| Family First Serial |

Stand By: Chapter 7  

Dassi’s mother paused for a second too long, and in that moment, Dassi knew, and her stomach turned over


IT was five minutes until the other half of the Four were supposed to show up, and Chayala would have felt a lot better about the whole situation if her fancy, brand-new white-on-white Glencove Road kitchen wasn’t thick with smoke at that very moment. She hit the exhaust fan button, pulled the neck of her navy cotton sweater up over her mouth and nose, and indulged in a breath before she took the whole pan of roast chicken out of the oven and placed it on the counter, splashing hot grease a little too close to her third-favorite skirt.

She took her oven mitts off and surveyed the damage as Dassi bounced into the kitchen.

“You smell something burning?” asked Dassi, looking around.

Chayala turned slowly, and her lip quivered. For one horrified second, Dassi thought she’d made a mistake, and her hand rose up, as if to snatch the thoughtless words back out of the air where they hung.

Then Chayala doubled over, letting out peals of laughter. “The first time — we have the girls — for supper — and it’s Aly’s birthday — and I burned supper!” she gasped in between fits. She grasped the counter for support and succumbed to the hysterics. Dassi’s answering laugh had a definite tinge of relief in it.

Dassi cautiously eyed the roasting pan. “Should we just get Ess N Fresh a night early? Not to be pedantic or anything, but I just read a thing on how burnt food is a carcinogen, and if I’m going to go in my twenties it better be because I was skydiving or something fun.”

“Cholent on a Wednesday is pathological,” wheezed Chayala, still not calm.

Their new doorbell played its three-note chime, and Dassi turned to the door.

“Get your hopes dooooown,” she sang, and wrenched the door open to find, not her friends, but a masked delivery man, staggering under the weight of three fragrant and enormous brown paper takeout bags. Her eyes traveled over the white kashrus tape crisscrossing the handles, with the words MISO MISO MISO repeating every two inches. She looked at Chayala, who shrugged.

“I’m as clueless as you are right now,” she said, as she rushed forward to help the delivery guy bring the bags in.

Dassi hit two on speed dial, and grinned as her mother picked up on the first half ring, per usual.

“Hi, Dass!” said Mrs. Rubin-Kahn, with her warm, smiling voice that could remind you in an instant that a burned supper wasn’t the end of the world. “Are you getting ready for your dinner? Do you still need a recipe for mashed potatoes?”

Dassi grinned into the receiver. “Hilarious, Ma. You almost got me! How did you know we would have to resort to takeout? And Miso is Aly’s favorite, she’ll be thrilled.”

Dassi’s mother paused for a second too long, and in that moment, Dassi knew, and her stomach turned over. “I didn’t order anything for you, hon,” she said slowly. “Why, should I have?”

Dassi was momentarily distracted by Aly’s and Shira’s arrival. “Hmm? Oh, no reason. I was kidding. I’ll talk to you later, Ma!” She disconnected and ran three steps to the kitchen to the MISO bag. She ripped off the long receipt stapled to the outside and stared at the bottom, where the total read $0.00, and the little area where you put in special instructions showed a light-blue boxy receipt font that read: I figured I could either rent another place out, or I could bring the restaurant to you.

Dassi felt her cheeks heat up and startled when Shira paused from her careful unloading of the parade of takeout containers and snatched the slip of paper out of her hands.

“This bill is going to be insane even if we split it four ways, Dassi!” She trailed off as she read the note on the bottom. She looked up, clear eyed and neutral-faced. Shira was a great therapist, but when she slid into mental health counselor mode around her friends, it was a clear tell she was worried. Shira drew her two steps further into the kitchen and lowered her voice.

“I’m so sorry, Dass, I didn’t mean to read that. I thought it was a normal receipt. Is this… from the guy you’re dating?”

Dassi recovered quickly and flashed Shira her signature grin. “You said it, it was on a receipt, so not exactly a state secret,” she chuckled and took a deep breath. She stepped back out of the kitchen.

“Might as well say this story once guys, so grab food and come sit down!” She avoided Shira’s eyes fastidiously as she sat cross-legged on the new beige high pile rug that had come the day before. Aly flopped down beside her, practically hugging some chicken potstickers.

Chayala dragged over a kitchen chair and poured a soy sauce packet over the beef negimaki she’d selected. “If you’re about to tell me you anticipated that I would shop for, cook, and then burn a whole dinner, I want you to think long and hard about sharing that with me, and remind yourself that we’re stuck together for the duration of this lease,” she said, her voice light.

Shira was silent, as Dassi knew she would be.

