I sit in the small room in the rented apartment, fingering the strings on an out-of-tune guitar. The phone rings.

The phone!

I spring to answer it. “Hello?”

Chani’s voice is filled with warmth. “Hi, Shira, how are you?”

You believe what you want to believe. And I wanted to believe she actually thought of me. But I should have known better. She prided herself in being nice, so this wasn’t the first call over the years that started this way. But all the other times, the reality was like a mosquito bite, an irritation. This time it was different.

*

“She’s my age!”

Zehava and I stand toe to toe, nose to nose, glaring at each other. The afternoon sunlight filters through a cloudy sky, bleaching the parquet floor. The halogen lights buzz softly, filling the silence between us. The brown hugging monkeys clinging to the crib watch worriedly.

“But I’m two years older than Miriam. I can’t be friends with her — that makes no sense!”

My sister, older by ten months, is claiming Chani — the cousin who is my age! Shaking her head, Zehava continues. “I’m older, so I get to be friends with Chani. Miriam’s only one year younger than you. You must be friends with her.”

Zehava turns away, argument won, leaving Chani, the cousin really my age, fully in her possession. Miriam is to be my friend, because how can I argue with my older sister’s reasoning? But Chani’s eyes throw sparks. She’s full of life and fun and energy. Miriam is closed.

The rest of the afternoon the four of us play together — until in the middle of a game of hide-and-go-seek Chani has an idea. While Miriam and I hide, she rallies Zehava into maneuvering the living-room couch in front of the playroom door. The two girls outside jump on the couch, Chani laughing like a hyena while the babysitter yells ineffectual threats from inside the playroom.

This situation could be fun if I were laughing with them on the couch, instead of being locked into the playroom with the babysitter, baby, and a fuming Miriam who refuses to play even though all the games are right inside this room.

Months pass, my aunt has another baby, yet the unspoken rule remains: Chani is Zehava’s friend and Miriam is mine. That Chol Hamoed our families go on trips together. The girls still eat over at our house on Shabbos and we eat at theirs. When their parents come to pick them up we try to hide them in the folds of the dining-room curtains. But the grown-ups always win.

We cycle from grade to grade, sharing new victories, new disappointments. When Chani’s friends drop her right before her sixth-grade birthday, Zehava lets me arrange a great birthday party to cheer her up. I break out the coins from my piggy bank and Zehava uses her Chanukah gelt. We spend hours in Whispers and Whimsies picking out the perfect (barely affordable) gift.

Feathers get slightly ruffled a few months later when Chani backs out last minute from attending Zehava’s 12th birthday bash. Chani’s friends have reappeared, and she doesn’t even call to wish my sister happy birthday. She just doesn’t show. The entire party was supposed to be the four of us, so Zehava’s birthday is a total bust. Chani never even sends a gift. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 538)