Read an Excerpt
Everybody's Best Friend
ONEArdmore, Pennsylvania Monday, April 28, 1997 Late Afternoon
"Isn't it beautiful?" Anne Newman gushed, cupping the tiny, gold baby shoe in her palm. "I can see just it on a gold chain. What grandmother wouldn't love to have something like this?"She turned with anticipation to her daughter, expecting to see her familiar grin. "Stef?"Stefanie Rabinowitz blinked. "What was that, Mom? What did you say?""Oh, Stef," Anne said in mild exasperation. "I was asking you what you thought about this charm.""My, that is pretty," Stefanie said, leaning closer. "How much is it?"Apprehensively, Anne turned over the attached tag, uttering a quiet gasp when she saw the figures written precisely in stark, black ink. "Oh, my goodness," she sighed. "Two hundred and seventy dollars. That is definitely out of my price range."Returning it politely to the clerk, she and Stefanie left the store, exiting onto Lancaster Avenue, the narrow old street that ran through the heart of downtown Ardmore."What is it?" Anne asked with concern. "You've hardly said two sentences all afternoon. This is a holiday, for goodness' sakes. We're supposed to be enjoying ourselves."It was the last day of Passover, the time when conscientious Jews around the world commemorated their deliverance from enslavement in Egypt more than 3,200 years ago. That morning, Anne and Stefanie had decided to celebrate by not doing much of anything. "Let's just wander among the shops," Stefanie suggested.Normally, both women enjoyed their excursions together. Although they lived within a twenty-minute drive of each other, neither of them had much time during the normal work week for casual mother/daughter conversation. In the mornings, Anne did secretarial work for a rabbi in Elkins Park, where she and her husband, Lou, a quiet, serious-minded accountant, had lived since before Stefanie was born. Stefanie, too, was usually harried, what with a baby not yet a year old and a high-pressure job as a litigator with a prestigious Center City law firm."I'm sorry, Mom," Stefanie apologized. "I guess my mind was somewhere else.""Is something wrong?" Anne asked, concerned."Goodness, no," Stefanie replied quickly. "Everything's fine. I was just thinking about work.""Everything's all right, isn't it?""Sure. It's just that I have a new client coming in tomorrow for our first meeting. The firm decided to represent him and assigned me the case. He's a very valuable client and I want to make sure everything is handled correctly.""If that's all it is," Anne said breezily, "I'm sure it is nothing to worry about. You're a wonderful lawyer. You'll do fine."
Ever since she had been a little girl, Anne recalled, Stefanie had been intense. When she made up her mind to do something, she let nothing stand in her way. There had been the time nineteen years before when Stefanie, then only eleven, had announced that she was going to learn to "Read Torah."When she made the pronouncement, Anne and Lou hadbeen mildly shocked, wondering for a time if their daughter was biting off more than she could chew. Not that she wasn't bright enough. They had no doubt that Stefanie, an honor student who, in the first and second grades, used to come home from school sobbing because her advanced books were different from those of her classmates, was intellectually capable. Still, it was an ultra-ambitious goal. The Torah was a collection of the first five books of the Judaic Scriptures, the entire body of Jewish law and learning. It was written in Hebrew. "Reading Torah" meant chanting from the scripture in the original language. It was not easy, mastering the intonations required to give meaning to the words.On her own, Stefanie had called the cantor and arranged for lessons, then had applied herself to learning the task with diligence. By the time Stefanie became a bas mitzva at age thirteen, she was an accomplished Torah reader, one qualified not only to "read" but to help teach younger, would-be readers as well. It was typical of her daughter, Anne thought, that the passage she liked the most was called "The Curses" since it required a Reader of particular skill, one who could intone the rising and falling cadences of the difficult text in the way in which it was meant to be delivered, chanting some sentences rapidly, then dropping her voice and switching to a deliberate slow pace in others. Done correctly, it could be an impressive service. And Stefanie always strove to do it correctly, just as she did everything else.When she was a student at Cheltenham High School, which was generally regarded as possibly the best in all of Montgomery County, she had pushed herself to a National Merit Scholarship. And then she selected Bryn Mawr to do her undergraduate work, intending at first to be a physician. But in her freshman year she discovered that she had a phobia about needles, so she switched her major to political science, graduating with honors in 1989. The following fall, she was accepted into law school at Temple University,from which she graduated, again with honors, in 1992. After passing the bar, she took a much-coveted job with one of Center City's more respected firms.Now, it seemed to Anne, her daughter was equally determined to be both a good mother and a good lawyer, balancing the difficulties of two major tasks with her usual ease and finesse. After the baby, Haley Sarah, had been born in May 1996, Stefanie asked the partners in her firm if she could work three days a week until she felt comfortable leaving her daughter with a nanny full-time. Unwilling to lose her, they readily agreed. So on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays she commuted to Philadelphia; the rest of the week she was home with Haley.
