Batya Myski buzzed us into the Wedding Center.
“Mina! VIP customer.”
“I guess we can start right away, then,” she said. “No forms, huh?”
I winced. Yay for protektziya, or I’d be expected to fill out a form — a form I had worded — that included a member ID, which I didn’t have.
“We’ll start on our own,” I told Batya. “I know my way around, don’t get up.”
Shevy and I made our way through the cavernous showroom to the bedroom furniture section. At least Rubinstein had agreed that the Wedding Center’s doors would be open to the public, albeit with a different price structure. So really, we were following the takanos. To some degree, anyway. We would try to keep our spending under forty grand, even without the benefit of the loan.
I was admiring an interesting headboard — straight cut, tufted leather — when Shevy turned to me. “How much do these sets run for, by the way?”
I blinked. “Why are you asking?”
“Oh, just wondering. Tzirel’s bedroom furniture cost $9,000. And she says there are sets that go for eleven or twelve. So I’m curious.”
Curious — or envious?
“That’s nuts,” I said. “You realize that, right?”
Fury simmered in my chest. What made a girl think her parents should buy her bedroom furniture for $9,000? They cost between two to three thousand at the Wedding Center, and they were gorgeous, even if they weren’t Italian. “Insane,” I muttered.
Shevy shrugged. Then her eyes lit up. “Heeey, I like this set,” she said gleefully, pointing at a dresser with a suspended mirror. “I think Tzirel got something similar, from the way she described it. Think it’s an imitation?”
Tzirel, Tzirel, Tzirel. Incredible how my mature and sensible daughter was still in that juvenile my-friend-got-that-I-want-it-too stage. “Does it matter what Tzirel got?” I snapped.
Shevy blushed. “N-no, I’m just saying… It’s pretty.”
Ugh. I wanted to stuff the words back in. This was Shevy’s time, why did I go and ruin it for her?
And then I got angry. Tzirel! The girl who’d driven her mother nuts to get a gown from Yocheved, how dare she set the bar for my daughter? And where was she getting a gown from, for goodness’ sake?
The curiosity was killing me. Had they come to their senses and gone to a rental? I had to know. Now.
I turned to Shevy, who was testing the dresser’s drawer tracks, and said casually, “Shev, does Tzirel — uh, is she happy with her gown?”
Shevy slid the drawer closed. “I think so. I mean, she didn’t mention it in a while, but she sounded excited about it. What do you think? You get to see it.”
So Shevy was clueless, confirmed. I walked over to the dresser she’d pointed out and ran my palm over the surface. “This is a nice piece,” I said.
There were two kallahs in the showroom when I returned to the boutique.
My first thought was, ouch, whose mistake was this? We were careful not to overlap appointments. Kallahs deserved privacy. But sometimes people came early or late and—
My eyes darted between the two kallahs, absorbing the scene. Dread pooled in my stomach. One kallah was Sarah Levinson. Beautiful, glittering Sarah Levinson, resplendent in a puff of white. A fairytale bride.
A tall and slim fairytale bride.
The other kallah, who was gazing at Sarah with downcast eyes, was… not tall and not slim. She hunched her shoulders, as though to hide her clunky frame. There was a listlessness about her. At her side, her mother was staring at Sarah with despondent awe.
My heart went out for them. You’ll look beautiful, too, I wanted to scream. She would. I would make it my business, I’d personally design a gown that would make this girl look into the mirror and break into a smile. I had my tricks. I wasn’t a bridal consultant for naught.
But for now, I had to tear this girl’s eyes off the elusive fantasy. Ducking behind the reception desk, I texted Yocheved. Take that girl out of here. Fabric room, whatever. I’ll handle L.
Yocheved read my text, said something to the new client, and they all left the showroom.
With the other kallah gone, I allowed myself to delight in the fruits of my labor. “Well, well!”
“You did an amazing job, Mina,” said Mrs. Levinson, eyes glistening. “Just look at her!”
I smiled, warmth spreading in my chest. Yelena hovered around, tugging a sleeve, adjusting weights.
