Stand By: Chapter 13| March 14, 2023
“Wow,” she said, generically and unimpressively, after a pause that was probably way too long. Chayala, you’re botching this
Dassi doesn’t end things with Ari. Chayala talks to her father and feels a responsibility to help him.
Chayala wound the straw cover around her index finger and forced herself to stay in the moment. It was harder than usual. She had seasonal sales reports on the new Huis Tabletop line on her desktop that she was itching to look at (toile de jouy print was making a strong comeback). If not for this date, she’d probably have been in the office until nine or ten. Then there was the nagging worry about her father’s situation hanging over her, causing her to lose her train of thought more often than she would have liked. She’d set up a meeting for the end of the week with the lawyer she’d used when she started Huis, to see if he had any ideas for how she could help without impeding the case, and she was dying to sit down and prepare for it. Focus, Chayala. The least you could offer this guy is your full attention.
He was looking at her expectantly. “Sorry,” she said sheepishly. “What was that?”
He was a nice enough guy, and he gave her a nice-enough guy smile. “That’s ok. I was asking if you went to Israel after high school.”
Chayala winced internally, but her pleasant expression remained fixed. “Yes, I went to Bnos Rivka.” A decade ago, she thought ruefully. “It was really a great experience. Did we overlap? What years were you there?”
“I went for two years, starting in 2010, then came back and learned in Lakewood for a little while after that. I don’t feel like I’ve been out of it for more than a few months, but in real life it’s been about five years.” He took a sip of his soda and gave her an easy opportunity to keep the conversation going. Her mind flitted to whether it would be a massive overstep for her to call her father’s lawyers directly, then back to the present. “Wow,” she said, generically and unimpressively, after a pause that was probably way too long. Chayala, you’re botching this. She shook herself mentally.
Yaakov tried again. “So, my sister told me she loves your chargers. I have no idea what a charger is, but I promised I’d relay the message,” he said. “I’d love to hear about why you decided to open your own business. That’s really cool.”
Ah, this she could answer in her sleep. “Well, my mother’s mother is a classic Hungarian — immaculate house, kokosh in the freezer, and she needs only a three second heads-up to serve a full meal to unexpected guests on her Herend china. So I always loved that attention to detail, especially when it comes to housewares. And frum people entertain all the time, so I knew the market could sustain a mid-level priced brand. We dip into both extremes to cast as wide a net as possible. We have a few exclusive, super high-end items every season, and a few extremely affordable options. Baruch Hashem, it’s been a lot of fun.”
Yaakov was nodding eagerly. It seemed like he wanted her to continue talking, but she felt so spent. “That’s very cool. I don’t think I’d be able to pull all that off!” He seemed impressed.
She appreciated the interest. In her experience, it wasn’t always a given. The interest showed by many of the guys she’d been out with felt more patronizing than anything else. There was nothing worse than when she explained her motivation and vision, and the response was “Cute!” Yaakov was clearly genuine, which was nice.
Yaakov patted his knees, the obvious cue he was ready to wrap it up. They walked together to the car, and drove home with just enough conversation to fill the air that it wasn’t awkward, but mostly, Chayala just looked out the window at the blur of highway lights and wondered what was going to be with her father.
Chayala’s cell phone was somewhere, on vibrate, but the state of her desk mirrored the state of her brain lately; in other words, a whole mess. She moved the A/W 2024 files into an open drawer and shuffled around some loose papers until she discovered her phone acting as a bookmark in her weekly planner. Mrs. Gutmacher, read her phone, and a frisson of premonition slid through Chayala, which was silly, since she was pretty sure it had been an innocuous enough first date. No spark, but she never expected that on a first date anyway.
“Hi, Chayala, it’s Shaindy Gutmacher.” Chayala let out a breath she didn’t realize she’d been holding in since the night before. There was something about Yaakov she really liked. On paper, he sounded exactly like what she was looking for. Why didn’t she feel the connection last night? Why wasn’t she feeling more excited about this? That was the part that bugged her the most.
