Josh Lowenstein is a successful architect, hired to redesign the alumni club of a posh, private school in New York. He is strong, capable and knows the best way to do everything. Except let another woman in.
Miriam Goldberg is the Assistant Director of Outreach, and is Josh’s day-to-day contact for the redesign. She’s taken care of everyone around her, and forgotten how to let someone else take care of her.
With a tumultuous history, neither one is prepared to work together. As they get to know each other, the animosity disappears, but Josh is hiding something from Miriam and its discovery has the possibility of destroying their relationship. Only when they are both able to let the other in, and release some of the control they exert over everything, will they be able to see if their love can survive.
This story centers on the Jewish holiday of Passover and is the story of two people who need to discover the freedom of letting go in order to let love into their lives.
The line from Casablanca flitted through Josh’s head. “Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world...” He fisted his hands at his side and closed his eyes.
This morning, he’d hurried to work for a meeting with a new client. He’d worked on the presentation for weeks—a redesign of an Alumni Club for a local private school. It was different from most of the projects he had worked on before, and it sparked his creativity. They’d been awarded the contract and this morning’s purpose was to meet the client’s daily contact, the person Josh would work with throughout the span of the project.
He’d walked into the red and black conference room of his architectural firm and froze. Sleek, black, flawless coiffed hair. No way. Ramrod straight posture. It couldn’t be. And as she turned and approached him, she’d glided. Oh crap. Miriam.
His blood pressure rose and his head throbbed. She’d stuck out her hand and met his gaze, the picture of calm—confident, assured, as if she were in charge—while he had all he could do to keep it together. He’d swept his gaze from her perfectly straight part in her hair, past sparkling amber eyes, over flawless pale skin. He had lingered a moment at the v-neck of her sweater. Its deep gold made her skin glow.
After a moment, he’d met her eyes. They were unreadable. Her features expressionless, like a marble statue, she nodded and deferred to her boss.
He’d welcomed the diversion and focused on her boss, Tom, a stout, middle-aged man with thinning blond hair and a nervous habit of blinking, as if he couldn’t focus on what was in front of him. But based on Josh’s previous encounters with the man, he was sharp as a tack.
“Josh, this is Miriam Goldberg. She’ll be your liaison for the Alumni Club redesign. Miriam, Josh Lowenstein is the lead architect on the project.”
She gave no hint they knew each other, and his response that they were well acquainted remained unsaid. He wanted to know why she kept it a secret, but he never had a chance to ask. The meeting was short, filled with lots of information about the project, and there wasn’t time for any small talk. She’d taken charge, asked questions, offered suggestions, all of which led Josh to think she was lead project manager. Regardless of her intelligence and the validity of her suggestions, he burned with irritation.
He stomped back to his office and threw his pen across the room. It sailed in an arc over the two sleek black chairs on the other side of his black marble desk, banged against the dove grey wall and landed behind the steel and black credenza. A splotch of ink, resembling a Rorschach pattern, marred the once perfect wall. He swore to himself and ran his hand down his face. Of all the ridiculous, unbelievable, annoying coincidences, this one was the worst.
He swung around in his chair and stared out the window of his Manhattan office. Marvels of steel and concrete filled his view, and as an architect, he often found solace, inspiration and satisfaction from looking at them. A little pride, when he identified ones he’d helped to design. But today, he didn’t see them. He saw her face and he clenched his jaw in aggravation.
The last time he’d seen her, he’d watched her sashay out of his office, as if on wheels. Her sleek, black hair had whispered across her shoulders, somehow moving without getting a hair out of place. Her wool jacket had not hidden the shape of her backside, or the trim size of her waist. He’d stared, infuriated, aroused and intrigued.
She’d stopped by to defend her sister, whom she thought he’d wronged.
“Have you apologized to my sister yet?”
He remembered how her question had first annoyed him, and afterwards, angered him. His argument with Samara wasn’t her business. But she was like a pit bull and wouldn’t give up. She’d just repeated, “You need to say you’re sorry.” The phrase echoed in his mind. As did the image of her smooth, glossy hair swinging back and forth like a curtain of silk. Despite his anger at the time, he’d wanted to run his fingers through it. He’d tried to distract himself with a glance at her lips, but they had been lush and red and such a contrast to the irritating words pouring out of them. Her voice had grated in his ears. She’d been assured in her duty, confident she was right and he was wrong. His blood pressure rose as he remembered their argument, and how she’d glided out of his office before he’d had a chance to respond. That was a year ago.
It was stupid to still be angry with her. After this long, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d thought about their argument. He was no longer in love with her sister; in point of fact, he’d never been in love with the woman in the first place. He had accepted and eventually approved of Samara’s relationship with Nathaniel. What’s more, Miriam had been right, he had needed to apologize.
He was tired of her bossing him around. He didn’t like not knowing what was going on, and he didn’t like how he felt off-kilter at their meeting. If she thought he would put up with it, she was mistaken. He was a respected architect; clients begged for him to take on their projects. He controlled what went on around him. He led the projects. He knew what clients wanted often before they did. He didn’t need her meddling in his vision. One word to her boss and she would be thrown off the project.
