| Family First Serial |

Stand By: Chapter 21

“I’m sure you don’t want me to be uncomfortable right? The same way I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. Ever.”


Dassi delicately picked her way down her mother’s staircase in her new cream suede heels, thinking about every time she’d gone down this very set of stairs to meet some nameless face over the years.

When she was straight out of seminary, she’d paraded down the stairs like an utterly awkward spectacle, after the boy had sat down and schmoozed awkwardly (the rugelach shuffle, her stepfather called it), until her mother would say, “Let me go see if Dassi’s ready,” as if she hadn’t been ready and peeking out the window, her stomach a ball of nerves. Eventually she’d moved on with the times and met the boy downstairs when he walked in, but when she walked down the stairs in heels, that’s what her mind flashed back to, every time.

And now she never had to think about another horrible first date ever again, and the pure joy that thought alone gave her… it was enough to smooth out any of the last few months’ rough edges.

Ari was waiting downstairs for her in the living room, in a new suit and shiny shoes, his tie matching her ivory dress. He laughed politely at something her mother said and turned to greet her, and in that moment she felt happiness wash through her, surreal, but also true and strong.

After they’d taken pictures together in the study, and a few more in the living room, her mother turned to her. “We’ll meet you at the hall,” she said. “Ari, park close by so Dassi doesn’t have to walk too far in those shoes.” Then she left in her stepfather’s car, leaving the door ajar since Dassi and Ari were set to follow right behind them.

Ari turned to Dassi. “Wait a sec, actually, before we leave. Can you change your shoes?” He looked her in the eye. “We’re basically the same height now, it’ll be weird in pictures.”

Dassi faltered for a minute, feeling bad she hadn’t considered it. Ari was at least five inches taller than she was, but with heels on, it was true, that gap was somewhat closed. But like… this was her vort outfit!

“Uh… I wish I had another pair that matched, but I don’t. I’m sorry!” She felt bad, but honestly, not that bad. Her vort shoes were amazing. And who asked a kallah to change when she was on the way out to her own vort? No one, that’s who.

Ari’s smile hardened. “I’m uncomfortable with us being the same height in pictures,” he said silkily, almost pleasantly, but his voice had developed a hard edge. “I’m sure you don’t want me to be uncomfortable right? The same way I don’t want you to be uncomfortable. Ever.”

Dassi’s eyes fluttered closed for a brief moment, then she looked back at him. “I really don’t want to do this now,” she said quietly.

“Then don’t,” he replied tersely.

She stood there for another moment, hands clammy, genuinely unsure if she was about to march out the door and hope Ari followed, or if she would acquiesce to his request. What if he didn’t follow her? What if this turned into a whole thing and her dumb shoes ruined their whole vort, the moment she’d been waiting for, for so many years? She ran through it all in her head, and then ran it through again. Then she sighed and went back upstairs.

“Daaaaassiiiiii!” The crowd of well-wishers hadn’t waned all night, and Dassi was loving every attention-soaked minute. The turnout was pretty fantastic, if she did say so herself. Her cousin Shoshy gave her a squealy hug (three grades younger than she was, just had her fourth, not that anyone was counting), and she pointed out Ari across the mechitzah with a smile.

Her uncle Pinny popped his head into the women’s side and waved her over. “L’chayim, kallah!” he said, and toasted her with a shot of something clear. She grinned wide as he gave her an exuberant brachah. Obviously not his first l’chayim of the night. The crowd was thicker here, close to the mechitzah, and Ari was right on the other side, having a l’chayim with a knot of friends.

Shira was close, too, and she wove through the throngs to stand close enough to Dassi to speak without shouting. “Hi, Dass! How are the feet?”

Dassi gave her a thumbs-up, ignoring the pang of the reminder that her feet should actually be hurting, but they weren’t because she was in an okay pair of black heels — lower, which was all that mattered — she’d broken in ages ago.

“Can I get you anything? Some seltzer? Maybe some fruit?” Shira asked.

Dassi shook her head with a smile and grabbed Shira for a quick squeeze. “Thanks, Shira, I’m good. You’re the best for asking, though.” Shira responded with a wink and melted back into the crowd.

“Who was that?”

