Louisiana. A minuscule town. Grace’s mother watches her daughter get ready for her big date tonight. She is reminding herself not to cry. Although she wants to shed tears. Because kids grow up so very fast.
Sixteen-year-old Grace is seated before her mirror, cross-legged on the floor. Her mother is fixing her hair. Grace’s mother used to be a hairdresser in a former life, so she knows what she’s doing. They aren’t even close to the makeup application stage yet.
Over at Chad’s house, Chad’s dad comes barreling into the hallway after work, clueless as a Clydesdale. He finds Chad’s mom spying on her 17-year-old son.
Mom is camped outside the boy’s room. “Ssshhh!” she says.
Chad’s father peeks into the bedroom. Chad is wearing a brand new shirt. And—WHOA!—is Chad wearing hair gel?! Dad suppresses a laugh. He turns to see Mom smiling, too.
Back at Grace’s house. Grace and her mother have now moved on to the makeup phase launch sequence. This is going to take a while.
Her mother is positioning trays and brushes on the dresser like Rembrandt at the easel. Grace seems like she’s having a hard time getting a deep breath tonight.
Her mother places a hand on Grace’s shoulder to steady her. This year has been a difficult year for American teenagers. Pandemics, social unrest, social distancing, and now the horrific events in our nation’s capital. What a hellish time to grow up. What an era to be a kid.
At the same time, 12 miles away, Chad has again stripped off his outfit. He now decides he hates his entire wardrobe. His bedroom floor is an ocean of failed clothing options. He browses his empty closet, dressed in only his underpants. His skinny, pale torso contains 0.0003 ounces of body fat. Every rib shows.
Chad’s mother wants to help her son dress, to put him in a shirt that will make his eyes stand out. But getting involved right now would be a grave mistake. So she eavesdrops outside his door.
Miles away, Grace stares into a mirror. Her makeup is done. Grace’s mother leans over her shoulder to admire her daughter.
The makeover has transformed this child into a film star. The girl’s strawberry hair is pulled behind her head, her alabaster skin is unflawed. Mama is swallowing a lump in her throat the size of a Wilson volleyball.
Chad is having an existential crisis. He has changed his outfit 13 times. He now wears no pants, one shoe, a crumpled button-down, a necktie. And he cannot figure out how to make a dadgum Windsor knot to save his life.
But over in Grace’s room, if you could peek through the window, you would feel your breath catch. Because Grace’s dress is perfect. Pink. Sleeveless. She and her mom picked it out together, just for tonight. It took two days to find.
When her mother sees her daughter in this dress she cannot speak. Her eyes are threatening to flood.
In Chad’s room, the parental reinforcements have now entered the teenage nuclear pig sty. Chad’s father is teaching his boy to tie a full Windsor. Chad seems embarrassed by this basic lesson in neckties. But hey, it happens to us all, kid.
The good news is, Chad’s mom has received the greenlight to enter her son’s bedroom and is now using her cellphone to take approximately 12,069 pictures for social media.
Soon, Chad is in the family car, leaving. Mom and Dad watch the taillights wink into the darkness. Chad’s parents hope he has fun tonight, they hope he stays safe, and above all, they hope he doesn’t jack up their auto insurance rates.
A car pulls into Grace’s driveway.
A vehicle door slams.
Grace’s mother hears the doorbell.
Her mother can see that her daughter is nervous. Grace’s pulse can literally be seen thumping beneath the tendons of her slender neck. Boomboomboom! goes her heart.
The moment of truth arrives.
Grace emerges, then descends the long staircase, hand on the rail, taking careful steps. Big smile. She looks like an angel visiting mere mortals.
Chad stands in the entryway of the home, watching her. He does not speak.
This ritual among humans is sacred. And although many modern humans treat romance as though it were a casual kick in the mud, once upon a time we respected it. Once upon a time we cherished love. For there is nothing half as holy as the dance of courtship among the young.
And although these turbulent times have threatened to ruin the joys of growing up, youthful innocence is hard to kill. Life finds a way.
Chad is the first to say something.
He speaks to Grace using American Sign Language.
The boy has been learning to sign for eight months—ever since he met Grace. Sometimes he studies for hours into the night, watching internet videos, practicing with instructors. One day he hopes to be as fluent as Grace is.
Tonight, however, he can hardly sign his own name. “You look so beautiful,” he signs to Grace.
Grace signs, “Thank you. You look nice, too.”
They stand at the door, Grace’s mother signs to them both: “Please be careful tonight.”
Grace replies, “Motheeeerrrrr.”
Chad says, “I promise, ma’am, I’ll take care of Grace.”
His choice of words is perfect.
The boy holds the vehicle door for this beautiful girl. He starts the car. They wave goodbye. The car leaves the neighborhood.
Grace’s parents are left watching their only daughter disappear over the dark horizon, totally lost in the eyes of a skinny boy who wears a crooked necktie.
It is then, and only then, that Grace’s mother allows herself to cry.
Because they really do grow up too fast.