Ashley walked into her barn on Saturday afternoon to find Paul and Caleb cleaning stalls side by side, laughing and joking. She stopped short, not sure what to think. This was the part of her life that was reserved for Paul.
She stepped slowly forward and both guys looked up at her at the same time. Smiles came across both of their faces and she was reminded again how much more alike they had become in her eyes over the past few months.
“Hey girl, how are you doing?” Paul asked her. He’d never called her ‘girl’ before. That was kind of weird.
“Did you see your new calf was born last night?” Caleb asked her. The excitement in his voice was contagious, but she still wasn’t sure what was going on. She walked over toward the stall where the little guy was resting next to his mother. He looked very peaceful.
“Yes, I was here this morning. I got to help.” She stood there and looked down at him. He was beautiful.
“That must have been amazing.” Caleb came up behind her. He didn’t put his arms around her or give her a hug and kiss, just looked down at the sleeping baby cow. She appreciated that. She wasn’t sure she wanted to show him the kind of affection that she normally would in front of Paul. Just like she didn’t want Caleb to know the passion she still felt for the boy next door who she’d been in love with for as long as she could remember.
This wasn’t getting any easier.
“Ashley, we need to talk,” Paul said suddenly. Ashley turned around and looked right into his eyes. Paul smiled down at her, a new love in his eyes that she couldn’t quite place. She smiled back at him and walked out of the barn, expecting that he would follow her so that they could go off somewhere and have a private conversation. She was surprised when Caleb followed them also. She turned back toward him.
“Caleb,” she asked. “Did you want to give us a minute?”
“No way.” Caleb shook his head. “I need to be here for this.”
“Oh-kay—” She kept walking, out past the fence and beyond the little pasture. She felt a bit of panic set in, afraid they were going to get in an argument or something, but something reassured her that wasn’t going to happen. She stopped and turned to them. They looked over at one another, smiled, and then turned to her.
“I’m going to be baptized next week,” Paul blurted out.
“What?” She felt like she was going to fall over, like she was hyperventilating. Caleb grabbed her to hold her up and put his arms around her.
“I know what you’re thinking,” Paul quickly explained. “And this isn’t about you. It’s about me. I’ve been meeting with the missionaries, and we’ve set a baptismal date.”
“What?” she whispered again. She leaned against Caleb, who continued to hold her.
“I know the Church is true,” Paul affirmed confidently.
She couldn’t think. She couldn’t breathe. Finally, her voice came out as a squeak.
“You know, this isn’t helping me you guys. First I come in to find you working in my barn.” She looked over at Caleb. Then she turned to Paul. “And now you tell me that you’re going to be baptized. There is so little distinction between you two right now that I feel dizzy.”
“I’m sorry, honey,” Caleb told her. He’d never called her ‘honey’ before, just like Paul had never called her ‘girl’. What was going on? “We don’t want to add any more pressure or confusion to your life.”
Too late, she thought to herself.
“What am I supposed to say right now?” she asked them. “What do you want me to do?”
“Come to my baptism?” Paul said. The two men chuckled at each other. Ashley laughed too, feeling a little sense of hysteria coming over her. Paul backtracked slightly. “You don’t have to say or do anything, babe.”
“We’ll be patient, we promise. We know that you need to decide which man to marry. We know that this isn’t really about us. We both love you though. And we know that we need to be patient with you.”
Which man to marry? She thought about her prayer in the temple and how she had asked God to place firmly in front of her the man I’m supposed to marry.
Suddenly, her gaze was distracted off toward the barn and a movement caught her attention.
“Who is that guy in my barn?” Ashley pushed in between Paul and Caleb to get a better look. “And what is he doing with my calf?” She was too far away to see him clearly, but she was sure she’d never seen him before.
“That’s Doc Silver’s replacement,” Paul explained, looking off toward where she had directed. “Some young punk who just moved out here from Idaho or something. He’s buying Doc’s practice because he’s retiring.”
“Idaho…” Ashley’s voice trailed off as she started walking off in his direction. “Well, what’s he doing with my calf?” she mumbled.
She kept walking, ignoring the two men who followed a little behind. She walked with determination, ready to grill this kid who was so blatantly violating her space by looking over her new calf as if he was sizing up the little guy to see how much beef he could buy next year. As she got closer to the barn, Doctor Peters raised his head and smiled up at her.
“You must be Ashley,” he said as she came closer.
Ashley stopped short and her mouth dropped open as she stood ten feet away from the most handsome man she’d ever seen. Blinders focused her eyes on the young veterinarian who was poised to take over for her favorite old Doc Silver.
“Your father mentioned that you’d be around here somewhere and would want to come meet me.”
He got up and extended a hand to her as he stepped closer. She looked down at it in awe. The calloused hand told a story of its own. This was a man who knew his way around a barn. This was a man who cared for her animals. This was a man who would continue to care for her animals in sickness and in health. The irony was not lost on her.
She reached her hand up to shake his and couldn’t let go. It was as if every nerve in her body suddenly became alive at his touch. She understood for the first time what people meant by ‘love at first sight’ and she’d never felt anything like this before.
He looked into her eyes and smiled just slightly. He didn’t pull his hand away, and he didn’t seem to notice the two men flanking her to each side.
“Hi,” she whispered in answer. She wasn’t sure what else to say. He already knew her name, so that was a useless bit of information that she didn’t need to share. She already knew who he was, even if she didn’t actually know his name. She knew him. She knew everything she needed to know about him. She’d been waiting for him all her life.
“I’m Roy Peters,” he explained. “I’m buying the veterinary practice from Doc Silver.” He still hadn’t let go of her hand, until suddenly Paul cleared his throat and pushed Ashley aside just slightly.
“I’m Paul Davis,” Paul said, extending his hand. “I own the farm next door.”
“Nice to meet you, Paul.” Roy turned to Paul reluctantly. He still seemed to have one eye on Ashley.
“And I’m Caleb Rogers,” Caleb butted in. “I just graduated from medical school at the University of Michigan.” His chest was just slightly stuck out and it was obvious he was going out of his way to brag as if to say, I’m not really all that impressed with you being a veterinarian.
“Ah, a doctor in the family,” Roy responded. “Good to meet you.” He turned to shake Caleb’s hand.
“Well, I’m not actually in the family yet,” Caleb explained. “I’m Ashley’s boyfriend.”
Paul gaped over at Caleb with his jaw dropped.
Roy stepped back a little with a slight look of disappointment showing on his face.
“He’s not my boyfriend,” Ashley quickly interjected. Both Paul and Caleb’s heads turned to look at her in shock.
Roy took another step back and glanced back and forth between the two men almost in fear, but definitely in retreat mode.
“Well, uh, I’d better get back to looking over this new calf before heading up to the house. Bishop Hardman mentioned that he and Sister Hardman would love to have me come up to have a piece of pie and meet the rest of the family.”
“Wait,” Caleb stopped him. “You’re a member of the Church?”
“And I suppose you served as one of those missionaries too.” Paul’s statement was more of a question.
Roy looked back and forth between the two of them and stammered a little.
“I am… and I did.” He responded hesitantly.
“Wow…” Ashley sighed. Her voice trailed off and she captured his gaze again. Roy didn’t look away this time, just slowly reached out his hand as if to lead her in the direction of the barn.
“Would you like to show me the rest of your animals?” he asked her, almost in a whisper. “I heard you have a beautiful mare.”
Ashley held his gaze but took his hand and took a step forward; a step away from the two men who had loved her for years. A step out of their lives forever.