T he microwave dings. Rus hops up off the breakfast bench and opens the door. “Hot, hot, hot,” she cries, throwing the bag of popcorn at Shiri. Shiri shrieks and jumps out of the way; the bag falls to the floor and spills open. I yell in mock anguish and point firmly in the direction of the broom closet. Rus giggles and grabs the broom, I pop another bag into the microwave. “And this time, only the grownups are going to touch the bag,” I tell Rus, giving her my best teacher-stare.

We all laugh, and something inside of me glows. Yeeees. This is how it is supposed to be. The Three Bears, back together. Rus had been heartbroken to hear about the Gewirtzes separating, but she was even more mortified to think how she’d pushed Shiri away just because she’d been acting strange. But Shiri had forgiven her, and all was back to normal with our little group. Well, almost…

Back in my room, the studying continues. Chumash midterms are notoriously hard, and conscientious students that we are, we won’t give in without a good fight. Rus begins a long and convoluted explanation on a Rashi, complete with shuckling and thumb-jabbing in perfect imitation of Rabbi Jacobs. We giggle; Shiri chimes in with a clarification, and I’m about to tell them they’re both wrong, when out of nowhere, Shiri bursts out crying. Horrified, Rus and I run over and throw our arms around her. And that’s how Mommy finds us, five minutes later.

And that is why we soon find ourselves on the couches in the living room, still sniffling, facing Mommy, Mrs. Gewirtz, and Rus’s mom, Mrs. Steinhouse.

“Girlies,” Mrs. Gewirtz starts. And that’s as much as she gets out. We wait, eyes tearing, for her to continue, but she just shakes her head, eyes full. Mommy speaks up. “Girls, we’re sorry you’re so upset. But sometimes, there are circumstances that just can’t be explained to children, the fact that you’re all exceptionally mature and bright notwithstanding. But if you have any general questions, we are here for you.”

I glare at the floor, incensed. Don’t tell us that we should sit down for a chat if there isn’t going to be any chatting.

“Any general questions?” Mrs. Steinhouse asks softly, and a thick silence ensues. Finally, Shiri speaks up. “How’s this going to work?” she asks, her voice heavy and clogged. Her mother looks at her, and there’s such tenderness in the gaze that I swallow and look away, embarrassed.

“How’s what going to work, sweetie?” she says.

“This! All of it!” Shiri explodes. “My life! Where are we going to live? Where’s Daddy going to live? How’s Shabbos going to work? Are you going to get divorced? Remarried? Why?”

And then Shiri flings herself into her mother’s arms, the way she did when she was little.

“Why, Mommy, why?”

And we all cry together.

Later Tzippy drives us all to Berry’s for some good ol’ fashioned ice cream therapy. We sit outdoors at the little wrought iron tables and eat in silence. Berry’s has been our go-to spot since we were little, but right now, the ice cream seems tasteless, and too cold. Rus stares at the ground, her straight blonde hair falling in a curtain around her face. Shiri’s eyes are puffy, her lips set in a pout. And I just keep thinking how fragile life suddenly seems, how uncertain my world suddenly is. If the Gewirtzes can split up, who knows who’s next? What if— I shake my head quickly. No. No, that’d be impossible.

Tzippy watches us lick our cones despondently for a good ten minutes before she claps her hands. “Okay, Little Bears. Eeeeenufff. Things happen. Life is tough. You girls are lucky that you’re only being introduced to hardships at the age of fifteen. Baruch Hashem, you have everything else going for you. Do you know how lucky you are? How lucky we all are? Shiri, it’s really sad, and I’m really sorry for you. But you know your parents; they love you, they’re going to make sure things continue as smoothly as possible. Cheer up, girlies. The world isn’t ending.” And she grabs my cone and takes a huge bite out of the side.

I shriek and an ice cream fight soon ensues. And in the midst of it all, I send Tzippy a grateful nod. There’s nothing like big sisters. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 706)