10 years old . . .
“And what’s this?”
I study the wings, the markings, the body of the aircraft.
“Um . . . is it a U-2 . . . uh, Dragon Lady?”
Gramps’s lips quirk up, the wrinkles near his eyes deepening. “Good boy. And do you see the glider-like characteristics it has?” Gramps points out the long and narrow wings of the black aircraft. “This allows the aircraft to fly at unmatched altitudes with heavy sensory payloads.”
“That’s cool.” I touch the long black wings of the model plane, which are narrow, thin and very fragile. Whenever Gramps lets me touch his model planes, I’m always very careful, because hanging with Gramps and talking about planes is my favorite thing to do.
“And this one right here, what’s this?”
Hmm. Squinting, my lips quirked to the side, I take in the grey aircraft with red-tipped wings and vertical stabilizer. I’ve seen this one before. There’s something different about it, but I can’t quite remember. I don’t want to let Gramps down, so I take the model plane in my hand and turn it over, studying it.
“Is this the plane you fly with a remote control?”
Gramps nods his head. “Yup. Do you remember what it’s called?” Scrunching my nose, I shake my head. “That’s okay.” Gramps’s large and veiny hand pats me on the shoulder. “It’s the QF-4 Aerial Target.”
“Oh yeah,” I say, even though I don’t remember the name. I take the time to say the name over and over in my head. Five times, that should do it. I should remember now.
“These are flown from Tyndall Air Force Base by remote control, meaning the pilot isn’t in the aircraft.”
“Wow, that’s cool too. Kind of like how we fly our toy airplanes with remote controls.”
“Sort of, yeah.”
Flying with Gramps is so much fun. Dad just got me my first remote-controlled model airplane last Christmas. He said with all the responsibilities I’ve taken on since he’s been sick, I’d earned it. It’s not as fancy as Gramps’s planes that we take to the airfield with his buddies, but it’s awesome.
My plane’s an Eaglet 50. I’ve spent the last year building it. It hasn’t been easy, but we finally took it out to fly last weekend. Dad watched from the car—he hasn’t been feeling very good at all—but after I got back in the car to go home, he told me how proud he was of me, not only for building the plane all by myself but for the smooth landings too. It was a little bumpy, but I impressed Gramps’s friends at the airfield, which made me feel really good about myself.
“You’re not going to want to fly a QF-4 though, right?” Gramps ruffles my hair. “You want to be in that cockpit, the joystick between your legs, zipping through the clouds with the earth thousands of miles beneath you.”
“I want to be just like you, Gramps. I want to be a fighter pilot.”
“You will be. Keep up with your studies and focus on everything I talked to you about.”
I nod, just as Mom’s voice drifts down the hall. She sounds sad and worried when she asks, “How much longer?”
“A week at best.” I know that second voice, because it’s become familiar in our household. Dr. Ted Branford. He visits often. I see him hug Mom a lot, and sometimes he holds her hand. I asked Gramps about it once, and he said Dr. Ted was comforting Mom, but later that night when Gramps thought I was asleep, he was yelling at Mom. I couldn’t make out what he was saying through my bedroom door, but I could tell he wasn’t happy. Instead of focusing on what he was saying, I stared at the planes hanging from my ceiling, envisioning what it would be like to fly one someday.
“Then what?” Mom says, her voice shaking.
“Don’t worry, Karen. I’ll make sure you’re taken care of.”
Gramps slams the door to my bedroom shut with his foot. Looking angry, he chews on the side of his cheek and fiddles with his planes. The only time I see Gramps this upset is when he’s talking to Dad—his son—telling him to get better, or when Dr. Ted is around Mom.
“Is Dad going to be okay?” The words fall out of my mouth in a whisper. A few years ago, Dad was diagnosed with mantel-cell lymphoma. It took me a long time to pronounce it properly. My gramps explained that it was a type of cancer, and that he wouldn’t get better. Apparently the doctors found it when it was stage four, but I still didn’t understand what that meant. Last year he began to get worse, and I had to start helping Mom around the house with the chores.
Shaking his head, eyes cast down, Gramps sighs. “I’m not sure, kiddo. I’m not sure.” Taking a deep breath, he looks at me and tilts my chin up with his finger. “How about this one, do you remember what this plane is called?”
I narrow my eyes at Gramps and put my hands on my hips. “Come on, Gramps. Do you even have to ask?” Taking the plane carefully in my hands, I say, “This is my favorite out of all the planes. The F-22 Raptor. One day, I’m going to fly one of these.”
A smile barely reaches Gramps’s eyes as he pulls me into a hug and whispers, “You think so?”
I nod. “I know so.”