The Un-date


He’d known her all his life. They were more than friends—she really loved him. Was it right to ask her out just to be his “practice” date?

The Un-date

It was odd, Andrew thought as he looked in the mirror and tried to force the cowlick at the back of his head to lie flat; he was actually looking forward to tonight’s “date.” He hadn’t been enthusiastic about it at first, but now that it was almost time to go, he was excited.

His friend Jim had suggested a “practice run” before his big date with Alyssa Adams, his first since turning 16 last month. Jim said if they were going to double then Andrew needed practice—“so you won’t act like a goon and spill soup on your date or something.” Andrew agreed because (1) he didn’t have his driver’s license yet and Jim did; (2) he was nervous about going on his first date with a girl he really had a crush on; and (3) Jim had been on a couple of dates already, so he must know what he’s talking about.

Andrew talked to his dad about the idea too, and he agreed that practice might be a good idea. “Besides,” he said, “I know just who you should ask. She’d love to do something like that.”

At first, his father’s suggestion—and his enthusiasm—caught Andrew off guard. But dad persisted. “You’ve known her since … well … forever. She’s fun, and she’ll understand. She’s the kind of person who has as much fun playing ball with the guys as she does dressing up and going to dinner. She won’t even mind that she’s helping you get ready for a big night with somebody else.”

“You mean I have to tell her why I’m asking her out? That’ll make it worse,” Andrew said, ready to forget the whole thing.

“Of course you do; it’s only fair. Besides, if she knows ahead of time, she’ll probably be able to give you some pointers. I’ve seen her, and she’s pretty knowledgeable about those kinds of things. You’d feel rotten if she found out later that the only reason you asked her out was to practice for a date with someone else.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right,” Andrew said reluctantly.

Nevertheless, Andrew still felt nervous when he thought about asking someone else out so soon. It had been murder trying to find the courage to ask Alyssa out. Now he was faced with the problem of having to ask someone he’d known all his life, and it wasn’t any easier. What if she laughed at him or told him his idea was dumb? He felt he had to do it, though, and after school one day he worked up the nerve to ask her.

“Hi,” he said, almost choking because his mouth was so dry.

“Oh, hi Andrew,” she said, looking up from her book. “What’s up?”

“Oh, nothing much, but I was wondering, uh, are you doing anything special Friday night?” he asked, looking everywhere but at her.

“I don’t think I’ve got anything planned. Why do you ask?” Finally he looked directly at her. “Well, I was wondering if you wouldn’t mind going to dinner with me?” He looked at her for a change in expression. What showed looked more like surprise. “It wouldn’t be a real date,” he said quickly. “It would be sort of a practice date. I’ve never been to dinner with a date before, and I want to make sure I do it right.”

There was a pause, and Andrew didn’t know whether or not to keep talking. Suddenly, however, she smiled. “Sure! That sounds like fun. I’d love to.”

Soon the “rehearsal” was under way. They planned to go to La Traviata, the same Italian restaurant he and Jim would be taking their dates to next week. As they made preparations it became painfully apparent that Jim had been right all along. Andrew needed this trial run more than he thought. But she seemed to know exactly what to do. First, she helped him call and make reservations.

“What do I say?” he asked as he nervously dialed the number. “Just say, ‘I’d like to make reservations for two at eight o’clock tonight, and then tell them your name when they ask.”

“She says things so easily,” he thought. “I wish I had her confidence.” Then she helped him pick out the clothes he was going to wear. He had picked out his best pair of blue jeans, his favorite shirt and his cleanest, basketball shoes. She wisely chose the gray Sunday slacks with the blue blazer and firmly insisted that while inflatable shoes were quite fashionable in the gym, they were out when it came to dinner at a nice restaurant.

Finally, with his help, she took some plates and silverware from the cupboard and created an elegant setting on the kitchen table.

“Wow,” Andrew said, sitting down to the beautiful array of china and silverware in front of him. “I think I know some of this stuff,” he said, swallowing hard. “But maybe you could help me with a pointer or two. What’s this tiny little knife for?”

She gave Andrew a description of all the various utensils and their uses. She talked about the proper way to handle a salad and where the bread goes—everything. She even reminded him that it was not a good idea to tuck the napkin under his collar, or use his thumb to slide a stubborn vegetable onto his fork as she had seen him do before. He thanked her and said he’d try to remember.

She continued her explanation, but Andrew was only half listening. As he watched her he couldn’t help feeling like a jerk for using her to impress another girl. He noticed, probably for the first time, how pretty she was and how much effort she was going to in order to make things nice for him. What made it worse was that she had been so cheerful and enthusiastic about it from the beginning. She approached this like she approached so many things, happily and without a thought for herself. She was doing it all for him and he knew it. She really was a good friend, better than most, he thought. This date was going to be fun for both of them, but he couldn’t help feeling a bit guilty about it.

“Huh, what?” he said, quickly aware he had drifted too far.

