“Abby, hurry up! Breakfast is almost ready!”
Preston Pruitt turned away from the hot stove as he hollered for his daughter, then turned back to flip over the small, four-inch round pancakes sizzling in the frying pan. He was careful not to break any—Abby didn’t like it when the pancakes fell apart, no matter how many times he pointed out they still tasted the same.
Aesthetics meant everything to his precocious eight-year-old daughter, which was part of the reason why she took so long getting ready in the morning. Or, at least, why her breakfast took so long for him to get just right. None of the patrons at the River City Restaurant where he worked every day complained about his cooking half as much as Abby did when it came to what went on her plate
First, the pancakes had to be the right golden shade—not too raw, and not too burnt. Then the syrup had to be the right consistency—not too runny, not too thick. On top of the pancakes, the butter had to be melted enough to puddle but still hold its pat-like shape. Getting everything just right and on the table in front of her was a carefully coordinated balancing act Preston went through every morning before he had to take her to school.
And if she didn’t come downstairs right this second, the whole production would tumble down around him like a falling house of cards.
“Abigail Louise!” he yelled, putting a little steel into his voice to show he meant business. “Right this minute!”
Finally, she answered. “Coming!”
There was enough attitude in the word to tell him he might not want her to come down after all. At least he only had to put up with it for another forty-five minutes or so, long enough to get her to school. After that, she would be someone else’s problem for the next six hours, more than enough time for her mood to improve.
Heavy footsteps clomped down the steps. He almost called out a reminder for her not to run, but thought better of it. Scooping the pancakes out of the pan, he stacked them on her plate the way she liked, then added a pat of butter in between each to make sure they were buttery. The pat on top was extra thick so it wouldn’t melt too soon. The syrup went into the microwave for ten seconds to warm up—he couldn’t pour it on for her; she liked to do that herself.
When he heard her come into the dining room, he called, “Come get your drink, honey.”
“Daddy!” she shrieked.
He jumped. God, everything was so life and death with her! Had he been so dramatic at her age? “Abby, please. Is that necessary?”
Apparently she thought so. “Daddy!” she cried again.
There were real tears in her voice, and the sound scared him into hurrying to the doorway to see what was the matter. She stood by the end of the dining room table, half-dressed in jeans and her nightgown. She had one sock on, and her other foot was bare. But her hair was the worst—it was a rat’s nest of blond tangles, with a comb stuck halfway down its length.
Preston struggled not to grin. Trying to sound composed, he asked, “What’s wrong, sweetie?”
Abby tugged at the comb. “Get it out! Get it out now!”
“Okay, don’t pull on it.” He caught her hand before she could do any more damage and deftly plucked out the comb. “Come on, honey. Sit down, your breakfast is ready.”
But Abby didn’t want to eat; she wanted her hair combed, and now. “Fix it.” When Preston didn’t immediately do so, she stomped her bare foot. “Daddy! Fixit!”
“Eat first,” he told her, tucking the comb into his back pocket. Hopefully not being able to see it would help her to forget about it. “Have a seat and I’ll get your pancakes. Then I’ll comb your hair, okay? Or hey, I’ll comb it while you eat, how’s that sound?”
He pulled out the chair to the left of the head of the table, the one designated as “her seat.” She looked at it dubiously, then leaned back to try and see his pocket. He moved to one side, blocking her view. With a sigh, she sat down. “Pancakes?” she asked, as if she didn’t have them every morning. “Are they blueberry?”
“Is there any other kind?” he asked.
Before she could answer, he hurried into the kitchen to retrieve her food. The microwave had gone off while he was in the other room, but now it beeped again as he entered, reminding him he had something inside. He set it for another five seconds to heat the syrup up again, replaced the melted pat of butter with a fresh one, then carried the plate and a fork into the dining room. Abby had pulled her chair up to the table; now she sat back as he set the plate down in front of her. “Yum!” she said, dipping her finger into the butter.