about shidduchim. Ma was always just a few short steps from panic when it came to her daughter. Of course, you couldn’t blame her. She’d been a single parent for almost ten years now, since Yitz’s father had passed away.

The phone buzzed in Yitz’s hand. “Oh! It’s Shosh! She’s calling,” he added, unnecessarily. “I wonder why. I told her to text because it was suppertime, but maybe it’s good news—” He clicked on without waiting for Naami’s nod, which peeved her. But if Shosh was getting serious about someone, she supposed she could handle it.

Only it was obvious after less than a minute that it wasn’t good news.

“It’s over,” Yitz said gloomily as he put down the phone. “I can’t believe it, I really thought…” He stared into space a moment. “She’s coming over. Ma’s really upset, Shosh needs to get out for a bit.”

Naami looked at the table, the half-empty serving dishes. “But it’s a mess in here,” she blurted.

“I’ll help you.” Yitz jumped up. Then he looked at her with a worried frown. “You don’t mind, do you? It’s just that it’s really hard for her. Shidduchim and all… especially since, you know.”

Especially since we got married.

But why did she feel guilty for that? She hadn’t done anything wrong. Neither had Yitz, for that matter. They were twins; Yitz was even the older one. He’d waited a while, too.

Ten minutes later the doorbell rang. Yitz hurried to answer the door. Naami looked around her kitchen. It was perfectly neat again. You couldn’t even tell that a few minutes ago, a couple had been sitting down to a beautifully presented supper table.

She hadn’t even gotten to serve dessert.

“A break from shidduchim,” Naami repeated. “Is that smart?”

Yitz leaned back in his chair and pushed his yarmulke forward so it balanced on his high forehead. It usually made her giggle when he did that, getting ready to launch into a philosophical discussion, but now it just made her nervous.

“You got married at 21,” he observed. “Shosh has been in shidduchim for a while. And this last parshah was pretty tough on her. She really had her hopes up.”

“I know.” Naami poked at her salad. Of course she knew. Her sister-in-law was calling Yitz nearly every day, popping over on Shabbos afternoons, making herself at home in their apartment. She got it. Ma’s house was so quiet with just her and Shosh around. But this was her home. Her privacy. Her husband.

Sometimes she tried to join the conversation, to make-believe she was part of it, too, but it never worked. Yitz, to his credit, did try to include her, but the conversation was too rapid-fire with references she didn’t understand. Besides, Shosh was focused entirely on her brother; they got each other, words were almost superfluous. It would have been amazing to watch if it hadn’t been so painful.

“It’s hard for her,” Yitz said again. His eyes looked sad.

Naami bit her lip. It was hard for her, too, but she couldn’t complain.

She changed the subject. “It’s our six-month anniversary tomorrow.”

Yitz brightened too. “Wow, already? Are we celebrating?”

Naami laughed. They were on safe ground again. “Leave it to me.” She thought of the pecan pie hidden in the freezer, and the rib steak recipe she’d been waiting to try. “All you have to do is show up.”

Yitz straightened, shifting his yarmulke back into place. “I’ll be there.”

Shosh had chosen a bad time to show up, but it wasn’t like there was ever a good time. “Hi,” Naami said, straining for politeness. “Um, what’s doing?”

“I was just passing by. Is Yitz around? I have something for him.” Her sister-in-law flashed one of her charming smiles. It was just like her brother’s. Naami drew back stiffly.

“Yitz isn’t home yet. Can I give it to him?”

“Mmm.” Shosh pursed her lips. “I may as well wait and say hello to him. Can I come in?”

There was no polite way to say no.

“I’m busy cooking,” Naami apologized, moving aside. “You could wait in the living room if you want….”

“I’ll keep you company. What are you making?” Shosh followed her into the kitchen. “Wait, rib steak? Yum.”

“Yeah. And rice and salad and there’s pecan pie for dessert.”

“Double yum,” Shosh said, but her eyes were distracted. “Uh, Naami, sorry to tell you this… but you may as well know now. Yitz hates pecans.”

And right on cue, a key turned in the lock, footsteps sounded, and a familiar voice sang out, “I’m home!”

It was too late to make a new dessert.

Naami closed the oven door, flustered. She hadn’t even put her sheitel on yet. Shosh’s arrival had thrown her off schedule.

“Hey, Yitz,” Shosh called back easily, sauntering out to meet her twin.

“Oh — you’re here?” he said. “Naami’s in the kitchen?”

“I’m here,” she said, popping her head out. “Supper’s ready in a minute.” Ugh, there she was, all stilted again. Shosh murmured something, Yitz laughed and walked her to the door, then came back to the kitchen.

“Smells so good in here!” Yitz enthused. “What’s for supper?”

“Special supper. We’re eating in the dining room.”

