When Sharon had gotten off the phone with Joe on Saturday night, she was still lying in her bed when her father phoned.
“Shavua tov, Sharon,” he said to her. “How was Shabbat?”
“Fine. What’s up?”
Her father cut to the point. “Eh, Savta is not well. The nursing home called on Shabbat, but we were all at the Young Israel. Your Ima called after havdalah, and she’s there now.”
Sharon sat up straight. “She’s gone to Lakewood at this hour? Is anyone with her?”
“Your uncle Mendel will be here on Monday, but right now she’s there.”
“You’re home with Aharon and Tehilah?”
She kicked off the bed and stood up. “So who’s at the store?”
“The managers are taking care of things tonight, but I have to be there early in the morning. I’m sorry to ask you, but can you come and be here?”
She stuck out her tongue. “Where’s Eyal?”
“He was away for Shabbat. Went with friends somewhere.”
“Did you try calling him?”
“He didn’t answer.
She looked at the clock. It was nearly 10:00. “You don’t want me to be with Ima? I’ll get her to come home tonight.”
“I don’t want you taking a bus down there this late at night. I’ll try and go meet her there tomorrow, if she’s still there.”
She threw her hands up. “You can’t get a babysitter?”
“I need to leave the house at 6 AM. I can’t ask someone to come that early.”
“The babysitter could sleep by you.”
“Ma? Let some girl sleep in the house with just me and your siblings? Lo ts’nua.”
“Right.” Sharon sighed, falling backwards onto her bed.
“There’s no need, Abba.”
“I’ll be up when you get here.”
She quickly changed and by 11 PM was at Penn Station. As promised, her father was awake when she walked in the door just after midnight. He was sitting at the kitchen table, the cordless phone, his cell phone and an empty glass with Turkish coffee grounds in front of him.
He stood up and hugged her when she entered. “Toda raba, Sharon.”
“B’vakasha. Any news?”
Although he always had a serious look on his face, it was more intense than usual. He ran his fingers through his short beard, holding his hand in front of his mouth. His eyes opened wide and then closed before he looked at Sharon. “The dialysis isn’t taking.”
They stood there silently until a cough from upstairs stirred them.
“How long?” Sharon eventually asked.
“No idea. Ima will be there until tomorrow.”
“Can I call her?”
“She said she was going to try and rest. They have beds for visitors.”
Sharon just nodded. Her father sat down and turned to her.
“How was Shabbat?” he asked her solemnly.
“Very nice,” she answered with a sigh. “I made a whole bunch of salatim on Thursday night. Madbucha, Moroccan carrots, roasted eggplant…”
He smiled. “Did you bring any for me to taste?”
“We finished them.”
“Another time.” He looked tired.
Sharon was still standing. “Go to bed, Abba. You’ll be up early.”
“So will you,” he smiled.
The next day, Sharon woke up around 8 AM when Tehilah noticed her sleeping in the other bed and excitedly jumped on her. She treated her siblings to bagels, hoping that the novelty of being out for breakfast would satisfy their need to be entertained for at least a little while. After that Aharon went to swim in a neighbor’s pool, so Sharon occupied Tehilah with construction paper and scissors while she cleaned the kitchen from Shabbat. It was 5:00 in the afternoon, as she was relieving her boredom by cooking macaroni and cheese from scratch, when her mother came home.
“Thank you so much,” her mother said as she entered the kitchen.
She dropped the pasta stirrer onto the counter and ran to help her mother, who looked worn out and tired. “Please, Ima, there’s no need. Sit down.”
“I’m fine. How were things here?”
“Quiet. Aharon’s swimming by the Lenders and Tehilah’s cutting things.”
“What is she cutting?” her mother asked worriedly.
Relieved, she sat back in her chair. “Don’t scare me like that.”
“Tehilah’s a good girl. She wouldn’t do anything like that.”
After a getting her mother a cup of water, Sharon sat down next to her at the table. “How’s Savta?”
Her mother shook her head from side to side. “I only left because there’s nothing happening. She still isn’t responding.”
They sat at the table for a while until Sharon remembered the pasta. She jumped up and tasted one from the pot. “It needs another minute.”
“I only came home to see what we can do.”
She waited before asking, “How much longer?”
