Kyle sat on the couch, half watching some History Channel special on Nazis while glancing at his watch every few seconds. He shifted in his seat and called out, "You're going to be late."
"It's not too late for me to cancel, is it?" Ethan called from the other room.
"She knows where you live and if she doesn't outright kill you for standing her up, she'll make a voodoo doll of you and let you linger."
"It's one of her many talents," Ethan said. He appeared in the doorway with a grimace as he held up his tie and said, "It's trying to strangle me. I'm not sure why I need a tie. We're just going to the pub."
"No, you're not. I made you a reservation at that new Italian place in Center City. It's supposed to be very cozy."
"--and when you're done, you should take her on one of those carriage rides through Olde City. It's the perfect night for that sort of thing."
"You have met Kat, right?"
Kyle smiled and said, "You're nervous."
"I wasn't until you showed up and started acting like one of those Queer Eyes for the Straight Guy."
Kyle rolled his eyes and hurried across the room until he was standing in front of Ethan. He pushed Ethan's hands away and began to fix his tie. "You should be nervous. It's your first date with Kat. This could make or break everything."
Ethan stared at him incredulously. "Is that your idea of a pep talk?" Kyle ignored him as he patted the perfectly knotted tie and looked Ethan over appraisingly, pressing on wrinkles and running his fingers through an unruly section of Ethan's hair. Ethan stepped back. "You're freaking me out, man."
"Sorry. I just love a good old-fashioned romance," Kyle said.
Kyle smiled sincerely and said, "I mean it. It's the best kind of love story - best friends who become more. It's so perfect..." All sincerity was left behind when he couldn't resist the urge to torment his friend a bit. He nudged Ethan in the arm and added, "I better be the best man at your wedding."
Ethan held up a hand and said, "Stop it! I'm trying to get through one date. You know, the date that Kat is probably still convinced is a horrible idea? In fact, I'm beginning to think it's a horrible idea." Ethan picked up his wallet off the coffee table. "I feel ridiculous, and she's going to mock me the entire evening. Why did I let you talk me into this?"
Kyle sighed. "You wanted to be talked into this. You spent weeks going on and on..."
"I did not."
"...and on about figuring out your feelings for Kat." Kyle placed his hands on Ethan's shoulders in what he assumed was a very encouraging manner. He locked eyes with Ethan. "Now, this is Kat, so there will be ridicule at your expense. That's a given. But it's one of the many things you love about her."
"I don't love the mocking, at least, not when it's directed at me."
"You can do this."
"I can do this." Ethan groaned, pulling at his tie, and replied, "But why am I pretending to be something I'm not? In a tie? Why can't we just go to the pub, get completely drunk, and let it work itself out?"
"Because you need to make it clear that this isn't Ethan, the good buddy, picking her up for dinner," Kyle paused and grabbed the flowers he had brought over off the counter. He thrust them into Ethan's hands and continued, "You're Ethan, the doctor of love."
"Never say that again."
Kyle grinned and nodded. "Yeah. I almost threw up in my mouth after the words came out."
Ethan glared at him, "Gee thanks, Kyle. I don't know how I survived before you."
Kyle nodded, "Me either. You have a velour sweat suit in your closet."
"Is that what you're wearing?" Lina asked for the millionth time.
"What's wrong with my outfit?" Kat asked, looking herself over in the mirror and running her hands over the black wrap dress. She wasn't about to admit to her sister that she had agonized over this decision and finally decided that it didn't matter because Ethan already knew her. First impressions were long over and he must have liked something about her to keep bugging her to go out.
"It just doesn't seem appropriate," Lina replied.
This only further convinced Kat that this whole dating-your-friend thing was a bad idea, and her sister's cooing and sighing wasn't helping matters. She noticed Lina's boyfriend, the foot-breaker, staring at her and said, "And why is he here?"
"I can leave..."
"Richie, stay!" Lina stated, pushing him back into his seat. She moved to stand in front of Kat. "He's staring because he's as confused as I am. As far as I can tell, you really like Ethan..."
"--but you're dressed like you're about to go to a funeral."
"I think that might be more fun," Kat replied, earning her a huge grin from Lina. Kat glared. "Why are you smiling? Stop that!"
"Wow. You really do like him."
"And you love him," Lina teased, her hands pressed to her heart in mock ecstasy. "You want to have babies with him."
