The sign read Bobber Down Bar and Grille. Caleb laughed casually at Ashley’s shock that he was taking her to a bar.
“It’s the closest thing we have to fine dining here at Whitmore Lake. They have the best fish and chips around.” He pulled the car to the far corner of the lot and put the parking brake in place. “Although, I highly recommend the sirloin. But their pastas are really good, too. Give it a chance.”
“I’m intrigued,” she admitted. She waited for him to come around and open the door for her.
“It used to be really smoky, but ever since Michigan passed the law to prohibit smoking in restaurants, it’s pretty nice.” Caleb boldly took Ashley’s hand as he walked with her to the building and smiled as he opened the door for her.
She stepped into a dark room with cheap furniture and a string of old men sitting on stools along the bar. This was the type of place that would have stood out in her version of a restaurant nightmare. But it smelled of good food in spite of the hint of smoky days-gone-by and stale beer.
“Caleb Rogers!” the bartender greeted them. “How the heck are ya?” All the guys at the bar, and half the patrons in the restaurant turned to look at them. Ashley pulled herself a little closer to Caleb’s arm.
“Good, Carl.” Caleb led Ashley over to the bar to introduce her. For a minute, she was afraid that he was going to offer her a bar stool. But he shook Carl’s hand and introduced her. “Ashley, this is Carl Engstrom. He owns this fine establishment. Carl, this is Ashley Hardman, a friend of mine from school.”
From the way Caleb’s arm was wrapped protectively around her waist, she knew no one in the room believed the ‘friend’ claim.
“So, are you a med student also?” Carl asked her, wiping his hands on a towel before reaching out to shake her hand.
“Pre-med, actually,” Ashley responded, smiling politely.
“Would you like the usual?” Carl turned back to Caleb.
“Absolutely,” he affirmed. Carl reached over and grabbed a chilled mug. It looked for a minute like he was going to draw a beer from the tap, but instead reached over to where the fountain pops were dispensed and filled the glass with root beer. He turned back to Ashley. “And for the lady?”
“I guess… I’ll have the same.” She was having fun in spite of the fact that she was standing in a bar. She was only nineteen, and had lived the sheltered life of a small-town Mormon girl, so she’d only seen places like this on television and in the movies.
After Carl handed her the chilled mug, Caleb led her to the back of the room where he found them a table. He set his glass down and pulled her chair out for her as if they were in a fancy restaurant. She thanked him and sat down. The menu was unique and diverse, but small.
“Hi Caleb,” the waitress said as she approached the table. She looked almost old enough to be his Mom, and obviously held a fondness for who Ashley was starting to realize was a regular customer. “I heard you brought a date for us to meet.”
Ashley wondered if they were surprised to see Caleb with a date, or acknowledging that this was a new addition to his dating circle. Ashley hoped very strongly that it was the prior.
“What can I get for you kids?”
“I’ll have the sirloin, medium rare, with a baked potato,” Caleb told her.
“No butter, just sour cream, right?” she asked.
“You got it.” Then he turned to Ashley with a questioning look.
“I heard you have great fish and chips.” She smiled up at the waitress.
“Sure do. You want a salad, or coleslaw?”
“Salad,” Ashley answered. “Could I get ranch on the side?”
“Sure.” The waitress turned back to Caleb. “You want yours on the side, too?”
“No, I’m fine. Load me up.” With that, the waitress walked away and Caleb smiled over at Ashley. He reached up and took her hand gently.
“So,” she started, lifting her eyebrow. “You come here often?”
“How’d you guess?” he asked playfully. “Actually, it’s been months. My semester was pretty busy. It’s nice to come back. They treat me like family here.”
“I can tell.”
“They don’t actually know me as well as it looks,” he said. “They just know I tip well, and that’s all that matters when you work for minimum wage and are trying to put your kids through college on tips alone.”
“Ah, I see.” Ashley looked back over at the waitress, who was now getting drinks from the bartender to take over to another table near the front of the room. She turned back to Caleb. “I feel like I don’t know you very well either.”
“You’re working on it.” He winked at her. “Would you have agreed to go out with me if you knew that I was going to pick you up in a sixty-thousand-dollar sports car, show you my parents’ mansion, and then take you to a bar?” They both laughed.
“No,” she affirmed. “Probably not.”
“See, milk before the meat, line-upon-line.”
“Which reminds me—” She backtracked to a question she’d started to ask him when he had distracted her with talk of Germany. “Where did you serve your mission?”
