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Claire Bernstein

by josephrishik 

Posted: 12 November 2014
Word Count: 7282
Summary: A young girl is having to put up with her abusive father.

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Friday, June 17th, 1994, was the day Claire Bernstein finally graduated from middle school. She had gotten all A’s all three years, but this didn’t impress her father, David, one bit. Whether or not it would impress her mother, Rachel, she had no way of knowing. Claire’s entrance into the world on Sunday, June 8th, 1980, had been the cause of her mother’s exit from the world. Before her departure, she had successfully pled with her husband into not giving up Claire for adoption. David had fulfilled his wife’s wishes, but ever so reluctantly.
            To David, Claire was just a reminder of his wife’s death. He’d told Claire several times that if he could go back in time, he would have talked Rachel into getting an abortion. Claire had to do all the cooking and cleaning, and if she messed up one nook or cranny, she would get a beating. She didn’t have a lot of feminine clothes. June one blouse, some t-shirts, some shorts, and a pair of tennis shoes.
Claire was five feet and three inches tall, had brown hair, hazel eyes, a curvy body, and lived in Rochester, Minnesota.
All that she needed to spoil her last day of middle school was hearing her father’s grouchy voice when she returned home in the at seven-o-clock that evening.
            “You took your time getting home.”
            He was five feet and ten inches tall, had patches of brown hair, was slightly bulky, and was forty-six years old.
            “Thanks for coming to my graduation,” she said sarcastically.
            “I hope you enjoyed it, cause it’s the last fun day you’re gonna do for a while. Now I bought a new brand of sausages today, so you’d better start cooking. If I’m in a good mood, I might let you have one.”
            “Oh how nice of you. You’re gonna allow me to benefit from my own cooking.”
            “It’s nice of me to let you have any food after what you did to my wife!!!” he barked. “Now start cooking, or I’ll make you wish you had been aborted as much as I do.”
            Cooking the sausages might have been an easy job for Claire had her father not been barking at her to be careful the entire time, while drinking a bottle of beer. And just as she was ready to put the first batch of sausages on a plate, David roared, “Don’t you dare spill those!” but his choice of words made Claire do exactly that. She got so nervous that she accidentally tilted the pan down too far and all the sausages fell onto the kitchen floor.
            “YOU IDIOT!!!” he roared, grabbing her shoulders and shaking her against the wall. “I TELL YOU TO BE CAREFUL, AND STILL YOUR THICK SKULL DOESN’T PROCESS! YOU CLEAN THOSE UP RIGHT NOW!!!”
            “This was your fault!” she shouted. “Had you kept your mouth shut, everything would have gone just fine!”

            But she immediately wished she hadn’t said that. The look in father’s eyes was more intimidating than words could describe. She knew there was nothing for it. She dashed out of the kitchen, into the living room, and up the two sets of perpendicular staircases that led to her bedroom, while hearing her father’s furious steps behind her. Just as she reached the balcony at the top of the stairs, she heard a loud crack and looked behind her. He had tried to throw his bottle of beer at her, but instead it had hit stairs and cracked, and now there was liquid spilling all over the stairs.
            “NOW YOU HAVE TWO MESSES TO CLEAN UP! You have ten minutes, and if I see a speck-“
            “THIS MESS WAS COMPLETELY YOUR FAULT!!! Besides, you love beer. Why don’t you just slurp it all up? Learn to take responsibility-“
            “The least you can do to make up for your murderous act is-“

            “My mother’s death was not my fault! I wish she had survived! And quite frankly, I wish she had survived instead of you!” But this had been the wrong thing to say. David’s face was contorted with rage for a split second, and then he came charging up the stairs. But both of them seemed to have forgotten that there was a waterfall of beer on the stairs and just as David was approaching the top, he slipped on a puddle of beer. He hit his head on the railing where the stair case turned, then tumbled over it, and landed back-first on their grand piano, and slumped to the floor, motionless.
            Claire, taking care to avoid the puddles of beer, made her way down the stairs, and examined her father. He was out cold. She examined his pulse. He wasn’t dead, but he would be if he didn’t get help soon. And if he died, Claire would never have to put up with him again. It was a tempting thought. But if he died, she would most likely be going to the orphanage. Would that be much better?
            No, it was best to call the ambulance. She would be in huge trouble if she let her father die when she could have saved him. And maybe, she thought, he would be nicer to her if she saved his life. She highly doubted this, but she reluctantly went to the nearest and called the ambulance.
