I bought flowers for Diana at the local florist. Daisies and sunflowers because Crosby was in Italy, and both flowers reminded me of her personality. Now I wished I didn’t have them because my entrance would be conspicuous instead of subtle as I’d imagined.
After I knocked timidly at the door, it swung open in full Dashen style, and Jim pulled me into a huge bear hug.
“Callie! How’s my second-favorite daughter?” He looked thin, his face was drawn, and I realized I was so happy to see him that I almost started crying.
“I’m good, Jim. Sorry I’ve taken this long to come over.”
“No worries at all, Callie. We all know BeBe is the main attraction in this household.”
Maybe not the main attraction. I spotted Asa over Jim’s shoulder. His arms were crossed, and he was wearing a smirk. This time, he had a shirt on, and his hair still looked wet from the shower. Weston was in the kitchen helping Diana open the wine. I tried to march right past Asa to deliver the flowers to his mom. He grabbed my arm and tugged me toward him.
“Where’s my hug, Callie? I’m the one who invited you over.” When he teased me, it physically hurt. I tensed every muscle and felt as if I was collapsing in on myself.
“Hi, Asa,” I said. I gave him a pretty pathetic hug. “How’s your body feeling after those clinicians put you through the tests?”
“Not as good as yours,” he said. I swallowed hard, pulled away, and continued on to the kitchen.
I refused to gawk over Asa, to flirt and to fawn. It was hard to comprehend how just a few words from him could set my heart into arrhythmia and my stomach roiling. How his hug sent my nervous system into sensory overload, craving more of his touch. But I could keep my cool under pressure—that was what I was good at.
Hugging Diana brought tears to my eyes. She was more affectionate than my mother, and unlike my parents, she realized right away when something was wrong with you.
“Come every Sunday, Callie. You’re always welcome. We’re here whenever you need us. We need you too, because missing Crosby is even more difficult than we imagined. Right, Weston?” she said. Diana Dashen rubbed Weston’s arm absentmindedly. He cleared his throat and made an excuse about setting the table.
“It’s just not the same without you two around.” Diana cut the bottom of the stems and arranged the bright flowers in a glass vase. “Can you put these on the table for me, Callie?”
I’d always imagined myself a member of this family. When Crosby and I were little, we used to talk about how her parents would adopt me and we could officially become sisters. I missed her so much, it felt like a vital part of myself was lost.
“Callie is working at the U, assisting in the clinical trials I told you about,” Asa told his father.
“That’s what you were saying. Callie, we are so proud of all the good work you’re doing,” Jim told me. His smile was genuine, and I felt sheepish being the center of attention.
“I hope to get into the nursing program or maybe physical therapy. I’ll see which one I’m more suited for at the end of this semester. I was thinking maybe the internship would help me decide.”
“You’ve got plenty of time, dear,” Diana said. She set a wooden bowl of salad next to the flowers. “Shall we eat?”
Asa said grace, and I politely folded my hands into prayer and listened to the scratch in his voice. One of my favorite things about Asa was his ability to be sincere. He was cool with an ease that was never forced. He wasn’t ashamed to say grace; he wasn’t too tough to clear the table. He might have had the bad-boy charisma, but he respected his parents and put family before everything.
After the dishes were finished and we ate homemade strawberry-rhubarb pie for dessert, we gathered in the living room. Diana and Jim made me look at every picture of Italy Crosby had emailed them since she left. She’d sent me the same ones, but I sat and smiled nonetheless. They were afraid of an empty nest, and I couldn’t say I blamed them. Without Crosby and Asa, this place wouldn’t feel the same—not the house, not the city, not my life as I knew it.
Saying goodbye to Callie shouldn’t have been different from any of the other tough goodbyes I had to make before training. But for some reason, it stood out as a looming, insurmountable task in my head. Maybe it was because I was never sure where we stood. And that could be my fault—I’d never had the opportunity to discuss the two incidents that happened between us with her directly—to put her mind at ease and let her know they were both as good as forgotten.