Caleb showed up in a brand new Cadillac Escalade and Ashley’s brothers had almost as much drool on their chins as when they’d seen his Porsche.
Paul just shook his head in disgust and stood back waiting for the other guys to choose where they wanted to sit. Ashley went out of her way to drag Sarah with her into the very back seat along with Greg, since he was the smallest. The bigger boys got to fight over the front seats. He was hoping one of them would call shotgun and climb into the front passenger seat, but they didn’t. Paul was reluctantly stuck with sitting next to his nemesis.
As he clicked his seatbelt into place, Paul reminded himself that the only reason he was going to a professional basketball game at all was because of this guy. He forced himself not to scowl at Caleb.
He tried not to be impressed with the sleek leather seating and the fancy navigation and sound systems, but it was impossible. He was silent for a few miles as everyone got settled in.
Greg and the girls talked in the back, laughing and having fun. Donnie and Steve were mostly silent in the middle seats but occasionally spoke with one another. Paul was forced to either stare straight ahead, turn around to attempt a conversation with the other guys, or engage in conversation with the man who was dating his girlfriend.
Finally, he couldn’t resist asking the question that had been bugging him since Caleb had pulled in the driveway with this monstrosity.
“Tell me the truth,” Paul whispered low enough that no one in the back seats could hear them. “Did you buy this just so that you could take Ashley’s brothers to the Pistons game?”
“Well, they wouldn’t all fit in my Porsche, would they?” Caleb whispered back.
“Okay, another question for you,” Paul whispered again. “Did this cost more than your Porsche?”
“A lot more,” Caleb looked over at Paul, with creased brow. “Why?”
“Why are you doing this?” The question wasn’t so much an accusation, but more an expression of exasperation. “Is this a competition to you? Because it’s not to me. This is my life you’re messing with… and Ashley’s. I don’t want you playing with her like this.” His voice had taken on a little bit of desperation.
“I’m not playing.” Caleb’s voice held just as much desperation, evidenced even through his whisper. “I don’t know what you want from me. You told me that I needed to be driving a domestic car, and that it needed towing capacity. And I needed something big enough to haul around a couple of good-sized farm boys. So… here it is!” He kind of waved his hand in a little gesture toward the front of the vehicle.
“I didn’t want you to go out and buy a new car!” Paul spat at him, trying to keep his voice low enough that no one else could hear him. Luckily, Caleb had turned the back speakers up just far enough to drown out the sound from the front of the cab, but not loud enough to be too annoying to the passengers. “I wanted you to get the heck out of her life!”
“I’m not leaving her, Paul.” Caleb said it with finality, his eyes barely straying from the road. “I’m not saying that she’s going to choose me over you, and I don’t want to presume to know her feelings for me, but I care about her… a lot! And I’m not going away… unless she tells me to go away. And this isn’t a game to me. I’m not competing with you. This is my life too, you know. I’m not just here to make your life miserable. She wouldn’t be going out with me if she didn’t like me, maybe even…” He didn’t finish his sentence, but the implication was there.
Paul narrowed his eyes just slightly, then turned away from Caleb. He decided that coming on this trip was a bad idea. No it wasn’t, he told himself. I would never have had this conversation with Caleb if I hadn’t come along. He needs to know how this is affecting me. I don’t think he cares, but he at least needs to know. They were silent for most of the rest of the way to Mid-town.
When they got to the Arena, Paul was surprised to see Caleb pull the car around to an exclusive VIP parking lot. Ashley had not told Paul about the reserved suite, so he raised his eyebrows at her when they walked in through the suite holder’s entrance.
She just shrugged her shoulders at him and gave him an affectionate punch on the arm. They eventually got off the elevator, and Caleb escorted them down a plush hallway to what Paul gathered was his regular suite.
Paul’s level of intimidation was wearing off by the excitement and atmosphere of being at the Little Caesars Arena. This stadium set the standard for what an arena should look like.
When he walked into the suite, he couldn’t help grinning. It was amazing. They were only fifteen rows up from the floor, had their own room complete with refrigerator, flat screen television, and private restroom. It was cozy and secluded, yet opened right out to overlook the court. It felt like they had the best seats in the house.
He and the other guys were all smiles as they looked around at the amenities, and Caleb graciously started tucking their coats away in the little closet. As much as Paul hated to admit it, he was very impressed.
They all bypassed the couches and went straight to the bar where a person could sit and watch the game from inside the suite. Greg was the first to step down onto the little balcony with regular stadium seats.
The arena was still pretty empty when they arrived but people were filing down the walkways in streams, and the court was a busy flurry of activity. There seemed to be a lot of people in expensive suits, and others in Polo shirts and khakis who all seemed to have very little obvious purpose. There were men in blue shirts and black pants standing in strategically placed locations, like body guards set to make sure that no one gets on the floor of the court that doesn’t belong there. It seemed to Paul that it would be difficult to determine who belonged there and who didn’t.
The arena was loud. Even though it was still filling up, the din and echo was indescribable. It wasn’t loud in a bothersome way, more in an exciting way. Powerful rap music encouraged acrobatic gymnasts as they leapt off tiny trampolines and flipped and dunked basketballs to the rhythm. Dancers took to the floor, waving poms, and wearing little blue shorts and tiny tank tops.
“Dang, those cheerleaders aren’t wearing much!” Greg exclaimed. All the boys gawked, although Paul and Caleb tried to pretend they weren’t. After all, they were supposed to be there for Ashley.
“Those aren’t cheerleaders,” Caleb explained. “They’re the Automotion Dance Team.”
“They’re making me blush,” Ashley complained, yet she too didn’t take her eyes off the dancers. They were dancing very suggestively directly in front of the people who were sitting on the floor-side seats. “I feel like I’m watching something from a strip club. I don’t want to watch this.”
“I do!” her three brothers chorused, almost in unison. Almost everyone laughed, but Ashley just shook her head and walked back up the stairs into the suite.
Paul sat on one of the bar stools just inside the suite, politely trying to make it look like he was not watching the dancers. Caleb was flitting about trying to be the perfect host, offering sodas to all the guys and pointing out the trays of snacks that had been catered in. Once everyone was settled and attended to, Caleb asked if anyone would like to come with him to take a tour of the building.
“I’d love to,” Sarah chimed in. It seemed she would do just about anything Caleb wanted her to do, even if she had no interest in the fancy architecture.
“I’ll go too,” Ashley quickly added, probably not wanting to torture Caleb.
“Oh, you can stay here with the guys,” Sarah said. “I’m sure Caleb and I will be able to find our way back before the game starts.” She walked over and draped her arm through his, ready to lead him out of the suite.
Ashley was probably mortified by her sister’s brazen attitude toward poor Caleb. She shook her head and gave her sister a dirty look, then walked over and stuck her hand through Caleb’s other arm.
Caleb dropped his arm to hold Ashley’s hand instead; making it clear to Sarah that Ashley was his only priority.
Paul thought about what she had told him about not holding hands with Caleb while they were here, but it was too late. They waved goodbye to the other guys. The three brothers barely acknowledged them, but Paul smiled slightly and tried not to let Ashley know that he was upset about her holding Caleb’s hand. Then he turned back around to stare out into the arena.