Once Calla had calmed down a bit, they headed to s restaurant in downtown that Gary knew. Jay and Joe were cutting up and making jokes the entire ride. Gary kept his eyes on Calla who seemed to be intrigued with the bantering.
“We’re not boring, are you?” Gary asked, softness in his eyes as he looked at her.
“No, I’m very entertained,” she said, a little giggle escaping her pretty pink lips.
Gary held his gaze with a soft smile, his blue eyes roaming her face as he tried to read her. She seemed a bit more comfortable around him and the others and that gave a little bit of hope.
“We’ve arrived!” Joe suddenly said loudly causing Calla to jump.
Gary rolled his eyes and tapped him on his leg. “Not so loud, man.”
Joe sheepishly grinned and apologized as the car came to a stop at the front entrance. Jay climbed out first then Joe then Gary, who extended his hand out for Calla to grab. Gary didn’t release her hand when she climbed out of the car. He held it tightly and yet gently at the same time to reassure her that he didn’t have any intentions of harming her. She had tried pulling away twice but he brought her hand to his lips and planted a kiss.
Joe grinned knowingly but said nothing as they walked into the building. A host was waiting for them with a stupid grin on his face.
“Welcome, gentlemen!” he said an annoying enthusiasm. “Right this way!”
Gary made a swift glance at Jay who rolled his eyes at the host. Calla noticed their reactions and giggled under her breath, but Gary heard her. The host led them away from everyone and to a private booth at the very back of the restaurant.
“Do ya’ll know what you want to drink or do you need a minute?” the host asked.
“We’ll take a minute,” Jay said, mentally rolling his eyes.
“He’s only being nice because he knows who we are,” Joe said, shaking his head in disappointment. “I bet if we weren’t Rascal Flatts he’d treat us differently.”
“Let’s not think about that right now, guys,” Gary chimed in. “Let’s enjoy each other’s company, as usual and get to know our new friend.”
Gary leaned forward, resting his arms on the table across from Calla and smiled. He noticed a light blush flush her face as he smiled at her and when Jay nudged her.
“Well I’m sure you guys figured I have an ex boyfriend who’s stalking me,” she said, her shy smile going to a frown. “I had been with him for a while and just became tired with the abusive and constant walking on eggshells. He has a very bad temper and blamed me for a lot of things.”
“You were right to leave,” Joe said, nodding. “No one deserves to be in that type of relationship.”
“I just wish I would’ve left sooner. I felt trapped… as though I was too involved in the relationship where i couldn’t break away,” she said, a catch in her voice. “He had left one day and I quickly packed a small bag, grabbed saved money, and left. Walked to the nearest bus station and came here.”
“We want to help you in any way we can,” Gary said, taking her hand in his. “Starting with making sure he can’t find you. And he won’t.”
“What if he does? I’m not if I’m ready for that,” Calla said, casually pulling her hand back and resting it in her lap.
“We’ll cross that bridge when we get to it,” Jay said. “I know it’s hard, but try to relax and have some fun.”
She softly smiled and nodded. “I guess this is a fresh start.”
The guys agreed and talked about what they wanted to eat. Calla sat there in her own mind, not realizing that Gary had been staring at her this whole time. He was trying to figure her out. He was trying to figure out what God wanted him and his friends to do. Gary didn’t want to leave her out on the street so her ex could find her. He wanted to take her in and protect her.
“Are ya’ll ready to order?” a new waiter came up to the table.
Gary ordered for himself and Calla while Joe and Jay ordered for themselves. When the waiter walked off, Jay and Joe Don talked about random things they had done at past concerts, trying to entertain Calla as best they can while Gary sat there silently admiring her.
Something that was very noticeable with Calla was the uncertainty in her honey brown eyes as they darted to the entrance of the restaurant and around the room. Gary couldn’t help but wonder if her ex already knew where she was.
“I have an idea,” Gary said, cutting Jay off. “Why don’t we go horseback riding tomorrow after lunch?”
“Sounds good to me,” Jay and Joe Don said at the same time.
“I’ve never ridden a horse before,” Calla said, a hint of excitement in her voice. “I’ve seen videos of people barrel racing or just going for a joy ride and I’ve always wanted to do that.”
“Does that mean you’re in?” Gary asked, smiling.
She nodded returning his smile with another shy one and she dropped her gaze to look at her hands on the table. Gary’s hands were just inches away and she felt the urge to touch them but held back. Calla could feel the butterflies in her stomach flutter when she caught Gary staring at her.
“Great, our food is here!” Joe Don said, clapping his hands together. “Let’s dig in!”
Everyone was quiet while they ate, but the silence didn’t last long after Jay made a comment about the mashed potatoes. Calla’s mind was somewhere else, though. Her thoughts were on her ex boyfriend. What if he already knew where she was? She was sure he had friends everywhere, so she wasn’t really safe from him.
Calla looked around the table of her new friends who were laughing and telling jokes and she smiled softly, visible enough for Gary to notice. She did feel safe with them. It had been a long time since she’d ever felt safe anywhere and she knew they were trying their hardest to make her feel better and to get her mind off of her situation. And for that she was very grateful.