“I have a favor to ask,” Paul said one morning. It was early spring and the semester was half over. The flowers and plants were waking up and Ashley was feeling the change in season even though it was a chilly morning.
“Should I be afraid?” Ashley looked up from where she was dumping sweet feed from its large bag into a more manageable 55-gallon drum. The dust from the mixture of corn, oats and molasses rose into the air around her in a poof and she sneezed into the sleeve of her flannel shirt. She looked back up to Paul and waited for him to continue.
“Well,” Paul looked kind of sheepish. “It’s up at MSU, on campus.”
“That doesn’t sound too scary,” she replied, sensing that there was more to it. “I don’t have a problem hanging out at my rival college.”
“And…” he hesitated.
Here it comes, she thought. The real reason for his nervousness.
“It’s on a Thursday night.”
Oh, that’s it? That wasn’t so bad. She could handle missing an Institute class.
“I can miss Institute every once in a while.” She could see him visibly relax as he went back to work. “Where are we going?”
Ashley started scooting the big bucket of feed across the room because it was now too heavy for her to lift. He saw her struggle and quickly came over to help her. Paul picked up the large bucket easily with one hand and moved it over to its spot closer to the horse stalls. She thought it was really cool that he knew his way around her barn well enough to know exactly what she needed and where she needed it to go.
“Well, some of the guys in my program have been bugging me to attend NAMA. It’s the student organization for National Argi-marketing Association.”
“Gosh, that sounds… stimulating.” She laughed at him gently, guessing that this adventure was going to be an interesting one. She might be a farmer’s daughter, but she could care less about the business aspect of running a farming corporation.
“Yeah, about as much fun as your Institute class would be for me to attend, right?” Paul threw it right back at her with a grin. She wrinkled her nose, acknowledging that he had her on that one. “Anyway, it’s something that will help me long term to be involved with, but I don’t really want to show up alone the first time. I thought maybe we could go over there, go out to dinner at one of the local sub shops downtown East Lansing or something, then head over to the University for the meeting. I think they get together afterwards for some social time too. Just like you guys do after Institute.”
She couldn’t help but think he was implying that she and Caleb got together after Institute, instead of her and her whole group. There was some truth to that though. Although, they normally went out with the whole group, they always sat together. Everyone at Institute had started to see Ashley and Caleb as a couple by this point.
“That sounds like fun, Paul.” She reassured him with a smile. “Are we going this Thursday?”
“If that’s okay with you.”
“Of course. It sounds like a fun date.”
When they were done with chores and heading off to their respective colleges, Ashley took a few minutes to send a quick text to Caleb.
Not going to be there for Institute on Thursday, she texted. Long story, I’ll explain later. See you soon, okay?
I’ll miss you, he wrote back with a little frowny face next to it. I’ll call later in the week and maybe we can find a time to get together.
Sounds good, she wrote. Have a good day.
You too. Ashley read his last text and couldn’t get the smile off her face.
This was getting more and more complicated. She tried really hard not to think of Caleb when she was with Paul; or Paul when she was with Caleb. But it just wasn’t that simple. They were so different, and they both made her happy in different ways. She pushed all the thoughts to the back of her mind and finished getting ready for school.