The following week, Caleb didn’t come to Institute class. Ashley chose not to go out for pizza that night either. She went home and brushed Shelly, then led her out of the stable and rode bareback across the pasture.
It was very dark, but the moon was shining somewhere behind the clouds. It was late October, and cold. The days were shorter, and the air was crisp. Still, there were very few kinds of weather conditions where she wasn’t willing to take Shelly out for at least a quick ride.
Ashley didn’t want to admit it to herself, but she knew that part of the reason she was out in the paddock was because she knew that Paul would notice she was home early and would know what that implied. It meant something to her that he knew that. She didn’t ride for very long.
Two weeks later, Ashley attended her last Institute class for the semester. Finals were coming up, and everyone was in panic mode. Term papers were due, study sessions were planned, and it was crunch time.
Still, most of the kids who had been coming all semester were there that night. Including Caleb. It was the first time Ashley had seen Caleb again, and her breathing quickened when he walked in the room. She’d forgotten how attractive he was. He didn’t hesitate, but walked straight over to sit beside her. He leaned around her to say hello to April, then smiled down at her. Ashley felt like she couldn’t breathe.
“Hi,” he said quietly. “Sorry I’ve not been here the past few weeks. I got swamped at the hospital.”
“You missed some… very spiritual lessons.” She tried to sound casual, but knew that she’d failed.
“I’ll bet they were.” He smiled as the teacher called the class to order. When the teacher asked around, Caleb volunteered to give the opening prayer. His voice was like velvet.
Ashley could barely think about the words he was saying, and almost missed the chance to echo an ‘amen’ at the end of his prayer. She smiled up at him afterward, and it almost felt like she batted her eyelashes at him.
How embarrassing. He’s going to think I’m just as flirtatious as April had been a few weeks ago. Ugh. She turned her attention to her scriptures and tried to find where they’d left off the previous week.
The lesson that night was on missionary work, and lots of people in the room shared stories from their missions. Including April. Before anyone had even moved after the closing prayer, Ashley turned to April.
“I didn’t know you served a mission.” Ashley had sat next to April for the past three months, yet had never gleaned that little bit of information.
Ashley was one of the only people in the room who had not served as a missionary and she realized after a moment that her face had formed a bit of a pout, and she was staring off into the corner of the classroom.
“Hey, are you okay?” Caleb asked. “You look upset about something.”
“Huh?” She turned to him. “Oh, well, I was just thinking about missionary work, and how I’m like the only person in the whole world who hasn’t served a mission. Oh, I know I’m not even old enough yet, but I just wish I knew what all the rest of you seem to know.”
Caleb chuckled and shook his head.
“Do you want to go get a bite to eat with me?” he asked, standing up and pushing in his chair. “I know this cozy little place where we can sip some hot cocoa and talk more about… missionary work.”
She looked up to him smiling softly down at her. She smiled back and shook her head slightly, laughing at her own insecurity.
“Yeah, I’d like that.” She started to stand up and gather her things, when she realized that April was looking at her a little suggestively.
“Going on a date, are you?” April giggled at her. Caleb was turned away from them politely, getting his coat on and gathering his scriptures and backpack.
“I guess so,” Ashley looked a little sheepishly back at her friend. “Will you be okay going out for pizza with everyone without me?”
“You rarely go out for pizza with us anyway,” April responded. “I’ll be just fine. Go. Have fun!” They gave each other a knowing smile, and Ashley turned back to Caleb.
He took her to a little coffee house with an open mic night. They sipped hot cocoa and ate bagels with cream cheese while they listened to college kids making fools of themselves reciting poetry. It was fun and light and a perfect opportunity to get to know one another without having to feel that they had to fill each little awkward space with chatter. Afterward, he walked her back to her truck again, but this time he hesitated by the door for a minute.
“I’d like to see you again, over the holidays,” he told her quietly. “I know that I’m going to be busy at the hospital, and you’ll probably be busy with family and stuff. But, maybe we could try to fit in an afternoon here or there. What do you think?”
“I think,” she hesitated. “I think I’d really like that.”
She stopped again and looked up at him, trying to decide how best to word this.
“I have to be honest with you though, Caleb. I’m sort of seeing someone else… too.” She added as an afterthought.
What she should have said was that she had a steady boyfriend who she’d been with for years, but it seemed almost inconsequential at that moment. After all, she’d made it clear to Paul that she wasn’t making any firm commitments to him. And she really did want to see Caleb again, more so than she even wanted to admit to herself.
“Okay…” He took a little hesitant step back. “Is it serious? With this other guy, I mean?”
“It has that potential.” She hesitated, knowing that it had been serious for a long time. But she also knew there was something big holding her back from making things with Paul much more serious than they were now. She blurted it right out to Caleb. “He’s not a member of the Church.”
“Ah, that…” he hesitated. “…makes things complicated. Doesn’t it?”
“Yeah, it does.” She didn’t know what else to say. She also realized in that moment that she had taken a half step closer to Caleb. She hadn’t meant to, it just happened. She wasn’t sure what that was supposed to mean. He didn’t move, and neither of them spoke for a few minutes. But they looked into each other’s eyes. It was almost as if they were searching for answers, yet neither of them knew what questions to ask. Finally, he broke the silence.
“Well, would you like to go out with me again?” he asked.
“Yeah, I think I would.”
He chuckled at her. “Is that a ‘yes’?”
“Yes.” She laughed back at him. “Yes, I would like to go out with you.” They exchanged phone numbers and she finally climbed reluctantly into her truck. She waved as she pulled away from him, and drove away with a smile on her face.