Leaning over the counter, my daughter ordered the same meal she always had at our favorite taqueria: a quesadilla, no salsa, no sour cream. I wasn't sure what I wanted to eat. But that wasn't all I was uncertain about.
I'd thought that bringing my 8-year-old to a familiar place to meet my new boyfriend was a good idea. But now I felt awkward. "She's going to be shy," I'd warned Chris the night before.
My daughter followed me to a table and slid into the chair next to me, our elbows touching. She grabbed a tortilla chip and crunched into it, looking straight at Chris. "Have you seen Nacho Libre?" she asked.
"Seen it? I own it," he said with a big grin, referring to the Jack Black movie.
"You do?" She jumped out of her seat. "Can I come over and watch it?" I guess I'd been wrong about shy.
After dinner, we all walked back to my car, making plans for our Jack Black movie night. "Thank you," I whispered, wanting to kiss Chris but instead taking a step back as my daughter wrapped her thin arms around him.
"See you soon," she said. I was silent as we drove to our apartment, just the two of us, the way it had always been. When my daughter was a baby, her father had left the country to start a new life, and I'd been a solo mom since. I wasn't going to let another man hurt me -- or her.
At home I climbed into my daughter's bed, as I did every night. First, I waited for her to rearrange her pillows -- the firm one, followed by the mushy ones. When she was ready, she laid her head down. It was time for us to talk about her day, something we've done since she was a baby. Without fail, dusk transformed her into an orator.
In the glow of her nightlight, she told me about school, her hands making shadows on the wall. Although she said nothing about Chris, I couldn't stop thinking about him. How would I know that he wouldn't bail on us, like my ex did?
Two weeks later, my daughter and her girlfriend were lining up dolls on our deck for a tea party when Chris biked over.
My daughter ran to him as he pulled out a bag. "Madeleines!" she shrieked. "Thank you! They're my favorite!" Chris was beaming.
Then she requested he join them. "Sit down!" she ordered Chris, pointing to the cloth on the ground that billowed in the wind.
Chris obeyed, slipping off his hard clip-on cycling shoes so they wouldn't tear the fabric.