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Stand By: Chapter 10 

“Dassi.” It was a statement, and she thought her stomach had sunk to her toes, but it managed to sink even further


There was really, really nothing Dassi loved more than quarterly meetings when her sales team knocked their projections out of the park. Meeting mornings were her favorite; she always swung by the coffee shop early and bought fresh coffee and a box of mini muffins, then gave her Google slides a last once-over in the conference room before everyone else filed in. They might have their Monday faces firmly in place, but Dassi was at peace, feeling calm and confident.

Her stepfather-slash-boss opened the meeting with his usual motivational introduction, and Dassi surveyed her team with a little twinge of satisfaction for the well-rounded staff she’d curated, a job that had taken the better part of the last year. Now, finally, they got along well, strategized together, complemented each other’s strengths. It was nice when the pieces fell into place.

Her stepfather wrapped up his intro, so she plugged the conference room’s HDMI into her laptop. The huge wall-mounted screen blinked awake and mirrored hers; she set her slides to full screen and jumped in.

“Good morning, everyone! I’m starting, as always, with good news. ROI for this quarter on marketing and sales expenditures is up to 9:1, after a particularly successful targeted campaign with Beechwood Hospital. This year we did an administrator breakfast with a make-a-wish component, donating prizes to causes that were important to the administrators themselves, which resulted in a record-breaking—”

Her phone rang, the ringtone cutting into her train of thought. “Sorry, guys.” She grinned and reached for her phone to reject the call and silence her phone. That was strange. Why was Ari calling her in the middle of the morning? They’d only really spoken on the phone twice, both brief calls to set up dates, and that was usually after their workdays. She shrugged mentally and clicked to the next slide on her laptop. The huge screen on the wall mimicked her movements.

“As I was saying,” she continued. The screen showed a truly impressive number, and she was excited to give her team the public recognition they deserved. Suddenly, a flurry of incoming push notifications crowded the lower left corner of her screen, each delivered with its own smug little ba-bum!

Wait! WhatsApp Web was open?

A Steiner: Call me

A Steiner: Pick up the phone

A Steiner: Hello??

You have new messages, the notifications wizard said unhelpfully, and mercifully the pinging stopped.

She felt the blood rush to her face despite her best efforts to pretend she hadn’t seen or heard any of that. She could feel her stepfather frowning at her across the table. Great. Just great. She continued with her presentation, not breaking stride while she swiftly and discreetly closed all extra tabs.

Her phone buzzed again and again. Inside, her brain felt fuzzy, kind of swirly, like she was going to pass out or hyperventilate or cry, any of which would be utterly unthinkable for Dassi Rubin, VP of Sales, KahnMed Supply Co. Somehow, she delivered her numbers like the most confident woman in the world.

Finally, it was done, and she slipped out before anyone else. She headed toward her office, with its nice, lockable door, but she needed air. She tumbled down the three flights and burst out the back door to the open parking lot. Perfect for pacing, and overthinking. What on earth could the emergency be? Was he calling to end things? A pang of panic settled into her lungs. He wouldn’t, would he? Over the phone? Their last date had been a little awkward, but was it break up bad? It wasn’t, it couldn’t be.

She forced cool air into her lungs, her stomach in knots, her fingers shaky. She called him back.

“Dassi.” It was a statement, and she thought her stomach had sunk to her toes, but it managed to sink even further. Maybe she didn’t even have a stomach anymore.

“H-hi,” she said, and it was funny, because if anyone else call-bombed her for an hour, she would either think someone had died or was engaged, and she was pretty sure he wasn’t calling to propose. “Is everything okay? I was in a meeting. That big quarterly update I was telling you about—”

“I got a very weird call from my sister an hour ago, and I’m trying to give you the benefit of the doubt, but you avoiding my calls isn’t making it easy for me,” he cut her off, his voice tight.

Dassi’s heart thudded. What in the world? His sister? Dassi didn’t even know his sister. What?

Her thoughts were scattered, frenetic, and she tamped down a defense, reminding herself that she didn’t even know what she was defending. She stayed quiet.

“She’s best friends with my cousin Ayala, Ayala Steiner, who you might know,” he continued coldly. Dassi thought wildly. Ayala Steiner? Who was that?

“I’m sorry, Ari, I don’t know who that is,” she said, struggling to keep her tone even.

He snorted. “You sure? She sure seems to know you, or a version of you at least.”

