T he bench felt rough to the palms of her hands and the queasy feeling in her stomach was intensifying. The air was cold and fresh, but the incessant rocking of the boat on the choppy sea made Sheina’s stomach churn. It took all she had to breathe in, breathe out. Breathe in. Breathe out.

“Ah. Here you are!”

Sheina looked up. “Ari.”

“I’ve been looking for you. Everyone’s having a great time. Your sister Malky’s got this album with Tammy’s baby photos. Cute. She wants everyone to write something. Why aren’t you up there?”

The fledgling smile fled. Can’t you see I’m dying down here? She didn’t bother to answer.

Ari looked at her, bemused. “You okay?”

She nodded. Just enough to make him say: “You look a little funny. Sure you don’t want to come upstairs? It’s cold, but the sun’s out.”

Sheina shook her head, but when he casually waved and took off back up to the deck, she watched his receding back in dismay. Don’t go! Stay! Don’t you realize I want you to stay?

Snippets of laughter reached her from the merry crowd up on deck, and the humming engines filled her ears. This family trip had been discussed and anticipated for so many months; her sitting down here alone had not been part of the plan.

We’re shanah rishonah. After waiting years to get to this point, it should have been just Ari and me; a quiet getaway near the Kinneret… quality time. But Malky. Malky and her decadelong dream.

All alone with her husband’s family in the United States, Malky had been planning a family trip back to Israel ever since her wedding. Now, her Tammy was turning 12, and she had begged them all to go along with her grand bas mitzvah plans… Great. So now I’m stuck on a freezing boat. They’re all upstairs having a blast, and my clueless husband can’t think to keep me company.

Sheina fished around for her jacket, when Debbie and Reena, Malky’s girls, peeked into the cabin.

“Hi, Aunt Sheina. Shmuly here?” Reena asked, fiddling with the tip of her braid.

“No…” Sheina shook her head. And then they were off.

A short moment later a lopsided yarmulke and a rumpled gray sweater appeared at the door. Penina’s middle son, Danny. “Doda Sheina! Have you seen my brother?!”

His twin brothers came rushing in after him. “Doda Sheina! Shmuly’s gone!”

“Why? What’s going on?” Sheina’s misty brain buzzed in alarm.

Malky, always calm and composed, came rushing down from the upper deck, heels clicking on the rickety metal steps. “Sheina! You haven’t seen Penina’s Shmuly playing down here, have you?” It was more of a statement than a question. Sheina swallowed and stared in reply.

“Wh… what’s going on?”

Without stopping to answer, Malky swiveled and dashed back up, one hand on her sheitel to prevent it from blowing in the wind. Squashing her queasiness, Sheina rose to follow her. She met Ari on the steps.

“Ari. What’s up?”

“Shmuly’s disappeared. No one knows what to make of it…” (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 576)