Peer Pressure

by Yehudis Keller, age 15, from NY
Illustrated by Chana Shaina Kalmanson, age 12, from OH


“Leah, I love your new shoes!” Tehilla squealed.

Leah pretended to blush and smiled. “Thank you!”

“Where’d you get them? How much did they cost?”

“They’re from Century 21, for only sixty dollars!”

“What a good price!” Shoshana put in. Chanale looked at her and nodded, but inside her thoughts she was shaking her head in disagreement. Sixty dollars for an insignificant pair of shoes?! They weren’t even that extravagant.

“It’s the new style,” Menucha said. “Velvet flats with huge bows at the toe. And you got the perfect color!”

Chanale thought they were actually not that pretty at all. But it’s the new style… “Gorgeous!” She looked at Leah’s shoes again. Actually…not that bad…maybe a little pretty…suddenly, she fell in love with Leah’s new shoes. She had to have them. You know, it’s the style, and besides, weren’t they a beauty?

“I know, right?” Leah agreed with Chanale’s compliment. Chanale couldn’t concentrate on learning that day. She dreamt of Leah’s shoes on her feet, scribbled sketches of the dream shoes in her notebooks. At one time during Parsha class, she felt eyes on her notebook, and her palm automatically covered her doodles.

“What are you drawing?” Leah whispered.

Chanale felt her cheeks growing hot and scarlet. “Oh, nothing. Just doodling, I guess.” She let out a breath when Leah sat back. Angry at herself, she turned the page and tried to concentrate on what Mrs. Neparstik was saying, but the words just floated around her. She was trying to think of a good plan to convince her mother to buy those shoes, but she couldn’t think of anything…

Chanale’s parents were bargain hunters, especially now, when her father had just lost his job. With her mother a homemaker and with eleven kids, it wasn’t easy. When someone needed something new, minimal amounts were spent. Chanale had only gotten new shoes last month. They weren’t bad, not out of style, but not either “in.” She had never really paid much attention to what she wore until this year, and it suddenly mattered.

Chanale knew what she would do. She would use her babysitting money. But how would she get the shoes? Her mother would never agree to take her. Her problem was solved at lunch, when Shoshana complained that she was over-wearing her Shabbos (Sabbath) wardrobe. Tehilla suggested she go shopping, and Menucha suddenly realized that she would need a dress for her brother’s Bar Mitzvah.

“I know!” Chanale exclaimed. The girls looked at her. “Why don’t we all go shopping together?”

Everyone looked excited. “But when?”

Chanale wouldn’t let one small glitch stop her plan.  “What’s wrong with tonight?”

“Forty examples of math homework, full page English essay,” Leah started to calculate. “OOH! That monstrosity of a Chumash (Bible) test tomorrow!”

Shoshana shook her head fatefully. “Uh uh, this is not going to work.”

“We’ll study on the way,” Chanale was determined.

“Yeah, that could be fun!” Menucha agreed.

“Meet in the lobby after school,” Leah called after the rest of the girls as they each entered their own afternoon classrooms.

It was only as she sank down in the cold plastic chair that the realization of what she had just done hit her. She just organized a shopping trip for her friends when her mother would never in a million years agree to let her go! Yet Chanale wouldn’t cancel it. She would just have to brainstorm…she had almost three hours to devise a stable plan. But the longer she thought, the more ludicrous her ideas got. A horrible feeling of guilt nestled inside of her. Chanale knew that this was very wrong, but she still felt like she had to impress her friends…and her bad side won the battle.

The bell rang at four o’ clock sharp. Chanale jumped out of her seat and raced to the lobby. Thirty seconds later, the five friends had met up. “Okay guys,” Shoshana panted, having been the last to arrive. “I thought about it during history, and it sounds best that we all dash home to ask permission and get some money, and be outside the subway station in exactly twenty minutes. Alright?”

They all nodded in animated consent and ran to their houses. Chanale was really nervous, still having no substantial plan. Her mind raced ahead of her as she entered the kitchen and discovered her mother there.

“Hi, Ma!” She tried the affable ploy.

“Hi, honey. How was your day? Supper will be ready in another ten minutes.”

“Oh, thank you, but…umm…” Here the words started to tumble out before she even thought about what she was saying. “Me, Tehilla, Leah, Shoshana and Menucha are studying for Chumash…I mean, if that’s okay with you, of course.” Well, there were no lies in that. She shifted her position.

“It should be okay tonight, just have supper first, sweetie. I made your favorite.” Chanale wished her mother wouldn’t have made the extra effort for her tonight.

“Oh no! They’re waiting for me now. No time. I’ll heat up leftover lasagna when I come home, and thanks for it.” Most of her siblings did not favor cheese lasagna, but that was Chanale’s favorite. Mrs. Dahan looked a bit disappointed, but didn’t say anything.

“Rosie, please go out for ten seconds,” Chanale commanded her six-year-old roommate. Batsheva was, thank G-d, not in the room. She was a tough one to kick out of the bedroom. She opened her drawer and felt between two abandoned shirts,

retrieving a small wallet. Rosie re-entered the moment the drawer was slammed shut. Turning to the corner, Chanale counted the contents of her wallet. One twenty, one five, a few stray bills and countless coins was all she discovered. This won’t do, she realized. It was only by chance that her parents’ bedroom door was open, and the room was empty when she passed by…Something green and inviting beckoned to her from a drawer that was slightly ajar. It would be so simple to just remove it and pocket. And to her horror, that’s exactly what she did. It was a fifty dollar bill.

“Bye, Ma!” She called, with one step out the door. “Oh, and I’m not sure we know whose house we’ll be going to, so just call Leah’s cell phone if you need me. The number is in the phone book.”

