tingling from bubbling surf and his nose inhaling the perfect salt air. He felt like he was coming back to life. Everything felt new and untainted. And then there was Diane. He suddenly felt the overwhelming urge to hold her, to smell her hair and taste her lips. But he didn’t do any of those things. Instead he kept walking. “How have you been?” he asked after he’d finally gotten up the nerve to speak. “How do you think I’ve been?” she said, an edge to her tone that she’d never leveled at him. “I’m sorry.” Diane stopped. Her right hand reached out and touched his arm. “I shouldn’t have said that.” Cal shook his head. “It’s my fault. I’m the one who ran away.” “You were in pain.” “I was, but it wasn’t fair just leaving you like that. I can’t imagine how that made you feel.” Diane let out a nervous laugh. “It wasn’t pretty. I was a wreck. Top would stop by every couple of days to check on me. He was really sweet and he even brought me dinner when he could tell I wasn’t eating.” The thought of Diane in pain made Cal’s heart ache. He’d done this to her. “But I got through it. We all did. Jonas said I could stop by The Jefferson Group whenever I wanted and for a while I did. I hope they didn’t get sick of me. I just…I had this crazy feeling that one day you’d walk through the front door and everything would be exactly like it had been.” Diane’s voice trailed off sending the dagger deeper into Cal’s gut. He took her hand in his. She didn’t let go. “The day Trav died, a part of me died too,” Cal said, vocalizing the pain that he was only now beginning to comprehend. “He was the only family I had left. He was more like my brother and for months the only way I could remember him was from the last time I saw him with blood on his face and those eyes staring into nothingness —” The image stormed into his brain but this time he was able to push it away replacing it with a happier memory of the good times he’d had with his cousin. “I’ve lost people before, only this time it felt so final, like everything had been taken. I wasn’t in a place mentally where I could be any good to you. I honestly never expected you to talk to me again.” Diane squeezed his hand. “I’m here now.” “I know.” “And you were wrong.” “About what?” “You have family. Neil, Top, Jonas and the rest of your guys. I mean, the president is one of your best friends. You’re not alone, Cal. You’ll never be alone.” “What about you? Are we still friends?” The words felt childish, but Cal didn’t care. Diane nodded. “Is there a chance we can be more than friends again?” Diane stepped closer and said, “We’ll take it slow, okay?” Hope sprouted in Cal’s chest, warm and inviting. Her answer was more than he’d believed himself worthy of. “I’m good with slow,” he said. Diane grinned. “But not too slow.” She squeezed his hand again and they stood there for a minute, just enjoying the morning and each other.
By the time they arrived back at the house, Diane had filled Cal in on her studies and her career path. She’d graduated from UVA in May and was temporarily assigned to the Naval ROTC unit until a slot opened up for the Naval Intelligence basic course in Dam Neck, Virginia. Cal was happy that she was pursuing her dream to be an intelligence officer. Her experience as an enlisted intelligence analyst would only add to her considerable skill as an officer. She’d be a valuable asset to any command, and at one point Cal had even entertained offering her a position within TJG. Maybe it was better that they kept their professional lives separate. They were still holding hands when they entered Cal’s vacation rental. The Secret Service agent at the door nodded a curt hello and said something into his mic. Cal and Diane followed the sounds of happy chatter and the smells of coffee and breakfast. When they