by Gail Finch 

It was the summer of 1954. The screams of cicadas could be heard through the humid air of the twilight. Stars twinkled in the sky as the sun started disappearing behind the horizon. Perfect time to start the fireworks.

            “Are you sure you want to do fireworks this year? We don’t have to, you know,” Elyse asked.

            She looked up at her husband of four years with sparkling pools of baby blue, which melted his heart every time he saw them. He’d probably drown in them if he had the chance. However, he decidedly ignored the slight bit of concern in them.

            “I’ll be fine, darlin’. Little man hasn’t seen ‘em yet and I kinda wanna see his reaction,” Adam said, giving Elyse a reassuring smile.

            Adam Jones, a spry man in his late-20s, was a war hero. He was an airman for the U.S. airforce during the war in Korea that had ended almost a year prior who had nearly lost his life in a war he didn’t feel was all that important, other than trying to keep the commies from spreading their ideologies to unsuspecting countries who didn’t know any better. 

            “Alright, liebchen. I’m going to get Otto ready, then we can head over to Anson’s land,” Elyse said, kissing Adam’s cheek and patting his shoulder before heading off.

            Elyse was German-born. Relocated after WWII because her father thought there’d be more opportunities in America. He’d been captured on the African front, so he was transferred over to the prisoner of war camp in Hearne, Texas and decided to stay and move his family over. 

            The little Jones family was made right before the start of the Korean war. Adam and Elyse met when she transferred into his high school in 1946 and after two and a half years of asking, the two married the spring of 1950 before the onset of the war. Little Otto was born that December, three days after Christmas. 

            “Y’all ready to see one hellova show?” Anson asked with a toothy grin and a sparkle in his eye tha rivaled the twinkling lights he was about to set off into the murky black above. He was Adam’s distant cousin, probably on his dad’s side somewhere. He served in the air force with Adam, but he was the radio operator on base and wasn’t allowed to fly.

            “Language, Anson,” Adam warned playfully, gesturing to the four-year-old on his wife’s hip.
            “Aw, he’ll be fine,” the brunette man said dismissively.

            Branches of post oak trees swayed in the nightly breeze, the only source of light coming from the bonfire set up beforehand. Anson started setting up the colorful explosives, lighting them off one by one before running off so he didn’t catch himself on fire as he did the year prior. 

            The first few colorful explosions went off without much incident, Adam reveled in the look of pure joy on his son’s face and the one of content on his wife’s. Though after a particularly loud one set off, Adam suddenly felt himself in the cockpit of his F-80. There was a sudden feeling of falling and Adam could feel it in the pit of his stomach, the taste of bile tingling at his tongue from the turbulence that shook him to his very core, rattling his bones nice and good. Blue oblivion filled with white fluffy clouds, streaks of black in the sky painting a bitter end. One of his engines had been shot to hell. Dammit. He instantly pulled up in an attempt to stop his free fall, leveling himself out in the process. He needed to land and he needed to land soon. He heard another explosion, someone in his squad just got hit. Dark clouds spiraled downward as the plane barreled toward the deep blue abyss down below. Swallowing his despair, Adam kept at it, shooting at any enemy plane he saw while scanning for a place to land that wouldn’t kill him. All he could think about was getting home to his wife and son he had yet to meet, but he feared he might not be able to make it to them alive, let alone in one piece.

            A shake from his wife made him jump a bit, looking down at her with fear in his eyes and sweat beading on his face. Whether it was from the episode he was just in or the humidity, he couldn’t tell.

            “Adam, is everything okay?” Elyse asked him worriedly. “The fireworks have been done with for about five minutes.”
            “I’m– yeah, I’m fine,” Adam replied shakily.
            There was a pause between the two, the blonde woman looking Adam straight in the eye. Almost as if she were piercing through his soul.
            “You had another episode, didn’t you?”
            “No, no, I stopped havin’ those a while ago, darlin’. I’m fine, seriously,” he said, trying to convince himself of that as well.

            Elyse squeezed his arm gently, a gentle and warm look on her face, those pools of baby blue that made him fall head over heels for her filled with genuine concern. “Liebchen, you don’t have to tough it out alone. That’s what I’m here for,” she reminded him.

            Adam couldn’t get anything past her, now could he? She was almost too perceptive sometimes. Maybe he was just too oblivious. He took in a breath and let it out before nodding. His lungs stung a bit for some reason. “Yeah… yeah, you’re right,” he relented with a nod.

            He embraced his wife in his arms, being mindful of the sleepy toddler in her arms as he held her head close to his chest and planted a kiss in her hair that always smelled like vanilla. She could hear his heartbeat start to slow down from a hammering to a slow drum, closing her eyes.

“I love you,” Elyse said softly.
“I love you too, darlin’. So, so much.”

About the Author:

Gail Finch is an artist and online creative writing student for Full Sail University currently living in Central Texas. In high school, she wrote for the school newspaper and went on to win first in the Texas State UIL write-in competition for entertainment writing in 2016 and second in the state for editorial cartoons. Currently, she’s working towards writing and illustrating a comic in the near future so she can bring her love of writing and passion for art together.