"Should we go in here?" Anne asked as they approached a boutique.Stefanie glanced at her watch. "Oh, no! Look at the time."Anne smiled to herself. It was typical of Stefanie that she wore an inexpensive watch when many of the other female lawyers she knew would be sporting the newest and most conspicuous models they could find. In that regard, Stefanie had not changed since high school. Although she dressed impeccably for the job, when she wasn't working she was perfectly content to parade around in baggy sweat clothes with very little makeup. If anyone ever asked her for a definition of the word "unpretentious," Anne thought, she would quickly say, "Stefanie Rabinowitz.""I'd better get home," Stefanie said. "Craig will be going crazy with Haley.""That's not true and you know it," Anne chuckled. "He absolutely dotes on her.""Yes, he does," Stefanie replied, laughing. "And you don't know how happy that makes me.""Oh, I might have some idea," Anne said, returning the smile. "How's Craig's business doing?" she asked somewhat nervously, not wanting to seem as though she wereprying. The downside to the arrangement Stefanie had worked out with her firm to work only part-time meant she was getting only part-time pay as well. It was $30,000 a year, which wasn't bad at all, but it wasn't sufficient to support the lifestyle she and her husband, Craig, wanted to maintain. Especially not with the baby."I think it's getting ready to really take off," Stefanie said. "He's made a terrific connection with a guy in New York. Craig thinks it's going to result in a huge upswing in sales. Come on, Mom," she added ardently, "we'd better hurry."Striding briskly to her blue Volvo, she unlocked the passenger-side door, holding it for her mother while she got in. "What would you like to do for dinner tomorrow?" she asked, settling behind the wheel."Oh, it doesn't matter. Did you have anyplace special in mind?""No, but we can decide tomorrow.""That sounds good," Anne nodded. "You're working tomorrow, aren't you? Because today was a holiday.""Yeah," Stefanie nodded. "But I'll be home about six. Then we can make up our minds. Do you want us to pick you up?""No. Your father and I will meet you at your place and we can go from there.""Good. Then we can come back for coffee afterwards. How's Dad feeling?""Much better. This new treatment seems to be working. He's going to beat this cancer," she said with determination."Oh, I hope so," Stefanie sighed. "It's so scary.""Yes," Anne nodded solemnly. "It is that."
Turning her attention to her driving, Stefanie swung the Volvo right on Lancaster Avenue, then headed east. Neither woman paid much attention as they drove down the familiar row of shops and restaurants, past the Lower Merion PoliceDepartment, then left, toward Merion, where Craig and Stefanie lived.While Stefanie concentrated on the traffic, Anne let her thoughts drift to Craig, the son-in-law she got without having the opportunity to decide if he was the one she wanted. Stefanie had focused with a single-minded intensity on everything else in her life, and it was just as true when it came to her relationship with Craig.Anne recalled how happy her daughter had been that summer in 1983 when she returned from Camp Wohelo, a facility for girls near Gettysburg. A vivacious sixteen-year-old with large, expressive brown eyes and thick, dark-brown hair that fell in loose waves to her shoulders, Stefanie explained what it had been like to be a counselor-in-training, in effect a Big Sister to the younger girls, many of whom had been away from home for the first time. But there had been something else to brighten her spirits, too. She had become friendly with a boy who was a counselor at a neighboring facility, Camp Comet Trails. The boy's name was Craig Rabinowitz.Anne remembered meeting him the previous year when Stefanie's younger brother, Ira, attended the camp. As well as she could recall, he seemed like a nice enough boy. Four years older than Stefanie, he was an undergraduate student at Temple University, a well-respected, ninety-nine-year-old state school that was an easy commute away.At the time, Stefanie herself had been interested in another Philadelphia college, the University of Pennsylvania, a member of the venerable Ivy League, along with Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, Princeton, and Yale. Stefanie remembered Craig saying that he had a friend at Penn, so she called him to get the friend's name in hopes that she could learn more about the school. Craig gave it to her, then asked her if she would go with him to a movie. Soon afterwards, he asked her out again, this time to an ice hockey game. He was, Stefanie explained, an avidfan of the Philadelphia Flyers. He liked them so much that he even held expensive season tickets.But on the night she was supposed