His Irresistible Smile


His Irresistible Smile



It has been six months since the Navy Lieutenant Commander knocked on Heather’s door. He wore his white service dress uniform. The crease was sharp, and the gold buttons polished.  His facial expression was solemn with a hint of sadness in his eyes.  He stood at attention, holding a white envelope in his hand. Heather immediately knew what had happened.  Her knees buckled, and she began to fall.  The Commander caught her before she hit the ground; he held her as tears rolled down her cheeks and fell on his medals. The Commander, a classmate of Bryan, said he died a hero.  A hero.  The words rang hollow as Heather hiked along a dirt path that ran the length of the ocean side bluffs just north of San Diego.

The pain in her heart was as intense today as that moment she was told her husband had died when his fighter jet crashed.  There was not one day over the past six months that Heather had not cried.  She cried when she was despondent.  Heather cried when she was angry.   Most of the time, she cried for no specific reason at all.

Carrying a picnic basket, Heather hiked toward a small grove of trees. It stood as an oasis in an otherwise bleak landscape of dead grass.  The trees offered the only shade on this part of the bluffs.  She was wearing a colored print summer dress with lace around the sleeves.  She wore a wide brim straw hat to protect her pale skin from the intense sun. Her red hair was tied back into a tight ponytail. Heather listened to the rolling thunder of waves thrashing against the rocky beach. The grove was the spot where they had weekend picnics there when the aircraft carrier USS Gerald Ford was in port.  They would talk for hours. Their last picnic was the day before his ship was to set sail to the Arabian Sea. He played "Last Dance" on his I-phone, and they danced barefoot in the grass.  She wanted to laugh and enjoy the moment, but only tears came.  Bryan would dab the tears from her eyes. He always had a spare handkerchief in his pocket on the day before his deployment.

Before reaching the grove, Heather stopped and looked over the bluff.  It was as she remembered.   The cliff dropped about fifty feet straight down where it met a mass of boulders that covered the sandy beach.  Some of the rocks were polished smooth by the constant washing of the ocean waves.   Others, closer to the cliff, were black pinnacles that defied the sea and reached toward the sky.  It would be so easy, Heather thought. An end to the pain, the nightmares, and the loneliness.  She could stretch her arms wide, take two steps, and pretend she was a plane.  She could soar down the bluff to the beach, and as the poem said, 'put out her hand and touch the face of God.’ Heather turned and walked to the trees.

In the basket she carried fresh French pastries, bread, and jam she purchased from the neighborhood bakery. The basket also held a bottle of red wine and a velvet box containing the medal awarded posthumously to her husband.  There was a ceremony at the White House where the President said kind words about her husband and called him an American hero.  He handed her the medal, a letter from the Secretary of the Navy, and an American flag.  She never learned what Bryan did to earn the medal or exactly how he died. Like so many things her husband had done, it was a secret.  A matter of national security.  Someday she would know.  Her lawyer promised.

Heather laid a blanket on the ground under a Cottonwood Tree, opened a jar of strawberry jam, and spread it on a slice of bread.   Strawberry jam was Bryan’s favorite.   A bee flew from the bushes and landed on the picnic basket.  Its erratic movements reminded Heather of how Bryan would use his hands to explain how his F-18 would turn and roll as it sped across the sky at supersonic speed. 

They met at the International Ball, an annual formal dance held each year at the United States Naval Academy.  It was a blind date. Her roommate, Carol, set her up with Bryan through a mutual friend.  At the time, Bryan was a Midshipman at the Academy majoring in aeronautical engineering and on track to flight school.  Heather was a student at the University of Maryland, studying finance and economics.  Heather was swept away by his rugged appearance, his broad shoulders, and a muscular physique. He was so handsome in his midshipman tuxedo. All that aside, what caught Heather’s attention was his smile. 

“You have to be Heather,” Bryan said as he stopped two feet in front of her, “You are far lovelier than Carol described.  Your gown is gorgeous.”

“Thank you,” Heather said and was so enthralled with the moment she was at a loss of for words.

“Shall we dance,” Bryan said as he reached for her hand.

They danced the night away in each other’s arms. Looking at his face, Heather noticed he never stopped smiling the entire evening.  Heather spent many weekends visiting the Academy after that dance.  On her drives back to College Park, her most vivid memory was his irresistible smile.

