Chapter 22 Summary: Ari says no to his mother’s request to take her to the rehab center, and then feels guilty about it. Debbie asks Yaffa to meet her for lunch, and they agree to work together to convince her parents to change their will.
Ari pulled into Yaffa’s driveway and watched Debbie look up at the house warily. He still couldn’t understand how Debbie had agreed so readily to this family get-together; for that matter, he’d been taken by surprise by Yaffa’s invitation. An end-of-summer barbeque was certainly the sort of thing families did together on a long, lazy Sunday—but not their family.
He’d thanked Yaffa and had cautiously murmured something about checking with Debbie to see if they were available, prepared for a drawn-out argument trying to convince her how rude it would be to turn down the invitation. But, to his surprise, Debbie had agreed to the idea immediately. Even more shockingly, she’d remarked, “I’m starting to appreciate Yaffa more. She has spunk.”
Nevertheless, as they made their way into Yaffa’s house, Debbie muttered, “I hope this wasn’t a mistake.” Her eyes were narrowed as she watched Shmuel give Jake a warm greeting of, “Hey chavrusa,” and a hearty pat on the back. Jake was beaming.
So was Yaffa. “Welcome, guys. I’m so glad you came. How fun is this? Isn’t it crazy that we don’t get together more often? It’s not like we live so far.”
She kept chattering as she ushered them into the house. “You haven’t seen our new kitchen yet. Come, I’ll give you the grand tour.”
Ari had completely forgotten about Yaffa’s renovations but he hoped he sounded sincere as he said, “Absolutely, we’ve been looking forward to seeing it.”
Two hours later, the flies were buzzing around the scraps of hamburgers and hot dogs, the kids were off playing and Ari, Debbie, Yaffa and Shmuel were sitting alone around the backyard picnic table. Shmuel said, “I must tell you what a great kid Jake is. I’m really enjoying our learning together.”
Ari shifted awkwardly in his chair, conscious of two facts: that he should have been the one to bring up the subject and thank Shmuel for all the time he’s been investing in his son; and that there was no topic more guaranteed to sour Debbie’s mood.
“Yeah, Jake’s been enjoying it, too,” he said. “Thanks for learning with him; I know you’ve been giving him a lot of your time.”
Shmuel waved his hand. “It’s nothing, I’m happy to do it.” Next to him, Yaffa was smiling proudly, and Ari had a sudden vision of the two of them discussing Jake late at night. “Shmuel, you must continue learning with him; the poor boy is desperate for a good, frum role model like you. Think of the influence you can have!”
Debbie said, with just a hint of irritation, “Anytime you feel it’s too much, please don’t feel bad about stopping. Jake’s going back to yeshiva already next week; he’ll be doing plenty of learning there.”
Shmuel flashed her a quizzical look, and Yaffa replied, her smile still fixed on her face, “Oh no, it’s not too much at all. Besides, you can never get enough learning.”
OK, this conversation needed to end now. Ari cleared his throat and opened his mouth to make some comment about the weather, but Yaffa, apparently realizing they were headed for dangerous territory, beat him to it.
“Anyway, since we’re all here together, I thought we could FaceTime Ilana and discuss strategy together.”
Ari blinked. Strategy? What was this? But Debbie was nodding eagerly and Shmuel looked down at his hands uncomfortably; clearly, Ari was the only one at the table who didn’t know what Yaffa was talking about. He turned to his wife with a raised eyebrow. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, I forgot to tell you,” she said.
Ari caught the look Yaffa exchanged with her husband and he felt his anger rise as he pictured their next late-night conversation. (“Is everything OK with Ari and Debbie? Don’t you think it’s weird that she didn’t tell him about this?”)
He took a breath to maintain his calm. “Want to fill me in now, then?”
Yaffa was the one who explained the plan she and Debbie had come up with during their lunch outing the other day. (Lunch outing?)
Ari frowned. “I don’t know… It sounds kind of sneaky to me. Plotting behind their backs to change a will we’re not supposed to know about? I’m sure they thought long and hard about their decision; this charitable foundation must be a lifelong dream of theirs; they wouldn’t will their money away from us unless they had a very good reason.”
Shmuel, still looking down, nodded in agreement, but Debbie erupted.
“See? This is exactly why I didn’t want to tell you about this! Why do you always need to be so passive? So—so accepting of whatever fate throws you?”
Ari reddened. “Shh, Debbie, not for now,” he said quietly, but she continued, “For example, even if this foundation is important to them, do they have to give everything away? Have you thought about that? There’s something fishy going on here, and Yaffa and I intend to get to the bottom of it!”
Yaffa said quickly, “We all want to get to the bottom of it. Ari’s also been upset by the will, but we need to decide together on a plan of action that we’re all comfortable with.”
Debbie opened her mouth furiously but before she could speak, Ari’s phone rang. Squinting in the sunlight at the name, he picked up the phone and said, “Hi, Ma.”
“Ari! I called your house phone about 10 times and no one picked up. Where are you?”
“Is everything OK?”
“I have a huge grocery delivery sitting on my front porch and I thought one of your kids could come over to help me unpack.”
“Sorry, Ma, we’re not home. We’re—” He hesitated for a moment. “We’re actually all at Yaffa’s for a barbeque.”
“Oh!” There was a long silence on the other end. “So nice, everyone together.”
The hurt in her voice was unmistakable. But of course, she wouldn’t be invited to a get-together that, he now understood, was for the purpose of strategizing against her.
He felt guilty, and also guilty about feeling guilty. Looking around at the pained, angry, uncomfortable faces at the table, he had a sudden urge to shout at her, “Ma, you did it to yourself!”
“You guys are so lucky to be able to get together like this,” Moriah said enviously, sitting in the living room with Shani, Tzippy, Eli and Jake. The window to the backyard was open, and the lingering smell of the barbeque wafted into the room.
Shani shook her head. “You don’t know how weird this is. We never do this sort of thing, right guys?”
As the others nodded, Shani added, “Something’s up. Look at the way they’re all huddled around the table like that. And I’ll bet you anything it’s about the money.”
Four pairs of eyes turned towards her questioningly, and Shani instantly clapped her hand over her mouth. But the pride of knowledge was too hard to resist.
“I promised I wouldn’t tell, so, like, don’t tell your parents that you know. But they just found out that Grandma and Grandpa are mega-rich. They’ve got 15 million dollars in the bank; would you believe it?”
“Please,” Eli scoffed. “No one keeps 15 million dollars in the bank.”
Shani made a face at him. “In the stock market, whatever. The point is, 15 million bucks! Grandma and Grandpa! This is for real; my mother told me herself.”
Jake whistled and Tzippy’s eyes were round.
“Crazy,” Moriah said. She was staring out the window thoughtfully. “But, then, why do they all look so upset?”
They all turned and gazed. In the silence, voices drifted in from the backyard.
“… this charitable foundation must be a lifelong dream of theirs…”
“…There’s something fishy going on here…”
The cousins looked at each other.
“Sounds very mysterious,” Jake said, wiggling his eyebrows as if it were all a big joke.
Shani frowned at him. “Yup, it does.” She looked at Moriah who was staring into space pensively. Then she grinned. “So, who here’s up for solving a mystery?”
Ariella Aaron is an internationally published writer with a unique talent for writing stories that are entertaining and thought-provoking, with characters who are eminently relatable. A former resident of Northern New Jersey, Ariella has now transplanted her family to Israel, where she is happily living the dream of raising her brood in our homeland.