Wow. And I thought my family life and love life were rough. I have the urge to go hug my mom and dad and thank them for hanging in there with me.

When we step into Nathans condo, he turns to me. "Will you please change your shirt, its got snot all over the sleeve. As your friend, I just want to be honest with you. "

I look down at my snot-encrusted shirt. It is grotesque. "Ill be right back," I say, then trot over to my door.

I change my shirt and go back to the Keeners place. When were in Nathans room, we hang out on his bed and dig into a tub of ice cream.

I look at Nathan. If you look past his geeky attire, you can see that he could possibly be cool. With a LOT of help.

"What are you looking at?" he asks, turning to me with his bright green eyes.

"I was just thinking that you dont have to dress different to appease your aunt and uncle. You should be yourself. If they kick you out for being you, well. . . Im sure you could come live with me and my dad. "

"We could be like brother and sister?"

"Yeah," I say, totally serious and meaning every single word. "Like brother and sister. And friends. . . great friends," I say, taking a spoonful of vanilla ice cream.

Those green eyes are starting to water.

"Nathan, are you crying?"

One lone tear falls down his cheek. "Yeah. " He looks down and swipes the tear from his face. "I havent had a sibling in a long time, Amy. "

I hug him. To be honest, I think its the first sisterly hug hes had in years.

"Do you really play the guitar?" I ask him, eyeing the black leather case on the floor while I try and lighten the mood.

"Used to be in a band, but its kind of tough being a member of a group when you move as often as I have. "

Picking up the guitar, I hand it to him. "Play something for me. "

"Like what. "

"A song. For me. "

"Do you want me to make it up?"

"If you can. "

"Okay. . . lets see. Ill call it My Sister Barbie. "

24

***

Tzedakah is the commitment a Jew makes to give charity.

Tzedakah doesnt have to be all about money. It can be doing mitzvahs (good deeds) for others less fortunate, too. My friend Nathan needs a little Tzedakah thrown his way.

***

I bring Nathan to my moms house in Deerfield the next morning for moral support. Last night Nathan convinced me to be honest with her and Marc about questions I have concerning the new baby.

My mom rushes out of the house and hugs Nathan. I think her emotional hormones are in overdrive. "Avi, its so nice to finally meet you," she says with a big smile. "Amys told me so much about you. "

"Mom--"

"How are you liking being in our big city?" she says, ignoring me. "Amy must be showing you a grand old time. "

"Mom, this isnt Avi. "

"Its not?"

"No. Its Nathan. Nathan, this is my mom," I say as I unleash Mutt and let him loose in my mom and Marcs house.

"Oh. I thought his name was Avi. "

"No, his name is Nathan. Avi is another guy. "

"Then wheres this Avi?"

"I dont know. "

"Oh. Well, Nathan, why dont you come in and have lunch with us. "

While were eating lunch in the kitchen, Nathan kicks me under the table. Its my cue to start bringing up issues Ive been avoiding. "When the baby is born, wheres it going to sleep?"

My mom looks to Marc. "In our room, at first. "

"Well, we only have two bedrooms because the third is used as an office," Marc chimes in.

"What are you asking?"

"Well, I dont want to be sleeping on the couch when I stay here. I want to keep my room. I may not live here permanently, but I still want a room when I visit. Its important to me. "

"Cant you share one with the baby?"

I raise my eyebrows and chuckle. "Im a teenager. Like I really want to share a room with someone in diapers. "

Marc puts his fork down while he thinks. "Maybe I can move the office into the basement. "

"Theres no windows down there and little ventilation, Marc," Mom coos. "What about your allergies?"

"Amy has a point about the room situation. I can take my allergy medicine before I go down there. Is that fair? You keep your bedroom and the baby will get the office. "

I guess Marc isnt such a bad guy, after all. He just needs to get used to having a daughter like me around. . . and a dog like Mutt. Maybe I should suggest he take his allergy medicine every day.

My mom sits up straight, or as straight as she can with a protruding belly. "As long as were making concessions, how about if I request one of my own?" she says.

I brace myself. "Shoot. "

"After the babys born, you babysit one weekend night a month. Changing diapers and all. "

"Fine. But if it pukes all over my clothes youre paying for the dry cleaning. "

"Its a deal. "

After lunch, the four of us sit and play Scrabble.

"So. . . are you two an item?" my mom asks before one of her turns.

"Were just friends," Nathan blurts out.

"Yeah," I confirm. "Just great friends. "

Marc wins Scrabble by a landslide with a triple word score with the word zareba. We all challenged him and he won. Zareba is a word, if you can believe it. Then Nathan and I take Mutt for a walk around the block before we head back to the city. It feels good to have Nathan as a friend, to give me the guy perspective on stuff.

My phone buzzes with a text message when were driving back to the city.

"Can you read it to me?" I ask Nathan.

"Its Jessica. She wants to know why you want Wess number. "

"Text her back and tell her its a surprise. "

I hear Nathan typing away on my cell phone.

