“What are we doing?” Ashley asked. “Going shopping?” When they drove up the expressway, Caleb exited at Joslyn Road and pulled into the parking lot of the Great Lakes Crossings mall.
“No, we’re going to eat at my favorite restaurant.”
“In the mall?” she asked, trying to remember what was there. It had been a long time since she’d taken any shopping trips and an even longer time since she’d come here. There was a food court… Hmm, okay.
Ashley waited while Caleb parked the car in a far corner, and let him come open the door for her. She felt funny walking into the mall in heels and a long skirt. She was dressed for church or a fancy restaurant, not to go shopping.
As she’d suspected, he walked her straight into the food court. She wondered if his favorite restaurant was A&W. He had, after all, ordered root beer on their first date, and A&W had the best root beer in the world. He strolled past the A&W, still holding her hand, and grabbed a tray from the rack in front of Panda Express.
“Seriously?” Ashley giggled. She was secretly excited. She loved Chinese food and wasn’t really in the mood for a serious, candle-lit meal at a fancy restaurant anyway.
“You can have anything you want.” Caleb waved his hand displaying the limited menu. “It’s my treat.”
“You’re adorable, you know that?”
“Yep.” He was still grinning at her as he leaned down for a little kiss. Then he turned to the lady at the counter and started ordering his food. He had his plate loaded with rice and noodles and orange chicken and beef with broccoli and looked like he had enough food for both of them.
Ashley ordered a more modest amount of food and then they both declined on the soda, but instead stepped over to where they ordered two A&W root beers. It was one of the most fun meals she’d ever had.
They sat in the food court and laughed and joked and watched all the little kids climb on the big Styrofoam toys that were shaped like giant hot dogs and pancakes and corn cobs. It was a really fun atmosphere, and it was one of the most unique dates she’d ever been on. When they were through eating, he leaned back in his chair and patted his stomach.
“I can’t believe I ate all that food!” he said. “I think I might explode.”
“You look like you could explode.” She was tempted to reach across the table and poke at his tummy.
“Hey, you up for a little walking?” Caleb asked, sitting forward and looking at her. “I want to show you something.”
“You’re probably going to have to carry me back to the car afterwards. These heels are going to be killing my feet by then.”
“I have strong arms,” he said, then stood and collected their trays. He walked over to dump the garbage in the trash, then offered her his hand. “Ready?”
Ashley wasn’t sure she was ready for whatever else he had in mind, but she let him take her hand and lead her down one of the long hallways. They stopped when they came to Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World, and he led her through the metal detectors. There was a sign warning that no guns could leave this store. She laughed at this next choice for their very strange date.
“Taking me fishing?” she asked with a grin.
“Sort of,” he said. “Come on, this is one of my favorite things about this mall.”
“Really?” She let him lead her into the large sporting goods store, and they crossed a little bridge where there were actual fish swimming below and live ducks that sat on the rocks near the water. They weaved past large displays of tents and camping equipment, and kayaks, and hunting blinds.
Caleb covered her eyes before leading Ashley around a corner and suddenly she was standing in front of the largest aquarium she’d ever seen.
Giant fish swam past, turtles floated, and frogs hopped. It was fascinating. It was beautiful. She stepped closer to the glass and could swear that the fish were looking at her as they swam by. Caleb came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her waist.
“Cool, huh?” he whispered in her ear.
She didn’t answer him, just gazed up at all the fish swimming lazily in front of her. There were fresh water fish from all across the state of Michigan. It was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen.
“Come here, I want to show you something else.” Caleb tried to lead her back the way they’d come and she resisted, not wanting to take her eyes off the huge aquarium. He tugged her gently. “It’s really neat, I promise. Come on.”
He took her around the side of the aquarium where a huge circle window had been cut out. The Plexiglas window was an enclave that reached right inside the aquarium. “You have to climb up, here let me help you. I used to do this all the time when I was a kid.”
Ashley felt silly trying to climb up into the window in her dress and heels. Caleb grabbed her shoes and slipped them off her feet, which felt strangely suggestive, but she kind of liked it. He helped her up and in to the big window, and suddenly she was in the aquarium.
Water surrounded her above and below and all around. She could see everything inside the water. The fish, and the turtles, and even the webbed feet of the ducks that floated along the top. It was almost spiritual. She felt tears prick her eyes and she smiled like a little girl.
“This is the neatest thing I’ve ever seen,” she whispered.
Caleb climbed up behind her, but the space wasn’t really big enough for both of them. He held her waist, and they both gazed around the aquarium for a few minutes. Finally she turned around to face him and found that he was very close.
“Thank you… for showing me this. And for this whole evening. It’s been amazing.” Ashley leaned closer to him and they kissed softly at first then with a little bit more passion. It almost felt like they were alone in the middle of an aquarium, in the middle of a mall, in the middle of Detroit.
“Hey, it’s my turn next!” a little boy cried from below. Ashley and Caleb pulled away from each other, then looked down at him and laughed.
Caleb helped Ashley climb back down and grabbed her up in his arms like he really was going to carry her back out to the car. She felt good in his arms and she smiled at him softly.
Finally he set her on the floor and she reached down for her shoes. They walked back the way they’d come, through the food court and out to the doors to the parking lot.
Ashley groaned when she looked across the asphalt at the really long walk back to the car.
“Sit right here and I’ll run and get the car, okay?”
She reluctantly sat down on the little stone bench and glanced nervously at the small group of teenagers that were loitering nearby. They looked sort of harmless, but still, it was getting late into the evening and a person could never be too careful. Caleb winked down at her, then smiled over at the teenagers.
“Hey, watch my girl for me for just a minute while I go pull my car around, ‘kay?”
They kind of raised their eyebrows at Caleb, probably wondering if he was really serious, then looked down at Ashley. She shrugged and grinned up at them.
“What can I say,” she said. “My feet hurt.” Some of the guys looked her up and down and she was reminded of how silly she must look to them in church clothes shopping at the mall.
Within just a few minutes, Caleb’s sleek black Porsche pulled around and he hopped out to escort her to the car. After he had helped her in, he reached back to the group of teenagers and handed them a little wad of cash that she could see had at least one fifty sticking out.
“Thanks for keeping an eye on her for me,” he said to them, handing them his ‘tip’ then he came around and got back into the car.
They looked down at the money in shock, grinning, and the one guy started divvying up the cash evenly among his buddies. They were all laughing and cheering at the cool guy in the hot car with the hot chick.
“You really are something, you know that?” she said.
“Hey, they helped me out. What can I say?” He leaned over and gave her a little peck on her cheek, then turned back to put the car in gear. “I told you that I tip well,” he mumbled, then reached over the gearshift to press a button that said ‘Sport’ and floored the accelerator to give the teenage boys what they really wanted to see: his sports car peeling its tires as he left the parking lot. Ashley just threw her head back and laughed.