Family Home Evening had morphed into family game night. The chilly evening had prompted a fire in the fireplace, and most of the Hardman siblings were still sitting on the floor playing Settlers of Catan. It was the type of game that could be played over and over again because the game board changed every time. The players would be so close to beating each other that by the time someone did win, everyone else was ready to avenge their loss, and started dealing out the tiles all over again.
Caleb was visiting and he and Donnie were off in the corner leaning over a heated game of chess. Ashley’s dad was sitting beneath the lamp with his newspaper. Sarah, Greg, Steve, and Ashley were dealing out another game of Settlers.
Ashley’s mom popped some popcorn and brought out several bowls which she placed strategically where her family members could easily reach them. She sat on the couch and tucked her legs underneath her, crunching on her own bowl of popcorn and smiling down at the games that were underway.
Ashley watched from the corner of her eye as her mom looked over at her dad and caught his eye with a content smile. He winked back at her and put down his paper.
Dad clicked off the lamp and came over to sit with his wife. He pulled her into his arms and dipped his hands into her bowl of popcorn. They didn’t speak to one another; they just snuggled. They both sighed with contentment and smiled.
Ashley and her brothers and sister were all pretty grown up now. Greg was the last one still in high school, and his graduation was just a few months away. All of their lives were on the cusp of change. It wouldn’t be long before they would start finding spouses and moving on with life.
Within the next few years, Stan and Deanna would probably be grandparents. It was as if everything was falling into place and all the years of ‘raising’ their children were paying off with a room full of responsible adults.
“Checkmate,” Caleb finally declared. Donnie had been the only one of the family who had come close to competing with him, but even he couldn’t beat Caleb. Caleb sat back with a smirk and waited for Donnie to concede with grace.
“I’m done playing against you, man.” Donnie pushed away from the table, stretching as he got up. They both turned away from the chess board and came over to watch the rest of the kids play.
“I’ll challenge you next Caleb.” Ashley smiled up at him. “You’ll probably beat the tar off me, but I can try.”
“Sounds good.” He leaned down and patted her on the shoulder, then came to sit next to her on the floor. There wasn’t much he could do to help her win at Settlers; it was mostly mind strategy and the luck of the dice.
If she told him out loud what her plan was to dominate, she would give herself away to the other players and they’d move to block her. A good deal of the game involved all the players staring at the board and planning their next move.
Eventually, Greg came out the winner and they decided it was a good time to put the tiles away and call it a night.
Dad suggested they have a closing prayer to officially conclude their Family Home Evening before everyone went their separate ways and started getting ready for bed. There was always an early morning looming for those living on a farm.
When they were done, Ashley and Caleb headed over to the chess table and started a new game. The rest of the family began shuffling off to prepare for bed.
“Should I go easy on you?” Caleb smiled at Ashley. “Or be as ruthless as I was with Donnie?”
“That depends on how long you want this game to last,” she teased back.
“I’d better be very nice then,” he replied, placing the chess pieces in their proper places.
They kept looking up at each other from beneath hooded eyes as they bounced back and forth between their focused attention on the game and flirting with each other. The house got quieter and quieter as they came closer to the end of the game. Finally, Caleb whispered with finality, “checkmate.”
“How’d you do that?” she whispered back. “You always manage to make me think that I stand a chance, and then you come out of nowhere to beat me.”
“I’m just as good at chess as you are with Settlers.” He was still whispering. “I think several steps ahead, all the time.”
“That’s not a fair comparison. I didn’t win a single game tonight.”
“You came close though. Every time.”
“Close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades,” Ashley quoted one of her dad’s favorite cheesy lines.
“Would you like me to go out and set up the horseshoe rings?” Caleb asked her in a teasing whisper.
“Nah, you’d probably beat me at those too.”
“I’ll let you win if you give me a kiss,” he whispered.
She had been very clear about her decision to stay a safe distance from any physical contact with both him and Paul until things were settled one way or another. It had been almost a year since their ill-fated experience on the balcony at his house, and neither of them wanted to complicate the situation. It had been so long since she let him kiss her, and she was tempted.
“Sorry, that was uncalled for.” He took a deep breath and sat back a little.
“It’s not that I don’t want to.” She reached for his hand. “Believe me; I want to.”
“I didn’t mean to ruin the moment. We were having such a nice evening.”
“We still are,” she said. “Come on, let’s get some more popcorn. I think I know where my mom has some Hersey Kisses stashed in the kitchen. That is one kind of kiss I can give you.”
They rummaged through the dark kitchen, found some snacks and took them back into the living room.
Ashley sat down on the floor, leaning her back against the couch and looking into the fire. It was mesmerizing and soothing, and she drifted off into her own thoughts as he came to sit beside her.
He placed the popcorn bowl on her lap and she snapped out of her daze. They talked quietly and laughed and threw popcorn at each other until it was very late. Ashley finally leaned her head against his shoulder and felt the fatigue of the day setting in.
She didn’t want the evening to end, so she fought her yawns and kept talking. Eventually her head rested across his knees and he played with her hair as he looked down into her eyes. She didn’t stop talking even as she yawned every couple of minutes. She told him about her thoughts regarding changing her career plans to become a veterinarian.
He listened as she developed a plan in her mind, mapping out a new future for herself. He just kept smoothing the long strands of her hair across his lap as she told him of her dreams. When she finally stopped talking and looked up into his eyes, she couldn’t believe how handsome he looked.
She didn’t stop him as he leaned down and kissed her softly. She reached up and grasped his hair, holding him to her.
Caleb pulled Ashley up into his arms, cradling her like a baby and sat her on his lap, still kissing her. His hands reached under her hair and held her neck, supporting her head so she rested in his arms.
She probably would have fallen asleep like that if her mouth wasn’t distracted by his. As his arm got tired from holding her up, his elbow eventually rested on the floor.
Before she realized how it had happened, they were lying on the floor next to each other, still kissing. It wasn’t something they had planned, but they also weren’t stopping themselves. They didn’t get carried away or do anything wrong. They just kissed for a long time.