He brushed his hand against the computer mouse and his calendar popped on screen. Their next meeting was Thursday. He would be prepared. He would take charge. And she would never know what hit her.
“So, you and Nathaniel are coming here for the first night of Passover seder, right?” As she spoke to Samara on the phone, Miriam grabbed a pen and marked off days on her calendar, moving backward from Passover to the current day. She had seven and a half weeks. Seven and a half weeks to invite her guests, plan her menu, find all of her ritual items, shop for ingredients, clean her apartment for the holiday and cook. It sounded easy, but it wasn’t.
“Miriam, it’s not even Purim yet and already you’re thinking of Passover? I know you’re super-organized, but this sounds crazy even for you.”
Miriam gripped the phone harder in her hand and shook her head. Of course Samara thought she was crazy; Samara wasn’t as organized as she was and didn’t have as many responsibilities for this holiday as Purim. As the choir director, Samara ran the Purim play, or spiel, but she was always a guest at Miriam’s seders.
“I know you’re busy with the spiel, Sam, and I hate to bother you, but I just want you to get it on your calendar.”
“Okay, fine. Yes, we’ll be there for first night, and don’t forget Zoe.”
Miriam looked around her pristine apartment and swallowed. Her apartment wasn’t what one would call child friendly. She glanced into her living room—white furniture, white carpet, glass tables. If it could survive her klutzy sister, it could survive an eight-year-old girl. Besides, how much damage could one child do? As long as she wasn’t like Samara...
“That’s right, Zoe. Of course she’s invited too.”
“Great, I appreciate it, as does Nathaniel. You’ll let me know what we can bring?”
Miriam reviewed the rough draft of her menu in her mind. Tri-color matzah ball soup, homemade gefilte fish, a chicken dish, a lamb dish, matzah salad, spinach salad and flourless chocolate cake. Not to mention the symbolic food needed for the seder plate—roasted egg, roasted lamb shank bone, haroset, bitter herbs, parsley, celery and an orange. What could she trust her sister with and guarantee it would turn out to her exact specifications?
“What about the haroset? Do you have a recipe for it?”
“A recipe? Miriam, it’s apples, cinnamon, red wine and nuts mixed together. You don’t need a recipe for it.”
“But Samara, what kind of nuts will you use? I prefer almonds and you need sweet red wine, not dry and how fine will you chop everything...”
“Miriam, don’t worry. I know how you like it and I’ll take care of it. And I’ll also bring a dessert; I’ve got a great recipe for an orange-almond flan I’ve been dying to try.”
“Try? You mean you’ve never made it before? Samara, there will be other guests so I need to be able to count on your food. I can’t serve it if it doesn’t taste good.”
“Mir, relax! I promise it will live up to your standards. Trust me.”
Miriam took a deep breath. “All right, but maybe you could have Nathaniel try it ahead of time, just to make sure.”
Her sister laughed. “Trust me, Miriam, it will all work out.”
Miriam said goodbye and hung up the phone. Seven and a half weeks. In theory, there should be plenty of time to prepare and if it were any other holiday, she wouldn’t start to worry for at least another month. But the preparation required for Passover filled her with exhaustion and her bones ached thinking about it. Add in her new project at work and the pressure weighed her down as if it were a physical object.
She sat at her computer and alternated between recipe websites, her calendar, a to-do list and her guest list. Like any get together, the chemistry between the guests needed to work or there would be awkward silences and people would be uncomfortable. Including her, there would be nine people. For some reason, the odd number bothered her. She thought about other friends she could invite. Almost everyone else she knew spent the holiday with family. These friends were the ones who were often alone, which is why they came to her. She ticked names off on her fingers. Ben, David, Nathaniel, Zoe, Samara, Kate, Howie and Alexis. Josh...
She jerked and rested her hands on the keyboard. Where did that thought come from? She inhaled, closed her eyes and pictured a blank sheet of paper. Empty, pure, clean. Josh’s image supplanted the paper image and jarred out of her relaxation technique, she popped open her eyes. She rubbed her head as the threads of a headache formed. He was annoying. It was bad enough she was forced to work with him on the Alumni Club project; the last thing she wanted to do was spend her free time occupied with thoughts of him.
She glanced out the window and massaged her temples. The wet March day was dreary; although spring had arrived according to the calendar, the wind swirled outside, causing rain-soaked black tree branches, beginning to bud, to shake. Water droplets splashed the window of her second-floor apartment. In a few weeks, the buds would bloom into leaves and flowers. It was a lovely thought, but did not distract her from Josh.
Josh Lowenstein was an overbearing perfectionist who thought he was the only person who could do anything right. About eighteen months ago, Josh started paying attention to Samara, who was the choir director at their synagogue. He always tried to help her, even when Samara didn’t appear to want help. Sure, her sister was a klutz and complete disaster when it came to organization, but it worked for her. Josh had no business trying to fix her sister. Her sister was her job. Samara was capable of taking care of herself, with a few helpful nudges from Miriam on occasion. What made things worse was Josh started to fall for Samara. Everyone else could see she wasn’t interested in him, but he hadn’t seen it. Things came to a head at a Shabbat dinner when she’d announced she and Nathaniel, a guy she’d fallen head over heels in love with, were a couple. Josh had attacked Nathaniel’s character and created a scene and Nathaniel walked out.
