I finished packing for the third time. How can you pack for a whole year in two suitcases? It’s impossible. I sat on top of the suitcase so I could zipper it shut. Millions of thoughts were racing through my head. Would I like high school in Israel? Twelfth grade was a hard time to leave but I couldn’t stay home now.
“Are you ready to go, Devori?”
“I think so. I just have to pack my snacks for the plane.”
If Mommy was here, she would be making me a salad and packing fruit, so I would have healthful snacks. She was always trying to help me lose weight. But she wasn’t here. I pulled out some chocolate spread and a thick onion roll. I started spreading the chocolate spread generously on the roll.
“That looks like a good snack.” My father gave me a quick hug.
Why didn’t he notice that this was not a healthful, slimming snack? Didn’t he care about me at all?
“I’m going to miss you,” he said.
He was always traveling, so I doubted he would really miss me.
Still, I went for one last time to my childhood room and stood twirling a loose curl of hair round and round my finger as I scanned my room a final time. I took in the pink-flowered wallpaper and the matching quilt. There were my old teddy bears and the collection of dolls from different countries. I was leaving behind these things, but really, I felt like I was leaving behind my childhood and all the troubles.
“I wish Mommy could be here to see you off.”
We both exchanged a look that ended that subject quickly.
“I’ll pull the car around.”
I grabbed my cell phone. I wanted to say goodbye to Perel one more time. We’d been best friends since third grade. It was hard to leave her. I thought back to the night I told her I was leaving. It was early spring. We were sitting licking popsicles, swinging on my backyard swing. The scent of lilac filled the air and a promise of summer filled our hearts.
“Well, looks like I’m heading for Israel for 12th grade.”
I felt the blood drain from my face.
People were talking about my family.
They thought my father was a spy
“Why? No. You can’t!” Perel stopped licking her popsicle.
“This is the best year at Bnos Leah. It’s the year we head production and yearbook and the class trip to the Grand Canyon and everything. You can’t miss it. “I don’t want to miss it.” I felt the tears and fought hard not to let them drip down my face. “I want to stay home but right now I can’t.”
I didn’t tell her; not even Perel knows why I have to leave. I can’t tell anyone.
“Bye, sweetheart. I’ll call you.” My father hugged me tight and then he turned to leave. I had to face the security line alone. I was all alone. I took a deep breath and tried to feel Hashem with me.
I asked Hashem to help me in my new school with making friends and feeling happy there. Making friends has always been challenging for me. I’m not obese, but I am pleasantly plump. Really, if I’m honest it’s not pleasant, and I know I could look better and feel more energetic. I know I need to exercise and eat more healthful meals. I tell myself that all the time, but then when it comes time to exercise, I find something else to do and I find it hard to discipline everything I eat.
I sat in the airport, waiting for the flight to board. I was saying T’hilim and looking around. I wound a strand of hair around my finger tighter and tighter. A girl I recognized from shul approached me. “Hi, Devori. Are you heading for Israel?”
Yael Brunner was going to seminary with a few of her friends. I knew these girls from the community. They were just one year ahead of me. Yael was a sweet girl. I always liked talking to her.
“Are you skipping 12th grade and going to sem?” Yael asked.
“No, I’m actually going for 12th grade, “I said.
“Wow, you’re lucky.”
Funny, how I didn’t feel lucky.
Yael said, “We’re all going to be in Yerushalayim at the Bnos Devorah Seminary. Where is your high school?”
We compared addresses and discovered my school was close to her seminary. Yael was a friendly girl with wide blue eyes and golden curly hair that cascaded to her shoulders.
“I’m so excited to go,” she said. “Have you been to Israel before?”
“I was there when I was seven years old. I remember bits and pieces.”
“Oh, well, now it’ll be so much more special.” She invited me to sit near her and her friends in the chairs by the gate. I was thankful I didn’t feel so alone anymore. One girl, whom I also knew from the Scottsdale community, Bryna Savoff, asked me, “Why are you missing 12th grade at Bnos Leah?”
“It just worked out that way,” I said, stepping away and hoping that this would end the conversation.
“It’s a shame to skip 12th grade. That’s the best year at Bnos Leah. Is it because of your father? Is it true he’s a spy?” Bryna’s green eyes flashed in a way that was not kind.
“A spy? No,” I said. “Where did you get that idea?”
“Oh, my parents were talking one night.”
I felt the blood drain from my face. People were talking about my family. They thought my father was a spy.
“My father works for the government. He’s an auditor.”
“Well, auditors don’t travel as much as he does.”
Why was she nosing around about where my father went?
I walked away, my cheeks burning. I prayed I wouldn’t be sitting anywhere near Bryna. I never liked her. She had this tendency to say lashon ha’ra. I wanted to avoid people like that. If I was honest with myself, the real reason I wanted to avoid her was that she was asking me questions about my father that I had wondered about, too. Why did my father travel so much?
An announcement came on just then. “Flight 0081 will now be boarding at gate D7.”
Yael and her friends were a little behind me in the security check line. I was waiting in line, trying to stop the uncomfortable feeling Bryna had caused with her nosy questions. If only I had been more focused, I would have noticed the man who was in line just in front of me –
with dark glasses and a nervous twitch. I would have noticed how he kept looking around and how he kept touching his pocket.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials and features in various magazines including A Bridge in Time – historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). She writes for the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and she writes the Queens page for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and she teaches creative writing to students of all ages.