Emily Parker trembled with nervousness and excitement as she walked home. Before she left for school, her father told her he had something important to tell her after school. Emily thought nothing of it at first, but it was the serious tone of her father’s voice that caused Emily to steadily grow more anxious as the day progressed. What was her father going to tell her?
“Don’t worry about it too m
uch, okay?” Emily recalled the advice her best friend Mia gave that morning and tried to take it to heart as she unlocked the door and entered her house. Tossing her backpack onto the floor, she was about to head to the kitchen for a snack when she felt two hands on her shoulders. “Hi, Cupcake!”
Emily couldn’t help but smile when she heard her private nickname. Turning around and squeezing him in a big hug, she said, “Hey, Dad.”
Emily loved her father. He had raised her on his own, and they powered through good and bad times together. Most of her friends had both a mother and father, but Emily didn’t care; her loving and caring father was all she needed.
“I made you some fresh mac and cheese,” her dad said, walking towards the kitchen table, where his laptop sat. “Help yourself. I’ll be busy with work for a bit, so get started on your homework when you’re done, okay?”
Emily grabbed a bowl and scooped herself some macaroni. She heard her phone buzz with a text from Mia: “Well? What did he say????”
“Nothing yet,” Emily texted back. In truth, she was kind of glad that her father hadn’t said anything. Once she wolfed down her mac and cheese, she ran up to her room to start her homework.
Emily heard a light tapping on the door. “Em? Can I come in?” her father asked gently.
“It’s unlocked,” she called. Though she tried to focus on her homework, the familiar pang of nervousness clouded her thoughts.
She heard the click of the door and looked up to see her father. Taking a seat on the bed next to her, he looked at the notebooks and papers scattered around her room and made a face. “Making progress on the homework?” he asked.
Emily laughed. “Yeah, I’m almost finished. I’ll clean up the mess soon, I promise.”
“Awesome!” her father replied with a grin. However, his features turned serious as he continued. Hey, Em…I need to tell you something.”
Uh-oh, thought Emily. Here it comes. Forcing a smile, she said, “Okay?”
Her father took a deep breath. “So, I…I’ve been dating this girl for the past few months.”
For a moment, Emily was taken aback. She’d expected something much worse.
Her father continued. “I know this seems out of left field, but I wanted to make sure the relationship was stable before I told you. I needed to make sure she would make a good mother figure for you.”
Emily didn’t know what to think or say. After her mother abandoned them when she was a child, she had grown used to living with only one parent. Having an older female figure in the house would be a huge change.
“Em?” her father broke the silence, a concerned look on his face. “I know this is a lot to process. But I really love this woman, and I’d like for you to meet her soon.”
Emily thought of how thoughtful her father had been by factored her into his dating decision. Though she wasn’t quite ready for any major changes in her life, she would keep an open mind for her father’s sake.
“Yeah, sure. Why not?” She replied, a little hesitantly.
As soon as the words came out, Emily saw her father breathe a sigh of relief. “Thank you,” he said, giving her a smile.
Emily just nodded. As she took in the news, a sudden urge of curiosity overwhelmed her. “So…who is this girl, anyway?”
Her father perked up. “Her name is Grace, and…” He whipped out his phone and pulled up a photo of her. “Here’s her picture.”
Looking at the picture, Emily was stunned by how gorgeous Grace looked. Her light brown hair was matched by her stunning blue eyes. In a way, she kind of looked like she was related to her. Is that what people would think, seeing her with Emily and her dad? Would they seem like a normal family?
“Well, what do you think of her?” her father asked eagerly.
Emily paused. “I think she’s beautiful.”
“Details, Em! Give me the details!” said Mia as Emily sat next to her on the bus the next day. “What did your dad say?”
“Well…” Emily explained everything to Mia as the bus started to move.
“Whoa…I didn’t see that coming,” Mia said, an indignant expression on her face. “Did you see her yet?”
“I’m meeting her tonight,” Emily replied, recalling the arrangement she had made with her father the night before. She felt the bus pull to a stop. Getting up to leave, Emily waved goodbye to Mia and headed home.
