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Forever and a Day

by Libby Lazewnik

 

"We love Daddy and Daddy loves us.
So what if a few thousand miles separate us?"

Deep beneath the placid California earth, threatening forces
were at work. Along a fault line, stresses were building until they
could take no more. The planet shrugged and twitched. The
result is a devastating earthquake that takes with it homes, hopes
 and lives.

In the Bamberger family, too, the stresses are building. Mr.
Bamberger's business isn't doing well. The only choice, it seems,
is for him to leave his beloved wife and children and travel to
faraway South Africa for many long months in order to start
anew.

The Bamberger family, and particularly Lana, their sensitive
and caring twelve-year-old daughter, try their hardest to go on
with normal lives.

And then the ground beneath them begins to buckle...

Forever and a Day, Libby Lazewnik's long-awaited new novel,
introduces us to a lovely family facing the gravest test of all. It is
the stirring tale of difficult challenges overcome by a compelling
combination of determination, faith, and love. Most of all, it is
the story of Lana, her courage, her fears, and her triumph.

Like Libby Lazewnik's many other books, Forever and a Day is
destined to become a book beloved by readers of all ages.

TARGUM/FELDHEIM


FOREVER AND A DAY

LIBBY LAZEWNIK

Copyright © 2002 by Libby Lazewnik
ISBN 1-56871-265-0
All rights reserved

Published by:
Targum Press, Inc.

22700 W. Eleven Mile Rd.
Southfield, Ml 48034
E-mail: Targum@netvision.nel.il
Fax: 888-298-9992
www.targum.com

For Adina Rachel,
of course.

You've added a whole new
dimension to our lives!


With love from all of us, always.


Chapter 1

The Decision

The whole family was acting weird. There was no other word
for it.

Lana gazed intently at her parents, brothers, and sisters, try-
ing to put her finger on what, exactly, was different about them
today. One by one, she found it.

Take Toby. Normally, her five-year-old sister had to practically
be put on a leash in busy places like airports. She was forever wan-
dering off and following her curious little nose. Now, she clung to
Daddy's hand as if she were attached to it with Crazy Glue.

Goldie was acting different, too. Lana's older sister was a
chatterer. She generally started talking early in the day and didn't
stop until her head dropped onto her pillow at night. Now, she
stood with arms crossed, silent as a tomb.

Nachum, Lana's big brother and normally the most easy go-
ing person in the world, had snapped at three different members
of the family since they'd entered the airport terminal. At the mo-
ment, he was half-turned away from the rest of them, pretending
to watch the travelers hurrying past. Lana knew he was pretend-
ing because, most of the time, his head was down and he was
staring at his shoes.

Only Yitzi was acting more or less his usual self. He kept up a
steady stream of questions  about the plane Daddy was going
to fly on, about the people who were going to work the controls
in the cockpit, about South Africa, Daddy tried to answer him,
and so did Ma, but his eight-year-old energy was hard to keep up
with. Especially at a time like this.

"How long is the flight, Daddy? Will it be night when you get
there, or day? And what time will it be here in California?"

Mr. Bamberger patiently explained that South Africa was ten
hours ahead of them, and he waited while Yitzi tried to Figure out
what time it would be for him when his father reached Cape
Town. The rest of the family said nothing at all.

That, thought Lana, was the biggest difference. The still-
ness. Her family was like a bubble of quiet in the busy airport.

All around them, figures bustled through the terminal. The
people looked hurried and a little smug, as though they were im-
portant people, going important places. Only the Bambergers
were not moving. They stood huddled together in a tight knot, as
though they had forgotten that there was a world outside.

And there was one more thing. A very odd thing, consider-
ing the circumstances. Every one of them, from Daddy and Ma
down to little Toby, wore a fixed smile. An awful lot of smiles,
Lana thought sadly, for such an unhappy occasion. The smiles
were like bricks in a dam, holding back a torrent that threatened
to rip loose at any moment....

Lana imagined what would happen if the wall finally cracked,
to let out the river of tears that lay behind. That did not seem at
all impossible. Some of the smiles, she noticed, were looking
strained. Ma's, especially, was a little shaky. Lana moved closer to
her mother and touched her sleeve.

Ma glanced down at her, crinkling up her warm blue eyes in
what was meant to be a reassuring grin. Then she turned back to
her husband.

"We're going to be fine, Shmuel," Ma said for the hundredth
 the thousandth?  time. "The months will go by before we
know it. And then you'll be home again."

At the word "months," fifteen-year-old Goldie winced. It was
such a definite word, carrying with it such a definite burden of
pain. Goldie preferred something a little more vague. "For a
while" was easier to bear. "Daddy's going to Cape Town for a
while," Ma had told them, at that momentous family meeting the
week before. And Goldie had seized on the words as if they were
a lifeline. "Months and months" without Daddy would be awful.
"For a while" was bearable.

