Promise This work is considered exceptional by our editorial staff.

August 10, 2011
By , Gilroy, CA
“Not now Sammy.” I took his hand away from Aunt Jennifer‘s cake, it was triple chocolate, a stupid mistake on her part because she knows my big brother loves any kind of chocolate.

“But, Sarah… just a little?” he whined, those already big hazel eyes of his widening more so he looked like he could be 5 years old instead of his 20 years.

I sighed and tried to rearrange my face so that the weariness didn’t show, Sam had become a human microscope since the accident, he might miss the big picture but he never missed the little things.

“No Sammy, you know Aunt Jennifer and Uncle Carl would get mad.” Not that they would get an angry sentence towards him out in front of me.

“Okay. Can I go play with my Xbox? I won’t play the scary games this time, promise.”

I smiled and patted his back. “Alright, but keep the volume low and come when I call you for dinner.”

He didn’t give me a chance to change my mind before he was out the kitchen and into the living room. His love of video games, that was one of the things that had stayed.



My brother Sam was older by 4 years and had taken on the role as my best friend, protector and parent figure after our mom died. Dad hadn’t been in the picture since I was 4 months old and he left us for a flight attendant with a D cup. I was 10 and Sam was almost 15 when mom was diagnosed with a brain tumor, the doctors threw around words like “inoperable” and “six months from now”. Turns out they actually know what they’re talking about once in a while, Mom lived 5 months and one day when Sam came home from school…

Afterwards we went to our Aunt Jennifer’s house, Aunt Jen and Mom had always been a little distant. Mom liked to use the word “frigid b****” and Aunt Jennifer, well she knew better than to say a word against my mother in front of me, not after the book case incident. Jennifer had casually mentioned that she would hate for me to become a whore but with a mother like mine I didn’t have much hope. After I had cussed her out from here to kingdom come, I decided her refurnished antique book case didn’t look right where it was, just sitting in the study where no one could see it, it would be much better in ashes on the front door mat.

Needless to say I was almost kicked out, if it hadn’t been for Sam’s accident I might have been in a foster home the next day, but that night at 2:34am I woke up to the phone ringing.

I answered the phone in the kitchen because I knew my aunt and uncle would let it ring and ring and I’d never get back to sleep.

“What!?” I had snapped.

“Excuse me, may I speak to a Mrs. Jennifer Andrew, the guardian of Samuel Wolfe?”

My heart stopped dead. “This is she. Who may I ask is calling?” One of God‘s little jokes was giving Aunt Jennifer and me almost the exact same voices.

“This is Dr. Gerald Chaplain at the South Valley Medical Hospital, we have Sam here with us and it’s important that you get down here quick. “

Any guise of me being an adult flew out the window along with the air in my lungs. “ What’s happened? Is he ok?” A thousand thoughts flew in my head, he had been on a trip with his friends, they were going down to L.A for two weeks to help out a friend with something and to catch some much needed vacation time. This was the first time Sam had left me in the 4 years since Mom’s death, he promised he would be back. He promised he would never leave me, he would always come back. And now… my brother could be… no, not my brother, not my brother, not my brother. He wouldn’t just leave me here, he wouldn’t let himself die. Sam never did anything that he didn’t want to do.

Trying to sustain the hyperventilation that was creeping up, I ran upstairs to my aunt’s room. I tried to shake her awake and switched to slapping her.

“What the hell is the matter with you!” she awoke after the second slap. Uncle Carl snored away, grunted when my aunt moved and snored even louder.

“Sam’s in the hospital! I think it’s serious, the doctor needs us down there.”

She looked at the clock that now read 2:45am and snorted. “No way I’m going now. If it’s serious the doctors can handle it, we’d just be in the waiting room all night.” And as if it settled the matter, she went right back to bed.

“You b****! My brother is in the hospital! Take me there now!” There were no words for how much this lady had just pissed me off.

Her eyes flew open and before I could back away she had my hair. “Listen to me little girl, I put up with your attitude out of obligation to my sister”

“You mean out of obligation to that check the state gives you.” I struggled a little and her grip grew all the tighter, she even slapped me once.

She continued as if I hadn’t spoken. “If you want to see that good for nothing brother of yours, find your own way.”

She released me and I ran out the room. She told me to find my own way, that would be easy with the keys to her car, I snaked them from her key holder in the kitchen. In five minutes I was on the street and heading towards the hospital, thank God Sam taught me how to drive two years ago.

After parking in the front, hopeful for a ticket, I ran into the emergency room and had to control myself from cussing out a receptionist who wanted me to fill out forms while she got the doctor, I threw them aside and paced nervously until the doctor, a man in his late thirties showed up. I watched him arrange his features into that remorsefully stoic mask doctors seem to be so good at, when the doctor had told Mom about her tumor he could have been this doctor’s twin.