            It was midnight already, and she was at her local hospital waiting outside her father’s ward. She didn’t want to give the officers the impression that she and her father didn’t get along, so she reluctantly went along with them. The plus side was that she could try to reason with her father while he was in a hospital bed, and couldn’t attack her.
            Would he be grateful toward her, or would he simply say that it was the least she could do to make up for killing his wife? Just then the door of the ward opened, and out walked the doctor, wearing a sad expression on his face.
            “I’m very sorry miss, but your father is dying. His spine cracked too when he fell.” Claire didn’t know what to think of this. On one hand, she wouldn’t have to put up with her father’s abuse, but on the other hand, she would probably be spending the last 4 years of her childhood in an orphanage.
            “You should go in now if you want to talk to him.”
            “I don’t,” said Claire.
            “Excuse me?” he said. This is father. Surely-“
            “Look, he probably doesn’t want to talk to me, so-“
            “He just told me he did.”
            “What?” said Claire, not believing her ears. “My father wants to talk to me?”
            “Of course, he’s your father.”
            “He probably just wants to tell me how much trouble I’ve caused-“
            “He told me he wants to say goodbye.”
            “I hope that’s true,” she said, slowly making getting up and walking to the door. She stepped into the ward, and saw her father lying on a bed, his face quite pale, and looking a great deal older than he had a few house ago. She knew she ought to take pity, but she couldn’t find it in herself.”
            “Hi sweetheart,” he said smiling.
            “Sweetheart?” said Claire, anger running through her veins. “You cause me fourteen years of misery, and you think you can make it all up by calling me sweetheart?”

            “No,” he said. “I don’t expect you to ever forgive me.”

            “Good,” said Claire sharply.
            “Can you sit down sweety?” he said, gesturing to a chair beside his bed. “I need to tell you a few things.”
            “Look dad. Nothing you say is the few minutes you have left is gonna erase-“
            “I’m not trying to get you to love me. I just want to give you information that will be crucial for survival once I’m gone.”
            Claire numbly sat down beside her father, and waited for him to continue.
            “Now I have a younger sister. Her name is Sarah. I gave the doctor her phone number, and he’s making some calls right now.”
            “Why did she never come and visit us?” asked Claire.
            “Because,” he said, “I told her not to. I told her and our parents that I never wanted to see them again once your mother died.”
            Then Claire started shedding tears of anger. “And you told me all this time that your parents had Alzheimer’s? And what about my maternal grandparents? The ones who you said didn’t want to see the person who “murdered” their daughter.”
            “They died,” said David softly. “They were both killed in a car accident while your mother was pregnant with you. Her stress is what may have caused her to be unstable. But it had nothing to do with you.”
            “Well it’s about time you figured that out.”
            “I’m sorry,” he said. “I see now the pain I’ve caused you. That’s why I want to make sure you live with someone who won’t cause you that pain. He reached his hand out to Claire, and after a few seconds, she grabbed it.
            “I love you sweety,” he said hoarsely, and with that, his hand fell down, and his expression was blank.
            Claire was on the train to Saint Cloud, where her Aunt Sarah lived. She thought of whether her father deserved forgiveness for his small act of kindness in the last few minutes of his life the night before kept penetrating her. Would he have been a better father if he had survived? Or was he just being nice because he knew it was his last chance?
Then she thought of what her aunt might be like. Was this a trap of her father’s? Was he sending her to live with someone just as bad as him?
Claire tried to wash these thoughts with thoughts of her recent graduation. But these thoughts slid back to her all too easily when she arrived at her destination. After looking around for a little while, she saw a woman bearing a plastic name tag that read, ‘Sarah Goldberg’. As soon as Claire waved, she stowed her nametag inside her purse, opened her arms, and enwrapped Claire in a tight.
            “Claire, I’m so glad to finally you,” she said joyfully. She had dirty-blonde hair, a dampened face, a slender build, and was about five feet and five inches tall.
            “Thank you Aunt Sarah, you too,” she said as they let go.
“You look so much like your mother,” she said sadly. “Anyways, I bet you’re hungry. Let’s go home and eat.”
            How could Claire have that her aunt might be like her father? Her worry now became a twinge of guilt.
            “I’m so sorry about your father,” she said as she was driving.
            “It’s fine,” said Claire. Then she went into all the detail about his hatred and abuse.
            “He loved your mother to death. They’d known each other since he was six and she was five. There were many times when my parents and I felt that he was over-possessive of her. We thought he might have loved her more than he loved us. And we were right, weren’t we.”
