February 26, 2024
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February 26, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Chapter 18 Summary: Ilana seeks Yaffa’s advice about how to ask their parents to fund her new fertility organization. Debbie suggests to Ari that they take a peek at his parents’ will.


 

The doorbell rang, and as Yaffa walked over to open it, she called out to her mother, “Ari’s here. You ready to go?”

She was surprised to see both Ari and Debbie standing on the doorstep. “Oh, hi Debbie. You’re going to visit Dad, too? How nice.”

She always felt awkward around her sister-in-law; there was something so cold and standoffish about her. When they’d first met, back when Ari and Debbie were dating and Yaffa was just Ari’s kid sister, Debbie had seemed friendly enough, but over the years, a frigidity had developed in their relationship, and she could never put her finger on why.

Debbie threw a glance at Ari, who cleared his throat. “Actually, Debbie came to make you an offer.” He took off his glasses and wiped them, keeping his eyes down. Yaffa wondered what was making him so uncomfortable. “She—um—thought you might like to go visit Dad with Mom and me, and she’ll stay here instead to, you know, man the house.”

Yaffa’s eyebrows shot up. Man the house?

“That’s, uh, sweet of you, Debbie,” she said. (Sweet? Odd was more like it.) “But, you know, we don’t generally get a house sitter every time we leave for a few hours.”

She cocked her head to the side, waiting. There was clearly something else going on here, and she refused to be played for a fool.

“Of course not,” Debbie said smoothly. “Ari didn’t explain clearly. What I was offering was to help out. Ari told me you’ve been discussing going through Mom and Dad’s paperwork, making some order out of their bills and financial statements and automating more of it. Since organizing paperwork is what I do all day long at the office, I’m happy to spend a few hours today helping with this.”

Yaffa stared at her suspiciously. Organizing financial statements? Gimme a break. It was clear as day that they wanted a look at her parents’ finances and, frankly, she was surprised. Ari wasn’t the sneaky, snooping type.

She shot a hard look at Ari, but her brother refused to meet her eyes. No, she decided, this wasn’t coming from Ari; Debbie was forcing him into this. Why? She wondered. Until now, they’d all been in this together. What did Debbie want to do that required such secrecy?

She heard footsteps behind her. “Hello Ari, Debbie,” Gail said. “I’m ready to go…now where did I put my pocketbook?”

“On the back of the dining room chair, Ma,” Yaffa said.

“Ah, right, thanks. Are we all going to the center?”

“No,” Yaffa said hurriedly. “Only you and Ari. Debbie came here to help me with a project.” She flashed a sweet smile at her sister-in-law. “We’ll work on it together while you’re out.”

***

“Sugar? Milk?” If she and Debbie were going to be spending the entire afternoon together, Yaffa figured they may as well get off to a cozy start. She placed a plate of crumb cake on the table and poured out a cup of coffee from the Keurig.

“Milk, no sugar, thanks.” Debbie said stiffly. It was clear from her expression that things had not gone according to plan.

Yaffa handed her the coffee, prepared her own, and sat down across from Debbie. Should she try for some small talk?

“So, how’s the rest of your summer been going?” she asked.

Debbie’s mouth twisted. “Oh, just wonderful. I spend all my time either at work or schlepping out to the rehab center with your mother.”

Whoa. Was Debbie always this bitter, or was it something she’d said? Yaffa raked a hand through her sheitel.

“Yeah, the summer hasn’t turned out the way any of us expected. Still, we did get a nice surprise, too.”

Debbie leaned forward. “You mean finding out about your parents’ money?” she asked slowly. “Yes, that was nice—especially for those of us who know how to take advantage of it.”

Yaffa’s eyes narrowed at the nastiness in her voice. “I’m not sure I know what you mean,” she said, keeping her own voice steady.

“Your daughter Shani. What a sharp businesswoman she is.” Debbie smiled, to make it sound like a compliment, but neither of them were fooled.

Yaffa took a sip of coffee. Cupping her hands around the mug, she said, “I was very upset with her when she told me what she’d done.”

Debbie looked at her. “You were?”

“Of course. It was completely inappropriate.”

“But I thought—” Debbie stopped and scratched her nose.

Yaffa’s mouth twisted. “You thought I’d put her up to it? That I’d instructed my 16-year-old daughter to go milk Grandpa for as much as she can? Gosh, I’m not that crass.” Hurt rose up in her throat. How could Debbie think that of her?

Debbie looked down at her coffee mug, tapping her fingers against the side for several moments. Finally, she muttered, “I’m sorry, I’d misjudged you.”

Yaffa swallowed. She was still deeply offended, but she said, “No problem. But next time, instead of assuming and getting angry, can you please just ask me?”

Debbie squeezed her mug. “Ask you?” The skepticism in her voice was evident.

“Right. It’s so much better to be open and honest with each other, don’t you think?”

Yaffa took a bite of her cake, chewing slowly, to let the thought sink in. Then, she asked pointedly, “So, what’s the plan for today?”

Debbie threw her a quick, shrewd glance. To Yaffa’s relief, she laughed. “Open and honest, huh?” She crossed her arms. “Fine. I had an idea to search for your parents’ will.”

Yaffa nodded. “So that was it.”

“Are you shocked?”

She started to say yes, but then stopped. Honestly? She picked up a crumb of cake and squeezed it between her fingers. “I don’t know. I mean, I can’t say the thought hasn’t crossed my mind. We’re all wondering, right?”

Debbie’s shoulders relaxed. “Exactly! That’s what I told Ari the other night. If we only knew…”

“Ari probably hated the idea,” Yaffa laughed.

Debbie rolled her eyes. “How’d you guess?”

“My gosh, the expression on his face when he told me you’ll man the house!” Yaffa grinned and leaned forward. “So you thought I’d react the same way? Is that why you tried to get me out of the house?”

She caught the surprise flitting across Debbie’s face; the question had thrown her.

“Noooo, I know you’re very different than Ari.”

There was the slightest emphasis on the word “very” and Yaffa wondered if that was a reference to separate swimming and cholov Yisrael, or if Debbie had actually bothered to look at Yaffa’s soul and concluded that her essence was different than Ari’s.

Somehow, she suspected it was the former.

Debbie shifted in her seat as she continued trying to explain. “I thought you’d find it presumptuous of me. And crude.”

Yaffa closed her eyes. There certainly was something distasteful about this. Especially coming from Debbie, not a daughter but a daughter-in-law. Still, she’d be lying if she said she wasn’t curious herself. And she didn’t want to ruin whatever tiny thaw had just occurred in their relationship.

“I see this is important to you,” she said. It was a statement, but also a question. She’d always assumed Ari’s family was well-off financially.

Debbie gripped the side of the table. “We…” She blinked, coughed, and said in a lighter tone, “We could all use the money, no?”

“Won’t argue with that.” Quelling her desire to know what Debbie had chosen not to reveal, Yaffa stood up. “Nu, we have about two hours until they get home. Let’s get started.”

By Ariella Aaron

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