O ne year later…

The auditorium, though decorated for the occasion, still reeked of lunchtime sandwiches. Laylee maneuvered carefully through the rows of plastic chairs.

A makeshift curtain had been strung across the small stage, though it was a few inches too short; little ballet slippers could be seen pitter-pattering across the stage at a frantic pace. Laylee clutched Rikki’s hand and led her toward a few empty chairs she spotted in the third row. Sitting down, she scanned the crowd. Malky caught her eye and winked. Laylee waved. The regulars.

Suddenly she noticed her mother standing at the entrance of the auditorium, looking wholly out of place. Laylee stood up and wove her way back through the mass of chairs.

“Well, this is lovely,” she said to Laylee as she approached. “And prime seats as well, how nice.” She wore a tight smile and gripped her Chanel pocketbook.

“Perla’s going to be so excited you’re here, Mommy. Thank you for coming.”

“I’m gona take ballet next year, Bubby!” Rikki chimed in.

“Well that’s wonderful, sweetie! You will make a fabulous ballerina, Rikki.”

Laylee sat down and smoothed out her skirt. She hadn’t meant to invite her mother. The chanukas habayis for the shul was later that day and her parents were in town for it. The moment her parents had walked in the door yesterday evening, Cookie had barreled up to them, clutched hold of her grandmother’s hand, and invited her to the recital. Much to Laylee’s chagrin.

The lights dimmed.

“You know, you never told me Perla had a recital today. I didn’t even know she was taking ballet.” Her mother’s voice was quiet and it held a thread of accusation.

“Really?” Laylee swallowed. “She loves it. And you know, it’s such a healthy outlet for her.”

“Oh, very healthy! Good exercise…”

For a second, Laylee’s mind flashed back to the Jen debacle.

Her mother cleared her throat. “I just think it might be more prudent to guide her toward something she can really succeed at, in the future.”

Laylee felt something knot inside her. “She loves it.”

Her mother met her eyes, nodded, then pursed her lips. “So, what do you hear from Sarah?” she asked.

Laylee shrugged. “The usual.”

Her mother nodded, staring into the distance. “She doesn’t talk to me. She calls every Thursday, but she never actually opens up about anything. It’s the same conversation, week after week. So I was just wondering… if you know anything? Her plans or…” She trailed off.

Laylee twisted her bracelet, unable to meet her mother’s eyes. “She’s happy.”

“But when is she coming home?” Her unspoken question: And what will she look like when she arrives? hung between them in the air.

“They asked her to be a madrichah next year.”

Her mother blinked hard and turned away.

“She’s happy. She found her place there.” Laylee stopped as she noticed a flash of pain cross her mother’s face.

The music started up, stopped, switched tracks and began again. The curtain slid open and Laylee spotted Cookie in the back left. She smiled. I’m going to enjoy this. Because she loves this and I want to show her I appreciate the things she loves. That I appreciate her. Laylee let herself block out the world around her, and focus completely on her Perla, as she whirled across the stage. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 542)