            Night had fallen by the time they arrived at her house. It was one story, with two bedrooms and a backyard. Claire’s new bedroom became the one on the left. As she was unpacking in her new bedroom, a curious thought came to her. Sarah’s last name was Goldberg, which was different than the last name of her brother, which told Claire that Sarah must be married. However, Sarah hadn’t made any mention of having a husband, and there was no one else home at the moment. Maybe he was at work and would get home later. Or maybe they had divorced and she had just decided to keep his last name.
But then she went back out into the living-room, her attention was caught by a photograph on a desk. Sarah, a man, and a boy who looked to be about seven or eight, were standing in a grassy area, all wearing wide grins. She had a husband and a son? Even if they were divorced, wouldn’t her son need the second bedroom for whenever he stayed with her? Why was Sarah giving her son’s bedroom to Claire?
            But at that moment, Sarah walked out of her bedroom, looked at the photo, put her arm around Claire and started crying softly onto her shoulder.
            “That was my husband, Nathan, and my son, Isaac.”

            “What happened?” asked Claire, feeling suddenly empty. Sarah slumped down on the nearest sofa, and Claire sat down next to her, and sympathetically patted her back.
            “The winter before last,” she said, “my parents invited me, my husband, my ten-year-old son, and my parents-in-law to their house in Duluth for Chanuka. I couldn’t go the first night, because I was the cantor of the synagogue, and I had to sing for a Chanuka gathering there. So I drove up the next day, but when I arrived-“ she paused and blew into her blouse, “I found the entire house in ruins. There were police officers there to inform me what had happened. The night before, the entire house had caught on fire, and everyone was killed.”
            She paused and wiped her eyes with her sleeve, while Claire felt tears rapidly falling from her eyes. “They said it might have in accident from inside the house, but it’s more likely that it was caused by somebody from outside. In that case, they have yet to catch the person responsible.”
            There was a long period in which Claire was softly patting her aunt’s neck, while they were both silently crying. “Anyways,” said Sarah getting up at last, “let’s eat.”
            Claire’s insides were burning with guilt. She had spent fourteen years feeling sorry for herself; thinking that she had had it worse off than anyone else. She had worried about how her aunt would treat her, without considering what tragedies she might have gone through. She had only been thinking about herself.
            They were eating dinner right now, sitting on opposite sides. The two sides perpendicular to them should have been occupied as well, and then Claire realized something that made her insides feel with anger for her father. Isaac had been her cousin, and Sarah’s parents had been her grandparents. And David prevented her from meeting them before they died, and for this, she would never be able to forgive him.
            “I’m sorry for falling apart like that,” said Sarah, several minutes into their meal.
            “Why?” said Claire “Anyone would. “I’m also upset. They were family that I never got to meet. Did my father know about this?”
            “I sent him a message, but I never heard a reply. Did he seem sad around that time? December of 1992?
            Claire thought back a year-and-a-half.
            “Nope,” she said. “He was being his usual self.”
            “I was hoping he’d want to relate with me, since we’d both lost spouses and both lost our parents. But I guess he didn’t have an ounce of pity for his parents and nephew who he never met.”
            “I wish I could have met them,” said Claire.
            “You would have loved Isaac,” she said smiling slightly. “He was quite a funny boy. He could always brighten anyone’s day, and he always found a way to make people around him laugh.”
            Claire gave a soft smile.
            “And Nathan was the director of the synagogue. He was so amazing at coordinating the synagogue facilities. The woman who replaced him is good, but not as good.”
            “Who do you think did it?” asked Claire.
            “Your guess is as good as mine. I hate to admit this, but they may never be caught.”
            And that was the end of their discussion. Tonight was possibly the best sleeping night in Claire’s life. Perhaps it was due to the fact that she knew she wasn’t going to wake up to a grouchy voice telling her to make breakfast and do the laundry. And sure enough, the next morning, she woke up to a quiet house. If felt good to be able to take her time getting changed and showering. When she went out into the living-room, Sarah was already at the with toast, bacon, and a cup of tea. Claire saw the same for her at her place.
            “Good morning Sarah,” said Claire, situating herself at the table.
            “Good morning sweety, how’d you sleep?”
            “Fine, what about you?”
            “I slept okay,” she said. “I want to show you around the city today. I also want to get you registered as a member of our synagogue, Shalom Rav. I’m guessing you didn’t have a Bat-Mitzvah?
            “Of course not,” said Claire. “We never even went to synagogue.
            “Do you want to have one?”
