| Portrait of a Family |

Portrait of a Family: Chapter 28 

Even with all the arguing, she thought, the table felt so… friendly. They could say whatever they wanted; the warmth, the love, was still there




"So, Tamar.” Mrs. Weiss addressed her over Hawaiian chicken and noodles. “I heard you helped put together one fantastic banner. Not that I’m surprised.”

Tamar smiled. It was Wednesday, but after color war and then putting in extra hours at Tassel the day before, Tamar had asked Mrs. Weiss to cancel her appointment with Yael Baum. It was actually nice to eat supper with the family, Shaindy on one side of her, Yanky and Mendy on either side of Mrs. Weiss to prevent fighting. “I didn’t really do that much,” Tamar replied, bashfully, “it was close to finished when I joined.”

“I’m sure you were a big help, though,” Mrs. Weiss had a broad smile playing across her lips.

“Thanks,” Tamar muttered, turning back to her chicken. She was never sure what to say when Mrs. Weiss said these things.

“Now onto the next big thing,” Devorah sighed. “Midterms.”

“Tamar, can I see your banner?” Shaindy asked, looking up at her with adoring eyes.

“Sorry, Shaindy,” Tamar ruffled Shaindy’s hair. “I’d love to show it to you, but it’s hanging in the school building.”

“Yeah,” Devorah grumped, annoyed at being interrupted, “and they don’t let babies in.”

“Well what does that make you? You weren’t allowed into the high school building last year either,” Shaindy shot back, sticking her tongue out at Devorah.

“Let’s see you handle midterms,” Devorah retorted.

“Here we go again,” Yanky announced grumpily, “can’t a guy eat in peace around here?”

“Okay, everyone,” Mrs. Weiss said, “Let’s start this again. Yanky,” her voice took on a warm tone, “how was yeshivah?”

“Good,” Yanky grunted, shoving a forkful of noodles into his mouth. “Me and Stein found a toad jumping in the bushes in the yard. I told him he could take it home ‘cuz you’d never let, Ma.”

“Eww,” Devorah squealed “Please! I’m eating!”

“What about you, Devorah, how was your day?” Mrs. Weiss asked, ignoring her last comment.

“Good. Except that every teacher we have gave us a list of topics being covered on the midterm. It’s going to be murder!”

“I remember those days.” Mrs. Weiss smiled at her.

Tamar looked around the table. She couldn’t imagine fighting with Danny and Sam the way these kids bickered. Maybe when they were younger. Like, much younger. But still, even with all the arguing, she thought, the table felt so… friendly. They could say whatever they wanted; the warmth, the love, was still there.

She thought about it again that night. The warmth of family, a current pulling different people together, whether they liked it or not. No matter what. It was like that with Danny and Sam. She always loved them no matter what they did, and they felt the same way. Or at least, they always had felt the same way. Was she gone from Sam’s life for too long for Sam to still feel that inescapable family tug toward her? She was pretty sure Danny still felt it. Slowly she fell asleep, her mind swirling with thoughts so that she slept fitfully, and morning couldn’t come fast enough.

“Hey,” Ahuva greeted her as Tamar slid into the 11th-grade table at lunchtime the next day.

“Oh, whoops. Am I at the wrong table?”

“Nah,” Ahuva said dismissively, “no one cares if you sit with our class. These things are pretty open anyway.”

Tamar looked down the table and noticed a few other girls from her class scattered amongst the 11b girls. “Oh, great.” She leaned into her bag and pulled out her stack of rice cakes and a container of tuna. “The banner really came out amazing, didn’t it?” Tamar asked, piling tuna onto a rice cake.

“Yeah. You totally saved us.”

“You came up with the idea,” Tamar refuted, “that’s what made it so amazing.”

“Thanks,” Ahuva smiled at her, taking a bite of her bagel. “Ready for midterms?”

“Yeah, right,” Tamar snorted.

“I didn’t start yet either. You studying with anyone?”


“Wanna study for Chumash together?”

Tamar looked at her, surprised. As fun as it would be to study with Ahuva, it wouldn’t be fair to her. Or anyone for that matter. She needed a tutor, not a study partner. Carefully spooning some tuna onto her rice cake so as to avoid Ahuva’s gaze, Tamar replied, “Me? You don’t want to study with me.”

“Why not?” Ahuva chewed her bagel slowly. “It’ll be fun.”

“You know I switched into the school in the middle of the year,” Tamar stated simply, “I’m totally not caught up in anything! I’ll just slow you down.”

But Sunday afternoon found Tamar and Ahuva spread out on Ahuva’s fluffy lavender carpet surrounded by notes and potato chips.

“I can’t believe you agreed to this,” Tamar said for the umpteenth time.

“Didn’t I tell you it’d be fun?” Ahuva grinned, “and it works perfectly. I always need to teach it to someone so that I remember it.”

“Yeah, well, I’m more than happy to be your student,” Tamar bantered back, sticking her hand into the bag of chips and taking out a few, “and take these chips away from me! I shouldn’t be eating any more.” She pushed the bag towards Ahuva.

“Okay,” Ahuva said, turning serious, “Perek daled. And then we have hei, vav, and zayin. This is going to take forever!”

“I know,” Tamar groaned.

“Sure you don’t want to sleep over?”

“Come on,” Tamar replied, turning back to her notes. Ahuva had only offered her to sleep over about 15 times. The answer was still N-O. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to sleep over, it was that she couldn’t, but she wasn’t about to share that with Ahuva.

And then, suddenly, they were done. Okay, not exactly done, they’d have to finish perek zayin at home by themselves, but they were done studying together. With a quick wave, Tamar jumped out of Ahuva’s mother’s car a block away from Weisses where she had told Ahuva’s mother to drop her off. She wasn’t going to take a chance, just in case Ahuva knew who the Weisses were.

When she got home, Tamar could hear Devorah studying in the living room with what sounded like at least four girls.

They’re probably all sleeping over in Devorah’s room, Tamar thought as she made her way to the basement. Or not. The floor in the basement was covered with two sleeping bags and three of the Weiss’ spare mattresses.

“Tamar?” Mrs. Weiss called from the laundry room.

“Yeah,” Tamar replied, carefully picking her way across the room so as not to step on anything.

“I wanted to ask you what you wanted to do. Devorah invited a whole bunch of girls for a studying party.” She motioned to the mattresses behind them. “You were at work when they made plans, so I couldn’t ask you then.”

Tamar looked behind her, silently. What she wanted to do? What was the choice here? These girls had obviously taken over the basement already.

“Anyway,” Mrs. Weiss continued, “I can’t have them sleeping upstairs or they’ll wake the little kids, so I put them down here. If they’re bothering you, you can sleep in Devorah’s room tonight.”

“And… Devorah’s okay with that?” Tamar asked carefully.

“That was my condition. She agreed.”

“It’s okay,” Tamar replied tersely, “I’ll stay in my room. I’ll be up late studying anyway.”

“Well, if you change your mind…”

Tamar shrugged. “Gotta go study,” she said, turning to her room.

The ninth graders were awake until three, eating, talking, and studying. Tamar could hear them through the door of her room. It sounded like a lot of fun. But Tamar had had her own fun studying with Ahuva. And for the first time since switching schools, she thought as she drifted off to sleep, I’m not even dreading tomorrow.


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 861)

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