to attend the Flyers game, while waiting for Craig to pick her up, she began having second thoughts about the date, wondering if she wanted to continue seeing Craig."I don't think I'm going to go," she told her mother."Oh, no," Anne replied quickly. "You made a commitment. You have to go."Stefanie went. And from that day onward she was never seriously interested in anyone but Craig. Not that Anne didn't encourage her to date others. But Stefanie's reaction was always the same. Whenever Anne mentioned that she should date someone besides Craig, just to be able to compare him to others, Stefanie rolled her eyes and tried her best to ignore her. On June 17, 1990, almost exactly seven years after that fateful summer at Camp Wohelo, and two weeks after her twenty-third birthday, Stefanie and Craig were married.As in most new marriages, the years since had not been trouble-free. In many ways, Anne felt, Craig and Stefanie were complete opposites.Where Stefanie had been determined to get the best education possible, Craig cared little about schooling. Growing up in Penn Wynne, the son of an executive with BVD, the huge clothing manufacturer, Craig had graduated without distinction from Lower Merion High School. He dropped out of Temple after a brief period and never went back. Education was secondary to his interest in sports. Craig was a jock wannabe, a faithful fan with a lifelong interest in baseball and hockey, dual fascinations that he carried deep into adulthood. Well after he and Stefanie were married, he continued to play a rough-and-tumble game called deck hockey--essentially ice hockey without the ice, as Stefanie had described it--and first base on a softball team sponsored by the Jewish Community Center.Where Stefanie was unpretentious to a fault, Craig wanted the best of everything. After Craig and Stefanie had set their wedding date they went to the major stores to register for gifts. Although most of their friends were either still in college or had only recently graduated and could hardly afford expensive wedding presents, Craig had insisted on listing them for the most costly merchandise he could think of: Waterford crystal, Haviland china, and Ralph Lauren towels. While Stefanie did most of her shopping from catalogs, Craig bought his clothes from expensive men's stores.Unlike Stefanie, status, too, was important to Craig. Whenever they went to a wedding, if he and Stefanie weren't seated among the top echelon of guests, he got grumpy and pouted.But the main difference between Stefanie and Craig, from what Anne could see, was their opinion on work. While Stefanie had always been a hard worker, Craig was indolent and ambitionless. For much of the time that Anne had known him, he had drifted from one undemanding job to another. At one time he had planned to open a summer camp for kids, but that had fallen through years before. After that, he worked for a while at a women's spa; then for a short time as a real-estate appraiser.In 1990, the year Craig and Stefanie were married, he and a friend, Craig Yusem, started a business called C&C Vending, which evolved into a two-man company that sold latex gloves to health care practitioners. The partnership broke up rather quickly and Craig branched out on his own, starting a new company called C&C Supplies Inc.The way he explained it to Anne and Lou, he bought containers of latex gloves from Malaysia and re-sold them to Philadelphia area retailers. According to him, he made a neat thirty-three percent profit on the sale of every container of gloves, or $11,000 per sale. It was almost pure profit, since his only major expense was for rental of warehousespace on Delaware Avenue in Center City, not far from the Port of Philadelphia.He had made the venture sound so promising that Anne and Lou, and even their son, Ira, had been willing to invest when Craig had come to them the previous February asking if they would be willing to back a loan he needed to make a big sale. He needed $88,000, he said, to buy four containers of gloves. The terms of the loan were steep, he explained: nineteen percent interest for six months. That meant he had to pay back the original amount plus $8,500 in interest, for a total of $96,500. But he was sure he could sell the gloves for $132,000, thereby clearing $35,500, making the high interest worthwhile. He would put up his and Stefanie's house as security, Craig said, but the $230,000 residence already had two mortgages totaling $204,000 and he couldn't borrow any more against it. Would the Newmans be willing to help him out? Anne and Lou talked it over and agreed to offer their own home in Elkins Park as collateral.It was not the first time the Newmans had put themselves out for Stefanie and Craig. Anne still laughed about how they had agreed to let their daughter and son-in-law