            Claire thought about this. She had no idea how to read Hebrew, and if she started now, she would have her Bat Mitzvah at fifteen, which was two to three years later than most girls had theirs.
            “Sure,” said Claire.
            “Alright, I’ll try to find you a tutor,” she said.
            Once in the car, Sarah said, “Hopefully you’ll be able to start learning Hebrew this summer. I should warn you, learning all those prayers is a lot of work.”
            “It’s better than all that house work my dad made me do,” said Claire. Sarah chuckled.
            Claire couldn’t help grinning as they pulled up in front of the synagogue. It wasn’t very tall, but it took up a good chunk of the block.
            As soon as they stepped inside, Claire felt a cool breeze rush over her. She followed her aunt through along the red-carpet floor through a door on their right, which appeared to be the office.
            Sitting at a desk, was a woman with a nameplate in front of her reading, ‘Jessica Hagelberg’.
            “Good afternoon Sarah,” she said, smiling. “And who might this young lady be?”
            “This is my dear niece, Claire. She lives with me now. I would like to get her registered as a member here.”
            “All right,” said Jessica pulling out a slip of paper, and writing on it. “I’ll get right on that.”
            “And also, she’s 14, but can she still have a Bat Mitzvah?”
            “Absolutely. Do you know your prayers?”
            “I don’t know any,” said Claire. “I’ll need a tutor.”
            “Well,” she said putting down her pen and picking up the phone, “let me call Rabbi Noah, and ask him who he thinks you should study with.”
            She dialed a few buttons, put the phone to her ear for a few seconds, then said, “Hello Noah, how are you?” There was a few moments of silence. “We have a new member of our congregation; her name is Claire Bernstein and she’s the niece of Sarah Goldberg. She wants to have a Bat Mitzvah and I was wondering who you think would be the best tutor for her.” There was about a minute of silence. “You are awesome, she’ll be so grateful. Have a nice day,” she said smiling and hanging up.
            “I have excellent news,” said Jessica beaming.  “The Rabbi has offered to personally tutor you twice a week for forty-five dollars an hour. Mondays and Thursdays at his house would be best.”
            “Thank you so much,” said Claire.
            “You guys are awesome,” said Sarah. “Have a nice day,” she said as they left the office.
            “So,” said Sarah once they were in the car, “the Saint Cloud Symphony Orchestra is playing Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony tonight, along with the Brahms’ Academy Festival Overture and the Elgar Serenade for Strings on Monday night. Do you want to hear them?”
            “I’d love to,” said Claire.
            “Alright, so would I. We should get some suitable concert clothes though, so we’ll go to the mall.”
            The mall was very crowded, and Claire was frequently having to momentarily relocate her aunt following her. The clothes store, called Tessa, was not as overwhelming fortunately. Finding suitable clothes was though.
            Claire had to try on six different pairs of heels, four different blouses, and five different skirts, before deciding on a pair of red heels, a dark pink blouse, a green blouse, a blue skirt, a red skirt, and a pair of flats.
            “You look gorgeous,” said Sarah once they were out of the store.
            “Thank you, Sarah” said Claire.
            “They have a really great Mexican place around here called Cabrillo’s. You’ll love it.”
            And Sarah was right. Claire couldn’t remember eating better food. She ordered a cheese quesadilla and some beans, while Sarah ordered a cheese quesadilla and rice.
            “How are you liking it?” asked Sarah.
            “I love it,” said Claire truthfully.
            “Me too. I haven’t eaten her since… “ Her voice drifted off, but Claire new what she was about to say.
            “Thank you,” said Claire reaching out her hand, for all that you’ve sacrificed for me in these last couple of days. Especially with what you’ve been dealing with.”
            Sarah gave a small smile. “It hasn’t been too much of a hassle.” She took a deep breadth. “I was thinking of something, and you can tell me if you don’t feel comfortable doing it. I thought, maybe tomorrow sometime, we could go to the cemetery, and visit Nathan’s and Isaac’s graves.”
            “Of course I don’t feel uncomfortable doing that,” said Claire. “They were my relatives too and this’ll be the closest I ever get to meeting them.”
            “You have a wonderful heart,” said Sarah, and they were silent until the waiter came by and handed them the check.
            On their way home, they stopped by the grocery store. They got so much food that they needed two carts to heave it all back to the car. They each had to make two trips from the car to the house to get all the food in, and it seemed to take forever to sort all of it to where it belonged in the kitchen. Night was beginning to fall.
            After a few minutes of relaxation, Claire helped Sarah prepare dinner in the kitchen. Tonight it was mushrooms, lamb, and stake. It was nice to be able to cook without constantly being hollered at.
