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Mount Creative Writers

Stars in the Eyes Forever

Chelsea Baranoski
MSM Class of 2010

(8/2011) Electrifying fireworks over the cool waters of the United States Naval Academy. The sweet smell of chocolate wafting out of Kilwins on Main Street. The traditional parade that includes local politicians handing out glossy "Vote for Me" stickers, adorable dogs walked by their proud owners, and candy thrown into the streets for the kiddies. Jumbo lump crabcakes and cream of crab soup. Boat rides on the Severn before the sky turns a beautiful pinkish-purplish-red.

Despite all of these memories, Vanessa didn’t know if she wanted to celebrate the Fourth of July in Annapolis this year. The only things that rolled through her head were sticky temperatures that created frizzy hair and endless beads of sweat, bumper-to-bumper traffic that seemed to snake from the waterfront roads of Annapolis to the country lanes of Emmitsburg, and crowds of people that made her feel claustrophobic. And then there was….HIM.

She met him four years ago. She was twenty-one, recently graduated from Mount St. Mary’s University, and wondering what the heck she was going to do with her life, and he, Lance Douglas Allen, was twenty-two with an adventurous personality. Known as the "dude with three first names," he had a Semper Fi tattoo on his left bulging bicep and hair that made him look like Shaggy from Scooby Doo. They had met at a corner gas station in North Carolina. She was talking on her cell phone to her best friend when he tapped her on her sunburned shoulder. "Oww," she had said, turning around to see the culprit. "I gotta go, Christine." She slipped her phone into her brown leather bag.

"You’re from Maryland, aren’t you?" the guy asked, raising an eyebrow.

"How did ya know? Do I have a Maryland accent?"

"I noticed your Maryland license plate. I’m from Naptown."

Vanessa smiled. "You must be from Naptown because no one calls Annapolis "Naptown" except for the locals. I’m from Eastport, right next door."

"That’s really weird. What are you doing in North Carolina?" Lance inquired.

"Looking for a Southern gentleman. But then again, maybe I should have gone to South Carolina for that. What brought you here?"

"Looking for a Southern Belle," Lance said.

"You’re lying," Vanessa nudged his arm.

Lance smiled. He looked like he belonged in a toothpaste commercial. "Yeah, I am. Down here for boot camp," he said, running his hand through that shaggy mane.

"But what’s with the hair?" Vanessa asked. "I mean… you’re in the military…"

"I’m not in the Marines yet, small fry. Boot camp doesn’t start till next week. Then they will shave off this glorious pile of silky blonde hair," Lance said, winking. "I’m visiting my grandmother in the meantime."

"Small fry? Ok, Shaggy. Gotta go. Good luck with boot camp." Vanessa slapped thirty dollars on the counter and was about to leave when she heard that voice.

"Hey, small fry, what’s your real name?"

Vanessa whipped her ponytail around. "Vanessa. Yours?"

"Lance Douglas Allen."

"Three first names?"

"Yep," Lance said.

"Alrighty then. See ya, future Lieutenant Lance Douglas Allen." Vanessa practically skipped to her red sedan. She would probably never see this dude again, but he made her feel confident. Vanessa slid onto the seat of her car, buckled her seatbelt, put the key in the engine, and stared ahead. There was a slip of white paper on her window. It was so small she didn’t see it before. She unbuckled and slid out. On the piece of paper, she saw Lance Douglas Allen written in small chicken scratch letters and a phone number with a Naptown area code. Lance must have put the piece of paper there immediately after she got out of her car and walked into the gas station. Vanessa shoved the paper into her pocket and hopped back into the sedan. She passed the door of the station on her way out of the parking lot. "Don’t forget to call me!" Lance called after her.

"I won’t," Vanessa said. She hit the gas and floated down the highway. Questions circled her mind: To call or not to call? Was this guy her Southern gentleman or was this just a cowboy Casanova?


She was glad she called. This one phone call had set off an explosion of fireworks in her heart. It sparked the plan for their first date: spending the Fourth of July in Annapolis following Lance’s twelve grueling weeks of boot camp. It led to four years of shared Fourth of Julys: two as boyfriend and girlfriend, and two as husband and wife. Four years of matching red, white, and blue outfits. Four years on that curb outside of Buddy’s Crabs and Ribs. Four years of sharing crabcakes and cream of crab soup. Four years of watching Naptown light up with phosphorescent fireworks. Vanessa did not realize how lucky she was to share all of those Fourth of Julys with Lance.

