“Naomi. Can you just tell me what happened at that park? You’re scaring me”
he room fills with the scent of frying pancakes. I place a bottle of real maple syrup on the counter and a platter of sliced fruit, my contribution to Sunday brunch. Ma wanted to send me with Bosco’s junk syrup, but no way was I bringing that to Debbi’s. I used my own ten dollars to buy the real thing, but it was worth it.
Debbi flips a pancake expertly and looks at me, eyebrows raised in an “are you impressed” way. I give her a thumbs-up and then plop down at their island. They have the prettiest kitchen, all cream-colored wood and brass handles, with these amazing brown leather bar stools. I’d be embarrassed for Debbi to see our old, orange kitchen, except I know she couldn’t care less. She’s not shallow like that.
“I feel blue,” I say, shoulders slumping forward.
Debbi sits next to me and puts a gentle hand on my knee.
“Naomi. Can you just tell me what happened at that park? You’re scaring me.”
I blow air out of my lungs so hard that my ponytail ruffles up. “Nothing! Nothing happened! I got no clarity, no explanations, just more questions.”
Debbi purses her lips sympathetically. “And it was that bad?”
“Debbi… she looks nothing like the Shan from camp. Like, nothing. Not her hair, not her clothes, even her laugh is different. And that was like, what, two months ago? How does someone change that drastically in so short a time?”
Debbi looks at me steadily, her eyes huge. “They don’t. Not unless… something terrible happened.”
“Or,” I say slowly, “the camp Shan was the fake one?”
Libby has a date. I know this because I just heard her on the phone with Miri and she said, “Help, I have a date.”
I’m a detective, I know.
So naturally, I don’t offer her any privacy or respect any boundaries whatsoever. Hey, what are sisters for?
I’m kidding, though, I just know she won’t mind my company.
I plunk myself cross-legged on her bed and put my chin in my hand, watching her do her makeup.
I pick the moment she applies mascara to start asking her questions, because obviously, it’s impossible to speak while you apply eyeliner and mascara.
“Are you excited for your date?”
“Have you gone out with this one before?”
I crack up. “Got it.”
She finishes her makeup, sprays herself into a setting mist, and turns to me.
She looks beautiful.
“Ahem. I am not really excited, no, and I have not met this one before.”
I waggle my eyebrows at her. “Ooooh.”
She gives me a look. “I stopped saying ooooh around seven boys ago.”
Libby’s only 21 but she started shidduchim when she was 19. Burned out is a good way to describe her current state. It doesn’t help that both Miri and Sima married their first boys.
“Well, he has as good a chance as any, right?” I say hopefully.
Libby laughs and boops my nose. “Cutie. Right!”
I watch her as she holds two dresses up to herself in the mirror, a gorgeous blue and a sophisticated black.
She’s such a great person, my sister, so worked on, so mature.
“It should be with hatzlachah,” I say softly, finally leaving her to get ready in peace.
“Amen,” she calls after me, the word echoing around the hallway.
Today is taking around seven years. I yawn, squeeze my eyes shut, open them, rotate my neck, stretch, kick off my shoes, slip them back on. There’s still 40 minutes left to class.
How is that even possible? I decide to make a time table. I write 40, then 30, then 20, then 10, then I draw a picture of a very cute bell. I color a dark circle next to the 40, then lay my chin on the desk and space out. When I look up at the clock next, there are 31 minutes left. When it reaches 30, I applaud silently and color a dark circle next to the 30. We’re getting somewhere.
Ma is oblivious to my lack of attention. And truthfully, I think I might be the only one spacing out; everyone else seems enraptured by Ma’s class. Maybe I should start listening? I think about this for a minute and then shake my head. Nah.
I totally would, except that I don’t want to.
I start humming “Never Alone” by Shaindy Plotzker and Bracha Jaffe in my head.
And then music fills the classroom. Omigosh, am I singing out loud?
No, no, this tune is tinny and melodious and oh, no….
It’s somebody’s cellphone. One of my classmate’s snuck a cellphone into school and the brilliant child left the ringer on.
Oh no oh no oh no.
Oh, Hashem, not in Ma’s class. Please no! Oh, this is going to be the end of my social life as we know it.
Ma stops teaching and looks around the classroom.
“That’s really unfortunate,” she says quietly. “Really, really unfortunate.”
A room filled with frozen faces looks back at her.
And I slowly crumble inside.
To be continued...
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 974)
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