“I should probably warn you ahead of time where I’m taking you,” Caleb turned his head slightly to look over at Ashley. He was leaning back casually in the bucket seat of his car, driving with only his left hand. He kind of looked like one of those guys who think they’re cool and wear dark shades late at night. It sort of worked for Caleb though. In his expensive clothes and his sixty thousand dollar Porsche Cayman. He really did look cool. And very sexy, she had to admit, even though it made her blush to think that. Besides, she liked having him so close to her while he drove. Not that he could ever be very far away from her in a car this small. He could have leaned all the way against the driver’s side door and still held her hand with ease. But he smelled good, and he looked good, and she felt good sitting next to him. “If I don’t tell you ahead of time, you might read too much into it.” He smiled and she was intrigued.
“I’m listening,” she waited for him to continue.
“We’re going over to Bloomfield Hills…to the Detroit Temple.” He looked over at her again, almost sheepishly, and waited for her reply. She had to admit, her breathing did speed up briefly, but she tried to remind herself that he’d told her not to read too much into it. She knew that it was very common for guys in the church to take their girl over to some pretty temple grounds and propose to her in the gardens out back. She was not ready for that, and he knew it. He laughed at her as she tried to get herself back in control. “I was thinking about surprising you, but decided against it.”
“That was probably a good choice,” she whispered. “I may not have been willing to get out of the car.” She smiled shyly over at him. He knew exactly why she felt that way, and she knew in that moment that it was never his intention to make her feel uncomfortable. “Is that why you asked me to get dressed up? Here I thought we were going someplace fun for dinner.”
“We are, actually.” He smiled at her again, almost with a hint of another secret. “But that comes later. It’s still early.” The sun was just starting to set and the lights from the suburbs of Detroit were starting to twinkle. They kept heading east on I-96 past US-23, past I-275 and got off at the expressway at Farmington Hills to wind their way north through some of the most beautiful suburbs in the Detroit area. The golf courses, country clubs, and ritzy neighborhoods are not what one normally thinks of when visualizing Detroit, but they were just a few miles away from the sky scrapers and nightlife of downtown. It was a peaceful area, and Ashley enjoyed the drive up to Woodward Avenue. They pulled into the parking lot that was shared between the Bloomfield Hills Stake Center and the Detroit Temple. Caleb pulled the car into a space at a far corner of the lot, like he always did. He liked to find a spot where it was less likely that someone would scratch their car door against his shiny black paint. Ashley had never been here at night before, and the temple was lit up like a glowing beacon. It was beautiful. It was small, but nonetheless lovely in its own right. Because the Church was more interested in placing lots of temples in easily accessible locations, they were making them smaller but closer together. When her parents had gotten married, they’d had to drive all the way to Washington D.C. to a temple. Then there was the Chicago Temple, and now there was one as close as Bloomfield Hills. It was a treasure no matter the size. He came around to open her door, and reached for her hand. She felt like a princess stepping out of his car and looking up at the temple. She was glad they had come here.
“Would you like to go walk through the gardens, my lady?” he whispered to her. “I promise I won’t ask you any…difficult questions.”
“I would love that, sir.” She placed her hand through his arm and let him lead her up the stairs and down the stone path. The spring flowers were in full bloom, and were beautiful even in the twilight. The lights that followed the walkway lit the way and they just walked silently, feeling the sweet spirit of being on the temple grounds. He led her to a little stone bench and they sat down together. He was silent as he took both of her hands in his. She tried not to be nervous about it; he’d already promised. He looked almost as nervous as she felt, but he just looked down into her eyes and held her gaze.
“I want to tell you something Ashley,” he whispered.
“Okay,” She felt her breathing speed up and she tried to control herself. This was getting serious, and she wasn’t sure she was ready.
