“What’s all this?” Esther said as she opened her door. “I thought you said that you made a few things.”
“Seven can also be a few,” Sharon said as she handed Esther a bag of containers. “Thank you so much for squeezing me in.”
“I don’t know why you even hesitated,” Esther said as she took Sharon’s Tupperware into her apartment. “You have no idea how much you’ve saved me. My sister Sara’s been planning to come for months. Her husband’s gone with his father and brothers on some men’s retreat and it has to be this week I get sick and couldn’t make a thing.”
“I hope it lives up to your Sephardic standards,” Sharon said as she walked in and plopped onto the couch. “It’s my first time making them.”
“Please! I was ready to buy Sabra before you called. And besides, we’re Persian. Our cooking is not so salad-based.”
“Where is your sister, anyway?” Esther sighed. “The Carlebach shul. That’s really why she came; she got turned onto it when she was in Israel for seminary. You can also go if you want. They’re probably still on the first Mizmor.”
“No, I’m beat,” Sharon said as stretched horizontally and rested her head on the armrest. “I went to bed at 5 AM.”
“You’re nuts. Why were you up so late?”
Sharon exhaled deeply. “I couldn’t sleep so I went to Fairway and got lost in the vegetable section.”
“Better than the ice cream section. And you didn’t want to make a meal?”
“No one wanted to come,” Sharon said sorrowfully.
Esther then came to the table and placed a package of plastic plates with her flatware on top. She sat on the armrest of the couch, right next to Sharon’s head, and put her hand on Sharon’s shoulder.
Sharon closed her eyes. “It’s all right. What can I expect for seeking guests a few hours before Shabbat?”
With her hand still on Sharon’s shoulder, Esther asked, “What about Andy? He isn’t doing anything tonight.”
“You spoke to him today?”
“No, but David called and wanted to know if I was hosting. Like, haven’t I told them 100 times I don’t do meals anymore?!” She threw back her head in exasperation. “These guys think they can make their plans after work on Friday and for the small price of a bottle of Moscato get treated to a three-course meal.” She stood up and crossed her arms. “I think he also mentioned Andy.”
“I wouldn’t know. He didn’t say anything about Shabbat yesterday.”
“Ah, yesterday,” Esther said. “Those guys are creatures of habit.”
Sharon opened her eyes and looked up at Esther. “You know about it?”
“They’ve tried to drag me down there. I’m not getting anywhere near that number of people being held above the river by a few wooden pillars.”
“Well, I went and it was…it was exactly that. Right when the fireworks started the crowd crunched and things got a bit…close.”
“Creepy.” She started to put forks onto folded napkins.
“Leave them here for me to set,” Sharon offered, sitting up and reaching for the bundle of utensils, but Esther quickly pulled her hand away from Sharon’s grasp.
“You don’t have to get up,” she said sweetly but with a stern face. “But it’s nice that you went. I take it that you two are…” Esther trailed off as she went to the kitchen.
Sharon said “I guess so” in a gushing way but a nanosecond too late. Esther immediately picked up on it.
“What’s wrong?” she asked, bringing glasses to the table. “Were his friends a bit too much?”
“No, they’re fine. No, he’s a great guy.”
Esther placed down a glass heavily. “Yeah, but…”
“But what? He’s very sweet.”
Sharon was too tired to fight. “I can’t explain it to you. It’s complicated. I don’t even know if I can explain it to myself.”
Esther walked over and looked straight into Sharon’s eyes in a way that made Sharon feel permeated. “You don’t feel ‘it’ with him?”
Sharon looked away. “No, I do. He’s wonderful, I like him, whatever you want to hear. I just…”
Esther straightened up and held up her hand. “You don’t have to explain,” she said, like a mother. “It’s your business.”
Sharon sat herself up on her elbow. “It’s not like that. Don’t think that—”
“I don’t think anything at all,” she reassured Sharon. “Didn’t you tell me about someone else…what’s his name? Joe? That has to be the funniest name for a religious guy.”
Sharon sighed, falling back into the couch. “He’s a whole other story. I have no idea what’s up with him. Tell me what you think: last week he was here for this aufruf and I kind of set him up with this girl we knew from college who just came back from LA. Well, they totally hit it off—and I could tell that he was enjoying himself, you know? Anyway, we planned to go out Saturday night and when we’re all ready, we go upstairs to find him and he’s ditched us, giving no excuse why and then doesn’t answer my calls all week, hanging up right away when I finally reach him, what, two days ago? Then today he calls me, puts me on hold and then comes back after five minutes to tell me that he’s getting off and that he’s in the Catskills for Shabbat. I mean, what am I supposed to make of that?”
