Jonathan struggled for the third time to get the knot right in the tie before giving up and throwing it on the bed. “I just won’t wear a tie,” he grumbled.
“What?” he growled in response to a knock on the door.
“It’s us, Jonny. Can we come in?”
“Yeah, sure,” Jonathan responded to his twin sisters, Bella and Lola. They bounced into the room and hopped onto the bed, giggling as only eight-year-olds can.
“Jonny’s going on a date,” Bella sang, Lola joining in.
“Stop, or I’ll make you leave.” Jonathan shook his finger as he grabbed the tie.
“Whatcha wearing a tie for?” Lola asked, putting her hands over her mouth and giggling.
“Cause,” he answered, giving up after one more try.
“How come we can’t go on a date? Ask Mommy if we can go on a date,” Bella said, getting on her knees and bouncing.
Jonathan sighed, rummaging through the closet in pursuit of a clip-on tie. “No, you can’t go. You’re both too young for dates. Besides, this is special.”
“What you gonna do on your date?”
“Go out to dinner at a fancy restaurant. Maybe I’ll order a hamburger, though. What do think about that?” Jonathan grinned at his sisters. He used to consider them pests, but during the past six months, he’d tried to be more patient with them.
The girls watched as he sorted through several clip-on ties. “My friend Caroline says people kiss on dates,” Bella said, and Lola giggled.
“Don’t be silly. You’re both silly-heads. What do you like better? The blue striped or the gray plain?” Jonathan held up two ties for his sisters’ inspection.
“Blue,” both girls said at once.
“Blue it is then.” Jonathan clipped it on and looked at himself in the full length mirror. Turning around to face the girls, he asked, “So? Do I look handsome?”
“You look funny. That’s Daddy’s suit.” Bella puckered out her lower lip.
“Yes, Daddy’s suit. It makes me sad,” Lola said, moving closer to Bella and taking her hand.
Jonathan glanced at his sisters, afraid they would start crying. He just couldn’t deal with his sisters crying today. “Okay, let’s play a game. Tell me fun things to do on a date. Bella, you start.”
The girls spent five minutes going back and forth picking things like a movie, playing in the park, going to the zoo, shopping for toys, and going ice skating. When they tired of it, they looked bored, and then pensive.
“How old can we be to go on a date, Jonny?” Bella asked.
“Yeah, Jonny, how old?” Lola chimed in.
“Thirty!” Jonathan replied, grinning from ear to ear. It produced what he wanted. Both girls rolled on the bed in laughter.
“Caroline’s sister said boys that don’t drive aren’t fun dates. You don’t drive, Jonny. You’re fifteen,” Bella said.
“Yeah, Jonny. You don’t drive. Who’s driving on your date?” Lola asked, placing her hands on her hips.
Jonathan ran his hands through his hair. “Duh! Mom’s driving.” He stood to look at himself in the mirror again, studying his reflection. The suit was a little big, but not too much. It felt awkward and uncomfortable, and he considered changing, but decided not to.
When he turned to look at his sisters, he saw they both were crying. “No, no, don’t cry. Please. It will make Mom sad.”
“You look like Daddy,” Lola said, her chin quivering.
“I miss Daddy. I want him to come back. We both want him to come home,” Bella said, wiping her hand under her nose.
Jonathan stood, feeling the tears brimming in his own eyes. He sat next to his sisters and pulled them close. “I miss Dad, too. I wish he could come back, but he can’t. You both know that. Today is a special day. It’s Mom’s birthday. Dad asked me if I could be the one to take her on a date to their special restaurant. He knew he couldn’t, knew he wouldn’t be here. He bought her a gift. You want to see?”
The girls nodded, so Jonathan went to a drawer and pulled out a small brightly wrapped box. “I don’t want to mess up the wrapping. Dad did himself. It’s a gold heart necklace. Think Mom will be happy?”
The girls nodded. “Can you show us again Afghanistan on the map so we can see where Daddy is?” Lola asked. “And tell us how many days til he comes home.”
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