The Shrew Shall Be Tamed

The Middlebro family sat around their kitchen table having breakfast early one Saturday morning.  It was a pretty normal and quiet Saturday morning for the family, in sharp contrast to the previous weekend that had contained a very special event.  With all of that out of the way, Alan Middlebro was looking forward to a quiet weekend to recover from all of the stress and preparation that went into making that event the perfect event that it ended up being.  And while his older daughter Kate — who was dark-haired with glasses and was completely dressed for the day in jeans and a casual top, as she pretty much always was before she came down to breakfast — was perfectly happy to allow him that, his younger daughter Bianca — blonde, pretty, sweet, and wearing her pyjamas which she wouldn’t relinquish until right before she stepped out the door — wasn’t going to let the weekend be that calm.

“Daddy?” she asked.  “Do you remember what last Saturday was?”

“Why, it was your birthday, sweetie, ” he replied.

“And it was a pretty special birthday for me, wasn’t it?” she continued.

“Every one of your birthdays is special, ” he replied.

“But this one was a special year, wasn’t it?” she pressed.

“Every year is …”, he started, but didn’t get to finish it before she cut him off in exasperation.

“It was my sixteenth birthday!” she burst out.

“Why, yes it was!” he replied.

“And …?” she pressed.

“And that made it extra sweet, for my sweet little girl!” he finished.

“Daddy!  You didn’t forget that you said that I could start dating when I turned sixteen!” she exclaimed.

Alan sighed.  “No, I didn’t forget that … but I was sort of hoping that you had!”

Kate finally entered the conversation, “Bianca’s more likely to forget to wear makeup than she is to forget that!”

“Hey, don’t snipe at me because you usually forget both!” Bianca fired back.

“I’m not sure why you care about either.  There’s really no one at school worth bothering with, ” Kate replied.

“Just because you want to live your life as a loner surrounded by your books doesn’t mean that the rest of us can’t have social lives!” Biana returned.

“Girls, girls, no arguing over social lives and hobbies at the breakfast table.  Do it where you normally fight about that … everywhere else, ” Alan chided them.

But while Bianca was willing to let the argument go, she was determined to be single-minded about the new thing to give her life meaning.  “So, Daddy, this means that I can date, right?”

Alan paused for a moment, and then looked at Kate, who was eighteen and, as far as he knew, had indeed never been on a date.  She’d never shown any interest in dating.  Normally, he might be concerned that she was hiding her dates from him, but Kate was pretty much an open book on, well, most subjects.  Even if she thought that he didn’t like her date, be it because he was a bad boy or perhaps a girl, she’d be more likely to openly present them to her and vocally — and loudly — defend her choice than hide it from him.  No, when she said that there was no one worth getting made up for and going on a date with, that was probably what she really believed.  Then again, as Bianca had noted she wasn’t much of a social butterfly, and he’d heard from other parents that their children found her to be a bit standoffish and intemperate, which were polite ways of saying that they thought she was a bitch.  This was in sharp contrast to Bianca, who was nice and sweet and more than a little spoiled, but popular with everyone.

In the two years where Kate was technically able to date, she’d never had one.  If Bianca started dating, she’d have one every night if he let her.

An idea came to him, and the more he thought about it, the more he liked it.  Yes, it would work out nicely.

Bianca had been patiently waiting for him to work through his thoughts … or, well, as patiently as she ever waited, which was not very.  So it was really less than a minute of thought that he was able to get in before she pressed again, “So, can I date Daddy?  Because at the party John was talking about …”

He cut her off.  “Yes, Bianca, you can date … if you double-date with Kate.”

“What?!?” both girls exclaimed.

“At least for the first few times, until you get used to dealing with boys on that level.”

“But Kate has never dated anyone.  If I have to wait for her to get a date, I’ll never get to go on a date!”

“I can’t say she’s wrong, ” Kate chimed in.

“Look, boys can get very aggressive, especially in these sexually charged times, and so Bianca I don’t want you to get hurt before you figure that out.  Kate can keep things in order since she’s older and more mature, and it’ll always be the case that the two of you can look out for each other, which is an opportunity that I didn’t realize I’d have but works out so very, very well, ” Alan explained.

“Hmph!” Bianca grumbled.  “You just don’t want me to ever go on a date!  And if I have to wait until she gets a date, I won’t!”

And she got up from the table and stomped her way back to her room.

Kate rolled her eyes.  “Obviously, making me the major obstacle to her lifelong dream is a cunning plot to promote sisterly peace and harmony, ” she said sarcastically.   “That’s all I need.”

And she got up from the table and stalked her way out of the house.

Alan had managed to get both of his daughters incredibly angry at him because he put them in a position where they were obstacles to each others’ happiness.  Clearly, the plan was off to a great start.

At school on Monday, Howard and Grant walked into the school together, as they did most days.  It wouldn’t be right to say that they were friends, although they were generally congenial towards each other.  No, the reason they walked into the school together was that they were both headed to the exact same place:  straight to where ever Bianca was, which was usually her locker.  And today was a special day, as each of them were hoping to score the first of what they hoped to be many dates with the fair Bianca.

