Stand By: Chapter 16| April 3, 2023
“Oh, come on. After everything in the last few weeks, this is the date that renders you speechless?”
Chayala’s heels clicked on the highly polished floor as she slipped out of the main hall to get a break from the music. Her cousin Perri’s wedding was tonight, and she was happy she had a chance to spend time with her siblings, whose comfortable commentary had been the background noise of her whole life… until recently. She’d felt a sad sort of solidarity with her sister Malky tonight, who’d been subject to almost as many pitying, lingering looks as she had. Chayala didn’t feel bad for herself, so why did the entire population of Lakewood take it upon themselves to do it for her?
She glanced around the spacious foyer, keeping her eyes peeled for her father. She spotted him sitting in an alcove off the main hallway, concentrating on his phone, and she walked over, her long organza skirt swishing softly.
Her father glanced up at the approaching footsteps, wariness etched into his face. “Ah, Chayala, it’s you,” he said, relief apparent in his voice. “Pull up a seat, come schmooze.”
She dragged over a nearby chair and allowed herself to take the pressure off her painful feet.
“How’s everything going? Any updates with the lawyers?”
Mr. Fried’s face shuttered. “Oy, Chayala, I’m sorry, sweetie, I don’t want to get into this here. It is what it is, and there’s not a lot we can do right now. Let’s leave it to the lawyers. We shouldn’t be mixing in.”
Chayala gaped at him, feeling decidedly at odds with the up-tempo dance music filtering in from the main ballroom a hundred feet away. “We shouldn’t be mixing in? Ta, how can you say that? We can’t just sit back and hope for the best.” She opened her notes app on her phone and consulted the list of leads she’d been working on. “I did a little research. There are a bunch of things we can try. I heard there’s this guy in Monsey — he’s supposed to be a huge askan and helps people with legal advice. He’s helped some people who were falsely accused of really crazy things. Why don’t you—”
Her father cut her off. “Chayala, I told you. It’s better if you leave it.”
“But there’s this guy, here, look, he actually was indicted for something similar, and he might have ideas for—”
“No,” said her father, finality in his tone.
Chayala felt her frustration rising, and she worked to tamp it down. Ever since she was a little girl, she’d struggled to keep calm when tensions were high, and now she felt like a child again, helpless, like she had no control. She took a steadying breath.
“Ta,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be you, if it’s too much. I can call, I’m happy to help, I want to.”
Her father looked away and shook his head. “Chayala, I don’t want to talk about it anymore. That’s it.”
It was Thursday night, and the four friends were in Aly’s car, takeout containers on their laps.
“So,” said Aly, taking a long sip of her Diet Dr Pepper. “I spoke to my principal on Monday about taking off next Friday, since I was planning on going back to Chicago for Shabbos, and guess if she said no. And then on Tuesday, my friend Shani — who’s also a speech therapist — mentioned that she was making a siyum kiddush for her husband and asked for Friday off. And the principal said yes!”
Dassi gasped in outrage. “That has to be a joke, Aly! Or like, totally illegal, no?” She dipped her pastrami eggroll into the sauce nestled into a wad of wax paper in the takeout container and took a bite.
“It should be, that’s all I know. And I would totally think it’s a weird coincidence, too, if my other friend Aliza from work — who happens to be single, too — hadn’t pointed out that the single girls never get a Friday day off approved.”
Shira clucked sympathetically. “Uch, that’s so not okay.”
“I know, right? And a shadchan told me last week that I shouldn’t be so cynical… Like hello? I’m not being cynical, I just want a vacation, please!”
Chayala finished her cholent and slipped the empty container back into its plastic bag. “Okay, Aly, you’re the least cynical person I’ve ever met, so I think you’re safe. And speaking of vacation, Dass,” she said with a grin and a poke through the space in the headrest. “Are you going to share vacation details with us, or are we going to have to torture it out of you?”
“Ooh, yeah, we want to hear!” said Shira. “You know, if Chayala wouldn’t keep us updated on your life, you would never tell us anything.” She grinned, but the joke didn’t quite make it to her eyes.
