T

he Shabbos meal was already cleared and Suri had just sunk down on the couch with a book she’d been looking forward to starting all week when Shaul brought up the dreaded topic.

“So, how’d the big conversation go?”

Suri took her time responding. “Conversation?” she said finally, stupidly. “Which one?”

Shaul never let her get away with such ploys. “The one where you were going to stand up to your coworker and do what’s right.”

“Oh. That one.” Why did she have the unnerving feeling that she was back in elementary school, admitting to a teacher that she hadn’t done her homework? “I tried, I really did. But just as I was about to get firm on the subject, Aviva’s client arrived, and there was no chance to bring it up after that.”

Shaul’s expression was gentle as he said his next words, but they still felt like a slap. “I’m sure you did. But will the fact that you tried make any difference to Yael in the end?”

Suri sucked in her breath. How had she reached this point? How had she become such a weak person? Hadn’t she always prided herself on her integrity, on sticking to her values no matter what? She leaned back on the armrest and closed her eyes. Had it always been like this? Beautiful, lofty principles that crumbled with the wind at the first sign of confrontation?

Eyes still closed, she murmured, “I’m such a coward. What was I scared of, anyway? That Aviva would yell at me? Not want to be partners anymore?” Not want to be friends anymore.

“You’re not a coward,” Shaul said. “You’re a peacemaker.”

She made a face. “Polite way of saying coward.” But she laughed, and sat up straighter, as something inside her shifted slightly.

Peacemaker? Yeah, there was something to that….

“I’ll speak to Yael after Shabbos,” she said.

 

Yael gazed around the large, elegant dining room with its curtained picture windows, the rows upon rows of tables. Her eyes lighted upon a family a few tables away; the teenage girl reminded her of her sister Chanie. What would her family say, she wondered, if they knew she was sitting here in a hotel, inFlorida, whisked away—

Someone nearby cleared his throat loudly. “Um, Yael? You want to order?”

Yael tore her eyes away from the Chanie look-alike. A waiter was standing nearby, eyebrows raised. Blushing, she took the menu from Ephraim’s outstretched hand.

“Uh — I’ll have — uh, the chicken,” she said, eye alighting on the first recognizable item.

Ephraim ordered the mishy morshy, or something that sounded like that. After the waiter swept away with their menus, she leaned forward and smiled. “Still can’t believe we’re here. It’s like a dream!”

He smiled back. “Happy birthday.”

She giggled. “Just no singing waiters, okay?”

He pretended to look disappointed. “And here I’d been practicing the harmony.”

Yael leaned back in her seat. She couldn’t remember the last time she’d been this relaxed. It was as if she and Ephraim were dating again.

“Why do you think your parents decided to surprise us like this? They’ve never given me such an extravagant birthday present before.”