“I’ll get right to it,” Mrs. G. announced, not unkindly. “He doesn’t see it going anywhere. I’ll be honest, I usually don’t let boys get away with a no after one date at all, but he feels he’s at the stage where he can only afford to spend time focusing on parshiyos with real potential, and he didn’t see it here. He said that other than when you were talking about your company, you were acting rather disinterested on the date.” She paused, and her tone softened. “I’m so sorry, Chayala. I really wanted this to work out for you.”
Chayala sighed. “Ugh. Thanks for telling me. I feel bad that he had such a bad time, and objectively he really is such a good guy, and those aren’t exactly a dime a dozen.” She rubbed the bridge of her nose, feeling a headache coming on. “But if I’m being honest, I totally hear where he’s coming from. I was really distracted last night, and I’m sure I wasn’t the best company.” She picked up a pen and doodled small circles in the margin of a price increase memo from one of her manufacturers. “Such a chaval, though. He was nice,” she said.
Mrs. Gutmacher didn’t answer right away, but when she did, the concern in her voice was clear. “Forgive me if I’m intruding, Chayala, but why are you so distracted? Are things very stressful at work?”
Chayala swallowed the lump in her throat and squeezed her eyes shut. “No, no, nothing like that. Baruch Hashem, work is great.” She barreled on before she could stop herself. “Basically, my parents are going through a stressful time — my father is working out some legal issues with his partner. He’s totally innocent, baruch Hashem, but proving that is turning out to be more complicated than we thought. It’s been… a lot to deal with.”
She could hear Mrs. G’s sharp intake of breath. “Oy, Chayala, I had no idea. I’m so, so sorry to hear that. I can’t even imagine what your poor mother must be dealing with, although it does explain… never mind. Chayala, please let me know if there’s anything I can do at all.”
“That’s very sweet. That’s what I’m distracted with myself. I keep flipping through everything I remember about his partner and any piece of information I might know even if I don’t know I know it. Then I think about all the what-ifs, which is a dangerous place to be. Then I try to distract myself from these distracting thoughts, and it ends up a muddled mess. So, even though Yaakov Rabinowitz might be the first normal guy I’ve dated in a year, I get it. I wouldn’t want to date me right now either.”
Mrs. Gutmacher tsk tsked. “Don’t say that. You’re going through something temporary, but you’re still you, a wonderful girl with lots of ma’alos. Don’t forget that.”
Tears threatened Chayala, but she didn’t give in to them. “Thank you, Mrs. Gutmacher. That really means a lot. You’re right, it is temporary, and hopefully it will all be over soon. But I’m realizing that it’s consuming more of me than I thought, and I don’t want to keep wasting people’s time while I have this big… thing I’m dealing with.” She realized there was a solution, and a wave of relief broke over her. “I think… I should take a break from dating until I’m back to myself.”
Dassi waited for the Nespresso to stop dripping before she carefully walked to the couch, balancing a mug in each hand. She passed the KahnMed mug to Shira and perched on the L part of the sectional, which was already feeling like her spot.
“I can try to explain it to you, but honestly, it’s hard to explain it to myself,” Dassi said with a little laugh. She knew she’d been avoiding getting into the bones of this whole thing with Shira, but odds were Shira would read her like a book anyway, so she might as well get some advice while she was at it.
Shira sipped her coffee. “It might help you clarify it for yourself if you talk it out,” she said.
Dassi half hid her face behind her steaming mug. “Listen, do I like him? I feel like he totally understands where I’m coming from on a deep level, and he appreciates who I am as a person, which is a lot for me. Do I enjoy spending time with him? I think so, it’s hard to say, since most of the time we spend together is some huge production.” She sighed. “Am I watching every word that comes out of my mouth when I’m talking to him? Kind of. But doesn’t everyone do that when they’re dating? Like, everyone’s on their best behavior on dates, no?”
Shira regarded her thoughtfully. “Do you think he’s on his best behavior on your dates?”
Dassi groaned. “Okay, fine, I get your point. For the record, most of the time, I feel spoiled and special, my mother loves him, and she loves that he’s taking care of me. And if he’s comfortable enough to sometimes share his true self with me at this point, at least he’s being honest.”
Shira sighed. “Listen, Dass. The best advice I can give you is to go with your gut. No one can tell you what to do. No one can push you into a shidduch. It’s the most important decision of your life. How can anyone make that decision for you?”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 835)
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