For her part, Lana preferred exactness. She'd already hung
an enormous calendar over her desk at home, to mark off the
days. "How long will you be away, Daddy?" she'd asked her father
right after the family meeting. "Two months? Three? Half a year?"
Her face had grown a little pale at that.

"I'm not sure," Daddy had answered slowly. "Two months at
least, I'd say. Six, tops. Enough time to help my cousin Eli get the
new branch of his business solidly on its feet." He didn't add the
words that Lana knew he was thinking: "And enough time to get
our own family back on its feet, too..."

It was funny, Lana thought now, the way important things
could be happening all around you, only you didn't have a clue.
The situation she was in  that they were all in  had been
shaping up for some time, but Lana hadn't seen a thing.

It was just like the ocean, she mused dreamily, as an imper-
sonal voice above her head announced the departure of yet an-

other flight. The surface of the sea looked so placid, as if nothing
lay beneath but more and more layers of the same smoothness
you saw at the top. Yet, underneath, high drama played itself out
in a billion different ways each day.

High drama had been playing in the theater of her own
home, but Lana had been too blind to see.

She thought about that now, as she rested her weight first on
one foot and then on the other. She hadn't noticed a thing  but,
then, Goldie and Nachum had been just as oblivious, and they
were older than she was. Goldie was going to begin the tenth
grade in a few days. Nachum, at thirteen, was about to leave for
an out-of-town yeshivah. At almost twelve, liana  Lana for
short  could be forgiven for being stunned by their father's
news. :

In fact, it had come as a shock to all of them.

"I don't know whether or not you kids are aware of this,"
Daddy had told the children as they sat around the butcher-block
kitchen table holding their meeting, "but I've suffered some fi-
nancial reverses lately."

"Reverses?" Toby repeated. "What's that?"

"That means that Daddy's lost some money in business,"
Yitzi told his little sister importantly. He turned expectantly back
to their father. "Right?"

Daddy nodded. "Right. Business hasn't gone as well as I
hoped this year. No, not very well at all." He paused. Lana felt the
weight of that pause. It was heavy, as though it carried a hint of
what was still to come. "We're going to have to make some
changes, kids."

"Changes?" Goldie asked in alarm. "What kind of changes?"

Ma had stepped in then. If her voice was cheerful, her eyes
told a different story. "Well, we have a few options. One would be
to tighten our belts and go on as we are. That would mean cer-
tain sacrifices. Less new clothes, simpler meals, fewer vaca-
tions..."

"What are the other choices?" Goldie asked quickly.

"We could move. L.A. is an expensive place to live. Daddy
could make a new start somewhere else, either on his own or
working for someone else."

"But that would mean leaving our friends!" Goldie ex-
claimed.

"And our schools/' Lana added.

Yitzi said, "Where would we move to?"

The meeting threatened to explode into a confused babble.
Mr. Bamberger held up a hand. "There is a third option."

Every pair of eyes darted back to him. It was Lana who
asked, "What option, Daddy?"

"Who remembers Cousin Eli?"

There was a blank silence. Hesitantly, Goldie said, "The one
who lives in South Africa?"

"Yes! That's the one. The last time he came to visit, you were
very young, Goldie. Nachum and Lana were even younger, and
the other two weren't even born yet. Eli lives in Johannesburg,
South Africa. He's planning to open a second branch of his dia-
mond business, down in Cape Town. And he wants me to come
and help him."

"South Africa?" Nachum stared at his father. "But that's on
the other side of the world!"

Soberly, Daddy nodded. "It is that. I would have to be away

for a while... a few months, probably. But he's offering me a lot of
money  a chunk of the business, in fact  which would help us
make a fresh start when I get back."

"A fresh start  here in LA?" Goldie asked.
"Right here in LA," Daddy grinned. "I don't want to move
any more than you do."

The discussion had gone on for a long time. Ma and Daddy
would make the final decision, of course, but they wanted to hear
what the children thought.

Goldie thought that anything was better than moving. She'd
spent most of the fifteen years of her life making friends and a
comfortable life for herself. The last thing she felt like doing was
starting all over again.

Nachum didn't want to move, either. He was the one who
would feel his father's departure the least. He was about to leave
for yeshivah and would only be coming home every couple of
months or so. But he wanted to know that the familiar house in
LA. would be waiting for him when he did come.

Lana was torn. On the one hand, the thought of losing
Daddy for months was agonizing. On the other, so was moving
away from Los Angeles. And moving was much more perma-
nent. Reluctantly she had to agree that Cape Town made the
most sense.

