"Take your shirt off," Doo-Doo suggests.

Moron pulls his shirt over his head, then raises his eyebrows. "Be gentle with me, girls," he teases.

"Keep your pants on," Ofra jokes and everyone, including me, laughs.

Snotty makes the first stripe down the middle of Moron's head as he squints his eyes shut.

O'dead takes a picture just as Snotty finishes one line. Then Ofra takes the razor and makes another stripe. They're all having a good time. Even, dare I admit it, me.

"Give Amy a turn," Doo-Doo suggests, then gives me a little push of encouragement.

I shake my head. "I'm not great with a razor," I say. Especially electric ones next to people's scalps.

Ofra and Snotty finish shaving Moron's head. They're having fun making designs with his hair as they do the job.

After they're done, O'dead stands next to Moron. "We've been friends since we were three, and I know how scared you are of the dark." O'dead pulls out a small flashlight. "So now, when they stick you in the Negev desert, you won't have anything to fear."

"Except the deadly snakes," Doo-Doo chimes in, making everyone laugh again.

"As long as I have females in my unit," Moron says, "I won't need any light, if you know what I mean."

"Which brings me to my gift," Doo-Doo says, then pulls out a small, pink, stuffed teddy bear. "This is for you to sleep with when you're alone at night and need something to hug."

"Our piece of advice is ...when you sleep with your gun, make sure the safety is on."

Moron nods his head. "Great advice, guys."

"Now it's Amy's turn," Ofra says.

I look over at Snotty. The girl won't even acknowledge me. Then I turn to Ofra. "Go ahead," she says, urging me with her hand to get up.

Tentatively, I walk over to Moron and hold out a piece of material. "It's a bandana," I explain. "With a peace sign on it."

He takes the material from my hand and studies it. "Todah, thank you."

"They told me I should give you a piece of advice, too," I say. Then I clear my throat. Everyone is looking at me, even Snotty. And it makes me feel all sweaty inside. Talk about pressure.

"My piece of advice is ..."

I swear, I had something to say, but forgot it. I'm on the spot here and my mind draws a blank. Shit. I look at the horizon, where the sun is falling into the water. The first thing that comes into my mind and out of my mouth is, "don't swim on a full stomach."

Oh my God. I can't believe I just said that. The guy is going to the desert for basic training. What are the chances that he's going to be swimming in the middle of the desert during military training?

My advice is met with silence.

"That was very ...deep, Amy," Snotty says, clearly making fun of me.

I hear Doo-Doo ask O'dead, "Is she joking?"

If I knew how to get back to the moshav, I'd run there right now without turning back. But I can't, so I sit back down and try and shrink as much as I can into the sand.

"Well, I guess I should say something," Moron says, then stands. "Thank you for this great party, the gifts, and advice. Your friendship means a lot to me. Now, I know you're supposed to throw me into the Kineret, but you better not even try it."

"You have to get wet," Avi says matter-of-factly, gesturing toward the lake.

Doo-Doo and O'dead are ready to back Avi as he chases Moron around the beach.

I'm shocked when they tackle him and throw him into the water, making a huge splash. Moron is soaking wet, but he's not pissed. I would be if my friends tossed me, clothes and all, into a lake. But he's laughing right along with the rest of them.

Ofra goes to help Moron out of the water, until he grabs her arm and pulls her in with him.

Snotty joins the group. I watch as she puts her arms around Avi, and they both splash in the water together.

Hel-lo. Don't these people know it's usually the custom to swim with bathing suits, not fully clothed? Of course I'm not jealous they're in the water, laughing and having fun. I am absolutely content to stand here all alone.

"Amy, join us!" Moron calls out to me.

"Yeah," Ofra says. "The water's great."

I'm a land person, and don't particularly love water. "No, thanks," I say.

The first one out of the lake is my cousin. She stands straight in front of the bonfire, warming herself. I try to avoid making eye contact with her--I'm afraid if I do my mouth might get me in trouble.

But maybe I should try, like Ron said, to get to know her. Even though she's been rude, it could be because she doesn't know what a great and fun person I am. I guess I really haven't given her much of a chance. I'll attempt to soften her up a bit first. "Osnat, I really enjoyed meeting your friends," I say, thinking of how Ron said her name is spelled.

I swear, I deserve a medal for being so nice. She's probably going to say how much she's glad I opened up the lines of communication. Maybe by the end of the summer she'll be like the sister I never had.

My wayward thoughts are squashed as I watch her turn to me with a toss of her hair and say, "Just remember, Amy. They're my friends, not yours."

And just like that she goes back to being Snotty.


Sometimes we have to prove to others we're strong even when we're not.

I've been in Israel for three weeks now.

Thankfully, I'm able to avoid Snotty and Avi. That means I'm spending a lot of time in the house with Safta, which is just fine with me.

She relayed stories about when she was a kid here in Israel and more about my grandfather, who died before I was born. She also told me about her parents, who escaped from Germany during World War II. Learning about my extended family has opened my eyes to another world.

