“Hmm?” Tamar replied, closing her binder and looking up to see who was calling her name. Oh, Michal
"So,” Mrs. Neuman asked before she even took attendance the next day, “is there anyone who still doesn’t have a partner for the Jewish history assignment?” A few hands shot up. “Okay — you four,” she said, nodding at the girls who had raised their hands, “at recess you can figure out who will work with who. The rest of you, I’m passing out a sign-up sheet. Find your name on the list and write who your partner is. I expect your topics to be in by next week at the latest. The assignment is due right before Purim, so that should give you enough time.”
As Mrs. Neuman began teaching, Tamar looked around. Besides herself, Michal, Shani, and Faigy had all raised their hands. So they needed partners, too. Well, Tamar shrugged, turning to the sketch paper tucked into her binder, whoever approached her first was the one she’d go with.
The soft, slightly textured paper beckoned to her from beneath her hand and she started to draw. First a palm tree. A beach. A rowboat. Somewhere beautiful and free. She let her mind bring her there, to that peaceful, remote island, as she drew, hoping to capture it to hang in her room. Mrs. Neuman droned on in the background, and then Danny’s voice was ringing through her head. Danny’s, Sam’s. Gavi showed me how to clean the fish…. Gavi said he’d help us paint a real dinosaur…. Gavi…
Enough! So Danny was happy. So Gavi was there for him in a way she couldn’t be. So what? The agency would find a place for all three of them and then, haha, no more Gavi.
The bell rang, signaling the end of the period, and Tamar jumped. She took one last look at the sketch she had been drawing before putting it away. The tree looked mean, and the rowboat seemed to be spooky. So much for a peaceful sketch to hang on her wall.
“Hmm?” Tamar replied, closing her binder and looking up to see who was calling her name. Oh, Michal.
“I was wondering if you want to do the Jewish history assignment with me?” she asked. “I think Shani and Faigy already decided to do it together.”
“Sure.” Tamar shrugged. Anyone would do, really. Or no one. It didn’t matter either way. Dumb assignment.
“Um, yeah, so do you want to get together tomorrow?”
“Together for what?” Tamar was confused.
Oh. She should have known that. But what did Michal want to get together to do? All they needed was a topic. Couldn’t they do that right here? She said as much.
“Did you, like, look at it? It’s really a complicated assignment, Tamar,” Michal explained, pretty patiently, Tamar thought, considering that Tamar was showing zero interest in the project they were supposed to do together. “It’ll take time to figure out a topic. And we have to research different time periods and things before we do.”
Tamar shrugged again, but they made up to meet at Michal’s house the next day, after Tamar finished work. For Michal’s sake, she’d cooperate.
Her feet beat softly against the sidewalk as Tamar made her way from Tassel to Michal’s house. It was a good 15-minute walk past the school, but the slightly warmer weather made Tamar glad just to be outside. Her hands swung freely by her side as she walked past leafless branches that reached high into the sky. She could almost see the pale green baby leaves that would be poking out of the ends of the little twigs in a few weeks. She walked, and hummed, and finally found herself on what she hoped was Michal’s doorstep, knocking loudly on the dark wooden door.
“Hi,” Michal said cheerily, swinging the door inward to admit Tamar. “Thanks for coming!”
She led Tamar up the steps to the room she shared with her sister. “My sister’s still eating supper, so for now we have privacy,” she explained, motioning to Tamar to sit down at a desk and pulling over what appeared to be her sister’s chair, so the two of them could sit.
“Um, where do you want to start?” Tamar asked. She hadn’t even looked at the assignment. What you don’t know can’t hurt you. But that wasn’t fair to Michal.
Michal crossed the room and pulled the project requirements out of her schoolbag. “Okay,” she said, her long brown bob swishing against her cheeks as she walked toward Tamar. “Here.”
They were just starting their brainstorming session when Michal’s sister pushed open the door and eased herself into the room. “Hey,” she announced, then caught sight of Tamar. “Oh, sorry, Meech, I forgot your friend was coming. Lemme just get my stuff and I’ll get out of your way.”
“No prob,” Michal replied, turning to the assignment sheet for a brief second before giving up and putting it back down on the desk. “Let’s wait ’till she leaves,” Michal mumbled to Tamar. Then, in a louder voice she said, “This is my sister, Sarah. Sarah, Tamar. Tamar, Sarah.”
“Oh,” Sarah started, straightening up and looking at Tamar as if she hadn’t seen her before, “you’re Tamar Dayan, right?” Tamar nodded in acquiescence. “Could you do me a favor?” she asked, pausing for a second to wait for Tamar’s slight nod before continuing. “I have Devorah Weiss’s history notebook. I borrowed it at recess and forgot to give it back. Thing is, we have a quiz tomorrow and I was really worried about how I’d get it to her. Do you think you could maybe bring her the notebook?” Sarah reached into her schoolbag, pulled out a pink spiral notebook and held it toward Tamar. Thinking furiously, Tamar reached out to take the notebook. Okay, so this girl was a ninth grader and obviously in Devorah’s class, but how on earth did she connect Tamar to Devorah? Unless… something clicked in Tamar’s brain as she put the notebook down on the desk next to her. Devorah must have said something. Devorah must have told this girl. Despite everything she’d said, despite all the efforts Tamar had put into making herself seem as normal as possible, Devorah was thwarting all of that. And if Sarah knew, what did Michal know?
A pain shot through Tamar’s hand, and she looked down to find her hands clenched so tightly that her fingernails were digging into her palm. She relaxed her hand to stop the pain, but the tension in her shoulders did not ease up.
“Um, Tamar? Want to keep going?” Michal asked, looking at her expectantly. Tamar looked around and noticed that Sarah had left.
“Is she, like, good friends with Devorah Weiss?” Tamar asked, trying to keep the urgency out of her voice.
“Who, Sarah? Not really. I think they sit next to each other in class,” Michal replied. “Come to think of it, why did she give you Devorah’s notebook?”
“Oh,” Tamar waved her hand in what she hoped was a dismissive gesture, “I live right near Devorah, so it makes sense.” Yup. Really near. So near, actually, that we live in the same house, she thought. But obviously, whatever it was that Sarah knew, she had not shared it with Michal. “Let’s, um, let’s continue,” she said, pointing to the assignment. Maybe the work would stop the gushing stream of anger that was pouring through her veins. How could Devorah do this to her? How could she… betray her like this? Okay, if she’d told one good friend, that Tamar could understand. But this? If she told a seatmate, who else in the school knew? Or was the entire ninth grade walking around knowing the detailed intricacies of Tamar Dayan’s tragic life?
(Originally featured in Teen Pages, Issue 865)
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