“Is he okay? Where’s my brother?”

“I need to speak to a parent or guardian regarding your brother’s case. Is there anybody?”

“No. No one who will come right now, it’s just me. For the love of God, tell me what happened!”

Doctor Whatever sighed and examined his clipboard. “Your brother and his friends were found to have illegal substances in the car, cocaine and containers of alcohol. Apparently they were robbed by gunpoint by three unknown men, the robbers began shooting and killed two young men. Your brother and another young man survived, your brother is currently in a coma and the other young man, a Robert Shay, died of his injuries.”

I couldn’t speak, a painful lump in my throat was choking me, trying to force its way up my throat, I coughed and tears began to pour without warning. My breaths were coming short and fast and my nose ran, mixing with my tears. I knew all those dead boys, I knew their faces as well as my own, Joey, with his sunny hair and missing front tooth and Matt with his quiet eyes and too many piercings, Robbie and his bright blue eyes, who always told me how cute I was. Dead. But Sam, Sam was alive and as long as he was alive, I was breathing, the lump went back down.

“Samuel sustained multiple bullet wounds to the chest area, we were able to remove the bullets but we lost him twice on the table. To be honest, I don’t know how he’s even alive right now. He lost quite a bit of oxygen to his brain.”

“What does that mean?” I could speak now, to do it I had to shut myself off from emotions, I put myself on auto pilot for the time being.

“It means your brother has lost quite a few brain cells, that coupled with obvious signs that he‘s a frequent drug user has left his brain seriously damaged. I‘m afraid that when he wakes up you‘ll find that he wont be the same person he once was.”

I only took one thing from the doctor’s little speech. “So, he will wake up though right?”

“We are fairly sure he will. However, the damage to his brain is irreversible, to what extent I cant tell you yet.” The doc offered a small, what could be interpreted as comforting, smile.

“Can I see him?”

“We’re moving him to a post-op room and when he’s settled you may stay with him. Is there anybody else who can come and handle all the legal work? I cant imagine a teenager such as yourself would know anything about insurance?”

“I could care less. Tomorrow call the number in Sam’s phone and ask for my aunt Jennifer. Mention the possibility of a law suit and she’ll come running.”

A nurse led me to Sam’s room and that night I slept right next to him, holding his hand and whispering softly. When Aunt Jennifer showed up at twelve noon, she was all for putting him in a care center.

“He’s an adult, he chose to do what he did. I always knew that boy was heading for trouble and now look, he found it and there’s no coming back.”

Every fiber screamed for me to kick her out and at least try to beat the crap out of her, but another voice spoke, one I had never known before today. I couldn’t explode at Aunt Jennifer now, Sam wasn’t going to protect me from her, I had to protect him from her and everything else in the world. Me and Sam had traded places.

“Please, Auntie. You cant send him away, he’s all I have. If you have him at the house, I’ll take care of him, you wont have to do a thing.”

Her pinched up face raised one of those stenciled on eyebrows. “No. He’ll be too much trouble.. Its better if we just send him to professionals who know how to handle people like him.”

Time too bring out the big guns. “But, the state gives you a check if you take care of someone who’s ment- who‘s… disabled. The word was ash in my mouth and after I said it I felt the bile begin to rise.

Her eyes lit up like fourth of July and a mockery of concern marred those ugly features. “Well, now that I know there’s help, how can I let my sister’s only son suffer in an institution! Don’t worry Sammy, I’ll take care of you, with your sister’s help of course” she patted the hand I had held all night.

“Thank you.” I said quietly, not to her, but to God who I had been whispering to as well last night.

She left and three hours later, while my mind drifted between my blank thoughts and the wall where I had buried my worries, I felt the hand in mine move. My head snapped towards the bed to meet those hazel eyes I knew I’d see again.

“Sam! Oh my God. How do you feel? I’ve been here this whole time, I never left you. You didn’t leave and neither did I.” The words rushed out like a punch to the gut.

I forgot about the tube down his throat and started to scream for nurses when he began choking. When they got it out and gave him some ice chips to soothe his throat, his eyes got watery and he kept looking around the room.

“What’s wrong?”

“W-Where am I?”

“You’re in the hospital. There was… an accident and you got hurt really bad.” How was I supposed to say that his best friends were gone?

“It cant be heaven, Sarah, cause Mommy isn’t here. Besides heaven is rainbows, this is too white.”

This wasn’t my brother. Sam would have cracked a joke or smiled just so I would. He would have said he was sorry because Sam always apologized for everything. And more importantly, Sam hadn’t said the word Mommy since the day he found her when he came home, when they were rolling her away.

“Not heaven Sam, the hospital, you know where you go to get better.” I knew I said it a little too slow because I saw the brother I remembered leak out.