Miriam had wanted to comfort her sister, but Josh was still angry, and still at the table. She’d risen and walked around to Josh’s chair, leaned down and whispered in his ear.
“If you think you have any hope of preserving whatever relationship you had with my sister before tonight, the best thing you can do right now is leave with me.”
He’d nodded and risen from his chair.
Thinking about that night, she shook at the hurt he’d put her sister through.
She flipped her calendar back to the current week. Thursday. They needed to work together if the Alumni Club was to be the beautiful place she intended it to be. She had three days to get past her anger and her distaste for him.
She woke the next morning to the buzz of her cellphone, rather than the music of her alarm clock. With a groan, she turned and opened one eye. 5:47. Really? They couldn’t wait an extra 13 minutes for her alarm to go off first? She stretched her arm across the nightstand and brushed her fingers along the surface until she found her phone. Fluffing her pillows, she sat up and checked it. A text from her boss.
Don’t forget to discuss the Library with the architect.
She shook her head as she tossed the phone on the bed, turned off her alarm and headed into the bathroom. There was no point in going to sleep for ten minutes. Tom drove her nuts sometimes. He was detail oriented, like her, but less organized, with a tendency to micromanage when he got stressed.
She knew well his desires for the Library and she planned to discuss them with Josh on Thursday. There was no need for him to text her now, except to ease his own anxiety. As she turned on the hot water and let the warm jets pelt her back, she vowed to someday get a job with a boss who could handle stress.
Forty minutes later, she was dressed and ready for work. She stepped outside her Upper East Side apartment, waved to the doorman, and inhaled. The rain from the previous day had cleared and the pale March sun shone between the buildings. Although cold, it would be a beautiful spring day. The daffodils the condo board planted in front were about ready to bloom; around them, purple crocuses poked through the dirt between the iron bars of the miniature fence surrounding the bed. The rooftop gardens would be in full bloom in a couple of weeks, and the minute it was warm enough, Miriam would be out there too.
She walked down the street and headed to her favorite coffee bar. Inside, the dark aroma filled her nostrils. Multicolored mugs lined the walls—everything from touristy “I Love NY” to extra-large sized French mugs—there was always a new one to look at while she waited in line to place her order. People on their way to work took small tables and chairs by the windows. In the back, upholstered chairs and free WiFi provided a break for people later in the day.
“Hey, Miriam, how are you?”
Miriam turned toward the voice.
“Sarah!” They kissed each other’s cheeks and remained in line while they shmoozed.
“I haven’t seen you in ages, Mir. What are you doing?”
“I’m running a redesign of the Alumni Club right now. How about you?”
“I’m opening a restaurant.”
“Really? Where? What kind?”
Sarah laughed. “Whoa! It’s opening in the Village and it will be a French bistro.”
“That’s wonderful. You’ll have to let me know when it opens so I can come by.”
The server behind the counter interrupted their conversation and pointed to her. “May I help you?”
Miriam placed her order, waited for Sarah and accompanied her to a table by the window.
“I have a few minutes if you have time to sit,” Miriam suggested.
Sarah looked at her watch. “Sure. I have to meet with a restaurant equipment guy in a half hour, but he’s not far from here.”
“So, tell me about your restaurant.”
For the next ten minutes, Sarah described everything about her French bistro, except the name.
“I’m still stuck on that one. Any ideas?”
“Not off the top of my head, but I’ll let you know if I come up with anything. So, what are your plans for Passover?”
“You know, I haven’t given it any thought. I’ve been so busy with the restaurant, everything else has fallen by the wayside.”
“Want to come to me? I’d love you to join us. A few friends, plus Samara and her boyfriend, Nathaniel, and his daughter.”
“Samara has a boyfriend? Wow, that’s wonderful. I’d love to meet him, and to come for seder. What can I bring?”
“How about something French?”
They giggled and left the coffee bar together, and made plans to see each other again soon. By the time Miriam arrived at work, her bad mood had been erased. She spent the morning alternating between her own work, managing her boss and his stress and brainstorming ideas for Sarah’s restaurant name. During lunch, she emailed Sarah a list of suggestions.
A movement by the door startled her and she looked up. Tom peered through the doorway. “Miriam, can I see you in my office, please?”
“Sure, I’ll be right there.” She grabbed her iPad and headed into his office.
“I just want to go over the plans for Thursday one more time. I’ll be away the rest of this week and I want to make sure everything is covered.”
Miriam swallowed her annoyance and pulled out the redesign plans. “I’ve got everything right here. Color palette, room functions, budget plans, a copy of the architect’s drawings and suggested material list.”
“Good. If you have any questions while I’m gone, text me.”
“I will, Tom, but it will be fine. I’ve got it all under control.”
He smiled. “I know you do. I just want to make sure the donors are happy. Without them, we’ve got nothing.”
“Don’t worry, I know.”
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