She’d set up before Shosh turned up: Shabbos dishes, crystal vase, sparkly confetti. It wasn’t their six-month anniversary every day.

“Wowww, look at this,” Yitz said approvingly. Her heart lifted. “It looks too good to eat!”

Naami laughed. “I hope not. Food’s on the way.”

At least he liked egg rolls. Or so he said. Maybe she should ask Shosh how he really felt.

Her mood soured.

She plunked down the serving tray too hard. Yitz helped himself to a large piece of rib steak and heaped his plate with the sides. He took a bite and smiled. “Great cooking, as always.”

She smiled, but her mind was on the pecan pie, laid out on a crystal wedding-gift tray that she’d been waiting to use. She served it.

“The pie’s delicious,” he said, taking a bite out of a nice-sized piece.

She swallowed, a pecan stuck in her throat.  “Really?”

He looked up from his dessert plate, surprised at the challenge in her voice. “Of course. Your cooking’s always good.” He gave a disarming smile. Shosh’s smile.

She didn’t smile back. “You don’t like pecans. Why are you pretending to like it?”

Yitz shook his head. “Wait, I’m not following. Was this a test or something?” Then a thought struck. “Shosh said I don’t like pecans?”

He was right on the mark. Naami nodded, mutely.

Yitz sighed.  “Listen, it’s not my favorite food, but it’s good, your food’s great. Let’s just enjoy it, we’re celebrating, right?”

Her appetite was gone. “Yeah, whatever.” She stabbed her portion with a fork. “Why’d she come, anyway? What was so urgent?”

“She had some issue at work, she was a bit upset… sticky situation with a parent.”

Work. Naami bit her lip. She herself worked four hours a day, secretary to a pair of entrepreneur brothers who spent most of their time in the warehouse. She dealt with paperwork and e-mails and filed orders. And Shosh dealt with the world’s problems.

“She’s always coming over to talk to you.” She tried to keep her tone neutral, but Yitz frowned.

“What do you want? Should I shut her out of my life? She’s my sister.”

Naami folded her arms around herself, hunching her shoulders miserably. Put that way, she sounded pathetic. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t know.”

Shosh was his sister. But she was his wife.

It annoyed her every time Shosh casually threw a comment about Yitz’s likes and dislikes, about shared memories, about how well she knew him. It bothered her the way her sister-in-law breezed in and out of their apartment, claimed a chunk of Yitz’s sacred free time, bantered with him in a way she hadn’t yet figured out.

Yesterday, Yitz had the flu, spent the day drinking tea and dozing. Naami tiptoed in and out, opening the window, closing the shades, bringing drinks. He was very out of sorts, grunting when she asked how he felt, mostly sleeping.

She’d mentioned it casually to her mother-in-law, something about Yitz not feeling great, and that she was making chicken soup. It made her sound like a good, nurturing wife. But Ma must have told Shosh, because at seven that evening, just when she was about to turn off the flame and offer Yitz — now ensconced on the sofa — some nourishing soup, Shosh had turned up.

“I hear Yitz is under the weather,” she’d said with a grin. “I came to cheer him up.”

“I don’t think he wants company right now,” Naami had told her sister-in-law stiffly. But Shosh just laughed and said, “He’ll enjoy this, don’t worry.”

And the next thing she knew, Shosh was deep in conversation with Yitz, and he was chuckling — chuckling! — and talking to her, the way he hadn’t been speaking all day.

“Naami,” Yitz had said when he realized she was in the doorway. “You gotta hear this one: Ever heard about the time me and Shosh gave each other haircuts with Ma’s kitchen scissors?”

Of course, when Shosh had gone, he’d insisted that it was the fresh chicken soup that made him feel better. Yeah, right.

Naami scowled at the computer screen. Invoices, orders, filing papers. That was all she spent her days doing at work. They could employ a robot for the same price. Shosh was a popular high school teacher who oversaw the yearly production and headed a teen summer camp.

A new e-mail flickered on the screen; Diamond Realty placing another order. Naami entered the data on the spreadsheet and checked that their accounts were up to date. Her brain could turn to Jell-O for all the intelligence her job required.

Shosh, she decided, wouldn’t have lasted one day in such a boring office job. Neither would Yitz.

When it was time to go home, she slammed the door almost viciously behind her.

She hated going to her mother-in-law for Shabbos. It was so achingly quiet that she almost felt sorry for Shosh, who lived with it all the time.

“Yitz just lights up this house,” her mother-in-law said fondly when he’d left for shul Friday night. “We must have you over more often.”

Naami smiled politely. No way. This week they’d had to — it was Yitz’s father’s yahrtzeit on Sunday, and the family needed to be together. But she couldn’t do this too often.

Shosh was sprawled on the other armchair. “Yeah, I keep telling Yitz that. We live so close by, we should take advantage.”

