T he ad is tucked away on a small strip beneath the health column. Curly gold font against a sky-blue backdrop. At the bottom-right corner, the edges of a satin veil flutter in an imaginary breeze.

Ace your dates!

Ever dreamed of a personal dating consultant?

Do you wish you could learn the secrets to CONFIDENT and SUCCESSFUL dating?

Call Judy Shenker, Certified Dating Consultant

Aliza stiffens. She glances up from the magazine, looks around the subway car: To her right, a teen is intent on her iPhone, taking sips from a humongous cup of iced coffee; the teen to her left is snoring, red wire spilling from tiny buds in his ears.

She looks back down at the ad.

I wish. Her arms tingle. Wouldn’t it be nice? Someone to tell her what to do: Say this, don’t go there. She sighs, gives her head a tiny shake. She’s not crazy. She can handle dating on her own. Like everyone else.

Well, then, why has nobody ever said yes to you after a second date?

Sweat pricks the back of her neck. The train swerves, clattering as it grinds along the tracks. She watches her reflection in the blackness of the window across from her, light brown hair pulled back softly, angular chin, ordinary. She looks away.

The train jolts to a stop. Aliza exits into the cool autumn morning, savors the hint of winter that rushes in the breeze. The wind coaxes the rusted leaves, scattered and wilted in the gutters, into a freefalling dance. By the time she glides through the glass doors of the geriatric facility, the morning’s song is pulsing through her.

Regina is haranguing the janitor, but she stops to greet Aliza. “Hello, my dear,” she sighs.

“Hi, Regina,” Aliza says. She snaps up the shades. She’s not sure why, but they like her here. Sometimes she wonders if it’s because she calls them by something other than honey, because she talks to them without patting their arms.

As soon as the janitor leaves, Regina stage-whispers, “How’d your date go?”

Aliza frowns. “It was okay. I think.”

“The guys have to be crazy not to fall for you,” Regina says loyally.

Aliza smiles. “Thanks... I wish.”

She glances at Regina’s screen and reaches for the blood pressure cuff. Guiltily, her mind flashes back to the pretty gold lettering, the sky-blue ad. Look, yesterday’s date was pretty okay. Maybe this will be the one. You never know.

“So what do you think is happening in the big wide world?” Regina crackles. “Trump gone skiing yet with Putin? With Mr. North Korea?” She swipes her hands together. “Feh. Fools, the lot of them.”

“Oh, politics.” Aliza laughs. That’s one topic she couldn’t discuss with Regina, to her it’s all sour milk. But today she takes the bait.

“You would know,” she tells the gratified old lady. “Fill me in.” In her mind’s eye, she’s vanquishing the enticing ad until it disappears in a plume of smoke.

Her mother is throwing a fit on the phone when she walks in.

“Really, Tzirel, what is that supposed to mean? They didn’t connect? This is a first date, l’maan Hashem Yisbarach!” Esther throws her hands in the air, her cheeks red.

Something deflates in Aliza’s chest. So it’s a no.

“Hello, Mommy.”

Her mother whirls around. “Oh. It’s you.”

“I wouldn’t mind if you’d let me know what the shadchan’te says first, before you call Aunt Tzirel,” Aliza says mildly, slipping past her mother toward the tiny pantry. Her fingers flutter anxiously over the shelves. The gummy bears. Where are they when you need them?

Esther is leaning one elbow on the counter, brows knitted, listening intently. She caps her palm over the mouthpiece, whispers, “You said something?”

“No.” Aliza slits open a new package. Yum.

Her mother sighs heavily. “Yes, I know. Okay, Aliza just walked in, we’ll talk.”

“How lovely,” Aliza sighs. She flops into a chair, rubs her ankles together. “So there was no connection, he said?”

Her mother is not sympathetic tonight. Her eyes are determined, the creases around her mouth quiver. “This is not normal, Aliza. Tell me, what’s going on? You’re smart and geshikt and gorgeous!” The waning afternoon sun streams through the old peach curtains, glints on the little red flowers on her mother’s housecoat. She waves her dishrag; in the sun’s haze, she strikes Aliza as some kind of old-time general, strategizing for war. “What is it that you’re doing on these dates!? We have to get to the bottom of this!”

Shame clasps her throat with hot fingers. What should she say — that she’s trying? That she’s doing everything all good, fine girls do and she has no idea why it isn’t working for her? That it confounds her, too? She swallows, looks away. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 564)