“So?” Grant asked.  “Did your father say that you could start dating?”

Bianca slammed her locker door shut.  “Yes.”

“I’d’ve thought that you’d be, well, a bit more happy and a lot less angry about that, ” Howard said, puzzled.

“Oh, he said that I could date all right … as long as I double with Kate!”

“Kate?!?” Grant exclaimed.  “Who in the world would date her?!?”

“I know, right?  She pretty much treats any boy who dares to speak to her like dirt!” Bianca grumbled.

“Which is only slightly worse than she treats most of the girls who dare to speak to her, ” Howard mused.

“Which means that since I can’t date until she does, I’m not going to be dating until I’m in an old age home.  Or worse, my dad’s age!”

And then Bianca stormed off.

The two boys stood there for an instant, and then Grant said, “I never thought that my biggest obstacle to winning Bianca would be her sister instead of you.”

“Yeah, this is a much bigger obstacle than you would be.”

“I’d love to prove to you that I’m an obstacle that you couldn’t get over, but we still have to deal with the Kate issue.”

“Maybe there’s a way … “.

“What do you have in mind?” Grant asked.

“Well, the answer is obvious:  if we want Bianca to date, we need to find a date for Kate.”

“And the problem there is obvious:  no man in his right mind would date her.”

“Why not?  She’s not as attractive as Bianca, but she isn’t bad looking.”

“It’s not her looks, but her personality.  You’ve seen the people she’s shredded to little pieces with her tongue.  Who would be stupid enough to risk that to even ask her just for the hopes of getting the privilege of her company for an evening?”

Howard mused for an instant.  “I’m sure we could find someone who would do it for it if we slipped them a little cash for … expenses.”

Grant mused for an instant.  “Well, between the two of us we could make a substantial deal, but we still have to find someone who Kate will find appealing enough to actually accept a date with.  And she seems pretty picky.”

“I never said it would be easy, but it’s either do that or else we ditch our hopes for Bianca and find someone else to chase.”

“There’s no way I’m doing that,” Grant stated firmly.

“Me, either.  So, deal?”  Howard extended his hand.

Grant took it.  “Deal.  When do we start looking?”

“No time like the present.  We can talk to Bianca about who Kate might like at lunch.”

“And then we can get on with our competition over Bianca, ” Grant added.

“And may the best man win, ” Howard said.

Grant shuddered.  “And that won’t be the poor guy we find to date Kate”, he said.

As Bianca stormed off, she turned a corner rather too quickly and ran into someone, and the books that she had painstakingly taken out of her locker fell to the floor.  “Great, that’s all I need!” she muttered as she bent to retrieve them.

“Let me, ” a voice said, and she looked up to see a handsome boy with perfectly styled dark hair, smoldering eyes, and a lovely smile standing in front of her.  She was also really sure that she hadn’t seen him around before.  By the time he bent and picked up her books, she managed to push her heart back down into her chest from her throat to recover her voice.

“Thanks … uh, ” Bianca stammered, realizing that she didn’t know his name.

“Richard, ” he replied.  “I just started today.”

“Oh, that’s nice!” she exclaimed, happy that she wasn’t going to offend him by not remembering the name of someone who had always gone to this school.  “I’m Bianca!”

“Bianca.  That’s a pretty name, and not a common one these days.”

The conversation likely would have gone on for a while, but the bell rang and for all of her other qualities, punctuality — at least to class — was something Bianca was really proud of.  “I have to go.  I hope to see you around!” she said as she hurried off to class.

Another guy came up to Richard.  “Derek, I am definitely going to date that girl.”

“Good luck with that, ” Derek commented.  “That’s Bianca Middlebro, and I just heard that she’s not going to get to date until her sister manages to get a date.”

“I take it she’s a bit of a dog?”

“No, she’s attractive enough.  Although she is quite a bitch, so I guess that still applies.”

Richard shrugged.  “Well, I’ve got to get to know her a bit better first anyway.  I’m sure that I can come up with some way to get her sister a date in that time.”

“You’ll also have to get past Howard and Grant, who have been chasing after her since grade school.”

“Well, I’m sure that they have a plan to get her sister a date, so if you talk to them let them know that I’m in.  Whatever they need, I’ll provide it.”

Derek smiled.  “You’re expecting to be able to buy your way out of this problem, aren’t you?”

Richard shrugged.  “It’s worked for me in the past.”

Howard, Grant and Bianca gathered at lunch a frustrating couple of days later.  Their quest to find someone to date Kate wasn’t going well.

“I can’t believe we can’t find a date for Kate, ” Bianca groused.

“Not even if we offered to pay them, ” Grant agreed.

Howard shrugged.  “It’s the fact that we have to find someone to date her that she might possibly deign to go out with.  The really popular guys won’t date her because they have a chance at more attractive or nicer girls and don’t think it’s worth the effort.”

“Plus, way too many of them put themselves out of the running by asking ‘Does she put out?'” Bianca added.

“Yeah, ” Grant commented.  “She won’t, and if they tried to press it she’d hurt them, like she did that guy who groped her in gym class that time.”

