I

stare at myself in the mirror; I don’t look convinced. I try a smile, it just looks like I’m in pain. I drop the smile and concentrate on my hair.

I’d French-braided it for the occasion, but several curls had come loose. I lean forward and try to see what Ronit saw. I mean, I just look like me. Red hair, blue eyes, dimples. The school uniform is simple: black pleated skirt, white shirt, gray crew neck sweater. I have to admit, it’s a welcome relief from Brownfeld’s green and yellow plaid. I smooth the pleats and smile at myself again. This time, it feels real.

There’s a knock on the door.

“Yeah?”

Mommy and Abba poke their heads in.

“Peanut?” Mommy says. “Can we come in?”

I turn my smile in their direction.

“For sure.”

They sit on the bed and face me; I lift my new Kipling onto my shoulder.

“Are you ready for this?” Mommy says quietly. Abba reaches out and strokes my cheek.

“First day in a new school. You’re so brave, RaRa.”

I feel suddenly nauseous.

“Brave? Or suicidal,” I say around the giant lump in my throat.

Mommy shakes her head, but her eyes are bright. “Oh, hon, you’re going to be amazing. There are going to be so many wonderful opportunities for you. New friends, new classes, new clubs.”

My eyes start to water; I turn away before I start sobbing.

Abba holds out a hand. “Come to my office,” he says. “I want to show you something.”

Mommy gives me a hug and then hurries off to get Simchi ready for his first day at SHIPS. I follow Abba to his office. He flips open his computer and presses a key and there they are: Rus and Shiri. They don’t talk, they just sit there, tears running down their faces. I join them; Abba backs furtively out of the room.

“Guys!” I sob. “What am I going to do without you?”

Shiri chokes a little. “You’ll be so fine, RaRa. They’re so lucky to have you!”

Rus can’t talk, she just blows me a kiss. I blow one back and wipe my eyes.

“Okay, I need to run. Daven for me!” We blow more kisses and then the screen goes black.

Gone. They’re gone. And I’m left to face 77 new classmates all by myself.

Abba drives me to school.

We pull up in front of the ivy-covered building, and for the first time in my life, I’m aware that a Toyota minivan isn’t the coolest ride in town. We’re surrounded by Lexuses, Mercedes, Lincolns, and one Bentley. Thanks, Tzviki, for the car education. Whoa, he’d be in heaven right now. I turn to Abba and notice suddenly that his glasses are crooked. And he hasn’t shaved. And his yarmulke is faded. I blink. He smiles at me reassuringly; I shake my head, clearing it.

“I’m rooting for you, Peanut,” he says.

I nod quickly and kiss his scratchy cheek. I give Sari a quick hug, wish her well on her first day of seventh grade, and slide out of the car.

I don’t look back.

The building is low and long, with arched doorways and windows, and ivy crawling over every brick wall.

It’s beautiful.

Squaring my shoulders, I try to blend in with the crowd of girls spilling into the high school.

The interior is even prettier than the exterior; it resembles a hotel lobby. I head toward the glass enclosed room with the words MAIN OFFICE written in script on the door. That’s me.

I knock on the glass hesitantly. Nobody notices. A round woman with a short black sheitel is bustling around, straightening piles of paper and loading ink into the copy machine. An elderly woman in a silver bob is on the phone, babbling away in French.

I knock again and then poke my head around the door.

“Um, excuse me?”

They continue their bustling.

“Excuse me. Um, good morning?”

They both stop in their tracks and look at me. I step fully into the room.

“Hi. Hi, um, I’m Rachel Ahuva. Brick? New tenth grader. Uh, um, thank you.”

Oh gosh. I cringe inwardly. Stop talking. Stop talking now. (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 721)