Yitzi was still young enough to think of moving as an adven-
ture. With small-boy logic, he kept repeating to anyone who
would listen, "A new house is fun. Daddy going away for ages is
no fun. It doesn't take much brains to choose which is better!"

Toby was quiet, listening to the others with eyes that had
grown suddenly too large for her little face.

In the end, their parents had opted for Cape Town.

Ma said, "It won't be for very long, kids. And, with Hashem's
help, the benefits will last us a long, long time." She smiled just a
touch too brightly. "Remember, every cloud has its silver lin-
ing...."

Lana could tell that her mother was trying hard to focus on
the silver lining. Just now, all she herself could see were masses

of ugly gray clouds, stretching away as far as the eye could see.

* * *

Once the decision was made, her parents launched them-
selves into the preparations for Daddy's trip. He would be gone
over the yamim noraim and Sukkos, but that couldn't be
helped. Cousin Eli needed him right away. If he was going, the
time was right now.

Lana tried to hold onto the days they had left, but they van-
ished one by one, like autumn leaves blown away by an uncaring
wind. In the blink of an eye, it seemed, Daddy's ticket was pur-
chased and his bags packed. And now, here they were, on the
brink of the separation they all dreaded.

Lana studied her father. There were shadows under his eyes
that she didn't remember seeing before. The eyes themselves
looked worried, though he tried hard not to show it. It's worst for
Daddy, she thought suddenly. She'd been so busy feeling sorry
for herself that she hadn't spared a thought for her father. He was
the one leaving his family and going across the world to a strange
place. He would be working hard all day and would not even have
the comfort of his loved ones to come home to at the end of it.
Why, Daddy was the one who needed cheering up the most!

And the best way to cheer him up, she realized with a flash of
wisdom, was to take away some of his worry about them.

Standing in the busy airport terminal, Lana mustered up all
her strength and gave her father a brilliant smile. "With school
starting in a couple of days, we'll be so busy we'll hardly even no-
tice you're gone!" she said, very cheerfully.

Daddy smiled back with a hopeful nod.

Ma smiled, too, and threw Lana a grateful look.

Yitzi drawled skeptically, "Yeah, right..."

Above their heads, the impersonal voice droned, "Flight
1034 for Cape Town, now boarding at Gate 32."

Daddy started as though stuck by a needle. Then, slowly, he
straightened up and took firm hold of his briefcase. Ma automati-
cally reached out her arms to gather in her brood. And Toby
chose that moment to do what they all wished they could do: She

burst into tears.

In a way, she did them all a favor. Clustering around the sob-
bing five-year-old, and comforting her, distracted them from
what was happening. When Toby had finally calmed to the snif-
fling stage, Daddy handed his briefcase to Nachum and bent to
scoop her up in his arms. There was a bright sheen of tears in his

own eyes.

"I love you, Toby-girl," he said, tickling her under the chin.

Through her sniffles, Toby managed a wan smile. "I love
you, too."

"I love you three!"

Their old game made Toby brighten a little. "I love you four!"

"I love you ten!"

"1 love you a hundred!"

"1 love you a thousand!"

"1 love you a million!"

"1 love you  forever!"

Together, laughing now through the tears, they chorused
the last line in their game. "I love you forever and a day!"

The chorus was a little louder than expected. Lana, Goldie,
Nachum, and Yitzi  yes, and Ma, too  had joined in. A man
carrying a black travel bag gave them a curious look as he
passed. Lana didn't care. The moment was too precious to let
anything or anyone intrude.

And then the moment was over. Daddy put Toby down.
Holding her hand tight, he began to walk toward the gate. Ma
was just a half-step behind. Then came Goldie and Nachum,
with Lana and Yitzi bringing up the rear.

For Lana, it was like walking through a dream. She observed
her family as if she were seeing them on the other side of a win-
dow. She and Goldie were fair-skinned, with dark-blond hair and
blue eyes, and skin that blistered too easily in the summer sun.
Nachum and Toby were the dark ones, like their father, with
deep-set hazel eyes that could be serious or fun-filled or shy, de-
pending on their mood. Yitzi, with his head of flaming red hair
and liberally freckled face, was the odd man out  and couldn't
have cared less.

For one wild moment, Lana let herself imagine that they
were all going along with Daddy to Cape Town. That instead of
painful good-byes, they were set for adventure! It would be the
tail end of winter down there now, instead of the end of summer
as it was in the United States. These next few months, as Ameri-
cans geared up for colder weather, Daddy would be wearing the
lightweight summer suits that Ma had packed for him. Lana pre-
tended that she, too, had spent the last week packing her sum-
mer things. That in a few minutes, all together, the family would
strap themselves into their seats for the long flight into the un-
known....