“He walked funny for about a week, ” Bianca said, with a hint of pride in her voice that she seemed to be trying, unsuccessfully, to hide.

“We could try to recruit the losers who don’t have any better options, but Kate wouldn’t go out with them, ” Howard continued.

Bianca said, “Which should leave most of the guys in the school who are somewhere in-between, but … “.

“But, ” Howard finished, “They’re all intimidated by her.  They figure that there’s a good chance they’ll get rejected, and if they do get rejected they can get it in a much nicer way than they’d get it for her.”

“Which leaves us where?” Grant asked.

“I guess we’re going to have to keep looking for that unicorn, that guy that we somehow overlooked that at least has a shot at getting her approval but isn’t intimidated by her and is at least willing to date her for money, if not for interest, ” Howard commented.

“I won’t be dating until I’m forty, ” Bianca groused.

Howard was still pondering this in the library after school when his friend Pete showed up.  Pete was probably one of the most reclusive guys in the entire school.  He spent most of his time before and after school in the library or, well, not there.  He was in a couple of minor clubs but wasn’t anyone that anyone paid much attention to in any of them, which is why he was able to play chess in the chess club without being branded one of the dreaded chess club geeks.  He was smart but didn’t answer a lot of questions in class, did academic quizzes and played chess but never really did that well at them, did well enough in gym class but wasn’t good enough to be on a team, and in general gave the impression of being someone who was well-liked enough and that most people kinda knew but someone no one knew well enough to be a good friend of his or to make him an object of mockery.

Howard was one of his better friends, and possibly even his only friend … and even he didn’t know Pete that well.  He’d met him at one point while studying for a test for a class he was struggling in, and after noticing that he was missing notes on one particularly important topic in desperation asked Pete for his.  That turned out to be futile, as Pete himself noted with a smile that his writing was so bad that he wouldn’t be able to read them anyway.  But he then helped Howard go over that topic and some others, and Howard went from that being a test that he was sure to fail to it being a test that he did really well on.  They talked every so often when they were both in the library and even played video games at each others’ houses every so often, but Howard couldn’t say that they were good friends.  He could say, however, that Pete was a really good guy.

“You look like you have a lot on your mind, ” Pete commented.  “I take it that the search for a date for Kate isn’t going well?”

Howard raised an eyebrow.  “You know about that?”

Pete shrugged.  “It’s amazing what you can hear when rumours are running rampant and you spend much more time listening than talking.”

Howard grinned.  “Yeah, I guess so.  And yeah, it’s not going well.  We just can’t find anyone that Kate might be able to muster any interest in who’s willing to date her or willing to risk a tongue-lashing from her.”

“Even if you pay them.”

“Even if we pay them, ” Howard agreed.

“And, of course, if she can’t get a date, Bianca can’t get a date, ” Pete commented.  “And if Bianca can’t get a date, that date can’t be you, and you’ve been chasing her for years now.”

“Yeah, that’s pretty much it, ” Howard conceded.

Pete paused for an instant.  “I’ll do it, ” he offered.

“What?” Howard said, unable to believe his ears.

“I’ll take a shot at Kate if it will help you take a shot at Bianca, ” Pete repeated.

Howard paused to consider Pete for a minute.  In terms of looks, Pete wasn’t bad looking.  He wasn’t top tier, but he wasn’t bottom tier either.  He was probably about as good looking for a guy as Kate was for a girl, meaning that Kate probably wouldn’t turn him down on that basis.  He was really smart, which would appeal to Kate, and Howard knew from discussions he’d had with him that Pete knew an awful lot about … well, most subjects, really, but especially about some of the artistic and intellectual/academic topics that she really liked.  That he was willing to volunteer to approach her also meant that he wasn’t intimidated by her, which was nice.  About the only problem was that Pete was a real loner, and so might not be able to come up with a good approach towards Kate, and might crumble when he finally had to face her wrath.

Still, they could coach him a bit on the approach, and beggars can’t really be choosers.

“I’d really appreciate you doing this, ” Howard commented.  “Meet us at lunch tomorrow and we’ll go over what approach you should take, and get you some hints from Bianca on what Kate likes.”

They met the next day at lunch, and were just waiting for Pete to arrive.  Bianca wasn’t as optimistic about Pete as Howard was.

“He’s the most reclusive guy in school!  Does he even talk?!?” she exclaimed.

“I can confirm that, yes, he does talk.  And it’s even the case that sometimes, if you get him going, you can’t get him to shut up!” Howard defended his friend.

“Sounds like that makes him a perfect match for Kate, ” Grant chimed in.

“He’s smart, he has a wickedly deadpan sense of humour, he isn’t bad looking and, most importantly, he’s willing to do it, ” Howard went on.  “So unless you have a better option, I think he’ll work out well.”

“Plus, I’m pretty sure he’s not intimidated by her, ” Grant added.  “We did those debates in history class a few times, and Kate’s aggressiveness pretty much shattered anyone who was taking them at all seriously, but Pete just stared her down and made his points.”

“Well, I guess you’re right that we don’t have a choice, and he seems all right, but isn’t it usually the case that those loners turn into serial killers or mass murderers or something?” Bianca said.

