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cont. Family for a While
There was a sudden scratching and panting from inside
the box Mrs. Bluebird was holding, and she leaned over
and whispered conspiratorially.
"I'll give you something bright to think about. Guess
what I have in here?" She carefully widened the hole
between the bars and instantly, a shiny black nose ap-
peared through the gap. "It's my puppy. He is only four
months old, and I am bringing him home today. I traveled
all the way to Denver to pick him up from his kennel." Mrs.
Bluebird smiled widely, sure that she had brightened up
Tallie's life for good,
Tallie stiffened in her seat and forced a smile. She was
beginning to feel a little sorry for the old lady, who seemed
to be so determined to cheer her up. She averted her gaze
from the dog while trying to look as if she was impressed
with this new confidence. It wasn't the lady's fault, after all.
How could she know that Tallie hated the sight of dogs?
She hadn't always felt that way; once she had loved
them. But since that day four years ago when a dog had
changed her life forever, she couldn't stand the sight of
one. It had been a little white cocker spaniel that Ima had
pointed to from the front seat of their car on the way back
from a shopping trip. They all oohed and aahed and Uncle
David, her stepfather, slowed down so they could see him
better. Suddenly, without warning, the little barking dog
wriggled out from under the fence and darted out, right in
front of their car. Uncle David swerved suddenly, losing
control on the wet, slippery road. There had been the
slamming of brakes, the squeal of tires, Ima's piercing
shriek and then total darkness.
When she had opened her eyes, she had been greeted
by Aunt Melanie, her step-aunt, standing at the foot of her
bed, tight-lipped and stern, to tell her that they were all
sitting shivah. That her mother and stepfather had been
killed instantly and that they would be living with her now.
That Eitan was in the next room with a broken arm and that
she should be grateful it hadn't been worse.
Tallie thought that it was then, in that first chilling
moment when she had wished that she could fall back into
the darkness from which she had just come, that she had
lost her faith in grownups. Without her parents, she and
Eitan had become pawns in the hands of the authorities, to
be passed and separated and organized by unseen, often
Tallie looked at Mrs. Bluebird again. She was still
smiling brightly at Tallie, expecting her to smile back, and
somehow Tallie couldn't bring herself to smash her with
the truth. Mrs. Bluebird really was like a child, and there
was no reason to hurt her.
"Your dog is beautiful," she murmured. "I'm sure he
will brighten up your life." And she swallowed hard, not
daring to say more.
Mrs. Bluebird looked like she had been awarded a
medal. "Isn't he now! And I am sure those nice people in
the picture won't turn out to be so bad either. You just give
them a chance, and you might like them!" Mrs. Bluebird
was almost pleading with her to agree.
Tallie managed a half smile. Who knows? There was
always the remote possibility that Mrs. Bluebird would be
The clickety-clack of the slowing train brought both of
them back to the present. Tallie stood up and pulled her
overnight bag off the rack. Mrs. Bluebird was doing the
same on the other side of the aisle, and already the
camaraderie they had shared was fading as they got their
The butterflies returned to Tallie's stomach and were
threatening to leap out of her throat. "Calm down," she
muttered to herself fiercely. "What's the big deal anyway?
Maybe Mrs. Bluebird will be right after all, and anyway,
unless they are absolute ogres, you'll be able to hack it, or
at least make it through the trial period so that you don't
have to start again somewhere else. It's just another four
years until you turn eighteen, and then you can be on your
own with Eitan. All you have to do is be polite and keep
your distance, and they will probably do the same."
Tallie caught a glimpse of herself in the train window
against the backdrop of the dirty tenement houses they
were passing. Her dark hair pulled back in a ponytail made
her face look too scared and young, she decided. With a
tug, she pulled off the rubber band and let her hair tumble
around her face. Then she popped a piece of gum into her
mouth, glad that she had remembered to buy some at the
station. It achieved just the right effect of self-confidence
There they were. Tallie could see them now, standing
on the platform, searching the train windows eagerly,
looking just like typical storybook parents.
"Shalom aleicheml" Rabbi Kramer strode forward and
picked up her bag, swinging it easily in his strong grip. Mrs.
Kramer reached over to give Tallie a quick hug, but Tallie
held herself stiff. Mrs. Bluebird or not, she wanted no
mistakes made. Mrs. Kramer looked a little too warm and
motherly in that picture, and Tallie wanted to make sure
she didn't get the impression that here was a sweet,
pathetic little orphan who needed tender, loving care. She
had learned her lesson from the Walkers, and now she
knew exactly how to handle these families. Don't get too
involved. Be polite and reasonably helpful. Don't expect
anything, and stay out of trouble. She could probably write
a manual for the Social Services.
Mrs. Kramer didn't seem bothered by her cold greet-
ing. She opened the car door with a cheerful smile and got
into the front seat.
"Tallie," Mrs. Kramer said as Rabbi Kramer started the
engine. "That is an unusual name."
"It's Israeli," Tallie replied. "My real name is Avital."
"That's interesting. Are you Israeli?" Mrs. Kramer
They're starting already, Tallie thought to herself.
