“Oh my gosh, that was embarrassing. I’m so sorry!” Caleb kept stuttering on as he dragged Ashley back down into the hallway toward the main entrance. He walked quickly, pointing in one room after another. “So you’ve seen the library, and this over here is the formal parlor. You’ve seen the great room, which we really only use for larger get-togethers. Down this hall are the less-formal living areas where we spend most of our time.”
“Caleb, stop.” Ashley pulled him and forced him to turn around. “You’re making me dizzy.”
He still wouldn’t look up at her. He seemed nervous and frightened.
“It’s okay, Caleb. Your mom’s really sweet. I enjoyed spending time with her.”
Caleb finally looked up at her and smiled shyly. She’d never seen him like this. It was obvious to her that he did feel something strong for her, but that this was not the way he had wanted to tell her.
“It’s okay,” she told him in a soft whisper. He visibly relaxed and she took his hand again. “Now, show me the rest of your house.”
He led her quietly down a large hallway; not as large as the main foyer that led to the great room, but larger than most homes. He stopped at the first door, opened it and turned on a light. It was a spacious and decorative lavatory that was obviously for guests rather than family use. He turned the light back off and kept walking. There was a rather impressive mahogany door that led into a formal office.
“This is my father’s,” he explained and then turned the lights back off. “I don’t mess with it. That’s his space. The one over here is my mom’s office.” It was busier and a little more cluttered, but still very formal and pretty. It had a lot more character.
“Where’s your office?” she asked in a teasing voice.
“I just have a nice little nook in the corner of my bedroom,” he explained. “We all do. Even though all the other kids have grown up and moved away. Maybe one of these days my parents will be able to get rid of me.”
He smiled at Ashley, but kept walking. There was a large archway at the end of the hall that led into a less-formal living room. It had comfortable sofas, a very large television, another fireplace, a baby grand piano, sliding glass doors out to the patio overlooking the lake, and lots of little areas where a game of cards could be played, or a board game set up. There was even one little table in the corner that had a puzzle going. It looked like a big, difficult puzzle, like something she’d like to sit and work on. She figured this was not the time to do that, though. Maybe the next time she came over could be a little more relaxed.
“I think this is my favorite room so far,” Ashley whispered.
“I thought that the library was your favorite room.”
“Okay, you got me.” She laughed lightly. “But this is my second favorite room.”
“There’s more. Come on. I’ll show you my favorite room.” He led her back the way they’d come and around behind the kitchen to another hallway like the first, which opened into a jungle.
Plants reached to the ceiling and created a beautiful canopy that hung low over lounge chairs and a glass-top table complete with an umbrella to shield a person from the tiny amount of sun that might reach through the solarium roof and down through the foliage. Ashley could understand why this was Caleb’s favorite room.
“This is so cool.” She breathed in the clean, almost moist air as she walked further into the solarium. “I’m waiting for birds to sing and a monkey to swing from the trees.”
“I could buy some for you if you’d like.”
“That would be very cool, indeed.” She turned around, flirting a little. “I don’t really like monkeys, so maybe we should leave those at the zoo. I’d love to come over again soon, though.”
“Consider it a date.” He held his hand out to her, and led her back out of the room. “Dinner’s probably ready, and I’ll bet my dad is already home from the golf course.”
“I’m looking forward to meeting him,” Ashley replied. “If he’s as nice as your mom, I’m sure I’m going to like him.”
“I hope so.” He hesitated.
“What?” She got the impression that there was more to the story.
“Well, if he stopped at the nineteenth hole, he may have had a beer… or two.”
“Does he ever get obnoxious?” she asked.
“No, not at all,” Caleb answered. “He gets kind of funny actually. I just don’t want you to be offended.”
“I’m a big girl,” Ashley reassured him. “Don’t worry about me, Caleb. I’ll just roll with it. If anything gets overwhelming, I’ll just make an excuse that I have an early class tomorrow and yawn or something.”
“I’ll take that as a cue.” It turned out to not be a problem.
Bartholomew Rogers was a perfect gentleman, and insisted that Ashley call him Bart. That’s what everyone called him. She actually would have felt more comfortable calling him Mr. Rogers, but even Caleb called him Bart, so it was easy to follow along. Besides, he was the fun kind of guy who wouldn’t have wanted to be called by anything else.
As he explained it, ‘Mr. Rogers’ was for the corporate world, and everyone else needed to call him Bart. She decided just to respect his wishes and go along with it.
The meal turned out to be fun and relaxing. Ashley never did see any carrots on the table, but that was okay. She got the impression that the carrots were just an excuse for Linda to get a chance to know the new woman in her son’s life.
Linda asked more probing questions at dinner about Ashley’s family and classes at school, and where she wanted to live after she graduated. She also continued to be fascinated with farm life, and asked lots of questions about the animals. Bart asked some weirder and funnier questions.
“So, Ashley. If I search for you on the internet, am I going to find you on the ‘most wanted’ list of criminals?” At first she thought he was serious, then he chuckled loudly and acknowledged that he was teasing her. The next funny question wasn’t so funny to Ashley, nor to Caleb. “So, what are your intentions with my son?”
It was the typical question that a father would ask a young man who was courting his daughter, but a pretty strange question to ask a young lady. He started laughing, but Ashley grew a little more serious.
Caleb jumped in to get her out of the situation. Neither of them wanted to go into details about the delicate balance their lives held right now.
“Gosh, Bart,” Caleb warned in a playful way. “I think those are the kinds of questions that should wait until we’ve dated for a while, don’t you think?”
“Ah, I’m just poking fun at her,” Bart called out to his son. “She’s a tough girl, she can handle it.”
“Thank you,” Ashley replied. “I try to be tough, but usually only when I have to shovel stalls and milk cows.” She was teasing him back now, partially to deflect from the real answers to his question, and partly because she wanted to have a fun meal and get the tension out of the room.
“Okay, Caleb,” Bart told his son. “I think I can give her my stamp of approval. You have my permission to marry her.”
“Oh my gosh, Dad, stop!” Caleb jumped in. “You’re as bad as Mom. Why don’t you both just let Ashley and I move at our own speed, okay?” It was obvious that Caleb wasn’t really mad, more embarrassed. Ashley looked over at him with a smile and a little wink.
“Well, you know,” Linda piped in. “We’re not getting any younger, and your brothers and sister have all given us grandchildren. Don’t you think it’s about time?”
“Alright, that’s so beyond enough.” Caleb got up and offered Ashley his hand to help her up from the table. “I am so sorry for my parents’ behavior.”
“Oh, sit down Caleb,” Ashley warned in a teasing manner. “Your mom has provided a beautiful desert, and I’m not going to miss it just because you can’t handle the fact that you think I’m cute and you’re scared to death of me.”
“You’re just as bad as these two,” he accused her, but he sat back down in exasperation. “What am I going to do with you guys?”
“Well, I think it’s obvious,” Bart said. “You need to snatch this girl up before somebody else does.”
Ashley almost choked on the water she was sipping. Now, she’d had enough. She was still laughing and smiling, but reminded Caleb that she had an early class. She didn’t go so far as yawning, but quickly finished the last few bites of her desert, thanked the Rogers’ for the meal and they sped away in Caleb’s little black Porsche.
They laughed and even joked about it all the way home, but they both knew that the situation was a little more complex than his parents would ever understand.
At least they’d gotten past the first ‘meet the parents’ dinner and it would be easier after this. She actually liked both of his parents, and looked forward to going back to see them soon.