S

ince when are you such good friends with Reuven Hoffer? I’m happy to hear.”

Chaim noticed that Rivky wasn’t teasing.

“Look, Chaim, I’m not so heimish with Elisheva Hoffer, but if you want me to come, I’m happy to join you. Give me a few minutes to get ready. I’m a mess.”

Chaim felt silly urging Rivky to come. He said it was because he felt close to Reuven Hoffer — not completely untrue, they played tennis together a few times a year. But it wasn’t the whole truth either. It was more that he wanted to go to a chasunah with Rivky. He missed talking to her, missed having her present, really listening to him.

If he’d suggested they go out to eat, she’d have smiled apologetically and said her head wasn’t in it, that she didn’t feel right eating out. Not until Tatty was back to himself.

Even when she’d delivered the happy news that Tatty was being released, he’d caught the note of caution in her voice, the warning that things were not yet back to normal. It was as if she had found a new project and it wasn’t him. She’d found herself a new cause — out of the house.

It was weird. When he’d been working, he’d taken her easy company for granted. Now, he had to fight to get her to pay attention.

“Yeah, I’d love it if you came,” Chaim said, fixing his tie in the mirror. “I’m going to the study to learn until you’re ready.”

He stood there for a moment, wondering if he should continue. He wished he could say, And please leave your cell phone at home. Nothing will happen if we speak to each other in the car, just schmooze. No, I have nothing special I need to discuss. I just want to talk. Is that okay? It’s not the chasunah I care about, it’s going somewhere with you, so I can be with the old Rivky again.

But of course, she would be hurt and patiently explain that she had to be there for her parents, that Tatty wasn’t himself and Mommy needed help. Yesterday, Mommy had exited the hospital elevator on the wrong floor and gotten lost, wandering from wing to wing with no one to help her. By the time she got back to Tatty’s room, there were tears in her eyes. Rivky had said she should have been there for her mother.

What she wouldn’t say was, Really, you want to talk now? After years of trying to explain the benefits of small talk, now, all of the sudden, you’re coming to me? That’s funny. She was too good for that.

When she came downstairs, he jumped up a bit too quickly. He would do this right. They walked to the curb together, but he could think of nothing to say. He had a sense that this was an opportunity, but he wasn’t sure for what.