"She says you have enough guys in your life and need to take a breather. "

I steer the car to the side of the road and grab my cell out of Nathans hands.

"What are you doing?"

"Bribing my best friend. " I smile when she finally texts me Wess number. I dial it and wait for an answer.

"Wes, this is Amy. You know, the virgin from the youth group meeting. "

"I remember. The girl with the dark hair and clear blue eyes. Are you breathing heavy on purpose?"

"No, thats just my dog panting in my ear. "

"Yeah, right," he says, totally not believing me.

"Listen, if you ever need a guitar player for Lickity Split, my friend Nath--I mean Nate--Nate Greyson is his name and he rocks. "

"I sing, too," Nathan whispers beside me.

"He sings, too," I add.

"Were rehearsing today at Lounge Ax. If he wants to come by and jam with us, thats cool. Cant say hes in the band, but were always lookin for subs. "

I hang up and toss the phone into Nathans lap.

"Thanks," he says. "I think I once called you inconsiderate and rude. Youre not. "

"Yeah, well, you caught me when Im heartsick and weak. "

I tell Nathan to be at Lounge Ax later. I have to pick up Jess and take her to dinner. The bribe dinner.

At Hanabi, our favorite sushi place, I order the Jewish Chefs Special without crab or shellfish, a spicy tuna roll and spicy tuna rice bowls with tempura crunch. Jess orders the Hwe Dup Bob bowl of kosher sushi, lettuce, and brown rice.

Jess takes the first bite of her special concoction and moans with delight. "This is so good. "

"It better be. Its costing me sixteen dollars. "

She shoves another forkful into her mouth. "First Avi, then Nathan. . . now Wes. I think youve gone off the deep end here. I have to say giving you Wess cell number was so worth this dinner. "

Frustrated, I tell Jessica the truth. "The number was for Nathan. He plays guitar and needed guys to jam with. "

"So you just spent sixteen dollars on my dinner for doing someth

ing nice for Nathan?"

I shove a spicy tuna roll into my mouth and nod.

Jess puts her fork down. "So youre not into Wes?"

I shake my head. "Nope. "

"What about Nathan?"

Another shake. "Nope. "

"And Avi?"

At the mention of his name, my heart stings. "Hes staying at Northwestern with a friend. Its over. "

"Why?"

"Because he wants it to be. I kissed another guy, I humiliated him in front of everybody, and because hes in the Israeli military for the next three years. "

"Do you still like him?"

"Oh, man, Jess, you cant imagine. Its like he took a piece of me when he left. I really screwed up. I wish I knew where he was, but even if I did I wouldnt know what to say to him. "

"Too bad you cant kidnap him. "

Yeah. Too bad. If I could kidnap him then I could tell him that it doesnt matter that were apart. It doesnt matter that I kissed another guy. My heart still belongs to my Israeli soldier and nobody can take that away. . . not time or a kiss. But why cant I kidnap him? Why cant I make him listen to what he might not want to hear? While my mind is churning, Im getting more excited by the second.

"Thats it. Jess, youre a genius!" I say.

She looks at me, confused and clueless. "I think I missed something. "

"No, youre right. I need to kidnap Avi. Secret military operation style--its right up his alley. "

"Jess, you dont even know what dorm hes staying in. "

"Well find out. Doesnt Mirandas aunt work in admissions? Thats why she thinks shes automatically getting in?"

"Okay, so suppose you know where hes staying. Then what? Were going to handcuff him and take him in a getaway car? Ive only seen him a few times, but I know he could overpower the two of us no problem. "

Shes right. I need more muscle on my side--a guy. "Nathan will help. "

"Nathan?"

I convince her hes the only one wholl help. Besides, our kiss was fifty percent his fault.

In the evening, I recruit Nathan and Miranda. Nathans skeptical, but Mirandas on board. We plan the mission for Friday, after school.

Two days from today.

25

***

What is Gods definition of a family? Ive been trying to figure out my own definition, but I cant come up with one that makes complete sense.

***

Im going to be a grandmother. For real. My dad talked to Mr. Obermeyers vet on the phone, confirming the results. Mutt really is a stud.

Not wanting bad blood with Mutts father-in-law, I bake homemade doggie cookies and knock on Mr. Obermeyers door. The creak on his floor alerts me hes home, although Im not sure when he peeps through his peephole and realizes its me hell open the door.

Lucky (or not) for me, he opens the door. He does not look happy to see me. "What do you want now?"

Holding out the bag of cookies that I tied with a pink ribbon, I say, "These are for Princess. "

His lips unpurse for a millisecond. Opening the door wider to let me in, Im not sure I want to actually walk into Mr. Obermeyers condo. Hes probably going to make me take my shoes off to protect his pristine floor and has plastic covering his furniture so nobody gets any marks on it.

I walk inside his place. Hes got jazz playing softly in the background. "You like jazz?" I ask, trying to make conversation, at the same time wondering when I can make a smooth exit without insulting the old man. The last thing I want to do is upset Mr. Obermeyer. His grumpy threshold is very thin.

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