When Ashley came out of the restroom, Paul was leaning against the counter near the little refrigerator. He grabbed her hand as she started to walk by, pulling her to him.
Everyone else was out in the seats watching the game. Ashley looked over at them hesitantly before letting him pull her close. He put his hands on her hips and leaned down so he was at eye level with her.
“Paul,” she whispered, then looked back out to see if anyone was watching them. They were all facing the game. “I told you we weren’t supposed to be showing one another any affection.” She felt terrified that Caleb was going to walk in and see her practically in Paul’s arms.
“Don’t worry,” he whispered back. “He’s out there watching the game with your brothers… and sister. That cracks me up, by the way. Does it bother him the way she practically throws herself at him?”
“He tries to be polite about it.” Ashley let her guard down a little and rested her hands on his arms. She realized he’d been right. It was too easy between them. They were so comfortable together that they just naturally showed each other the affection that they felt without even realizing they were doing it. She inadvertently let him pull her close and looked up into his eyes. “I’ve tried to talk to her about it, but she just doesn’t take a hint.”
“I wanted to tell you ‘thank you’ for bringing me here tonight.” He changed the subject. She could tell he really meant it. “It’s been an amazing evening. This is something I never would have experienced. I really, really appreciate it. It would have been very easy for you to have come here without me and have no reason to think twice about it. But you didn’t, and I can’t tell you what that means to me. So thank you.”
“You’re welcome,” she whispered. She wanted to lean in and kiss him, but held back, keenly aware that just a few feet away was the guy she was supposed to be on a date with, and that he could walk around the corner at any time.
Which, he did. Caleb and Steve came up the stairs and around the corner, and Ashley pushed away from Paul. Steve chuckled and politely turned around, letting the three of them deal with the awkwardness.
“Caleb,” Paul said. “I was just telling Ashley, and I wanted to tell you also, thank you so much for inviting me tonight. This has been really amazing. I’ve had such a great time.” Paul sounded sincere but Ashley could tell Caleb was very uncomfortable about walking into the room and finding Ashley in Paul’s arms.
Caleb stuck his hands in his pockets and walked all the way into the room. It would have been really easy to get upset, but he nodded his head slowly.
“And… I’m sorry I can’t keep my hands off your date.” Paul smiled sheepishly.
“It’s my own fault. I’m the one who invited you here,” Caleb said.
“It’s really Ashley’s fault in a way,” Paul said, shifting his teasing grin over to Ashley. He winked at her and she melted. “If she would just break up with one or the other of us, then we wouldn’t be in this situation.”
“I’m sorry, you guys.” Ashley spoke softly, looking back and forth between the two of them. This was the first time the three of them had actually had a conversation together like this, and it was probably a good thing. They needed to clear the air and put some clarification on the table. “I’m trying really hard to keep my heart and mind open here. I really like you both, and for such different reasons, and in different ways. I wish you could see inside my thoughts, because you’d understand why I’m so conflicted. You’re both such awesome guys, and I feel bad that I’m doing this to you. I’ll understand completely if either of you… don’t want to continue dating me.” Her voice got really soft at the end. It hurt her to even think about it.
“I’m not going anywhere, Ashley.” Paul quickly interjected. “You know how I feel about you, and I’m going to be right by your side until you tell me otherwise.”
“I don’t want to stop dating you either, Ashley,” Caleb told her softly. “I wish this were easier on all of us, but I think if we just be realistic and understanding, we can get through this. We can’t both have you, obviously. But we don’t have to make firm decisions about the rest of our lives, right now. Let’s just see how this plays out, okay?”
“You know Caleb,” Paul said. “This whole thing would be a lot easier on me if you were a real jerk. But, you’re actually a really cool guy, and I’m sorry I was rude earlier… in the car.”
“What did you say to him in the car?” Ashley demanded.
“Ah, we just had a little… misunderstanding, that’s all.” Caleb smiled and waved his hand dismissively. “It was no big deal.”
Caleb pushed away from the wall and walked across the room extending a hand to Paul. He took it, and they nodded at each other as they shook hands.
“And you’re a cool guy too,” Caleb set. “I’ll try to remember that.”
It was almost a truce. Ashley still felt apprehensive about the situation, but Caleb seemed glad to have invited Paul, and Paul seemed glad to have come.
Caleb came over and gave Ashley a little hug, and then they all walked back out to sit and finish watching the game.