“I know that we haven’t known each other for very long, and I know that you’re in a really complicated situation right now.” That’s an understatement, she thought, but waited for him to continue. “And I think my mom sort of messed this up for me the other day,” he hesitated again. “But, I’ve wanted to tell you…that I think I’m falling in love with you.” She had known that that’s what he was going to say. It didn’t surprise her, and it didn’t surprise her that she felt a sense of peace about it. She wasn’t ready to say it back to him, but she was ready to see where their relationship would take them from here. She had started to feel very comfortable with him. She kind of felt like she was falling in love with him, too. She just wasn’t ready to say it back to him yet. She leaned forward ever so slightly and reached up half way to him so that her face was just inches away from his. Although she didn’t want to be the first to kiss him, she wanted to make it very clear that that was her intention. The invitation was there in her eyes. This was something she was ready for. And she couldn’t think of a more romantic location for their first kiss. He leaned his head forward and softly kissed her. It was an amazing first kiss. He reached up and held her face between his hands and kissed her softly for a few minutes before letting her go and taking her hands back in his. They just looked at each other for a long moment with a soft smile. She decided in that moment that she definitely was falling in love with him. She still wasn’t ready to say it out loud though. They sat that way for a few more minutes, then he stood up and offered her his hand. When she stood up, he collected her in a very comfortable hug and she rested her head on his chest. He smelled amazing. They walked silently back to his car.
“Ready for dinner?” His voice was husky and soft as he sat down next to her and clicked his seat belt in place.
“Definitely,” she smiled at him and he grinned back at her, that knowing and secretive look creeping back into his eyes.
“You’re in for a real treat!” he teased. Ashley laughed lightly back at him and somehow knew the seriousness of the evening was behind them. They drove up I-75 past the Palace, where they’d been a few weeks ago for the Piston’s game, and got off at the Joslyn Road exit. He pulled under the overpass and turned up the back drive to the Great Lakes Crossings mall.
“What are we doing?” she laughed. “Going shopping?”
“No,” he grinned over at her. “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…and a Rainforest Café. Hmm, maybe. She couldn’t quite picture that as his favorite restaurant. Sure it was expensive and a bit elite, but it was more of a ‘fun’ restaurant, with monkeys hanging from the ceiling and mechanical elephants that jump out of the walls. The one experience she’d had there had been less than wonderful. Still, she was intrigued. She waited while he 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. They passed by the Rainforest Café and 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 to the next counter over, still holding her hand, and grabbed a tray from the rack in front of Panda Express. “Seriously?” she laughed at him. She was secretly very 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,” he grinned at her. “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 down with rice and noodles and orange chicken and beef with broccoli and looked like he had enough food for both of them. She 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 laughed across at him.
“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!” she exclaimed. “These heels are going to be killing my feet by then.”
“I have strong arms,” he whispered over to her, then stood up and collected their trays. He walked over to dump the garbage in the trash, then offered her his hand. “Ready?”
“Sure.” 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 laughed back at her. “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. Then they came around a corner and she was standing in front of one of the largest aquariums she’d ever seen. Giant fish swam past her, 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 representing all across the state of Michigan. It was the most amazing thing she’d ever seen. “Come here,” he grabbed her hand. “I want to show you something else.” He 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 to 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.” She felt silly trying to climb up into the window in her dress and heels. He 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 to him. He had climbed up so that he was behind her, but the space wasn’t really big enough for both of them to climb in the window. He held her waist though, 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,” she whispered to him, then leaned over 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 her 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 and through the food court and out to the doors to the parking lot. She sighed when she looked across the asphalt at what looked like a 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 looked up 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 looked back at him, wondering if he was really serious, then looked down at her apprehensively. She sort of shrugged her shoulders and grinned up at them.
“What can I say,” she laughed. “My feet hurt.” Some of the guys sort of looked her up and down and wondered at her choice in clothing to go to the mall. She was reminded of how silly she must look to them. Within just a few minutes, his 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 whispered 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 are really something, you know that?” she laughed at him.
“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 softly, 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 shook her head at him and laughed.
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