We're at Luciano's Ristorante, and Abby is across from me looking so lovely I want to just stare at her all night long, but since that would be kind of creepy, I force myself to look at my menu. I don't see any of the words, though. I keep watching her out of the tops of my eyeballs. Her skin is all golden from the candlelight, and she has a tiny silver lizard on a chain around her neck that catches the light.

The ristorante (I love saying that.) is extremely perfect for a first date. It's kind of dark and quiet, with lots of Italian decorations. On the walls hang pictures of men pushing gondolas and women picking grapes and families dancing in town squares. Old wax-covered wine bottles sit in the middle of every table holding a candle that's dripping more wax. The tablecloths are white and crisp, and the silverware is real silver. It smells like freshly baked bread and garlic and warm comforting food.

I glance around and notice that most of the other people are couples. I wonder if they're on a first date too. Are any of them as worried as me that they'll drip sauce on their shirt, or catapult their fork across the room when they reach for their napkin, or accidentally lob a meatball into their date's face as they try to cut off a piece?

Oh no, it'll be the ketchup fiasco all over again, but in public.

"What're you going to get?" asks Abby as she glances up from her menu.

"Nothing with spaghetti sauce," I blurt.

Abby laughs. "Good luck with that, Connor. You do know what kind of food they serve here, right?"

I laugh a little and bob my head to the side in embarrassment. "Just don't want to spill is all. I'm a bit nervous." I hold me hand out and show her how it's shaking.

Abby reaches across and grasps my fingers. "Why're you nervous?" She brings my hand down to the table and keeps holding on. Without thinking, I weave my fingers through hers until we're holding hands like a proper couple.

It's hard to remember her question. All I can think about is how a good it feels to have her skin touching mine. My fingers can't shake when she's holding them. "What?"

Abby gives my fingers a squeeze. "Never mind. I think I know. But you don't have to be nervous, Connor. We're best friends, yeah? We've eaten together a million times."

"It's not quite the same, is it?"

I meet her eyes and it's like something super-serious passes between us. Like a ray beam shoots from her brain to mine and boomerangs back again. It's like we both just realized how different things are going to be. It makes a shiver run up my back. "Abby," I say, my voice sounding a little hoarse.

"Yeah?" she whispers.

I don't know what was going to come out of my mouth next, and I don't find out because the waiter arrives at our table. I let out a sigh of relief.

The waiter introduces himself as Marco and asks us what we want to drink. He even has an Italian accent. I feel like I'm in a movie.

Abby pulls her hand away to look at the wine menu. "I'd like some wine. How about you, Connor?"

"Wine sounds good."

"Would you like a bottle?" asks Marco.

We agree that we would, so Marco makes a couple of suggestions. I have no idea what kind of wine to get, so I just go along with Abby's pick. It's something red with citrus overtones and hints of vanilla, whatever that means! It sounds like candy to me.

As we wait for the wine, I notice a tiny furrow appear between Abby's eyebrows.

"Connor," she says, leaning toward me, "I think we should talk."

I stare at her in disbelief. But we just started our date! It couldn't possibly be time for a talk yet, could it? Oh God, she's thought about the ketchup and decided I'm too clumsy. Maybe I shouldn't have told her how nervous I am. Maybe I should have complimented her more on her outfit.

"You look nice," I say quickly. "Really amazing, actually. I bet I have the prettiest date in the whole restaurant. Or should I say ristorante? Your hair looks very, um, neat and combed, and your dress is short. I like the way I can see your legs more. And it's cool how tall you are with those high heels, almost as tall as me."

Abby covers her mouth and I can tell she's trying not to laugh. "Connor, relax. You can't freak out whenever I say we should talk."

"But Abby, it's never good when a girl wants to have a talk. Every bloke knows that."

"Well every bloke is wrong. Sometimes two people need to talk so there aren't any misunderstandings between them, yeah?"

"I guess so."

She gestures between us. "This is a big step, you know? And I just don't want things to get weird between us."

"Me neither." I nod, but I'm not sure where she's going with this. "Weird how?"

"Well, what if we start going out and then decide we don't want to anymore? That might be kind of uncomfortable, don't you think?"

If you call tearing out your heart, ripping it to shreds, and throwing the pieces to future predators as uncomfortable, then, yeah.

"But Abby," I say. "What if we like going out? What if we just stay together? That wouldn't be weird, would it?"

"No, that would be good." She gives me a warm smile.

"Cool." I smile back.

"But we've never tried to be a couple before so the things that don't bother us now might really become annoying, you know?" Abby pauses as Marco appears at the table.

