| Family First Serial |

Stand By: Chapter 15

“People can be so jaded these days, and it’s really nice to date a guy who is clearly working hard to make sure our dates are memorable”


Dassi woke up the morning of her birthday the way she woke up most mornings: reluctantly. She stumbled out of bed to get ready for the workday ahead, eyes half closed, when she tripped over a large suitcase someone had placed at the foot of her bed. What on earth? That was definitely her army-green, hard-shell suitcase, but why was it out of the storage closet? And full? Suddenly fully awake, she yanked her door open and stuck her head out into the hallway.

“Chayalaaaa,” she attempted to call, but it came out more like a croak. She padded down the hallway. Chayala, as usual, was fully hair-and-makeup ready for work and was mixing her morning coffee.

“Happy Birthday, Dass!” she said, laughing lightly.

Dassi stretched. “Thanks. Um. Here’s a weird question, but would you know why my suitcase is packed and in prime toe-stubbing location?”

Chayala laughed in earnest now. “You didn’t check your phone yet? Look outside.”

Dassi peeked out the windows that overlooked the front of the building and saw a sleek black sprinter van whose gravitas was totally ruined by the enormous bunch of pink balloons tied to the roof rack. She yelped and ran to her room to grab her phone, where a text read: Happy birthday! Hope you have a day as amazing as you are. I took care of everything, including arranging time off work for you. All you need to do is wheel the suitcase out the door and have the best time ever. (I mean it, there’s even coffee in the van!)

Three hours later, Dassi sipped orange juice while she looked out of the window at the endless blue sky. She was on her way to Florida, adrenaline no longer frenetically pulsating through her, but still miles away from calm. She turned to her mother, who was sitting in the aisle seat. “I think I’ve said this about a thousand times this morning, but I literally can’t believe this is happening.”

Her mother grinned. “Let me tell you something, I’m very impressed. That boy is a logistics whiz. He had this all planned out to a T, including talking to Daddy to make sure your work schedule would allow for two days off. He booked the hotel, he made dinner reservations for us tonight, he arranged for the van to pick us up and a car to drive us to the hotel when we get to Miami. I mean, he literally checked with me yesterday to make sure I remembered to pack for you and to sneak your suitcase into your room after you went to sleep! I’m telling you, this guy is something special. I know women married 20 years who wish they were lucky enough that their husbands were like this. And you have it with a guy you started dating only a few weeks ago.”

Dassi set her juice down and turned so she could face her mother properly over the empty middle seat. “This is by far the most over-the-top gift I’ve ever gotten.” She paused and her smile faded. “But… you don’t think it’s too much, right? Like, I know some people are just givers, that’s just how they express themselves. But I have about a hundred friends who are married by now, maybe more. Probably every single one of them had a first date in a lounge, then eventually they went out to dinner, then maybe they did pottery painting, then met the parents, then got engaged. Could be six dates, could be sixteen, but it all followed a very predictable routine, and it worked for all of them. And I feel like from the first date this has been so unpredictable in every single way. And it’s exciting, and crazy, and fun. But it also makes me really nervous.”

Mrs. Rubin-Kahn stirred her black coffee and looked at Dassi thoughtfully. “You know, Dass, you’ve also dated a hundred of those lounge-on-first-date types, and they went nowhere. You hated the predictability of so many first dates that were interchangeable aside from the guy on the other side of the table.”

Dassi nodded. “That’s true.”

“So why does is it bother you that Ari is so different?”

“It’s not… it’s not just that he’s different. I do like that he puts in a major effort. People can be so jaded these days, and it’s really nice to date a guy who is clearly working hard to make sure our dates are memorable. And there’s really a lot I do like about his personality also. He has the same hashkafos that I do. He learns, he’s close with his rebbeim, he’s solidly frum. Like, when we were discussing all those things — where I see myself living, what kind of home I want to have, all that, it all matches up. More than matches, even. He’s more on my page than I am sometimes. It’s like he knows what I think before I even say it. And that’s what I keep coming back to. He gets me, like he really understands me, and he’s so tuned in to the tiny little things that make me me.”

