Luther was still laughing at Mirela's stunt at the restaurant when we got to my mom's house. Personally, I had been worried that my mom was going to hold the lack of a college degree against Mirela. College was important to my mom. Now, though, I could tell she really liked Mirela.
When we were all in her living room with glasses of tea, I pulled out her gift.
"We went to Hobby Lobby yesterday and I had to get this for you," I said. "Sorry I didn't wrap it. You know how terrible I am at wrapping."
She laughed and accepted it. "Oh, Caleb! It's beautiful!"
I smiled and passed Mirela's hers.
"So that's where it went," she said. "I was looking for it in the box."
"What box?" my mom asked.
"Oh. Luther and Caleb did a photo series of me yesterday," she answered, rubbing the back of her neck.
"What kind?" she asked excitedly. "I love their work!"
"Well, it was mostly casual," she said, looking at her cat stitch she bought.
I sighed, knowing she was getting upset, and put my hand on her back.
"Mirela is half Romanian," I said softly and she smiled more. "But her father passed away when she was young. We did a kind of Romanian funeral ritual photoshoot in honor of her father."
My mom's jaw dropped. "Oh, Mirela," she gasped. "I'm so sorry! How did he die?"
Mirela rubbed her right eyebrow with her pointer and middle fingers.
"Uh... overdoes." My mom's face fell and Mirela looked around. "I see you like horses," she said and my mom smiled.
"Yes, I do. I used to have some but I got too old," she said with a wrinkled nose.
"Have you worked with horses all your life?"
For the rest of the afternoon, my mom and Mirela got to know each other. Occasionally, Luther and I would speak up but it was seldom. I smiled, watching them interact. After my mom's, I was planning on inviting Mirela on a walk but it was still raining outside. Around four, my mom stifled a yawn.
"I'm sorry," she said. "How embarrassing."
"We'll head out," I said. "You do look like you're tired."
She glared at me playfully. "We all know what that means."
I laughed and kissed her cheek. "Bye, Mom. Let me know when we can do this again."
Before we left, she cleared her throat. "Have you... heard from your brother?"
"Not yet," I said quietly. "We're doing a photoshoot at the center next weekend and I'll see him then. Do you want to come?"
"I can't," she whispered. "That- I can't."
"It's okay. You don't have to. We'll call and you can talk on the phone."
She smiled and hugged Mirela. "It was so good to meet you. I hope I can see you again."
"Me, too," she said with a smile.
I sighed when we got out. Suddenly, Luther snatched the keys out of my hand and ran to the car.
"Dude!" I yelled.
"See you at the apartment!" he grinned and peeled out.
Mirela gaped at me. "Did he just ditch us!?"
I groaned. "Yes, yes he did."
"You know, I was wrong. He's the dick."
I laughed and we started to walk down the street.
"We can take the bus."
"How far are we from our places?"
"Two freakin' miles," I grumbled.
She laughed. "What? Poor old Caleb can't walk two miles?"
"Of course I can," I said, a little insulted. "But in the rain!?"
"Oh, don't be a wuss," she said and I shoved her playfully. "Do you think your mom liked me?"
"Yeah," I said.
"I don't know.... She didn't really talk to me at the restaurant after the college thing."
"That's just how she is," I said. "You really impressed her with how you dealt with those guys, though, so you're fine."
"Oh I am, am I?" she asked, nudging me."
I scoffed. "That's what I've been sayin' for the last five weeks, babe."
She laughed and I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye. She was walking in that straight backed way and was using her breasts to protect her project from the rain.
"Stop staring," she said.
"I'm not," I said defensively. "I just noticed you were hiding your project. Hand it over and I'll put it in my pocket."
She passed it over, our fingers brushing, and we continued on in silence. The ran was coming down steadily and we were soon soaked.
"You should've worn a white shirt," I sighed. "That would make this walk more enjoyable."
"What?" she asked. "My company isn't enjoyable enough?"
"Of course it is. But having a... view would make it more pleasant."
"Shut up, Parrish," she said and I laughed.
"Give me a break. I haven't gotten the chance to hit on you in a long time!"
"I know," she said. "It's been weird. Have you been feeling okay?"
No. I'm in love with you, damn it.
"Yep," I lied and put my hand on her lower back. "Just being... respectful."
She scoffed. "You? Respectful? I doubt it."
I leaned to her ear. "Don't make me abduct you."
"With what?" she retorted but her voice shook a little. "You don't have a car anymore."
"I could find something," I said, slowly rubbing her back in circles. She shivered. "You okay?"
"Cold," she said with a shrug.
I put my arm around her shoulders. "This walk was your idea," I reminded her. "You have no one to blame but yourself."
"You're the one with the dick roommate that steals cars and makes people walk in the rain."
I laughed. "That's true."
She didn't say anything so I didn't, either. I moved closer to her slowly. When our bodies were touching, she stiffened.
"Chill," I said. "Body heat."
She scoffed. "Good lie."
I lowered my arm. "Eh, what can I say?"
"Touch my ass and I'll push you out into the road," she said when I kept lowering my hand.
I pouted. "Party pooper!" I said but put my arm around her shoulders again.
She giggled. She didn't step away from me, though, and that was promising. I bit my lower lip as we walked, wondering how to word my next question. 'Will you be my girlfriend' seemed so weak and lame. I groaned.
"What's wrong?" she asked as we turned down the road leading to her neighborhood.
"I just don't like being wet," I said and she laughed.
"So that's why you stink! You don't take showers!"
I faked hurt feelings and gasped. "I smell beautiful, thank you very much!"
She snorted. "If you say so."
"I do, in fact, say so."
We fell into silence again. We had reached her neighborhood sooner than I had hoped. I wanted more time with her.
"Come on in," she said when we got to her door. "You're soaked."
"So are you," I said.
"Which is why I have towels, dork," she rolled her eyes, leading the way into her house.
It was cold and she shivered. She hurried to a small closet in the hallway and brought out a towel for each of us.
"Wanna watch a movie while we dry off?" she asked, her voice nervous.
That was it. That was the invitation. I gulped. A lot rode on what I was about to say. Any future relationship rode on my answer.
"Sure," I said. "What do you want to watch?"
"You're the guest," she said. "Preferences?"
I thought. "Porno?" I asked with a smirk and she pushed me. I laughed. "Seriously, though, I like thrillers."
She pointed to a drawer by her TV. "I have a couple in there. Find something while I get us some drinks."
"Yes ma'am," I said, bowing to her and she rolled her eyes.