But pretending is a costly business. The cost comes in the
sharp ache when you have to abandon fantasy and face reality
once again. Lana felt the stab in her heart now, as she remem-
bered that it was only her father who'd be leaving. She closed her
eyes and waited for the ache to pass.

But it didn't pass. Daddy was leaving  and that meant the
pain had come to stay, like a lodger in her heart.

They had reached the gate. Mr. Bamberger put Toby down.
He drew a deep breath and turned to face his family.

For the first time, Ma's smile disappeared. She motioned for
Nachum to begin the good-byes. Nachum stepped up to shake
his father's hand, then let himself be drawn into a strong hug.

Next in line was Lana. Forcing a smile to her lips was the
most difficult thing she had ever done in her life. But she did it,
and then lifted her face for her father's kiss.

"I'm going to miss you so much," she whispered.

"It won't be long," Daddy promised.

But inside her head, there came a wistful little echo.

"Forever and a day...."

Chapter 2

Holding the Fort

"Well," Ma said, letting out her breath in a long sigh.

"That's that."

Nachum and Yitzi were still standing at the observation win-
dow, scanning the sky for a last glimpse of the speck that was
their father's plane. But the speck was invisible, lost in the clouds
and the distance. Daddy was gone. It was time to move on.

But they all felt strangely reluctant to move. The family
stood frozen in place, as though by standing there they could
hold onto Daddy just a little longer. Into the silence, Toby began
to cry again.

Quickly, Ma stooped to put her arms around the little girl.
Toby buried her head in her mother's shoulder.

"I want Daddy," Toby hiccoughed. Her voice came out muf-
fled.

"Don't we all," Goldie sighed.

"I miss him already," Yitzi said dolefully.

Lana and Nachum said nothing. Lana's heart was too full for
words, and Nachum knew that nothing he said could make it any
better.

Ma stood up, an arm still around Toby, and faced the others.

She took a long, steadying breath. Then she asked, "Have you
kids ever heard the term 'to hold the fort'?"

Before anyone could answer, she continued briskly, "It dates
back to the American West, when a handful of soldiers had to
hold a fort against packs of bloodthirsty Indians." Her eyes
roamed her children's faces, much the way long-ago buffalo
roamed the prairies around those beleaguered soldiers. "Well,
we've got a different sort of fort to hold, my dears. We have to
stay strong and cheerful  for Daddy's sake. He's going to want
to find us in great shape when he gets back. That will take cour-
age. Not the kind of courage that those soldiers had when they
guarded the fort with their rifles. A different kind."

"I'll take the rifle any day," Nachum said with a feeble grin.

"But we don't get to choose," Ma said firmly. "This is our life,
and our challenge. If you stop and think about it, it could be a lot
worse. We love Daddy and Daddy loves us. So what if a few thou-
sand miles separate us at the moment? We won't let that ruin ev-
erything for us, will we?"

She stopped to let her words sink in. Goldie stopped sighing
and Toby quit her whimpering. Even Lana felt a little more hope-
ful.

Ma drew a deep breath. "Let's go home," she said. "Let's go
home and...and have some hot chocolate, and put on our favor-
ite tapes, and play a long game of Monopoly. How does that
sound?"

It sure sounded better than standing in an airport terminal
scanning the sky for a plane that was no longer there. One by
one, the children nodded. First Lana, then Nachum, then Goldie
and Yitzi, and finally, with a last forlorn sniffle, Toby.

Ma smiled. "Okay. We have to walk over to the parking lot
now to get the car. You do that by putting one foot in front of the
other, and not stopping...."

She turned. Together, they began the long trek through the
terminal.

* * *

The Monopoly board was spread out on the butcher-block
kitchen table  the very heart of the house. On the stove, hot
chocolate came to a fragrant simmer. A tape recorder on the
counter sent out waves of good music.

"Come on," Yitzi urged. "Let's play." He reached for the dice.

Lana glanced at the clock on the wall. A whole hour had
passed since Daddy's plane had taken off. With a pang of sur-
prise, she realized that it hadn't been such a hard hour after all.
Maybe things would be easier than she thought.

But deep inside, a sage little voice intoned, "Wait until morn-
ing...."

As things turned out, she didn't even have to wait that long.

Just a few hours after she'd gone to bed, Lana woke up quite
suddenly, for no reason. She stared wildly into the darkness.

The moon was throwing spears of silver-white light across
her blanket. The spears turned wobbly when she moved her legs.
Lana studied the effect drowsily for a moment, then transferred
her gaze to the window. A bit of palm tree was in view, standing
very still in the breathless air. Except for a fuzzy area around the
moon, the sky was perfectly black.