Dassi whirled around. Ari had broken away from his group of friends.

“Hi,” she said, smiling like a girl who had every eye in the room on her. “Shira, remember? We met her by cholent a few weeks ago.”

His smile was fixed, but he raised his eyebrow. “Ah, right. She gives off a weird vibe, no? I guess you’re going to have to start over with friends when we go to Israel anyway.”

What on earth did that mean? But Ari had turned away to talk to someone who’d just slapped him on the back, and there were eyes everywhere, so she wasn’t going to bring him back to ask.

Chayala ducked and wove through the crowd, waving at her parents who’d just stopped in to say mazel tov. “Hi, Ma, hi, Ta,” she said cheerfully. She pulled her skirt out in a little pre-curtsy move and winked at her mother. “Don’t worry, I wore that dress of mine you really like.”

Her mother smiled. “I wasn’t worried,” she said.

“Gotta keep those shadchanim happy,” quipped Chayala. She lowered her voice conspiratorially. “Should I wear it to Malky’s vort, too?”

Her mother shushed her. “Chay! Not in public. And you’re definitely getting something new.” Chayala laughed. Her parents went off to find Dassi’s parents, and Chayala made her way over to Shira and Aly.

“Fancy meeting you two here,” she joked.

Aly grinned. “Im yirtzeh Hashem by youuuuuu” she gushed, and Chayala and Shira cracked up. Shira grabbed Aly’s hand dramatically. “Aly, you’re soooo special. Suuuuch a good friend. Dassi’s lucky to have you all these years.”

Aly rolled her eyes, still laughing. “Jokes, but all true jokes,” she said.

Chayala dabbed the corner of her eye, thankful for waterproof mascara and friends that made you laugh when you needed it. She spotted Etty across the room and waved her over.

“Ohmigosh, you guys,” gushed Etty, and a wave of laughter threatened to take Chayala down. “I just haaaaad to come tonight! Too big a simchah to miss!” Chayala studiously avoided catching Aly and Shira’s eyes and bit her cheek.

“Hi, Etty,” said Shira, always the polite one. “Thanks again for sending Chayala the livestream link.”

“My pleasure. It was sooo cute, no? And so smart that the guy who set it up had a mic on Ari, so we got to hear all the good stuff.”

Shira grimaced. “I don’t know. Would you want a mic on you when something major is happening? Especially when you don’t even know who’s listening on the other end.”

“Yeah,” Aly said. “I didn’t close the livestream right away, and they were talking to each other after the whole engagement was over. I bet they didn’t even know they were still being recorded!”

Chayala saw Etty freeze. She shot her a look. Old friend code for everything okay?

Etty looked back at her with gaping eyes. “I just had a craaaazy thought,” she said. She glanced around, remembered they were standing elbow to elbow with half the world and Chayala’s parents. “Come out to the hallway for a sec.”

The four of them slipped out the side door and stood in a dimly lit corner past the coat room. Etty was quiet, and Chayala could tell that her mind was going a thousand miles a minute.

“You said they probably didn’t know they were being recorded,” said Etty. “And it made me think of things people might say on camera that could get them into trouble.” She looked at Chayala wildly. “You know when you hear something and then your brain just jumps to something else and you don’t even know what made you think of it? As soon as Aly said that I remembered, Chayala, that when you redid your office this past year you told me your father was super involved in the renovations, right?”

“Yeah,” said Chayala slowly. “I’m not following. Why does that have to do with anything?”

Etty shushed her. “Listen for a sec. Didn’t you tell me that one reason your father helped you out with the planning was because he wanted to use your conference room for days he didn’t want to go to the city? Like, almost like a local office?”

Chayala frowned. “Yeah, but how does that help? The lawyers already checked my office to see if they left any files or papers anywhere. They didn’t. Besides, he never used my conference room when I was there. I think he came in once or twice on a Sunday, maybe once at night. I don’t think it was that often.”

Etty looked at her impatiently. “Papers? Have you listened to a single crime podcast ever? Think like a criminal, Chayala! If your father’s partner was doing something he shouldn’t be doing, he wouldn’t leave a paper trail. But I know for a fact that you put an audiovisual security system into your building. They for sure said something the system picked up!”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 843)

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