Unfortunately, she hadn’t noticed that Pete had arrived at that point and had heard what she said.  And it wasn’t hard for him to figure out who she was talking about.

“No, that’s usually the angry loners.  I’m more of the amused loner that you find in fiction that shows up for trenchant comments on the human condition and then fades away to let the main characters carry the show, ” he commented wryly.

Bianca at least had the grace to seem a little embarrassed at getting caught badmouthing him, but also didn’t seem that impressed by his joke.

“Hey, Pete, ” Howard jumped in before Bianca could say something they’d all regret.  Which, sadly, could include an apology.

“Hey, ” Pete replied.

“So, ” Grant chimed in.  “How do you think you’ll approach Kate?”

“Well, ” Pete said thoughtfully, “I think the biggest hurdle is that Kate seems to be cultivating what in some circles in known as a ‘bitch shield’?”

“Bitch shield?!?” Bianca exclaimed.  “Isn’t that some kind of PUA crap?  What, are you going to neg her?”

“Not at all, ” Pete protested.  “Negging is supposed to be used with someone who has a very high opinion of themselves, so you use a light little insult to show that you don’t really care if they go out with you or not by showing that you don’t care if they feel insulted by it or not.  Bitch shields, on the other hand, are usually used as a test to see how many hoops a guy is willing to go through to get her interest.”

“I still say that if you’re going to rely on PUA crap you aren’t going to get very far with Kate, ” Bianca maintained.

“Well, facts are facts, regardless of the source, and some of the psychological aspects actually work.  Still, it wouldn’t work here anyway, because Kate’s not putting up the shield as a test, or a kind of wall of thorns that she’s hoping someone will brave to get to her.  No, I think that it’s a different kind of defense mechanism, where she makes herself so unpleasant that she can convince herself that if she doesn’t attract interest it’s because she’s pre-rejecting them instead of them rejecting her.  That way she can discourage the guys who don’t interest her and so not have to put up with their advances and can convince anyone who might be simply ‘taking a shot’ to not bother, and anyone that she might like who doesn’t approach her can be someone who just can’t take her ‘honesty’.  So the key here, it seems to me, is for me to make it clear that I’m not at all intimidated or bothered by her attitude, without making it look like I’m just giving in to whatever she says, because from what I’ve seen of her the only thing she likes less than the overly aggressive macho Alpha Male is the overly submissive guy who wants her to dominate him.  She needs an equal, not someone to dominate her or be dominated, and the first step to proving that is to not be intimidated by her and to make it clear that while you aren’t going to be chased away by her, you aren’t going to passively take all of her insults either.”

“That ‘equality’ thing’s not really a PUA thing, is it?” Bianca asked a little snarkily.

Howard inwardly groaned at that.  Bianca had latched onto that and was riding it for all it was worth, and if Pete took offense …

Pete shrugged.  “You don’t find many loners among avowed PUAs, ” he commented.  “Just because I know what they say and can glean some useful information from it doesn’t mean I agree with them.”

“Anyway, ” he went on before anyone could chime in, “The key is for me to stay calm, unafraid and unbothered no matter how many egregious insults she throws my way.”

He checked his watch.  “I have to go.  I’ll find some time to make an approach and get back to you with the results.”  And then he left.

“What do you think?” Howard commented.

Grant shrugged.  “He might have a shot.  And we don’t have another option.”

“I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t end up walking funny for a week, ” Bianca groused.

Kate was sitting outside under one of the old growth oak trees that always played so prominently in any kind of promotional material, reading a book when Pete came up and sat down beside her.  She quirked an eyebrow at him and said snarkily, “You must be lost.”

He gave her a look of puzzlement.  “Lost?” he asked.

“This isn’t the library, ” she continued.

He looked around.  “It isn’t?”

She rolled her eyes.  “The lack of books should really have given it away.”

He pointed to the stack of five books that she had beside her.  “I count five books.  Does that make this a library, then?”

“Five books doesn’t make a library, ” she replied.

He shrugged.  “At some points in time, people would collect five books and brag at how impressive a library they had to all their friends and social acquaintances.”

She started to reply, but then stopped and took a long look at him.  “You’re the one, then.”

He looked puzzled again.  “The one?”

“You’re the one that my sister and her beaus recruited to try to convince me to go on a date with them.”

“I will never lie to you, ” he replied grandly, and then fell silent.

Kate let the silence go for about three seconds, and then broke it with “And?”

Again, he looked puzzled, and said, “And what?”

“Well, ” she replied, “Usually when someone says that they are either going to tell the truth or else tell a lie.  They don’t usually say nothing, as that kinda defeats the purpose of using that line.”

“Those are people who don’t realize that one doesn’t have to tell the truth to not lie.  There is always the option to say nothing.”

“If someone’s not ashamed of the truth, there’s no reason not to simply say it, ” she retorted.

“Only if doing so would serve some purpose.”

“You don’t think letting me know that you’re the pawn of my sister and her beaus serves a purpose?”