She didn’t have to say that. That was lying! But, what could she do? If Chanale’s mother called another girl’s mother, she’d be in trouble. No time for regrets, she soothed her conscience. With one glance at her watch, she flew to the station. “You’re late,” Shoshana scolded playfully. Menucha swiped her metro card five times. “You’ll pay me back soon!” Her sentence was drowned out by the screeching of an approaching train.

“Is that ours?”

“Yup, can you believe it, it’s a four!”

Excitement tickled Chanale’s nerves as they dashed for their train. The doors clicked shut subsequent to the automated warning, and they were moving. “I can’t believe it’s actually happening!” Leah breathed, with everyone’s complete assent. Chanale forgot her guilt as she partook in the girly gossip, and she grasped her handbag. Their stop came fifteen minutes later, and not long after did they find themselves in the mall.

Leah’s shoes escaped Chanale’s heart when she hopped from accessory store to clothing store, and left two-and-a-half hours later with a sequined cardigan, purple wallet, and a necklace with a heart pendant that all five girls bought. No one else got what they “had in mind,” but the trip was fun. All were amazing deals, she thought. She only spent forty-five out of the eighty dollars, thirty of which were her own. 

That reminded her…uh-oh. The fifty dollar bill! I wasn’t thinking when I took it! Stray bucks and quarters were her main remnants…I only will need fifteen dollars. I can ask Shoshana to lend me some…But no. That would be too embarrassing. Then she remembered that she’d be babysitting the next day and be paid at least fifteen. So I’ll exchange for a fifty dollar bill tomorrow and that will be the end, she though. Never again! Having done the math, Chanale pushed her thoughts into the gutter.

“I just realized something,” Tehilla exclaimed suddenly, “We didn’t study Chumash at all!”

Everyone laughed. “You really thought we would, huh?” They were already speeding homeward, all comfy with shopping bags and 7-11 slurpees.

“Well, how about we study afterward, at my house?” she persisted, ever the studious one.

“Alright; I couldn’t bear to part with you guys so soon, anyhow,” Chanale said, only half joking. It would erase the “I’m going to study Chumash at one of the girl’s houses” lie. “It’s only seven-thirty, after all. We made good time!”

Chanale slowed down as she approached her house an hour plus later. What would she do with the shopping bag? “Hi, Chanale, how was the studying?” Her mother called from the kitchen. “I was just getting worried and called Leah, who said you were on the way. So I’m heating up the lasagna for you. You must be famished.”

“Yep! Very hungry. Thanks, Ma. I’ll be down in a sec, just wanna change my shoes.” She darted past the living room and up the stairs, successfully hiding the shopping bag. After stuffing the bags under her blanket and hardly remembering to take off her shoes, she was back downstairs – not wanting to arouse any “suspicion”.

The next day, Chanale went straight from school to babysit at the Mann’s. She felt accomplished, walking home after feeding supper to, doing homework with, playing, bathing and tucking in four little pudgies. She felt she had done well on the Chumash test. When Mrs. Mann wanted to pay her, she asked to exchange her varying forms of cash for a fifty dollar bill. “That’s great! I can use smaller monies for many things and I’m short of that at the moment.” Satisfied, all she had to do now was to slip it into the drawer where she had taken it from…

She entered quietly, hoping to make the quick return of the stolen money before anything else.

“Chanale, I’m glad you’re home. I need you to please run to the Judaica store and get Yossi a pair of tzitzis. He just ripped his last best pair.”

“Sure, I can go right now.”

“Thanks, sweetie. I’ll run and get you some cash. Hang on there,” Mrs. Dahan’s voice faded up the stairs. “Oh, I just realized I gave Batsheva my spare cash. I’ll just get the fifty…”

Chanale’s heart stopped beating as realization dawned upon her. “No, Ma!” She shrieked, her voice coming out strange. “I’ll use mine and you’ll pay me back…”

Too late. The drawer was opened and silence reigned for an infinite second. “That’s funny,” she heard her mother mumble. Her lower lip turned white as she had bitten it hard. “I thought I put it here…actually, I think I’m quite sure…” She came down the stairs. “I’ll check my purse, and pay you back when I find it. He’s size ten.”

Chana’le felt horrible as she returned outside. She was in a big mess. What could she do now? She had the fifty. Her plan was ruined. If she bought her brother tzitzis, she wouldn’t have the fifty anymore, which she otherwise could have put back in an obscure place in the house. Or she could go back and say that the store was closed. What, and lie again?! Impossible. Or, she could just admit it and be over with it.

Chanale returned home a little while later, holding the tzitzis, no longer having a fifty dollar bill. “Hello. Thanks for going. It’s strange; I still haven’t found that money- I guess we’ll wait until I restock on cash. You know, I think Rosie may have seen it and just taken it…” Chanale almost gasped out loud. To think that she, a thirteen year-old, did something that a six year-old might have done…

“Honey, what a cute necklace you’re wearing! I never saw it before…When did you get that?”

Chanale was about to say that her friend bought it for her, or they found it at a local store. But…that was lying. She had just promised herself to never lie again… “Ma, I have to tell you something,” she avoided her mother’s eyes for the confession. “I-I took the money.” Her face turned red as soon as she said this. But Mrs. Dahan didn’t react. She waited for her daughter to explain. “Umm…well, yesterday, we – my friends – went to the mall.” Here she looked up. “They all had permission, but I didn’t dream that you’d ever let me. And, I was short of money, and promised myself I’d pay you back today. I was about to put it back when you noticed.” A tear slipped from her eye, and she was angry with herself for everything.

“Chanale…” They spoke for a good few minutes and after that, she didn’t have to promise herself anything. She knew she would never do anything of the sort again. “Yes, your friends matter very much, and at this point, almost are your life, but having integrity is always more important.”