"L eeba?” There’s something in Shiri’s voice, and I know instinctively that it’s her first time seeing Leeba since—

I watch Leeba’s eyes, they go down, down to her weakened legs, and then up again, and she looks at Shiri directly.

“He-hello, it’s good to see you,” Shiri stammers.

“Could be better, huh?” Leeba says.

Shiri, know-it-all Shiri, is lost for words. She toys with her scarf.

“Will be better,” Leeba affirms.

Shiri gives a nervous laugh, like a frog in distress.

I’m bundling Ushi into his winter gear but it’s high time to intervene.

“Ushi had a great time today, didn’t you, boy?”

He nods vigorously.

Shiri takes his hand gratefully.

“Bye now,” she croaks, “And thanks.”

“It was our pleasure,” I say, winking at Leeba.

Shiri is too disoriented to respond.

The room clears out, kids and coats walking off and home.

We should get going too, but I sit down for a moment beside Leeba on a rubbery exercise ball. The only way I can talk to her now is when I’m squatting.

“The joys of meeting new people,” Leeba says at last.

“Isn’t she your friend, though?” I say carefully.

“She is. Was. Dunno. Truth is, I don’t know where I stand with that whole group.”

I don’t like where she is going. It’s too fresh, too raw. I bounce on the ball.

“They aren’t such good friends for a crisis,” she says, so quietly I strain to hear her. “Everything’s gotta be great with them, and cute and hip and cool. This,” she jiggles her chair, “is not.”

I don’t know what to say. Do I bring up the fact that she ditched me this year? Left me in the lurch so she could go along with these girls. That I’ve been struggling, thrashing to find my place in a new school, after a difficult summer...

I bounce and the hurt bounces with me. The only friend from elementary who could have helped me along. And she didn’t. Not really. And it got too late, too fast.

“Naomi,” she calls.

I look up, my eyes flashing pain. And I take in the girl in a chair, legs already thinner from lack of use.

How can I be angry at her?

And how does it change things that she’s facing her own challenges now?

Does it mean she’s absolved — from everything?

“I have a dream.”

What?

Her eyes go pensive, “Remember that day at the hospital, we watched a race... a special race?”

She is pulling me away, from my pain, from what I’ve been through this year in class, to her life, her pain.

I nod slowly. “The Paralympics,” I say.

“Yeah. So I was thinking, I don’t know how long I’ll have to use this thing”— she grips the chair —“if I can even hope to give it up... but, but do you think I can race in my chair like that too?” (Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 696)