Tom Pritchett is one hundred and six centimeters tall. He has sandy brown hair. He has a crush on Amanda McCarthy who sits across from him at his desk. He is very quiet and impossibly polite. He never curses. He never gets cranky in public. He always says “Please” and “Thank you,” just as his mom taught him – with a three-quarter smile and Charlotte charm. On the weekends, he mows the lawn and cleans the gutters. He has meatloaf for dinner with extra mashed potatoes and cranberry sauce from the can. He sometimes wishes he could sit next to Amanda McCarthy. He thinks she smells nice. He loves black and white movies with jazz soundtracks. He sneaks out of his room, late at night, and watches old VHS copies of his parent’s favorites. Every Wednesday night, he chooses a new restaurant. He puts an intense amount of thought into this decision. Multiple books, websites, and public poles are considered. He forces himself to narrow it down to four by Saturday morning, allowing him to simply eliminate one per day until he is left with one on Wednesday.
Tonight, he chose a new Hibachi Grill restaurant. The reviews called it “exciting and delicious.” One online guest stated, “While we watched him work his magic on the grill, we enjoyed the tastiest cocktails and then ate until we couldn’t eat any more. Highly recommend.” Tom was pretty sure he’d found a winner. Possibly someplace that would be put into the Monday night rotation, though, Monday’s are getting a bit full already. It’ll have to go into the Friday folder.
Now, there have been many moments in Tom’s twelve-year life in which he has felt utterly confused and completely anxious. When he was four and his mom said, “You’re going to have a little sister.” When he was eight and lost his first tooth. When he first met Amanda McCarthy and she kicked him in the shins. When his teacher asked him why he was looking at Jerrod Long’s paper. When his mom found five candy bars wrapped in a silk scarf at the bottom of his Lego bucket. When his dad found the pet snake he had caught. When he and his sister broke the new leather couch and tried to hide it. But none more than right now.
Tom’s parents let him pick both the restaurant and everyone’s main courses on his restaurant night. Tom admits, from time to time, that it’s a lot of pressure. He’ll never forget the Olive Garden white lasagna incident. And he still has nightmares over the Casa del Madre’s swordfish taco fiasco. Tonight, however, his parents are very happy. The Yelp recommended Red Passion Mojitos seem to be keeping their smiles lively and bright.
The meal started out great. Tom ordered a wide array of small dishes along with the Chef’s Platter. This was the first issue the Chef took with Tom. He thought it would be too much food. They should just take the Chef’s Platter. Tom disagreed fervently. While he is polite, he is also stubborn and proud. On Wednesday night, there is no telling Tom what to and not to order. His parents learned that long ago, hence the second round of Red Passion Mojitos that hit the table at the same time as Tom’s hand coming down on the issue. The Chef snickered and began cooking what appeared to be an endless feast worthy of at least three Pritchett families.
What happened next was in no way Tom’s fault. This is not to say that he played no part. Had he allowed the chef to place the fried onions on his plate, the family probably would’ve finished their dinner and gone home happy as clams. It was around the time Mojito number four was landing in front of Mr. Pritchett. Lydia, Mrs. Pritchett, was slow sipping number three while chewing a bite of the seared sea scallop that she called a “grown up marshmallow.” The chef was preparing the individual plates for the Chef’s Platter. He started with the sliced pork, then fried rice, grilled vegetables, which Tom snickered at, lighting the Chef’s very short fuse. Then he added grilled shrimp, chicken teriyaki, and sautéed onions. That’s when Tom spoke up. He could handle the vegetables, he could deal with the rice, he was even willing to try tofu, but Tom hates onion. He can’t stand them. And he didn’t want them on his plate. The Chef said Tom should’ve said something before he had cooked them. Tom argued he didn’t know. They went back and forth. Tom stood up on his chair, which even with the Mojitos got his parents attention. His dad got involved and asked, man-to-man, for the Chef to just slide the onions onto his plate. The Chef refused. He slammed the plate down and told Mr. Pritchett, a man who often states his only true prides in life are his children, that he was a bad father. Well, Mr. Pritchett didn’t appreciate that at all. However, he also didn’t think about the fact that the middle of the table was a very hot grill.
The ride to the hospital was pretty smooth. Mr. Pritchett had calmed down and the paramedics had wrapped his hands with burn cream and bandages. Lydia, who has never been very good at dealing with hospitals, even stayed calm. Her father died in a hospital when she was sixteen. She’s not been comfortable in one since. Tom was born in a hospital, but Violet was born right in the middle of their living room. Lydia refused to stay overnight in the hospital, so she set up a home birth. Tom had thought the play pool was for him. The entire night was disappointing. He didn’t get to go swimming and he was sent to bed early. Not that he would ever say it aloud, as it would be incredibly impolite, but Tom felt quite put out. Luckily, he is not one to place blame or hold grudges, so when he met Violet the next morning, he was completely welcoming and cordial. Mr. Pritchett laughed when Tom shook her little hand. He thought Tom to be the oddest little man he had ever seen. He wasn’t far off. Delightful, but odd.
Doctor’s told Tom, Lydia, and Violet that the burns weren’t too bad. Then, they made sure Mr. Pritchett knew how lucky he was. And as they double checked the bandages and gave Lydia instructions on how to apply the burn cream, Mr. Pritchett looked down at Tom and winked. And with that wink, Tom knew that the Chef was crazy. He had a great dad.
When they got home, far later than expected, and a little bit hungry, Tom’s mom told him, since it was still Wednesday, and because Tom chooses what they eat on Wednesdays, the after dinner snack was completely up to him. He didn’t need any time at all to decide – peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. After all, no matter how polite and grown up he may seem, Tom is still but twelve years old, one hundred and six centimeters tall, with sandy brown hair, and a crush on Amanda McCarthy.