A

bba parks the van, but nobody gets out. Mommy looks nervous, she smoothes down some strands of her sheitel. She’d once confided in me that she hates her sheitel; it makes her feel like she’s in a play, costumed and unnatural. But she looks absolutely gorgeous in it, and staring at Aunt Lani’s Stonesworth mansion, I’m glad Mommy’s put in the extra effort.

We’ve been here before, obviously, but this time it feels different. This time, we can’t pass off our ignorance of Orlando vacations and Zelda sheitels and bungalow summers to our out-of-town status. We are now Stonesworth people, and we’re all feeling the heat.

Abba claps his hands. “Enough. Out, out, out!” We scramble for the doors, shrieking, and Mommy smiles, her calm, composed self once again.

Tzippy flips an auburn lock over one shoulder. “Ready, ladies?” She hooks an arm through mine, I hook mine through Sari’s, and we turn to face the house all in a row.

“Well, this just screams ‘city-sophistication,’ ” I say, and we all crack up and hastily break apart.

Tzviki, in from Lakewood for the occasion, starts to stride forward. I dart in front of him.

“Tzviki! Tuck in your shirt! And put your peyos behind your ears more neatly! I can see them!”

Tzviki stops and stares at me, bewildered. “Um, Rachel Ahuva? Since when do you care how I look? Can you please move out of my way?”

I blush, suddenly ashamed.

“Sorry,” I say, stepping back.

Tzippy taps me on the shoulder. “RaRa? You okay? How was day one at BYS, by the way? Delightful or disaster?”

We walk side by side up Lani’s flowered pathway, and as we make our way up between the rose bushes, I realize it’s the first time in my life that I don’t want to share everything with Tzippy. I can just imagine what she’d say about Tamara and the situation with Hadas.

Sari’s voice pops up behind us.

“It must have gone well because we heard all about you down at the middle school.”

I spin on my heel so quickly, I almost fall over.

“You did? What, what?”

Tzippy is staring at me, wide eyed, and the family has caught up.

Sari giggles at my overreaction. “To be continued,” she says in a singsong voice.

I clench my teeth, but it’s too late, Mommy’s already knocking on the large gray door.

It swings open and there’s Lani, long blonde sheitel flowing, manicured hands reaching out to grab us, gather us in, hug and kiss and screech, and we all can’t help smiling and laughing.

I’m seated next to Batya, and I’m doing my best to act natural, but I can’t help feeling self-conscious. It’s a brand-new emotion, and I have to say, I’m not loving it. I’m suddenly very aware of my hands and where they are and why are my elbows taking up so much room?

Batya seems totally at ease, she’s chatting about her 11th grade job and how it’s so unfair that she can’t drive to school, and how she’s so happy we live close by.

I smile and nod and even throw my head back in a laugh.

Once my neck resumes its position, though, I catch Sari staring at me, eyebrows raised.

What was that?” she signs and I blush and shrug my shoulders, feeling supremely stupid.

And suddenly I need fresh air.

“Be right back,” I say sunnily, and flee to the giant patio off the kitchen.

What was wrong with me?

Why did I feel so unlike myself?

I sink onto a paisley-patterned chaise and stare up at the evening sky.

Ever since I entered class 10-B earlier that day, I’d been filled with a sort of restless energy, like I need to move, move, move, to scale heights and make something of myself, and quickly.

That was it, really. Because this is my big chance to be somebody, and I really don’t want to blow it.

It’s for my own good. It’s what I’m expected to do.

Be all I can be. Rise to the occasion. B’makom she’ein anashim, and all that.

Okay, there was an ish. Or an ishah. Tall, with a perfect curtain of blonde hair and huge brown eyes.

If Tamara Fine is the reason for my sudden ambition to conquer the world, is that so wrong?

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 723)