“A few days, maybe a week. They have her on something very temporary but if she doesn’t stabilize…” She didn’t finish her sentence before putting her head into her hands. Sharon ran over and put her arms around her mother. The pasta can be overcooked. But after ten seconds her mother composed herself and even mustered a smile. “Thank you, honey. You can go, if you want.”
“No, I’ll stay. You need the help.”
“It’s fine. Mendy is flying in tomorrow and he’ll be down there with her.”
“I guess it’s good he’s coming now.”
Her mother laughed a little bit. “I guess so.”
Sharon went and drained the macaroni just as Tehilah came downstairs. “When’s dinner going to be ready?” she asked Sharon.
“Hi Tehilah!” their mother said. “Come show me what you made.”
“Where were you, Ima?”
“I went to visit Savta. She wasn’t feeling well over Shabbat.”
“I made for her a flower,” she boasted, producing from behind her back an elaborate folding of construction paper in the shape of a flower.
“That’s so nice, sweetie.” Sharon looked over and saw her mother mouthing to her, Does she know?
Sharon mouthed back, No.
As Sharon was rinsing the macaroni, her cell phone chimed.
It was a text message asking if she was going to Jessica Farkas’s goodbye party at Abigail’s.
“What’s that?” Tehilah asked Sharon.
“A goodbye party for a friend making aliyah.”
“That’s wonderful,” her mother said.
“It’s tonight,” she said absently.
“So go,” her mother told her. She looked at her mother peculiarly. “Is it in the city?” Sharon nodded. “Then go and sleep in your apartment tonight.”
She put down her phone. “Are you sure?”
“I’m not going anywhere,” then she added gravely, “and if anything happens, it’s better you have more of your things.”
Her mother was right. Sharon ate with her family and got dressed, choosing clothes from whatever she had there. At 7 PM she got on a train and started texting a few people to see who was going. She called Joe but the call went straight to voice-mail. That meant that either his phone was off or he was on the subway; both possibilities didn’t make any sense. Last night he had said that he was on his way home from the Catskills and it wasn’t like him to leave Brooklyn on Sundays. It also wasn’t like him to turn off his phone; even when she’d tried to reach him all last week it rang first. Then again, everything about him was strange these days.
Even on the train she still wavered. She kept feeling wrong, a sandy feeling tickling her eyes whenever she thought about her grandmother dying alone in New Jersey and her going to a party. But her mother had insisted; perhaps the mitzvah of sharing in someone’s simchah would be a z’chut for her grandmother’s recovery. Then there was the chance—however unlikely—that Andy would show up when she hadn’t yet thought about what she would do with him; she was still hoping for Joe’s perspective on the matter. But besides all that she was simply worn out; every time she closed her eyes on the couch Tehilah came downstairs and demanded assistance or accolades on the progress of her artwork. Since the restaurant wasn’t that far from Penn Station, and she was dressed already, she figured that she might as well go.
She reached Abigail’s just before the scheduled time and found a nice-sized crowd congregating just by the entrance. She spotted Jessica as she walked in, excitedly entertaining well-wishers. At first nobody noticed Sharon, which she didn’t mind. She didn’t see anybody she knew; in fact, they all seemed much older and she felt a little out of place. It was Nati who first spotted her and raised his eyes.
“Sharon!” he shouted over the shoulder of his conversation partner. “Thanks for coming!”
“Wow Nati,” she said immediately, walking towards him. Sharon had guessed long ago how he really felt about Jessica. “How are you holding up?”
“That’s nice of you to ask,” he said plainly. Without elaborating, he indicated Sharon’s approach to the man standing across from him.
“Eric, this is Sharon from the West Side.”
Eric looked just like Nati probably looked five years ago. “Nice to meet you,” he said in the way Nati talked.
“Are you two brothers?” Sharon asked.
Eric turned to Nati. “What did I tell you?” Then to Sharon: “No, we’re cousins.”
“Are you also from Maryland?”
Eric nodded. “Born and raised. Where are you from?”
“The Five Towns.”
He scoffed in disgust. “Only in New York do they have the audacity to call a place ‘The Five Towns’ and expect that everyone knows which five towns they’re referring to.”
“I didn’t give it the name,” she muttered, turning to Nati. “How’s Jessica? Getting nervous?”
“Ask her yourself,” he said, pointing to her. “Hey, Jess!”
