The Best Valentine's Date I Ever Had

When I was about eight years old, I was certain of only three things: Avatar: The Last Airbender was the best show in the history of television, my dog was significantly cuter than my best friend's cat, and that cute boy in my class and I were going to spend the rest of our lives together. The only thing left to figure out was making my move—and what better time is there than Valentine's Day?

Being the youngest of two girls, I relied on the middle school wisdom of my sister: there's no boy's heart you can't One, Two Step your way into. Ask him if he is going to the Valentine's dance and say "cool, see you there." Don't ask him to go with you. Don't flirt. Don't drop any hints. When you get there, make sure that he sees you dancing, but don't engage. You don't want to look like you want him to look at you. If he approaches you, it's game on. Simple, right? 

There is one factor that my sister didn't consider. She was a cute Olsen mini-me with a surprisingly good sense of rhythm, while I was a female Coconut Head with all of the poise of Jar Jar Binks. When the time came to ask him about the dance, I did exactly as instructed until he threw a curveball. Instead of simply answering yes or no, he responded with "why do you care?" Panicking, I pointed at him then myself, and I made a heart with both hands. In my mind, I looked cool, like when Fred Weasley asked Angelina Johnson to the Yule Ball. Clearly, he did not think the same. 

Well and truly rejected, I don't remember what exactly he said next. My hands came apart, mimicking a heart breaking, which sent his friends into roaring laughter. For the rest of the day, boys would do the same heartbreak gesture at me and laugh. I tried to laugh with them, but the damage was done. Not only had I blown any chance of dancing with the boy I liked, but at this rate, any member of the opposite gender would just as soon lick a toilet seat than be seen with me. 

When my grandparents picked me up from school that day, I let them see all of the cute, cheap Valentine's Day cards I got. Nanny went on and on about how great she thought it was that everybody gave everybody else something, that way no one would feel left out. I listened quietly and nodded when prompted to, and she was none the wiser about my inner embarrassment. Papa, on the other hand, spotted that something was wrong the second I got in the car.

Upon reaching their house, I grabbed my back and dashed back to my mom's old bedroom. Nanny had laid out a dress for me to wear that night. Pretty, pink, and puffy, it checked off my elementary style wishlist. I stared at it for a minute, then I tossed it aside. Why even bother going to the dance now? Who would even dance with me? Oh God, what will my sister say when I tell her?

"Ahem," Papa cleared his throat from the doorway. "What's going on?"

"Nothing," I responded.

"Then what's all that about?" he asked, nodding to the dress on the floor.

"I just wanted to sit on the bed," I said, sitting down. "It was blocking me."

"You didn't hug me from the back seat when you got in the truck," Papa said.

"What?"

"Every time we pick you up, you always reach forward and give me a neck hug," Papa answered. "Today, you tossed Nanny your treat bag and slumped down. Now, think carefully before you answer, what is going on?"

"Papa, would you dance with me?" I asked.

"What kind of question is that?" he responded, taking a seat next to me.

"I mean, if you were a boy, would you dance with me?" I repeated.

"Of course, I would," he said, adding after an awkward silence: "Who said he wouldn't?"

Before I could answer, the wave of tears I had been holding back burst free. I leaned on his arm and wailed. We sat like that for a few minutes, and when I was done, he told me to clean myself up and get dressed. I wiped off my face, brushed my hair, and put on my dress. As I entered the living room, I noticed Papa had added a tie to his short-sleeved dress shirt. He smiled and held out his arm, and we were on our way.

Papa, ever the perfect gentleman, escorted me into the dance and bought me a pink rose. If I wanted something to eat or drink, he made sure I had it. If I wanted to dance, my then 81-year-old grandfather rose to his feet and obliged me. And when that familiar Ciara tune played and everyone did the same routine, Papa said I did it better than any girl in that gym. If anyone tried to give me a hard time, the memories are long gone. Instead, I remember having an amazing time with one of the most important people in my life. For that, I am truly grateful, and I know that Papa will always be the best Valentine's Day date I ever had.