"Oh, you're so sweet, Maria," I say, then hug her.
Nathan points to me. "She thinks I'm a dork because I wear old clothes and have glasses."
"Well, he thinks I'm a bitch because I say out loud what everyone else is thinking."
"You know what I think?" Maria says, stepping closer to the counter.
Nathan and I say, "What?" in unison.
"I think you two like each other."
I roll my eyes while Nathan does a shiver as if the thought of liking me grosses him out.
"Nope," he says.
"Not at all" I say. "Besides, I have Avi. And he's got Bucky."
"Yep," Maria says, then saunters to the supply room like she knows what's going on. "You guys definitely like each other."
Nathan starts to laugh.
"It's not funny," I say. More customers come into the café, so it's my chance to say to Nathan, "Please order or step aside so I can wait on someone else."
"I'll have a medium green tea with ice, no sweetener," he says, diverting my attention back to him.
Figures he'd order something so plain.
After I take his money and turn around to make his boring drink, Nathan says so only I can hear, "Don't spit in it."
As if I would. Puh leaze.
I hand his drink to him and focus my attention on the other customers.
The hour goes by fast. Making drinks, cleaning off the tables, and ignoring Nathan typing away in the computer corner is exhausting, though. I sigh in relief when my dad walks through the door to pick me up.
My dad has already changed clothes from work. He's wearing dark jeans and a black long-sleeve tee. I've convinced him to grow his hair out a bit, so he resembles a cuter and cooler dad but he's still got about two months to go before he can get a good style going.
"Hey, Aba," I greet him.
Out of the corner of my eye I swear I see Nathan watching us.
"How was school today?" my dad asks. I look over at Nathan. Now he's pretending to read the computer screen, but I know he's not reading a damn thing. He's wondering if I'll tell my dad what happened in the cafeteria. "Nothing much. What about you?"
My dad kisses the top of my head. "Just preparing for a presentation in D.C. You ready to go?"
"Great. where to?"
I grab my dad's elbow and journey into the cold outside air. "Follow me," I say, leading him down State Street.
I lean into my dad to try and soak up some of the warmth of his strong commando arm. "I'm sorry I yelled at you yesterday," I say. "I just want you to be happy."
"I'm sorry, too. You didn't make any more dates for me, did you?"
"Here we are," I tell him as we turn down artsy Oak Street with the designer shops and upscale salons. I pull him into the first building we come to, a place called Sheer-Ahz. I purposely leave out the speed-dating thing I signed him up for at the last minute.
"You're getting a haircut?" he asks when he realizes Sheer-Ahz is a salon.
He halts his steps abruptly. "Then why the salon?" I look up at him and smile widely as if he was a customer at Perk Me Up! "We're getting manicures."
"You mean you're getting a manicure."
"Nope. You heard me right the first time, Aba."
"Men don't get manicures."
"Come, on. Haven't you heard of metrosexual men?"
My dad shakes his head. "No. And I'm sure I don't want to be one."
"Didn't you say I could pick what we do tonight?"
I turn to my dad, one of the few people who takes my crap and loves me despite it. Maybe even more because of it. My dad pretends he's not afraid of anything, but I've just uncovered his weakness... getting his nails trimmed and shaped. Give me a break. "This is what I want to do. My nails are all dry and cracked. Think of it as daddy/ daughter bonding time."
"Can't we bond by playing indoor soccer or something like that?" he says.
"I don't do soccer. I do manicures." I pull all six feet of him up to the front desk. "We have appointments for two manicures," I inform the lady. "For Amy and Ron Barak."
She doesn't flinch as she punches our names in the computer, writes something on two tickets, and hands them to us. "Feel free to have refreshments in the meditation room while you're waiting."
My dad turns to me and says, "Did she just say meditation room?" in his deep, manly voice. I swear he's making it sound deeper than usual.
Once inside the white silk-draped room with scented candles and soft music, he looks nervous. I don't think a retired Israeli commando has ever been in a place like this. He'd probably look more at home in the desert. Or in a war zone.
There are no other guys in the room, just a lady in a terry cloth robe. I bet she's got nothing on underneath. She's reading one of the complimentary magazines and doesn't pay any attention to us.
"Sit down," I tell my dad while I sink into the plushy, soft, cream-colored chair and breathe to the rhythm of the slow music.
"I'd rather stand," he says tersely.
My eyes close as my mind drifts. "Suit yourself."
After a few minutes, two women dressed in long, white coats call out, "Ron and Amy Barak."
"That's us," he says, then clasps his hands together and rubs them back and forth. The sound is making me cringe and everyone is staring at him. Real smooth, Dad.
When we're sitting down next to each other, the nail technician takes my dad's hand and places it in a small container of soapy water.
"I don't want a color," he tells the woman right away.
