Mark stood down from the stand to a round of applause, and bowed his head to them all in embarrassed thanks. The whole ceremony of bar-mitzvah was terrifying, he was just glad that he’d managed to get through it without getting any of the words wrong. In fact, this had been quite a successful ceremony, all things concerned, everything had gone off without a hitch and he was now a man – a good feeling, really, even if it didn’t mean too much to him. The endless lessons with the rabbi had paid off, and he could now sit down with a feeling of superiority. He looked up, trying to avoid seeing any faces that would put him off, but one moment struck him. There was a girl, sat down at the end of one of the benches, watching him quietly. She had short brown hair, long enough to cover her eyes but barely scraping the shoulders, and a quiet black dress. She looked a vision amongst the rest of the congregation, and when she caught his eye she smiled and looked away. He automatically looked away too, and sat down on his chair. She was very pretty.
At the party afterwards, he was swarmed by relatives and friends and people with scary beards who he had never met before and wanted to tell him their hilarious bar-mitzvah stories from ages past. There was much patting on the back and overenthusiastic hugging, which was off-putting. Quite a lot of people were drunk too. He swam through the crowd as best as he could, nodding and smiling and ignoring almost everything that anyone said to him, trying to get to a position where he could look round the room properly and find the girl. After muttering an excuse about needing the bathroom, he managed to slip out of the crowd and walked into the hallway of the hotel. The carpets were really fluffy here, and pot-plants were scattered everywhere…
Every few feet, there was a new pot-plant standing up, which was really quite odd. But no, he shook his head to forget this weird thought, and walked round the concourse. She wasn’t anywhere to be seen, anywhere, and he realised she must have gone home after the bar-mitzvah thing itself. A little sad, he sat down on the grand steps and stroked his hands through his hair, messing it up. Many more hours were going to pass before he could go home, he knew, because he could hear dad laughing at some silent joke somewhere round the back, and dad only ever laughed when he’d been drinking.
A hand tapped him on the shoulder, and he looked round casually. “Hello?”
“Hi,” said the girl, as she sat down next to him.
“Hi! I, uh, I don’t actually think I’ve ever met you before…”
She held out a hand. “Zoë. My mum’s a friend of your mum.”
He took her hand and shook it, grinning at her. Up close she was prettier than she was from far away. Here he could see her eyes as they twinkled across at him, and she had a really nice smile. “Nice to meet you. I’m Mark. This is kinda bad, isn’t it?”
“What do you mean?” she asked, looking confused, and he hurried to clear up his messy attempt at conversation.
“This whole thing with our parents and everything. I don’t think I know half the people here today, but they all want to shake my hand and stuff. It’s weird.”
“Yeah! I had to do the same thing a year ago, and there were all these aunts I didn’t know telling me how much I’d grown…”
“Why do they always say that? Who says it isn’t them who’ve shrunk?”
She laughed. “I know! It’s so weird!” She put a hand into her hair, a bit awkwardly, her eyes still on him. “Y’wanna go explore the rest of the hotel?”
“I heard they’ve got a pool outside somewhere.”
Ten years later, and Mark had taken that shy Jewish girl down the aisle and married her in front of a whole new congregation of people he didn’t know, and they lived together in a small house in the countryside. He’d become an architect, she’d become a language teacher, and they’d got a dog, called Jason Spaceman (Zoë thought it was funny). Things had been nice ever since he’d met that girl, whenever anything had begun to worry him he took the problem to her and she’d help him get over it, and whenever she felt like her work was taking over, he’d take her out somewhere, take her mind off things.
One crushed glass later, they moved in together, and things were good. There was the occasional argument, but things’d never really gone too bad, he was too bad at arguing for that. Once he’d tried to read her part of the Riot Act to explain why she should let him convert the spare bedroom into another lounge, and she just burst out laughing at him. Then he started laughing, and Jason Spaceman ran in and joined in, and things calmed down again. He never did get the second lounge, though.
On this day, the day ten years after he had first walked with her through the over-elaborate gardens of that fancy hotel, hand in hand, he drove up to her school and waited there till 4. Once the bell rang, he got out and went inside, heading for her classroom amidst a sea of children running to freedom and the outside world. Round three corners and past an exhibit of crudely-drawn Eiffel Towers, he got to her door and knocked. She opened up to find him stood there with a single rose in his hand.
“Y’wanna go explore the school grounds?”
She took his hand, laughing, and they went outside. He had some news for her, something important, but the sun was so nice and the trees swayed in the wind, so he was content to walk around with her, making jokes and remembering their old adventures. After spending some time at the lake, skimming stones across the surface, they went back to the school, and stepped out into the road, where a bus drove into them both.
Happy Valentine’s Day, Everyone!