| Family First Serial |

Stand By: Chapter 14

Dassi’s mind flashed to the last time he’d angrily told her he didn’t get her jokes


[10:09 PM] Ari Steiner: Hi, sorry to bother you so late. Change of plans for our date tomorrow, my mother had to switch at the last minute. So we’ll meet my parents on the next date, if that’s okay with you.

[10:09 PM] Ari Steiner: For tomorrow we’re going to go on a hike instead, would recommend sneakers!

Dassi read the texts again, a small smile playing at the corners of her mouth. Ever since their argument, she’d been feeling a little awkward, like they had this thing between them that was over, but not gone, and so she really appreciated these kinds of texts. Ari was clearly going way out of his comfort zone to make sure she wasn’t unprepared, and that said a lot! Especially since they didn’t really text outside of scheduling dates. She texted him back, “Sure, thanks for letting me know!” and jumped off her bed to borrow some cute activewear from Chayala.

The next afternoon, Dassi deliberately scheduled her last half-hour of work to be quiet, so she would have time to change out of her standard business-casual/chic and into Chayala’s heather-gray Alo top and a flared skirt. She slid her feet into her favorite lemon-yellow sneakers, wove her dark hair into a braid, and freshened up her face, jokes about how much makeup it took to achieve the makeup-free look running through her head the whole time.

She stowed her work clothes under her desk and zipped up her favorite knee-length puffer, then went downstairs at the “here!” text, flashing Ari a smile as she slid into the passenger seat and they drove off.

A few minutes later they were merging into traffic, and Dassi wondered how she’d ever been worried about dating Ari. He asked about her day, remembering the stressful client she’d mentioned last time by name, and was genuinely interested in her responses. She wasn’t paying much attention to the route they were taking, but she looked up with a start when they stopped outside a midsize brick house in a regular frum neighborhood not too far from her own.

“So, you aren’t nervous to meet my parents, are you?” he asked. “One of the things that stuck out the most with you is your confidence, so I feel like you totally have this in the bag.”

She blinked at him, confused.

“Your parents? You mean when we meet them next time?” she asked. Why was he asking her this today?

Ari didn’t answer for a beat, then he sounded as bewildered as she did. “Next time? No, we’re going now, remember?” He gestured to the neatly landscaped house behind them. “This is my house. We discussed it on the phone when I called right after the last date, what was that, Wednesday?”

Dassi stammered, unable to think. “Um… right! That was the original plan, yes. But then you texted me last night saying we should meet your parents next time. Because your mother had to change plans, right? And that we would go hiking today instead, hence….” She gestured to the loud sneakers, objectively cute, but not at all meet-the-parents appropriate. “Why did you text me that?”

Ari stared at her, true confusion stamped across his features. “What… are you talking about?”

Dassi’s heart dropped. “Me? I’m literally saying what you texted me last night. Look!” She thrust her phone at him. “Look at my phone! That’s you, right there. And we had a whole conversation about this!”

He took the phone she offered and looked at the screen. He noticed the time stamp, and his face hardened. “That makes no sense at all. I definitely didn’t text you that. Is this a joke? Because I don’t get it.”

Dassi’s mind flashed to the last time he’d angrily told her he didn’t get her jokes, and she nervously pushed back the loose pieces of hair she’d pulled out of her pony. Her heart thudded wildly. The last thing she wanted was a repeat of that silly beanie fight, but this wasn’t a harmless misunderstanding like the last time. A whisper of intuition told her to look for solutions and ask questions about the texts she got after this ordeal was over.

“Okay, what are we supposed to do? They for sure saw us pull up. And I’m totally not dressed to meet parents! Can’t you call them and tell them I’m sick or something?”

Ari was annoyed, his mouth pinched and unsmiling. “My parents are really important to me. We can’t back out on them now. They definitely did see us drive up, and they would think it’s extremely rude if we canceled at the last minute. As would I.”