You do, Naami thought. Then she realized she was expected to respond. “That would be nice,” she said vaguely.

“So how’s everything going? Anything new at work?” Ma asked. Shosh gave an interested smile — or was it patronizing? — and Naami searched her mind for something to tell them. Berger canceling their longtime weekly order and going for another supplier?

“Uh, it’s okay, nothing very exciting,” she murmured. She should ask Shosh the same question, but the words got stuck in her throat.

Ma smiled and reached for her Tehillim. Shosh was eyeing her speculatively, like she was about to say something. Naami quickly picked up a magazine. She had no interest in hearing more about what she should know about Yitz.

Yitz led the meal, of course. He always did when he was at his mother’s. He talked, Shosh talked, Ma sat and beamed, and Naami served and cleared and felt like an idiot.

“I hate it here,” she blurted out, when they were finally alone together, snatching a quick walk after the meal. “I feel like such a nerd.”

“But why?” Yitz was genuinely confused. “My mother loves you, and Shosh just wants to get to know you better.”

Naami bit her lip.

“Do you mind if we head back now?” Yitz asked, after a minute. “I just… I feel bad for Shosh, the yahrtzeit is a hard time for her. Ma’s probably in bed already, and she’ll be by herself….”

“So you’ll leave me alone and talk to her.” The words were bitter, un-Naami-ish. She was surprised at herself.

“I didn’t mean that! I was hoping we could spend some time with her together. But we don’t have to.”

She felt so selfish. “No, we can. It’s fine. That’s what we’re here for this Shabbos.”

“Thanks, Naami, I appreciate it.” Yitz sounded relieved. “But really, you don’t have to go away when we’re talking. We’re married, you’re her sister-in-law. You’re part of the conversation, always.”

It was nice of him to say. But she knew what it would be like. They shared deep memories and a bond that she could never join. They shared pain and she felt awkward intruding. She’d sit with them a few minutes, feel silly, and excuse herself.

The walk back to Ma’s house was silent.

Tuesdays were always slow at work. Some businesses liked to send orders at the end of the week, others e-mailed her Mondays, but there was a lag on Tuesdays. Naami answered an e-mail from a supplier and checked a few invoices. She sent a reminder to Koenig about the week’s deliveries and cleaned up her desk. She checked her e-mail and refreshed it when nothing new showed up. Still nothing.

She used to feel accomplished when everything was in order. Now she just felt like a fool, swiveling in her office chair and twirling a pen between her fingers.

An e-mail popped into her Inbox — finally! — with the subject line Fwd:  fwd:  fwd:  Make Your Shabbos Meal Meaningful! She usually deleted these forwards, they were such a waste of time, but now she had the time to waste.

Naami clicked.

An organization seeking families to host college students for Shabbos meals. Give them the Shabbos experience. The words zechus, brachos, and never stops multiplying were in bold and capitals.

She nearly deleted it, but then she thought better of it. Instead, she carefully printed it out, paid the requisite 10 cents for personal printing into the spare change drawer, and put it into her bag.

Yitz would be great at this. And she… she’d cook the meals, inspire the college students with the beauty of a Shabbos table. She could do this.

But Yitz, when he saw the paper lying neatly beside his plate, was surprised. “You think we should do this, Naami? I mean, we’ve never had guests before.”

She gave a bright smile. “Maybe it’s time to start? I mean, we’ve been married almost a year now.”

He blinked at the paper. “I mean, sure, it’s a great idea.” He looked like he was about to say something else, then stopped.

“What?” Naami felt a bit petulant. “You wouldn’t want to host? You think it’s too much work?”

“No, not at all. I’d love it. And your food is amazing.” He hesitated again. “It’s just — whatever. I didn’t think it was your type, that’s all.”

Naami’s stomach clenched. “I didn’t know you had to be a type to do a mitzvah.”

Yitz laughed easily and waved a hand. “You’re right, sure, let’s go for it.” He dug into the steaming lasagna. “If the meal tastes as good as this, they’ll be hooked!”

She smiled back because she was supposed to, and because he was so sweet and easygoing, but all she could think was, I bet he wants Shosh to be there instead of me. Shosh is the type, after all.

It had been a disaster. He had been right.

Naami stared at the screen. Monday’s orders, one after the next, were waiting to be processed.

She’d tried, she really had. The food was perfect, she’d had her sheitel freshly done, she’d even lit candles early as an extra zechus. But the organization had sent over three students, one vegan guy who spent the meal arguing about ritual slaughter and wouldn’t touch most of the food, and two girls who whispered between themselves and giggled a lot. She noticed them texting under the table, too.

Yitz had tried. He’d prepared a nice devar Torah that linked the parshah with politics, but the students were clearly not interested. He’d caught her eye once or twice, imploring her to speak up, but she’d felt awkward and uncomfortable. He was the sociable one, not she.

