Promises Never Kept

She cringed as her bare feet hit the scorching pavement, but she kept walking. She needed a moment to clear her head, to truly understand what she had just discovered. For the first time in her life, Avery didn’t have a plan of action. She had never seen this coming, but yet somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that this couldn’t last forever. This horrid fairytale, this beautiful nightmare, could not continue to exist together.
He was gone, and she was left alone to face the demons that had been at her heels, waiting for the opportune moment to rear their ugly heads.
*****
Florida was always too hot for Avery. In the dead of summer, the heat peeled off the pavement in waves, making the flat landscape waiver and sway. The rain steamed as it hit the ground, boiling into nothing but a fine vapor. Even the beaches were unbearable, the sand blistering the soles of young children’s feet. She had certainly never imagined living there. Yet here she was, sitting in her father’s living room, sheltering herself from the unbearable heat that lay in wait at the door. The past week had been nothing but moving boxes, registering for school, settling in. Her father had picked her up at the airport with open arms, assuring her that everything was going to be just fine. “You’ll love it here. We’ll finally be able to spend some real time together.” It had been a spur of the moment decision, moving in with him, and already Avery was starting to second guess herself. She couldn’t turn back now though, not after the way her and her mother had parted ways. She still refused to call her, despite the teary messages that began to pile up in her voicemail.
Her father’s promise of bonding time held true. Avery was more than shocked to see him up every morning, making her breakfast and packing her lunch. She was already sixteen years old, but she didn’t have the heart to tell her father she was too old for these things. He was making up for what he had missed. She slid herself into a chair as her father plopped a plate of eggs on the table. He smiled at her before he turned around to continue his morning ritual. They were always quite in the morning, not quite used to each other’s company. There was a nervous energy that filled the room during these mornings; the need to get to know someone you’ve known all your life. The desire to say the right things, wanting to right past wrongs. It was an odd thing, father and daughter caught in an awkward dance of confession, conversation and silence. The one, young and eager, with her father’s face and her mother’s frame, staring up at her father, her hero, with expectant eyes. The other, older yet still fit, with darkly tan skin and salt and pepper hair, fervently trying to appease her, to make all the right moves and say all the right things. She knew her father had always meant well, but he had let her down so many times that she had lost count. Regardless, Avery always gave him one more try. This time I know he’ll come through, she thought as they loaded themselves in the car and began a new day.
*****
Avery awoke from her daydreams as the bell rang for second period. She had been in her new school for over a month now, and still she blended into the shadows, declining the friendly gestures and polite conversation that her peers directed at her. She wasn’t one for making friends. She went through the day like a ghost, passing from class to class, remaining under the radar. She was very intelligent, and teachers had taken notice of her, but she preferred to fade away in the crowded hallways and noisy classrooms. Her favorite part of every day was when she stepped outside the wide double doors and saw her father waiting for her on the curb. She smiles despite herself, and climbs into the front seat, planting a kiss on his cheek. They go through the normal banter of the day before the conversation meanders to topics ranging from friends to family to the trials and tribulations of the moment. Avery confesses everything to her father during these car rides. With the windows down and the radio on, they talk and laugh and cry until their voices are horse and their conscious’s lighter.

After a few months, Avery and her father fall into a seamless routine. Wake up, eat breakfast, drive (rather quickly) to school, pick up, go home, eat dinner, go for a run. The running had been Avery’s idea. Her father had agreed to join her, for “motivation.” He had lasted all of a week, wheezing behind her as they jogged around the neighborhood in the crisp evening air. “Go on without me” he said dramatically one night, holding his hand to his chest for emphasis. “Your old man can’t handle it.”

