All good things. Happy Spring to those in the Northern Hemi. xoxo
You give up some local girl
while our lights blot out her face.
-"Local Girl," Neko Case.
. . . .
Four hours and thirty-three minutes. Three bathroom breaks. Two rounds of trying to teach Sara Ma Nishtana to sing to Doda via Skype, and one brand new SUV with the highest safety ratings and the best MPG in its class. Ziva was proud of her sturdy, practical purchase. She smiled and patted the steering wheel as she pulled up in front of Cousin Leah's Edwardian Four Square. There were tulips in the beds and a swing on the front porch. "We are here," she said lowly.
Gibbs swept the street and yard. "Nice neighborhood."
"Walkable," she agreed. "Much like home."
He grunted. "There a toy store nearby?"
She shut down the engine and the baby fluttered, waking for the first time since a pit stop in Bedford. Ziva sighed and put her hand over it. "Why?"
"Gotta hold up my end of a bargain. She asleep?"
Ziva glanced in the mirrors. Sara was conked out, cheek resting on the deep headwings of her car seat. "Yes."
"I'll get the bags first."
She slid out, feet tender, probably swollen. "I cannot—"
He had the tailgate up. "Leave her. I'll come back."
She felt some righteous indignation rise in her esophagus. It felt like heartburn. "What? Gibbs, that is ridic—"
He was halfway up the walk with all three duffels. "It's a nice neighborhood," he called over his shoulder.
Ziva huffed. She's brought a bottle of Romi's wine and a potted fuchsia snapdragon for Leah's new backyard pergola. She'd heard all about it from Ayelet. She and Leah were not just cousins, but best friends.
"Someone's waiting for you, Daydreamer."
She jerked, surprised. The baby protested. Leah stood on the curb in sharp trousers and a silk blouse. Her black hair was streaked with grey and her glasses were trendy. She was smiling.
"Shalom," Ziva greeted. She felt fat and shlubby in her tunic and leggings.
"Bracha ha'Ba," Leah said. She had a rich, warm voice. "I'm so glad you're here."
The baby kicked harder. Ziva put her hand over her belly again. It is ok, my little almond. "Thank you for having us." She held out her gifts. "For you. It is not much, but—"
"Thank you," she said. "And thank you for the opportunity to do the mitzvah of Hachnasat Orchim. I have not had the chance to welcome guests in a very long time."
Ziva blinked. Leah was an educated woman with multiple post-graduate degrees and yet they were discussing a simple good deed. "You're welcome?" she ventured.
Leah took her by the arm. "Come. You must be exhausted from driving. And your new car is lovely—Ayelet told me all about it."
It was warm in the house and smelled like baking bread. "You speak often?"
She chuckled. "At least twice a week. More now that we can use Skype for free." She took their jackets. "Please make yourselves comfortable."
The living room had a formal fireplace and original wainscoting. The couch was and butter-yellow. Ziva sat, exhausted, though it was only thirteen-forty.
Gibbs paced with Sara in his arms. He eyed the domed ceiling, the original stained glass in the dining rooms, the picture rail. "Bet this place is full of old knob-and-tube," he muttered.
Ziva felt like a beached whale on Leah's pastel sofa. "This house has been meticulously maintained. I am sure she had the wiring updated."
He nodded and took a lap around the dining room, into the hallway. She sank deeper into the cushions. The baby kicked again and settled. Naptime.
"You look fantastic," Leah gushed, joining her with a tray of tea and biscuits. "Six months?"
"And three days." She took the proffered tea. Jasmine.
"You were bold to drive for so long. I remember being constantly exhausted with my pregnancies, especially the first. Maybe that was because I was finishing my doctorate at the time. Or maybe it was just Shira. She is still high-maintenance."
Ziva blushed. "I am fine," she said. Did she sound bitter? Ungrateful?
Gibbs finally sat. Sara perched on his lap like a little bird. Leah held out a cookie. "Here, little one."
She looked at Ziva, then Gibbs. He nodded his approval. Sara took the cookie, but didn't eat it. "Thank you," she slurred.
Leah saw right through her. "I hear you're seeing Dr. Davis and Dr. Cataldi this week."
Sara looked at Gibbs yet again. He nodded. She nodded.
"They're my friends," Leah promised softly. "They are going to take really good care of you."
The pacifier fell from Sara's mouth. "Your friends?"
"Yep. I'm a doctor, too. I help kids who are a lot like you."
That earned her a side-eye. "Nuh-uh."
She crossed her legs. "It's true."
Sara munched her cookie, squinting. "Do you know adopted kids?"