“California, San Diego Mission,” he responded, taking a drink of his root beer. “Nothing exciting about that, except that I got to serve in a Spanish mission. So, now you know another little tidbit about me. I speak fluent Spanish as well as German.”
“Uh huh.” This was just getting more and more intimidating.
“Why they couldn’t just send me to a German-speaking mission I’ll never know,” he added. “I guess the Lord needed me to be multi-lingual.”
“Maybe it will help you in your quest to save the world as a medical doctor.”
“Good point,” Caleb acknowledged. “Usually they have to pull in a translator, and I won’t need one.” He puffed his chest out a little in mock superiority.
She shook her head and grinned at him again. He continued to intrigue her, and she decided that she really liked him.
“So what made you decide to become a doctor?” Ashley asked him.
“Living in Europe, probably.” He stopped and thought about it for a moment. “I came to realize that America has the best health care system in the world, and I wanted to be part of it. Besides, I like solving problems, and each diagnosis feels like a puzzle to be unlocked.”
“That’s really cool,” Ashley admitted.
“How about you?” he asked. “What made you decide to become a doctor?”
“I’m not sure I even want to be a doctor.” The words popped out of her mouth before she realized that she’d even thought them.
What was it that she was admitting? She’d always wanted to be a doctor. Had always planned to be a doctor. When did that change? Just now? If not a doctor, what then? Definitely not a farmer. A farmer’s wife? A doctor’s wife? Hmmm. She looked over at Caleb and held his gaze, shock and confusion warring in her heart.
Just then their salads arrived and they released each other’s gaze. After a minute of adjusting silverware and napkins, they dove into their salads and Ashley used the time to think about the implications of what she’d just stated. Finally, she admitted that she wasn’t sure why she’d just said that.
“You don’t have to apologize, Ashley. Lots of people change their majors during their undergrad. It’s a lot more common than you would realize. You only just finished your first semester. You’ve got plenty of time to change your mind.” He shifted the topic. “What are some of your favorite things to do in your everyday life? Sometimes we can choose a career based on what we already know.”
“I love my horses,” she whispered. “I don’t like milking cows or canning green beans!” They both laughed at that.
“I don’t blame you!” Caleb acknowledged. “I don’t think I’d like canning green beans, either. I like to eat them though. I’ve never been around cows much, so I don’t know about that.”
As if on cue, the waitress set in front of him a nice big steak. Caleb looked up at her and grinned. “I guess I do know something about cows!” he told her.
“O-kay,” she hesitated. “I’m not sure what that has to do with your meal, but I’ll leave you to it.”
“Moooo,” Ashley whispered over at Caleb.
They both laughed, but he looked down at his plate and wrinkled his nose a little.
“Did you know that on our farm, we raise cows primarily to sell them for meat? We only milk the hobby cows after they’ve calved.” She was getting a little silly now, but it lightened the mood. “Plus, it tastes good. Have you ever had fresh milk? We should have you over for dinner sometime. It’ll be a real treat. I’ll make sure my dad gets your steak on the grill just right. Medium rare, is that correct? I once heard a saying that if God hadn’t wanted us to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?”
“Dare I ask…but what’s a hobby cow?” Caleb said.
“Oh, my dad keeps a few really elite cows that he breeds just to sell their calves to the local 4-H kids for fair,” she explained. “He treats them extra special, and feeds them special, and breeds them at just the right time of year so when the calves are born they’ll be just about a hundred pounds at the time the kids will start to raise them. They should be about three-hundred pounds by the time fair rolls around in the summer. The kids who buy cows from my dad have really good ‘luck’ at fair!”
“Ah, I see.” Caleb grinned at her. “And is that what you did as a little girl, take baby cows to fair?”
“No, I ride.” Ashley said it kind of matter-of-factly as if it should be obvious, then she realized that she hadn’t explained what her mom’s specialty was on the farm. “My mom is a horse trainer. We board a few horses for local kids, and she trains the horses to behave and the kids to ride. She’s very good at it. I’ve been learning from her all my life, so I always take top prizes in English and Dressage. Plus I’m good at barrel riding and jumping. I just love my horses, especially Shelly, my pretty mare.”
“A gorgeous woman on a pretty mare. That sounds like something I’d like to see sometime!” He winked at her. “Maybe you can teach me how to ride a horse after you feed me a glass of milk at dinner with your family.”
She smiled back, but was reminded of a recent trail ride with someone who didn’t need any lessons, and a conversation about keeping things non-committal. Suddenly, Ashley wasn’t sure how long she’d be willing to keep that promise.