            “What’s Rabbi Noah like?” asked Claire once they were seated.
            “A bit strange. He tells a lot of jokes, and a lot of funny stories, but I feel like he can goes overboard. He’ll ask individuals in the audience very personal questions. I want you to tell me after your session tomorrow if you feel uncomfortable with him.”
            “As long as he can teach me Hebrew, I’m happy,” said Claire.
            After dinner, they sat on the couch and watched “The Sound of Music” while eating ice cream. Although Claire had only known her aunt for a day, she felt as if she had known and lived with her for many years. Her father’s shouts were just an echo of the distant past
            The first thing Claire thought about when she woke up the next morning was her upcoming tutoring session. She was so nervous she could hardly eat her breakfast.
            “So Claire sweety,” said Sarah, once they were in the car. “I was thinking we could go to the cemetery after your tutoring session?”
            “Absolutely,” said Claire.
            Her heart beat faster as she got out of the car and went up to the door of Rabbi Noah’s house.
            She heard the sound of hurried steps, and then the door opened to reveal a man. He had gray hair, was about six feet tall, was thin, and had a wide grin.
            “Well, you must be Claire.”
            “I am,” she said.
            “Well, fantastic. Sarah, you’re welcome to come in.”
            “Well Claire, will you be okay on your own?” asked Sarah.
            “Yeah,” said Claire. “Bye.”
            “Well, come on back,” he said shutting the door.
            The living room was mostly made of wooden furniture. He led her to what she thought must be his room and sat her down at his desk.
            “So, I say the sooner the better,” he said shuffling in his cabinet for some papers.
            “We’ll start by learning the sounds of the letters.”
            Only a few minutes into the lesson, Claire’s nerves evaporated into feelings of pride and joy. Claire was catching on to this new language quite easily, and Noah was constantly telling her that she was getting the hang of it a lot better than most students. By the end of the lesson, she had learned the sounds of every single letter, and had learned a lot of the sounds made by a combination of two letters, and that was, according to Noah, what most kids accomplished at the end of a month.
            Sarah was waiting at the front door after the lesson.
            “Well,” said Noah chuckling, “If anyone can afford to have a late Bat-Mitzvah, it’s her. She’ll probably be able to have it next year, if not sooner.”
            “Than you Noah, that’s so nice of you.”
            “Not at all, not all.”
            “I like him,” said Claire. “He’s not weird at all.”
            “Well, people always like to make a good first impression,” said Sarah sighing, and suddenly Claire remembered where they were heading and remained silent for the rest of the car ride.
            The cemetery garden was so beautiful it did not look like it could communicate the knowledge of such a horrific event.
            Claire couldn’t look at any of the graves they were passing. She focused her eyes directly ahead of her at her aunt. Finally, Sarah said in a soft voice, “here they are.” She was looking at the adjacent gravestones. They both knelt down. The first one read,
                                    Nathan Goldberg
Born: August 8th, 1947
Died: December 21st, 1992
Nathan was a phenomenal and inspirational Rabbi and was adored by his wife, Sarah. He enjoyed playing the viola. He well be dearly missed.
            A trickle of liquid slid down Claire’s face. She looked at the other gravestone. It read,
                                    Isaac Goldberg
Born: October 3rd, 1982
Died: December 21st, 1992
            Isaac was a warm-hearted and funny boy. He loved to play tennis and he loved the cello. He was also a Hebrew whiz. He was loved deeply by his mother Sarah. He will be dearly missed.
            Tears were pouring out of Claire’s eyes a mile per minute. She made no attempt to refrain from crying. They were her uncle and cousin, after all. Her uncle and cousin she had never got to meet.
            “I’m sorry,” said Claire putting her arm around Sarah’s shoulder. “This isn’t fair.”
            “I should have gone with them the first night,” said Sarah. “I should have been in the fire with them and died with them.”
            Claire lost track of time. Was she at the grave for seconds, minutes, hours?
            “This was a terrible idea,” said Sarah. “It was like losing them all over again.”
            They were eating lunch at an Austrian restaurant near the memorial park.
            “It was a beautiful idea,” said Claire.
            “My parents and Nathan’s parents were born in Duluth. We’ll go visit them some day.”
            “I’d love to.”
            Then Claire remembered something from the descriptions on Nathan’s and Isaac’s grave. “Do you play an instrument?” she asked.