"Kids with only dads?"
"Kids with brittle bones?"
"Many of them."
She paused and licked her fingers clean, eyes fixed on Leah. "Foster kids?"
"Well I'm all of those."
"Yes," Leah granted. "You are very special. Ayelet told me so."
Her eyes widened further. They reflected the very clear day outside. "You know Doda Ayla?"
"I do. We are cousins and good friends. We were roommates for one year when we were in seminary in Israel. Then I came home to go to university and get married."
Sara eyeballed the family photos on the walls. "You had a lot of kids."
"Six, kin ayin hara."
Ziva hid a grimace; a scientist warding off the evil eye.
"My husband and I agreed to have a big family."
Sara gripped the sleeve of Gibbs' sport coat. "And now he's gone. Did your kids go to foster care?"
Ziva gasped. Little Almond woke and jabbed her with an elbow. "No, Sara. Absolutely not."
"You are very astute," Leah said. "But those photos are old. My children are grownups now. They have all moved out. Some of them even have their own children."
Sara's grey eyes went vacant and roaming. She was shutting down, and they only way out of that was a nap. Ziva slid forward on the sofa cushion and put her teacup down. "I think Sara needs her afternoon rest," she said quietly. "Would you mind showing us to our rooms?"
Leah jumped up as though electrified. "Of course. Please follow me."
She led them up the creaking stairs to the second floor, which was bright from all four bedrooms' tall windows. "I put you in the back bedrooms," she told Gibbs, pointing. "Sara can sleep—"
"She'll rack with me," he interrupted.
Leah gave a knowing smile. "There's an extra blanket in the closet. It gets cool in this room at night. Ziva, I put you on the third floor. It's a little more private up there."
The third floor was warmer, the walls the same soft yellow as the sofa. Both bedrooms were decorated in florals, and there was a clawfoot tub in the bath. "This is very...feminine," Ziva tried.
Leah laughed. "This was the boys' space for so long that I had to do something once they were up and out. Maybe I went overboard."
"I am having a girl," she muttered, setting her duffle gently by the closet door. She'd packed hardly anything at all. "Though I suppose you already know that."
There was a long desk against the wall where the ceiling sloped. Tony would have had to stoop. Leah sat before it and stretched her legs. "I do. I know...everything, Ziva."
Her stomach curdled. She should have refused the tea. "Oh?"
Leah frowned. "You expect Ayelet would keep that to herself? Of course not. She was terrified for you."
Ziva remembered the gleaming wood reception desk at Ayla and Romi's inn. The seams were filled in with layers and layers of polyurethane and varnish. She liked to run one hand over it as she dashed by, or pause to press her face to it. It was always cool, no matter how hot the desert day.
"She asked me to take you."
Ziva jerked. Little Almond poked her. "Mah?"
"She did. Twice. Once when you were about four, and another time when you were...oh, nine, maybe. I always said yes, but it never came to fruition. Too much red tape."
Little Almond did a backflip. "Why on earth would you agree?" she spat. "Did you not have any idea what could have happened?"
Leah shook her head and looked almost giddy. "Ziva, this is Pittsburgh. Who the hell would look here for you?"
She had a point. "It is...a lovely city," she fumbled.
"It absolutely is. My children had wonderful childhoods here—safe, happy, complete childhoods. But this is hardly a place where Eli David would look. New York? Paris? Los Angeles? Sure. Pittsburgh? No way."
And what if she had come? What if she had been swept into the fold with Leah and Howard and their six children? Could she imagine doing homework at the long dining table or sharing a room with a sibling? Would they lie in matching twin beds, under matching flowered quilts, and share secrets in the dark? Little Almond settled down. Ziva gulped air, feeling like she'd been running.
"You would've been fine here," Leah said softly. "We would've made sure of it. Are you ok?"
She nodded, gave a small smile. "Pittsburgh."
Leah chuckled. "We would've sent you to the Hebrew Academy with all the others. You would've done fine."
"I was a poor student."
"Yes, but for reasons. You would have been fine. I am sorry it never happened, but you seem to be doing well now. Where have you been accepted?"
Doda Ayla was an open book. "The U of M," she began, ticking off her fingers. "Goucher, of course. American, Georgetown, George Washington. Johns Hopkins, though the commute is unreasonable."
Leah got up and folded her into a hug. Ziva's belly got in the way. "Mazal tov," she congratulated. "I am very proud of you. Have you decided?"
"GWU, but I have deferred enrollment until next spring. I'd like to be home with the baby for the first months."
"Understood. Nurse, bond with her, and take your time finding childcare. Program?"
