Thirty-year-old Lieutenant Ryder Hunt leaned against the wall and stared through the window as he waited for the ceremony. Finally… finally, he would be inducted into the Blue Angels. His lifelong dream was a reality. Upon receiving the news, he and his family relocated to Pensacola and began the process of transferring Julie to the JAG office of Naval Air Station Pensacola. With Admiral Caldwell's unofficial assistance, the move had been approved without delay.
As friends, families, and colleagues gathered for the event, Ryder leaned into an uncharacteristic time of reflection. Although his eyes were focused on the hangars in the distance, his mind focused on the twists and turns of his life that had led him to the current moment.
From the moment he had marveled at the demonstrations of the Canadian Snowbirds and the United States' Blue Angels at an airshow, seven-year-old Ryder Tremblay knew his life's dream. He would become a pilot in the United States Navy and, eventually, fly with the Blue Angels. The fact that he was a Canadian citizen at the time didn't dim the little boy's dream.
Lt. Hunt chuckled to himself as he recalled that airshow and the subsequent arguments he'd had with his brother. Despite his older brother's ongoing, rational, and exasperated explanations about how Canadians did not serve in the United States Navy, Ryder tenaciously held on to his hopes. After all, the lightning-fast blue F/A-18 Hornets were far more appealing to him than the red and white Candair CT-114 Tutors.
The pathway from that Saturday afternoon airshow to his post as a Blue Angel pilot had included his mother's death, a name change, and a change in citizenship. Expecting the unexpected became a central theme in the little boy's life. His childhood began in Victoria, Canada. By age eighteen, ten years after being adopted by his mother's cousin, the young man graduated from a private school in Seattle, Washington and enrolled in the United States Naval Academy.
His years at the Academy were life-changing. With his best friend and now wife, Julie, at his side, Ryder survived the trials and challenges of Plebe Summer and thrived as a Midshipman. His roommate of four years, Caden Knowles, had become a close friend as well. The trio was deeply connected. Along with other classmates, their years at the Academy included growth, arguments, leadership development, deep stress, and physical accomplishments.
The day after their graduation, Ryder stood beside Caden as his best friends Caden and Julie jubilantly proclaimed their unending love. True to his word at the altar, Caden had remained faithful and dedicated to Julie until his death. His deep love for his wife served as an example of who Ryder aspired to be as a husband, and, in many ways, as a person.
Suddenly, the door to the room flew open, bringing Ryder back to the present moment. He smiled from ear to ear and wiped the tear from his eye when he saw the blonde, blue-eyed five-year-old bouncing into his midst. Her resemblance to her biological father, Caden, was striking.
"Dads! Dads!" Katie called breathlessly as she ran to her adoptive father. "Dads! Look at my sailor dress! Look!" She twirled in a circle as her black Mary Janes stepped carefully but clumsily atop one another.
Chuckling, Ryder knelt down and wrapped his arms around the little girl. He scooped her up and rested his nose on hers, asking, "Miss Katherine Claire, does Mommy know where you are?"
While patting Ryder's shoulder, Katie planted a kiss on his cheek and giggled, "No, but you do and I do so I'm not lost."
"I'm not sure our beloved lawyer will agree," Ryder offered with a half-smile, referring to Julie who had just passed the bar.
Whispering in his ear, Katie suggested, "Let's not tell her."
"But she's probably looking for you," Ryder whispered back.
"Oh," Katie said with a pause. Holding her hand in the air, she brought her thumb and forefinger within a centimeter of one another. She scrunched her nose and continued, "That's a little bit of a problem."
Ryder put Katie down and reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. He winked at her as he typed out a text to Julie: Katie Cat's with me.
"I've got your back… again," Ryder laughed as he raised an eyebrow and looked at his daughter.
Grasping Ryder's hand and kissing it repeatedly, Katie the Ultimate Charmer exclaimed, "I love you, Back-getter."