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Dinner For Three

It was six o'clock on the dot when Breanna heard her mother's phone receive a text message alert as it sat on the kitchen bench.

"Mum, I bet it's Dad!" Breanna jumped up from the couch, books spilling out in front of her. She had been deciding which story her Dad would read in one of his funny voices as he tucked her into bed for the night.

Breanna's Mum rubbed her temples and sighed softly.

"Honey, would you mind seeing if that's Daddy? I've got a bad headache but I want to start cooking a lovely meal for us to enjoy tonight."

Sure, Mum." Breanna skipped into the kitchen to check the phone. Her Dad had been away for two whole nights working on a malfunction at his company's warehouse that had left valuable stock unsecured and at risk of theft. Breanna felt sure he'd been able to swoop in like a superhero and save the day – but did it have to take so long?

She picked up the phone and read the message.

Just leaving now – can't wait to see you both xx

"It's from Daddy!" Breanna confirmed excitedly. "He's on his way home!"

Her mother managed a weak smile as her daughter clapped her hands with joy. It had been four months since she'd lost her job and with only one income to support the family, her husband had taken on as many shifts and extra duties as he could to make ends meet. Times were tough and he was working long hours, but it made the time Breanna spent with her Daddy even more special.

"Oh, that's wonderful news. Now let's see what I can find to eat." Her mother rose gingerly from the couch and added "I'd love your help in the kitchen, Bree – I'm really not feeling well at all."

"Sure Mum." Breanna looked down at the phone in her hand and sent her Dad a quick reply:

Great! Mum's got a bad headache but I'm going to help her cook dinner. C U soon!

As Breanna opened the door to the refrigerator, she heard her mother sigh again. The light flickered on and bounced around shelves that had been too empty for too long.

"Oh, I think maybe just those beans and carrots tonight, honey. We might have some sausages we could cook, too. Could you get those out for me?"

While her mother pushed two more headache tablets out of the packet into her palm, Breanna started peeling the carrots, just the way her mother had shown her. Another beep from the phone took her attention away and she stared at the new message:

Red and tangy, round and sweet,
Seed of love I love to eat.

Was this a riddle? Breanna put the peeler down and peered closely at the message. Her Dad loved entertaining her with riddles and rhymes but she wasn't sure she'd ever received one by text message! Was this about dinner...?

Red and tangy, round and sweet...

So, what was red and tangy? Was it a fruit or a vegetable? She looked down at the carrots and beans on the bench.

Seed of love I love to eat...

No. These were definitely vegetables because they had no seeds. It must be a fruit!

Red and tangy, round and sweet...

Breanna went through all the fruits she could think of that were red. What about watermelon, she thought. That's red on the inside - and round. But although it was sweet, she didn't think it was tangy. Oh, what a mystery!

Seed of love I love to eat...

With a sudden intake of breath, Breanna remembered her father telling her about a fruit everyone thought was a vegetable. And it used to be called a 'love apple'. It was also round and sweet, red and definitely tangy.

She had solved it!

The food was… a tomato!

Breanna giggled and picked up another carrot to peel. Her mother was slowly putting away the clean dishes and cups from the drying rack and Breanna felt a pang of sadness. Her Mum had been getting so many headaches lately and Breanna knew it was because she couldn't find a job and was worried about money. But she also knew that her Dad was a champion and was working hard to put a smile on everyone's faces – especially hers. Nobody had a Dad like hers and she couldn't wait for him to walk in so he could wrap her in his big strong Daddy-arms and nuzzle his big bushy-bearded face against her cheeks.


Breanna picked up the phone again and found another riddle:

Tall and sweet, don't put me down,
'Tis because I wear a crown.

Oh gosh, thought Breanna. Tall and sweet sounded like another fruit. But wearing a crown? What sort of fruit wears a crown?

Breanna peeled another carrot while she thought about fruits with names that sounded like a king or a queen. She had been to the markets with her Mum on several occasions and she was pretty sure there was a stall there that sold 'royal gala apples'. But apples? They were sweet but they certainly weren't tall. Breanna frowned as she picked up the next carrot, thinking that her Dad had stumped her this time. She caught her Mum out of the corner of her eye, slowly sipping water and rubbing her aching head. It seemed not so long ago that her Mum was that proud and cheerful working woman, dressed up for her job in a beautiful dress and colourful earrings. She wished she could wave a magic wand and turn her Mum into that beautiful confident queen again: she could even imagine her wearing a glittering jewel-encrusted crown while she smiled down at everyone from her throne. She could also remember her mother's sage advice for dealing with all kinds of people; be like a pineapple, she would say, be sweet and wear a crown.

Oh my goodness, thought Breanna. That's it!

Tall and sweet, don't put me down,
'Tis because I wear a crown.

The answer was … a pineapple!

"Bree, what are you laughing at?" Her mother's lips formed a smile and the corners of her eyes crinkled just a little bit.

"Oh, just solving one of Daddy's mysteries" responded Breanna and picked up another carrot.


There it was again. Another riddle by text message. Just what was her father up to?