She fumbled with a thread on her tunic. "Human Services. I am interested in social work."
Leah cocked her head. Her glasses slid down her nose. "You are a helper by nature, Ziva. Tell me about Sara."
She went to her bag and pulled out The Binder; a hundred pages of Sara Cohen-Gibbs, tabbed and chronologically ordered. "Sara was adopted from foster care last September. She has a long trauma history—the loss of her only parent, abuse, multiple placements, serious injury. She has Osteogenesis Imperfecta Type One Moderate, with ten fractures this year."
Leah nodded. "She's not ambulating independently?"
Ziva grit her teeth. "The assault...she sustained nerve injuries in her pelvis and legs. Permanent nerve injury. Physical therapy was supposed to help, but..." She had to stop and clear her throat. "She uses a manual wheelchair for long distances and occasionally a posterior support walker at home. She tires easily, though."
Leah paged through to her medical history. "Two major surgeries in less than six months. No wonder she's exhausted. What else is going on?"
"Global developmental delay, but she's making progress. Expressive language issues, but no diagnosis. PTSD. Maybe sensory sensitivities."
"The vast majority of kids in or adopted from foster care have sensory processing issues."
Ziva sighed. "Sara just struggles. She can read, but there's a serious discrepancy between her IQ and her academic output. The PT suggested braces to correct her dropfoot, but she hates them and refuses to bear weight while she's wearing them." She dropped her hands. "She's having severe PTSD symptoms—tantrums, nightmares, separation anxiety. Her psychologist advised some attachment work."
Leah nodded again, scanning. "The co-sleeping clued me in. And he won't put her down. Is he wearing her?"
"In a carrier, yes. She's nervous. She thinks this is another placement."
"What do you think?"
Ziva scoffed. "I am not the psychiatrist here."
"No, but you've done a ton of work—you have to have some kind of professional opinion."
"We are missing something," she confessed. "And I feel like it is setting everything...ma'ukam. I do not know the English word."
"Awry," Leah supplied. "And yes. I suppose you're starting with the OI clinic."
"She was diagnosed six months ago and no one referred her to a specialist. I had to corner the geneticist to get her to make the recommendation. I filled out the intake forms."
"You fought a hard battle."
Ziva swallowed. Little Almond was, thankfully, sleeping. "Sara has been on dietary enzymes and supplements for months but has not gained weight. She's five and she weighs twenty-six pounds. She hasn't grown an inch since surgery, either. And she's in constant pain."
She heard Leah exhale with a sigh. "Ziva," she started. "Can I be completely frank with you?"
She stilled. "Have I done something wrong?"
"Not at all," Leah replied quickly. Too quickly. "I have worked with children with trauma histories for twenty-five years and if I've learned anything, it's this—until Sara feels completely safe, she will make no progress. That means safe in her family, safe in her home, and safe in her body."
Ziva released the breath she'd been holding. She saw flashes of Eli—his fist, the glint of his watch, the instep of his Italian leather shoe. Safe. "She is in therapy," she said dully.
Leah pursed her lips. "I know." There was a brief silence. Ziva could feel her processing everything. "Why don't you take a break?" she suggested. "Put your feet up for a little while. Maybe open the window—the breeze is lovely." She spied Ziva's mobile poking out of her shoulder bag. "And call your mother—she'll want to know you got here safely."
. . . .
The medical assistant shook Ziva's hand and let Sara out into the hallway. "The orders are in. I'll have someone take you up to general surgery in a minute."
Little Almond butted her head against Ziva's...something. It panged hollowly. Breakfast had been a long time ago. "Thank you," she said, and found an empty seat in the waiting room. Gibbs joined her a moment later with a clipboard full of paperwork. Sara momentarily rested her head on Ziva's knees, but popped up when a little boy in a power chair approached. He had toast-colored skin and a small box on his lap."
"Wanna play?" he asked, holding out a smooth glass stone. "It's Awalé."
She cowered. "I don't know how."
Ziva put her hand on Sara's back. Her shoulders were tight and warm beneath her button-front sweater. "I am sure he will teach you if you ask politely."
That earned her a whale-eye, but she rolled a tentative inch closer. "What is it?"
"A game," he said easily. "Come to the table and I'll show you."
Remarkably, Sara followed and pulled up next to him. He laid out a simple board and glass bartering beads. Ziva knew it as Mancala. "I played this when I was a child, Shaifeleh."
Sara took her turn, counting and sowing with a furrowed brow. "With Doda Ayla?"
"Yes, and Dod Romi. And sometimes my sister, but she was not a good loser."
