| Family First Serial |

Stand By: Chapter 22

I realize it’s obvious that I need to do real teshuvah here, and I need to ask mechilah


Dovid drove home from Ari’s vort, deep in thought. All this time, he’d relied on his inner compass to steer him in the right direction, and obviously, it had taken him on a wrong turn. He pulled into his driveway and cut the engine, itchy to process his tangled thoughts out loud.

He let himself in through the back door right off the kitchen. Thankfully, his mother was still awake.

“Hi, Ma,” he said and sat down heavily on one of the iron chairs around the kitchen table.

“Hi, Dov,” she replied. “Perfect timing. I’m waiting for my apple crisps to cool, and I could use the company. How was the vort?”

Dovid frowned. “Fine,” he said, and scrubbed a hand over his face.

His mother waited patiently.

“I need your advice, Ma,” he said, getting right into it.

His mother took a sip of her tea. “Of course. What’s the problem?”

Dovid sighed. “Basically, a few months ago, I saw something going on that I thought had the potential to really hurt someone who wasn’t viewing the situation clearly, so I did something a little… unorthodox… to try to influence the person to see things how I saw them. They didn’t see things my way in the end. I’m not upset about that, exactly, because I really didn’t want to be right in this situation, but I just feel bad that I might have… I don’t know. Overstepped? Gone too far? I’m not sure.”

His mother shot him a level look. “Dovid, what on earth are you talking about?”

Dovid groaned. “Fine. I’ll just tell you. It’s too confusing to hint at it.” He looked away.

“Do you remember I was asking you what to do about Ari a few months ago? I’ve been his chavrusa for a long time. He’s been good to learn with. He really forces me to get into things. But I have also gotten to know him pretty well, and he has some real challenges with his personality and his middos. I remember him from yeshivah days… he’s always been like this. That’s why I’m crazy medakdek with boundaries and stuff, and it works for me.” He toyed with his key fob, popping the valet key out and pushing it back in, out and back in.

“In all these years, I’ve never seen Ari date seriously, and he for sure never spoke about his dates with me. So when he started this parshah I felt like… I don’t know. Like maybe I had an achrayus. Not necessarily to end the shidduch, but just… If a guy like that was dating Etty, I would want people to do anything they could to show her what the reality was. Even if it hurt her in the moment.”

“Oh, Dovid,” said Mrs. Gutmacher softly, and he couldn’t look at her.

“I just thought it would help,” he said. He felt so utterly, naively stupid at how things had played out.

“What… what did you do?” asked his mother.

“He used to leave his phone out a lot. When he would take a coffee break, or if he would see someone he wanted to catch up with, whatever. The first time, he left it unlocked and opened to a text thread with Shimi Starr’s manager, arranging a private concert date for them. Very exclusive, you know. All I did was see when the date was — and it wasn’t like I didn’t know, anyway, since we worked out our learning schedule around Ari’s dating life — and I made up a little invitation and sent it to some people. I guess I figured he would get angry, she would realize he’s a guy who gets angry easily, and that would be it.” His face reddened as what he had done really began to sink in.

“But they kept dating. So the next time I saw his phone open, I texted his shadchan and pretended to be him. Nothing so crazy, just told her that he wanted to slow things down. I thought the shadchan would tell it to the girl, and maybe it would make her slow down a little, have some time to think, and realize the true colors of the boy she was dating.”

This story was getting painful to tell, but he just got it over with. “The last one was pretty bad, but I was getting desperate. I got into his phone again and texted the girl that he needed to change dates and that they would go on a hike instead of meeting his parents. That one I know hit a sore spot, because he was still upset that night when we learned.” Dovid looked up at his mother.

“I’m terrible, right? I know. Honestly, when I say it all out like this it sounds so much crazier than how it felt in my head. I just really wanted him to stop hiding this fake self, because when you know the real him, that fake smoothness is a hundred times more frustrating.”