“I know what a hospital is retard…. Can I go home now?”

He sounded so young when he said it like that. I forced a smile and it became a true one when he cracked that smirking grin that was all him.

“Not yet Sammy. Tell you what, I’ll go get the doctor.” I moved to leave the room.

“No!” he screamed and I heard the painful tearing in his throat.

“What?! What is it?”

“Don’t leave me here! You cant go remember!?”

I bit my lip. “I’ll always come back, Sammy. That’s our deal right?”

He nodded, eyes as wide as I had ever seen them. “Yeah. You’ll be back.”

I heard him as I left the room. “She’ll be back, she’ll be back, she’ll be back.”

As the doctor and I walked down the hall, he explained to me that Sam’s condition would even out over time and right now he was a little addled. He seemed to like to stress that however much Sam improved, he would still NEVER be the same, like I didn’t understand it or something. I knew the facts, my brother was gone and now I would have a new one. And while the tears that I had cut short last night wanted nothing more than to pour out, I held them in, my new brother needed me to be the strong one now. When we got in, Sam was still whispering to himself. “She’ll be back. She’ll be back. She’ll be-”

“You came back!”

“Told you I would!” I was proud when my voice didn’t waver in the slightest.

What followed was a three week stay in the hospital, months of sort of successful therapy (might of worked better if Sam wasn’t so stubborn) and me completely dedicating myself to Sammy.

Aunt Jennifer and Uncle Carl gave him a room and food but other than that he could have been wallpaper as far as they were concerned. He no longer mattered to them except as a monthly check, not that he mattered so much before.

“Sam! Dinner!” I heard the thudding footsteps of a grown man running down the hall.

“What’s for today?” he tucked a strand of hair behind his ear and I sighed, it’d be time for another haircut soon, Sam had never kept his hair long but now he loved it like that, it fell in his eyes and he‘d blow it up all day if he could. He would shake his head so it messed up and flipped out in all directions. In the morning, he would come to my room and hold out a comb so I could run through it quickly.

“Your favorite!”

“Pizza!”

“Yup, with everything on it.”

“Even the Oreos?” I pushed his hair out of his eyes. Another thing that had followed him was his love for Oreos on his pizza. Disgusting.

“Of course.” I sat with him at the table with my very delicious pepperoni.

He chewed away and I sat there with my head in my hand, tonight my friend Nancy was having a party, she hadn’t really invited me, just mentioned it in passing, I wasn’t invited to much of anything these days. That was okay, I never went anyway. Sam would get nervous if I was gone for more than an hour. Dates weren’t exactly a dime a dozen either, but Zack Hardy had asked me out two days ago, I told him I would have to think about it. He knew about Sam because I didn’t keep my big brother a secret. He always was with me at the mall, at the movies (even if we have yet to actually get through one without him getting bored and restless) or wherever I went pretty much. We were a package deal for the rest of our lives. Zack knew if we went out, two to one Sam would have to come too. School had been an issue so Aunt Jen had taken me out and enrolled me in home studies.

“Sam?”

“Wha?”

“Keep your mouth closed when you chew. Do you wanna go have dinner with me and Zack on Saturday?”

“Is that the boy with the motorcycle? The one who you always smile funny at?”

“Yeah. He wants to hang out with us.”

Sam smiled in a knowing, insanely sane way that tripped me out as well as gave me faint hope. “You mean he wants to hang out with you?”

“And you too. If I go, you‘re coming too. Zack knows that.”

Sam put down his pizza and stared at the floor. “You don’t always have to carry me around you know. I can stay by myself sometimes.”

I knew my brother was in there behind all that fog in his brain and I knew he could feel the overwhelming exhaustion that oozed out from me that the other part of him just didn’t register.

“Sammy, look at me.”

He raised his head and I saw the shifting in his eyes, right now he was a cross between who he was and who he is.

“You’re my brother, there is no one else in the world who matters more to me than you and there’s no one else I’d rather spend time with than you. You’re not a job or an obligation and you never will be.”

He flashed me that crookshire grin I had known all my life, yet another staple of Sam that was so ingrained into him that nothing could take it away.

“Okay, Sarah. I’m not hungry anymore. Can I go watch TV now?” And just like that we were back in kindergarten.

“Don’t forget to wash your hands first.”

He ran out. I heard the faucet running followed by some sitcom laugh track, Sam always thought TV was a waste of time, but Sammy loved the pictures, he said all the bright colors were like rainbows.

