"H ey,” Chaim said, pushing the branches out of the way and walking out of the woods, his shoes caked with dirt. “Welcome back.”

“Chaim!” Rivky said, stopping short. “I had no idea where you were! I saw your car, but you weren’t answering the phone and I was all freaked out! Then Mr. Labkin told me he thought he saw you down by the lake on his walk. Baruch Hashem I found you.”

“Rivky, I’m not a child lost in Wal-Mart. Relax.”

“Come on Chaim, it was scary. They paged you a few times and you weren’t coming. It was too weird.”

“Whoa. A real mystery.”

She laughed, too loud. “What in heaven’s name were you doing down by the lake? A secret swim?”

She stopped. She’d messed up: He was still insecure about his fear of the water and this wasn’t a great time to mention it.

“Oysh, that was stupid. I put my hoof in my mouth again,” she said, covering her face with her hands. “Sorry.”

“Rivky, it’s fine,” Chaim said. He was squinting against the strong sunlight, so she couldn’t really make out his expression.

“Chaim,” she burst out suddenly, “what’s wrong with us? Why can’t we talk like normal people? Why is everyone so testy all of the sudden? What happened to us?”

He turned to face her and she was relieved to see his face soften.

“I don’t know, Rivky. You left, not me.”

“I didn’t leave. It’s not true. You’re working day and night here while I take my parents for walks. I’m going crazy; I needed a change of scenery.”

He nodded slowly. “I understand that, but there’s a way to go about it without running away. Rivky, let me ask you a question: Why is it so hard for you to see me like this, doing this job?” He hesitated for a moment, as if weighing his words, then continued. “Why is it so hard for you that I’m good at it? Maybe you were running away from that?”

She suddenly thought of her mother-in-law. Chaim has been pushed around his whole life… he needs to prove something… he’s showing you up. Rivky hadn’t been sure if she should tell him about the visit; he would no doubt be upset that she’d gone without asking him first, but she also suspected that if she said nothing, her mother-in-law would find a way to make sure Chaim found out. Now Rivky knew there was no choice.

She’d never before kept something from him: this whole marriage thing had suddenly become so tricky, almost overnight. When had they ever fought? When had he ever second-guessed her? When had she ever kept things from him? Her sisters would hide the bills from Century or Bloomingdales, and she’d never gotten it.

“Chaim!” she suddenly exclaimed. “I went to visit your mother this morning.”

His eyes flew open. “You what?” His face changed colors, and she saw betrayal along with the anger.

“I went to visit your mother.” (excerpted)