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Sunday, June 16, 2019

The shrilling noise crept into her consciousness even as Ruthie Somerfield wanted to ignore the sound. She tried covering her head with her pillow, but the alarm just kept wailing.

It was six thirty. Time to get up and start her day. Except Ruthie wasn’t in the mood for school. Going to school meant facing all of her classmates, and that wasn’t something she relished, especially after what had happened the day before.

Ruthie thought back to the party at Tova and Shulamis Green’s house. Her classmates had confronted her about how she had been behaving toward Hili, and Ruthie admitted that she had been jealous of the other girl. Then she and Hili spent quite a long time talking, just the two of them, and Ruthie realized she actually liked Hili.

But she wasn’t sure how she would be greeted at school. Which was why she absolutely, positively did not want to go there.

“Mom!” she cried out. “Mommy!”

There was no answer. Just the continuous beep, beep, beep of the clock.

Ruthie rolled over and patted her hand on her nightstand. The clock wasn’t there.

Forcing her eyes open, Ruthie swung her feet out and over the edge of her bed and looked around. Someone had moved her clock and her knitting onto the dresser.

Ruthie shoved her feet into her slippers, turned off the clock and fingered the wool vest she was making. The repetitive motion of the knitting calmed her nerves, and after she had gotten home from the Greens’ party, she needed all the calm she could muster. If only she could stay home and work on her vest, Ruthie thought as she opened the door and listened for any sound of movement.

Whenever she slept at one of her friends’ houses she always heard lots of sounds in the morning. A baby crying. Children squabbling over a toy. The clangs of spoons against cereal bowls.

Ruthie heard none of that from her bedroom door.

“Mommy?” Ruthie called out a little more tentatively this time. Silence greeted her in response.

Ruthie padded through their one-story home. Her mother wasn’t there. Neither was her father.

That part wasn’t much of a surprise. She hadn’t seen him in a while.

Entering the kitchen, Ruthie saw her lunch bag on the counter and a note propped up against it. Ruthie picked up the note and read it.

My sweet little Ruthie,

I had to go to work early this morning but I didn’t want to wake you. I’ve packed your lunch with all your favorites. Don’t forget to eat breakfast and brush your teeth. Call me when you get up.

Love,

Mommy

Ruthie noticed her mother had left the phone right next to a bowl full of her favorite cereal. She ignored the phone and reached into the filled bowl. Popping some cereal into her mouth, she went over to the fridge and got out a container of milk.

It was one of those big gallons that her mother had stopped buying a while ago because her father was hardly ever home these days. Her mother had explained that the big bottle was very expensive and they had to watch their money because her father’s business was in trouble. Ruthie’s mother had only brought this particular container because it was on sale.

Ruthie took the container over to the table and poured it into her bowl. The jug was heavy and tumbled from her hands and onto the counter. Milk streamed down the side of the counter and onto the floor. Ruthie quickly uprighted the jug, but the damage was done.

The milk was wasted. Ruined.

The last thing they could afford was to have her wasting food because she was being clumsy, Ruthie thought.

Just then the phone rang.

Ruthie was sure it was her mother checking to make sure she was up, and Ruthie knew that if she didn’t answer her mother would be worried. Her mother seemed to have enough problems without Ruthie adding to them.

“Hi, Mommy,” Ruthie said, trying to be as cheerful as she could.

“Good morning, my Ruthie. How are you this morning? How did you sleep?”

“Okay, but I think I have a cold.”

“It doesn’t sound like you’re coughing or sniffling.”

“Maybe I should stay home just in case.”

“I think you need to go to school and see all your friends. I know they miss you when you aren’t there.”

Before she had been mean to Hili that might have been the case, but Ruthie wasn’t sure about that now. It would serve her right if they treated her as meanly as she had treated Hili.

By Faygie Holt

(Excerpted from Holt’s latest novel, “Trouble Ahead,” the second in the Achdus Club series)

 Faygie Holt is the author of the bestselling Jewish children’s book series The Achdus Club, for girls ages 8 to 11. The books “The New Girl” and “Trouble Ahead” are available at Jewish bookstores across the country and online at menuchapublishers.com. An award-winning journalist and editor, Faygie’s work appears regularly on Chabad.org and in the Jewish Link of New Jersey, among other outlets. Learn more about the author, her books and her writing at faygielevy.com.