We watch him open the wine and fill our glasses. After Marco leaves, Abby and I clink our glasses together and say "to us." When I taste the wine, I'm relieved it doesn't taste like candy.

I take another sip before I force myself to continue our talk. "What kind of things would bother us?" I ask, picturing the pair of socks I left next to the couch last night and forgot to take upstairs.

"I don't know. Things. When I do kick boxing now, you can just go up to your room and ignore me. And when you want to play video games all afternoon, I can just go outside and enjoy the sunshine."

"But we can still do that whether we're a couple or not, can't we?" I try not to think of our future sleeping arrangements, but I do know my bedroom will still be there as a hidey-hole whether or not I keep sleeping in it.

"That's true," says Abby.

"We'll figure things out as we go along," I tell her. "We already figured out how to live together."

"I hope so. But see, that's why talking is so important, yeah? So we talk before we get mad and we don't make assumptions about things."

She's making a lot of sense, which is somewhat annoying. I make a big show of sighing and rolling my eyes. "You're right. Talking is good."

"Eh, come again?" Abby cocks her head and places her hand near her ear.

I give her a look. "You heard me."

"Heard you say what?"

"That you're right."

Abby jabs her finger in my direction. "Just remember that, Connor Temple. I am right."

I try not to smile, but it's a lost cause. "Yeah, I guess even broken clocks are right twice a day."

Her eyes open wide and her jaw drops. She kicks my shin under the table, but it doesn't really hurt, so I capture her foot between mine. She struggles to pull free and we get into a silent tug of war with our feet. But I'm way too strong, plus I know from prior experience with my sisters that once you cross your ankles it's impossible to pull them apart even when someone is kicking them with your other foot, which Abby does. But I can endure the pain of her high heel long enough to win the game. After a few minutes, Abby finally gives up, and we both laugh. A few people glance at us, so we try to keep our voices down, but that just makes us laugh even more.

Soon Marco comes back and we have to call a truce. Abby orders veal piccata, and I take a chance on spaghetti with meatballs. Our food is delicious, and while we eat, conversation flows easily between us like it always does. I don't even spill a drop of sauce or lob my meatball at anyone!

One of the coolest things about dinner is that Abby doesn't try to pull her foot away from me anymore. I relax my grip on her, and she keeps one of her feet pressed against mine the entire time. It's like we're holding hands only with our feet, and it's in secret because it's under the tablecloth.

After dinner, we decide we're too full for dessert, so we get a couple of cappuccinos.

"Connor," says Abby as she stirs some sugar into her coffee. "I wanted to say one more thing. Even if we try really hard to be a couple, we can't predict the future, yeah? Lots of things can happen, and I don't want to lose you as a friend."

"I don't want to lose you as a friend, either," I say.

"But it might be impossible to stay friends if we break up." She glances down and brushes a crumb off the tablecloth.

"Maybe at first it would." I swallow and try not to think about it. "But if we both want to be friends, I think we could do it."

"Really?" Abby clears off some more crowns. "Promise?"

"Yeah. I don't want to lose you, ever."

Abby glances up. Her eyes are bright as she reaches across the table for my hand. Our fingers thread together as if that's the only way they fit. "Me neither."

"'Cause the thing is," I say, "I love you, Abby. Always have. Always will." I blink. I hadn't meant to say that tonight, maybe not for many, many nights, if at all. But somehow the words just popped out.

Abby stares at me with her eyes wide. Is she shocked, scared? I don't know. But I realize I'm not scared anymore. My hands don't shake and the sick feeling is gone from my stomach. It's like the words somehow made me brave, as if it's been this that I've been afraid of all along. Not spilling sauce or throwing my fork or doing any one of a million stupid things I might do in my clumsiness. It's telling Abby how I really feel. And now that the words are out there, now that she knows how I feel, I can finally relax and just be myself.

Abby blinks, and a tear slides down her cheek. "So I did hear you before."

"Yeah, sorry for pretending that I didn't say it." I reach across and brush away her tear.

"It's okay. You said it now." She leans across the table and gives me a long, slow, sweet kiss. The restaurant disappears and all I can think about is how good everything feels right now.

"Thanks for coming on a date with me," I say as we finally break apart and Abby sinks back into her chair.

"Thanks for asking me," she says. "Now take me home, yeah? The date's not done yet."

I quickly pay the bill and jump out of my chair, sloshing my coffee onto the white tablecloth and dropping my napkin on the floor. My spoon somehow leaps out of the saucer and hits a passing waiter right on the shoulder. Abby stares at me in astonishment. I don't care. I just grab her hand and drag her home as fast as I can.

As Abby said, we have a first date to finish.