Sharon inwardly pitied him. Either he’d resolved his feelings for her or was further suppressing them. Jessica turned and on seeing Sharon her mouth dropped and her eyes widened. Sharon was surprised at her enthusiasm; it wasn’t as if they were great friends. She knew Nati better, but then Nati and Jessica were one in the same package. Sharon never pictured what exactly Nati liked in
her, but then she was really nice…
Sharon felt that she should at least share in the gush of the moment. “Oh my gosh! Jessica!”
“Sharon! Wow!” Jessica squeezed Sharon as if they were high school friends reunited at retirement.
“Mazal tov! What a big step!”
“I know!” She somehow smiled and seemed to cry at the same time. “Thank you for coming!”
Just then, Sharon noticed Steven Broder walk in front of the glass windows in front of the restaurant with two other guys behind him. While she didn’t expect to stay much longer, she wanted someone familiar to help her escape from the giddiness. As he entered the restaurant, she saw that besides Avi Glass, Steven was accompanied by none other than Joe. Nothing looked different about him, except that his short hair seemed a bit wind-blown and he was wearing a suit with his tie somewhat loosened from its grip around his neck. He did have slight bags under his eyes and his cheeks and forehead had traces of tan. Otherwise, though, he looked as if he was completely overjoyed at the occasion. She watched him greet Nati with such empathy that one could be mistaken to think that they were brothers. For the first time she was seeing Joe not as her protégé but as someone from whom she was seeking advice, and with that he now had a certain air of maturity she never noticed before.
In the moment Sharon was looking at Joe, Jessica had turned to speak with a very tall girl with long blond hair who looked like the Scandinavian who almost crushed Sharon at the fireworks display. Sharon took her cue to excuse herself and walk over to Joe.
You’re a good friend,” she heard Joe tell Nati, who was wearing a strained smile. “Really.”
“Thanks Joe,” Nati was saying blankly. “Thanks for coming.”
“Hey Joey,” Sharon interjected, causing them both to turn. He was surprised, but not alarmed, at seeing her. “Nice to see you.”
His radiating happiness dropped a notch. “Nice to see you too, Sharon.”
“How’d you get here?”
Nati took the chance to escape. “Thank you guys for coming,” they heard him say.
When he was gone, Sharon asked him quietly, “What was that about?”
Joe looked into her eyes. She could see that he was very tired. “I just think that Nati needed some encouragement,” Joe said
They looked over at Nati high-fiving Avi and Steven.
She leaned in towards Joe. “What do you know?” she whispered.
They shared a glance. “He’s broken,” Joe whispered.
“I know. Poor guy,” she said simply.
“How does she not know?”
Sharon shook her head. “Maybe she does.”
They both sighed. “What’s up, Sharon?”
She was surprised by the way he asked the question—almost tenderly. “I’m all right,” she told him, “but let me ask you, Joey. What’s up with you?”
“I’m great,” he said quickly. He felt very distant, looking around but not as if seeking anybody.
“Your phone was off,” she said, matter-of-factly.
“I noticed that just now.”
“So how did you find out?”
She could tell that he was hesitant to answer. “Uh, I ran into the guys on the subway. They were coming here as I was about to go home.”
“What were you doing in the city?”
He coughed. “Meeting up with someone.”
What is he hiding? “In a suit and tie?”
He laughed shortly. “Yeah. I ran out this morning.”
“I remember that tie,” she remarked, looking closely at it. She had insisted that he buy it one day when they were perusing Urban Outfitters. It was a dull orange with white stripes that came as a set, though she doubted whether he even had the matching orange shirt. “It still looks good on you.”
She wanted to sit down with him at a small table and interrogate him, but before she could she suddenly became aware of something. Just behind her someone was talking about the scarcity of rain in Israel, and at the exact moment Sharon was looking at Joe’s tie. Immediately her train of thought went express and she remembered that rainy day with Andy in Times Square, and the same tie that Joe was wearing poking out from under a big umbrella, helping a simply dressed religious girl cross a puddle. Sharon’s eyes narrowed and she realized that she was looking at the same build of the wearer of that tie but seven blocks from when she last saw him wearing it.
“You!” she pointed at him accusingly. She wanted to push him.
He suddenly became very alarmed, probably from the look of venom in Sharon’s eyes. “What?”
She had many things to say, but the muddle in her mind could only produce, “You were in Times Square!”
He spoke to her quietly. “Sharon, is everything all right?”
“I saw you in Times Square wearing that tie!” she blurted out. “You were on a shidduch date!”