Mrs. Gutmacher was quiet for a long moment. “Dovid,” she said finally. “Are you looking for advice, or do you think that getting this off your chest will clear your conscience?”

He swallowed. “I’m not looking to absolve myself here. The more I think, the more I realize it’s obvious that I need to do real teshuvah here, and I need to ask mechilah.”

His mother nodded. “You do. And Dovid.” She paused for a moment, as if searching for the words. “I get it. I know you, and I’m not surprised. You get so frustrated when you see a problem or something wrong in the world, and you feel a compulsion to fix it. You’ve been that way ever since you were little, and I daven that one day you’ll find someone who appreciates this about you as much as we do. You can change the world with a middah like that. But you need to learn an important truth, which is that it’s not good or healthy for you to act on that urge every time it strikes you.”

It turned out that Chayala had absolutely no idea who her father truly was.

She’d been in her office space, what, a year? And all this time she’d thought her father had used her conference room a handful of times, maximum. She wasn’t a micromanager, not that she was her father’s manager at all, and she wasn’t one to watch her security tapes unless she needed something, which she never had, until now.

She’d called her security company’s emergency after-hours number as soon as they’d left the vort, and thank goodness for heimish service providers. Isaac from Quality Security Services had been great, you could tell he was totally getting into the drama of the story Chayala had relayed to him, and promised he would email over the files of the last 90 days of footage, which was all they kept in their archive.

The files were massive, and by the time they’d downloaded it and then uploaded into a cloud for easy sharing among her friends, it was already past midnight. Chayala gave Shira, Aly, and Etty each a week’s worth of files to go through, and took the earliest ones for herself. They were marked with the dates. The first one was two weeks before her mother had invited her to that fateful Bouchon dinner. It felt like a year ago. She put in her airpods and pressed play on the first one, labeled Conf Room Cam, Sunday, 12 a.m.

She was looking down on her conference room, the very room where she sat now at the sleek table with her friends sprawled in ergonomic chairs and snacking on four kinds of loaded fries from Fry Fry Again (if you were subjecting your friends to digging through boring archives in the dead of night, you needed to preemptively bribe them to stay, a universal truth).

In the video on her screen, the room should have been dark and silent; it was midnight after all, but the lights were blazing, and Chayala could clearly see her father and Mike sitting in two chairs.

What in the world were they doing in her office at midnight?

Her father hadn’t mentioned anything within the last few months about this. It was super weird.

She pressed the forward arrow until it jumped to 8x speed, then got impatient and dragged her mouse down the timeline to skip over parts she didn’t need to see.

Aly got up to throw something out and paused behind Chayala’s chair, still holding a red-and-white-checked fry basket heaped with greasy napkins and remnants of fries topped with Israeli salad and lamb.

“You found something?”

“I… I think so. I need to see what this is before I even listen to see if it’s anything bad. It’s just so weird!” Chayala pointed to her screen. The daytime footage showed lots of Chayala herself; conducting sales meetings, bringing in a box of doughnuts for the crew, pacing back and forth while she was on the phone. But Sunday night, Monday night, Wednesday night, and Thursday night of that week all showed late-night meetings between Chayala’s father and his partner. Some started late, after midnight, like on Sunday’s video. But the footage from Thursday night was from 9:30 p.m. In most of them, Chayala’s father and Mike were together. Sometimes they were sitting and working, sometimes they were poring over a document or a laptop screen, sometimes they were speaking.

Aly was still looking over Chayala’s shoulder. “Look at them talking,” she said. “It’s going too fast to hear what they’re saying, but don’t they look kind of upset? Look at your father here!” Chayala paused the tape, and Aly pointed to the screen. Chayala’s father, usually the serene one, who always kept a cool head, even when he told Chayala he was being investigated for goodness’ sake, was angry.

“Omigosh,” breathed Chayala, and a tendril of fear slithered into her voice. “I think I found what I’m looking for.”

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 844)

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