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Prologue: Goodbye, Sailor Girl
My last memory of my daddy was watching him walk out to his helicopter at the Norfolk Naval Base, where his student pilots waited respectfully at attention, their helmets under their arms.
They saluted him, and he saluted back. Then he turned to smile at me the way he always did whenever Mommy brought me to see him take off in a helicopter. He and I called it putting sunshine in our faces. In the years to follow, that smile would fade slowly like an old photograph until my imagination did more for it than my memory.
His face would always brighten with a fresh, happy surprise when he looked back at me standing beside Mommy. The specks of hazel in his otherwise light blue eyes would become more prominent. He used to call me Sailor Girl, and we would salute each other with only two fingers. He did it one last time that day. I responded with my salute, and then he turned back to his men.
My eyes drifted to a sea gull that looked lost, confused, even a bit frantic. It did a quick turn and dipped before shooting off toward the ocean as if it had seen something that had terrified it. I watched it until the sounds of the helicopter motors ripped the air and pulled my attention back to Daddy.
I stepped closer to Mommy. Something dark had already put its cold fingers on the back of my neck. My heart sank, and my stomach felt queasy. I had to feel Mommy beside me. Even at fifteen, I needed to be within the walls of her security. She and Daddy were my fortress. Nothing could harm me when I was with them.
"How he stands that noise is beyond me," Mommy said, but she looked so proud and so beautiful with her shoulder-length apricot brown hair dancing about her chin and cheeks. She was five feet ten and always stood with an air of confidence, regal. Anyone who glanced her way stared at her for a few moments longer as if he or she were hypnotized by her beauty.
Mommy's eyes were almost navy blue, which Daddy said proved she belonged with him, a navy man. She was as loyal to him as he was to the flag, her devotion and her admiration for him unflappable. My eyes were more turquoise, but I wished they were more like Mommy's so Daddy would think I, too, was meant to be always at his side.
"C'mon, Grace," she said. "I have errands to run, and you have studying to do and a guest for dinner."
She nudged me, and I followed along reluctantly. Something was telling me to stay as long as I could. I looked back only once as the helicopters lifted. I didn't see Daddy, and that disappointed me. They whirled off toward the ocean, following the sea gull.
A cloud blocked out the sun, and a long shadow fell around us as we continued toward our car.
I would remember that.
I would remember it all for a very long time.
And then, like the sea gull, it would all disappear into the distance and leave me standing alone, yearning for just one more smile, one more salute.
Copyright © 2003 by the Vanda General Partnership