| Vacancies |

Vacancies: Chapter 7

She wore the one with the “best” charm for one day, then took it off and hid it in her sock drawer. What if someone realized that nobody was wearing the “friend” charm?


he ten thirty spin clique was back.

They were too skinny for their own good. Naomi watched them, pretending to sort the register.

The woman with the beautiful suntan (double shot espresso, skim milk, no sugar) was complaining loudly. “Nothing to eat at the bris. Yes, there were salads, but they were drowning in sugary dressings, and then there’s the barbecue at my in-laws. The wedding’s in six weeks and there’s no way I’m fitting into my gown.”

Naomi frowned. The woman was a matchstick.

The auburn lady with the funky jewelry leaned in and proposed something. A weight loss bet?

“It’s not possible,” the tall, dark one — she always sat against the wall, wore too much mascara — said flatly.

Auburn was emphatic. “I thought so too until I tried it! Veggie juices are filling and delicious.”

“What about eggs? Can we have eggs? Dairy?” The suntanned lady looked sad. “Wait, I’m not giving up my coffee! No way.”

Naomi turned away, annoyed. These ladies were so obsessed. And they smelled like New York.

For a fleeting moment, she could feel the sun on the back of her neck, the scent of pine and earth and loneliness, the ruckus of a thousand cheering girls. Grilled cheese and misery and lumpy potato soup. Those chunky metal bracelets on everyone’s wrists, the ones that came with a “best” charm and a “friend” charm, they all wore them. It was your witness: You had friends.

She finally bought one of those too, on a trip to Woodbourne three weeks into the summer. She wore the one with the “best” charm for one day, then took it off and hid it in her sock drawer. What if someone realized that nobody was wearing the “friend” charm?

The door chimed, a young man wearing a baby carrier entered, followed by his wife. Naomi forced herself to smile. Inside, she felt ill. Since when was she this black pessimist, gathering snippets from other people’s conversations, and staring down her nose at anyone a little too elegant?

She used to be a nice person.

The wife, wearing a boldly colored scarf, greeted Julio at the sandwich bar. “Hello, there. Can we please have two omelet sandwiches?”

“Bagel, roll, baguette?”

Naomi rested her palms on the cold stone of the counter and closed her eyes. Soon the room was full of the smells of buttery omelets, frying onions and mushrooms. She heard the baby gurgle, muted banter from the gym ladies, the rustle and clang from Julio working at the sandwich bar.

She sighed and opened her eyes. This was a pleasant place. Toasty in the winter, a cool island in the summer heat. Small rectangular tables and brick walls and all the comforting café smells, coffees and muffins and eggs, simple and dependably delicious.

The auburn lady was still talking.

Naomi licked her lips. Goodness, she was being ridiculous, projecting her past insecurities onto others, and what, in the name of open-mindedness? She’d tolerate the trendy women, she would be kind. Even if they reminded her of the torture called camp.

A man on a bluetooth entered, followed by two teens in uniform skirts. The couple took their sandwiches to a corner table. Naomi headed over to the gym clique.

“Hello, ladies,” she said, as brightly as she could. “Everything good? Happy with your orders?”

The tall lady nodded, eyes hooded. The one with the suntan smiled. “Yes, thank you. Your lattes are the best.”

“So glad to hear that, thank you! Do you need anything else?” Naomi bit her tongue. Ugh, that sounded so saleslady-ish.

“I wish.” The suntan lady sighed. “But I can’t have any of those goodies. If only you’d have some lighter menu options...”

“Yeah, like spelt muffins, sugar-free—”

“And juices,” Auburn declared. “We really could use a juice bar here.”

Naomi raised her eyebrows. “Seriously? You think anyone will get a spelt muffin when we have those?” She waved her hand in the direction of the muffin trays. She knew them all by heart. Ginger Pecan. Lemon blueberry. Cheese ‘n’ chocolate.

Auburn looked insulted. “Spelt muffins will sell like hotcakes. Just please make sure the ingredients are organic, and I hope they don’t go next to aluminum or plastic at any point, do they? And what about the oils? What oils do you use?”

The bluetooth guy was ready to pay.

“Hmm, several,” Naomi said evasively, then added quickly. “Thanks for your ideas, ladies! I’ll definitely think about them.”