come live with them four years before, only a little more than three years after the young couple had been married.One night when they were having dinner together, Anne recalled with a smile, Craig had cavalierly announced that he and Stefanie were moving in. "We want to save some money," he said with a big smile.Anne and Lou discussed it and the next day told their daughter and son-in-law that they were welcome. "But you have to pay us rent," Anne said sternly."Rent!" said Stefanie, surprised. "You mean you're going to take money from us!""Yes," Anne replied adamantly. "Fifty dollars a month."Every month for the next year and a half she and Craigpaid the Newmans. When they bought the house in Merion and moved out, Anne gleefully handed them a check representing what they had given the Newmans in "rent"--$900, which they used toward the down payment on the house.What Lou and Anne did not discover until later was that Stefanie and Craig had moved in because they were deeply in debt at the apartment in which they had been living. The owner was suing them for almost $6,000 in unpaid fees, and their joint bank account at the time had contained only ninety-eight dollars. They promptly repaid the debt. Anne had every confidence that Craig also would pay off the loan for the gloves and she and Lou would get their house deed back along with a substantial interest payment.
Merion, Pennsylvania 5:43 p.m.
"Here we are," Stefanie chirped happily, pulling into the long driveway that led to the back of their home on Winding Way, a twisting, pleasant street shaded by oaks, elms, and maples and lined with handsome houses set off by neatly manicured lawns. The Rabinowitzes' house, while not extraordinary, was pretty enough in its own right, its fieldstone-and-brick front melding tastefully with the surrounding shrubbery. Bright flowers lined the front of the small porch and the grass was neatly trimmed. Anne smiled inwardly every time she noticed the landscaping, taking pride in the fact that it was the product of many an afternoon's labor by her husband, Lou. Craig was spectacularly inept at gardening, demonstrating neither an inclination nor a talent for the task, so Lou Newman came over periodically to cut the grass and tend the shrubs.Stefanie continued down the drive, making the bend to the rear and stopping in front of what used to be a two-cargarage before a previous owner converted it into a family room."Hey!" Craig called, rushing enthusiastically to greet his wife and mother-in-law."Hi," Stefanie replied cheerfully, giving her husband a quick kiss. "Where's Haley?""Just finishing her dinner. Why don't you go tell her hello?"At just under six feet and 210 pounds, Craig gave the impression of bulk but not strength. Despite his membership in an expensive health club and his preoccupation with sports, he had a round, pudgy face and a stomach that bulged over his belt. Combined with his receding hair and sagging jaw line, he looked older than thirty-three. While he was not particularly handsome, he was warm and open. Most of those who knew him would describe him as a born salesman.Anne walked in and glanced casually around the room. Scattered here and there was evidence of her daughter and son-in-law's eclectic choice of reading material: Vanity Fair next to Gourmet; Bon Appetit thrown casually atop Parents. A copy of Newsweek and one of People were open by a chair that Anne and Lou had given them. A new issue of Philadelphia Magazine sat on a nearby table."Did you have a good time?" Craig asked, following the two women into the other room where Haley was still in her high chair."Oh, we just wandered around," Stefanie said, hugging her daughter, who cooed and laughed with delight. "We looked, but we didn't buy," she told Craig with a smile."That's good," Craig said, feigning relief. He opened his mouth, obviously intending to say more, but was cut off by the jangling telephone."I'll get it," Stefanie said, running out of the room. "It's probably for me.""What did you want to do for dinner tomorrow?" Anne asked, turning to Craig."Uuuummm," he replied. "That's a good question. Let me think about it for a minute."While he was pondering, Anne walked over to Haley, lifting her and giving her a big smack on the cheek. The baby laughed merrily and rubbed Anne's nose. It was a grandmother's prerogative, Anne said to herself, to believe that Haley was the happiest child she had ever known.Goodness knows, Anne admitted, she had not always been Craig's biggest fan. He had some traits that really rubbed her the wrong way. Take the babysitting thing, for instance. On Wednesdays the nanny did not come to stay with Haley, so Anne and Craig shared the duties. Craig watched the baby in the morning and Anne came over in the afternoons to relieve him so he could take care of his