I don't know why I said it. I knew as the words left my lips it would hurt him. Maybe deep down I want to hurt him for not being there for me the past sixteen years of my life. I keep looking at Mutt and rubbing his tummy so I don't have to look at the disappointment of my life. Fine."

Wait. Did he just say "fine"? I think he did, but the word still doesn't register.

When I look up, Ron's back is to me. He's walking inside the house. My legs are a little numb from having the mutt on my lap for so long, but I scurry to get up and follow him.

When I enter the house, I walk up to him. He's rummaging through his suitcase.

"What did you say?" I ask.

He glances sideways at me before rummaging through his bag again. "I said 'fine,' Amy."

"Fine as in ..."

"As in if you want me out of your life, if that will make you happy, then that's what I want for you." He takes papers out of his suitcase and holds them out to me. "Here's your ticket back to the States."

I hesitate for a moment. Then my hand reaches out and slips the paper out of his extended hand.

A wave of sorrow and confusion makes me freeze. Then I run out of the house and head to the place where Safta and I talked about her love for this place.

Sitting on the edge of the mountain, I think about everything here that I'll leave behind if I go home. Like Matan. Like my aunt and uncle, who I've just met. And Mutt.

But most of all, I want to be here for Safta. I love her, and can't just leave while I know she's going through chemo treatments.

I hug my knees to myself, thinking about this life here in Israel. It's a part of me, but not.

Walking back to the house, I look for Ron. I have to tell him I want to stay here for another reason, too: to find out where I fit into his life. When I see him talking on the phone, I sit on the kitchen chair, waiting.

Ron hands me the phone. "It's your mom. I called her."

"We need to talk, okay," I say to Ron before taking the phone out of his hand.

I watch as he nods, puts his hands in his pockets, and walks outside.

I put the receiver to my ear. "Hello?"

"Amy, are you okay? Ron just told me you want to come home."

"I did, but not anymore."

"You've changed your mind?"

"I guess," I say.

I hear her getting out of bed and closing a door. I bet she's locked herself in the bathroom because Marc with a "c" is in her bed and she doesn't want to wake the dork up.

After a minute she says to me in a very bubbly voice, "I have some great news."

"You broke up with Marc?" I say with a sigh of relief. "Finally."

"No, silly. Marc asked me to marry him last night. And I said yes."

"What!" I say as my heart sinks into my chest. This is not happening to me.

"It's so exciting," she says, oblivious to the fact that I'm totally freaking out here. "He had this special dinner planned. The ring was at the bottom of my champagne glass."

"He's a dork, Mom." Definitely NOT dad material. The ring at the bottom of the champagne glass is so clich茅.

"He's one of the top real estate developers in the country. The new project on the Gold Coast, the most sought-after location in Chicago, is being done by his firm."

"So? We only have one parking spot for our condo. There's no room for his Mercedes," I say.

"I thought we'd look in the suburbs for a place. You know, something bigger ...with a backyard and everything."

Huh? "As in you're moving to the 'burbs?"

"Isn't that wonderful!"

"Where does that leave me? Homeless?"

"Of course not, honey. Don't be ridiculous. Your home is with me and Marc."

Since when did "you and me" become "you, me, and Marc"?

Nice to know I'm important enough to consult with.

"Marc hates me, Mom." Right about now I feel as if everybody hates me.

"He does not. You haven't given him a fair chance."

I swallow hard and try not to cry.

"I know it's a shock to you, but I swear it's the best thing for us. We'll be a family."

I swear I'm going to hurl. A family? But Marc isn't my family.

"I thought you'd be happy. After you come back from Israel, you can help me plan for the wedding and look for a new house. We'll make a fresh start, the three of us."

I don't want a fresh start, I want an old start.

"I love you," she says.

If she loved me so much she would've thought before going ahead and screwing up my plans.

I have a huge lump in my throat when I say, "Congratulations. I love you, too."

"Bye, sweetheart. Call me next week, okay?" she says. "I just want us to be happy."

"Me, too," I say, then hang up. Happy is all in the eye of the beholder.

I march out of the house and spot Ron by an old, green tractor parked in the back of the house.

"You blew it!" I yell.

He has the audacity to look at me without saying anything.

I cross my arms in front of my chest. "Just keep standing there silent, Ron. You do that really well."

"What are you talking about?"

"I was just informed that Mom's dork boyfriend proposed to her. Couldn't you have proposed? It would have been nice to have my parents married; at the very least to say my parents were married at one point in time. But you were too selfish and worried about making sure you achieved the American Dream while basking in bachelorhood. You never fought for us. Worse, you never fought for me."

There, I finally said it. It may have taken me sixteen years and an attitude to cover up my insecurities, but I finally spilled the truth.

