"Oh, youre so sweet, Maria," I say, then hug her.

Nathan points to me. "She thinks Im a dork because I wear old clothes and have glasses. "

"Well, he thinks Im 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 hes got Bucky. "

"Bicky. "

"Whatever. "

"Yep," Maria says, then saunters to the supply room like she knows whats going on. "You guys definitely like each other. "

Nathan starts to laugh.

"Its not funny," I say. More customers come into the café, so its my chance to say to Nathan, "Please order or step aside so I can wait on someone else. "

"Ill have a medium green tea with ice, no sweetener," he says, diverting my attention back to him.

Figures hed order something so plain.

After I take his money and turn around to make his boring drink, Nathan says so only I can hear, "Dont 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. Hes wearing dark jeans and a black long-sleeve tee. Ive convinced him to grow his hair out a bit, so he resembles a cuter and cooler dad but hes 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 hes pretending to read the computer screen, but I know hes not reading a damn thing. Hes wondering if Ill 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?"

"Yep. "

"Great. where to?"

I grab my dads 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. "Im sorry I yelled at you yesterday," I say. "I just want you to be happy. "

"Im sorry, too. You didnt 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.

"Youre getting a haircut?" he asks when he realizes Sheer-Ahz is a salon.

"Nope. "

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! "Were getting manicures. "

"You mean youre getting a manicure. "

"Nope. You heard me right the first time, Aba. "

"Men dont get manicures. "

"Come, on. Havent you heard of metrosexual men?"

My dad shakes his head. "No. And Im sure I dont want to be one. "

"Didnt you say I could pick what we do tonight?"

"Yes, but--"

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 hes not afraid of anything, but Ive 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. "

"Cant we bond by playing indoor soccer or something like that?" he says.

"I dont 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 doesnt 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 youre waiting. "

My dad turns to me and says, "Did she just say meditation room?" in his deep, manly voice. I swear hes making it sound deeper than usual.

Once inside the white silk-draped room with scented candles and soft music, he looks nervous. I dont think a retired Israeli commando has ever been in a place like this. Hed 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 shes got nothing on underneath. Shes reading one of the complimentary magazines and doesnt 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.

"Id 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. "

"Thats 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 were sitting down next to each other, the nail technician takes my dads hand and places it in a small container of soapy water.

"I dont want a color," he tells the woman right away.

I want to groan. Does he honestly think theyre 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, youve 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 dads hands. She smiles sweetly at him, then continues to work magic with my fingers.

I can tell when my dads 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 wouldnt immediately think he was Jewish, though. I wonder if he ever wanted to be something other than what he is.

Because I never thought Id want to be any religion, but now I feel different. Being Jewish isnt a choice; its a part of me. A part I just discovered, but its 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 dont want a big shindig. "Id just like Jessica and a few other friends to come over afterward. And Mom and Marc. You know, if its okay with you. "

"Its fine. In fact, its great. "

Hes watching intently as his cuticles are cut and fortified and his nails are shaped. I think hes enjoying it as much as I am, but Im 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 were 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, Id like to know exactly what it is. Dont 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 doesnt stick his hands underneath the fluorescent blue light. "Lets talk about Avi," he says, still refusing to put his hands under the light.

"Why?"

He shrugs. "I just want to know if youre still an item. "

"Dad, the word item went out in the seventies but yes, I still like him. I mean, we havent been able to see each other but Im hoping in the summer when we go back to Israel hell get time off. " I take a sideways look at my dad. "You know hes my non-boyfriend, right?"

"What exactly does that mean?" he asks. "Ive heard you and Jessica using the phrase, but I dont get it. "

I check my nails to see if theyre still tacky and need more ultra-violet rays but theyre as dry as my stepdads liquor cabinet. I hop off the stool Ive been sitting on, trying to explain the relationship label Avi wanted. "It means we can see other people because we obviously cant physically be together. Theres no commitment. Were casual, great friends. Get it?"

He nods. "Got it. "

"Speaking of casual friends, I have a surprise for you. "

"Its not another online date, is it?"

"Oh, no," I say, shaking my head vigorously. "Its a bunch of dates. Tonight. Speed dating at the Blues Bar on Chicago Avenue and you have to be there in fifteen minutes. Dont worry about impressing anyone. You only have three minutes for each date. Its all about making a connection. "

15

***

Israel is tiny, yet everyone fights over it. I guess its 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.

"Hes 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 arent compatible. Shes into mushy romantic guys and my dad is. . . well, hes not. Hes Israeli.

I walk up to the guy running the program, a balding guy with a ring of red hair around his scalp. Hes got a nametag on his chest with the word LARRY in big black letters. "My dad couldnt make it," I tell Larry, looking over his notes. The bar is crowded. I refuse to cancel my dads 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 cant do that. Did you read the rules?" The guy doesnt even question what a seventeen-year-old is doing in a bar in the first place.

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