As I wake up one morning to Ron's cheery, "Rise and shine, sleepyhead," I just want to go back to sleep.

What time is it anyway?

SD's words are buzzing around in my head like one of those bees that wouldn't leave me alone. I glance at my watch.

"Six thirty!" I say with a groggy voice. "Please have a very good reason why you're waking me before the sun shines through that window."

Now I know I'm being crabby, but I'm just not a morning person. Never have been, never will be. In my opinion, six thirty isn't even morning; it's still the middle of the night.

"Amy, we've been here a while now and I've left you alone. If you keep sleeping all day, you'll never get over your jet lag. Besides, work needs to be done around here and everyone pitches in. I want you to at least act like you're my daughter and help out."

I sit up and say, "Listen, I'm still tired and cranky. Just come back in, let's say, a couple of hours and we can discuss whatever you want."

"You're always tired and cranky and you need to get out of bed so Yucky can wash the sheets. There's probably mushrooms growing on them."

"Very funny."

"I've promised to help your uncle sell some of the sheep these next few weeks. After that, I want to show you my country."

"Yeah, let's do that. In a couple of weeks," I say just so he'll leave me alone.

I lie back down and pull the covers over my head. A little more sleep is what I need, not to work on my summer vacation or go sightsee. I'll have to convince the

Sperm Donor just because I happen to be on this stupid trip doesn't mean I have to do anything on it.

I let out a breath when I hear him leave the room. Looking over at Snotty's bed, I see it's empty. She's probably over at Avi's house.

Not that I'm jealous, 'cause I'm not. I just don't know why he's friends with her. She might be pretty, but she's mean.

Or maybe she's just mean to me. Which makes me hate her even more.

I close my eyes and try to think about good things, like going back home.

Nothing really makes me happy now. Is that what being sixteen is all about? If so, I can understand why teenagers express themselves in so many different ways. It's not as if we're stupid, we're just trying to figure out where we fit.

Me? I don't seem to fit anywhere these days. I'm like a square peg trying to fit into a round society. Now that I think about it more, I'm not square or round. More like an octagon. And I don't fit anywhere now. I thought I did, but my nice, super-dictated world has complicated all that. I wonder how Mitch is doing without me. Does he miss me?

I fall asleep again and when I wake up my stomach growls so I head to the kitchen. Everyone is gone and the house is quiet.

I glance over at Sofia, who's sitting in a velour chair reading some book.

"Boker tov, Amy," she says in this dignified voice as I reach into the refrigerator and scan the contents.

"I'm sorry," I say. "I don't know what that means."

I finally learned shalom means three things: hello, goodbye, and peace. My Hebrew knowledge is pathetic, at best.

"Boker tov means 'good morning.'"

"Oh. Boker tov to you, too."

Gram seems a little quiet this morning. I'll sit with her and chitchat while I eat breakfast, maybe that'll cheer her up. In fact, I'll prepare something special for her.

As I arrange a plate of fruit, I take my time and cut little pieces of banana and melon in these shapes Jessica's mom taught me. Jessica calls things people rave about "crowd pleasers." Little cut-up fruit in the shape of a clown face is a definite crowd pleaser.

I set the plate down in front of her on a side table. "Todah" she says.

"You're welcome." I look down at my masterpiece. "It's a clown face."

"Very creative. Do you like cooking?"

"Not really. Eating I like. We go to restaurants mostly back home."

"Your father doesn't cook for you?"

I know what you're thinking. This is a great opportunity for me to tell Sofia how it really is back home. But as I look at the old lady's glowing blue eyes I feel protective of her. As much as I'd like my gram to be ashamed of the Sperm Donor, I just can't make myself upset her.

"Well, every Friday he makes this great lasagna," I say, my mouth moving without my brain thinking too long about it. "And his chicken picatta is out of this world. He even bakes blueberry muffins for me on Sunday mornings."

The of lady has this little twinkle in her eye that I can't decipher.

"Chicken picatta, huh?" she says.

Oh, shit. She's onto me. I probably should have left out the muffins or made it BBQ chicken instead of picatta. But I'm stickin' with my story for better or worse.

"Yep. I'm sure if you ask him he'll make you some," I say as I look down at my feet and notice my toenail polish is chipped.

I hear the door open and Doda Yucky comes floating into the house. "Amy, Safta is starting her chemotherapy treatment in an hour," she says. We both help my grandma up. "Everyone is with the sheeps," Doda Yucky says. "They're waiting for you."

I am bowled over by a terrible sense of worry about Safta. Chemotherapy? Oh no ...that means cancer.

"Can I go with you?" I ask. "I can read to you if you'd like."

Safta pats the back of my hand lightly. "Don't worry, I'll be fine. Go with the young people and enjoy your stay here. You don't want to be hanging around a hospital all day. Okay?"


I want to go with her, to make sure the doctors know she's my Safta and she needs the best care possible. Do they know how important she is?