“Ask about their school and stuff, we can’t just sit there quietly,” he’d whispered urgently when they went to wash.

So she had, leaning slightly across the table and trying to catch their eyes. “Uh, what’re your names again? I’m Naami. And where are you from?”

“Cathy, from L.A.”

“Jenna, from Columbus.”

Yitz cleared his throat, encouraging her.

But she’d just sat there, her mind blank. What should I talk about? And then Daren the vegan had started up again, and her chance was over.

When the disastrous meal had finally, finally ended, she’d collapsed onto the couch, for once leaving the mess in the kitchen until later.

Yitz had been nice, too nice. He was always nice. But he was disappointed.

Naami clicked on a spreadsheet, started filling in data mechanically. You could ask them about what they’re studying, what they think of dorm life.

How did Yitz think of that? Why couldn’t she?

You could ask them if they cook, do they travel, what do they like to read.

She’d bit her lip then, hard, and forced the list of ideas into her memory. “It’ll go better next time,” she’d insisted. Yitz had looked doubtful. But they were going to do it again, she needed to. To prove it to him. To prove it to herself.

If Shosh can do it…

Another e-mail.

Dear Mrs. Levin,

In appreciation for your efficient and dedicated work over the past 2 years, we are pleased to inform you that we will be raising your salary, in accordance with the contractual agreement below.

Naami read the e-mail. Then read it again.

The last two secretaries here had quit within a few months. Her predecessor had rolled her eyes when she’d trained her in — sooo boring. But she’d found the job great, easy, nothing unexpected. No annoying colleagues, no one she had to talk to, just straightforward orders and invoices, e-mails and text messages, and the occasional instruction from the bosses.

It was perfect for her, and evidently, she was perfect for it.

In appreciation for your efficient and dedicated work…

Wow. So this is where she shines. At being a good, quiet, organized, secretary. At being boring.

She stared at the screen, and suddenly she was crying.

“What happened?” Yitz stared at her. “You got a raise and you got upset? I don’t understand.”

“I don’t really get it, either.” She shrugged and swallowed.

“Hey, let’s go out tomorrow, you’ll take the day off. You never use your vacation days, do you? And it’s still shanah rishonah, I’ll explain to my chavrusa… let’s go somewhere nice. We haven’t been out for ages!”

The fog lifted a little. “It’ll be like dating,” she said. “I’ll e-mail the bosses. Where will we go?”

“I’m on it.” Yitz grinned. She leaned back in her chair and laughed.

In the end, they went to a small park where they’d been on a date. There was a flower garden and a boardwalk by the water, and there were also various indoor attractions and a picnic area. Naami breathed in; she loved nature.

“Going to buy drinks, be back in a minute,” Yitz said, jogging off in the direction of the café. Naami made no objection, the weather was beautiful. She could sit here on a bench and enjoy the flowers, the grass, the gentle breeze, for hours.

She sat up. Wait. Yitz wasn’t like that…. Yitz would rather go hiking, take a boat out on the lake. Shosh would be paddling the boat, she would go for the mini golf or the hike near the lake.

She should suggest it, Naami thought. She should say it casually, Hey, why don’t we try golfing or something? She could picture the smile lifting the sides of his mouth.

She could be cool and spontaneous and fun. She could be all of it.

There was a little cough behind her. Yitz was standing there, amused. “What are you thinking about? You didn’t even notice me come back.”

Her cheeks flushed. Now she should bring it up. Mini golf or boating?

She looked back at the quiet flower garden and her shoulders drooped.

“Yitz,” she said, but he started talking at the same moment. They both stopped and laughed. “You first.”

She’d never seen him so contemplative. He was talking to the flowers, not to her.

“I’m just thinking — don’t think I’m weird — that it’s so nice to be with someone who can just sit and enjoy the quiet.” He chuckled a bit self-deprecatingly. “Like, I’m used to action, action, action, but it’s great to have a change of pace. To learn to appreciate new things.”

She sucked in a breath and let it out, slowly. “Thank you.”

They sat together, watching the leaves dance in the breeze. Naami snuck a look at her husband. He looked happy. He was happy. He didn’t want her to be something she wasn’t, he wanted her to be herself. He married her, not someone just like himself.

“What were you gonna say?” Yitz asked suddenly. Naami looked at the trees, bending in the wind. She thought of the mini-golf course, the lines at the paddle-boat rental.

“Uh, I was just going to say…” Inspiration struck. “About the Shabbos meals. The students… you’re right. It’s not really for me. But I was thinking, you’re a great host, and I love cooking. Maybe we can still have other guests.”

“Like who?”

She took a deep breath. “Let’s invite your mother one Shabbos. With Shosh.”

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 680)

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Tagged: Fiction