Heather’s Dad had cautioned her about her relationship with Bryan.   Cautioned was her Dad’s code word for forwarned.  

“Heather,” her father told her, “Midshipman, especially those who become Navy pilots are married to their careers, and wives are a distant second.  Please be careful. I don’t want you to be hurt Little Bunny.”

“Dad, you haven’t called me that since I was 5 years old.  I know you want to protect me, but I’m not a child anymore.”

“I know dear, but I do worry.  When I was in the Air Force, I knew some pilots. Fighter pilots are self-absorbed, conceited, and arrogant. A lot like your high school football player flame everyone called Moose. Their heads are in the clouds, soaring above the earth like an eagle. You should watch 'Top Gun.'" 

“Bryan is nothing like Moose or Tom Cruise. He's kind, considerate, and he loves me.  Give him a chance. You'll love him as much as I do,” Heather said. 

She loved this handsome man.  Bryan treated her like a queen, but there was that twinkle in his eye whenever he spoke of flying. 

Heather's Dad flew to San Diego as soon as he heard the news of Bryan's death.  She spent hours crying on his shoulder as her father tried to console her.  Heather knew her Dad had come to love Bryan like a son.  Regardless of what he told Heather about fighter pilots, he respected Bryan and knew that his daughter meant everything in the world to him.

Heather started working late after Bryan’s funeral.  The work at Goldman Sachs kept her mind occupied during the day.  Preparing reports on financial forecasts and economic trends required detailed analysis and a mental focus that took her mind away from the pain.  Some nights after work, she would stop by the Starbucks located across the street from her apartment and spend an hour mindlessly surfing the internet. Opening the door to her empty apartment unlocked a floodgate of emotions kept in check during the day.   Her mind was consumed by sorrow, heartache, and grief. 

“How dare you, Commander,” Heather screamed at the trees, “How dare you leave me all alone. You promised me you would come home.”

When he kissed her goodbye that fateful day six months and 23 days ago, he whispered in her ear as they danced, “I promise I will be home in four months.  My new assignment will be here in San Diego. I’ll be training new pilots.  We can start our family.”

“I’ll be counting the days.  I love you.”

Tears welled in her eyes.   She wondered if he thought of her in the seconds before he died.   Did he realize who he was leaving behind?  Did he understand how many nights she would cry herself to sleep?  Her daddy was right.   Wives were a distant second.

Heather was startled from her memories by a seismic blast that reverberated off the bluffs. She looked to the sky to see a jet flying not more than 100 feet over the ocean.  The sun, reflecting from the wings looked like lightning against the distant grey clouds.  She reached into the basket and pulled out the velvet box, opened it, and took out the Medal of Honor and the letter from the Navy. The ink on the letter had been smeared by her tears.  Heather placed the ribbon around her neck with the medal laying over her heart. 

She walked back to the bluff and spent many minutes staring at the breaking waves.  Just a couple of steps and it would be over. There was a time when she was overwhelmed by the beauty of the cliffs and the ocean.  Today she saw the cliffs as a means to an end.  Heather pushed the thoughts of loneliness and despair from her mind.  She didn’t want to remember Bryan as a hotshot fighter pilot. A soldier that died in battle.  She wanted to remember the best of the husband she adored.   She wanted to remember his smile. The Saturday afternoons on a sailboat gliding across the Chesapeake Bay. The newly commissioned officer disregarded the 'no public display of affection while in uniform rule’ by giving her a hug and a kiss right after the graduation ceremony. The man, who at their wedding reception, played a horrible rendition of 'Uptown Girl" on the keyboard.  The man who took her to the bluffs on Sunday afternoons for a picnic. The memories brought a smile to her face. 

Heather watched the white-capped waves roll onto the beach.  The waves, breaking around the rocks, formed a curve in the shape of a smile.  It was Bryan’s irresistible smile.   Heather took the medal off her neck and threw it and the letter over the cliff.  She watched as they drifted down to the breaking waves where they were swallowed by the sea.



Larry Fronk

At 66 years old, Larry Fronk considers himself a new and emerging writer.  Larry retired in 2015 after a 36-year career in local government in the areas of urban planning and local government management.  Larry’s work has been published in The Writing Disorder and the Indiana Voice Journal

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