Dassi took a bite to give herself the extra few seconds, then shrugged and plunged in. “Joking aside for a second, are you ready for something a little crazy?” She looked down and fiddled with her napkin, avoiding what she knew would be three expectant gazes. “So the guy I’m dating is a drop… intense. A few nights ago was our fifth date, which you knew, but what I didn’t mention was that he… um… rented the restaurant out for us.” She mumbled the end bit, hoping to gloss over it.

“What?” Chayala said.

“He rented the restaurant out for us,” she repeated.

“What do you mean, ‘us’?” asked Aly

What do you mean “rented?” exclaimed Shira.

Dassi powered through. “It means the restaurant was empty, except for me, him, a very small manager guy, and the rest of the staff. It was crazy, I know! If any of you would be telling this to me, I would tell you in a second how crazy it is. But he said he wanted to have an opportunity to get to know me better with no distractions, and I gotta say, he succeeded.”

She looked at Shira, as though daring her to challenge her.

“Anyway, I mentioned to him that we’re having dinner all together tonight, and I guess he wanted to make things easier.” She leaned back against the couch leg and took a bite of her spring roll.

Aly broke the silence. “The only fifth dates I go on are exclusively in Dave and Busters, so I say, lucky you. And in unrelated news, if anyone would like to challenge me to a Skee-Ball competition, I would be delighted to cream you.”

Everyone laughed, and even Shira and Dassi’s shoulders relaxed.


As she was applying her usual nightly skincare routine (exfoliant, cleanser, retinol, hyaluronic acid, night cream), Chayala’s phone buzzed. Etty Pollak, that was cute. She hadn’t spoken to her in ages. She used her knuckle to pick up the call. “Hi, Etty! Everything okay?”

Etty’s voice was hushed.

“Hi, Chay, sorry I need to be quiet cuz Chaim Tzvi literally wakes up if I blink too loud. How aaaaare yooouuu?” The effects of her usually effusive manner were somewhat dampened by her whispering. “It’s been aaaaaaages.”

Chayala rolled her eyes good-naturedly, but indulged her oldest friend.

“What’s up, Etty? How are the kids?”

“Amaaaaaazing. You’re gonna get Avigdor’s upsheren invite soon. It’s crazy how big he is already.” She paused for a breath then continued whisper-screaming. “I was just at my mother’s house for Shabbos and we were aaaaaall talking about you, because I brought those bars you gave me the recipe for ages ago, remember? And they were so good as usual, and my mother could not get over how you’re so geshikt, and it’s so crazy that we have to get you married.”

“I know, your mother—” Chayala tried to interject, which was foolish, since she knew the best tactic with Etty was to wait her out.

“Anyway, I was thinking about Dovid’s friend Yishai? He’s a few years older than Dovid, so more like our age, maybe even a little older. He used to be super picky, but he’s turning 30, so I feel like he probably chilled out a little. But my mother said I should leave her to it, and she has another idea for you and so she’s going to call you. Not sure if it’s Yishai or not, he’s Dovid’s only other single friend that’s actually normal. Is it just me or do the girls stay regular even after they’ve been dating for a while, but the boys get weird?”

Chayala muted the phone to laugh, horrified as Dassi walked into her room to catch the last sentence. “I take no responsibility,” she said weakly, then unmuted to add in a convincing “uh-huh” to punctuate Etty’s soliloquy.

Etty barreled on. “Anyway, I haven’t seen you in ages! Let’s go out one night this week. Ezzy has his chavrusa at night, but I can get a babysitter if I leave after the kids are in bed, so like eightish. Is that too late for supper?”

Chayala grimaced at her own reflection in the vanity, but gave a cheery “Sure!” then added, “I really appreciate you thinking of me, Etty.”

Etty whispered loudly, “Thank my mother, you know she loves you!”

Chayala looked at the clock. “I’ll text her in the morning. Even though, if she hasn’t changed much, she’s probably still up until two every night.”

“Probably,” laughed Etty. “I wouldn’t know. I can’t afford to keep my eyes open past 11 with this crazy teething baby of mine. But I’m sure you still pull those crazy night hours, right? You can keep my mother company since all her married daughters can’t.”

Chaya rolled her eyes again. Her phone, darkened from the speakerphone conversation, lit with an incoming text.

It was from her mother.

Please let me know when it’s a good time for you, I need to speak to you about something important. Please don’t mention this to Tatty.

“Gotta go, Etty,” said Chayala, and rather than giving her mother the gift of a read receipt, powered her phone right off.

Then she sighed, deeply and heavily, powered it back up, and dialed.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 829)

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