“You’ve clearly already made up your mind, and so will believe that I am no matter what I say.  If I say that I am the guy they’ve recruited, you’ll conclude that I’m telling the truth and am indeed him, but if I say that I’m not, you’ll conclude that I’m lying and am indeed him.  Either way, you’re going to come to the same conclusion.”

“If you said you were, then at least I’d know that you’re the guy, instead of just believing it, ” she pointed out.

“But you already at least think you know that, which is what makes my confirming or denying it pointless.”

“What makes you say that?” she asked.

“Well, if you didn’t feel you knew that you couldn’t justify the belief.  If I said that I was that guy, you might wonder if I was someone who was not that guy, but was claiming I was in order to get you to stick around for a conversation long enough knowing that if you don’t talk to that guy long enough to find a real reason to reject him your sister is going to bug you about it for days.  And if I said I wasn’t, you’d have to wonder if I wasn’t someone who just happened to be interested in you just as they were trying to find a date for you.  It’s only because you feel you know that I am that guy that it doesn’t matter what reply I give.  And since it doesn’t matter what reply I give, I choose to not bother to reply.”

“So, you’re not going to tell me if you’re that guy?” she pressed.

“Oh, I am that guy, ” he replied.

Now it was her turn to look puzzled, although that was because she actually was puzzled.  “But you just said that you weren’t going to reply to my question because it didn’t matter what you said!”

“Yes, I wasn’t going to reply to the question ‘Are you the guy they’ve arranged for me?’.  But the question you asked here was ‘Are you going to tell me if you’re that guy?’.  And that’s a different question, one that there might be a point in answering … even though it won’t change your belief as to whether or not I am the designated guy.”

Kate didn’t quite get it, but the conversation was getting a bit out of hand, in the sense that she was started to enjoy it, and that would never do.  So she decided to return to her tried and true approach of aggressive insults to try to end it.  “This is more words than you’ve said to anyone for years.  Are you okay?  Do you need a lozenge for your sore throat?  I’m surprised that your voice isn’t cracking from overuse.  Maybe you should rest it for a couple of days before you try this conversation again.”

“I can tolerate it given the potential reward, ” he replied.

“What reward?” she replied archly.

“The pleasure of your company, ” he replied.

“Oh my God, ” she replied.  “Have I finally met him?  Have I finally met the guy I’ve been waiting for all my life?  Have I met the guy who is completely and totally oblivious to snark?”

“Oblivious, no.  Immune, yes.”


He shrugged.  “I don’t think there’s any snark you can level at me that would get me to walk away from this conversation.”

“So then there’s nothing that I can say to get you to walk away from this conversation and leave me alone?”

He looked her straight in the eyes.  “All you have to do is simply and directly tell me that you want me to go away and leave you alone.  Not for today, because you have to study, and not for casual conversations that we’ve obviously never really had, but that you want me to go away because you don’t want to ever talk to me about anything other than what chapters are on the test.  If you can do that, then I’ll leave, and never talk to you again about anything other than that sort of casual acquaintance sort of conversation.”

She paused.  On the one hand, it seemed too good to be true.  And even if he wouldn’t leave her alone after that, she’d have good cause to dislike him and good cause to go to her sister and say that her guy wouldn’t work out because he was a lying jerk.  So there were so many reasons for her to just go ahead and tell him that and get it all over with.  On the other hand, if she did that too quickly it wouldn’t really settle things with her sister, and he hadn’t really been a jerk so far.  It might be worth giving this one a try in case the replacement was someone even worse.

And on top of that, she actually was enjoying the conversation.

After a pause, she said, “I want you to go away and leave me alone … ”

As she paused, he looked disappointed but then stood up to leave, before she continued, “… Because I have to study.”

A faint smile crossed his lips.  “Tomorrow?” he asked.

“Tomorrow works, ” she replied.

The conversations continued for the next couple of weeks, something that really bothered Grant and especially Bianca, but Howard trusted Pete and so wasn’t worried.  Pete, in turn, assured him that he was trying to build a rapport with her first but that the time was coming when he’d ask Kate out and so he should be ready to date Bianca when the time came.  But as those two weeks progressed, he saw Bianca getting closer and closer to Richard and having less and less time to spend with him, and she spent most of that time griping at him about how much of a coward Pete was and how he was playing them for money (despite not having asked for anything other than what they had promised up-front) and any number of insults towards his friend, which didn’t sit right with him.  But, eventually, the time came, and Pete reported in.

“I’ve asked Kate if she would be willing to do the double-date with me, and she said she would.  So if you still want to date Bianca, you should probably ask her now.” Pete told him.

“So, you think you’ve tamed the shrew, eh?” Howard replied.

Pete shrugged.  “Not quite yet.  You’ve probably noticed that the two sisters can be a bit spoiled and demanding.  It comes from having a mostly doting father.  I’ve managed to break her out of her shell and get her believing that someone might be interested in her for her, but now I have to break her of her belief that she should always get what she wants and her habit of not thinking about others when pushing to get what she wants.”

“You know, I’ve read the play.  If you try what he tried, you will end up walking funny, ” Howard replied.

Pete grinned.  “No chance of that.  I’m going to use my greatest strength against her.”

“Which is?” Howard asked.

