Y itzchak is crouched over the worn leather ledger when the buzzer sounds. A quick glance at the closed-circuit television reveals a young couple, smiling shyly at each other. The girl wraps her woolen coat around herself a little tighter, seemingly to protect herself from the harsh autumn winds. Yitzchak watches carefully. What coat of armor is she trying to build as a protection?

He notices, even through the grainy pixels of the large screen, the girl’s sure confidence, the straight-backed pose that comes with wealth. Her clothing is designer; years in his uncle’s business taught him to recognize quality in fabric immediately. A quick glance at the boy: a black, faded suit, a beaten hat, a small rip in the shirt. Yitzchak wonders if that’s the reason for the girl’s stance, a clashing of socio-economic culture, a couple raised separately, in vastly different strata. He buzzes them in.

The couple brings with them the wind, flushed cheeks, the smell of cold. The boy — that’s all he is, really, a boy, his body still lanky, awkward, as if he shot up overnight and isn’t quite sure what to make of these limbs; his eyes unlined; can’t possibly be more than 21, barely legal — whispers something in her ear and she is laughing, but Yitzchak notices something in that laugh. There’s a barrier in that laugh. It comes from the throat, not from the belly, and for the briefest moment, he watches the boy’s eyes flash in question.

And Yizchak wonders what it is this time. He’s seen too many kallos over the years to think everything is picture-perfect; often, the smiles waver, revealing turbulence as strong as choppy waves beneath, eyes an internal storm of lightning and thunder. It’s the best-kept secret of engagement. When all the still-single friends crowd around to see the ring, they don’t know about the hours of confusion that continue right up until the wedding. That feeling of what am I doing? What am I even getting myself into? And how do I really know?

Yitzchak always wishes there is something he could do to make it go away, some advice that would ease the uncertainty. But he’s only a jewelry dealer, and the only pearls he can produce are tangible. It’s frustrating, the sheer desire to help, to do, but he has learned with time that the Eibeshter has His ways.

With a sigh, he pushes the camel-colored ledger — now worn, a supple, milky feel to it, softened from years and years of use — to the side. That ledger has served him well for over 40 years. It had been a gift from his wife, Breina, may she rest in peace. He shakes his head, thinking himself a half-man, still feeling lost without her after nine long years, still forgetting at times, when he desperately wants to share something with her, a thought, a funny encounter, that she’s truly gone.

Yitzchak rouses himself to the couple before him, and spreading his arms wide, asks congenially, “And how may I be of service to you today?”

The girl looks up, almost surprised, like he’s intruding on their private space. She catches herself, rearranging her features deliberately, delicately, to smile at the old, friendly man. Yitzchak notices that the smile doesn’t quite meet her eyes, that despite her attempts, she cannot erase the crease of concern tattooed between her eyebrows. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 542)