“Come on Dina, hurry up or you’ll be late for your first day.”
Dina ignored her mother’s urgent tone and slowly ran her hand down the smooth blue blouse while it was still on the hanger. She undid the buttons and slipped it on. It felt and smelled so new – with her new school’s insignia embroidered on the pocket.
A new blouse for a new school.
A new school for a new life.
A new life that she didn’t really want.
Dina shivered and looked around her bedroom. She couldn’t even remember where she’d put everything when they’d moved in two weeks ago, soon after her mother and David had gotten married. She finished dressing and went downstairs into the kitchen. Her mother was already sitting at the table, her hands cupped round a cup of coffee, as though warming them.
David was also sitting there. Dina didn’t call him David. She didn’t actually call him anything yet. She didn’t feel comfortable calling him by his first name and all other possibilities sounded false and odd, so she just avoided calling him at all.
“Oh Dina, you look terrific,” her mother said. “Your new uniform suits you perfectly.” She hugged Dina and kissed her on her cheek, careful not to mess her neatly brushed hair.
“Here quickly have some breakfast. You don’t know yet if you’ll like the school lunch and you don’t want to be hungry. I’ve packed you up some fruit, sandwiches and cookies just in case.” She rushed around nervously, Dina was sure she was just eager to get her off to school.
David looked up. “Hatzlacha, Dina,” he smiled. “I hope everything goes well.”
Dina turned away.
How could it go well? If it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t have to go to a new school. Why did you have to marry Mommy? Why couldn’t you have left us alone? Mommy and I had managed fine since Daddy died. I’m twelve years old and big enough to look after Mommy. We don’t need any help from you.
“C’mon. I’ll take you in the car and go in to meet your new teacher,” Mom gently pushed Dina out of the house and steered her towards the car.
They rode to the school in silence. Dina was glad her mother was with her. She was dreading her first day, especially as it was the middle of the school year and everyone already knew everyone else and each girl would be in her own clique.
“Hi, welcome to our class. I’m Rivki,” the girl at the adjoining desk stuck out her hand and whispered. Dina smiled back and held out her hand. She had just been introduced to the class by her new teacher, Mrs. Cornfeld, and shown her desk and locker. At recess she walked outside and started to unwrap the food her mother had packed. She took out some cookies and noticed that Rivki was at her side.
“What’s the lunch here like?” she asked her.
“Pretty awful. I usually bring something from home.”
“Good thing Mom had the idea of giving me food,” Dina laughed. “I guess she has memories of yucky school meals.”
Dina held out her hand, “Would you like a cookie? My mom made them and she’s a great baker.”
“Thanks.” Rivki pulled out a piece of cake and broke it in half and gave half to Dina.
“Your mom made this chocolate cake? It’s yummy,” Dina mumbled as she swallowed the last crumb.
Rivki hesitated slightly. “Sort of… Well yes… well she’s not my mom,” she said, burrowing around in her school bag. “My dad married Jennie about a year ago. After my mom died.” She kept her eyes down looking into her bag
Dina put her hand on her new friend’s arm. “Me too,” she said quietly.
“What do you mean ‘me too’?”
“My mom just married someone else too. How long is it since your mom passed away?”
“Two years. And you… since your dad?”
“A bit less than one year and seven months.”
Dina wondered if Rivki felt as resentful of her new “mom” as she felt about David, but the bell for the end of recess rang before she had a chance to ask.
The following day Mrs. Cornfeld announced that they would be having a Chumash test at the end of the week, as they did every two weeks, reviewing the material they had learned.
She walked over to Dina’s desk. “Dina, I realize you weren’t here when we learned most of the material, so don’t worry, I’ll take that into account.” She turned to Rivki, “Maybe you could give Dina your notes to look over.”
“Sure, Mrs. Cornfeld. Dina why don’t you come back to my place after school tomorrow and we’ll study together,” Rivki suggested.
“Okay, I’d like that. Thanks. I’ll just check it with Mom, but I’m sure she’ll be fine with it.”
“Wow. I like the color of your room and those pictures are really cool,” Dina said the next day, as the two girls flopped down on the rug in Rivki’s room, careful not to spill the jug of lemonade and cookies.
“Yeah. It is nice. Jennie helped me choose it all when we moved here. She’s good with matching colors and things…and choosing clothes. I guess it’s nice to have someone to go shopping with again.”
“It must have been really tough without your mom.” Dina downed a long cool drink and tried to imagine life without her mom.
“Yup. And I guess for you as well, you know, without your dad – but in a different way I suppose.”
“Well, yeah, I guess. But really, I mean we were managing fine on our own. She didn’t need to get married… don’t you ever feel that way?”
“Maybe…sometimes. One thing that was good. We stayed home for Yom Tov this year. I mean Dad was okay with chicken soup and cholent but he totally blacked out at cooking for Pesach and the simanim and stuff for Rosh Hashana, so we always got invited out. I hated it.”
Dina nodded. “I know what you mean about eating out. Mom thought we ought to as we had no one to make Kiddush for us, but eating out all the time was worse than making Kiddush for ourselves. I mean people were nice to us… but you still feel such a neb.” She started getting her books out of her schoolbag. “I guess we’ll be able to stay home now. I hadn’t thought of that.”
They got out their Chumashim and notebooks and started to study.
On Friday morning they arrived early so they could review some more before the test started.
Dina opened her schoolbag to get her notebook out and her fingers felt something odd-shaped. She pulled out a small bag with a note on it.
“Good luck with your tests Dina and Rivki. Hope this gets you off to a ‘sweet’ start.” It was signed “David.”
She opened it up and found two of her favorite chocolate bars.
Smiling, she handed one to Rivki. “Look, David’s sent us both a bar of chocolate to get us off to a good start.”
“Wow, cool, that’s so nice of him,” Rivki started unwrapping hers and took a bite.
“Yeah,” Dina smiled, “I guess he’s not so bad after all.”