"Uh-huh. You want him bad."
"Well, maybe," Kat admitted reluctantly, "but I don't want babies. They spit and poop and mock you with baby cries no one can understand."
Lina shook her head. "There is something seriously wrong with you."
"Says the girl dating the guy who ran her over with a car."
Lina stepped across the room and sat down in Richie's lap, kissing him. "And you want what I have."
"I really don't. The idea nauseates me."
"I am sitting right here," Richie said. Off the evil stare Kat shot him, he shrugged and said, "But it's fine. I have no self esteem anyway."
"You're nervous," Lina teased.
"I am not."
"I never thought I'd see the day where my sister got nervous about a guy, especially Ethan Haas."
"I'm not nervous. And Ethan is about as `scary' as a mothball."
Richie shuddered. "I had a bad experience with mothballs and my grandmother's closet when I was a kid."
"Of course you did," Kat replied. There was a knock at the door and her heart felt like it was going to punch its way out of her chest, but she wasn't nervous. She wasn't. She took a deep breath and pointed at her sister and Richie. "Do not utter a word."
She walked to the door, took another deep breath, and opened it with a weak smile. Okay, maybe she was a little nervous, but she would die before admitting that. Ethan stood there with a bouquet of roses and a funny look on his face. She eyed him curiously. "Do you need to use the bathroom or something?"
"You just...you look...nevermind. Come on in," she said, opening the door enough for him to pass.
Ethan pushed the flowers into her hands. "These are for you."
Kat studied the flowers and said, "Okay. Thanks." She tossed them on the table and said, "So..."
Lina jumped up and grabbed the flowers. "Why don't we put these in a vase." Lina smiled at Ethan. "You look very dapper this evening."
Kat glared at her sister as Ethan replied, "Thank you."
"Where are you going?"
"Probably the pub..." Kat began.
"...this new Italian place in Center City. I've heard it's very romantic."
Lina grinned. "That sounds perfect. Doesn't it, Kat?"
Kat nodded. This was way too weird. This was Ethan. And she really did like him. Could even see herself kissing him and more...but little cozy restaurants seemed like code for feeding each other, and that's where she drew the line. She forced a tight smile. "Definitely. I love Italian food."
They sat at the candlelit table, deliberately focusing their gazes on the menu and the other couples whispering intimately to one another. Not for the first time in the evening, Ethan felt the ominous feeling of "very bad idea" rush over him. When he finally locked gazes with Kat, he became even more certain that Kyle was the antichrist and had sent him on a suicide mission.
Once their eyes met, they continued to stare at each other in silence, something Ethan was sure had never happened with Kat. Since the first moment she had come into his life, she had been loud and obnoxious and...Kat. This was just bizarre. He cleared his throat and broke the silence, "I hear they have great food."
He lifted the basket of bread and held it out for Kat to take. "Great bread too."
Her eyes widened. "Wow. You're on fire."
He groaned. "I know. This evening is a little lame."
She shook her head and jumped up. "No, Ethan." She pointed at him. "No, you're actually on fire."
He looked at his outstretched arm, and sure enough, his coat sleeve was blazing up above the candle. He shrieked, stood up and pulled his coat off, pounding it into the ground. Kat grabbed water and threw it at him, hitting him in the face.
He pushed back his sopping wet hair and spit out a bit of water. "Thanks for the help."
She laughed. "You look ridiculous."
He groaned "Thanks."
"And you smell like a musty fireplace."
He met her gaze and couldn't help but join in her laughter. After a few moments of chuckling, he held up his arms in surrender and looked up at the ceiling. He groaned and said, "So this was a complete disaster."
Kat nodded. "Pretty much."
"I'm going to kill Kyle."
"He's not the one who set you on fire."
"Right," Ethan agreed. "Well then. Just kill me now."
Kat shook her head. "I don't think so." She reached out and patted his hand. "I think we're too busy freaking out about what everyone else thinks we should be doing and it's messing us up."
"Is it too late to save this date?"
Kat looked around at all the destruction of the evening thus far. She smiled and said, "I think that ship sailed awhile ago, Ethan." She squeezed his hand. "How about settling for getting really drunk?"
Ethan smiled in return. He was pretty sure he would never live this moment down, but it had managed to melt away the tension between them. He glanced around, all eyes were on them, and he nodded. "Yeah. Let's get out of here."
