Read A Beautiful Wreck (Second Chance #3) Online
Authors: CeeCee James
© 2016 by CeeCee James
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Wrecked and Yours
Out of the Wreckage
A Beautiful Wreck Cassie’s Story
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Thank you to my precious family for all of your support!
As a mother comforts her child, so will I comfort you. Isaiah 66:13
, Buttercup. Only a few more days left until I come home. I can’t wait to see you. I swear I’m going to grab you in my arms and never let you go.
Shock ran through Cassie at Leif’s words.
He’s finally coming home?
She took a second to catch her breath but then her fingers couldn’t type fast enough.
Me too, babe. Can’t wait!
When was his message sent?
Scrolling up, she checked the timestamp: ten days ago. Hidden away in her college email account, it was just luck that she’d even seen it.
Cassie read the last line.
Surprise! I get to be there when you graduate. I’m incredibly proud of you. Besides, I have a little question I’ve been meaning to ask you. ;)
She tipped her head back, blinking hard to stop the tears. A lump rose in her throat.
It’s really happening.
The air conditioner kicked on and sent a column of icy air across Cassie’s bare legs. She rubbed her bare arms and reached for the lacy sweater on the back of the chair.
“Ouch!” she gasped, as her necklace caught on the inside of her sweater, choking her. Carefully, she threaded her hand up to untangle the dangling silver charm. She ran the charm over her bottom lip, in the way she always did, before looking at it.
Cassie shoved the laptop across the quilt on her bed, her long, blonde hair falling in her face. Impatiently, she twisted it up. She looked for something to fasten it, then lunged for a rubber band on the night stand, and tucked the ends under in a bun.
I really need some of my paper love.
She clambered to the floor and stretched under the bed for a box. Notes and cards burst over the top as soon as she raised the lid—all from Leif. She began to shuffle through them, searching for her favorites. She pulled one out. His printing— he refused to use cursive— was crammed tightly together and used every last square inch of space.
It’s hotter than Hades here—you just can’t believe it. But every day is worth it when I think of you waiting at home. Can’t wait to jump in that lake with you.
Lying here, trying to sleep. Not easy with a tent full of men snoring and bumping my cot as they move around. Miss you so much, babe.
It’s five o’clock in the morning here. The sky is gorgeous, so wide it feels like it goes on forever. Love thinking about you asleep in your bed, and wish I could be there to see the sun hit your face.
Cassie studied the last letter, her eyes stinging, her insides doing a tug of war between love and pain. She returned it to the box.
Eighteen months. Eighteen months since I’ve seen him.
Curling around her happiness was an
unexpected emotion. Fear.
Stop! Don’t think about that!
Wincing, she squashed it down.
Looking up, she caught her reflection in the mirror across the room. She stood up and walked closer. Her face was pale; that was normal. She rarely tanned in the sun, burning bright red instead. Fading freckles marched across the bridge of her nose, barely visible but still prominent enough to make her grab for the foundation bottle. Sighing, she dabbed on the foundation with a sponge.
His last message lingered in her mind.
I’ve got a little question to ask you.
Cassie pulled the necklace out from under her shirt again and clutched the silver baby booties tightly in her hand. She closed her eyes.
He’s coming home. We’re lucky to have a new beginning.
This was going to be their chance to overcome the tragedy that had almost torn them apart. The one moment in time that had changed everything, and the one thing that would always hold them together….the death of their son.
Two eighteen-year-olds. So young and dumb. They hadn’t thought an unplanned pregnancy could happen to them.
And then the dark night when Cassie had lost the baby after the car accident.
We both fell apart the night of the accident. Our little family torn to shreds. Leif turned to the military and me to college. Almost didn’t make it, but we’ve both grown up so much since that day.
“Leif, we can do this,” she whispered out loud. “We can build our family again.”
Cassie tucked the charm back under her shirt, wishing it was as easy to lock the memories away.
Humming softly, she rummaged among her perfume bottles and grabbed her favorite one. She held it to her nose, breathing in the faint summery scent of honeysuckle blossoms. Leif had given it to her just before he’d left for boot camp. She spritzed it on her neck and straightened her shoulders, nodding at her reflection.
