Bob could smell Susanne’s perfume in the breeze as he rounded the corner. And then, just like that, there she was. He stopped, stuck in the moment of seeing her. She was digging something out of her pocket to give to their son. Her blonde hair was bound up in a casual mess of a ponytail and she he had a thin sundress on. The white fabric spotted with red flowers flowed freely in the wind. She looked up, saw him, and cried. She jumped out of her flip-flops and ran full stride down the sidewalk. Bob dropped his camouflaged duffle bag and spread his arms open. She jumped into them and squeezed his core. As he held her close, loose strands of her hair stuck to the wet streaks rolling down his face. They hugged and kissed and hugged again. Worlds crumbled from their shoulders.
After a moment that lasted both a second and an eternity, they released their embrace.
Susanne rubbed her hand on his cheek. Her eyes were full of amazement and disbelief. She smiled and turned. Down the sidewalk, next to their beat up blue pickup truck, stood a two year old boy with blonde hair and blue eyes and the strangest look on his face. He held a grey airplane in his hand, an F-18 hornet. It was big and made of plastic, and Bob could clearly see the American stickers on the tail. It was the same plane he’d flown for the last two years.
“Brian,” Susanne said to the boy, “come here. I want you to meet someone.” The boy’s eyebrows furrowed and he held his airplane close to his chest. He looked at the other families that were scattered around them. Nearly all of them were hugging or kissing or crying. “It’s okay,” Susanne said. “This is the person who flies that plane for our country. This is your daddy.”
Brian looked at his plane, so familiar in his hands, and looked at the stranger now being called his father. Susanne patted Bob on the shoulder. “Hold on,” she said. She hurried over to their son and wrapped her arms around him. Bob stood frozen. Susanne held the boy close and whispered in his ear. As Bob watched, he saw the light of realization come to life in his eyes. The boy looked at the other families around them and finally understood. He took a few steps forward, then paused. “Go ahead, honey,” said Susanne. “It’s okay. It’s your dad.” The boy started again, then jogged, then broke out into his own little sprint.
Bob scooped him up and flung him in the air. Tears rolled down his face as his son laughed and smiled. Bob tossed his boy into the air again and again. When Brian’s grip faltered and lost hold of the plane, Bob didn’t even care. He kicked the plastic plane, made in Taiwan but covered with American stickers, from the sidewalk and into the street.