Esther became pensive, or at least appeared to be. “Is it like him to do that?”
“Not at all. I mean, he’s been weird for the last few weeks, but he’s otherwise very honest with me.”
“You’ve known him for how long?”
“Joey? Four years…why?”
“Has your friendship ever been anything…” she rolled her hand, “more?”
Sharon knew what Esther was insinuating. “No,” she stated definitively. “Not with Joey.”
Esther wasn’t convinced. “What makes you so sure? Maybe he ran away last week because he didn’t want you to think he was interested in your friend more than he is in you? Of course you’ll
say, ‘no way, not Joey!’ But guys are strange. They’ll act like really good friends and always seek your advice and be super nice and friendly to your boyfriends…” Esther lowered her voice, “when they’re just waiting for the most opportune moment—just when your boyfriend breaks up with you—to jump up and admit to being totally in love with you.”
Sharon glanced over at Esther. “It sounds like you have experience.”
Esther straightened her back and posed like a statue. “You know Andy’s one of a quartet, not just a trio, right?”
Sharon nodded in agreement. “Yeah. You know, it did seem strange to me that they’re always talking about Aharon—”
“Roni,” Esther said simultaneously with Sharon. She pulled out a seat from the table and placed it next to where Sharon was reclining. “He’s how I know Andy and their whole crew. A friend from home told me to look him up when I first moved up here. We were friends, you know, nothing more. He had a girlfriend when I met him, I had guys I was interested in—he never made any comments or acted jealous. We’d take walks, go to the same Shabbat meals. We even had a weekly dinner Monday nights—he hated Mondays and needed to ‘brighten them up,’ he’d always say.” She sighed. “He was, maybe, the best friend I ever had. I could talk to him about anything, and we did; we talked sometimes for hours. I told him things that I didn’t even tell my sisters. But we were just friends; there was no potential there at all.” She paused and stared at the floor for a moment. Sharon caught Esther’s closed eyes quivering as she continued. “Well, right when I had this hard break-up with this Persian guy, Roni drops the bomb—how he’s been in love with me for as long as we’ve known each other, and that he feels so close to me…” She breathed deeply, wiping her eyes with her fingers. “I’m telling you, I had no idea. None. There was no hint of anything…”
Sharon just sat there, watching Esther. The room felt stuffy, as if Esther’s pain was permeating the walls and stifling the air. For Sharon, the story was a double shock—not only that Esther was duped but that she was just as vulnerable as Sharon. “I’m sorry,” was all Sharon could think to say.
“I’m also sorry,” Esther said. “He was so embarrassed when I told him I didn’t want to be friends anymore that he moved to Boston.”
Sharon remained silent for a moment out of respect. Finally she shook her head and said, “Not Joey. I know, I know…but I have a pretty good feeling about him.” Sharon hesitated. “One summer I went on this dieting binge and lost a lot of weight and when I came back to school all the guys suddenly wanted a lot of my attention. Joey was the only guy who didn’t behave any different towards me.”
Esther didn’t reply, giving Sharon a look that didn’t say anything particularly encouraging before standing up and going into the kitchen. For a long time Sharon lay silently on the couch, the clanking of spoons and the opening of her Tupperware containers the only sounds in the small apartment. Perhaps Sharon had finally been able to catch Esther without a response, though it wasn’t making Sharon feel any more settled. Sure there were times that Sharon caught Joe looking at her funny, but she brushed it off as the nature of guys. She also knew that there was the time when Hannah Jaffe had told her that Joe had said he had ‘feelings’ for Sharon, whatever that was supposed to mean. Though she afterwards watched Joe to see if he acted the slightest bit different, she never detected anything. It was Joe’s second semester as a freshman and he had
told her that he was interested in Elisheva Ashkenazi, so Sharon had figured that either Hannah had been wrong or that Joe had redefined his ‘feelings.’ For a moment Esther’s story caused Sharon to think differently about Joe, but only for a moment.
Just when Sharon was about to get up and sympathize with Esther, the sister walked in and that particular conversation was put on hold.
Want to know Sharon’s recipes? What “feelings” Hannah Jaffe was insinuating? Why Esther’s sister came back so early from the Carlebach davening? After you calm down, consider buying your copy of Outdated NOW from www.nathanwolff.com or Amazon!