Chapter 67: A Reason to Damn Us

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Wynter was determined to justify herself as they cleared away the dishes.

"You told me love is an action," she told Caleb, following him into the kitchen. "He acted like he loved his daughter more than his sons."

"That's absolutely not true. Parents love all their children..." Caleb's eye caught Indio's, an involuntary admission of his mistake. "Those parents love all their children the same. You misinterpreted what you saw."

"Mateo is misogynistic," Jesse said helpfully, unwrapping a popsicle for Jilly. "He assumes girls are weaker, and it manifests as making allowances for his daughter."

"Is that true?" Wynter asked Caleb.

"I very much doubt it. Let's not make judgments about another family, okay? Mateo is a good guy."

"Why does it matter, anyway? I could tell you didn't even know him well. Why were they here?"

Caleb opened his mouth to answer her, and stopped, presumably because he wanted to neither lie or reveal the truth.

Bea said, "We don't have guests very often," as if that answer should be sufficient.

Jesse had had enough. "That was the family who was supposed to be on your Family Care Plan, in case Caleb's deployed again."

Caleb shot Indio a look. Indio shrugged with his eyebrows to show it wasn't his fault Jesse had guessed the truth.

The color had drained from Wynter's face. "But they won't want me now!"

"Probably not," Jesse said. "Seriously, that was the best you could come up with, Caleb? They were no good for Wynter."

"Do you think I haven't tried every option?" Caleb shot back. "My entire social life is at the base. I don't know any civilians. We have no suitable relatives."

"Jesse could do it," Wynter said.

"There are certain restrictions," Caleb said, forcing his anger down as he explained. "It has to be someone who's financially independent. Jesse's a full-time student and he's still too young."

Wynter was distraught. "Why didn't you tell me that's what they were here for? You tricked me. You kept it secret."

"I thought it would be better if—"

"I would've behaved however you told me to. I would've tried to make them want me."

"Hun, it's not your fault. There was no reason not to be yourself."

"But there's something wrong with being myself. There's something wrong with me."

"No—"

"This is the only place I fit properly. This house. This family." She drew a deep breath and said, terrified, "Does this mean you'll lose at the custody hearing?"

"No. It means I have to work a little harder to impress them."

"You said your boss has to be satisfied with your Family Care Plan. Otherwise they'll make you leave the Coast Guard. That's what you—"

"Wynter, forget about it for now. I'll think of something else."

She glared at him for a long moment, trying to determine how much faith she should put in him. At last she turned to Indio. "Can we jam?"

"Sure. Great idea."

"I'll clean up here," Bea offered, eager to separate herself from the drama.

"I'll help," Caleb said, like he thought he should do penance. "I'll be down in a minute, guys." He held onto Jilly's sticky hand to stop her following Wynter, Jesse, and Indio through to the back of the house.

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