Paul turned his truck into a little parking lot before he knew where he was going. He looked up to realize he had pulled into a church parking lot, sort of. It was an Institute of Religion building.
You’ve got to be kidding me, he thought. It was the MSU equivalent of the class that Ashley took on U of M’s campus; it was exactly what he didn’t want to think about tonight.
“We have to go check it out,” Ashley said.
“Seriously, Ashley?” All he wanted was to show his girlfriend the gardens and then take her over to the meeting. He didn’t want to deal with her church.
He started to turn his truck around to head back out of the parking lot, but she reached over and put her hand on his arm.
“Please,” she asked. “We’ll just go in for a minute.”
Paul reluctantly pulled the truck into a spot and she had already hopped out of the passenger door before he could even come around.
Ashley grabbed his hand and practically pulled him toward the door to the building.
He tried to match her enthusiasm, but he just didn’t feel it. Paul didn’t like the idea of walking into a meeting that was already started full of people that neither of them knew and sit and listen to a lesson about The Book of Mormon or something. He knew that it was the cornerstone of her religion, but he didn’t want to study the scriptures. He barely read his own Bible; he didn’t want to be forced to read another book of scripture.
When they walked in, the room wasn’t what he thought it would be. There was no class being held; there were sofas and a pool table and a kitchen off to the side. People were standing around, goofing off, and playing video games. It was not what he would have expected. A few people looked up when they walked in the door, and then several of them just went back to their conversations.
“Hey Paul,” a voice came from a guy who was almost too engrossed in the video game he was playing to have even noticed that they had walked in the door. Paul recognized him as the guy who sat next to him in his Math 116 class.
“Oh, hi… Taylor, right?” Paul acknowledged, hoping he had gotten the guy’s name right.
“What’s up?” Taylor had still not looked up from his game. “I didn’t know that you were a member of the Church.”
“I’m not,” Paul replied. “My girlfriend is. Ashley dragged me in here.”
“Cool,” Taylor said. He finished his game and got up from the sofa, coming over to shake Paul’s hand. Then he turned to Ashley. “You don’t stay in the Living Center, do you? I don’t think I’ve met you.”
The Living Center was a grouping of small apartment buildings out in back of the Institute Building. It was mostly populated by students who attended MSU or Lansing Community College, and was almost exclusively LDS. The students got together regularly for Institute classes, scripture studies, and church meetings. But they also had a place to hang out, have dances, sit around the campfires that they built out back, go canoeing and hiking. It was the type of place that Ashley would have loved to live, if they had a complex like this at her college.
“No, I go to U of M.”
“I’m sorry,” Taylor said, not cracking a smile. “You know, it’s not too late to transfer. You don’t have to be embarrassed by your choice to go there. We’ll forgive you.”
Paul decided that he liked this guy. All three of them laughed a little at Taylor’s teasing.
“So, what brings you here tonight?”
“Well, Paul was taking me on a little tour of his campus, and I saw your lights on. I coerced him into pulling in to check this place out,” Ashley told him. “I toured the Living Center once on a youth trip while we were all trying to decide what college to attend. I love it here. I just had to show Paul.”
“I think she thought she was going to rope me into attending an Institute class, because hers at U of M are on Thursday nights.” Paul laughed lightly. “She’s been trying to get me to go to church with her since we were kids.” He cringed a little in mock horror.
“Well, it sounds like she’s a good missionary.” Taylor looked over at her with a bit of admiration. “You should probably marry her.”
It seemed to Paul as if he’d heard that once before tonight, and he raised his eyebrows at her as if to say, See, even people in your church think you should marry me.
“Well, we’re too young to get married.” She pushed Paul lightly, and he pulled her into his arms for a little backwards hug. He looked up at Taylor with a hopeful look on his face.
“You keep telling her that,” he whispered loudly to Taylor. “Maybe she’ll listen to you.”
“So, what are you guys up to tonight?” Taylor asked with a smile. “You want to hang out for a while?”
“No,” Ashley replied. “Paul wants to take me over to see the Horticulture Gardens, and then we have a Future Farmers of America party to go to.” Taylor looked over at Paul with a strange look on his face, as if to ask, Huh?
“She’s kidding,” Paul told him. “I’m dragging her with me to my Agri-marketing Association meeting. I’ve never been before. I’m sure it’s going to be just about as exciting to her as your Institute class would have been for me.”
“Ah, you’d be surprised!” Taylor responded. “Institute’s really fun. So are you a ‘future farmer’ then?”
“No, I am a farmer.” Paul raised his chin and puffed up his chest. He was very confident in his chosen career.
“He’s a very good farmer.” Ashley smiled up at him. “I think so anyway.”
“You’re biased,” he whispered down to her.
“Well, after your meeting, if you want to come on back over here, we’re going to be having a bonfire,” Taylor invited. “You’re welcome to join us. I’ll save you some marshmallows.”
“That sounds really nice,” Ashley admitted. “But, we’re going out with some of the kids from the Ag meeting. It will be really good for me to meet some of Paul’s friends from school.”
“Well, if you change your mind stop on back,” Taylor said. “Hey, have fun over at the gardens. They’re beautiful.”
“That’s what I’ve heard,” Ashley said. “It was really nice to meet you!”
“Yeah, see ya in class man.” Paul reached over and gave Taylor one of those guy-type handshakes. With that, they were back in the truck and pulling back out of the parking lot.
“Thank you so much for stopping,” Ashley said. “I just love places like that.”
He smiled over at her, content to have made her happy, but glad to have her back to himself.
“I’m excited to see these gardens,” Ashley told him. “This has been such an amazing date already.”
“It’s barely started,” Paul reached over and grabbed her hand, gave the back of it a kiss and smiled over at her.