“You were late getting home last night.” Paul hooked up a milking machine to the cow in the next stall over from Ashley. “I didn’t see you pull in until after ten.”
“What, are you checking up on me?” she teased him. “You know I go to Institute class on Thursday nights.”
“Yeah, but you’re usually home earlier than that.” It was a thinly disguised question inviting her to give him more information about why she had been out later than usual. It didn’t feel possessive or accusatory necessarily, but a little more than curious.
“A group of us got together for pizza afterward.” Suddenly, Ashley wanted to tell him the whole story. She had never wanted to keep secrets from Paul, and didn’t want him to find out later that she’d been hanging out with another man behind his back. “I met a guy last night.” Her voice was almost a whisper.
He took a minute to respond, grabbing another milking machine and moving on to the next stall.
“Uh, I’m not really sure what to say to that.” He stopped mid-stride and looked over at her. “Is this… guy… someone you are going to be seeing again?”
She wanted with all her heart to tell him ‘no’ but knew that it wouldn’t be true, or fair to him. “Well, he’s never gone to Institute before because he’s really busy with school. But I think he wants to start coming regularly.”
She didn’t add anything else, just walked around to clean the hooves at the back end of the next cow in the lineup. There were a lot of hooves to get cleaned, so she kept working as she waited for him to say something else. He took a deep breath and paused for a while before continuing the conversation.
“I guess I should be really jealous,” he finally said. “Okay, I am really jealous. But, you’ve been very honest with me that you aren’t ready to get too serious and I want to try to respect that.”
He didn’t look at her, but Ashley could see his hurt from the crease of his brow. She came around to stand in front of him until he finally stood up and looked down at her.
“I love you, Paul. Nothing’s ever going to change that. I can’t make any promises, because… well, because I can’t. We’re so young.”
“I know, I know. We’re so young and you’re not ready to make any commitments.”
“Thank you for understanding” Ashley wrapped her arms around his waist and pulled him to her.
“I don’t know that I understand so much as I respect you and I don’t want to push you into anything.” He pulled away just slightly and looked down into her eyes. “I don’t want to give you up, though. Just… promise me that you won’t make any commitments to him either, okay?”
“Man,” she pushed him away playfully. “I’ve never even gone out on a date with him… or anyone else for that matter.” She changed her mind and pulled him back into her arms.
Ashley looked up at Paul with a bit of invitation in her eyes as if she wanted to let him know that he was the only man that she wanted to go out with, which was pretty much true at that moment. Sure, she’d felt excited about meeting a cute guy the night before. But that didn’t change her feelings for Paul.
She reached up on her toes to kiss him. Suddenly, Paul was kissing her a lot more passionately than he usually did. Before she realized what was happening, he had her pressed up against the side of the stall and he held her tightly in his arms. He felt really good in her arms.
As quickly as the kiss had begun, Paul pushed away from the wall but kept one hand on either side of Ashley so he was leaning against the wall and looking down at her. She felt confused all of a sudden, like it would have been really easy to pull him back to her and get carried away very quickly.
But she didn’t. She knew that they were treading into new territory where neither of them was willing to go. They’d been warned about situations like this, and the importance of not getting into those situations in the first place. Paul leaned toward her again very carefully and whispered in her ear.
“I don’t want to give you up.” With that, he pushed away from the wall and walked over to where the feed container sat waiting for him to grab it as he headed into the horse barn.
Ashley stood against the stall and felt like she was going to fall over. She couldn’t even remember that guy’s name from the night before.