“Being fussy, eccentric, and always right, ” Pete replied.

“Good luck with that, ” Howard quipped.

“Oh, and if you do decide not to ask Bianca out, you might want to give Hannah a quick glance, ” Pete said, and then walked away, leaving Howard to ponder what glance he might want to give that girl who sat beside him in Math class and didn’t say a word to him.

In due time, the date was arranged, although the details still had to be worked out.  When they told her father about it, Kate simply confirmed that it was true and then took off to her room, almost as if she was embarrassed to admit that it was happening, but Bianca, as was her wont, stay to gush about it and lambaste her father about setting up the whole stupid mess in the first place.  He patiently sat and took it all in right up until the point where she seemed to be actually getting serious.

“But what I don’t understand, ” she ranted, “Was why in the world you wanted to punish me like this?  You took something that I’ve been waiting for for years and made it so that it depended on Kate actually being reasonable!  She could have kept me waiting for years!  In fact, I’m surprised she didn’t!  Why do you hate me so much that you’d do that to me?!?”

Alan sighed.  “I didn’t do it to punish you.  I did it to help your sister.”

“Excuse me?!?” Bianca cried.

“Look, it hasn’t been as easy for her being your sister as you might think.  For all the time you were kids, you were the cute one.  The friendly one.  The outgoing one.  She’s always been a bit shy and reserved and the fact that you were the opposite meant that you got a lot more attention than she did.  And if someone tried to include her in things that she’d given no indication she wanted she felt that they were just doing it out of pity.  There weren’t too many people who were interested in getting through her shell and engaging her for her.  So she learned to be happy on her own, by herself.

“But I figured that that was getting in the way when it came to dating, and she was still trying to be on her own instead of feeling that someone would rather be dating someone like her than someone like you.  But this is the time that she needs to try to get out of her shell and find out what sorts of things she does and doesn’t like and learn to deal with people.  And she’d lost two years of that already.  But I finally had the thing that she couldn’t resist to push her out of her comfort zone.”

“What was that?” Bianca asked.

“You, ” Alan replied.

“Me?!?” Bianca cried.

“For all of the fighting you two do, I know that the two of you actually love each other and want to help each other.  I knew that this is something that you’ve been looking forward to for years and so it’s something that you’d be genuinely heartbroken over if you didn’t get to do it.  Kate wouldn’t want you to feel that way, so she’d be willing to give it more of a shot than she would to avoid you feeling that way.  And I knew that because you care about Kate you’d make sure to try to find or encourage a guy that she at least had a chance of liking, avoiding the date being a complete disaster.  Maybe it won’t work out and Kate will go back into her shell, or maybe she’ll break out of it at least a little.  Either way, I finally had a chance to give her a chance, and I had to take it.

“I’m sorry that I had to hurt you to do it.  Forgive me?”

Bianca hugged him.  “I forgive you.  Just … don’t try something like this when it comes to prom, okay?”

Alan smiled.  “I promise.”

And so, the double date was set, although as to be expected Howard bowed out, which left Richard as Bianca’s date.  Well, it would have been Howard anyway, so that wasn’t any great surprise.  There was, of course, one more issue to resolve:  where to go on that double date.  And it was around this decision that the next phase of Pete’s plan would go into action.

“Let’s go to Plant Matter, ” Kate suggested.

“Isn’t that that new place that’s all-vegetarian?” Richard commented, obviously not all that thrilled at the idea.

“Yes, but their stuff is great!  Every dish uses plants that most people have never heard of, let alone wanted to eat!” Kate enthused.

“But … isn’t most of that stuff spicy?” Bianca chimed in.

“Yeah, all of it is!  That’s what makes it so great!” Kate replied.

Bianca and Richard clearly weren’t all that thrilled with the idea.  Richard wasn’t a vegetarian and while on occasion he’d had vegetarian dishes that he could stand he wasn’t thrilled by them and, well, preferred the omnivorous diet to the vegetarian one.  And Bianca didn’t care for spicy food much at all.  She could tolerate some of it, of course, if it was milder, but tried to avoid it if she could.  All in all, this meant that at least their side of the dinner date wasn’t going to be all that pleasant.  But, Bianca knew what it meant when Kate was this enthusiastic, and she knew that they were either going to go willingly or else Kate would threaten to cancel the date if they didn’t go, and so either way they were going to go.  She resigned herself to having an unpleasant dinner and hoping that the company, at least, would make up for it.

It was at that point that Pete joined the conversation.  “No, we aren’t going there, ” he said calmly.

Kate was shocked.  “What?!?” she exclaimed.

“We aren’t going to go to Plant Matter for this dinner date, ” Pete replied calmly.

“And why not?” Kate demanded.

Pete shrugged.  “Because I don’t want to go there, ” he replied.

“Well, I do!” Kate retorted.

Pete shrugged again.  “I don’t.  And so if you insist on us going there, I won’t go on the date.  And then the date will be cancelled, and so Bianca and Richard won’t get to go on their date either.”

Bianca was shocked.  She had expected Kate to make that move if her approach of simply demanding it didn’t work out — which probably would have been the very next thing she said — but Pete had managed to beat her to the punch.  She was also torn, since while she didn’t want to go there she did think that Pete was being a bit of a jerk about it.