It pained her that he wasn’t going to be there this year. He wasn’t going to be sitting next to her on the curb with his red hat covering his blonde crew cut, his bleached white shirt clinging to his broad shoulders, and his blue-jean shorts camouflaging the scar on his left thigh. He always joked that he looked just like the American flag; the only thing that was missing was the stars. "But wait, they’re in my eyes every time I look at you," he would say with sappy puppy-dog eyes. Vanessa would tilt her head back toward the bright sun and cackle. The line got cheesier with each passing year. Nevertheless, each year, she laughed like it was the first time she heard it.


Now, a lieutenant in the Marine Corps, Lance had spent months at Walter Reed Army Medical Hospital in Washington, D.C. Injured. Afghanistan. Bullet wound to the left bulging bicep. Right through the Semper Fi tattoo. Shrapnel lodged in both of his legs. Fractured trigger finger. Unsure if the Marines would take him back. He wanted to be with his men and fight for the freedom he celebrated on the curb in Annapolis.

Vanessa wanted to spend the Fourth of July with Lance at Walter Reed. She wanted to sit by his bed, hold his tan hand, examine the Afghani dirt under his fingernails, stroke his blonde crew cut, and press her lips to his scratched cheek. But he said no. "Go to Naptown," he told her, holding both of her hands. "You need to go and tell me all about it. If you miss it, then I’ll miss it. I want pictures of the parade and the fireworks. Plus, I want you to bring me back a crabcake. The food here does not compare," he winked.

"I can’t leave you lying here in a hospital bed," Vanessa insisted.

"Small fry, I want you to be happy. I know that you look forward to the Fourth of July every year. You like it even more than your birthday. Admit it." Lance pressed her hand tightly.

"You’re right, but…."

"No buts." Lance shook his head vehemently.


And so there she sat in her red, white, and blue. In front of Buddy’s. Missing HIM. She stared ahead. A teenage boy sat on the sidewalk across from her. Same shaggy blonde hair as Lance. Same blue eyes, too. They could have been brothers. Tears clung to Vanessa’s long black eyelashes. She brushed them away with the back of her hand. Politicians strolled down the street, handing her colorful brochures and stickers. Candy flew over both of her shoulders. Small children argued about who would get the Laffy Taffy and who would get the Sprees. She wished she could go back to those days when candy was her biggest worry. She knew she was lucky that Lance was alive, lucky to be able to feel his heart beat against hers as she hugged him before leaving the hospital. But she couldn’t stop worrying about how long it would take him to make a full recovery and whether the Marines would take him back. She watched a group of children pass by in bleached white Navy outfits. They were probably learning the "Navy Way" at a camp at the Naval Academy. She wondered if Lance ever had a little Marines outfit. Vanessa snapped a few pictures and left the parade route. She would eat dinner at Buddy’s before everyone in Annapolis marched toward the smell of crabcakes.

The hostess greeted Vanessa with a friendly smile. "How many?" she asked.

"One," Vanessa said, her voice catching in her throat. The hostess led her to table that overlooked Main Street. The parade was still going on outside. A wash of patriotic colors formed a human American flag on the cobblestone. Vanessa was about to take out her camera when she heard a familiar voice.

"Well, now my outfit is complete. I have the stars in my eyes again!"

Vanessa whipped around in her chair so fast that her ponytail almost gave her whiplash. She rushed toward that familiar voice. Lance was in a wheelchair, wearing a red hat, bleached white shirt, and blue-jean shorts. She bent down and encircled Lance in a huge embrace. "But, how…what?"

Lance’s Marine buddy, Tony, stood behind Lance. "He begged me to drive him here. Called me every hour, all morning," Tony said, patting Lance’s shoulder. "I told him that after the fireworks are over, I’m driving him back to the hospital so he can rest. But don’t worry, he’s 100 percent stable. The doctor said he has been doing very well these last twenty-four hours. He’ll probably be home by the end of this week."

Vanessa looked into Lance’s watery blue eyes. "What did you say that sounded so persuasive?"

"I’ve gotta get my crabcake cuz small fry will probably forget it," Lance chuckled.

Vanessa tilted her head back and laughed just as a premature firework went off in the distance. This was a Fourth of July she would cherish. God Bless Our Troops.

Chelsea was the 2010 recipient of the
Mount’s William Heath Creative Writing Award

Read other articles by Chelsea Baranoski