"I know," she sighed, but looked at her playmate. "Do you have two bellybuttons?"
He put his beads down and lifted his shirt. There was a g-tube button in his abdomen. "Like this?"
"I'm getting one and I don't want it," she lamented.
He shrugged. "It doesn't hurt. And you can still do stuff—it's not like a port that you can't swim or swing or anything."
She scowled. "What's a port?"
"For medicine that makes your bones stronger."
Ziva crouched. Her sciatic pain abated. "Sara is not getting that medicine." She paused. "Her OI is not bad enough for it to be helpful."
The boy had a sweet face and deep-set eyes. He clucked. "Lucky."
Lucky. Ziva looked at Sara, who was watching her companion take his turn. He was quick with the beads but his wrist and forearm were lumpy with bone calluses. She tried to look at Sara's wrists, but her oversized sweater hid them. "Shaifeleh," she urged quietly, rolling the cuffs. "Let me see."
"No, Zeeba," she carped. "I'm playing with...with..." She pointed.
The toast-colored boy patted his barrel chest. "I'm Armaan."
"With Armaan," she finished. "But you can go sit next to Dad."
Gibbs beckoned. "Ziver."
She pivoted, too tired to stand. "I have an eye on her."
She shook her head. "I will make sure—"
He gave her a look over his readers. "Come here. Take a load off."
Even a waiting room chair looked inviting. She rose, sciatic complaining again, and waited for the dizziness to fade before sinking down next to him. "She can be rough with other children," she muttered.
He returned to his forms. "Let it go, David."
She lowered her voice to a harsh whisper. "He has a more severe form of OI than she does. If she lashes out or has a meltdown—"
"Let. It. Go."
She fell silent. Was she brooding? Possibly. Would Little Almond inherit that from her?
"Sara Gibbs?" someone called.
Sara looked up, irritated. "I'm just playing!"
A nurse held the door. "Why don't you finish that game and then I'll take you and your family upstairs so you can get ready?"
Sara looked crestfallen. Armaan pushed his winning beads toward her. "It's not that bad. And you can still go swimming."
She put the beads in her pot and backed up. "Ok. Bye."
Ziva caught the handle before she could turn away. "Thanks Armaan for asking you to play."
"Thank you for asking me to play."
"Tell him you hope to see him again."
"I hope to see you again."
"Thanks for your help, Armaan," Ziva said, meaning it. "You are a very kind little boy."
She turned, but someone grabbed her sleeve. "Here," a woman said. She had the same toast skin and dark eyes. Her teeth were gleaming white, her lips painted deep red. "We are always trying to meet more OI friends." She had a faint but discernible accent. "Please call. Perhaps we can meet again."
"Yes," Ziva exhaled. Did she sound too eager? "Thank you. We will be in touch. Come, Saraleh."
Sara led the way to the elevator, singing quietly. "Daddy, I will probably need two treats now."
"Yep." He nudged her chair against the wall when a crew breezed by with a toddler on a stretcher. "Probably."
Ziva studied the card. The Jethmalani Family it read. Mitra, Akul, and Armaan. Beneath it was a Bethesda address and telephone number. She smiled. Tony would have said something about a cat and a canary.
. . . . .
Golan Heights Winery and Inn, said the sign. Ziva was getting better at reading, but the letters were blurry since that time Papa hit her face. That was a long time ago. The bruises were all gone.
She skipped up the driveway. Dod and Doda had it paved, which was nicer for guests. There were five shiny cars parked in the lot, so she had to slow down. Doda didn't like when she ran through the lobby like a vildeh chayeh, especially not in front of guests.
Doda was at the long front desk. It was smooth, dark wood waxed to a shine. Ziva ran her hand over it. "Shalom," she said quietly. It was not good to talk too loud.
"Shalom, Zivi. I'm happy to see you. How are you feeling?"
Feeling? She squinted. "I am fine."
Doda shuffled some papers. She was a good and smart worker. "I am so glad. Your leg still looked horrible when we sent you...back with your father."
Her leg. She still walked funny. It was careless to try to ride that horse so fast. "I am fine."
She gave Ziva a stack of papers. "Your Dod Romi needs these. He is out in the bottling room. Take them to him?"
Doda always asked nicely even if it wasn't a question. "Yes," she said. It was good to help. "I'll go fast."
"Not so fast," Doda warned. "Dr. Brody cannot come so close to Shabbat."
Dr. Brody had fixed her leg. He put her on the long counter in the kitchen and wrapped it tightly, then sent her to Dod and Doda's big bed to rest. "I am fine," she said again. Why wouldn't Doda believe her?