“So, after all this effort and after everything is settled, you’d end it all over the choice of restaurant?!?” Kate exclaimed.

Pete appeared to consider that for a moment.  “Pretty much, ” he replied.

“You’d really be that selfish?!?” Kate exclaimed.

“Is it really me being selfish?” Pete retorted.  “After all, you’ve chosen a restaurant that you like but that you know most people won’t like, and one that doesn’t offer a wide selection for people who have different tastes than you … knowing, of course, that most people do.  On top of that, you didn’t think to ask whether anyone here can’t tolerate spicy food … and, as it turns out, I can’t.  So you’ve picked a restaurant that you like, that you know most other people don’t like, and that I can’t eat at, and then call me selfish when I say that I’m not going to go?”

Kate was taken aback.  She really hadn’t thought about how much the others would like that restaurant.  She thought the food was great and she loved the atmosphere, but yeah Richard probably wouldn’t be happy with the vegetarian menu, and yeah Bianca didn’t care for spicy food — although she’d always go along with Kate whenever food was spicy — but she’d never even considered that Pete might not be able to get anything to eat there.  Then again, maybe he was lying about that to get out of going to a vegetarian restaurant.  But he said he’d never lie to her, so …

“We could go to Blue Lagoon, ” Bianca suggested, breaking into her thoughts.

Kate considered protesting, but Pete seemed pretty serious about not going on the date if they went there, and having made the threat he probably wasn’t going to back down from it easily.  Especially since if she’d made the threat she wouldn’t back down from it that quickly.  And it was a good suggestion because she and Bianca had gone there a number of times with her father and she’d found some good vegetarian dishes there, and it had more variety in its menu.  Sure, it could be a bit loud at times with the music and with the family crowds, but it would work and she could get through this date … and probably ditch Pete afterwards for being such a jerk.

“That sounds like … ” she started to say, but Pete interrupted her.

“No, ” he said.  “We’re going to The Nostalgia Diner“.

“Isn’t that that place that has like a 70s theme or something?” Richard chimed in.

Pete shrugged.  “It’s a mix of themes from the 60s, 70s and 80s, ” he said.

“But isn’t that the place that all the old folks go to?” Bianca commented.

Pete shrugged again.  “What does it matter?” he replied.  “That’s where I want to go, and I won’t go on the date unless we go there, and if I don’t go on the date you’ll have to start all over again.”

Kate seethed.  Sure, she was going to insist on going to Plant Matter, but he was being a complete jerk about this, taking them all to somewhere that no one wanted to go.  She could tell that Bianca and Richard weren’t happy with going to this place that they’d never been to but that they had heard wasn’t the sort of place they wanted to go, and she felt the same way.  But she didn’t want Bianca to have to go through all of this again, and figured she could suck it up for one date.

But she really did think that Pete was being a jerk.

“Are you guys okay with this?” Kate asked Bianca and Richard.

They looked hesitant, but nodded.

“Fine, we’ll go there, ” she finished.

But don’t expect me to enjoy it, or to give you another date, she thought to herself.

When they arrived, she had expected it to be cheesy and hokey and very, very camp, but it was actually pretty respectable, more or less.  Yes, it had the traditional diner booths, but booths were kinda comfortable anyway.  The decor, however, was far more tasteful than she expected, using the nostalgic items more as accents than as the main draw.  You could look at the walls and see cool things from each of those eras without being overwhelmed by being in the era.  It really was more a vehicle for nostalgia than a campy cheesy callback to those times.

It was also a lot quieter than the other two places.  Plant Matter did a jungle theme and so had more animal noises and the like, which was fun but good be a bit overwhelming, while Blue Lagoon blared music which could make conversation difficult.  Here, there was music, and a mix of music from the eras, but while you’d expect that they’d blare it to create the atmosphere it was subdued background music, again something to create nostalgia.  This would make conversation relatively easy, and the crowd was light and full of people making light conversation, not screaming children.

She was even surprised by the menu.  Instead of typical diner fare it had a variety of foods.  It even had a vegetarian section.  Not a large one, only about four items, but they all looked like they were built as vegetarian dishes and not as something that they slapped on a menu as a sop to vegetarians who came with their non-vegetarian friends.  A couple of them were even spicier.  And she could tell that Bianca and Richard were finding the selection here better than they would have had at Plant Matter.  Maybe even at Blue Lagoon.

The waitress came over to take their orders, and when she came to Pete she said, “And for you, the usual?”

“Please, ” Pete replied.

Here we go, she thought.  He’s probably going to order something really spicy and make a mockery of the reason that he didn’t want to go where I wanted and make it clear that he’s in charge and I have to do what he wants like the jerk he is.

But when the orders arrived, he had ordered a simple cheeseburger with fries.  Simple and plain.  And there was no plant matter at all on the burger.  Not even ketchup or mustard.  And he didn’t put anything on the fries, either.  Kate had to admit that if this was what he normally ordered here he really wouldn’t have enjoyed Plant Matter.

