There were four of us volunteers from the hospital who’d signed up for the PT clinical trial at the U. Out of the four, only one other girl was still in high school. I wore my glasses with the cute boxy frames and put my hair into two French braids so it stayed out of my way. Instead of the ugly volunteer aprons, we finally got to wear real scrubs. Mine were turquoise, and I secretly wanted to live in them. I felt so important with the outfit and clipboard.
Our task that day was to take the vital signs and statistics of all the athletes participating in the program. Height, weight, blood pressure, some medical history—nothing too exciting. We worked in pairs, and I was with a third-year PT student named Jessica who was both friendly and pretty.
“It’s so cool that you’re getting a head start. I wish I’d had my head together like that at sixteen,” Jessica told me as she filed away the paperwork our first two candidates filled out. The last two were both swimmers and incredibly fit. Jessica let me do most of the work while she supervised. So far, the gig was a piece of cake, not to mention fun and engaging.
Then Asa Dashen walked into the small room and plopped down on the chair in front of me. Clad only in basketball shorts, he was the perfect male specimen, a true athlete with musculature that seemed carved out of stone. Heat rose through my body like the tail wind of a firestorm.
“Name?” I asked him. I didn’t know why I played dumb. But asking for a name was the first question on my prompt sheet, and it felt like all I could do was read along.
He smiled and cocked an eyebrow at me. Then he rubbed his hands together and leaned back in the chair. He was man-spreading shamelessly—this guy was a freaking pillar of masculinity and confidence.
“Dashen, Asa,” he said. I scribbled his stupid name even though my hands were shaking.
“Team sport or activity?”
“Football, officially. But I dabble in everything.” His cockiness made it sound like innuendo.
I was dying of heat stroke, and suddenly the small exam room felt claustrophobic. Jessica seemed to stutter too, and I sighed. I didn’t like the idea of Asa being some sort of heartthrob. Speaking of throbbing hearts, I stood and jerked the pressure cuff down from the wall and Velcroed the thing to his freaking muscular arm.
As I looked at the veins and muscles in his forearm and bicep, his strong, broad shoulders, it all undid me. I could feel my panties getting wet and my nipples pebbling without my permission
“We miss you around the house, Callie. You should stop by for Sunday dinner someday.”
“I’d miss Crosby too much. I can’t imagine being in your house without her. Although, I guess I miss seeing Diana and Jim too. How are they doing?”
Jessica looked surprised that we’d taken up talking like the old friends we were. I’d never told a single soul about what happened the night of the dance or our encounter in the woods when I pledged my virginity to him.
Shivers attacked my spine as I recalled that memory. Why was I so ballsy? Why’d I ever presume I could make Asa mine?
“I miss you too,” he said, his voice gravelly. As I stood on a chair, I brought the height measuring panel down a little too hard on his head.
“Sorry,” I said, stumbling through my work.
“It gets boring without you.”
“Well, I’m working a lot,” I told him. I couldn’t get the goddamned metal arrow to balance on the scale, my hands were shaking so much. Jessica’s brow was furrowed over my callous treatment of this obviously gorgeous and, to an outside observer, overly polite and friendly man.
But I had to. Wasn’t it plain to see how he could smash my heart to smithereens?
“I joined the marines, Callie.”
“What? What about school?” I was dumbstruck, then quickly outraged. Why did everyone have to leave and go so far away from me?
“I’m starting training in the fall.”
“I don’t know what to say.” Was I happy for him? I wasn’t sure. Ever since Dean joined, we barely saw him anymore.
“You could say you’ll come to dinner on Sunday. Weston will be there. We’d all love to see you and catch up.”
One of my fingernails found its way to my mouth, and I chewed on it as I contemplated his offer.
“Not that it’s any of my business,” Jessica piped in. “But I’d take the man up on his dinner invitation.”
“Six thirty?” Asa asked. His brows dipped in question.
I chewed on the tip of my nail. I didn’t really trust myself around Asa.
“Deal,” I said as I wrote down 185 pounds.
The fact that I was nervous to go to the Dashens’ for dinner was telling. I’d eaten at their table as often as I’d eaten at my own family’s. With Crosby gone, it felt strange, like an element was missing, and walking into their house wouldn’t be the same. But my drive to see Asa and keep my word was stronger than the apprehension. I put up my usual defenses and tried to erase the two infamous interactions from my mind. It was the only way I could function around Asa and not act like a fool in his presence. I reminded myself, too, that it was perfectly natural that we ran into each other at the clinical trials and he invited me over. It would have been weird if he hadn’t. To decline the invitation would only be confirming my deep-seated longing, so acting contrary to how I truly felt would help solidify my story.