"Can I have the rest of the week off?" I ask her. "Ill work double the hours next week. "

"Its okay with me. "

Jessica has parked herself at a computer terminal when I start wiping down the tables. "Can you please not tell Avi about my life?" I ask her.

"Why not?"

"Because if I want him to know something, Ill tell him. He doesnt need to hear it secondhand from my friends. "

Jess cocks her head to the side and says, "What are you trying to hide from him, Amy?"

"Nothing. "

Okay, thats not the honest truth. Id like to hide the bad parts of me, and only share the awesome parts. You cant blame me. Hes only here for a week. If he knows I screw up all the time theres no way hell want to be my. . . non-boyfriend.

Im seriously sick of referring to him as the "non. "

Something in my life seriously needs to change.

19

***

Even though the Israeli army is strong I worry about Israel, I pray for the safety of my family living in Israel and my boyfriend who is in the military there. Is there anything I can do to make this a more peaceful world?

***

Im almost done with my shift at Perk Me Up! when, you guessed it, Nathan comes sauntering in. He walks up to the counter and says, "Medium green tea with ice, no sweetener. "

He doesnt even look at me. Hes focused on the sugar packets next to the register. And hes obviously not interested in sugar packets because he doesnt like his drinks sweetened.

Maria is standing next to me, humming a little tune as shes purposely trying not to pay attention to the interaction between me and Nathan.

When I hand Nathan his drink, he says, "Wheres Abi?"

"His name is Avi, and you know it. "

Nathan takes a sip of his cold tea while looking at me above the rim of the cup. When he stops drinking he says, "Whatever. . . " mimicking our previous conversation. "Did he ditch you already?"

It wouldnt hurt so bad if it wasnt so close to the truth. "No. Cant you see Im working?"

"Im a customer. I think youre supposed to be nice to customers. "

I turn to Maria, who is not pretending to ignore our conversation anymore. "Go on," she says. "Dont mind me. This is extremely entertaining. I think I might even start charging admission. . . or start a Perk Me Up! open mic night. "

Taking a deep breath, I shake my head and turn back to Nathan. Hes still standing at the counter. The guy wont leave.

He leans forward and whispers, "You dont like me because Im a geek. . . dork. . . lame. . . weak sauce. . . whatever you want to label me. "

"Thats not true," I say.

"Oh, yeah? Then why are you so hung up on this Avi dude? Tell me his brain is as big as his biceps. "

"Not that its any of your business, but as a matter of fact hes really smart. You dont always have to judge people by their grades. Being fun and outgoing and street-smart is important, too. "

"If youre so hung up on the guy, why did you kiss me in the elevator? Oh, thats right. You did it as a joke. "

"Did not. "

"Yeah, right. Plastic girls like you like to play with peoples lives. You never think about the consequences of your actions or who youll hurt. "

My mouth goes wide. Is Nathan kidding? I wouldnt kiss him as a joke, or even a dare. I kissed him because I wanted the upper hand. If he started liking me because of our kiss, I could control our relationship. I could make him hate me or like me. I admit it was manipulative.

Nathans glasses slip on his nose and he pushes them back up. "I bet if I acted cool and dressed cool youd dump that Avi guy and want to date me. "

"Wanna bet?"

The door to the café opens. Its Avi. And he doesnt look happy that Im talking to Nathan. Nathan must sense my hesitation because he takes his iced tea without sweetener and stomps off to his usual chair to study.

Maria taps me on the shoulder. "You can go, Amy. Your shift is up. "

Thank the Lord.

I peel off the yellow apron. I lift myself on my tiptoes and give Avi a huge smooch while wrapping my arms around him. Thatll show him how much I missed him, Nathan how much Avi means to me, and everyone else (including Jessica) how important Avi is in my life.

Taking my cue, Avi wraps his arms around me. "Lets get out of here," he whispers against my mouth, then takes my hand and we leave the café together as a couple.

I think the ice has broken between us as we step out into the cold night air. My cell phone rings. Its my dad. "Hey, Aba" I say into my phone.

"Did you get a big surprise today?"

"Yep. Hes standing right beside me. " Ill talk to my dad later about the new "no surprise rule" Im about to set up.

"Lets all meet for dinner. How about Rosebud?"

Rosebud is an unbelievable Italian place on Rush Street right near our building. On a Saturday night its one of the most crowded restaurants in the city. "Sure. "

"Ill be there in a half hour. "

"Cool. See you there. "

I hang up and hadnt even realized I was leading Avi away from our building and Rosebud. I notice were not holding hands anymore. Were headed toward the beach even though Lake Michigan is freezing and the wind is blowing hard enough to make my face freeze up, making it hard to talk.

"I thought if I told you I was coming youd tell me not to," Avi says. Were still walking, both of us looking straight ahead at the lake peeking through the city streets.

I want to grab his hand and hold it as we walk, but hes got both of his fists stuffed inside the front pockets of his jeans. "I thought you forgot about me," I say.