She processed the man’s payment, then watched the gym ladies collect their bags and leave. She looked after them thoughtfully.

Yes, they were mildly obnoxious. But was what they were asking for so outrageous? Didn’t she want everyone to feel comfortable in her café? Chaykie would be thrilled if she added a juice bar, gratified that her clients were getting energized with healthy food. And honestly, some more fruit and vegetables wouldn’t hurt anyone.

So why did thinking about smoothie flavors make her feel like she was waving a white flag?

Toby was waving anxiously from the window. “Ma!” She screamed, “Esti is making a dance class! She wants me to come!”

Naomi clicked her car keys and laughed. “I’m coming right up, Toby.”

She was glad to see Toby. That age didn’t last long enough — the age when life sparkled, when ponytail clips and new notebooks and a friend’s birthday party were all cause for screaming-from-the-window excitement.

“Ma!” Toby accosted her at the door. “We’re having a dance class! And she wants me to come too. Can I go, pleasepleaseplease?”

Naomi smiled. “Hello to you too. How was school today? Did you finish painting your flower pot?”

Toby squinted. “Oh, yeah — but it’s still drying. Ma!”

Naomi dropped her bag. “Dance class? What are you going to learn?”

“Ballet,” Toby said, in a sophisticated tone.

Naomi blinked. What did Toby know about dance, about ballet? These ridiculous after-school, pre-camp, midwinter, anytime programs, promising to teach the kids every imaginable art under the sun while really what they were doing was fostering competitiveness… thank goodness, Bayton wasn’t into these.

Not yet, anyway.

“So can I go?”

No, you’re doing perfectly well without it. “We’ll see.”

It felt good to change into a snood. Today was a meatballs and spaghetti night, which meant the kids would eat, which meant a happy night. The meatballs filled the house with that rich, nurturing smell, which always made her feel like a good mother.

She called Chaykie as she set the table. One of the gym ladies had left her (Swarovski-studded Chanel) sunglasses in the café.

“That’s so nice of you,” Chaykie gushed. “I’ll bet it’s Dina’s. I’ll make an announcement tomorrow. By the way, we may be getting a new tenant soon.”


“Yes, a clothing boutique. Really ritzy, from what I hear.”

“Oh?” Naomi tried to keep her voice even.

“Yep! I’m sure they’ll like it — it’s a great space, and they’ll have great neighbors.” Chaykie laughed.

Toby was back, tugging her sleeve. Devori yelled something from the living room. A crash from somewhere, followed by a wail.

Talia, Naomi thought.

“I’m sure they will,” she managed. “I gotta go now, Chaykie.” She needed time to stew, needed to get out of the kitchen.

“Supper!” she called.

Toby stood at her elbow as she dished out spaghetti, keeping up a steady monologue. “...and anyway, she’s a new girl, Ma, you know? So it’s a mitzvah to go to her dance class. And I—”

“New girl?” Naomi placed a dish in Toby’s hands. “Go, sweetie, to the table.”

“Yeah! Esti Leitner. And she doesn’t have a father.”


Oh oh oh.

Leitner. New girl.

It was Talia. Of course.

She wouldn’t stop at one thing, that woman, would she? Here she comes, fresh and splashy, straight out of her New York penthouse, slamming into happy, mild, low-key Bayton and she was trying to remake the place. What nerve.

Out loud, she said, “Toby, I’ll have to ask Tatty what he says.”

Someone has to stop her.

The thought felt radical. Ugly, even. This was not her, not Naomi who didn’t have a snobby bone in her body, as her sister liked to say. But still. A dance class was bad enough, but there was no way this high-end, ridiculously priced clothing boutique was coming to the Shoppes at Legacy Hill.

She doesn’t have a father. Was Talia widowed? Divorced? Naomi bit her lip, trying to crush the swell of… what was it? Guilt? Pity? Not that it changes the reality, she told herself quickly.

If Talia liked New York, she was welcome to go back there. Bringing in outrageous boutiques would promote an attitude of materialism in Bayton and it wasn’t nice, or right. Or Jewish, for that matter.

Did Talia think this was a game? Naomi could play, too.

(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 659)

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