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cont. Bittersweet Beginnings

"Anything to get off this creeping van," Estee agreed.
"I'm feeling carsick. Nothing personal, Mr. Mandel. I do
thank you for taking me," she added quickly.

"Fine, let's do it," Rochel concurred. "Mr. Mandel,
could you please let us off at the next corner? And please
say hello to my parents for me. I wasn't up when they left
for work this morning."

"Sure, have a wonderful day, girls," Mr. Mandel said.
His tone was still cheerful, but Rochel could see that he
looked perplexed. "Teenagers!" he mumbled to himself
as he waved good-bye.

Rochel stepped down from the van and suggested,
"Why don't we walk down Bathurst Street? It's the fastest

"If we're doing this for exercise, we should head for
the side streets and take the scenic route," Shany said.
"Otherwise, we'll just breathe in car exhaust fumes when
we inhale deeply."

"That seems logical," Estee agreed as she linked her
arm through Rochel's.

Rochel glanced into a store window and saw their
reflections as they walked briskly east on Wilson Avenue.
Shany was a tall girl with bright strawberry blonde hair
and an appealing sprinkling of freckles on her lovely
smiling face. Estee was a petite bundle of energy, with
short, light brown hair and inquisitive green eyes.

My friends are each so different, Rochel thought,
inside and outside. I am so lucky to have them.

The threesome continued through the underpass
and made a right turn on the first street they came to.

"What a perfect day for a walk!" Shany exclaimed,
grinning, as she pointed to the blue sky. "Ideal weather
and ideal company."

Suddenly, the sun disappeared behind a cloud, and
the sky darkened. As the girls quickened their pace, it
began to rain hard.

"We're lucky that we're not far from Bathurst Street.
I'm drenched," Estee moaned. "Let's make a run for it."
They headed for a nearby fruit store with a large green
and white canvas awning.

"What a brilliant inspiration, Shany!" Rochel said,
giggling. She used her knapsack to shield her head from
the warm downpour as she ran. "Thanks for talking Estee
and me into walking."

Once they were under the shelter, Shany caught her
breath. "Honestly," she insisted, "would you trade this
beautiful sun shower for a crawling ride through traffic?"
"Do you really want me to answer that question,
Shany?" Rochel responded as she flicked a wet strand of
her shiny, jet black hair in Shany's direction.

"My hair is a mess and I'm starving," Estee whined.
"Wait until my mother sees that my new school shoes are
ruined. She was so against my buying suede school shoes.
I had to beg her all summer and pay for them with my own
money. Shany, the next time you have one of your
brilliant fitness ideas, do me a favor and share it with
someone else!"

The traffic moved past them in a relentless line of
multi-hued cars and buses washed shiny and bright by the
pouring rain. Rochel watched as the steady stream of

water gushing down the awning's edge gradually slowed.
"The rain is just a gentle trickle now," she said. "Let's go.
This time we're taking Bathurst, just in case it starts up

Shany hummed a tune as they briskly walked towards
Bas Yisrael High. "That tune sounds so familiar," Rochel
said. "Where did I hear it before?"

"Mr. Mandel, the van, remember?" Shany answered.
"I can't get it out of my head." She hummed and danced
through all the puddles they passed, as Rochel and Estee
exchanged amused glances.

"We'll pretend we don't know her," Estee said to
Rochel, just loudly enough for Shany to hear.

"Shany, did you hear we're getting a new girl at "
Rochel began. She broke off when she realized she was
speaking into thin air. Shany had lost her balance. She
grinned up at Rochel sheepishly from her seat on the

"What exercise is that, Shany?" Estee inquired with
mock innocence.

"Make jokes now, Estee, but years from now you'll be
thanking me for all the good fitness programs I've in-
spired," Shany said with dignity as she stood up and
briskly shook herself off.

They arrived at Bas Yisrael High just as the bell rang.
Rochel felt a rush of happiness when she looked at the
ivory-colored brick school building. The grade nine fresh-
men looked a little lost but, at the same time, happy to be
there. There was excitement in the air, and Rochel felt
that unique combination of confusion and high hopes

that characterize the first day of school.