Welcome to womanhood.
She frowned and slipped on her red Converse.
Heck with this, I’m still a girl.
Leaving the laces flying, she ran downstairs.
The acrid smell of burned milk permeating the downstairs stopped Cassie cold.
“In here!” called Miranda. Cassie ran into the kitchen. Her sister, face creased in frustration, didn’t look up from where she stood watching over a steaming pot on the stove. Instead, Miranda fiercely stirred the bubbling liquid with one hand, while gripping the counter with the other as if hanging on for dear life.
Cassie sidled up to the kitchen bar, her eyes wide with disbelief as she took in the massive silver headband holding back Miranda’s dark hair.
Tact, use tact, Cass.
“So …. how’s it going? And what the heck is that in your hair?”
Miranda glanced at her, looking frazzled, and touched the sparkling band. “What? This? It’s called a fashion accessory.”
“Do me a favor, sis. Don’t leave home with that still in your hair. It’s like something Paris Hilton would wear.”
“You’re so funny. And don’t you have something you should be doing right about now, besides being a fashion critic?”
“Oh boy, and you’re cooking.” Cassie bit back a grin. She loved winding her sister up.
Miranda looked up from the steaming pot and lifted the wooden spoon in a mock-threat. “Not one word, Chickee. This is already the second batch I’ve made today.”
Cassie took a deep sniff. “Mmm, smells delicious.”
Miranda resumed her stirring with a laugh. “Potatoes au gratin. This time it’s going to be spectacular. What did you come down here for, anyway? Wanna help? There’s still time.”
Cassie climbed onto the bar stool and dragged over a stray envelope before sliding a pen out from where it had rolled under the fruit bowl. She began to doodle long curls. “I just got an email. Leif’s coming home in five freaking days. In my head, I’ve always envisioned throwing him this huge welcome home party… and now I’ve got, like, a minute to plan it.” She studied the paper. L’s with little arms and legs danced across the paper.
“You guys are going to work it out, then? You were saying a while ago—”
“Yeah. He’s waited all this time for me. I still love him.”
“Don’t get mad, but you don’t sound so sure about that.”
Cassie dropped the pen in frustration. “Yeah, I am. We are. It’s happening.”
Miranda rolled her eyes with a slight grimace. “All right. I just care about you. Let me see what I can conjure up with zero notice. I’ve got some sweet party skills. I know I can do something….” Miranda’s voice dropped off as she continued to stir. Then, looking up. “Hey! Maybe we can reserve the restaurant banquet area again.”
“That’s an idea.” Cassie slid a tube of lip gloss from her jeans pocket and applied it. Smacking her lips, she studied the tube for a second.
Almost gone. I seriously might be addicted to this stuff.
“You going to invite his family?”
“Umm.” Cassie felt her cheeks heat. “Honestly, I don’t know any of them.”
“You still haven’t met his family?”
“I know, it’s weird. His parents divorced and moved to opposite sides of the country. I know he hasn’t been in contact with his mom for years.”
“And he has no brothers or sisters, right?”
Cassie shook her head. “Yep. He’s an only child.”
“Well, we can still do something awesome.
Miranda continued. She started slicing potatoes. “I seriously don’t want you to get stressed out. Right now, graduating should be your top priority. You all ready for your finals?”
“As ready as I’ll ever be. At this point, honestly, I hate college.”
“Cassie, you can do this. Just push through a little bit longer. Tough it out. You only have a few more weeks, and then you’ll be on to bigger and better things. How’s the job outlook going? You hear back from that one blog?”
Cassie grinned. This was the moment she’d been waiting to drop on her sister all year. Yesterday, she’d gotten the phone call. “Yeah. I have an interview. I’m super excited.”
“You got the interview?”
“Yep. You sound shocked? Just heard back yesterday. They said they were impressed with my sample article, and also how I knew who Jennifer Lawrence's first love was.”
“Muffin, a horse.”
