“You’re going to love this. I can guarantee it. My grilled cheese sandwiches are world famous. Once you take one bite, you know deep down, you’ve tasted the best-grilled cheese sandwich in the world.”
“Sure Dad. Sure.”
You had to give it to him. My dad didn’t have any illusions about being anything less than the best. He told me that anything and everything he did was ‘the best.’
Since my mom died two years ago, it was just me and Dad against the world. We had to learn how to do the laundry, run the vacuum, and properly load the dishwasher. But the worst was our diet. During those first few months, I think we had every kind of fast food out there. He’d stop at the restaurant of the day, and when he came home, we’d sit in front of the TV with our paper-wrapped entrees. We had a weeknight lineup, and we didn’t talk much as the programs switched from one to the next.
Cooking was fairly new for us. We took turns, and I mastered meatloaf and spaghetti. Dad loved to make breakfast for dinner, and he bought us a cookbook about a month ago. This was the first time he’d made these ‘world famous’ sandwiches for me, but I had little doubt about his claim. Dad was a true foody.
With his back turned and his attention to his masterpiece, I broached the subject of the upcoming school dance.
“You know this Friday is a school dance, right?”
Silence. One of those silences that fills a room.
I heard him take a deep breath before he answered.
“Of course, I know that. And I also know you’re about to ask me if you can go, right?”
I could feel the heat rising. I knew if I looked in a mirror right now, I’d see the telltale blotches in my cheeks and on my chest. But I had to get it out. This was important, and I wouldn’t let him scare me.
“Well, yes. Yes, I want to go. And…I want to go with someone.”
Another silence. This one was more intense than the last.
“Someone, huh? That sounds like a boy.” His tone was the stuffy one I didn’t like. I knew what was coming next.
“We’ve had this discussion before, young lady. I don’t think you’re old enough to date.”
I counted to ten before I answered. “I know we’ve had the discussion before, and I’m doing my best not to scream. No one waits until they’re sixteen to date. I’m thirteen, and all my friends get to go to school dances, and they even go ‘with’ someone.”
“You mean that they ‘meet someone’ at the dances, though? Right? I mean, some boy doesn’t pick them up in a car, right?”
“Dad. I don’t even know a guy who drives. Corey wants to have his mom drive him over here so he can come in and meet you, and then we’ll go to the dance. His mother will come back right at nine o’clock when it’s over. And I’ll be home by nine-thirty, tops.”
Anger at my mother filled my heart. If she were here, she’d let me go. She’d talk to him and explain all about thirteen-year-old girls. But no, she had to die. She left me alone with a dad who didn’t understand me.
Shame coursed through me. How could I be mad at her? What kind of person was I? Maybe I didn’t deserve to go to the dance. Only an immature little girl would blame someone for dying.
The room was quiet. While I’d been alone with my thoughts, Dad must’ve been thinking, too.
Another silence—though this one didn’t feel as menacing. Instead, I could tell he was weighing the facts.
My heart lifted a tiny bit. He’s actually considering it!
“So, who is this boy? Have I ever met him or seen him around?”
“I don’t think so. He just moved here this school year. His name is Vincent Micelli, and he’s in my English and history classes.”
“So…he’s Italian, right?”
“I guess so. We don’t talk about stuff like that. He’s just nice, cute, and he likes me.”
Dad turned toward me. He was holding the sandwiches on two plates. I noticed there was a sheen in his eyes. “Of course, he likes you, Princess. What’s not to like?”
The warmth in my heart reached the corners of my mouth, and I gave Dad his favorite smile. He’d gotten over me broaching the subject, and I’d gotten over him being such a dad.
I could smell the delicious even before the plate hit the table. When I saw it, it filled my mouth with saliva, and I couldn’t wait to take a bite.
“Careful, hon. It’s hot,” he said. But not in time to keep me from burning the roof of my mouth with hot cheese.
When he saw the tears in my eyes, Dad laughed. I loved the sound of his laugh. In the two years since Mom died, we didn’t laugh as much as we used to. But here, in this moment, I knew we’d climbed over a hill in our grief.
I took another bite of the golden deliciousness and felt every bit of the love Dad put into the sandwich, along with the cheddar and mayonnaise.
“I think I have the answer to your question,” he said.
I had to finish chewing the large bite I’d just stuffed into my face. “What is your answer?”
“What do you think about me driving you and this guy to the dance? That way, I can spend some time with you guys, see where he lives, and meet his parents.”
“How does that sound?”
I chewed thoughtfully. It wasn’t a bad idea, and when I explained it to Vincent, he’d probably understand. I told him my dad was a little overprotective.
“I think it’s a good idea, Dad.”
“And you know what?”
“This is the best-grilled cheese sandwich I’ve ever had.”