Sleepily, she closed her eyes again. Tomorrow would be hot.
Maybe she'd call her friend Mindy and go swimming....

Then, all at once, she remembered. Daddy had left. By now,
he should be halfway around the globe. Lana might have fallen
asleep, but her heart had remembered.

Cautiously, she probed her heart, the way you'd probe a
shaky tooth with your tongue. It hurt  yes, definitely it hurt 
but the pain was not like being stabbed with a sword. Rather, it
was a dull ache, like the kind you get when you've played too
hard. Charley horse, that's the phrase she was looking for. A
deep-down, throbbing hurt that had settled in for the long haul.
The kind of pain that you might forget for a while, but that was al-
ways there when you looked again.,..

Suddenly, she couldn't lie still another minute. She threw
back the covers and groped for her slippers. Lying in a splash of
moonlight, they were not hard to find. With a robe thrown over
her nightgown, she quietly opened the door and left the room.
Toby, in the other bed, never stirred.

Lana made her way down the stairs. Without her father
there, the house seemed about ten times larger than usual 
and ten times quieter. In the living room, the blinds had been left
wide open, and a ghostly silver light flooded the carpet and
couches and easy chairs.

In one of those chairs, curled up into an almost negligible
ball, was a small figure.

"Yitzi!" she exclaimed softly. "What are you doing up?"

Her brother lifted his head. His eyelids looked heavy, though
whether that was from tiredness or from crying, Lana couldn't
tell. "I couldn't sleep."

"Neither can 1," said another voice at Lana's back.

Lana spun around. Goldie stood in the doorway, clad like
Lana in pajamas and a robe. "1 heard you leave your room just
now, Lana. Since I was up anyway, 1 figured 1 might as well join
you." She lifted a brow at Yitzi. "1 didn't expect that there'd be
three of us, though."

"Make that four," said Nachum, stepping in from the
kitchen. He held a glass of juice in his hand.

"You, too?" Goldie exclaimed softly. "What is this, an insom-
niacs' convention?"

"What's insomniac?" Yitzi asked.

"You are. And me, and Lana, and Nachum," Goldie said,
coming over to perch on the arm of the sofa. "And I can guess
why." She made a face.

"This is just the first night," Lana moaned. "How are we go-
ing to survive?"

Goldie stood up and began to prowl the living room. "I'll tell
you how I'm going to survive. I'm going to keep busy. The way I
figure it, I wouldn't have seen Daddy during school hours any-
way, and if I keep super-busy after school I won't feel his being
away so much. It's the only plan that makes sense."

"What about Shabbos?" Yitzi asked.

Goldie set her lips in a stubborn line. "I'll keep busy then,
too. That's what friends are for, right?"

"That wouldn't work for me," Lana sighed. "You're good at
distracting yourself, Goldie. I'm not."

'And you brood too much," Goldie said. "Try to lighten up a
little, Lana. Stop carrying the weight of the world on your shoul-
ders. Like Ma said, there's no use ruining the next few months of
our lives just because we can't have Daddy right here where we
want him!"

Goldie finished her tour of the living room. She thumped

down onto the couch, as though daring the world to spoil her
mood.

"Nachum's the lucky one," Yitzi spoke up unexpectedly from
his armchair. "He's not even going to be here."

The others looked at Nachum, who ducked his head misera-
bly. "You don't understand. I need my father more than ever

now."

"But you're going to be away at yeshivah! You wouldn't even
have seen Daddy anyway  not for weeks at a time," Yitzi pro-
tested.

Nachum turned away, the hunch of his shoulders speaking
volumes about the way he was feeling. But he didn't say any of it.
Lana sympathized with her brother. If she were standing in
his shoes, she'd be shaking with panic at the prospect of going
away from her safe, familiar home to live in a yeshivah dormitory.
She wouldn't have changed places with him for a million dollars.
At the same time, though, she couldn't help privately agreeing
with Yitzi. Of them all, Nachum was the luckiest. He would feel
Daddy's absence the least.

And Lana herself would feel it the most. She was absolutely
certain of that. Nobody could miss him more than she already
did  and it was bound to get worse as time passed.

A great wave of self-pity engulfed her. Moodily, she leaned
her chin on her fists and gazed out the window without seeing a
thing. The air-conditioning in the house kept them comfortable,
but outside the air was like a stifling blanket. How hot did it get
down in South Africa?

"Tomorrow," she said suddenly, sitting up. "Tomorrow we
can speak to Daddy and ask him what it's like down there. We
can tell him how much we miss him."

"Better not lay it on too thick," Goldie warned. "He'll be
much happier if he thinks we're happy."

"You sound pretty happy right now," Lana said accusingly.
"And you're talking about something that's none of your

business! Do you think you're the only one with any feelings
around here? Well, here's a piece of news: I have feelings, too.
And what they are is my own business, and no one else's!"

