“Papa, story—please?” three-yr.-old Mandy begged as she snuggled under her pink comforter for the night.
“All right, princess. Which one will it be this time?”
The irresistible dimples had been the undoing of him early on, nestled as they were at each corner of the toddler’s smiling mouth.
“Goldilocks and the Three Bears,” she answered, handing him the little book on her nightstand.
Ned Belling turned the pages softly so that his tired little girl would drift into dreamland, undisturbed, his muted deep voice rolling the words easily over his child’s sleepy form.
“Once upon a time . . .”
“Here, Daddy, stand still! Let me help you with your tie,” the young woman standing on tiptoes in her gray graduation cap and gown admonished.
“Have I told you how proud of you I am, Amanda?”
“Only three times today, but who’s counting?” her dimples to the ready.
“That diploma is very impressive, you know.”
“Thanks, Dad. Hey, what did you think of my thesis?”
“Baby, I’m sorry. Work has been so busy and I didn’t want to be in a hurry—I want to savor every word.”
The brief shadow that had passed across her eyes evaporated as if it had never been.
“Sure, Dad, I understand,” patting his tie knot one last time.
“Your mother would have cried at the sight of you, you’re so beautiful, honey,” Ned complimented his daughter who was all decked out in her bridal finery.
“Oh, Daddy, I’m so nervous! Are you sure I look okay? Could you stand in for Dean and practice our vows with me?” she thrust a sheaf of paper into his unwilling hands.
“Uh, I don’t think your husband-to-be would appreciate the disparity, Mandy. Besides, I’d like to hear the words from his mouth for the first time when he delivers them to you, Baby.”
The organ music began the prelude, their cue to begin the traditional walk down the aisle.
“Say ‘Hey’ to your new grandson, Gramps. He’s got your eyes,” Mandy’s dimples giving away her pride.
“He’s you, Baby. I’ll never forget the first time I laid eyes on you. Most beautiful baby I ever saw—‘til now,” and he smiled tenderly at the blue-blanketed bundle. “Think he’ll have your dimples?”
“We’ll probably know the first time you read him a story, Daddy,” Mandy’s eyes twinkling through her tears.
And, as Ned Belling gazed upon his newborn grandbaby, a new worry burdened him. Amanda had escaped his malady, but what if it skipped a generation? Suddenly, he was tired. Of the sham his life was, of all the pretending, the lies, the deception and the shame—always, the shame.
“Honey, about that first story,” he began slowly, “there’s something I need to tell you. This will be a shock, I know, but you need to know. You see, I’m intellectually slow. And because of being dumb, I never learned to read. Teachers tried, but . . .I’m so sorry and ashamed. But, it’s important for you to know this in case little Ned has trouble learning. I hear there have been great strides in this field and he can be helped a lot better than I was.”
His daughter’s face softened in pity. “Dad, I’ve known you can’t read for some time, but you are definitely NOT dumb or slow. Dyslexia is difficult to deal with.
“How did you find out?”
“Mom ended up confirming my suspicions before she died. She told me about all those hours she would read my books to you so that you memorized them to pretend to read to me. You aren’t dumb! That takes intelligence, Dad, not to mention a deep love. I didn’t say anything out of respect for your wishes in this matter, but I have NEVER been ashamed of you!”
Amanda smiles as she dusts the carefully framed prize photograph. Side-by-side, her child and her father are sitting, surrounded by balloons and scrolled diplomas, little Ned having graduated from first grade and Gramps Ned, from an excellent Adult Dyslexia Clinic. Instead of posing for the camera, they are engrossed on the book spread across both their laps, a favorite story about dinosaurs that her dad definitely did NOT memorize. Little Ned’s smile, adorned with dimples, matches the one on her father’s face as he reads.
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