            “I play violin for fun,” she said. “I’m not a professional, but I occasionally do gigs. Isaac wanted to become a professional though. He started when he way seven, and practiced every day. Both your parents used to play piano, you know. Did your father ever play piano?”
            “Not once I was alive,” said Claire.
            “I didn’t imagine so,” said Sarah softly. “You know, I see so much of your mother in you. She was like an older sister to me, and was one of my best friends. I was crying non-stop the day I found out she died. Anyways, we’d better get ready for the concert.”
            Once home, they both took showers. The feeling of oozing warm water flowing down her body was almost enough to eradicate the sadness she had felt earlier. When she changed into her concert clothes, she felt like another person.
            “Oh Claire, you look gorgeous,” said Sarah, who was also wearing her concert clothes.
            “Thank you, you too.”
            “Thanks. I just got an email from Rabbi Noah. He’s been called to teach a Torah Study at an out-of-state synagogue for a week, so he won’t be able to tutor you on Thursday. He was wondering if he could tutor you tomorrow.”
            “Yes,” said Claire. “Of course.”
            “Perfect,” said Sarah, getting out her      cell-phone. “I’ll text him.”
            Night was starting to fall as they drove to the concert hall. Claire couldn’t help smiling at the thought at the thought of what she was about to hear.
            The hall was packed. Nearly every seat was full, and the applauses upon the entrance of the concertmaster and the conductor sounded as though it could have penetrated the ears of the residents of Duluth. And then the symphony played.
            The Tchaikovsky filled Claire with all sorts of mixed emotions. Some parts made her want to dance and other parts made her want to cry, while others yielded indescribable emotions. The Elgar had a very similar effect. Most of the piece made her feel as if her heart were melting.
            After the intermission was Brahms Academic. Although this piece started out somewhat dark, it was, in her opinion, a little too upbeat. She liked all the same though, and once the performance was over, she clapped for what felt like hours with the rest of the audience.
            “That was really amazing,” said Claire. “Thank you so much.”
            “No problem honey, I’m glad you liked it.”
            They had stopped by an Italian restaurant.
            “I was thinking we could go to Duluth sometime this summer,” said Sarah.
            “Sure,” said Claire. She hesitated. “Did they rebuild the house?
            “No,” she said sadly. “I sometimes visit the place where it used to be though; Twenty-one Fourteen Schneider Beach. It was located very close to the lake, and away from all of the other houses. It was quite big.”
            “I’d love to see that too,” said Claire.
            “We should also go swimming. The water’s amazing.”
            “What were your parents’ names?”
            “Cody and Charlotte.”
            Once they got home, Claire was too sleepy to watch anything, so she went straight to bed.
She felt a lot better when she woke up.
            She immediately remembered she had a tutoring session.
            She quietly studied her Hebrew while eating breakfast.
            “Don’t worry,” said Sarah. “As he said, you’ve already greatly exceeded his expectations.”

            “A little studying can’t hurt,” she said.
            “That’s true. Are you about ready to go?”
            “Yeah, just me get my shoes. She was going to put on her regular shoes, but remembered how good she had felt in her heels last night and decided to put those on instead.”
            While in the car, she was wondering what she might learn this time. Would she perhaps move on to prayers today?
            “Welcome back,” said Noah at the door. “Sorry you didn’t have a lot of time to study.”
            “That’s fine,” said Claire.
            He led her to his room, and sat her down again.
            “Alright,” he said opening one of his drawers and shuffling papers, “let me find the lesson I had planned for you today.” He started shuffling furiously, with a few papers falling out of the drawer.
            “Oh dratz,” he said. “I think I left it at he synagogue. “Is it okay if we delay this lesson?”
            “Sure,” said Claire, feeling slightly impatient and disappointed.
            “Alright, thanks. I’ll be as fast as I can.” And with that, he walked swiftly out of his room.
            Claire bent down to collect the papers and noticed something when she picked the first one up. In handwriting, it read:
Cody and Sara: 2143 Schneider Beach
December 20th, 1982 11:00 pm
            Cody and Sara had been the names of her paternal grandparents, and 2143 Schneider Beach had been where they lived. And December 20th, 1982 had been the day before they and their family had been killed. Had Rabbi Noah been invited to this gathering?