Lana and Goldie glared at each other across the expanse of
moonlit carpet. Nachum said tiredly, "Come on, you guys. The
last thing we need right now is a fight."

The girls held each other's eyes for another minute. Lana's
eyes dropped first.

"Sorry," she muttered.

Goldie shrugged and turned away. "Whatever. I'm going
back to bed."

"1 guess I will, too," Nachum said. He glanced at Lana and
Yitzi. "Coming?"

"Soon," Lana said.

"Soon," Yitzi echoed.

They watched the older two start up the steps to their
rooms. When two bedroom doors had clicked shut, Yitzi and
Lana transferred their gaze to the window. A car passed down the
street, its headlights two yellow beams in the darkness. Far away,
a siren wailed.

Yitzi's voice sounded small and lost from the depths of his
armchair. "You know something? I'm the one who's going to
miss Daddy the most."

Startled  this was exactly what she had just been thinking
about herself  Lana asked, "Why?"

"This was the year when we were going to start doing stuff
together."

"What kind of stuff?"

"Oh, me 'n Daddy had all sorts of plans. We were going to
learn mishnayos together, and he said he'd even start doing

some Gemara with me, if 1 was ready. With Nachum around,
there was never enough time. But Nachum's going to yeshivah."

Lana nodded sympathetically. Though Yitzi would miss
Nachum a lot, she could see that he'd been looking forward to
being an 'only son' for a while. Now, with Daddy gone, all those
dreams had gone up in smoke.

"He was going to Finally teach me how to ride my bike with-
out training wheels," Yitzi continued in a dismal monotone. "And
how to dive. And we were gonna make a model airplane together
on Sundays. And just spend some time talking about stuff.
Sometimes 1 have a problem, and Daddy helps me figure out

what to do...."

"I'm sure Ma will give you lots of extra attention."
Yitzi lifted his head. "Daddy and 1 had a talk before he left. He
told me to do whatever I can to make life easier for Ma while he's
gone. He said that I'm going to be the man of the house now. So
I won't be able to run to Ma like I did when I was little."

Lana's heart was wrung with pity. He was so young  only
eight!  and yet so ready to be strong when he was really feeling
just the opposite. The pity turned to admiration. Quite a kid, that
Yitzi, she thought with pride. She came over to perch on the arm

of his chair.

"Yitzi, listen. If Daddy and Nachum aren't around, and you
don't want to bother Ma  then how about me?"

"You?"

"Yes, me! I'll be your problem person. Any trouble in your life
 you come to me. Whether it's helping you with a pasuk in
Chumash or your math homework, or anything else."

For the first time, Yitzi brightened. "You mean it, Lana?"

She nodded. "Sure. You can count on me, Yitz."

"Okay." He hopped off the armchair, his misery abruptly for-
gotten  for the moment, at least. Her promise, apparently, had
done the trick. As Lana marveled at the swift mood shift, Yitzi
yawned. "I think I'll go to sleep now. I'm kind of bushed. You
coming up?"

"In a minute."

Yitzi went upstairs. Lana was alone in a sea of silver.

She curled up in the armchair Yitzi had just abandoned. It
was nice to know that her little brother needed her. In a way, she'd
be taking Daddy's place in Yitzi's life. That made her feel more
connected to her father, somehow. Briefly, she considered telling
him about her promise when they next spoke on the phone.

Then she decided against it. Nor would she tell Ma. It would
be her secret  hers and Yitzi's. She would help her brother
through the next months. She had a sneaking suspicion that do-
ing so would help her survive them, too.

With a huge yawn, Lana rose and trudged up the stairs to
bed. Toby was still sound asleep. The spears of moonlight had
grown shorter and moved down to the foot of her bed. The last
thing Lana saw before closing her eyes was the calendar on the
wall opposite. She had already crossed off one day  the day of
Daddy's departure  even though he hadn't left until late after-
noon. That way, she'd wake up seeing that at least a tiny part of
the wait was already behind her....

When she next opened her eyes, brilliant sun had replaced
the moonlight. The palm tree outside her window was resting its
head on a pillow of bluest blue.


Chapter 3

Day One

"It's a weird feeling," Lana said, reaching for another hand
ful of popcorn from the lime-green bowl balanced on the
bed between herself and her best friend,
"What is?" Mindy asked.

"Not having my father around. Yesterday, when we said
good-bye at the airport, I thought my heart would break. Then,
this morning, I woke up  and it was just morning. Same room,
same breakfast, same old Mindy to visit."

"Thanks a lot, Lana. 1 feel real necessary."