Her mother’s face was radiantly happy, soaking up the positivity of Dassi’s words, even though her daughter’s tone was more cautious than exuberant. “That’s really amazing, sweetie.”

Dassi sighed. “It is. I know it is. Like, I even felt comfortable discussing the divorce with him, which I never do. In some ways I feel like he knows me as well as Chayala does, and I know her for what, a decade?”

Mrs. Rubin-Kahn smiled. “The basis of a great marriage is genuinely liking each other. It sounds like there’s a lot for you to build on… so why do you sound like you’re still so hesitant?”

Dassi looked down. “Ma, you know why. Yes, there’s a lot to be excited about. But this whole dating parshah has been really stressful. Am I getting a full picture of who he is? Like, is he 90 percent of the time amazing and 10% of the time we have to work through things? Because I think that’s an okay ratio for real life, but is it an okay ratio for dating? Maybe his real life is like 50 percent of the time working through things? What if it’s 90 percent? Like, the crazy dates are fun, and I feel like I’ve never been more spontaneous and adventurous, which I love. But what if it’s all smoke and mirrors?”

Her mother’s brow furrowed. “I hear you, of course.” She drummed her fingers on the armrest. “What do you mean by working through things?”

Dassi closed her eyes and recalled how horribly awkward meeting his parents had been at first. They’d opened the door with a flourish, and Ari’s mother’s face had clearly registered her surprise before she smoothed it into a smile and a welcome. After that they had been so nice, so warm and sweet that eventually she’d been put at ease, but the feeling of bone-deep mortification wasn’t one she would forget so fast.

“Ma, what do you mean, what do I mean? Remember what happened at the concert? And when he called me after that stupid hat trick? I was ready to break it off! Hello, he didn’t let me change to meet his parents, and I had to meet them in sneakers! In sneakers! After he texted me that we’re going hiking, which he still denies. I’ve been diffusing tension with Ari since those guys crashed our concert date. You think most girls have seen their chassan angry even once before they get engaged?”

She sagged back against the airplane seat, the passion suddenly drained out of her. “The thing is, intellectually, I know about all these issues. But emotionally, I keep being pulled to him, and I think it’s because at my core he makes me feel taken care of and appreciated and worthy of attention in a way I haven’t felt before. And I’m too scared to give that up and risk never finding that connection with someone ever again.”


“I’m soooo glad we did this.” Etty Pollak née Gutmacher stabbed her fork into her kale Caesar.

“Me, too,” said Chayala with a smile. “I haven’t seen you in ages, and I have some crazy stuff to catch you up on.” Her smile faded as she gave Etty a quick synopsis on the legal trouble her father had been dealing with. “That’s why my parents moved out of their house,” she finished. “Did I mention that to you? I must have, when I was moving into my apartment.”

“Omigosh, noooo, you didn’t. That’s crazy. Wait, your room is gone? I don’t know if I’m emotionally okay. I grew up in that room!”

Chayala barked out a laugh. “Join the club, Ett. That rose wallpaper is gone forever.”

Etty clucked sympathetically. “I really can’t believe it. And your father is suuuch a tzaddik! The thought of him jaywalking literally feels off to me, let alone him doing something serious.”

“Try telling that to his obnoxious lawyers. ‘Too nice to commit crimes’ is apparently not evidence admissible in court.” Chayala rolled her eyes, memories of her phone call with the attorney all too fresh in her mind.

Etty laughed. “Uh, hello! I’m practically a lawyer. You know I’ve been a true-crime lover since I was old enough to sneak murder mysteries home from the library. Put me on his jury!”

Chayala groaned. “I’m hoping it never goes to trial. I know it’s delusional, but I’m trying to find some… something to prove he had nothing to do with this, to clear his name. I thought I had a lead. I know who his partner’s daughter is, and I thought I could convince her to talk to me, but she blocked my cell and my work numbers.”

Etty chewed her kale thoughtfully. “I think we can think of something. The lawyers are probably bogged down in the paperwork, no? So let’s brainstorm stuff that’s not in the paperwork and see what we can find.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 837)

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