I want to groan. Does he honestly think they're going to make his nails a brilliant red or fuchsia pink? "Aba, guys get clear. Or just a buff." Duh.
"Oh. Okay...I think."
Seriously, take a guy out of his element and he gets all confused and insecure. My own nail technician, Sue, is expertly massaging my wrists, palms, and hands as they turn to Jell-O under her skilled touch.
"My daughter made me come here," my dad tells the women, but he says it loud enough so everyone in the small salon can hear him. Go, manly man! Yes, tell all women you a strong warrior man. Spare me.
"Aba, you've got calluses and your skin is all dry and cracked. I swear you look like a dinosaur. Right, Sue? Just look at his paws."
Sue is extremely non-committal as she glances at my dad's hands. She smiles sweetly at him, then continues to work magic with my fingers.
I can tell when my dad's nail tech starts his own hand massage. His shoulders, for the first time since we got here, slump into relaxation mode.
His hair has curled from the dampness in the air, making him look younger and vulnerable. I wonder if he was ever insecure. As a teen did he go through an awkward stage or was he hard and manly and confident since the day he was born?
My dad looks Middle Eastern with his dark olive complexion, dark features, and strong chiseled nose. If he was a stranger, I wouldn't immediately think he was Jewish, though. I wonder if he ever wanted to be something other than what he is.
Because I never thought I'd want to be any religion, but now I feel different. Being Jewish isn't a choice; it's a part of me. A part I just discovered, but it's significant in any case.
"After I convert I want a bat mitzvah," I tell my dad, bringing him to attention.
"With a big party?" he asks.
Thinking about it more, I decide I don't want a big shindig. "I'd just like Jessica and a few other friends to come over afterward. And Mom and Marc. You know, if it's okay with you."
"It's fine. In fact, it's great."
He's watching intently as his cuticles are cut and fortified and his nails are shaped. I think he's enjoying it as much as I am, but I'm not sure if my "manly man" dad will admit it.
I pick a French manicure while he picks out a sheer, almost invisible bottle of polish.
When we're done, the nail techs lead us into the drying area and instruct us to place our wet nails under ultraviolet lights to get them to dry fast.
I put my hands under the lights while my dad picks up his ultra-violet light machine and examines it.
"Put that down before you get us in trouble," I whisper.
"Before I stick my hands under something, I'd like to know exactly what it is. Don't be so trusting, Amy," he advises, going into Homeland Security mode.
I chuckle. "Yeah, the nail technicians are the enemy. Be afraid. Be very afraid."
He puts the machine down but still doesn't stick his hands underneath the fluorescent blue light. "Let's talk about Avi," he says, still refusing to put his hands under the light.
He shrugs. "I just want to know if you're still an item."
"Dad, the word 'item' went out in the seventies but yes, I still like him. I mean, we haven't been able to see each other but I'm hoping in the summer when we go back to Israel he'll get time off." I take a sideways look at my dad. "You know he's my non-boyfriend, right?"
"What exactly does that mean?" he asks. "I've heard you and Jessica using the phrase, but I don't get it."
I check my nails to see if they're still tacky and need more ultra-violet rays but they're as dry as my stepdad's liquor cabinet. I hop off the stool I've been sitting on, trying to explain the relationship label Avi wanted. "It means we can see other people because we obviously can't physically be together. There's no commitment. We're casual, great friends. Get it?"
He nods. "Got it."
"Speaking of casual friends, I have a surprise for you."
"It's not another online date, is it?"
"Oh, no," I say, shaking my head vigorously. "It's a bunch of dates. Tonight. Speed dating at the Blues Bar on Chicago Avenue and you have to be there in fifteen minutes. Don't worry about impressing anyone. You only have three minutes for each date. It's all about making a connection."
Israel is tiny, yet everyone fights over it. I guess it's true that the biggest and best things come in small packages.
My manipulation skills obviously need help, because my dad refused to even step one foot inside the bar for the speed dating night.
Standing in front of the bar, I wait until the bouncer is preoccupied and slink inside without him noticing.
"He's not coming?" Maria is there, wearing a black scooped-neck dress. She got so excited when I told her about the speed dating she decided to sign up, too. She and my dad aren't compatible. She's into mushy romantic guys and my dad is...well, he's not. He's Israeli.
I walk up to the guy running the program, a balding guy with a ring of red hair around his scalp. He's got a nametag on his chest with the word LARRY in big black letters. "My dad couldn't make it," I tell Larry, looking over his notes. The bar is crowded. I refuse to cancel my dad's reservation to date twenty women in an hour and a half.
Larry looks up at me. "Your dad?"
"Yeah, I kind of signed him up."
"You can't do that. Did you read the rules?" The guy doesn't even question what a seventeen-year-old is doing in a bar in the first place.