Lana's blue eyes opened wide. "But you are necessary, Mindy.
You're one of the things that's helping me feel normal today!"

"Thanks," Mindy said again, dryly. "1 think." But she was
grinning.

Lana propped her chin on both her fists as she gazed
through her friend's bedroom window. It was framed by long rose
and white curtains. Tiny sprigs of green dotted the fabric here
and there. Outside, the intensely blue California sky stared un-
blinkingly back at her. She mused, "Today's Labor Day. Tomor-
row, school starts. That's also when my brother Nachum leaves
for yeshivah in Denver. And Toby'll be starting kindergarten this

ear. All those plans were made before Daddy decided to go to
South Africa. And they'll go on now, just as if he hadn't gone
away...." She twisted to face her friend, eyes screwed up in con-
centration. "Do you see what I'm getting at, Mindy?"

"Yeah," her friend said. "Life goes on."

Lana nodded vigorously. "Exactly. That's what Ma keeps try-
ing to tell us. But I didn't believe her." She thought a moment.
"I'm not sure I do, even now. But it sure seems that way. Daddy's
left L.A.  but L.A., and all of us, are going our old merry ways."
She ran a hand like a comb through her fine blond hair. "Weird!"

Mindy didn't know about that. How could she, when her own
father was safe at his office and would be coming home for sup-
per tonight at the usual time? Her heart went out to Lana. Brave
as the speech was, she knew how much her friend was hurting.

In an attempt to cheer them both up, she leaped off the bed.
"Milk shakes! We just got some new butter-pecan ice cream.
How about it?"

Lana made a face. "Oh, Mindy. You're always trying to com-
fort yourself  and everyone else, too!  with food." What Lana
didn't add  what she didn't need to add  was that this habit
had given Mindy a shape that was plumper than she liked. Lana's
best friend seemed to spend half her time enjoying her favorite
snacks, and the other half trying to diet them away.

Mindy faced Lana, hands on her hips. "Well, milk shakes are
comforting. Deny that!"

Lana couldn't deny it. And this was one time when she defi-
nitely needed some comfort. The thought of a rich, creamy, but-
ter-pecan milk shake was strangely appealing.

She scrambled to her feet and followed Mindy out the door.

The Los Angeles neighborhood where the Bambergers lived
was not the fanciest part of town  but it was no slum, either.
The houses were large and lovely, and many had swimming
pools out back. But Goldie liked her friend Riva Perl's house best

of all.

Not because it was the prettiest house in the neighborhood.
It wasn't. It was a bit frayed at the edges and didn't even have a
pool. No, what Goldie liked was the way the Perl house always
seemed to be bubbling with some new excitement. Riva's family
were always up to something  and they were more than happy
to include Goldie, Riva's best friend since way back in the first

grade.

Right now, the house was popping with last-minute prepara-
tions. As usual, Riva's mother had let the whole summer pass
without bothering about details like buying school supplies for
the upcoming school year. The year was starting tomorrow, and
Mrs. Perl was rushing around with long scribbled lists, to which
various of her children added items as she passed.

"Highlighters," Riva's younger sister, Miri, sang out. "I need
highlighters, Mommy."

"What in the world does a second-grader need with high-
lighters?" Riva asked from the depths of the sofa where she sat
beside Goldie.

"Never mind. I just need them."

"She'll probably just use them to color in her coloring
books," Tzvi announced. At ten, Tzvi thought he knew every-
thing.

"I will not!" Miri was indignant. "I need them to underline
things myMorah says. So there!"

"You don't use highlighters to under " Tzvi began.

"Leave her alone, Tzviki," their mother broke in. "She wants
highlighters, she can have highlighters." Mrs. Perl added the item
to her growing list. "Anything else before we go? 1 like to have my
list ready before we hit the stores. It's more organized that way."

The two fifteen-year-old girls on the sofa exchanged an
amused look. "Organized" was the last word either of them
would have used to describe Riva's mother. But this was old news
to Riva, and Goldie actually enjoyed it. It made the Perl house-
hold  unpredictable. And fun.

"Everybody ready?" Mrs. Perl asked. It turned out, though, that
she herself was not. Her handbag was nowhere to be found. She
sent the children to look for it, while she instituted a frantic search of
her own. She found the bag at last under a pile of books on an easy
chair. Grabbing it, she sang out, "Okay, gang. Let's go!"

Goldie, Riva, Tzvi, and Miri piled into the minivan while Mrs.
Perl locked up the house. As they started down the broad, sunny
street toward the Beverly Center shopping mall, Goldie found
herself sighing with contentment. Guiltily, she remembered her
father. He'd been gone less than twenty-four hours, and already
she'd let two whole hours go by without thinking of him once.

That's what Riva's house does to me, Goldie thought.