“Hah ok dad, I’ll see you back at the house.” And she continued on to finish her lap. When she returned to the house, the street was quiet and veiled in a dusky light. Avery mounted the front steps two at a time and headed for her room. She didn’t hear her father coming down the stairs over her music until he was knocking on the door. He walked in and swept her up into his arms. She giggled uncontrollably as he spun her around the room. She hugged him tight as the music played. “This will all fall down, like everything else that was, this too shall pass…” As Avery listened to the lyrics mingling together with her father’s heartbeat, a feeling of unease began to creep up her spine. She shook it off, letting her father’s clumsy steps crush the doubt mounting in her heart; the feeling that this was all too good to last.
*****

Something was beginning to change. Avery could see it in her father’s eyes. The telltale spark of life that had once filled them was gone. They were now hollow and glazed over. His steps seemed weary, dragging his feet each and every morning. Conversations felt restricted and forced, a constant effort on his part. He assured her over and over that he was fine, but Avery wasn’t so sure. He was waking up later and later, the routine of breakfast and lunch making all but forgotten. He simply handed her some crumpled bills as she hurried out of the car to school. She was late almost every day now. His odd sleeping habits were not the only thing that was worrying her. Her father was irritable and constantly on edge, snapping at the most trivial of things. When he wasn’t grumbling on the couch, he was out of the house. At first it was only for a few hours, but it progressed into four, five, later. Avery would wait up until she heard the front door pulled shut, and then she would look at the clock. 3 am. This became as routine and habitual as him picking her up for school, which happened less and less. Avery decided she’d be better off walking from now on.

One morning, Avery woke to silence. She climbed the stairs quietly, peeking her head around the corner into the kitchen. No one. She took the next flight of stairs up to her father’s bedroom. She pressed her ear to the cool wood before softly knocking on the door. “Daddy?” she asked quietly. “Daddy, it’s time for school.” No answer. Avery pushed the door open slowly. Her father’s scent filled the room; cologne and cigarettes and wood shavings. His sheets were in a crumpled pile on his bed. The drawers were thrown open, clothes strewn around the room haphazardly. Her father was never one for neatness. She came to his bathroom and pushed the door open. She didn’t know what possessed her to open the medicine cabinet, but once she opened the door it felt as though someone had punched her in the chest, knocking the breath from her lungs. Rows and rows of prescription medication filled the shelves, many that she recognized, and many that she didn’t. She knew her father had no illnesses, no mental health issues that would warrant such excessive medication. She stood open mouthed, staring at the contents of the cabinet, for what seemed like an eternity. Then she swiftly slammed the door shut. Glass shattered and flew around her in glimmering rainbow crystals, sticking to her skin and clothes. She sank to the floor, cupping her face in her hands, the shards of glass leaving pin pricks of blood all over her body. She didn’t know what to do. She needed to get out. She jumped off the floor and raced down the stairs, past the kitchen, past the living room, past the fragile world her and her father had built together. She watched it crumble down around her as she slammed the door. She cringed as her bare feet hit the scorching pavement, but she kept walking. She needed a moment to clear her head, to truly understand what she had just discovered. For the first time in her life, Avery didn’t have a plan of action. She had never seen this coming, but yet somewhere in the back of her mind, she knew that this couldn’t last forever. This horrid fairytale, this beautiful nightmare, could not continue to exist together.
He was gone, and she was left alone to face the demons that had been at her heels, waiting for the opportune moment to rear their ugly heads. She slowly began to fit the pieces of the puzzles together; the late nights, the blood shot eyes, the irritability. How could she not have seen this sooner? Maybe she would have been able to stop it, gotten him help. She quickly expelled the thought from her mind. She knew there was nothing she could have said or done to change her father’s actions. He had been like this her whole life, and she had failed to recognize it, failed to accept it, and now look at her. Alone, alone, with no place to go. She stopped in the middle of the sidewalk. She knew what she had to do. She took a deep breath, feeling the thick air enter her lungs. She extracted her phone from her pocket, and dialed the number she knew by heart.
“Mom? I’m coming home.”





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WSwilliams said...
May 17, 2012 at 4:32 pm
What a moving short story. You write emotionally and realistically and your story and portrayal of your character is flawless. Since this is realistic fiction, can you look at one of my stories called "Girl in the Mirror" and tell me what you think. Keep it up!
 
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