They walked closer to the school entrance and no-
ticed a shabby, avocado green sedan with New York
license plates pulling up in front of the school. Estee put
her fingers in her ears while the car clanked, sputtered
and finally shuddered to a complete stop. They watched
as a girl they had never seen before emerged from the car
and the woman inside waved enthusiastically. The car
pulled noisily away, and the girl hurried up the school

"I wonder who that could be," remarked Estee.

They hurried in after her, and Estee nudged Rochel
with her elbow.

"Maybe that's the new girl that you started to tell us
about," Estee said.

Mrs. Liebowitz, the school principal, emerged from
the office as they passed and motioned for them to come
in. They followed her into the office to find the new girl
standing there.

"Vicki Silver has just moved here from New York,"
Mrs. Liebowitz told them. "She is going to be in your class.
I know I can count on all of you to help her out and make
her feel welcome." Rochel noticed that the principal shot
a meaningful look right at Estee.

Rochel looked into Vicki Silver's intense blue eyes and
smiled. Vicki returned her smile self-consciously and
straightened her faded but carefully pressed blue skirt.
Rochel watched Estee's eyes look Vicki up and down.
Finally, when the principal had moved out of earshot,
Estee said to Vicki, "You know, that's not the uniform."

"I know, but my uniform hasn't arrived yet," Vicki
explained as she shifted nervously from one foot to

"Estee!" Rochel hissed sharply, her dark eyes blazing.

"I'm only telling her for her own good," Estee an-
swered defensively.

Shany flashed Vicki her warmest smile and started to
tell her about their escapades in the rain. "I may have just
lost two friends, so I'm really pleased to meet you," she

Mrs. Liebowitz returned, smiling. "Rochel, please
take Vicki to find her assigned locker," she said. "Shany
and Estee, you may go on to class."

"Mrs. Liebowitz is so nice," Vicki remarked as she
walked down the corridor with Rochel. "The principal in
my old school never had time to leave his office, much less
to talk to the students. Please wait for a second, Rochel,"
she added, as they passed the water fountain. "I just want
to get a drink of water."

As Vicki bent over the fountain, Rochel asked, "Vicki,
were you born in New York?"

"Yes, how did you know?" Vicki replied with a puzzled

"Just repeat the word water to anyone in Toronto,
Vicki, and that will give it away every time. I think your
accent is cute." Rochel looked at Vicki's kind and delicate
face and thought, It would be nice to invite her over soon.
She probably doesn't know too many people.

"I seem to have forgotten to bring one important
item," Vicki said apologetically. "My lock. I wonder which

carton I packed it in?"

"Don't worry about it, you can use my locker until you
find it," Rochel assured her. She rattled off her combina-
tion, and Vicki jotted it down on a slip of paper.

"Why did you move to Toronto?" Rochel asked as
Vicki placed her books neatly on top of Rochel's.

Vicki didn't answer immediately. She carefully closed
the locker door, clicked the lock shut, gave it another tug
and finally tried the locker door. Satisfied, she turned
back to Rochel.

"That's some security check!" Rochel commented
with amusement. "What do you think we keep in there,
anyway? Diamonds?"

"Oh, it's just force of habit," Vicki explained. "Unfor-
tunately, in New York we learn very young to lock every-
thing up. As to why we moved here, we fell in love with the
city when we vacationed here last year. My mother is an
occupational therapist, and she got a job offer with
Mount Sinai Hospital."

"Has your father found a job yet?" Rochel asked as
they headed toward their classroom. From the look on
Vicki's face, Rochel realized that she must have hit a raw

"My father is a computer programmer, and he works
in New York," Vicki stammered.

So Vicki's parents are divorced, Rochel thought.
There was an uncomfortable pause as Rochel tried to
think of something to say. She felt relieved when the
school's loudspeaker came on abruptly to announce the
first assembly program of the year.


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