In her secret heart, she had to admit that that was what she
liked most about it. The Perl household made her feel
alive...happy. You couldn't be sad there. There was just too much
going on. If you wanted distraction, this was the place to find it.

She had a feeling she was going to be spending a lot of time
at Riva's place during the coming months.

* * *

Nachum was at a friend's, too, but he was not feeling partic-
ularly happy there.

Like his sisters, he had woken up with a strange, hollow feel-
ing that morning. With Daddy gone, the house just didn't feel

right.

But Nachum didn't spend much time brooding about his fa-
ther. He missed him, sure  but there were much more pressing
matters for him to worry about right then. Like the fact that he
was about to board a plane of his own the next day, to fly off to
yeshivah for the first time in his life.

Or, rather, the second time. The first was when he'd had his
bechinah and guided tour of the place. He'd passed the first with
flying colors and been impressed enough with the second to tell
his parents he wanted to attend the yeshivah for high school.
They'd been pleased with his decision, and so was he  though
tiny butterflies had been doing a vague dance in the region of his
middle whenever he thought of leaving home.

Now the butterflies were anything but vague. They were exe-
cuting a slow, heavy march around his insides, occasionally
speeding up to a queasy hora. Ma, sewing a last few name tags
onto his clothes, took one look at the white-faced boy restlessly
roaming the house, and ordered him to visit a friend.

"But I wanted to spend my last day at home," Nachum pro-
tested, not too strongly.

"1 know, dear. But you're driving yourself crazy  and me,
too! Want me to take you over to Avi's for a while? You can shoot
hoops there or something. Calm your nerves."

Nachum had to agree that this was a sound plan. Ten min-
utes later, they rolled up to his friend's door, and soon after that
he and Avi were very busy with a basketball. It was hot outside,
but bearable. The sun beating down on his back and head felt
friendly. It would be a lot colder in Denver, he knew. Better make

the most of the California sun while he still had it....

Daddy had been upset that the timing of his own trip had
made it impossible for him to accompany his son to yeshivah, as
they had planned. Nachum had been quick to assure him that it
didn't matter. "I've already seen the place, Daddy. The yeshivah
will send someone to meet me at the airport. And Leiby Finkel
will be on the same flight; we'll fly together. He's going into the
eleventh grade, so he's got experience. And," Nachum finished,
as the clincher, "don't forget that I'm no baby. I'm thirteen!"

"I haven't forgotten." His father had smiled affectionately
and rumpled Nachum's hair. "You make sure and write me often,
you hear? All about the yeshivah, and what you're learning."

"I'll send you my chiddushim. as I soon as I come up with
them," Nachum had promised with a grin.

"The chiddushim can come later," Daddy answered seri-
ously. "Now is the time to get some solid learning under your
belt. Don't aim for dazzle, Nachum. Aim for solid."

It was good advice. Thinking of it, and thinking of his father,
made the butterflies in Nachum's stomach dance harder. They
felt like butterflies with size-twelve shoes. Size-twelve shoes made
of cement. Gritting his teeth, he took aim at the hoop and hurled
the ball with all his might, as though it carried all the feelings he
longed to throw away.

"Nice!" Avi called out, as the ball sailed neatly into the wait-
ing metal circle.

Heartened, Nachum took aim again. If only life could be as
simple as a game of basketball, he thought as he squinted up at

the hoop, I'd have nothing to worry about!

* * *

And so, the first day wound to a close. Mrs. Bamberger
tucked a last few surprise treats into the corners of Nachum's
suitcase and thought about her husband's phone call earlier in
the day. He had called to say that he'd arrived safely and had
been met at the airport by Cousin Eli. She put the call onto the
speakerphone so that the whole family could hear him at the
same time.

"The sky's even bluer out here than it is in California," Daddy
had said. When Yitzi declared that he didn't believe it, Daddy
promised to send a picture.

Ma zipped up the suitcase now and straightened, a hand to
her stiff back. There  Nachum was all packed. Resolutely, she
refused to think about the morning, when she'd have to say
good-bye to yet another member of her beloved family. She
would not think about anything now. It was time for bed.

The children  even Goldie, the night owl  were asleep.
The house was quiet, a solid, reassuring presence around her. It
seemed to be telling Ma that it would keep them safe and pro-
tected within its walls until the man of the house came flying
back to them.

"Go to sleep," the house seemed to murmur soothingly, in
the small whirrings and creakings that you can hear only in the
still of the night. "Rest easy. All is well."

Ma believed it. She went to her room, said Keriyas Shema
from a small siddur she kept near her bed, and fell at once into a
dreamless sleep.

But, in reality, all was far from well.

Far below, deep in the earth beneath the slumbering house,
things were moving.

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