            Then she spotted his lap top and knew there was an easy way to find out. She opened up his email account and searched for mail under her father’s name. There were several messages from him, the most recent one, sent on December 17th, 1992 read:
Fire Notice
She opened it. It read:
Dear Noah,
I’m sorry, but over the years, too many 7th graders have reported to me that you have been teaching them anti-semitism. You have been teaching them that Jews are superior and should be treated as such. I have also found out that you have told families who converted to Judaism that they cannot become members of synagogue because they are not truly Jewish. This behavior from a Rabbi is unacceptable, and I will not tolerate it at my synagogue. Because of this, I will have to replace you with a new Rabbi. I have not told anyone yet, not even my wife.
Nathan Goldberg

            But Rabbi Noah hadn’t been fired, she thought. He was still the Rabbi. But that was because Nathan had died, she thought suddenly. Right after he had fired him. And then, as if a sharp knife had been plunged into her chest, she put two-and-two together.
But no, it couldn’t have been him. He was no nice. He couldn’t have been desperate enough to hold on to his job to the point of murdering. But at the same time, this seemed like the only explanation. She knew there was only one thing to do.
            She printed out the email, rushed out to the living room and opened the front door. To her relief, Sarah was sitting on the front steps.
            “He should be back-“
            “Sarah, I just found something out,” she said. Claire showed Sarah the notes and Noah’s notes.
            Sarah’s face became increasingly contorted with disbelief as she read.
            “No way,” she said. “I could never have imagined.”
            “So you think he did it?” she asked. Sarah didn’t answer, but continued to stare at the papers in awe. “And why did he write 11:00?”
            “I think that was the time his plane to Duluth left,” she said hoarsely.
            “Was he invited?” asked Claire.
            “He told me he was going to visit family in New York for Chanukah.
            “But he didn’t,” said Claire. “I can’t believe he wanted to keep his job that badly.”
            Sarah looked as if she was going to have a heart attack.
            “Why did he need to take a plane? Why couldn’t he just drive?”
            But before Sarah could respond, Claire heard the sound of a motor, and looked to see Noah parking. Sarah quickly stuffed the papers in her pocket as Noah got out of his car with a stack of papers.
            “I’m such an idiot,” he said grinning. “I was nearly halfway there when I spotted them on the floor.”
            Claire tried as best as she could to resist the urge to lunge at him and punch him repeatedly in the neck, while Sarah stared at him with a look of utter betrayal.
            “Are you guys okay?” he said.
            “We’re fine,” said Claire with all the strength she could muster. “That was rude of us. Everyone forgets things.”
            “Yeah, sorry,” said Sarah, though she didn’t sound sorry at all.
            “Well, we’d better get started,” he said.
            Claire caught Sarah’s eye, and knew that it would look way too suspicious if they told him that they had other plans. So, ever so reluctantly, they followed Noah inside.
            “Is it okay if I observe?” said Sarah sharply.
            “Absolutely. In fact, this way, you can see what’s going on.
            They followed him into his room and he closed the door behind him.
            “Alright, let me just get a pen,” he said fumbling in his pockets. But instead of pulling out a pen, he pulled out a gun, and pointed it at Claire.
            This had to be a bad dream. Claire couldn’t die, not now.
            “I heard you guys!” he said. “You found out.”
            “What did we find out?” asked Claire, crying. There had to be a way out of this. “We were just wondering why you said you were going to New York rather than-“
            “I heard the conversation!” he roared. “You figured out it was me.”
            “Noah,” said Sarah crying. “Please just kill me. Don’t kill Claire.”
            “No!” shouted Claire. “He doesn’t even want to kill you.”
            “And what makes you think that?” said Noah, laughing maliciously.
            “You took the plane to Duluth so you could get there before her. If you hadn’t had a problem killing her-”
            “Think again!” he snarled. “I knew that if the synagogue lost two of it’s most important members in one night, it would have likely been closed down. It’s been almost two years though. The time is right for them to lost another member!” Bang!
            Claire screamed, but Sarah screamed even louder. She crouched on the floor and grabbed her left shoulder, from which blood was protruding rapidly. But before Claire could even begin to worry about her aunt, the gun was pointed at her, and she quickly jumped out of the way and landed next to her chair. The gun was pointed at her again, and she instinctively grabbed the chair and lunged it at Noah. Much to Claire’s relief, he howled in pain. She got up, and dialed 911 on Noah’s phone.
            “An ambulance and the police,” she said crying. “Please-“ Bang!
            “Claire’s entire right arm was in pain, and she screamed like never before, as she felt blood quickly leave her body.
            She was about to grab onto her right arm with left arm, but saw that he was about to shoot Sarah again. She did the first thing she could think of, and kicked his behind repeatedly with her heels, before he turned around and directed his gun back at her. Again, she jumped out of the way, while his bullet hit the front door instead. A sharp piece of wood chipped off, and she grabbed it and stabbed him with it in his left leg. He howled in pain, while she pressed as hard as she could.