Tell no porkies, I'm delish,
Cut up small I make the dish.

Ok, thought Breanna, putting the carrots into a saucepan and picking up the beans.

Tell no porkies...

She knew it meant tell no lies but what did it mean here? And what was so delicious it made the dish? She turned to ask her mother and frowned. Her mother was unwrapping the sausages and she could see there were only four. If she and her mother had one each, that would leave only two sausages for her Dad. Surely, he would be hungrier than that! Right then and there, even though she loved meat, Breanna resolved to give her Dad the sausage from her plate. If Mum doesn't do it first, she thought.

Wait a minute... Something ticked over in Breanna's mind as she started to cut the straggly tips off the beans. Porkies...did that mean pork or something from a pig? What was cut up small and was...delish? Suddenly, images of eating pasta, pizza and all those wonderful Italian dishes with her parents flashed into Breanna's mind and all she could see were those little bits of ham that made them all so yummy.

That was it.

Tell no porkies, I'm delish,
Cut up small I make the dish.

The answer was... ham.

Before another minute had passed, another message came through.

"Goodness, honey," chastised her Mum, gently, "if you keep chatting to Daddy, we'll never get dinner ready in time." She picked up some beans and started chopping the ends off while Breanna contemplated the next riddle on the phone's screen:

Spend your dough on something neat,
Thick or thin, it's all a treat!

Hmm.... Breanna mused to herself. I think I know what's going on. She turned the riddle over in her mind, remembering that dough meant money. But in this case, it meant something else, too. Especially if it could be thick or thin. Breanna's eyes grew wide as she figured out the meaning of the riddle.

The answer was... a pizza base.

Together, Breanna and her mother finished preparing the beans. Her Mum took them and put them in a saucepan, filling both pots with water and turning up the dials on the stove. The elements started to glow orange and the sausages under the grill were slowly starting to heat and change colour.

"Oh, I should have put these on sooner" lamented Breanna's mother. "They're going to take ages to cook and it would have been lovely for Daddy to walk in to a nice hot meal. He's been up for 48 hours so he must be exhausted." She looked so sad that Breanna flung her arms around her and lifted her head to give her Mum her brightest smile.

"You know, I don't think Daddy will have to wait too long to eat, after all." She had it all figured out, the meaning of the riddles, the reasons why her Dad was sending them to her now.

"I'm just going to send Dad one last message." Breanna broke away from her mother and used the keypad to type in a riddle of her own, grinning from ear to ear.

Melted goo that makes me glad
One grate topping, one grate Dad.

Three minutes later, her Dad arrived home clutching the biggest, yummiest-smelling ham and pineapple takeaway pizza she had ever seen.

She rushed towards him and he beamed at her, so full of life and energy she barely believed he'd been up for two nights without sleep.

"Cheese," she squealed, "the last clue was about cheese! I put the tomato, the pineapple, the ham and the base all together and I realised you were bringing home a pizza! I figured it out!"

"You certainly did, my clever girl. You even changed the word great to G-R-A-T-E, to make it sound like the cheese on top of a pizza! Now, take this to the table and let's tuck in!" He ruffled her hair and she breathed in the essence of him mixed in with the smell of the delicious pizza, suddenly believing she was the luckiest girl in the world and nothing could ever make her feel sad again. She wondered if her Mum was feeling the same way. She glanced over and her brow furrowed when she saw that her mother was glaring at her father, arms crossed in annoyance.

"A takeaway pizza? That's too much money! There's plenty of food here to eat and we can't afford to splurge like this." Breanna's mother looked like she was about to cry.

Her father took a step towards his wife, arms outstretched. She refused to step into his embrace though, and looked down at the floor.

"My darling," he murmured, "we have enough money to buy a pizza when my beautiful wife is too sick to cook. And when I haven't seen my amazing little girl for two whole days. And when I've just finished the longest, hardest shift I've ever done in my whole life. That's when we need to celebrate the most and splurge a little. For this moment, for these reasons. Life is not bringing us many moments to celebrate anymore so we must seize them when they come and celebrate with our whole hearts."

"But we have so little money..." His wife stopped and the tears began to pour down her cheeks.

"We have enough...for this." He stepped forward and gently took her hands in his.

"Tomorrow will have a simpler meal but for now, let's celebrate and cherish what we have right here, at this moment – a wonderful family that sticks together when the going gets tough and does not let life's little mishaps defeat us. You'll find a job – I know you will, and I never want you to lose faith in yourself. We haven't."

"No, we haven't, Mum" chimed in Breanna. "You're still queen of all the pineapples to me."

It took ten minutes for Breanna and her parents to devour a whole ham and pineapple pizza. In that time, Breanna watched her Mum soften and brighten; her Dad had worked his magic yet again, and suddenly the family was laughing like they had always done.

Like life had never changed and was sweet and good in all the right ways.

Like they would continue to laugh and cherish each other as life served up all its amazing toppings and flavours.

Like what they needed would come to them and would fill them all up to the very brim.

Just like... a pizza.