“I said, ‘This fork is for seafood,’” she said, teasingly shaking it at him. “You use it on things like crab or shrimp cocktail, and no, there’s no alcohol in shrimp cocktail so it’s okay to eat. That about wraps it up. Any questions?”

“Nope, no questions, but it sure is a lot to remember.”

“Don’t worry. As a rule, you use the utensils on the outside and work your way in as you go. If you absolutely don’t know what to do, watch your date or the people at the table next to you. They might be able to help you out.”

“Got it,” he said.

“Good. Now I’ve got to rush or I’m going to be ‘unready’ for this ‘undate.’”

Andrew waited a bit before getting ready, then dressed quickly and found he still had a few minutes before it was time to leave. He went to the backyard and picked out the prettiest rose he could find. He carefully picked it as far down the stalk as he could and then bent the thorns off the stem. He resisted the temptation to put one of the thorns on his nose and play rhinoceros. He walked around the block, up the front steps, and rang the doorbell.

“Wow!” he said when she opened the door.

“Hi, Andrew. What do you think?”

“You look beautiful,” he said, visibly impressed.

“Thank you very much. You look rather handsome yourself. Good choice of wardrobe, if I do say so myself.”

“Thanks a lot,” he said, smiling back. “Oh, here,” he said, remembering the flower in his hand. “This is for you.”

“Why, Andrew, how sweet. Thank you. Let me put it in a vase.” She returned a moment later. “Are you ready?”

“Sure. Let’s go!”

At first, the rehearsal appeared to have worked. He offered her his arm, opened the car door, and let her in on the driver’s side since she had the driver’s license and he didn’t. They talked and laughed on the way to the restaurant, and when they arrived he was quick to get the door and offer an arm to his “undate.”

“I’m impressed,” she said, while walking to the door with her arm in his. “Someone must have taught you well.”

“Yeah, I had a pretty terrific teacher,” he said, smiling.

Suddenly, Andrew tensed and tried to look away, but it was too late. Their eyes had already met. Directly in front of them stood Ryan Adams, the captain of the basketball team and, worse, Alyssa Adams’s big brother. He was leaving the restaurant with his date.

He had seen them together and Andrew was positive he was going to hear about it at practice next week. Not only that, but Alyssa was sure to find out, and trying to explain would only make things worse. In an instant he made a decision. He’d tough it out. “Hi, Ryan,” he said.

“Hi, Andrew. How’s it going?”

“Fine. How’s the dinner?”

“Terrific. Watch out for the antipasto, though; it’s a killer.” Ryan rolled his eyes and pretended to spray some breath freshener into his mouth.

“I’ll think about it. Thanks.”

“See ya.”

“Bye.”

Andrew breathed a sigh of relief as he opened the door to the restaurant and they walked inside. At least he didn’t say anything then, he thought. He could only imagine what he was going to say at practice Monday.

The dinner was excellent, a true dining experience, and Andrew handled himself extremely well. He thought the dinner was over, though, when the waiter brought out small servings of sherbet for them. The waiter had to explain that the sherbet was merely a “palate cleanser,” something to eat so the taste of the previous course wouldn’t interfere with the taste of the next. Other than that, he managed to impress her by remembering everything she had taught him. He even proved to be a very good conversationalist by asking questions and paying attention to what she said.

At the end of the meal when the waiter presented the check, she reached into her purse and tried to pass some money to Andrew under the table. “For my half,” she said quietly.

“No way,” said Andrew. “I invited you here and I’m going to pay for it.”

“I just thought that since this was a “nondate” it might be different.”

“It’s not that different. Besides, with the way you’ve helped me I’d say it was worth every penny.”

He paid the waiter and left an adequate tip. They left the restaurant and he opened the car door again for her. “You’re spoiling me,” she said as she got in. “I might get used to this.”

“I suppose I could make it a habit. I probably should have all along, huh?”

“That’s okay. You haven’t done too badly. You’ve become quite a gentleman. Alyssa Adams is in for a treat.”

“Thanks.”

She pulled the car into the driveway and he escorted her to the door.

“Thanks for going along with my ‘trial-run’ idea. It really helped.”

“You’re welcome. Thank you for a wonderful evening. There’s just one thing, though.”

“What’s that?” he said, wondering what he could have done wrong.

“Don’t worry about Alyssa’s brother seeing you with me tonight. I’m sure he recognizes that his sister will be treated with as much courtesy as I received. If he’s any kind of brother, I think he’ll like that. I don’t think Alyssa will mind either. If you treat all your dates as I was tonight, you’ll have a lot of fun dating.”

At first, Andrew was surprised that she knew what he had been thinking at the restaurant when he saw Ryan. Then he realized he wasn’t surprised at all. He put his arm around her and kissed her on the cheek.

“Thanks, Mom,” he said. “You’re terrific.”

[illustrations] Illustrated by Paul Mann