"Invite her to Dolly's."
Keeley raised her eyebrows questioningly at Clay as she overheard a loud voice on the other end of the line. He shook his head, indicating he'd explain later as he said "I think she's busy that weekend." He scratched his head nervously, "Yeah, her parents are coming into town or something."
She cocked her head, more confused that ever. True, she was busy right now. She'd thought that things would slow down after she'd presented her dissertation a few weeks ago, but if anything, her work load had multiplied by a million. All of a sudden she had to fill out job applications, prepare for her commencement ceremony, deal with Jan who'd just become engaged a few days ago and had named Keeley the maid of honor, grade papers, and try to see Clay a few times a week still. She and her office-mate Dean, who was having just a busy a time, were formulating a theory that somehow their days were losing hours. Or maybe it was just that they were just losing their minds.
Either way, Clay was right: she was busy, but her parents weren't coming to town for another two months at least, not until her commencement ceremony. Nosy, Keeley nudged him with her elbow and strained to hear what was going on on the other end of the line; he'd turned the volume down on his phone so she couldn't hear anymore. As soon as she nudged him, though Clay groaned and threw his hands up in exasperation. He put the phone down for a second and quickly transferred off the couch from where they were watching a baseball game, grabbed the phone again, and wheeled off to the bedroom, shutting the door behind him.
What the hell? Keeley wondered as she stared at the closed door. She'd only been dating Clay for a few months but in all that time she'd never seen him so agitated. Well, once, when they'd seen Brooke after dinner one night but that was it. Resisting the urge to go press her ear to the door, she started flipping through one of the zillion bridal magazines that Jan had left in her mailbox that morning. As she flipped, she couldn't help but think about her own wedding -- all the people, the poofy dress that she'd hated, how big Brent had smiled when he saw her walking down the aisle and how handsome he'd looked... Keeley shook her head, trying to forget. Hard to believe that was five, almost six years ago now.
But Jan's not you, Keels, she thought to herself. And Nate's not a lying, cheating, controlling jerk. Jan's marriage would not end the way Keeley's had: in a lawyer's office on Ashley River Road. Or hopefully at all. She sighed, looking down at the happy, smiling couple on the page in front of her and felt gloom and annoyance setting in. She felt annoyed that Clay was acting moody and secretive, depressed that she was divorced and only twenty-seven, and envious of Jan's happiness. With a sigh she closed the bridal magazine and stood up, no longer in the mood for a baseball game or anyone else's moodiness; she only wanted the company of her own.
Keeley was just starting to gather her things when Clay emerged from the bedroom, smiling but still looking a little tense. "Where're you going?" he asked with an alarmed expression as he saw her gathering her things.
"I'm just in a bad mood suddenly," she answered.
Clay glanced at the magazine in her hand and a knowing look appeared on his face. He wheeled over to her and grabbed her around the waist, pulling her gently into his lap. "Keels," he said softly, "I'm not in the greatest of moods myself, but--"
"--and you acted like I annoyed you earlier!" she interrupted.
Clay stroked her hair. "I know," he said pulling her closer. "I know, I was frustrated. But you know what helps frustration and bad moods?"
Keeley shook her head. Clay grinned wickedly and leaned in closer, whispering in her ear. "Mr. Whitlow!" she exclaimed before he could even finish. But he only shrugged, still grinning, obviously completely unembarrassed. Keeley smiled faintly, feeling her bad mood alleviate, but still shook her head. "Not right now, maybe later though."
"Fair enough," Clay conceded. "You going to stay to see the Braves get creamed with me then?" Keeley nodded with a smile. He started to wheel them both towards the living room, his arms straining a little under both of their weights. Keeley reached out and squeezed his bicep affectionately as he pushed, all annoyance and gloom gone. Clay smiled. "Good. Are you going to come to the lake with me in two weeks to meet my family too?"
"What?!" Keeley jerked her hands away from his shoulders and placed them both on the wheels of his chair, effectively stopping Clay from propelling them forward any more. "What?" she repeated, this time a little more calmly.
Clay nodded. "That was my dad on the phone. It's starting to warm up and it's about time to de-winterize the boat and my dad wants to meet the reason I haven't been working late anymore."
The explanation came out in an unsure rush. Keeley smiled as she realized that Clay was a little nervous about asking her to meet his family. It endeared him to her and made her love him even more. She thought about earlier how she'd been upset about where life was and how it was going. Then she looked at the ruggedly handsome man whose lap she was currently sitting on and who was inviting her to meet his family in two weeks. She thought about the fact that she could actually sign stuff "Dr. Burns" now instead of just doodling the signature when she was bored. And she thought about how any jealousy she felt toward Jan was vastly outweighed by happiness. She smiled and nodded slightly. "I'd love to, Mr. Whitlow."
Clay's eyebrows shot up. "Really?" he asked with a look that clearly said he'd expected her to say no. "Really?"
Keeley nodded and slipped her arms around his shoulders, feeling her body grow warm. "But," she whispered in his ear, "only if we forget about the Braves and do what you were whispering about earlier." She kissed his neck and worked her way down to his collarbone, kissing it through his tee-shirt and smiled wryly as they started making their way back to the bedroom.
Somehow, the hour and a half it took to get from Charleston to Lake Marion managed to fly by, and before she knew it they were turning onto a dirt road and passing a sign that said "Dolly's Manor". "Who's Dolly?" she asked curiously as they drove on.
"Our old Irish Wolfhound that we had growing up," Clay answered as they pulled up to a beige house with a green tin roof in the back of one of Lake Marion's many coves. She spotted a small ramp in front of the door leading in from the driveway, not unlike the one in front of Clay's own front door. She also noticed a set of steep stairs leading from the house and downhill to the lake, but no ramp there.
"We got her when I was eight and she was about two years old. Had her until I was twenty-one and we had to put her down because she had cancer," Clay continued, parking behind two more trucks which Keeley assumed belong to one of his brother's and his dad. She knew he had another brother as well as a little sister and wondered if either of them would be there later. He turned the truck off and leaned back in his seat, smiling fondly, speaking of his childhood dog as if she'd been a person. "Dolly was the best. She loved the water probably more than any of us did. After she died, Laura, my sister, had that sign made and put it up down there at the end of the driveway. And everyone kind of agreed that it was an appropriate memorial, so the lake house became 'Dolly's Manor', or just 'Dolly's' instead." Clay glanced over at Keeley and saw her bemused expression. "Dolly was really special to us, okay?"
Keeley laughed at his defensive tone. "Clay! I think that's the sweetest thing I've ever heard," she unbuckled and leaned over to kiss his cheek. "It just makes me love you even more. And besides," she added without thinking, "I don't know how you are with kids, but it's comforting to know that you'd treat our canine child well."
Before the words were even out of her mouth completely, she felt her face reddening. From an 'I love you' to kids? Keels, think before you speak. THINK! But to her relief, without missing a beat, Clay just chuckled as he assembled his chair and transferred from down from the truck and wheeled around to the bed of the truck, looking despairingly at their duffel bags laying at the other end. "I love kids. They're great for climbing in truck beds and grabbing the bags that slid around while you drive. Keels, would you mind?"
Smiling, but still embarrassed about mentioning kids, Keeley quickly grabbed the bags and handed them to Clay, who placed them both in his lap. He started wheeling, with some trouble on the gravel, she noticed, towards the front door and even though she was behind him, she could practically see the twinkle in his eye and the wicked grin on his face as he asked her, all the traces of hesitancy from two weeks ago gone, replaced instead by what sounded like excitement, "Well, Dr. Burns, are you ready for a whirlwind weekend full of Whitlow's?"