Miranda laughed. “I should have never doubted you.”
“That’s right.” Cassie gestured toward the headband again. “Now don’t doubt me about that. Because trust me, it ain’t cute.”
Archer dragged himself out from where he’d been resting under Cassie’s stool. The German Shepherd brushed against her bare feet propped on the rungs as he stood. His dark head tipped and ears pointed forward. Moving slowly towards the door, his nails clicked on the hardwood.
“What’s the matter, ol’ boy?” Miranda asked. She spun for the cupboard and reached for a Corningware dish.
“You hear that? Sounds like a car coming down the driveway. It’s kind of early for Jason to be back from the youth center, isn’t it?” Cassie pulled back the curtain, half-expecting to see Miranda’s husband rounding the last bend of the long driveway.
“No, not for another hour yet,” Miranda said, after checking the clock.
Cassie leaned against the window sill, watching.
Dust billowed from around the corner, heralding a black Suburban.
A shiver ran down Cassie’s spine. She dropped the curtain like it was poison and took a shaky step back.
“Who is it?” Miranda called as she slid the casserole into the oven.
Cassie couldn’t answer. Her eyes darted down, vocal cords frozen with a tight spasm.
Archer barked again. He scratched at the front door, demanding to be let out. Miranda hurried over to the dog and dropped her hand to give him a reassuring scratch behind his ears. “Okay, Archer. Don’t kill anyone.” She looped her fingers under his collar to hold him back and reached for the doorknob.
“Don’t.” Cassie whispered. Her eyes flicked up to meet her sister’s, and she felt her face drain of blood.
Miranda’s eyebrows shot up. “Don’t? Cassie, what’s the matter?” Miranda peeked out the window just as loud pounding rattled the door. Startled, she jerked her hand away. With a quick glance back at Cassie, she swung the door open.
Cassie staggered a step backward, hiding behind her sister. She looked at the stairs—her room was just to the right, at the top of them—and licked her dry lips.
Just run. Run up there. It can’t happen if you aren’t here.
Two soldiers stood in the doorway, both ram-rod straight, in Army uniforms. One stepped forward. His hat hung low over his forehead, but Cassie could still see his eyes. Piercing. Sad. He caught her gaze, ignoring Miranda’s smile and hello.
Miranda stepped back, her hand reaching for Cassie. “Chickee?”
The soldier took a small step over the threshold, his dark eyes full of sorrow.
Fear crawled down Cassie’s back.
Run now! Run! There’s still time. Don’t let him talk!
“Ma’am, I’m so sorry. Leif always told me, if anything happened to him, he wanted me to bring you this.” He held a box in his arms.
The crawling became shudders, shaking Cassie in violent waves. Her head shook in denial. In self-defense, her hands came up to ward him off. “No. No. No! No!”
A flicker of agony passed over the soldier’s face. He paused, and started again. “I was in the armory unit with Leif. He was my best friend.”
“I said stop! Don’t say it!”
Miranda took a step towards Cassie. “Chickee—” Her hand stroked Cassie’s shoulder and started to draw Cassie into her arms.
“Don’t say it! Please! Both of you shut up!” Cassie shook her head. She pushed her sister away. “He just wrote me! Said he was on his way home. He just wrote—”
The room spun and she fell forward on her knees, flinching as her sister called, “Oh, honey—”
“Please! Leave me alone. Go away. Everyone just go away. It’s not true. It can’t be true!”
“I’m so sorry, ma’am,” the soldier said, his voice husky with emotion. “I….I know it’s a shock. I’m sorry to deliver the news. He was a good man.”
Cassie stuffed her fist against her mouth to silence her sobs. She rocked back and forth on the hardwood floor. Around her, bits of their conversation stabbed into her heart like a knife. “IED.” “Never left his brothers.” “Hero.” Slamming her hands over her ears, she curled into a ball.
No, Leif. No! You can’t do this to me. Not after all we’ve been through. Please say this isn’t my fault! This can’t be true. It’s just a nightmare! Wake up, Cassie. Wake up!