To read the excerpts prior to this one, they are all listed in order on last week's Writing post.
Half a day and, seemingly, a lifetime later, Jake was looking at that same photo when Colton walked up behind him. He looked over Jake’s shoulder at the photo and grinned. “You three were always the hellions of the neighborhood.”
Jake nodded and smiled. “Yes, it’s amazing that the neighborhood put up with us playing our war games through everyone’s yards for all those years without calling the police on us.”
Colton looked around the room at the food and plants that were everywhere… so many of them were from the neighbors. “Nah, the neighborhood loved you three with your war games. They knew that as long as you were playing together, you were more than likely keeping each other out of trouble.”
Jake pressed his finger to Chris’ face on the photo. “That only seemed to work when we were kids though, didn’t it? I wasn’t able to keep him out of trouble this time.”
Colton looked thoughtfully at Jake. His rank had enabled him to gather more information about the crash than Cassie had been told so he knew that it was Jake’s PJ team that had gone in for Chris’ extraction…an extraction that failed because of bad weather conditions. It was why Chris was on the ground for eighteen hours after his crash before he was recovered and, by then, he had been tortured to death. “Jake, there is nothing that you or any of your guys could have done differently to change this outcome. The weather was beyond your control.”
Jake flashed a haunted look at Colton. “I should have pushed harder. The weather had just moved in. We could have moved just a little bit faster when we got his distress signal. We could have scrambled just a little bit faster. We could have pushed the envelope just a bit further. We might have saved him.” Jake’s voice broke as he finished his thought.
“No, you cannot second guess this. What you would have ended up with were more dead personnel, Jake. This is not your fault. Chris did a dangerous job, just like we all do. He knew the risks. You could not have changed this and second-guessing it doesn’t do anyone any favors.” Colton ran his hand over his face. “This is hard for everyone right now. Give it some time and you will see that I am right.”
Jake and Colton were talking quietly in front of the fireplace, but Cassie was in the kitchen with Julie and Penelope. Jake looked at her now. “Do you think that she would see it that way if she knew the truth? Do you think that she would see me as blameless in Chris’ death? I don’t think so.”
Colton shook his head at Jake. “That’s where you’re wrong. Cassie is one of the greatest military tacticians in this country. She knows how combat works and how long it takes to deploy and when the risks are too great. She would NEVER blame you for this and she would be damn angry if she realized that you were blaming yourself. If she wasn’t so wrapped up in her denial of the entire situation, she would see that what you were doing and would tell you that herself.”
Jake looked at Cassie. “She’s not dealing with this at all Colt. What are we going to do? We both have to get back to our bases and aren’t going to be here when reality finally sets in for her.”
Colton shook his head. “There’s nothing we can do. We can’t force her to accept the reality of the situation. The girls will help look out for her. She is still planning on doing her European tour for the video game thing. It’s just been postponed for a week, so I will be able to keep an eye on her while she is over there, at least on the weekends.”
“When do you have to head back?” Jake asked him.
“I still have another week of emergency leave. What about you?”
“I need to fly back tomorrow or the next day at the latest. I don’t want to leave her yet.” Jake was looking at Cassie. Jake had no idea that his heart was showing through every look that he gave her today. He had a feeling that Jake was in for a shock when he realized it.
“Listen, I have a favor to ask. I know that the timing sucks, but Dianna is insisting that I come deal with some paperwork about the divorce and I need to head to Dallas to do that. I will be gone tomorrow, but will be back early enough the next day so that you can still make your flight out. Could you stay with Cassie tomorrow and spend the night tomorrow night so that she’s not alone in the house? I am not comfortable leaving her alone yet.”
Jake continued to watch Cassie as she stared off into space. She didn’t even seem aware of what was going on around her. He was worried about how she was going to react when she became aware again. “Of course, you know you don’t even have to ask. I am always here if Cassie needs me.”
These are my words so you are not allowed to copy, alter, or re-print them anywhere else without my permission. ;o)