At first, they were quiet on the drive home. They’d barely spoken to one another through the rest of the party, which seemed to drag on and was in full swing when they left.
As Caleb drove, he kept looking over at Ashley with a soft, almost sheepish smile. He reached up at one point and touched her cheek softly, then took her hand in his and kissed the back of it. He looked at it with a funny expression, and finally broke through the little wall between them.
“You painted your nails,” he said.
“Actually, Sarah painted them for me.” Ashley laughed softly. “I could never paint my own nails. But I wanted to look nice in front of your parents’ friends. They’ll probably look like the hands of a farmer’s daughter in a few days.”
“Well then, they’ll look normal again.”
She smiled down at her hands, knowing they had never bothered him before. He was never embarrassed of her, and wouldn’t have been even if she had shown up in jeans and cowboy boots. But she would have been self-conscious, and had felt underdressed as it was.
She decided it was time to talk about what had happened. “I’m really sorry, Caleb.”
“Sorry for painting your nails?” He chuckled back, making light of a situation that was much more serious than her manicure.
“No, for attacking you on the balcony.”
“Is that what you perceived happened?” Caleb asked with a grin. “Because I sort of felt like I attacked you.”
“I think we both got caught up in the moment,” Ashley said. “I feel so much love and passion for you. Ever since that day at the temple, it’s like I think about you all the time. And in ways that I probably shouldn’t.”
Her voice had lowered to the point that it was almost not audible. He took a deep breath, looking straight out at the road. She was curious what was going through his mind, but she tried to wait until he was ready to respond. Finally he looked over at her and took another deep breath.
“I’ve never felt this way before Ashley,” he said. “About anyone. We probably shouldn’t be alone together right now. I don’t want anything to… go wrong, and mess up what we’ve started to build together.”
“Caleb, this isn’t fair to you,” she said. “But I want you to know, that I’ve never gone that far before with anyone.”
She didn’t say Paul’s name, but he likely knew Paul was the only other man who would have been that close to her. If she had ever done anything, it would have been with him.
“Well, I’m kind of glad about that, to tell you the truth.” He looked over at her again. “I hadn’t thought about it for a while, but knowing that I’m in love with you, and now knowing that you’re in love with me, it kind of feels as if he’s not even part of the equation anymore.”
“But he is part of the equation, Caleb. And that’s why it’s not fair to you.” She pleaded with her eyes, trying to make him understand what she was trying to say. Finally she just decided to throw it out there and let things fall where they will. “I’m very much in love with him too.”