Recap: Miss Gross, the woman her father is dating, is expected for supper. Just after she arrives, Yehudis’ father gets a call that his mother fell and he has to rush to see her in the hospital.
Aba left in a rush, and I stood in the doorway, watching him speed away.
“I hope your grandmother will be okay,” Miss Gross said.
I couldn’t believe I was stuck being with her now.
“So, let’s get that supper going. It smells wonderful,” she said.
I headed into the kitchen to bring out the first course of mushroom barley soup and the salad that Aba had carefully prepared. I tried not to let my angry feelings show, but why was I stuck serving this dinner to a stranger whom I didn’t even want to be with?
“It was so nice of your father and you to make this delicious meal. I’m sorry he isn’t getting to eat it. We’ll save some for him. She laughed, “If there are leftovers.”
We sat down at the table, and I went through the motions of eating because I didn’t feel hungry.
Miss Gross kept giving compliments about the food.
I just nodded.
I was counting the minutes until I could be excused and get away from her.
“Show me where the fleishig sponge is and I’ll be happy to do the dishes. You worked hard enough.”
I didn’t want her doing anything for me. “That’s okay,” I said with tight lips. “I’ll do them.”
I cleared the table and went into the kitchen to do the dishes.
While I was rinsing them, she followed me into the kitchen. “So, I heard you like math? Your father told me that. Is it your favorite subject?”
Why was he telling her anything about me?
“Yes, I love math. I love English and writing, too, but there’s something about solving a math problem…”
“Wow, I’m impressed. Math was always hard for me. I always wished I could do it easily, but alas no such thing ever happened.”
“I know a lot of people don’t love it. My best friend Tema has trouble in math. I used to help her.” Why was I talking to her?
“You must miss her. To leave in eighth grade must have been so devastating for you.”
Devastating, yes that was the exact word. “It was hard, but harder things have been happening since then.”
Suddenly, there was a loud moaning sound coming from right outside the house. It was like the sound I’d heard a few weeks ago at night.
Chava stared at me wide-eyed. “What was that?”
“I don’t know.” I ran to check the lock on the front door and I made sure the shades were down.
We both listened. The sound stopped.
“Aba said it’s the house creaking, but I don’t think houses moan.”
“No, I don’t think they do either,” Miss Gross said, which just made my stomach plunge more.
“Yehudis, I don’t think you should sleep here alone tonight. Do you want me to stay over?”
Just then, there was the moaning sound again.
“I wouldn’t feel right leaving you.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn’t want to be here alone. I got clean linens for her to use in Grandma Henny’s room.
I sat down on my bed to read. Miss Gross knocked on my bedroom door. “I saw some games in the living room. Would you want to play Bananagrams?”
Maybe it would distract me from the scary noises in this house. “Okay.”
We played a round and I beat her.
“You’re so good at this,” she said.
I wondered if she was letting me win on purpose.
“I was never good at these types of games. My siblings always beat me at word games.”
“But you’re a librarian.”
“I liked to read, but games aren’t my forte.”
I didn’t ask, but she started telling me about where she grew up.
“I was raised in Minneapolis. It’s a cold place with lots of warmth. Everyone says hello to everyone else. I always thought its because there’s so much wide-open space. People are more inclined to be friendly in wide open spaces as opposed to cramped city quarters. Having enough space is important to people.”
“I never thought of that,” I said.
“Do you want to play again?” she asked.
“Tell me about the stories you’re writing,” she asked.
“Right now, when I have time, I’m working on a historical fiction story that takes place in ancient times around the time of the Chanukah story.”
“Tell me about your process. How do you think of your story ideas?”
Just then, my phone rang. “Hudi, how is it going?” Aba asked.
“Okay. How’s Grandma Henny?”
“Baruch Hashem, not sure yet. The doctor is taking more x-rays. They may have to do surgery. I have to stay here tonight, and it may be––”
“Aba, it’s okay. I’m okay. Miss Gross is staying with me.”