When she entered the house, she saw her father at the kitchen table, hammering away at his laptop. “Hey!” he grinned brightly when he saw her walking in. “There’s a turkey sandwich on the counter for you.”
“Thanks, Dad!” Emily grabbed the plate and moved to the kitchen table to eat. Taking a bite of her snack, she asked, “So when’s Grace coming?”
“She’ll be coming over for dinner tonight,” her father replied, eyes focused on his laptop. “When you’re finished, we’ll make dinner together, okay?”
Emily nodded “Sounds good!”
Cooking with her father was one of Emily’s most cherished childhood memories. At least once a year, father and daughter would cook a special meal together. Over the years, she had gotten better at cooking because of it. These days, she would collaborate with her father to come up with fresh, new takes on their standard dishes.
Emily stirred the thick stew on the stove while her father chopped the vegetables. As she stirred, she began to wonder if these traditions she had with her father would change with Grace’s arrival into her life. Before she could think too much into it, the meal was cooked, and the table set for three.
Once the preparations were complete, Emily grabbed a book and flopped onto the couch, intending to read until Grace arrived. She had barely finished a chapter when she heard the doorbell ring. Quickly leaping to her feet, she was unsure whether to open the door or let her father answer it. Thankfully, she heard her father answering the door. Peeking over the sofa, Emily could see her father greeting Grace at the door. He kissed her on the cheek and invited her inside.
As he led her into the kitchen, Emily felt that it was time to pop out of her hiding place. Her father noticed her casually walking into the kitchen. “Grace, this is my daughter Emily.”
“It’s nice to meet you, Emily,” Grace said, smiling and extending a hand. Her voice was lower than Emily expected it to be. “I’ve heard many things about you.”
“All of them good, I hope,” Emily responded shyly as she shook her hand. She was struck by how pretty Grace looked in her patterned white and turquoise dress. “You look really pretty,” she said without thinking.
Grace beamed. “Thanks, Emily! You look gorgeous, too!”
Emily blushed at that.
Her father guided them both to the dining table, where Grace was impressed by the array of food they’d prepared for her. The vegetable stew they had cooked together was the main attraction, supported by a healthy arrangement of fruits and snacks. As they all sat down and ate, Emily felt a little miffed at having to share this tradition with another person.
“Mmm,” Grace said with food in her mouth as she regarded her hearty meal. “This is really good, Luke!”
Emily saw her father grin. “Thanks! Actually, Emily and I made it together.”
Grace looked impressed. “Oh wow, that’s awesome! Do you guys cook together often?”
Emily nodded. “We usually do it on special occasions.”
“Well, I hope I can join in sometime too,” Grace said.
For some reason, this didn’t sit well with Emily. She knew Grace meant well, but she kind of liked how it was just her and her father spending time together. Having a third person would ruin the experience.
The rest of the dinner went well. Grace spent most of the meal getting to know Emily. Emily told Grace about her school life, including how she was on the soccer team. Once dinner was finished, Emily’s father put on a movie for them all to watch. It was Acquired, a relatively recent action thriller that Emily had wanted to watch for a while.
As they watched the movie in silence, Emily’s eyes flicked to her father and Grace, cuddling together on the couch nearby. Grace smiled as Emily’s father put his arm around her and pulled her closer. Emily noticed that her father seemed extremely happy around Grace.
She found herself blushing once again. Watching movies after dinner was another one of her special traditions with her father. Would life with Grace be like this? Would she have to make room for one more person in her life? Emily wasn’t sure if she was ready for such a big change in her life.
Once the movie was finished, Grace stood up and got ready to leave.
“Thanks, Luke, I had a great time today!” she gave him a kiss before turning to Emily. “It was nice meeting you, Emily,” she said, giving her an awkward hug. “I hope we’ll see each other again soon.”
Emily nodded, unsure of what to say.
Once Grace was gone, Emily breathed a sigh of relief.
“What did you think of her?” her father asked.
“Yeah, she’s cool,” Emily said, avoiding eye contact. “I have to get to bed. I’ll see you tomorrow.” As she walked up to her room, she looked back and saw the concerned look on her father’s face. She was unsure about how she felt about Grace. She liked how she made her father happy, but on the other hand, she wasn’t sure how having her for a mother would change her relationship with her father. One thing was for sure: she would have to discuss this with Mia tomorrow.