            But it wasn’t good enough. He managed to free himself from the door piece, and pointed his gun at her again, and now she knew she was at a dead end. But at the moment, and Noah suddenly looked horrified. To her very immense relief, he left his room, and Claire crawled over to he Aunt, who was still gasping in pain.
            Claire grabbed her skirt and pressed onto Sarah’s wound as hard as she could. “You’ll be okay,” said Claire crying and knowing this statement could very well be false.
            Just then there were several gunshots from outside of the house. And then there were several footsteps walking towards the room. Three men appeared in the doorway.
            “We need to get them to hospital,” said one of the men.
            Claire and Sarah were both seized and taken through the house and out the door.
            She saw Noah sprawled on the floor and several police officers were taking notes.
                        They were taken inside a big car, and both given ice packs. Claire felt a soothing sense of relief as the ice pack was pressed down on her arm by of the officers.
            “What happened?” asked Claire.
            “He tried to shoot us. He tried to shoot all of us. So police shot him dead.”
            Claire would have normally been happy about this, but she was so concerned for herself, and even more so for her aunt, that she could hardly have cared less.
            Claire was waiting in the room outside her Sarah’s ward. Dusk was creeping already. Claire had spent a few hours in her bed, and then had been given a bandage, which she could remove in the morning. But Sarah, she had been told, was in a more critical condition.
            She was crying a lot, but silently. She had just met her new and wonderful mother three days ago, and now she might die. And this time, there would be no escaping. Claire would go to the orphanage.
            The door opened and a doctor came out. Claire was ready for the answer. She was ready to hear the bad news. The doctor smiled and said,
            “She’ll be fine.”
            Claire felt as if she had just woken up from a bad dream. Relief was traveling through her body 100 miles per second.
            “Oh, thank you,” she said, her heart full of joy. She ran toward the doctor, and gave him a hug. “I can’t thank you enough.”
            He chuckled. “I want her to spend the night though. We’ve given her some sleeping medicine, so you won’t be able to talk to her.”
            Claire felt slightly disappointed at this, but the thought that she would see Sarah tomorrow was enough. “Your aunt’s car has been driven back to her house by a police officer. Another officer is ready to take you back right now.”
            Claire left the hospital and a saw a police officer smiling and waiving at her from inside his car.
            “Do you think you can spend a night by yourself?” said the officer once they were in the car. “Of course,” said Claire.
            “You’re a real hero you know,” he said.

“Sleep safe,” he said, dropping her off.
“Thanks!” Claire called out.
Claire warmed up a pizza when she got home, then went to bed. It was so hard for her to go to sleep because of all the chaos that had occurred earlier in the day, but she eventually lost consciousness.
She was awoken by the slam of a door. Claire scrambled out of bed and ran to the living room to see her aunt, standing there as good as new. It would have been impossible to tell that she had been shot the previous day.
Without saying a word, they walked toward each other and embraced ever so tightly.
            “Claire,” she said through tears of joy. “I owe my entire life to you.”
            “No you don’t,” she said, as they sat down on the couch. “I started it. I was the one who showed you his notes and Nathan’s email-“
            “Yes, and because of that, our family’s killer is no longer walking free.”
            “But we almost died,” said Claire.
            “Yes, and it was you who saved both of our lives. Not many fourteen year old girls would have been able to do what you did in such a panicked state of mind.”
            “Thank you Aunt Sarah,” she said, kissing her on the cheek.
            They sat on the couch in silence with their arms around each other for several minutes.
            “Let’s make breakfast,” said Sarah finally.
            They got up and went into the kitchen while Claire started making tea and Claire started cooking some sausages. Once at the table, Claire spoke up.
            “So who will the new Rabbi be?”
            “His name is Max Zimmerman. He was one of Nathan’s best friends He will also be your tutor. You’ll be seeing him Tuesdays and Fridays in the evenings. Anyways, do you know you what I was thinking?”
            “Road-trip to Duluth, starting today.”
            “Seriously?” said Claire.
            “Seriously,” she said smiling. “We’ll visit your grandparents graves, and we’ll also swim in Lake Superior. It’s an absolutely gorgeous lake, especially at Schneider Beach.
            So the next hour was spent packing. Claire was grateful that now had enough clothes that it took a decent amount of time to pack them. And once she was done, she climbed into the car with her aunt and she off on her first road trip ever with her first mother ever.

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