Chapter Excerpt

Chapter 1


"I am so out of here!" I yell, letting the door slam behind me. They're too busy fighting to notice I'm gone, I'm sure. In an hour, when it's time to drive me to temple, they'll be looking for me--"Rachel? Rachel?" Yeah, guys, remember me?

God. Could they have been any more awful to each other at dinner? I inhaled my food so fast I didn't taste a bite. A pasta and peas vacuum cleaner.

I run and run until I pretty much can't breathe. I'm sure I'm going to puke. What is the opposite of a vacuum cleaner? I slow way down so I don't become whatever that is. Catch my breath. Yeah, walking might be a better idea.

I am so sick of their stupid fights, I don't know what to do. Maybe I'll talk to the rabbi about my parents.

Middle-aged, nerdy, bushy-bearded, potbellied, Jewish Santa Claus-looking Rabbi Cohn. Yup. He's just that wise, kind, brilliant. If anyone can make me feel better, it's him. He might be the most perfect human being on the planet.

I walk through the parking lot to the back door, but it's still locked. It is early--forty-five minutes before class is supposed to start. So I go around to the front, pull open the heavy wooden door. The lobby is empty, but the lights are on. I hope he's here early tonight, in the sanctuary like he sometimes is before class, getting the Torah ready for the Saturday service.

But the sanctuary is dark, quiet, empty.

Oh well. It'll be good to have time to myself. I don't turn on the light; I want the dark. I run my hand along the top of the back row. The feel of the smooth, polished wood is soothing. I sit down a few seats in from the door and just breathe.

What would it be like if they got divorced? They never used to fight. Alexis always said my parents were the happiest couple in the world. Now they seem absolutely miserable. With no brothers or sisters to stick with me, I can see myself as a little Rachel ball being ping-ponged back and forth between them. Or, worse, maybe, left with just one of them, like Alexis.

Alexis. God. Ever since she came back from her dad's, a diamond stud in her nose, her black curls that used to be just like mine turned into bleached-blond spikes, smoking cigarettes and weed, bragging about having sex with her twenty-year-old boyfriend, I've felt . . . abandoned. Sometimes she is the same smart, funny, loving-me-better-than-anyone best friend, but then without any warning she'll get distant and cool. She is definitely in charge of our relationship now. I have no idea what I can talk to her about and what I can't.

Every time I try to talk to her about my parents, she puts that wall up. I haven't even tried to ask her about Jake. She'd just make a crack about my being young.

Oh God. I need to stop thinking. I need just to BE. In my peaceful sanctuary. I have so many good memories of this place--and one sad one.

Grandpa's coffin right in front of the bima. I can still see it, in my mind's eye, though I try not to. God it was an awful day. But the rabbi was perfect. Right before the funeral service, the family met in his office. He pinned ripped black ribbons onto our clothes--the sign that we were in mourning. Spoke about what a great man my grandpa was, how he had lived a happy life with Grandma. And then, as we were walking out of his office, the rabbi said, quietly, just to me, "He was so proud of you, Rachel," and I burst into tears. It was exactly what I needed to hear.

As I sit here with my head back, staring at the ceiling--or what I can see of it with the lights off--I try to think what the rabbi would say about my parents. I try to channel his wisdom, but instead of channeling anything, I fall asleep.

I wake up because I hear noises. I am not alone.

What am I hearing? Small, soft sounds. Whispers. I slowly open my eyes, wait for them to adjust to the darkness. I sit up and look around. But I don't see anyone. For some reason I know not to stand up, cough, make myself known.

Then the sounds start getting louder. I can't quite tell what they are--or I am not ready to admit it. It isn't exactly people talking, but I can tell there are two people. A low voice, and a higher voice. Groans. Sighs. Moans.

Holy crap. Who is it? Who could it be? Having sex in the sanctuary! For God's sake! It seems like the sounds are coming from the bima--the rabbi's bima--where he leads services; where the birthday kids go up for their blessing every month, the rabbi holding his hands above them, fingers spread to let in God; where I stood in front of the congregation almost three years ago when I was thirteen with my mother and grandmother as we passed the Torah from generation to generation.

It is so tacky, so sacrilegious.

I am dying to know who it is.

And then I hear them. Two words. Just two words. And the instant I hear them, those two words change everything I know to be true. Those two words become my personal torture, the hot secret I will carry with me like the burning coal that singed the tongue of toddler Moses.

And then she says them again:


Excerpted from Intentions by Deborah Heiligman
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