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Unwrapped

Bracha Stein

Involuntarily, Chava smoothed her sheitel, but her brown bob couldn’t hold a candle to Miri’s locks. Miri flashed her a smile — even her teeth were perfect, Chava noted — and extended her hand

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

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C hava set the cup in place on the Keurig and returned to the cookies. She carefully slid a spatula under the largest one — yes, cool enough to move. She set three cookies on a plate and waited for the coffeemaker’s ding! When it rang, right on schedule, Chava added half a teaspoon of sugar and a splash of milk, then set it on the table just as Yanky walked in.

“Thanks, Chava,” Yanky said, gratefully settling into his seat and taking a sip. “Hits the spot!” Chava smiled. “So, what does the oilem have to say about Trump’s latest?” she asked. Yanky needed a few minutes of banter before she could bring up any heavier topics. As Yanky talked, Chava tuned out the details of Trump’s latest remark, letting Yanky’s voice form a warm, familiar backdrop to the soft hiss of the onions and mushrooms in her frying pan.

“Toby scheduled a meeting with me tomorrow,” Chava said when Yanky appeared to have wound down. “Probably about something earth-shattering,” Yanky said. “Like, should she change her dusty-pink ribbons to antique rose? Should she rename the beige ribbon taupe?” Chava laughed. “Beige has been taupe for years,” she said. “You couldn’t pay Toby to say the word beige.”

Yanky was clearly warming to his theme. “Maybe she’s going to declare cellophane pass?,” he said. “From now on, it’s translucent gift wrap.”

Chava smiled. “You sure you haven’t been reading Toby’s brochures?”

Yanky grew serious. “No, it’s just that living with you is like being enrolled in Gift Baskets 101. You practically have a doctorate in the subject! Chava — you do so much for Toby, you’re so in the know, you live and breathe her shop… shouldn’t she be paying you more than she’d pay an assistant just out of seminary?”

Chava flushed. Nothing good would come out of rehashing this conversation, she knew. She fished desperately for a new topic. “Do you think it would be crazy to spring for that decorator we talked about? She isn’t cheap, but the window treatments in the dining room look so outdated, and—” Yanky stepped out into the dining room and looked at the windows critically. Chava breathed a sigh of relief. Topic averted.

THE DOOR’S CHIME let Chava know that someone had just entered the store, and she looked up from the nautical-themed gift basket she was designing. The early morning hours were usually quiet, but manning the store alone was still a responsibility, one she was determined to show Toby she could do well.

“Oh, hi, Toby,” she said, returning to her basket. Interesting. Toby liked her lazy mornings. Toby frowned over the basket. “Oh, good,” she said. “I see you remembered the taupe-and-blue color scheme.”

Chava stifled a smile — she’d grabbed the ribbon from a drawer still labeled “beige.” “You’ll top it all off with that organza we got in last week, right?”

“I thought a more natural weave, maybe jute,” Chava said. “I figured it would go better with that nautical theme, but if you don’t think so…”

Toby stared critically for another minute. “Nice, I guess. Just make sure it looks fresh. Laya Fisher won’t want anything that’s been done before. Trendy but unique.”

Chava kept her thoughts about the modernity of blue-and-beige nautical themes to herself. If the customer was always right, the boss was always righter.

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