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A Perfect Wreck Mila Crawford, Aria Cole 2022/8/3 13:46:50

Callie Langdon, you make me crazy. I want to ravage your sexy, smart mouth and make you stop staring at me with eyes full of innocence. I want to suck and lick you until they’re clouded with the sweet haze of lust.

I tugged my fingers through my hair and scrubbed my hands down my face.

“You’re the one who needs to be careful, Asa. Come back in one piece, that’s all I ask for.” She cuffed my shoulder in a fake jab that made my heart hurt. I wanted to crush her delicately, deflower her in her own damn front yard. But I chided myself for getting out of hand. Callie was still a girl, and I was already a man. My duty was to go and fight, defend both Callie’s and Crosby’s fierce independence—their right to thrive and rise on their own.

“Go inside, it’s getting cold.” Of all the things I could have left her with, monumental or trite, I told her to go away—the precise opposite of what instinct was telling me to do.

Callie Marie, I will see you again. If I have to escape death for that reason alone, I’ll see to it.

When she hit the top step, Callie slowly turned to see if I was still watching, as if letting go were easy. Her eye contact unraveled a thread that had been tightly wound inside me. It snapped and she bolted, rushing back down the stairs and into my arms. I pulled her head to my chest and cradled her close to my heart.

“I haven’t forgotten the promises I made,” I whispered, even though the lights were off and no one was around to witness our secrets. I caressed her long hair that fell over one shoulder. Alone in the woods, wet from the rain and angry at my inattention, she’d pledged her virginity to me. I hadn’t forgotten. What was sacred to her was also sacred to me.

Even our fear was forged in the fires of want and need.

“Callie, I’ll come back.”

“I’ll be back, Callie. If only to make good on all my promises.” She shoved off me then and charged up the steps like she had something to outrun.

I could wait a lifetime if my reward was Callie Langdon.

There was never a right time to find out your older brother had become a casualty of war. I knew it was coming the second I looked up and saw two uniformed marines pull into our driveway at the end of the cul-de-sac. We lived on a dead end, and a lot of people used the U-shaped road to turn their cars around. But this wasn’t a caravan lost in the neighborhood. They were two somber-looking officers on their way to deliver the worst news a parent could ever hear.

When I saw them, my heart thundered in my chest until my ears felt raw from the noise of my own fear. I walked to the door in shock after I heard the singsong chime of the doorbell and screamed “Dad!” with what little control I had left in my voice. By the time I opened the door, I was having an out-of-body experience, floating above my own form, ushering the soldiers into my parents’ foyer.

And news like that could not be delivered without a blow, one so unexpected, my father nearly collapsed into my arms. My mother’s wails could be heard halfway around the world. I held them both up and signed the form for his remains to be released and flown home.

If my family was a shell before we lost Dean, then I’d define the time after his death as an absence of light. I threw myself into my work even harder than before. I believed the more people I helped would help to fill up the hole the loss of Dean had left gaping inside me. Mom and Dad went quiet, like two lamps that had been switched off. I sometimes visited the Dashens just for the smiles and the hugs that were so hard to come by at home. Besides, Jim wasn’t doing well, and I knew Crosby or Asa would do the same for my parents if I weren’t around. Helping other people had always been the answer to ward off my own problems. I didn’t think so much about Dean or how he died when I was helping someone else recover. The grief I could process alone in my bed at night. By day, I worked my butt off and made sure I only had time to focus on what was in front of me.

Jim Dashen’s cancer was back, and it couldn’t be ignored. During the first bout, Jim and Diana kept it quiet. With both Crosby and Asa out of the house, this time around, they couldn’t deny they needed the help.