I handed her the phone.
“Benyamin, stay as long as you need to. I’m here with Yehudis. Shabbos, we can make together if need be.”
“Your father had to hang up to speak to a doctor. He may have to stay a few days and tomorrow is Friday, but I told him, if it’s okay with you, that you and I would make Shabbos here.”
Shabbos without Aba and more time with her?
I glanced at the clock. I couldn’t believe Miss Gross and I had been playing and talking for almost two hours straight.
As we were getting ready for bed, I found a night gown of Grandma Henny’s to lend her because she was petite and mine would be too long.
“Yehudis, I brought some homemade chocolate chip sticks. Would you like to share a bedtime snack?”
I was feeling hungry now. I made some cinnamon tea and we sat down at the table with cookies and tea.
“Thank you for the snack,” I said.
“Sure, my siblings and I always make these.”
“How many sisters and brothers do you have?” I asked.
“I have seven sisters and one brother.”
“Seven sisters! You’re so lucky. I always wanted a sister,” I blurted.
“I’m the oldest. I was adopted,” she said.
I stopped eating my cookie and almost choked. “You are?”
“Yes, my parents were married for seven years, and they were not religious at all. They wanted a baby terribly, but it wasn’t happening. They met a woman through my mother’s work and that woman invited them for a Shabbos dinner. One thing led to another, and they gradually began learning. They went to a rav for a brachah, and he told them to start keeping Shabbos and that they should adopt a baby and that they would then have a large family.”
“Do you know who your real parents are?”
“They are my real parents. No, I never met my biological parents. I was told they were very young and couldn’t raise me, but my parents who raised me are my parents and I love them so much. I’ll tell you a quote my father taught me when I was around 11. I always remembered it because it was so meaningful to me and my situation. The Talmud Sanhedrin states that whoever raises an orphan in his home, it is ascribed to him as though he had begotten him. The source is: “You have redeemed with an outstretched hand the sons of Yaakov and Yosef. Yaakov begot the sons, not Yosef, but Yosef sustained them in Egypt, so they are called by his name.”
I ran to get my journal so I could jot down the quote. Those words went straight to my heart.
“Anyway,” Miss Gross said, “after they adopted me, my mother became pregnant and my seven siblings followed.”
“Didn’t you feel upset at your biological parents for abandoning you?”
“I did think about them sometimes and wonder why they left me, but I felt so grateful always and I still do for my wonderful family that it didn’t matter. Hashem gave me the parents I needed and that was that.”
“When did you find out you were adopted? Do you mind my asking?”
“It’s fine, Yehudis. I don’t mind speaking about it. My mother told me when I was little, like three, and then again when I was six, to make sure I understood.”
I swallowed. “What if they hadn’t told you and you just found out because you asked them when you were 14?”
Miss Gross sipped on her tea and studied me with her large dark eyes.
“I might feel upset and confused. I’m sure it would be hard.”
Two tears rolled down my cheek. “It is upsetting and confusing,” I whispered. “I’m adopted and I just found out.”
Before I realized what was happening, Miss Gross reached over and hugged me. “I’m so sorry, Yehudis. That is a painful thing to have happen, but I know for a fact that your father loves you so deeply. He always speaks about you.”
Just then, there was a clinking noise right by the front door.
At first, I thought it must be Aba. We both strode towards the door.
I opened it.
There was a shovel leaning against the wall, and receding into the darkness was a man. Miss Gross started when she saw him. “That man – that was the man who came looking for the journal at the library yesterday.”
“I’m scared,” I said. I told her about the warning the woman had given us when we first moved in.
“There’s something strange going on and I feel like that journal might clue us in. Do you have it handy?”
I went to get it, thinking that I was glad she was here and she wasn’t as bad as I thought. We sat down on the couch together to read it.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of A Bridge in Time (Menucha Publishing, 2021), Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers, 2020), Denver Dreams, a novel (Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines. Fiction serial Jewish Press Falling Star (2019).