“You want to take a walk?” Caleb whispered to Ashley. He was leaning against the kitchen island and had his arm wrapped around her lower back.
She’d been the perfect little girlfriend all evening in front of his parents’ friends and what few family members they had over, dutifully staying by his side as well-wishers congratulated him on his achievements.
They all wanted to know what he was planning to do now and he repeated the same story over and over, telling them a little about the additional years of specialized training he was undergoing as part of his residency in orthopedic surgery and how he wasn’t sure where he planned to go after that. He would “go where the good Lord leads me” as he kept saying.
Ashley thought it was neat how he took the opportunity to pull God into a room full of superficial activities.
They would all smile and chuckle with him, and he would introduce them to his girlfriend, Ashley. She would shake hands and smile and try to remember at least some of their names. There were too many of them, and she was terrible with names. Besides they all looked alike to her, with their expensive clothes and fancy haircuts and glass of strong-smelling liquid mixed with some form of diet soda poured over ice.
They all asked about her, and she gave a few minor details about studying pre-med at U of M and they would all say how nice it was that she and Caleb would be in the same field once she finished school.
Ashley knew they neither cared, nor would they remember anyway. But she smiled when she was supposed to smile and nodded her head when she was supposed to nod, and she was really glad she’d thought to have her sister give her a manicure before she came tonight. But she was more than ready to be done with the formalities.
“I would love that,” Ashley responded, smiling over at Caleb with relief.
“Come on, I’ll give you a tour of the rest of the house.”
When she had visited to meet his parents, she’d only had a tour of the main level. Today she’d been up and down the stairs to the lower level where there was a pool table, and wet bar, and sliding glass doors out to the lawn that walked out to the lake. The evening was beautiful, so the party spilled onto the patio and down by the water.
What she hadn’t seen was the upstairs of the house. Ashley wasn’t really comfortable having the party-goers see them walk up the stairs together, so she felt a little panic set in.
But he didn’t take her to the staircase; he took her to the back end of the kitchen into a large pantry. They walked past all the shelves and racks of food, to where a small winding staircase led to the upper level. It was like something that an old-fashioned house would have leading from the kitchen to the servant’s quarters. She grinned and he gestured as if to say ladies first.
She carefully climbed the stairs, hoping she wouldn’t trip in her heels and skirt. He was right behind her. They exited the tiny staircase into an open hallway looking down over the great room. Ashley could hear the noises from the party wafting up the grand stairway at the other end of the hall.
They were alone and looking down upon the get-together, rather than part of the crowd. In a way, they weren’t really part of this group. They were only here because Caleb’s parents were showing him off as their son who just graduated from one of the most prestigious medical schools in the country.
Ashley and Caleb listened for a few moments. No one was asking about them, or even talking about them. These people were off in their own little collective world.
“Come on,” Caleb said. “I want to show you the view from the balcony. The lake is beautiful tonight.”
They walked through a dark bedroom to a set of sliding glass doors onto an open balcony. The view was breathtaking. Ashley remembered how gorgeous the lake had been in the cold and dark of winter, but this was late spring.
She leaned against the railing and out at the lake. The calmness of the water was relaxing, and the moon was a sliver with a few thin clouds floating along nearby. She took a deep breath and inhaled the sweet night air. Somewhere nearby a campfire burned and the smell was intoxicating. She felt so content just standing there.
Caleb came up behind her and slipped his arms around her waist. She leaned back against him and let him hold her. He felt strong and solid, like he would be there to protect her and care for her forever… if she wanted him to be. She still wasn’t sure. But she was sure about one thing, and decided it was time to tell him.
“Caleb—” she turned around, looking into his eyes and wrapping her arms around his shoulders. He leaned forward resting both hands on the railing, one on either side of her, his arms encircling her. “Remember a few months ago when you took me to the temple?”
“Uh huh.” His eyes smoldered in a way that was very distracting. She almost couldn’t remember what she’d been planning to say. She reached up and gave him a tiny little kiss, before pulling back away.
“You told me that you were falling in love with me—”
“Uh huh.” His breathing had increased.
“Well—” She hesitated again then whispered very softly. “I think I’m falling in love with you too.”
His eyes held hers, and he didn’t move. It was almost as if he were searching into her soul, trying to find answers to questions neither of them knew how to ask.
Caleb leaned down and kissed her very softly. At first. Their kiss grew in intensity quickly, and before either of them had a chance to register the thought, they were kissing way too passionately. Instinct had taken over and they were no longer thinking; they were just feeling.
Ashley pushed away from the railing into his arms and up against the side of the house.
His hands held her face as he kissed her, then entangled in her hair, down her lower back, onto her hips and crept up the sides of her waist.
They both pulled away from each other at the same time and looked into one another’s eyes in panic. His hands had gotten dangerously close to a part of her body where they definitely should not have been. It frightened them both. That level of intensity between a man and a woman was supposed to be reserved for a stronger bond than just being in love. They would need to be married before crossing that line.
She knew how easy it would have been to make that mistake. They needed to get back down to the party immediately. They needed to be around other people.
They left the balcony and headed back into the dark bedroom. She realized instinctively that this was his bedroom. As she walked past his bed, her hand grazed across the carved wooden design of the footboard.
Caleb turned back to her and looked down into her eyes for just a moment. His breathing increased again and he glanced over at the open door leading into the hallway where just a few steps away a party was down a flight of stairs celebrating his graduation.
Ashley’s mind warred with the desire to stay here, and the obvious necessity of going back downstairs.
Caleb grabbed her hand and walked quickly from the room. They snaked back down the tiny flight of stairs and into the kitchen. They snuck back to where they had left their glasses of pop on the counter, took each other’s hand and walked into the living room.
They seamlessly joined the party, knowing they hadn’t been missed. But there was a tension between the two of them that was keen to panic. It had been too close, and they both knew it.