He blinks a couple of times, then says, "She's getting married?"

"I just said that, didn't I?"

He takes a deep breath, then sits on the bumper of the tractor. "Don't think I didn't fight, Amy. I asked her to marry me. And not just once. Before you were born and practically every time I saw her after your birth I got down on my knee. You were too busy running away from me to realize it."

"If, and I mean if you did propose, why didn't it happen? You were a commando, for God's sake. You're specially trained to get the mission accomplished."

He takes a long, deep breath. "She said she didn't want you growing up seeing a loveless marriage. She wanted to find a solid guy to be your fodder, not some Israeli immigrant. Every time I came to see you, I'd get a letter from her fodder threatening to tell the INS to cancel my visa. He accused me of getting her pregnant on purpose, to secure my American citizenship by marrying her. It wasn't true, but I feared never seeing you again. He was a powerful man, Amy."

He looks at me with a pained expression. "I don't expect you to understand."

"I do and I don't," I say, confused.

"When you told me to stop coming around, I didn't know what they'd told you about me. I just wanted a relationship with you, even if it was once a year."

"You're a real disappointment," I say.

I expect the you-must-respect-me-because-I'm-your-parent lecture, but instead Ron says, "You're right."

I'm shocked but say, "Damn straight I'm right. Maybe there's still a chance with Mom. You can call her and--"

"It's not going to change anything," he says, "and you know it. Deep down, you know she won't marry me."

"I feel so alone," I say, almost in a whisper.

"I love you," he says back. "It doesn't matter that you don't call me 'dad' or want to hug me. I've wanted that, but I want your friendship and trust even more."

This is a lot of information for me in one day. I need some time to digest it.

"I'm going to stay in Israel for the summer," I finally tell him. "Maybe we can, oh, I don't know."

The beginning of a smile tips the corners of his mouth.

With a shake of my head I say, "Don't get too excited, I'm still upset."

"I'm glad you're staying."

I turn around and head back into the house and into my bedroom.

Snotty is there.

Honestly, she's the last person I want to see. I remember I told her something about having small boobs or something like that, but it seems so long ago. I plop myself down on my bed.

"Are you packed?" she asks, bending over her backpack while putting things inside.

I lean back on my elbows. "For what?"

She turns around, those black-charcoal circles directed right at me. "Camping. You said you were going."

Laying back down on the bed, I say, "I lied."

"Just like an American."

"Excuse me? What's that supposed to mean?"

"Israelis say what we mean. You Americans just talk without meaning anything you say."

"We do not!" Geez, everyone is on my case lately. "For your information, I'm proud to be American. We may not always do or say the right thing, but what can you expect? Nobody wants to police the world, so they look to us to do it for them. We save everyone else's ass and then get blamed for it. Real fair, isn't it?"

Now I sound like an ambassador for the U.S.

Snotty lifts her backpack over her shoulder and walks out of the room.

"Shalom, Amy. We're leaving in ten minutes."

She leaves me with two choices: prove Snotty wrong and go on the camping trip to save face. Or stay on the moshav with nothing to do except herd bald sheep with Ron and Uncle Chime.

I walk into Sofia's room and sit on the edge of her bed. My entire screwed-up life comes to a head and I'm completely confused.

"I need your advice."

She smiles warmly at me, like always. I am so happy to have her in my life, even if we did get a late start on getting to know each other.

"You see, it's like this," I say. I take a deep breath and let it all out as I talk. "My mom wants to marry her boyfriend, this guy I don't particularly like. Ron ...you know, your son, has been a disappointment to me because to be honest he hasn't been a permanent fixture in my life. I resent them both, and I'm confused about who I am and where I fit in. And to top it off, O'snot is going on a trip with her friends, and I kind of want to get away and prove to her I'm capable, so I'm considering it."

Safta nods her head in thought, obviously understanding my predicament and giving it serious consideration. "For a sixteen-year-old girl, you have a lot to deal with." I let out another long breath. "Ain't that the truth." "Maybe you need some time away. I think the camping trip is a good idea. Israel is a magical place, Amy. You just might find what you're looking for."

She's right. I need to get away from reality for a while. I kiss Safta on her cheek and head out of the room. But I stop at the door, turn around, and say, "I'm glad you're my Safta."

She tilts her head and smiles. "Me, too."


Did you ever get the feeling you were outnumbered?

My heart is racing as I spot an empty backpack on the foot of my bed. I must not have noticed it was there. It was probably left for me. I hurry and stuff some clothes into the bag and head outside.

When I get to the front of the house, all of the teenagers are climbing into the back of an open Jeep. It's like a flatbed truck, but not. It has a cab part up front and in the back is like a flatbed, but it has seats on both sides and rails on top of the truck.