Ashley had enough of the confrontation between the two guys in her life. She wanted to pull out of the driveway and have the chance to focus on just one of them at a time.
“Does Paul always speak to you in such a possessive way?” Caleb asked when they’d pulled out onto Mason Road. Ashley was still smiling as she turned to look at him.
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, he used the word ‘my’ several times when referring to you, as if to remind us both that you belong to him,” Caleb pointed out. “It’s quite possessive.”
“I hadn’t thought about it that way.” Ashley still had almost a full grin on her face. She didn’t feel angry at either of them. It was kind of cute the way they were suddenly competing for her attention. She tried to remember that her goal here was to focus on just one of them at a time, so she pinched her lips together and tried to stop smiling. “He’s just used to it being that way, I guess.”
“He’s very much in love with you, isn’t he?” Caleb asked. He didn’t seem angry or jealous, more curious. “I didn’t realize things were that serious between you two. I’m not stepping on any toes here, am I?”
“Maybe a little,” Ashley admitted. “But he’s got steel-toed cowboy boots, so I’m sure he’ll be okay.”
“Yeah,” Caleb laughed lightly. “I sort of noticed that his boots looked as if they could crush me like a bug.”
“He’s actually quite harmless,” Ashley said. “You’d probably get along with him really well if you weren’t trying to steal his girlfriend.”
“Ouch,” Caleb joked. “That hurts!” He winked over at her and she knew that it was time to focus the rest of the evening on the road ahead and leave the farm in the rearview mirror.
“So, where are you taking me?” she asked.
“I thought maybe we could drive down to Whitmore Lake and I can show you the Christmas lights on all the houses. They’re really pretty this time of year because the lake is still unfrozen, and it offers a neat reflection.”
“You’re not taking me to your house, are you?” she whispered, suddenly a little nervous about the prospect of being alone with this guy she barely knew, even if he did seem harmless and spiritual, and was probably a decent returned missionary with only respectable thoughts on his mind.
“Not unless you’re ready to meet my parents?” He laughed lightly at her. “I pretty much live with them still.”
“Really?” She kind of felt silly for her prior thoughts. “Aren’t you a little old to be living with your parents? I guess I thought you had a place down by the university.”
“Actually, I do,” he admitted. “I share an apartment with another fourth-year guy. We’ve known each other for years, but he has his girlfriend over a lot and it bugs me. So, I go home whenever I can… to get away from their shenanigans.”
“Shenanigans?” She laughed at him. “That’s an interesting way of viewing the situation.”
“Well, they know my standards. And they’ve always been… how should I word this… polite… about their relationship.” He looked over at her with a sideways grin and a slight shake of his head. “Basically, they wait until I’m not around, if you know what I mean.”
“Not personally, thank-you-very-much.” She looked down at her lap and felt her cheeks warm.
“Good to hear.” He reached over and fake-punched her on the arm lightly. He smiled at her as she looked up at him and he winked at her again.
Ashley sat back in her seat and watched out the passenger side window at the landscape flying by. She knew he was driving the speed limit, but it felt as if they were crawling along because he was driving a sports car. It was as if the little beast was just dying for Caleb to floor the gas pedal and let her fly. For some reason, it felt fun and exciting. Maybe that’s why she had felt a twinge of nervousness a few minutes prior.
She’d never been out with anyone besides Paul, and he never took her out in anything other than his truck. Although it wasn’t too old, it wasn’t all that new either and it was a well-loved piece of farm equipment, not a fancy jacked-up model with lots of features and gadgets. It was a working truck. Paul took his farming seriously, and had no extra money for frivolities.
Going out with Caleb was a completely new experience for Ashley, and she was trying to get used to it. She kind of hoped that she would have lots of chances to get acquainted with how this felt.
They flew down I-96 and hugged the curves as they merged south onto US-23 for just a few miles before getting off on the Nine Mile Road exit that would take them to Whitmore Lake. It was just getting dark as he drove south along East Shore Drive. He had been right; the Christmas lights on the water were beautiful. They were mostly silent as they made the short trip down the coast and around to the south end of the lake.
There was a tiny peninsula that jutted out into the water where the houses got farther apart and larger. She hadn’t realized that was possible, but suddenly these weren’t quarter of a quarter of a million dollar homes like the ones they’d just seen. These were… way out of her league.
Caleb was silent as he slowed down in front of one house, quite possibly the largest home on the lake, but kept driving past it. She didn’t want to think about what had just happened, but somehow she knew instinctively that they’d just passed by his parents’ house.
Ashley gulped and tried to keep her breathing steady. No wonder he wasn’t ready to have her meet his parents. They probably weren’t ready to meet her either. This was going to be a little more difficult than she’d realized. Caleb wasn’t just wealthy; he was really wealthy. Or at least his parents were.
As they kept driving along East Shore Drive, she let out her breath and looked out the window at the little cove formed by the curve of the peninsula. The Christmas lights from that one, very large home shone back at her and she felt very intimidated.
“I told you the lights were beautiful,” Caleb whispered. It didn’t feel at all like he was bragging, or showing off. In fact it almost felt as if he was embarrassed by the excess. Still, it felt kind of neat to see a little window into his world.
“Have you always lived there?” Ashley whispered back, still craning her neck to look back across the cove as they sped farther up the coast and away from Whitmore Lake and all the mystery it suddenly held.
“No,” he said quietly. “Just since we got back from Germany a few years ago.”
“Is that where you served your mission? In Germany?” Ashley had misunderstood him and wasn’t paying attention to the ‘we’ in his statement.
“No, my father was a chief executive officer for PCNA and we spent a few years back and forth to Germany. He’s retired now.” He said it all so fast that she couldn’t keep up.
“You’ve lost me,” Ashley whispered. “Are you saying that your father was a CEO of a German company?”
“Well, the North American subsidiary of it anyway.” Caleb turned south onto Main Street at the western edge of the lake. He turned his head to look at her. “You heard me tell your… family about how I had the chance to tour the factory where they made my car?”
“Your father used to work for Porsche?” If she hadn’t felt intimidated enough before, she was beyond it now. She swallowed hard.
“We lived most of my life near Atlanta, where the North American headquarters is, but we traveled back and forth to Germany pretty regularly. My mom homeschooled us, so we could pretty much follow wherever they wanted to take us. It was a pretty exciting childhood, all things considered.”
“It sounds like it.” Ashley looked up at him with new eyes. He wasn’t just some spoiled rich kid, and the fact that his parents happened to be very wealthy shouldn’t change her opinion of him.
She had liked Caleb for who he was long before she had found out that he had grown up with money. He was a really sweet and down-to-earth guy who just wanted to live a quiet life.
His car slowed down as he pulled into the parking lot of a building that looked more like a large, brown shed then a restaurant.
“You’re taking me to a bar?”