Stand By: Chapter 8| February 7, 2023
Ari stalked back to Dassi. “Is that not the most outrageous thing you’ve ever seen? It took a lot of time and work to make this night special"
Mrs. Fried sat gingerly on the edge of Chayala and Dassi’s brand-new West Elm tweed couch. “Oatmeal colored?” She sniffed. “Well, I guess you don’t need to buy practical furniture at this stage of your life.”
Chayala stared, incredulous. “You said it was urgent. Did you need to urgently insult my new house?”
The expression on her mother’s carefully blank face dropped for a second, and Chayala regretted indulging her instinct to lash out. She saw the stress lines etched into the face most familiar to her, and her heart hurt for the burden she couldn’t help her parents carry.
“I’m sorry, that was rude,” she muttered, and got up from the oversized armchair she’d been curled up in and crossed the room to sit next to her mother. Some things were easier to say when you weren’t face-to-face.
“What’s going on, Ma?” Chayala asked softly.
Her mother sighed, long and low. She looked away and scrubbed a hand over tired eyes. “This is really hard for me to say. Things with Tatty are very serious, and I just need to talk about it. Don’t tell him I’m here, okay, Chay?”
Chayala sat very still, bracing herself for a conversation she desperately didn’t want to have.
“The situation with Tatty… I thought it was going to blow over. Tatty kept saying it wasn’t a big deal, the auditors would find whatever they wanted and realize he didn’t do anything wrong. You know your father! He would never put me in jeopardy, put us in jeopardy… I didn’t hear anything new for weeks. I thought once we moved, everything would be behind us, and we would never have to think about this nightmare again.
“But yesterday, six men with guns came into my house and took everything out of Tatty’s filing cabinets and his laptop and phone and everything.” Her voice was unsteady.
Chayala gaped. “They seized his assets? Was he… arrested?” Her voice was barely a whisper, and she knew her question wasn’t helping, but she had to know.
“Chas v’shalom!” exclaimed Mrs. Fried. “He didn’t do anything wrong, so he won’t be. Mike is coming back from China next week, and he’ll clear everything up.”
“Ma, are you saying that Tatty is being investigated for something you think his partner did and his partner left the country?” She knew her voice was too shrill, but she couldn’t regulate it.
Mrs. Fried closed her eyes for a long beat, and when she opened them, her mask was carefully back in place, her worry lines smoothed, and her mouth less pinched. “Mike would never hurt us. We’ve known him and Cathy for 30 years. You still have that fountain pen they gave you for your bas mitzvah, don’t you? We know them.”
She tugged at the starched white bow collar of her dress.
“Besides,” she added, “I would never let anything happen to this family while we still have all of you to marry off. Whatever’s going on with Tatty is just going to have to wait.”
“Ma…” Chayala started. “I think you should prepare yourself for outcomes that you might not—”
“CHAY!” her mother interrupted her. “Is that an Alexa on your counter? Those robots listen to everything you say! Throw it away right now!”
Ari Steiner held his hand up to block the door of the mirrored elevator and ushered Dassi in.
“Which floor?” she asked with a grin.
Ari didn’t say anything, but his thumb hit the button that said PH in block font, and he quirked a brow, waiting for her response.
“Why, oh why, am I not surprised?” asked Dassi, enjoying herself already.
The elevator glided to a stop, and the doors opened straight into a gilded 1920s-style lounge, with sightlines straight out to an enormous rooftop patio where a violinist was softly playing a very familiar Hallelu. “I keep thinking that it will be impossible for you to keep surprising me and yet, here we are,” said Dassi.
“Maybe the surprise is that there will always be surprises?” Ari asked.
Dassi smiled, half wishing Shira were here to see him being so nice, without subtext.
A waiter ushered them into navy velvet bucket chairs around a small table overlooking a bandstand, and beyond that, the blackness of the Atlantic Ocean. As she registered her surreal surroundings, someone crooned the lyrics to the song she knew so well into a live mic. Someone whose honey-rich voice was way, way too familiar.
Dassi’s head shot around to stare at Ari. “If you tell me this is real-life Shimi Starr, I’ll lose my mind right now.”
“Better find it,” said Ari in a singsong. She could tell he was feeling smug about her reaction.