Dassi’s voice turned to pleading, but she was so desperately sure that she didn’t want to meet Ari’s parents for the first time in a shirt with thumb-holes and sneakers that were literally designed to be reflective that she didn’t even care. “Ari, please. We don’t have to cancel, just tell them we’ll be late. Let’s just drive home quickly, and I’ll change. My apartment is less than 20 minutes away. We can be back here in 40 minutes for sure. That’s not so bad. Please? This would be so, so embarrassing for me.”

Ari rolled his eyes. “Don’t overreact. This isn’t a big deal. You made a mistake, they’ll probably understand.” And with that, he stepped out of the car, leaving her no choice but to follow, wishing a magic hole in the ground would open up so she could disappear forever.


[11:53 AM] Rivka Gutmacher: Hi Shaindy, I hope all is well with you. I spoke with Chayala a few days ago after the date, and she let me know that she wants to take a break altogether. Obviously, please pause the retainer for now until anything changes on her end. Of course, I will still be looking out for ideas for her for when she’s ready to get back into it. It should be with brachah!


Chayala’s mother read the WhatsApp twice to make sure she’d understood it correctly. Chayala had told her that the date was one and done, but hadn’t mentioned what was so bad that it made her swear off dating entirely. She must have gasped, or maybe it was just 31 years of marriage, but Moish looked up from his sefer and across the kitchen table.

“Nu?” he prodded, knowing she didn’t need him to ask. Mrs. Fried looked up from the text she was gaping at.

“Chayala told Rivka Gutmacher she wants to take a break. A break! I’m worried day and night that people are talking, and now I have to worry that people are whispering that my thirty-year-old daughter doesn’t want to get married? What am I going to tell people?”

Moish looked at her pointedly.

“What?” she said, the stress and concern not letting her intuit his expression.

Moish sighed. “What about Chayala, our twenty-eight-year-old daughter? Maybe we should be thinking about what makes her happy instead of what people are saying about her,” he said gently.

“How can she be happy if she’s all alone? She’s so stubborn she won’t even listen to a good idea if it comes up! And for that matter, did she discuss this ridiculous idea with anyone first, or is she doing what she always does, decide first and think later?” She was well and truly upset now, her face red, her knuckles white.

Moish got up to get her a glass of water. “Shaindy,” he said, firmly. “Chayala has been happy every day of her life, and she’s been single this entire time. She doesn’t have to make herself available for shidduchim every minute. Let her live.”


Chayala tried to maintain professionalism with the associate on her father’s defense team on the other end of the line, but it was a struggle. She’d thought he was a prank caller calling her back at first, his voice was so young-sounding, but his attitude was all lawyer. His voice carried through the phone, impatience clear. “So why did you ask for this call? Your email made it sound like you had something… worthwhile to share.”

Chayala felt like she was on the defensive for some reason. She tried to keep her voice relaxed and confident, when inside she felt anything but. “All I’m saying is that I would like to help as much as possible, and my father’s firm was my company’s earliest investor, so maybe there’s something in the early agreements that could be a lead.” A little bit of her had hoped that when she’d said “my company,” the lawyer would see he was talking to Chayala, geshikt, capable Chayala, and realize she could possibly help in a way that they’d badly needed until now.

In real life, the lawyer laughed condescendingly. “It’s exceedingly unlikely that you, who are not employed by your father’s company and had limited interactions with his partner, will have any sort of information that will be of any use to this case. But sure, go ahead and email those documents over to me.”

Chayala pressed on, even though she could picture the guy on the other end of the line with his feet up, rolling his eyes at her naive eagerness. “Maybe there’s something else that we haven’t thought of checking yet? I keep racking my brain—” The associate cut her off. “Listen. Your father is paying us a lot of money to take care of it, and we will. The best thing you can do for your father right now is stay out of it and let the professionals spend their billable time actually working on the case,” he said pointedly before he hung up.

Chayala made a face at her now-dead phone. but then sat bolt upright as inspiration struck her. She gasped to herself. “You know what, baby lawyer? I just thought of something.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 836)

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