Dassi was utterly bewildered. “A version of me? What does that mean?”

“She works at a store called Club Mali, if that sheds light,” he continued cooly.

“Okay… it doesn’t… can you just tell me what happened?”

“What happened? What happened is Ayala wants to know why the girl I’m dating is already married and promenading around town wearing a sheitel. What’s the long game here, Dassi? Pretend to be married some days and then not married others? What’s your plan? Maybe I should ask you if you are actually married, for all I know.” His voice was taunting.

Dassi felt a rush of relief. “Seriously?” Her breath whooshed out of her in a laugh. “That was a joke! Honestly, a pretty funny one. Shira and I have been in that store like ten times, and we’ve never had good service there, ever. So Shira brought us both beanies, you know, like hats that girls wear when they wear a sheitel? Except without a sheitel, just the hat. We were fawned over as soon as we walked in. It was hilarious! And spot-on analysis by Shira.” She chuckled. “I’m sure it sounded weird if you didn’t know the context, but honestly, all I did was wear a hat, it’s no big deal at all.”

He was quiet for a long moment.  “I guess I don’t get the joke,” he said stiffly.

“We were just having fun… it was nothing,” she responded softly.

He was quiet again.

“If you’ve been pulling shtick like this all these years, that explains a lot,” he said finally, and she gaped in shock and hurt when he hung up on her.


[6:22 PM] Aly: Anyone in for frozen yogurt?

[6:22 PM] Shira: Sure, ready in 20 @dassi, can you pick up Aly first?

[6:30 PM] Chayala: Highlight of my week, and it’s been A WEEK (yes, I know it’s only Monday)

[6:49 PM] Aly: Dassi? You around?

[7:02 PM] Chayala: Aright I’m coming to knock on your door, Dass

[7:10 PM] Chayala: Dassi’s not in the mood for fun you guys. I’ll drive tonight. Leaving now.

[7:11 PM] Shira: We’re here to talk if you need @Dassi

A half hour later, over pre-weighed cups of frozen yogurt, they sat around a slightly sticky aluminum table. Chayala sighed. “Are we going to talk about this Dassi situation? I’ll say it, I’m worried about her.”

Shira ran her spoon through her mint chocolate chip frozen yogurt. “I am, too, and I’m sure she knows it.”

Aly took a sip of water. “Wait, are we for real concerned? I thought things were going well until today. I’m always missing the hock!”

Chayala swallowed a spoonful of lemon sorbet. “That’s the weird thing. It might be going well. I’m not really sure. She’s been sort of… not herself. I can’t really put my finger on it. And obviously whatever is happening with her today is totally uncharacteristic. When does Dassi turn down ice cream?”

“I have a pretty strong hunch I know what’s going on,” Shira said quietly. “Think about what she’s telling us about him, and what we’ve seen, starting with Bouchon on their first date. He’s renting out restaurants, he’s hiring who-knows-how-much-money-a-night singers. I mean, that’s objectively insane. And she’s getting a kick out of it, yeah. But also, she knows it’s weird, because she’s being defensive and cagey, which is not Dassi.”

Aly gasped. “You’re right. The vibes are totally off.” She pushed her yogurt cup away. “Okay, so what do we do? I think I’m going to take a machsom l’fi with her in mind for the next few weeks. But should we talk to her? Or maybe talk to her mother and see if she’s also worried? Maybe we can help with something!”

“No,” said Shira, slowly, thoughtfully. “Dassi is an adult, she’s intelligent, she’s strong, and we trust her and love her. We’re here to support her without judging her, but we wouldn’t be acting like friends if we went behind her back.”

“You’re right,” said Chayala. She grinned. “But I can’t promise no judgments on this guy, just saying.”


He waited for over an hour for the right opportunity to present itself, but finally, it did when Ari took a break and left his phone unlocked on the table. He looked around to make sure he wasn’t being watched, then picked it up. He opened Ari’s text messages and drafted a new text.

Hi, Mrs. Frankel, I just wanted to tell you I want to slow things down with her…I’m not sure if I’m having second thoughts or just confused. I don’t really want to talk about it now, but I’ll update you in a couple of days.

Almost immediately, the response came through. Ok. I’m really sorry to hear that, when I spoke to Dassi a few days ago she seemed very happy… I’ll let her know and I’ll check in with you in a few days.

He deleted both messages, then let the phone go dark and put it exactly where he’d found it.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 832)

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