His face froze, as if he were caught stealing. She interpreted his silence as validation of her conclusion. Excitedly, she guessed at everything.
“You’ve been dating, and you haven’t told me. This whole time…”
Avi Glass, who was standing ten feet away, turned to see. Joe stepped towards her, but she automatically retreated. “Sharon, calm down.”
“Joey!” She started to cry, the shock of the intensity of her emotion made tears come even faster. “I can’t believe you!”
“What? Am I wrong?”
She didn’t want to listen, and with one turn she was out the door, running up Broadway and heading for the subway. She knew that she was already in an emotional turmoil with her grandmother’s condition and her uncertainty with Andy, and now with Joe’s return from the abyss she just couldn’t handle it all and she didn’t want to make a scene in front of her friends. With everything going on in her life she definitely didn’t need Joe to have hidden something like this from her. She ran to the crosswalk at 38th Street while tears were flowing down her temples and down to her chin. Joe came alongside her while she waited at the light for a taxi to pass.
“Wait, Sharon,” he started, but she didn’t let him continue.
“How many dates have you been on?” she demanded.
“Will you please—”
“How many?” she again demanded, more violently.
He must have seen the fury in her eyes because he looked down when he said, “Six, but—”
“Six! When were you going to tell me?”
“I didn’t tell anybody. It all happened so fast.”
“You didn’t even tell me you were set up.”
“I was told not to.”
“Not to tell? Not even your friends?”
“I didn’t even tell my parents.”
She began to walk away but turned back. “What’s gotten into you? Last week you had a great time with Erica and now you tell me you went out with a girl six times?”
“Erica?” he exclaimed. “I was chaperoning your guest, so that you and Andy could enjoy your time together.”
“Huh. It didn’t look like that.”
He turned around in frustration. “Sharon…”
“What are you going to tell me next, that you’re engaged?”
“Will you please let me speak?”
“Are you engaged already?”
For the first time he spoke with annoyance. “No, I’m not engaged.”
“Huh! Not this week.”
He looked back. “Stop this already.”
From the corner of her eye she saw that no cars were coming so she crossed the street and continued towards the subway entrance at 40th Street. Whatever Joe had to say she didn’t want to hear it. With everything that she had done for him, the last thing she ever thought he would do would be to go behind her back and drop her out of his life like this. She dashed down the stairs and at the bottom took her Metrocard out of her purse and quickly swiped through the heavy metal turnstile.
After she had passed through, she heard Joe command her from the top of the stairs, “Sharon, wait!” The force of his voice froze her in her place. In a second he appeared and he came towards the barrier, his face flushed and his eyes staring directly at hers through the bars. “Wait.”
“Why?” she demanded.
“You won’t even let me explain?”
“What explanation is there? You left me out of a pretty important part of your life.”
“I’m sorry,” he said with remorse. “Everything happened very fast and I didn’t realize how involved I was.”
“You didn’t even tell me you’d been set up.”
“I didn’t tell anybody.”
“So what?” she held her hands out to the side. “We’re not friends enough?”
“Friends?” he asked incredulously. Then his eyes narrowed and he pointed at her through the bars. “What’s this all about, anyway? Why is it that when you’ve been getting dates for years and finally I get a break that you call me on it?”
The last thing Sharon was going to tolerate was an accusation. Coldly, she said, “I was always looking out for you, Joey. This argument is over.” She slowly stepped backwards while keeping her gaze towards him. “You want to go off and get married and leave me out of it, go ahead.”
Joe’s face turned pale. “Wait, I’m sorry…”
“I won’t stop you.”
“No, Sharon…” he pleaded.
With tears filling her eyes, she mouthed to him: “goodbye.”
She turned and started running down the corridor towards the trains. “Wait!” he screamed but she didn’t stop. “My card is empty! Don’t run away!”
Once out of sight, she stood against a wall to catch her breath and wipe her face with tissues from her bag. Even if he was apologetic for his behavior, he had accused her of being insensitive when she had done so much for him. When she reached the 2 platform and soon after got on a train, she sat down and breathed deeply, hoping that with some much-needed sleep she would deal with her
problems, now on her own.
Is this the end of Joe and Sharon? Find out more in the next installment. If you can’t wait, get your copy of Outdated NOW from www.nathanwolff.com or buy it direct from Nathan himself (ships from the US) on Amazon! Also available on Kindle!