They sat down at the bar and ordered up two beers and two shots. Kat looked Ethan over and laughed again. "I never have my camera when I need it."
He shrugged. "Not my finest moment."
"You set yourself on fire!"
Ethan covered his face with his hands and said, "Do you have to keep saying that so loudly?"
"Dude. It was awesome! One minute, you're like, `have some of the finest bread in all the land' and a few seconds later, you're jumping up and screaming like a little girl," She picked up her shot, downed it, and said, "I've changed my mind. This is the best date ever."
"Okay, not really, but I'll give you an `A' for effort."
Ethan swallowed his own shot, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Not a great review, but he'd take it. "So...how was your day? Make anyone cry?"
Kat smiled. "Almost. This whore tried to steal my parking spot at the grocery store, so I might have sent a few carts flying at her."
Ethan shook his head. "You're disturbed."
She shrugged. "It's a gift." She took a drink of her beer and said, "So, how much alcohol do I have to ply you with to get to dirty note-writing Ethan? Because I think I'm going to need him tonight."
Ethan wasn't sure how to reply, so he picked up his beer and drank it all in one gulp. "Uh...not much."
"But from now on, let's avoid romantic dinners. They seem to be hazardous for your health...and really gay."
"Well, Kyle did plan it."
"Explains so much," Kat replied. She leaned into him and kissed Ethan quickly. She grinned and said, "Not too bad."
"I can do better."
"I'm counting on it," she said. She took another sip of her beer and burst out laughing. "But you need to clean up first. I just keep thinking about the restaurant."
Ethan groaned and replied nervously, "You're not going to keep that between us, are you?"
"Are you kidding? This is blog worthy, my friend. I'm thinking `dates of doom, fire, and brimstone' as the subject."
He shook his head and said, "Or maybe `never let your gay friend plan your date with a cynic?'"
"I guess. At least our date has taken a turn for the better."
"It could really only go up, Ethan."
"Thanks. You really know how to make me feel good about myself."
"I try," Kat replied. She squeezed his arm. "And you're right. I guess it's not so bad."
He lifted his glass as if to make a toast, so she followed his lead. Ethan smiled. "To fires and first dates."
She clinked her glass against his and said, "To everything working out in the end."
Kyle knocked on the door of Ethan's apartment a little nervously. He could only imagine the date had gone horribly when Ethan called him earlier that morning and demanded he come over. Kyle knocked again after a minute had passed and was more than a little surprised to see Kat answer the door wearing Ethan's robe.
He stared at her "Uh...sorry. Ethan invited me over."
Kat offered a sated smile. She pressed her hand against Kyle's chest and said softly, "I wanted to thank you in person for planning such an amazingly romantic first date. I could barely contain myself."
She slapped him upside the head and snapped, "No, not really, you idiot. Do I look like a cozy Italian restaurant type of girl to you?"
He rubbed the back of his head and said, "There's no right answer to that question." Stepping around her to enter the apartment he glanced at where Ethan was sitting on the sofa. "Is that why you summoned me here? To get beat up?"
"No, though that's a side benefit. I wanted to let you know that I don't think you'll be allowed to go to that restaurant ever again."
Kyle spun around to look accusingly at Kat, "What did you do?"
"Why do you automatically think it was me?"
"Because, Kat, I was with you when you got us kicked out of the ice cream place for making obscene gestures."
"Fair point," Kat replied. She took a seat on the couch next to Ethan and said, "But he's the one who set himself on fire."
"I didn't set myself on fire." Ethan reminded her sternly. "Just my arm."
Kyle turned back to Ethan. "What?"
"It was awesome." Kat laughed. "He shouted, `I'm on fire!' and cried."
"I love how your story keeps changing, making me come across even more preposterous every time," Ethan replied disbelievingly, sighing dramatically for effect.
"It's what I do best."
"Okay, so you set yourself on fire and ended up together anyway. It all worked out. So why am I here again?" Kyle asked.
Kat and Ethan exchanged a look. They laughed and Kat said, "Because you're never allowed to plan our dates again. You're more of a girl than I am, but maybe Lina and Richie will let you plan their one-year anniversary."
Kyle sat down next to the two of them on the sofa. "Fair enough." He shrugged out of his jacket and put down the bag of donuts he'd brought with him. "I think you two are too demented for my help anyway."