As I bent over to pick up my camera I saw my date frantically rummage through her purse while I wasn’t looking. We both leaned back up to the table at the same time and blinked at each other.
“Clara, what did you just do?”
The little girl’s smile was a tight line and her eyes glanced back and forth across the restaurant. “Hmm?”
“Just now when I was getting my camera. You did something in your purse.”
She giggled nervously, “What? No.” She waved a hand dismissively.
I sighed. If I had learned anything in my role as a father, it was not to press a woman when she is hiding something. But as I brought my camera up to my eye and aimed it across the table I figured out what had happened. I slowly lowered the camera without taking a picture.
“Clara, you smeared lip gloss on your cheeks didn’t you?”
She raised her eyebrows and tried to look down at her own face, “What?”
“The lip gloss you asked me buy you at the toy store. You put it on your face just now, didn’t you? Ooooh! I know why. You did it because it’s sparkly, didn’t you? You wanted to have red sparkly cheeks in the picture?”
I noticed too late that her cheeks were turning a little bit more red the more I unraveled the situation. Her smile didn’t change. I realized I had probably gone too far with my detective work. “Okay. I’m sorry. Just, don’t put lip gloss on your face. That’s not what it’s for, alright?”
She said nothing, still waiting for me to take the picture. Finally, I gave in. I raised the camera and then brought it back down after a single click.
I tried to ignore this awkward interaction and move on with the date as gracefully as possible. I passed it off as just a misunderstanding. In fact, the entire pretense of the date had been a misunderstanding. Earlier in the week Clara had been following me around while I was getting ready for work, and at some point, while I was noisily brushing my teeth with an electric toothbrush, I had accidentally agreed to take her on a date the following Friday evening. I didn’t realize this until the next day when my wife asked me about it and informed me that my daughter was obsessively planning all of the details of her Daddy-Daughter date. She was counting down the days. By that point it was too late to even think about backing out. Not that I didn’t want to take my daughter out on a date, but it took a bit of adjustment to clear my schedule and beg a favor of my wife who would be left at home babysitting the other two kids while we went out to shop at toy stores and eat at a fancy restaurant in town.
“Do you want more Naan bread? I tore off a piece of the Indian flat bread and handed it to her.”
She shook her head, “No thank you. It’s too spicy.”
“Too spicy?!” I sputtered, “Clara, it’s just bread! It’s pretty much just a pancake. How could you think that pancakes are spicy?”
“They are here,” she insisted with a shrug.
“Whatever,” I shoved the piece of bread into my mouth and went back to watching the Indian music videos on the other side of the room. “Anyway,” I said, “if it’s spicy you can drink some water and it will go away pretty quick.”
She was quiet for a few seconds and I turned to face her again. “Dad,” she said cautiously, “Dad, the water here is also spicy.”
I sank a few inches in my seat, “You’re kidding me?”
She frowned at her water glass.
“Your water is too spicy?” I scratched my head. I had been on my fair share of failed dates in my life, but this was really starting to work its way up in the list. I was still considering this when the waitress arrived with our butter chicken. I cleared a place on the table and motioned with my hand. “I guess you should probably just put everything on my side.” I noticed Clara sigh, as if in relief. I winked at her, but she just smiled back with the same uneasy mysterious smile.
“You want to try some?” I offered her a fork with a piece of chicken on the end of it.
She stared at it for a few seconds before nodding and placing it in her mouth. She chewed, her face turned a darker shade of pink, she looked at her water glass, and then back up at me, still smiling, she rested her chin on her hand and swallowed like it was the hardest thing she had ever done in her life.
“It’s good Daddy,” she said.
“You want some more?”
“No,” she said softly, “But this is the best dinner I have ever had.”
I slowly wrapped a warm piece of chicken into the last triangle of naan bread and then dipped it in a small bowl of green sauce. “It really is, isn’t it?”