Might as well give them the whole rundown now before
they start asking a million questions.
"Well, my parents were Israeli. My father died when I
was five. My mother remarried when I was seven. My
brother was born when I was eight, and then my mother
and my stepfather were killed in a car accident about two
years later. We lived with my brother's aunt for about two
years, and when she couldn't have us any more, we were
put in a foster home for another year. After that, we lived
with the Walkers for five months, and now my brother is
with a family in Denver, and I'm here." Tallie ended
abruptly and sat back to wait for the barrage of questions.
Rabbi Kramer smiled at her through the rear-view
mirror. "Okay, Tallie. Thank you for telling us all that. We
just want you to know that we are happy to have you join
our family, and we hope you will be happy with us, too."
Mrs. Kramer twisted around and smiled in agreement
with her husband's words. "The children are really looking
forward to your arrival, especially Chanan, our six-year-
old. He's been doing cartwheels all morning. He wanted to
come along to the station so badly that we almost had to
chain him to the house when we left."
Tallie grinned in spite of herself. She could just imag-
ine that little redhead in the picture doing cartwheels.
"You will be sharing a room with Gila, which I hope you
won't mind," Mrs. Kramer continued. "You will also be in
her class at school. We can't give you each your own room,
although we would like to, but I'm sure you'll get along."
"It will be fine," Tallie said curtly. She could take
anything as long as they didn't work her as hard as the
Walkers did, and there was no use pretending that it made
any difference to them how she felt.
Dena was out on the lawn to greet her with Yisrael, the
baby, and Dovie. Tallie recognized them immediately
from the picture. She smiled at them briefly as she helped
Rabbi Kramer pull her luggage out of the trunk. She felt
like a million eyes were on her, and she was sure that all the
neighbors' shades were flickering as they watched the new
I wonder where Gila is, she thought nervously, and a
strange thought popped into her mind. Was Gila upset
that she was going to be sharing her room?
Something suddenly hit her shoulder, and she spun
around just in time to see the window on the third floor
slam shut and a redheaded, impish face disappear inside.
Lying on the freshly mown grass next to her was a pink
rubber ball with the word "Welcome" scrawled on it in big,
unsteady first grade handwriting.
"That Chanan," Mrs. Kramer said, rubbing Tallie's
shoulder sympathetically. "He just wanted to welcome
you. I'm very sorry you are beingbarraged before you even
walk through the door, dear!"
Rabbi Kramer chuckled ruefully as he bent down to
pick up the ball and dropped it into Tallie's hand.
"Well, I guess this is legally yours now a gift from
Chanan." His voice changed to a bellow. "Chanan, get
down here right now!"
Mrs. Kramer smiled at Tallie. "We'd better leave the
scene while the discipline is going on. Chanan will be
pretty embarrassed. Come, I'll show you your room."
Tallie followed Mrs. Kramer, but she would have loved
to stay and see how Rabbi Kramer handled Chanan. Maybe
it would give her some tips for Eitan. But then again, she
thought to herself, from the image of Chanan that was
emerging, she had no doubts that she would have plenty of
other opportunities to observe him being disciplined.
Standing at the top of the stairs while Mrs. Kramer
rummaged through the linen closet, Tallie could feel
herself relaxing. The kids looked really cute, and the
Kramers didn't seem too bad. She could probably handle
them. Maybe Mrs. Bluebird was right. The only fly in the
ointment might turn out to be Gila. She moved down the
hall to look at a picture on the wall, when suddenly she
became aware of a voice coming from behind one of the
bedroom doors. Someone, probably Gila, was talking on
the phone in there.
"Bye now," the voice said. "I hear them coming up the
stairs. I'll talk to you later, and pray for me that she isn't
Mrs. Kramer emerged from the linen closet at that
moment, triumphantly waving a pillow. Tallie glanced at
her quickly, but she appeared not to have heard what Tallie
"Come," she said. "I found that extra pillow. Let me
take you in now and introduce you to Gila."
At that moment, the bedroom door flew open, and a
pretty blonde girl came bounding out of the room, nearly
tripping over Tallie's shoulder bag. She had straight,
flyaway hair pulled back neatly with a black velvet bow.
"So you are my new sister!" she said joyously. "I've been
waiting for you all day!"
Without waiting for an answer, she reached down and
grabbed Tallie's shoulder bag. "Come on, let me show you
Her smile looked so genuine and her voice sounded so
friendly that, if not for the overheard conversation, Tallie
might have thought she was for real. Unbearably sweet,
perhaps, but at least genuine!
Tallie was sure of it now. Gila would undoubtedly turn
out to be one gigantic, pretty blonde fly in the ointment.
She waited until Mrs. Kramer had straightened all the
linen and reminded them to hurry up with the unpacking
and come down for dinner quickly. Then she turned to
Gila, who was chattering away about school and friends,
barely pausing to take a breath. "For your information, my
dear sister," she interrupted Gila in mid-sentence. "I just
want you to know that your fears were well-founded,
because I am just about as weird as they come!"
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