Dassi tried to calm her racing mind. This was already a seventh date, sure, but hiring Shimi Starr? This felt… major. She took a deep breath and allowed the questions that had been hanging out in the back of her mind to quiet down.
Ari patted down his sports jacket, then frowned.
“Something wrong?” Dassi asked.
“I told my mother I would get a video of Mashiach Tomorrow for her, but I must have left my phone in the car.” He raised his right hand and gave a two-finger wave to the waiter standing by the door. “I left my phone in my car, get it from the valet,” he ordered, and handed him an orange ticket. His tone was irritated, bordering on aggressive.
Dassi froze, feeling awkward — for herself, for the poor waiter, for Ari. The questions whispered to her again. But before she could stutter out some insipid line to break the tension, Ari caught sight of a small crowd on the other side of the balcony, their phones held up in front of their faces, clearly recording Shimi Starr.
When he spoke to the waiter, Ari’s voice was icy, and Dassi’s confusion melted into fear. “I believe you’re aware I reserved this entire space,” he said evenly. “The. Entire. Space.”
He strode over to one of the guys standing with his phone held out. “This is a private concert,” he said coldly. “You have no right to be here. Please leave.”
The guy stopped recording. “Not sure what your problem is, but I got forwarded an invitation. Here,” he said, and he thrust his phone at Ari. On the screen was a black and gold invite with the details of the concert.
“Who did you get this from?” Ari demanded to know.
“Uh… my sister got it as a forward on her work chat. Sorry, man, I don’t know who sent it there.”
Ari looked thunderously at the maître d’, who assured Ari he wouldn’t allow anyone else to intrude, and then ushered the crowd back toward the elevator banks.
” And some idiot who thinks the world revolves around him totally ruins my plans.”
Dassi tried a smile, but he didn’t soften much.
Still clearly annoyed, Ari turned his attention to the superstar singing ten feet away from him. Shimi Starr, with the stage presence of a sold-out stadium tour, sang the final notes of Mashiach Tomorrow.
Dassi had never been more uncomfortable in her life.
“Was it good? I don’t know, Ma, I guess. I mean, he hired the actual Shimi Starr, so like, objectively, that’s a good night right there. But he got upset at someone who crashed the date, and I think it threw him off, so who knows what he’s thinking… I’m kind of nervous to hear what he’s going to say.”
She tucked her feet underneath her and grabbed the silvery throw blanket over her mother’s couch arm. “Plus, it was so, so awkward when he was mad at the guy. Two guys, actually,” she amended. “I’m still cringing from that.”
Her mother put down the magazine she’d been absentmindedly flipping through. “This is why I need you home for Shabbos, Dass! I need you to tell me what’s really going on with you, honey, not just the same, ‘Yeah, yeah, everything’s great.’ Even though I love hearing everything’s great, of course.”
She smiled warmly at her youngest daughter.
“He got annoyed when things weren’t perfect on the date he spent a fortune on just for you? I think you should think about the big picture. This is finally a guy who could really take care of you, Dass. He’s focused on you; he’s thinking about what you want. He goes above and beyond to make you happy. Shimi Starr! I mean, that’s really crazy.”
Mrs. Rubin-Kahn looked down at the magazine she was still holding and looked back up to meet Dassi’s uncertain gaze. “I would never try to influence you in any way, Dass,” she said softly. “But I think if your father had taken care of me in half the ways Ari seems to take care of you… things could have been really different.”
Mrs. Rubin-Kahn fell silent, thinking of the ten years she spent trapped in her first marriage. Her ex-husband had never once tried to make her feel she deserved to be treated like a person, let alone to be wined and dined and serenaded. She thought of the times she’d surreptitiously slipped into the local free gemach “store,” davening no one would recognize her while she picked out one outfit per child, knowing her husband had the funds to buy every item in the place, and knowing the lady behind the counter knew it, too.
She thought of the boxes that had been left by her doorstep every Erev Shabbos for three years and five months, boxes her husband smugly watched her unpack. “Not even tzedakah is good enough for you,” he’d said once.
She blinked and shook away the maudlin thoughts. “Dass… when you find something good you give it every chance you can. You can’t let this go,” she said softly.
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 830)
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