C upcakes everywhere. Gaily colored toppings blinking me into wakefulness.

“I’m late,” I mutter, still rubbing my eyes.

“That you are,” says Mom, looking pointedly at the cuckoo clock.

Aunt Debbie presides over a mountain of cupcakes. “Fuschia. This one’s yours.” She laughs, putting the offending pink cupcake into a baggie. “Take it for snack.”

I grab the baggie. She’s putting the others away, too. We only ate about two and a half cupcakes between all of us at her little birthday bash after the Shabbos meal.

“I’m taking these back with me, for Zehava’s kids,” she says.

“You’re leaving now?”

So it’s not over. So she did come just for her 30th — and to cheer up Mom a bit, didn’t she?

“Well, I was going to stay for the day, but it looks like—” Mom throws her a look. “Like I’ll be going now.”

“I see,” I say, though something tells me I don’t.

But I’ve gotta run, I’m late. I slip on my coat, stomp into my rain boots, and lean in for a quick goodbye kiss.

I make a dash for it through the rainy streets.

So what’s happening? Nothing? Same old, status quo? Or something, something in Mom’s eyes?

I sprint across the street, a car honking angrily behind me.

How can I hang on to the feelings Aunt Debbie brings? How can I give that kind of support to Mom?

I push past the gates just as the bell sounds, one last question bounding up the stairs with me:

And what if I need it myself?

“The star nearest to our solar system is four light years away,” Mrs. Marcus is saying, “and its light takes about four years to travel to Earth.”

Her voice is low and dramatic, like what she’s sharing is really big. She has this way of drawing everyone in, even two days before production.

“So the light in the sky is four years old when we see it. What we see in the moment is what it looked like in the past.”

She holds her hands out, like pseudo stars, and says, “The scary thing is that the stars, all those twinkly silvery lights you see, they could have all burned out and we wouldn’t even know it. Until four years later.”

She closes her hands, and they are just fists where they were stars a moment ago, as if to demonstrate the point.

“Just something to think about, girls. Another prompt for your science report, maybe.”

She flashes a smile. “Although I’m sure everyone has a topic by now. You do know that the presentations start next week.”

There’s a weak murmur of protest.

“After the production of course.”

In the overhead speaker, someone clears their throat.

“That’s our cue,” Mrs. Marcus says. “You have the rest of the lesson off for practice. I do look forward to seeing you all on stage.”

The girls let out a little cheer and everyone scampers from the room.

I make a show of reaching into my bag, but Mrs. Marcus is still there when I’ve painstakingly drawn out my notebook and pen.

“Naomi, are you staying here?”

I nod slowly.

“You can come down to the lab if you want,” she says. “I prepare there, have my lunch there.… You’re welcome to join me.” (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 674)