Ziva trotted quickly out the front door, down the path, around the storage shed, to the bottling room, where Dod Romi and his helper, Omar, filled tall green bottles with purple-red wine. It smelled sour. She wrinkled her nose. "Here," she said, holding the papers out.
"Thank you, my good little almond. I am happy to see you walking again."
Ziva looked down; her left leg hurt a little. Only a little. She smiled. "I am fine."
"You are," he agreed, but he scooped her up anyway and carried her out on his shoulders. She had to duck at the door. It was nice to see the vineyards and the barn and horse paddocks from up high. "Everyone is coming," he said.
Who was everyone?
He pulled her off his shoulders but didn't set her on her feet. "They're happy you're here."
"No," she said, but gently. She didn't want to back-talk. "They want Sara."
"And you," he argued. He bounced a little, trying to make her laugh.
"No," she maintained. This was back-talk, but he was wrong. "Sara—"
"Is fine," he interrupted. "I promise, Zivi." He walked up the porch steps. Doda Leah was there with Shira, her biggest girl. She was teasing Sara with a ribbon on a stick, swirling it around and around her. Sara was laughing. Shira was very fun. Ziva felt jealous.
"Please may I get down?" she asked. Polite words were important.
"I've got you," he said.
"Dod Romi, please. I want—"
"And you can, but I have missed you and I want you with me right now. You will have all the time you need to spend with Sara and Shira."
What if Sara got mad and started screaming? That happened a lot. Dod Romi held Ziva tight against his big chest and kissed her head. She could feel his bristly chin through her hair. "Promise me, Ziver."
Ziver? Dod Romi always called her Zivi or Ziv'keh or Zivaleh.
"Promise me that you will go out and do good."
She felt embarrassed—had Papa told him how bad she was at home?
"But promise me you will always come back and be my vildeh chayeh."
"I will see you on Pesach," she said.
"Bring your guests, my little almond."
"Sara will stay home with her abba."
He grinned and tipped her back so she hung upside down. The blood rushed to her head. It felt a little good. "She will," he agreed. Dod Romi always agreed. "My little almond. My Ziver."
Ziver again. "Dod Romi, you—"
"Can I get down?"
"Ziver! Hey, c'mon."
She jumped. A icy fingers slid down her neck. Gibbs wrapped one arm around her shoulders. She'd fallen asleep on him.
"Droolin' on me."
She wiped her mouth. "I was not."
"Sar's done. We can head out as soon as she's done with the first feed."
Ziva looked over; Sara was asleep in the tall hospital bed, gownless, her new g-tube button wrapped in gauze. The pump whirred softly. "I thought it would be...more traumatic," she admitted, and lay her head back on his arm, which was still across her shoulders.
He shrugged. "For who?"
She closed her mouth. Little Almond was shifting, demanding attention. "Never mind."
"Ziver," he said. There was something abrupt in his tone. Urgent.
She stilled with her head still on his arm and studied the ceiling. Fifteen tiles across, twelve down. "For what, Gibbs?"
"Never shoulda left you alone that day."
That day. Little Almond rolled and settled. Was she a thumb-sucker? "Oh," she faltered, but centered herself. Feet on the floor. Hands in her lap. A deep breath. "That was not your fault."
"My gut was telling me not to go."
Silence. Shadows moved beyond the curtain that separated them from another waiting family, another child sick or in pain.
"Let it go," she pleaded. "Please, Gibbs. Let it go."
He tensed and shifted. "Never shoulda happened."
Ziva waited again for the strain to fade. Little Almond was getting impatient. "It was...horrible," she admitted. "But out of that came a good thing and good people. Please, Gibbs. Please let it go."
She stole a glance at him. He was looking at Sara, who was awake and playing with a new plush doll. Not just any doll—a Merida. She finger-combed her red yarn hair and smiled at her father, then Ziva. "This was a good treat."
"She is a gift," Ziva muttered.
She felt his eyes on her pregnant belly. She thought of Tony's hand over it, wide and warm. "And another on the way."
"You take any of those Lamaze classes yet?"
"I have not thought about it."
"Shannon never liked 'em."
Silence. Even Sara was quiet, lulled by the whirring machine and residual sedative. Gibbs took Ziva's hand and squeezed it gently.
"Can I call you?" she asked. He looked at her little quizzically. If Gibbs could be quizzical. "Tony is occasionally gone overnight for cases. Should that happen when she comes...can I call you?"
He smiled, laughing a little. "Yeah, Ziver. Yeah. You can call me."
. . . .