R ivky says nothing and walks a few paces behind the girls, watching their backs as they disappear down the hallway, noticing for the first time, that when she can’t see their faces, they all look exactly alike.

Rivky knows better than to try to join Aliza’s table at lunch, and she finds a nearly empty table in the corner of the lunchroom where she unwraps her sandwich and begins to eat. She does not want to look over at Aliza’s table, at the Tupperwares of colorful salad and the urgent, whispered conversation, but she finds her eyes wandering there as if of their own will.

Things look different now that she’s a few tables away. She sees Aliza speaking, as she always does, with authority and poise, but now she sees the girls as well, sees how Aliza needs them as much as they need her. She begins to wonder how a person decides that she’d rather be uncomfortable than be alone, or in a different group. Rivky is lonely but surprised to feel a bit of relief at not sitting at that table, swallowing food she does not want to eat, and adding to conversations that make her uneasy.

That night, Rivky sits at her computer, the cursor blinking on the blank screen. She’s finished her homework and is now trying to write her first newspaper piece. She thinks back to her idea, exposing a subpar teacher and imploring the school to take action. The idea feels less exciting now, and instead she’s feeling a bit ashamed for having been so sure she should write that.

Failing Teacher, Failing Student, she types, then studies the line and thinks better of it. She deletes and tries again. How to Cope with a Bad Teacher, she tries, but this too leaves her feeling uncomfortable.

As Rivky stares at the screen, she hears her mother’s footsteps and turns to see her coming into the room.

“Homework?” she asks.

“No, I’m all done,” Rivky says, hastily deleting her latest effort. “This is for the newspaper.”

“Oh, what are you writing about?”

“I don’t know yet,” Rivky says. “I want to write something important, an opinion piece, but nothing is coming to mind.”

Rivky’s mother perches against the dresser, contemplative. “What matters to you?” she asks.

Rivky thinks about this. A few weeks ago, the answer would have been friends. Now she is not so sure. One thing she does know: it is not teaching Mrs. Schwartz a lesson.

“I don’t know, Mommy. What matters to you?”

Rivky’s mother looks a little surprised by the question. “Well, a lot of things do, I guess. That you and your brothers are happy, that we have what we need.”

She trails off, looking around Rivky’s room as if for inspiration. “And, I guess, that you always do the right thing, even if it isn’t easy.”

Rivky looks up from her desk. “What makes you say that?” she asks.

“Isn’t that what all mothers want?” her mother says casually. She kisses Rivky’s head and leaves the room. (Originally featured in Issue 654)