Sitting in the kitchen of my aunt’s house, with my new brother in the living room, I never felt more alone. I wanted Sam, I wanted him to tell me that everything was going to be okay and that he wasn’t going to let anything ever happen to me. I wanted the security that life had given me so warmly and taken away. I wanted to talk to him again I wanted Mom, my mother who rarely entered my thoughts anymore, whose face was beginning to blur into the beaming smile in her pictures. How did she look when she was angry or when she cried? What did her laugh sound like? All these were starting to fade away in the distance as life’s train kept going, tears began to fall and the auto pilot my body was on immediately checked them. I couldn’t cry, I might not stop if I did.

I laid my head on the table for a quiet minute when suddenly I realized, it was quiet. The TV had been turned off, I looked at the door to the living room and there stood my brother staring at me with eyes unusually full.

“Sammy, how long have you been there?”

He went over and sat back down next to me, those insanely big hands of his took the one I had laying on the table.

“What are you-”

“You’re sad.” His tone wasn’t that of a child and I knew this was another one of his ‘Sam’ moments. He had had a lot of those today, I loved them as much as I hated them.

“It’s nothing, I’m just a little tired.”

“Turn it off, Sarah. I’m here. Let go.”

I couldn’t look in his eyes because the lump in my throat that had been held back for so long was strangling me. Why was he doing this to me? Didn’t he know that this was for his own good, I couldn’t take care of him if I was a wreck. He let go of my hand and tilted my head up so that I had no choice but to look into those deep hazel eyes, so full of love and warmth and at the same time sadness and anger. My brother’s eyes were the key to his heart and his mind, whatever he thought, whatever he felt always reflected in their bright shine.

A tear fell and dripped down my chin to the floor, followed by another and another. The lump in my throat went all the way up and came out as a strangled sob and continued in unintelligible noises. Tears streamed and I was pulled into a tight hug, my head being held against Sam’s chest. I was talking but what was I saying?

“Why did you have to go? Y-Y-You’re not here anymore and you said you’d n-n-never go. You promised, you promised, you promised.” The words were being squeezed past the giant lump and jerking sobs that were racking my frame.

I was being rocked as the tears still fell, it felt as if they’d never stop but the fear that had always been behind that was hushed with my big brother’s quiet murmurings.

“It’s been so hard. I miss you. Why cant you come back? Just come back… just come back.”

I cried and cried for what felt like forever, but surprisingly the time came when there were no more tears to fall, I had cried myself dry. The mechanically tight grip hadn’t loosened all the while and now I felt the pressure at my lungs, I regrettably wiggled myself loose.

“I’m sorry you had to see that Sammy.”

“I’m sorry, Sarah.” He took a strand of his hair and began fiddling with it, I gently took his hand away.

“For what? You didn’t do anything wrong.”

He shook his head back and forth. “You think I left, but you’re wrong.”

I hesitated. “Sam-”

“I never left. I promised remember? You remember? You have to remember, Sarah.”

“Yes, I remember Sam.” I said quietly.

“ It wasn’t your promise, you know. You’re trying to take it from me.”

I followed what he was saying. “But Sammy, I have to take care of you now. You cant take care of yourself like before.”

He was silent for a second, but my brother never left a comment or question unreplied. “I know I cant anymore, I feel the spaces in my head now that used to be full. But I can still keep my promise. You take care of me and I’ll take care of you.”

I felt my eyes glaze. Huh, guess I still had a few more left in here. All I could manage was, “Promise?”

He smiled at me with all the childish glee in the world. “Promise.”





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This article has 8 comments. Post your own now!

Lucy408 said...
Aug. 28, 2011 at 6:07 pm
Very well written! I love your story, please continue your writing. I'm very proud of you little cousin, and look forward to reading more from you. You are not only a true gift to this world, but a true gifted writer!
 
Mrs.G said...
Aug. 27, 2011 at 11:28 pm
Wow.....Keep up the good work...can't wait to read your next article...I am wiping tears as I write this...
 
katrina macias said...
Aug. 27, 2011 at 8:17 pm
Hey ur story is soo awesome I loved it. This story was one of the best stories I've ever read.! I think you should follow ur dream nd become a aurthor. Trust me you will make very good stories nd u will become very successful in life. I'm proud of u I really really liked ur story.! It's very interesting nd good. I say this was a very fantastic story nd I think u have a bright future ahead of u. Sincerely Katrina Macias.
 
onlyhis said...
Aug. 26, 2011 at 11:17 am
Great story! Loved it! Looking forward to reading more from you!
 
GASARO said...
Aug. 26, 2011 at 12:09 am
I love it,let me know when is the next story out!
 
lisamireles said...
Aug. 25, 2011 at 9:30 pm
Loved the short story!!!! Where do I buy the book??? Lisa ;)
 
linda143 said...
Aug. 25, 2011 at 9:24 pm
I'm so proud!
 
linda143 said...
Aug. 24, 2011 at 11:26 pm
Really creative! A sister's unconditional love for her brother, its heart warming and sad! I enjoyed it.
 
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