He gives a short laugh. "I didnt have time, Amy. I was in basic training, remember?"

Im totally aware that other girls walking past us on the Chicago city streets are checking him out. Will it always be like that? Does he exude that charisma and confidence on purpose? "What if you did have time, Avi?" I ask him. "Would you find someone else, some pretty Israeli girl to replace me?"

"Why? So you wouldnt feel guilty starting a relationship with that guy Nathan?"

"I kissed you in front of him, Avi. Like Id do that if I liked him. "

"You did it to make him jealous," he says matter-of-factly.

"Did not. Besides, you dont even want a real relationship. You made that clear last summer. No commitments, no boyfriend/girlfriend stuff. You know what I tell my friends. . . that youre my non-boyfriend. Do you know how that makes me feel? Well, Ill tell you, Mr. Israeli Tough Guy. It makes me feel terrible, like Im not worth the time or effort or emotion to put into a real relationship. "

I swallow, but its not easy because my throat is starting to close up from emotion. Most of the time I try to keep my emotions deep inside, far from the surface. So this sucks, doubly so because its Avi, the one person I dont want to get too emotional with because I know itll just push him away.

He tries to pull me toward him, but I swat his hand away. I dont want his sympathy. I want his love.

What feels the worst is that I dont even think hes capable of giving it. God knows hed never say it.

"I dont know what you want," he says, totally frustrated now. "Amy, Im sorry. I thought we had this all worked out.

"Yeah, well, we dont. Why did you come here? Just to screw around with my life?"

"No," he says, pulling me into his chest and this time doesnt let me resist. Holding me tight, he whispers into my hair, "I finished combat basic training and am assigned to a specialized fighting unit. The IDF is taking a different approach to terrorism; theyre going to teach us how to think, act, and be the enemy. " He takes a deep breath and says, "I dont know if Ill get authorization to contact you in the summer when you visit. "

20

***

Jacob had twelve sons. Each became one of the twelve tribes of Israel (Numbers 1:4). I wonder what tribe my descendants are from. Im sure the Internet doesnt track birth records from that far back. r />

***

It takes a few minutes for me to comprehend what Avi just told me. Specialized fighting unit. Being the enemy. I pull back and look into his eyes. "Were supposed to see each other next summer when I come to visit. You promised me. "

"I got time off now instead. "

"Where are you going to be living in the summer?" Avi gives me a small smile. "Ill be traveling a lot. "

"In the Middle East?" I ask. "Yes. And Europe. "

"I dont like that," I tell him. "Not one bit. " Taking a look at my watch, I realize we better head to Rosebud or my dad will be worried. "My dads meeting us for dinner," I tell Avi, then start walking but I feel like Im in a trance.

Avi takes his place right next to me. "Did I freak you out?" he asks.

"Yep. " Totally freaked me out. All these thoughts are running through my head, especially the ones where men are captured and tortured and mutilated. I mean, its inhumane whats going on in the world. I seriously like my life right here, as safe as I could be in a big city like Chicago.

Im silent the rest of the walk to Rosebud. My dad is already there, sitting and waiting at a table. He waves us over and stands up to shake Avis hand and to pat him on the back. Does my dad know? Does he have any idea Avi is about to risk his life for Israel just like he did at Avis age?

I roll my eyes as they immediately start speaking in Hebrew, strange words and sounds pouring out of their mouths super fast. My phone vibrates with a text message. I read it under the table.

Jess: Where did you run off to?

Me: Dinner

Jess: Avi ok?

Me: Yep.

Jess: Does he know you XOXOed Nathan?

Me: NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The waitress is standing over to our table, but the guys are oblivious.

"Ill have a Coke," I tell her. "No ice. No lemon. " Theres nothing worse than watered-down Coke. "Got it. And for the gentlemen?"

The gentlemen are gurgling and gargling their way through a very intense conversation. Theyre probably talking about Avis army training because my dad is totally concentrated and impressed with whatever Avis talking about. Boys and their gun talk. . .

I just want to forget about guns and army and elite forces these next seven days. Im going to treat his military service as if it doesnt exist. Ignorance keeps me sane sometimes. "When youre ready to speak English, just wake me up," I say, then lay my head down on the table.

"Sorry, sweetheart," my dad says. "I was just telling Avi your mom is pregnant. "

"Thanks, Aba" I tell him sarcastically. "Im sure I couldnt have told him that myself. " I dont understand why everyone in my life just cant keep their mouths shut.

As my temperature is rising and my heart is pounding, I feel Avis hand reach under the table for mine. As soon as our fingers touch, I take a calming breath. Its as if Avi knew I was starting to panic about everything. He gets big brownie points for this.

Even though Im usually carb-conscious, I cant resist the warm bread at Rosebud. The loaf is crunchy on the outside and soft and warm on the inside. Taking the jug of olive oil, I pour some of the golden liquid onto my little appetizer plate and spoon parmesan cheese on top.

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