She got up, whisper soft, and made her way into the front room, contemplating the frost in the well-appointed—bulletproof—bay window. She could brave the cold, certainly, but at heart she was still desert-bred, and it was the middle of the night. There was no need to go anywhere just yet.
She fished her phone out of her purse, thinking to check and see if anyone had tried to get hold of her in the last few hours. The time and date flashed on her screen and she huffed slightly in dry amusement.
“Something funny?” A male voice asked from slightly to the left of her.
She didn’t startle outwardly, but the fact that she did inwardly irritated her. She wasn’t one to let anyone sneak up on her, much less someone like Spencer. Either she was getting soft, or he was getting better.
He wasn’t in hitting range. Not that it would have mattered if she’d wanted to hit him, but it was wise of him, and it was for that reason that she didn’t snap. She didn’t have a good reason for why she answered his question. “It’s a Friday night.”
“Saturday morning,” he corrected, but not in a particularly argumentative way, just neutrally with a hint of curiosity.
“Shabbat,” she shrugged. The differentiation was unimportant. After sundown, before sundown, those were the markers. They were in the in between space, the twilight dawn of the Jewish world’s weekly space, carved out, the sacred sliced away from the profane.
“And that’s funny?”
She smiled then, glancing over at him. “It’s a double mitzvah on Shabbat, you know?”
“It—“ He stopped, and after a second, she could tell he’d gotten it, the cant of his body toward the bedroom they’d just come from a dead giveaway. “Oh.” His smile spread slowly, a little too sweetly, over his features. “Really?”
She hooked her hair behind her ear, favoring him with a sardonic expression. “Technically, you have to be married.”
“Is it a sin otherwise?” His tone was seductive but also something else, something that might have been concerned. She ignored it.
“We don’t—“ She shook her head. “It’s not that simple.” Then, “It’s a mitzvah not to do that outside of marriage, but I suppose that moment has come and gone.”
“You care,” he said, surprise evident, but judgment lacking.
“I did,” she agreed. “Long time ago.”
“Was there someone it would have been a double mitzvah with?”
“I’m neither a widow, nor a divorcee.”
“That wasn’t a no.”
No. It was not.
Mikel wondered, lazily, if she should be surprised that Spencer could whip up blueberry and marscapone French toast at three in the morning on a night he hadn’t been expecting company, but she decided not. Assumptions about their kind were for other people.
It was that recognition, more than the powdered sugar or the well-steeped tea or the easy brush of Spencer’s foot over her own that made her talk about things she hadn’t spoken of in years, an emotional lifetime. “Know anything about Satmar Hasidism?”
Spencer shook his head, keeping his eyes on her. She smiled, small and not really meant for him. “No, most people don’t. And half of what they think they know is wrong.”
Spencer took a bite and didn’t prompt her, and that, more than anything, made her explain. “To the outside, they look like another community of black hatters. But that presumes any Hasidic community, any Haredi community, for that matter, is like the next.”
“What makes them different?” Curious, but not urgent.
“Well, for one thing, they’re one of the anti-Zionist sects.”
“But they live in Israel.”
“Some of them. Not all. Jerusalem is holy. The Jewish political state is a different matter.”
“They don’t serve.”
Mikel’s smile filled out, just a bit. “They don’t accept benefits, either. Or vote.”
“And yet you were Mossad.”
She expected the intuitive leap from him. It is also for other people to assume they are just muscle, nothing more. “And yet.”
“How does that happen to a nice Satmar girl?”
“She wanders a little too far, sees a little too much, doesn’t fit just right.”
“So she runs?”
“Mm. Well, first she meets her intended. He’s sweet. Very scholarly. A year older than her, but she’s young for marriage yet, seventeen. Eighteen is preferable. Her parents are very possibly aware she daydreams of places where difference in thought is not betrayal. A plate is broken and a contract signed and she feels as though she can’t breathe.”
Spencer murmured, “Better air than double mitzvahs.”
“Better,” she agreed, softly.
“Shelter and three meals a day. Built-in companionship. And it was the purest form of rebellion, truly.”
“And you were good at it.”
She grinned at that. “Very, very good.”
The sun was rising, a gold-umber burn along the horizon, when Spencer nudged Mikel onto her front and took to working the kinks out of her back. She’d been dozing, not asleep, but not particularly alert either. His efforts were appreciated, her body sore as much from the fucking as the fighting; perhaps the latter a bit more, if she was honest. It had been longer since she’d indulged.
Quietly he asked, “Do you ever regret it?”
It was not the first time she’d ever considered the question. It was the first time she’d ever considered telling someone else. “I miss it sometimes. But no. No, I don’t regret it.”
“Your family? Or the religion?”
“The two aren’t so easily separable.” She closed her eyes. “The safety if it all, I suppose. Being part of that community, you’ll never be left on your own, never be allowed to fall without being caught.”
“But our kind likes the crash, occasionally,” he said, knowingly.
“We do,” she agreed. “And…there is a high price for that safety, that ease.”
“Higher than what we pay out here?”
“Just different. I wasn’t willing to pay.”
He dug in with a knuckle and she forced herself to breathe as the pain spiked, a particularly stubborn knot refusing to yield. He didn’t give in and after a moment the pain crescendoed and released, leaving the milder thrum of a bruise. She whispered, “Todah.”
“B’ruchah habaah,” he said, and she could hear the hint of a smile in the words.
She twisted onto her side to look at him. “May I use your shower?”
“Is cleanliness also a mitzvah?” His tone was low, inviting.
She laughed. “Not unless you’re hiding a mikvah in there.”
“We could pretend.”
“You have no idea what a mikvah is,” she accused.
“None at all,” he admitted, his smile somehow impish.
“Or…or we could just make our own rules,” she said, and let him pull her from the bed.