“Um . . . maybe,” I say.
I make myself a stack of snickerdoodles, and I run up to my room and sit down at my desk. Munching on one, I open up my computer and type in “dating for dads,” and lo and behold I find a dating site for single parents.
I start drafting a profile. First things first, he’ll need a profile pic. I start going through the photos of him on my computer. There are hardly any of him alone. I finally settle on two, which I bookmark: one from last summer at the beach—a full-length shot, because that’s one of the tips on the website—and one of him from this past Christmas, wearing that Scandinavian sweater we got him. He’s carving a roast chicken, and he looks daddish in a wholesome coffee-commercial way but still vital. The dim dining room light makes him look hardly wrinkled at all, just some crinkles around the eyes. Which reminds me: I should get on him about wearing sunscreen every day. A men’s skin-care kit could be a good Father’s Day gift. I make a note of it in my Reminders.
Daddy is only in his early forties. That’s still plenty young enough to meet someone and fall in love, maybe two or three times over, even.
WHEN KITTY WAS BORN, I said she looked like a kitten and not a Katherine, so that’s the name that stuck. After we came home from visiting her and Mommy at the hospital, Margot and I made a HAPPY BIRTHDAY, KITTEN banner to make the time go faster. We got out all the paints and craft supplies, and Grandma got annoyed because there was a big mess to clean in the kitchen, colors dripping all over the floor, handprints everywhere. We have a picture of Mommy standing underneath the sign holding Kitty that very first day, eyes tired but bright. Happy.
It’s our tradition to put the sign on Kitty’s door so it’s the first thing she sees when she wakes up. I get up really early and hang the sign with care, so the edges don’t bend or rip. For breakfast I make her a muenster-cheese omelet. With a ketchup bottle I squeeze out a cat face with a heart around it. We have a “celebrations drawer,” which is birthday candles, paper hats, tablecloths, emergency birthday cards. I take out the paper hats and put one on my head, jauntily to the side. I set one each by Kitty and Daddy’s plate, and I put one on Jamie Fox-Pickle too. He is not into it, but I’m able to get a picture before he knocks the hat off.
Daddy’s prepared Kitty’s favorite lunch to take to school. A Brie sandwich and chips, plus a red velvet cupcake with cream cheese frosting.
Kitty delights in the place settings and in her cat face omelet. She claps and laughs like a hyena when the rubber band on Daddy’s hat snaps, and the hat springs off his head. Truly, there’s no happier birthday girl than our Kitty.
“Can I wear your sweater with the daisies on it?” she asks me, her mouth full of omelet.
I glance at the clock. “I’ll go get it, but you have to eat fast.” He’ll be here any minute.
When it’s time to leave, we put on our shoes, kiss Daddy good-bye, and tumble out the front door. Waiting for us on the street in front of his car is Peter with a bouquet of cellophane-wrapped pink carnations. “Happy birthday, kid,” he says.
Kitty’s eyes bulge. “Are those for me?”
He laughs. “Who else would they be for? Hurry and get in the car.”
Kitty turns to me, her eyes bright, her smile as wide as her face. I’m smiling too. “Are you coming too, Lara Jean?”
I shake my head. “No, there’s only room for two.”
“You’re my only girl today, kid,” Peter says, and Kitty runs to him and snatches the flowers out of his hand. Gallantly, he opens the door for her. He shuts it and turns and winks at me. “Don’t be jealous, Covey.”
I’ve never liked him more than in this moment.
Kitty’s birthday party with all her friends won’t be for a few weeks. She insisted on a sleepover, and Daddy’s on call for weekends in February. Tonight, we’ll celebrate with a family dinner.
One of Daddy’s most go-to dinners is roast chicken. He calls it the house specialty. He’ll slather it in butter, pop an onion and an apple inside, sprinkle some poultry seasoning, and stick it in the oven. Usually a potato in some form as the side. Tonight I’ve mashed sweet potatoes and sprinkled brown sugar and cinnamon on top, then put them under the broiler so the sugar burns like crème brûlée.
Kitty is in charge of setting the table and putting out the condiments: Texas Pete’s hot sauce for Daddy, mustard for Kitty, strawberry jam for me. Chutney for Margot if she were here. “What kind of sauce did Mommy like with her chicken?” Kitty asks me suddenly.
“I . . . can’t remember,” I say. We both look at Daddy, who is checking on the chicken.
“Did she like mustard like me?” she asks.
Closing the oven door, Daddy says, “Hmm. Well, I know she liked balsamic vinegar. A lot. A lot a lot.”
“Just on chicken?” Kitty asks.
“On everything, actually. Avocados, with butter on toast, tomatoes, steak.”
I file this away under Misc. Facts about M.
“Are you guys ready to eat?” Daddy asks. “I want to get this bird out while it’s still nice and juicy.”
“In a minute,” Kitty says, and literally a minute later the doorbell rings. Kitty springs into action. She comes back with Ms. Rothschild from across the street. She’s in skinny jeans and a black turtleneck sweater and high-heeled boots, a chunky black-and-gold necklace around her neck. Her mahogany brown hair is half up, half down. She’s carrying a wrapped present in her hands. Jamie Fox-Pickle’s puppy legs can’t get to her fast enough; he is sliding all over the place, wagging his little tail.
Laughing, she says, “Well, hello, Jamie.” She sets her gift on the counter and kneels down and pets him. “What’s up, everybody?”
“Hi, Ms. Rothschild,” I say.
“Trina!” Daddy says, surprised.
Ms. Rothschild lets out an awkward laugh. “Oh, did you not know I was coming? Kitty invited me when she was over with Jamie today. . . .” She reddens. “Kitty,” she chides.
“I did tell him—it’s just that Daddy’s absentminded,” Kitty says.
“Hm,” Ms. Rothschild says, giving her a look, which Kitty pretends not to see. “Well, thank you anyway!” Jamie starts jumping all over her, another of his bad habits. Ms. Rothschild sticks her knee out and Jamie settles down immediately. “Sit, Jamie.”
And then he actually sits! Daddy and I exchange an impressed look. Clearly Jamie needs to continue under Ms. Rothschild’s tutelage.