Heart of Clay(2)

By: Shanna Hatfield

"I'm Clay," he said quietly, accepting the cone from her outstretched fingers. "Clay Matthews. And honestly, I don't like ice cream at all." He turned and strode away, seemingly unaware of the trail of cold confection dripping from the cone and down his hand. She gazed after him until he disappeared around the corner of the big barn.

When Aunt Julie nudged her from behind with her elbow, she jumped. “Callan, if I didn’t know better, I’d think that incredibly good-looking young man is sweet on you. Either that, or he is extremely fond of vanilla ice cream cones.”

Completely flustered, she anxiously waited for him to return. It didn’t help that Aunt Julie and her friends teased Callan relentlessly.

She didn’t see him again the rest of the day and decided he probably wouldn’t come back. As she helped close up the booth for the evening, Clay suddenly appeared.

"Hello, Callan. I wondered if you might be interested in going for a walk." Clay stared down at his dusty boots or glanced behind her instead of making eye contact.

"Sure. Just let me finish a few things here and I'll be ready to go." Her voice sounded calm although nervous fluttering filled her stomach and made her a little lightheaded.

She turned to help pack up the last of the things for the night, but Aunt Julie caught her hand and whispered in her ear. "Callan, girl, quit wasting your time here. Go take a walk with that handsome cowboy."

With a pat on the shoulder, Aunt Julie gave her a playful nudge out of the booth.

Callan and Clay strolled along the promenade looking at the variety of booths and making comments about who sold the best lemonade, the great job the FFA kids were doing with the barbecue wagon, and how old Mrs. Biggs made the best doughnuts.

They discussed the odd shapes of vegetables in the produce display in the big barn and the huge dahlia the county judge brought in for the floral competition. It not only took first place but also drew a small following of bees that terrified the women watching over the flower display until someone decided his dahlia had to go.

As they slowly sauntered along, Callan took the opportunity to watch Clay. He smiled easily, seemed polite and mannerly, and appeared oblivious to the attention he drew from many of the girls who looked at him with interest. She could tell he was shy, but that was one more thing she liked about him.

Callan had never believed in love at first sight. Then she'd looked up into Clay’s warm blue eyes yesterday and the world tilted off-kilter. She felt like the wind had been knocked out of her, and she’d gone numb all over, followed by the oddest tingling sensation. That had never happened to her before.

To the very depths of her being, she knew with unwavering certainty she would spend her life loving Clay.

Since that was the case, she sincerely hoped he would ask her out. It would be hard to consider any sort of future together if they never got around to a first date.

They stopped in front of a booth that sold little figurines made out of polished stones. Earlier in the day, Callan admired one fashioned to resemble a small brown puppy. Still included among the selections, she rubbed the head of the tiny dog then withdrew her finger. She turned away and started to meander again, only to realize Clay was no longer beside her. She looked back and saw him paying for the little dog figurine.

With a shy grin that did his dimples great justice and turned her knees to jelly, he handed her the dog. When their fingers brushed, she wasn’t sure she could continue to stand on her own.

"I thought you might like to have this, you know, as a keepsake. Something for you to remember this year's fair, in addition to your role as champion ice cream scooper." Clay’s smile drew her gaze to his dimples and tempting mouth.

Callan took the little figurine in her hand, holding it carefully. “Thank you.” Completely caught off guard by this unbelievably sweet guy, she wondered if he could possibly be for real. Thoughtful, masculine, adorable, funny, and kind men didn’t typically come in such a nicely presented package.

Leisurely wandering back in the direction they had come, they returned to the ice cream booth. Aunt Julie and her cohorts were absent, so Clay offered to walk Callan to her car.

As they strolled through the parking lot, the sun painted the sky in brilliant shades of swirling pink and orange. Callan couldn’t recall ever seeing such a gorgeous sunset.