On top of that, she could tell that Bianca and Richard were actually really enjoying the place.  They looked at and laughed and admired the decor, and even at times chimed in with a comment on a song that was playing in the background.  And they all were certainly able to enjoy good conversation with this ambience.

Kate reconsidered her impressions of Pete from when they were deciding where to go.  Sure, he’d acted like a jerk in getting them all to go here, but it really did turn out to be a better place to go for everyone involved.  And she had to admit to herself that she would have pretty much pulled the same trick if he hadn’t beaten her to it, but her choice wouldn’t have worked out anywhere near as well.

When the bill came, Pete took it and paid for it all himself, refusing any attempts from anyone else to chip in.

“So, Mr. Moneybags, ” Kate teased.  “Where did you get the money to cover off the entire bill?”

Pete looked her straight in the eye.  “It’s the money that I was paid to go out with you, ” he said matter-of-factly.

Her heart sank.  She’d had fun tonight, and after she realized that his choice had worked out for the best she was starting to like him even more than she had before.  So much so that she believed that he was just interested in her and had forgotten that he was being paid to go out with her.  She’d been hoping that maybe he really liked her, but here he reminded her that maybe he didn’t, and maybe he was just going out with her for the money.

She finished out the date pleasantly enough, but the doubt gnawed at her the entire night.

The next day, Pete went to their usual spot, but Kate wasn’t there.  He had time, so he waited for her, but he was puzzled about why she was late.  Did she take his jerk act too seriously, and not realize what his goal was?  Well, if that was the case he would have failed, but then she wouldn’t be someone he wanted to date anyway.  Or was it something else?

Before he could ponder that more, she arrived, looking anxious.  “Pete, I have something serious to ask you.  Why did you agree to get me to go out with you?  Was it just the money?”

Pete raised an eyebrow.  “So, you’re asking me if the reason that I went out with you was for the money that I blew on the date itself?”

“Okay, that does sound pretty dumb.  But then why did you go out with me?” Kate replied.

Pete paused for an instant, and then replied, “Because you’re the most perfect girl in the entire school.”

Kate snorted.  “Yeah, right!” she replied.

Pete sighed.  “That’s what I get for being poetic, ” he replied.

He gathered his thoughts for an instant, and then continued, “What people often fail to understand is that when it comes to romantic interest everyone is more individual than we think.  Yes, there are traits both physical and in personality that almost everyone finds appealing, but when it comes down to the real person that they ‘fall in love with’ most people have a pretty personal style of what they like.  The idea of a soulmate tends to reflect more physical attraction for most people, sadly, and that rush of hormones that accompanies new love, but a real soulmate is not the most perfect person, but the most perfect person for you.  The one who hits all of the things you want and whose flaws are ones that you yourself don’t mind and might even work out well.

“For me, you have pretty much all of those qualities.  You have the intelligence I like, a willingness to stand up for yourself, an ability to care for others, and even the sort of looks I prefer.  Your only big flaw is what most people, well, didn’t like about you, and that I don’t need to mention here.  But that was a flaw that I hoped I could fix without changing who you are.

“I hoped that I might fit that for you as well, even if there’s something you want to change about me.  But that’s the only thing missing that would make you the perfect girl for me:  that you’d find that I’m the perfect guy for you, too.”

Kate pondered that for a long minute, and then asked, “So, what’s the next step in this process of us making each other perfect?”

“Kiss me, Kate?” Pete asked.

So she did.

That weekend, there was another date, although more of a group date than a double date.  Sure, Bianca and Kate’s father would now let them date alone, but Bianca and Richard and Kate and Pete had decided that going to a movie would be good, and invited Hannah and Howard along.  Yes, he had indeed asked her out and discovered that Pete had, somehow, been right again and she was really interested in him.  And in terms of personality she fit with him better than Bianca did anyway.  So everyone was really looking forward to this date.

Cue the inevitable argument over what movie to see.

“If we don’t go to the movie I want to go to, I don’t go, ” Pete was insisting again.

“But that movie’s been out for ages!” Bianca exclaimed.  “We’ve all seen it!  Why would we go to that one instead of the other movie that we all want to see?!?”

Kate jumped in.  “Didn’t you learn from the first date that he’s not doing this to be mean or to be a jerk, but for a good reason?  It doesn’t make sense to argue and fight over his choice when you know that he’s doing it to make sure that we all have the best time possible!”

Bianca snorted.  “Yeah, and what great reason does he have for making us go to a movie that we’ve all seen instead of a movie that we all want to watch?”

They all looked at Pete, but he looked towards Kate.  “Would you do the honours?” he said.

Kate thought about it for an instant, and then explained, “Look, we’re all out on a date and going to a movie.  A dark place.  A place made for making out.  If we go to the older movie, no one will be there and so we can make out without having too many people watching us.  And since we’re probably going to spend most of our time making out, it’s better to do that with a movie that we don’t care about seeing instead of a movie that we all want to watch and so would have to come back to see anyway.  We can go see this movie sometime with friends when we can actually watch it, not on a date.”

Pete smiled.  “That’s my girl!” he exclaimed.

And they all went to the older movie.

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