What Heroes Do Heather Kuehl
Christopher and Emily Kesley met the old-fashioned way. At least, that’s what Kesley told me. He told me a lot when we served together. About his childhood, his family, his wife.
Dear Mrs. Kesley,
I pause, examining what I had just written. The curve of the M. The sharpness of the K. It seems wrong; not right. After all he had told me about Emily, this just felt too formal.
You don’t know her, I remind myself. You two have never met.
Shaking my head, I crumple the sheet of paper and toss it toward the waste basket. It misses, landing among the other sheets of crumpled paper on the floor. Who would have thought this would be so hard.
“Honey, come to bed.”
I glance up at the doorway. My wife is leaning against the frame, her curly blonde hair pulled back in a long braid. The latest bestseller is clutched in her hands, and I can see that she is almost finished.
When I don’t answer, she walks over and picks up one of the balls of paper from the floor and smoothes it out. Reading over the words, she gives me a sad smile.
“You’ll see her tomorrow, Frank. Tell her then.”
“Tell her what? Hi, I’m Frank Glassman. I’m the reason your husband is dead. Sorry.”
“Now, you know that isn’t true.”
I cradle my head in my hands. “Go to bed, Krista. I’ll be there in a minute.”
Krista sighs and places the sheet of paper on my desk. She knows better than most how I feel. Kissing the top of my head, she leaves me alone with the pen and paper. Pulling a fresh sheet out, I poise my pen to start again.
He had told me all about her. Her eyes. Her smile. How she hummed when she cooked or cleaned. How she prided herself on her garden. He told me that she wanted nothing more than to be a mother, a blessing that she discovered soon after he was deployed. My hand shakes. His daughter was born just last month. He’d never get to see the woman his daughter would become.
The roadside bomb blew up the first part of our convoy, sending shrapnel and debris into the Hum-vee I was driving. I lost control and we hit something, sending the vehicle into a roll that left me pinned inside. Kesley fought his way over, pulling out Raines and Albright before reaching for me. I was lucky. A couple of scrapes and bruises; nothing major. He smiled, made some joke that I can’t remember, as his eyes gazed over my shoulder. Grabbing my shoulders, he shoved me back and used his body to shield me from the enemy gun fire. He was dead before he hit the ground.
If I wasn’t driving…
If we hadn’t crashed…
He’d still be alive.
Why did he decide that my life was more important than his own?
I crumble the sheet and pull out a fresh page.
Shots ring out, and I clutch the envelope in my hand. I glance up at Emily as they hand her the neatly folded flag. She holds it to her chest, her eyes staring unseeingly at the ground. The priest describes how her husband was a hero, and how their country needs more men like him. Raines and Albright tell stories about him, agreeing with the priest’s sentiments. Krista wraps an arm around my waist, her red rimmed eyes careful not to look at me. Before I know it, it’s over. People are giving Emily their condolences, saying words that are meant to comfort. I look at the envelope in my hands. Words are never enough.
Krista hugs Emily, giving her our condolences and reminding her that she is always welcome in our home. Emily nods, dabbing at her red eyes with a tissue. My heart lurches as Krista steps away and Emily turns her bright blue eyes to me. I shake her hand, hand her the envelope, and quickly follow Krista to the car. I can’t see her face when she reads the truth in my words.
I wait as Raines pulls out in front of me, tapping my fingers impatiently on the steering wheel.
I look over at Krista and she points out my window. Emily is hurrying over to us, the open letter in her hands, and it was then that I can hear her calling my name. I freeze.
“Go. Talk to her.”
Krista glares at me. “You can and you will. Go.”
Sighing, I open the car door and step out. Emily slows down when she sees that I’m not going to drive away, walking the rest of the way over to me. She looks up at me, tears glittering in her eyes.
“Is this true?” she asks. He was right. Her voice is like the birds in spring. She holds the letter out to me.
“Yes.” I can’t meet her eyes. How can I, when it should have been me.
I gasp as she wraps me in a hug, pressing her cheek against the ribbons on my dress uniform. I expected yelling; hitting even. But this?
“You didn’t do anything wrong.”
I start to stutter as I try to find the words to convey how I feel. I didn’t understand it; why did Kesley decide that my life was more important than his own?
Emily grabs both of my hands up in hers. “He did what he was put on this Earth to do, Glassman. He saved your life. It’s what heroes do.”
Emily turns back toward the grave leaving me standing by the car. I climb back in the car as the sun peaks out from behind the clouds. Krista is staring at me as I drive out of the cemetery, not saying a word as we get on the interstate and head home.
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