business. But if she was late and didn't call him to say she was running behind schedule, he was very displeased. He wouldn't show his anger at her--Anne had never known Craig to lose his temper--but he would tell Stefanie that he was unhappy because Anne had been tardy. Then Stefanie would complain to Anne.As far as Anne knew, her son-in-law had never mistreated her daughter, not once in the nearly fourteen years they had been together. Stefanie would never have put up with that, Anne was sure. In fact, she thought her daughter secretly wished that Craig would be a tiny bit more aggressive. "He won't ever even argue with me," Stefanie had told her mother once.On the other hand, Anne felt that Craig didn't need to. Stefanie always went along with whatever he wanted. When things didn't go his way, Craig scowled and went into a funk. Stefanie always gave in to him, and she always defended him to others.Whatever they had worked out between them, however, seemed to be succeeding. Anne had never seen Stefanie so happy. She practically glowed. If Craig played a largerole in that, Anne certainly wasn't going to try to find fault.Certainly, though, Haley was responsible to a large extent as well. As a semi-outsider, Anne could see subtle changes in both Craig's and Stefanie's attitudes since the baby had been born. For one thing, Stefanie had told her just recently that she and Craig were searching for a congregation to join. This pleased Anne immensely since she and Lou both were very observant. When Stefanie and her brother, Ira, were growing up, Anne had kept a kosher home. She didn't serve meat and milk at the same meal. When she shopped, she bought only kosher meat and chickens, never shellfish or pork. Stefanie and her brother were brought up thinking that was the right way, the proper way. From the time she was eleven until she married Craig, Stefanie had attended devotions nearly every Sabbath. But after she and Craig were married, Stefanie was not as outwardly devout. Although Anne was sure they both kept the Holy Days like Rosh Hashanah, which begins the Ten Days of Penitence, and Yom Kippur, which ends the ten-day period, as well as attending Seders during Passover, they had not joined a congregation. This puzzled Anne a little because Craig came from a very observant family. His grandmother had been one of the founders of Yeadon, a synagogue in Southwest Philadelphia, and Craig had become a bar mitzva at Temple Beth Hillel, one of the more prominent synagogues in Greater Philadelphia. It was something that she and Lou had discussed. In the end, they agreed that Craig and Stefanie's religious life was really none of their business; let them work it out for themselves in their own time."How about some oriental food?" Craig asked, breaking her reverie. "Are you and Lou up to spicy?""I guess we can do that," Anne replied less than enthusiastically. She and her husband preferred plainer food, especially Lou with his heavy medication, but she decided not to argue."Good," Craig said cheerily, rubbing his hands together. "Let's go to that place in Ardmore, the Thai Pepper.""Okay," Anne said, forcing a smile. "By the way," she added, looking around quickly to make sure Stefanie was out of earshot, "how are the plans for her birthday party coming along?""Great! Evviva's says they're all ready for us. I've given them the deposit, but I want to thank you and Lou for taking care of the announcements.""It isn't every day our daughter turns thirty," Anne smiled."That was Elaine," Stefanie said, bustling back into the room."Oh, gosh!" Craig said. "I forgot this was your night out. You being off today made me lose track.""We're not going. Elaine isn't feeling well so we decided to postpone.""Uh-oh," Craig replied, frowning. "I hope it isn't anything serious.""No," Stefanie smiled, "just a touch of the flu or something. There's a lot of it going around.""I'm glad you're not going then. I wouldn't want you to bring anything back to Haley. By the way," he added, pointing to the table, "that envelope came for you today from FedEx."Stefanie ripped it open, extracting a letter and a check. "Here it is," she said, handing it to Craig. "The check for my stock portfolio."Craig looked at the piece of paper. "Seven thousand, seven hundred and eleven dollars," he said, reading the figures aloud."Don't forget," Stefanie said firmly, "That's my money! And I want it back!""Sure," Craig said somberly, sticking the check in his pocket. "Don't worry, it's just a loan."Anne looked at Stefanie, surprised by the unusual noteof resolve in her daughter's voice. "I'd better go," she said, slightly embarrassed."Okay, Mom," Stefanie said. "We'll see you tomorrow."Craig clicked on the tv. "Good night," he called halfheartedly, his attention already on the newscast.Copyright © 1999 by Ken Englade.