Dassi paused for a beat, wondering, not for the first time lately, how much detail she should divulge. When she was 19 and fresh out of seminary, she’d been cautioned by everyone — teachers, dating coaches, parents — to keep shidduch details to herself. But as she’d gotten older, she’d needed the solidarity and validation of friends who were in the same life stage as she was. And most of her dates ended terribly anyway, so who cares if her friends knew that?
Besides, the few times she had had something to share, they’d been happy and supportive. It was just… maybe she didn’t want them to be jealous of the flashy dates and exciting surprises? Or maybe she didn’t think she was accurately relaying that the connection she had with Ari went way beyond the flashy dates… the good and the complicated, and it was too hard to explain. Well, when in doubt, play it safe.
“Ha, guys, it was nothing. My mother and I went away for my birthday,” she said innocently. Too innocently. The three of them erupted with laughter.
“Dassi! No chance you’re getting away that easy, and it’s cute that you tried,” said Aly, pointing a spicy fry at Dassi.
Dassi rolled her eyes in defeat. “Okay, fiiine. But really it was no big deal! Basically, he arranged the trip and told my mother what the plan was so she could help with the packing stuff and come with me and talk to my stepfather about me taking off a day of work.”
She glanced up at three astonished faces and let out a short laugh. “Oh, come on. After everything in the last few weeks, this is the date that renders you speechless?”
Aly cleared her throat. “Okay, it sounds like a dream, and if anyone wants to throw me an all-expenses-paid vacation, please feel free—”
“Except not on a Friday,” interjected Chayala, and they all laughed.
“But didn’t you just have that terrible date when you met his parents?” Aly asked tentatively.
Dassi took a sip of water, then answered slowly. “We did, and I was really not happy about it. But then his mother was super nice and made me feel really comfortable, and I’m okay with how things ended up.” She thought about the conversation she’d had on the plane, and the clarity she’d felt. “I was telling the same thing to my mother. You guys know that if I give this up, there’s no guarantee I’ll ever find someone like this again.”
Ari’s AirPods rang in his ear. He glanced at the phone screen on his desk and saw that Mrs. Frankel was calling. Hmm, that was unexpected. She was his shadchan with Dassi, but they hadn’t needed her as the go-between in quite a few dates. Dassi was probably asking her to feel out when they would be making things official. He smiled knowingly.
“Hi, Mrs. Frankel,” he answered smoothly.
“Ari! Hi, I’m so glad I caught you. Do you have a minute?” She didn’t wait for his reply. “I wanted to discuss what’s been going on lately, because the signals I’m getting are quite confusing, and I don’t want this to cause any issues.”
Ari’s antennas went up. “I’m not sure I know what you mean,” he said cautiously.
Mrs. Frankel cleared her throat. “Well, the last time you and I were in touch, you said you wanted to slow things down, didn’t you? And now Dassi tells me she met your parents, and you’re sending her on a vacation? Ari, that is the opposite of slowing down! And I’m not saying you shouldn’t move things along, I’m just saying, either slow things down or speed things up, but you shouldn’t do both.”
She stopped, and Ari let the silence stretch out for a beat.
“What are you talking about?” he asked, annoyance and impatience encroaching on his good mood. “I never told you I wanted to slow things down.”
She paused, confused. “Ari. You texted me, remember? Here, I’ll send you the screenshot.”
He picked up his phone to open the incoming text. There it was, as clear as day.
Something was obviously very, very wrong. Uncertainty rose in his chest. Then something clicked in his head. I also never told Dassi about the date being changed.
Once again, his success, his happiness was clearly threatening someone else. He felt a rage, white-hot, surge through his veins, but he was a master at keeping it under control. When he finally spoke, his voice sounded calm. Pleasant, even. “I’m sorry, but I need to go and figure out what’s going on.” He moved to hang up the phone, but then interjected, “To clarify things one hundred percent, we’re not slowing down at all. I’m planning on proposing in another few dates.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 838)
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