“You brought along an invitation, I hope?”
Mrs. Levinson nodded and fished in her Savta Simcha bag. “Yes, of course. Right here.”
I cleared a spot on the bulletin board. Then, as I stabbed a pushpin through the paper, Mrs. Levinson grabbed my arm.
“One minute, Mina, I hear you also get a mazel tov?”
I grinned. “Yup.”
“Beautiful!” She pumped my hand warmly, then chuckled. “And I guess you’ll be the Nachshon with your husband’s takanos plan, huh?”
My mouth went dry and I slipped my hand out of her grasp. Mrs. Levinson was completely oblivious. She wasn’t even waiting for a response for what was presumedly a rhetorical question.
I turned my attention to Sarah. “If you don’t mind, a picture?”
She smiled shyly.
I went to fetch my camera from the closet in the fabric room and found Yocheved with the new client, scribbling in her sketchpad. When she saw me, she excused herself and joined me with the Levinsons in the showroom.
“Epic,” Yocheved pronounced. “Epic.”
Okay, I’d allow my sister her moment. I’d tolerate her theatrics, because this gown was epic, and I secretly gloated in my personal victory, that we’d pulled it off without lace, that I’d successfully saved the Levinsons at least $2,000.
Not that this gown was cheap. As Yelena and I carefully slid the dress over a paper mannequin, Mrs. Levinson turned to Yocheved. Sarah fidgeted.
“Uh, Yocheved…” She toyed with the snap on her bag — open, shut, open, shut, open — and withdrew her wallet. “So let’s hear, what’s the best you can do for me?”
I gripped the gown’s zipper, watching Yocheved’s lips stretch. “What do you mean?”
Right, because you don’t know what she means. Prolong the agony, why don’t you?
Mrs. Levinson drummed on her wallet. “The balance. What can you offer?”
Yocheved feigned surprise. “The balance? You’re getting a great price, Mrs. Levinson. I took off $400 when you gave the deposit. Remember?”
“Right, but let’s talk tachlis. Twenty percent, maybe?”
Yocheved goggled at her, like, Lady, are you off your rocker?
Yelena was staring, transfixed. Sarah, her face bright red, sided up to her mother and muttered “Maaaa” under her breath.
Mrs. Levinson smiled imploringly, revealing the first outlines of wrinkles under her eyes. “If I pay cash, in full, will it help? Fifteen percent off, then?”
A seasoned haggler. But Yocheved shook her head. “I’m sorry.”
It was pin-drop silent in the room as Mrs. Levinson opened her wallet and selected a credit card.
Watching the mother-daughter duo exit the boutique, holding the enormous garment bag from the two ends, numbers tumbled in my brain. Bedroom furniture, about 9K. Dining room furniture, 13K? Fifteen? Dinette table and chairs, a thousand. Linens and bedding, two? Three? Houseware — small and large appliances, dishes, towels, tablecloths, light fixtures, window shades — another several thousand. The kallah’s clothing, shoes, sheitels. The vort. The wedding. The sheva brachos. Gifts.
The list was endless, and on top of all that, $8,000 for the bride’s gown, which she was going to wear for one night.
Voices jarred in my ears. Create a need, her night, her right. Hypocrite! You could’ve done something, changed this reality, given parents some relief.
Shevy’s wedding would be just as grand as Sarah Levinson’s. How could I—
But… no. I wasn’t a sweet talker. True, I couldn’t follow the takanos; my hands were tied. But I could endorse the cause, and it was my duty to make this takanos plan succeed.
It was my duty to erase the wrinkles from Mrs. Levinson’s face.
Purposefully, I traced Levinsons’ steps to the doors of the boutique. “Be right back,” I called over my shoulder to Yocheved.
Mrs. Levinson was already sitting behind the wheel, pulling her seatbelt over her chest. I strode toward the car and tapped on the window.
Mrs. Levinson looked up, surprised, then rolled the window down.
I cleared my throat. “Can we talk?”
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 658)