The next day was the last school day before Winter Break. The halls of Angel Grove Middle School were decked out in the holiday spirit. Emily’s father drove her to school in silence. She felt bad about causing this rift. Emily powered through the day, looking forward to asking Mia for advice on the bus. But first: Lunch.
Entering the cafeteria, she headed for a table in the back, where a bunch of her friends on the soccer team sat.
“Hey, Em! I brought cookies!” her teammate Alexa said.
“Oooh!” Emily rubbed her hands together as she sat down. “Can’t wait to try one!”
“Wait, Em!” Alexa said. “Don’t take one from the-
Emily took a cookie from the tin at the center of the table and popped it in her mouth, eager for something sweet to ease her unsure feelings.
Immediately, she knew something was wrong.
Her throat began to burn and her tongue started to tingle. Just like that, Emily found it difficult to breathe. Her vision started to blur, and she started to cough. These familiar sensations…though it hadn’t happened in a while, she knew without a doubt what was happening.
“P-Peanut allergy,” she coughed out. She could faintly see her friends scrambling, frantically yelling for help. Emily felt a rising sense of panic in her stomach.
Is this it? Am I going to die?
She blacked out.
Emily woke up to vastly different surroundings. From the IV drip hooked up to her arm and the gown she was wearing, she seemed to be in the hospital, though there wasn’t a doctor in sight.
“Hello?” she whispered.
On cue, the door opened and a woman wearing a white coat walked in. “Emily Rose Parker?” she asked. Emily nodded in response.
“Glad to see you feeling better, Emily!” the woman said, smiling. “I’m Dr. Becker. It looks like you had an allergic reaction at school. You want to tell me what happened?”
Emily told her about what had happened at lunch.
“Yeah…” Dr. Becker said once she was finished. “It looks like the cookie you ate had peanuts in it. Remember to check the ingredients to see if it’s safe before eating anything, okay?”
Emily nodded, a little annoyed. She’d heard this speech countless times from both her father and her doctors.
“Good! Well, you should be able to go home once the IV is done,” Dr. Becker said. “But for now, there’s someone here to see you.”
A soft smile emerged on Emily’s lips as she waited for her father to come in and take care of her.
She was shocked when Dr. Becker left the room, and Grace walked in.
“Hi, Emily,” she said, pulling up a chair and sitting beside her.
“Uh…hi” Emily was flabbergasted. “Where’s Dad?”
“He really wanted to come get you, but he got held up at work,” Grace replied. “so he sent me instead.”
Emily remained silent, so Grace continued. “I feel like that was for the best…because we need to talk, Emily.”
Emily felt a little nervous. Did Grace know how she felt?
“Your father told me about how you mother abandoned you,” Grace said. “I imagine that must have been very hurtful for you.”
Emily was a little surprised at how much Grace knew about her already. She nodded silently in answer.
“I know how you feel…” Grace continued, her voice lowering to just above a whisper. “My mother abandoned me too.”
Emily was shocked to hear those words come out of Grace’s mouth. Even though she was only five at the time, she still remembered how hurt she felt when she woke up and realized her mother was never coming back. Finding someone who could related was nigh impossible…until now. “I’m really sorry to hear that,” she whispered.
Grace nodded and paused for a moment. Then, she continued, talking faster, as if she was letting it all out. “I just wanted to say that, I know how it feels to be left alone like that, and…if I come to live with you and your dad…” She took Emily’s hand and squeezed it. “I won’t abandon you, Emily. I promise.”
Emily made eye contact with Grace. She looked so caring, with tears filling in her eyes. For the first time, Emily realized that she was looking at a woman worthy of her dad’s affections.
She squeezed Grace’s hand. “Thank you,” She gave her a big smile, signaling that everything was good between them. Grace smiled back.
The sound of the door slamming open grabbed their attention and Emily’s father burst in.
“Emily!” He ran up to the bed and kissed his daughter’s forehead. “I came as fast as I could. Are you okay!?”
“Yeah, Dad…” Emily smiled at her father and Grace, recognizing that her family was finally complete. “I’m good.”