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The Promise Never Broken

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Eight year old Grace Davis’s tiny fingers were drumming on her skinny thigh as she sat in the office at Benson Elementary. Her eyes glanced to the clock on the wall. Why was time going by so slowly? Had it really only been two minutes? It was 4:37. He was supposed to have picked up her an hour ago. Where was he? School let out at 3:30. He knew that. He had gone to Benson too. Sure, it had been almost twenty years, but he had still gone there.
The administrators in the office kept looking at her; whenever she looked back they turned their heads away. With a sad sigh, she hung her head and stared at her pair of ratty sneakers. The grown-ups were mad at her. It wasn’t her fault! She didn’t want him to be late, but they didn’t care. More than once, they had complained that they could’ve left and been home already if they didn’t have to watch her. To them, she was just another annoying little kid. ‘Great. More grown-ups who don’t care about no one.’ What was the word her teacher used? Narcissistic. That’s what they were. Narcissistic.
Her big brother had promised to pick her up right after school let out. What was taking him so long? His plane from South Carolina came in at two o’clock. She thought he said it took forty-five minutes to get to the school from the airport. Maybe the plane was late?
A shiver ran up her back. It was cold in the school office. There were Goosebumps on both her arms. She wished she had a jacket, but it was at home. It was hot outside. Why did the grown-ups make it cold inside? Did they like being cold?
Ten minutes later, her big brother entered the school office. His name was Christopher, and he was a real marine. The tall, brown-haired, brown-eyed man was twenty years older than her. So, that made him twenty-eight. Grace hadn’t seen him in over a year. He was fighting in… Iraq? No, Afghanistan? One of them. It didn’t really matter. The point was she hadn’t seen him in a long time and really really missed him.
“Hey squirt,” He greeted her as he rubbed one of his arms. He probably thought it was cold too. “Sorry I’m late. Y’know how airports can be.” He laughed hesitantly.
She smiled at his apology and replied with a quiet, “It’s ok, Chris.” The cold office went silent for a couple seconds.
Then, Christopher turned to the administrators. “Thanks for watching my sister. I hope I didn’t hold you lovely ladies up from anything you had to do.”
“It was no problem, sir.” One of them said in a weird kind of voice. It was kind of creepy. She didn’t use that voice when she talked to the other administrators or to her.
Another one nodded and spoke in the same weird way. “Oh yes, we don’t have any plans for tonight.”
‘Liar liar, pants on fire,’ Grace thought angrily, but she kept her mouth shut. They were probably only saying those things because they saw Christopher in his uniform and were scared of him. Anyone would be scared of him, except her. He wouldn’t do anything to hurt anyone.
“Well then, c’mon Gracie. Let’s go.” He stuck his hand out for her to take. She slipped out of the hard chair she was sitting in and grabbed it. The chair scraped across the ground and made a loud screech. It made her wince. The sound hurt her ears.
When her fingers wrapped around Christopher’s warm hand, she noticed a scar on the back of it that he didn’t have before. It looked weird. She couldn’t find another word to describe it, just weird. It didn’t look like any of the scars on her knees that she got from falling down, or like the one her best friend Derek got when he fell off the top of a tree and hit the pavement. It didn’t look like any scar she’d ever seen. She wanted to ask him how he got it, but she stayed quiet.
The scarred hand led her to her brother’s car. It was grayish silver with four doors and small, nothing special about it. It was completely average. She smiled when she thought of the perfect way to describe it, burglar-proof. No one would rob a car like that. It didn’t stand out at all.
“So, slain any dragons lately?” He asked as he opened the passenger door for her.
‘Slain any dragons lately’ was how Christopher asked someone what was up. He had been doing it since way before she was born. He said it to everybody, even to people he didn’t know. Once, he told her it was because he loved seeing people’s faces after he said it. They wouldn’t know what he meant and would look at him funny. She used the saying too but only to her brother. She didn’t want people to look at her funny. They would make fun of her and make her feel bad. Why would she want to do that?
Grace shrugged in response to her brother’s question. Christopher was frustrated by it, but he got over it. “Ah c’mon, Gracie. Something must’ve happened. It’s been a year.” He knew she was a very quiet person and that it usually took a bit of prodding to get her to talk. So, he waited and was patient.
After about eighteen seconds –he definitely did not count– she spoke. “A kid named Derek moved next door. He’s kinda nice.”
“Really? Are you guys friends?” He asked curiously. Grace wasn’t one to socialize. She was a loner who didn’t try to become friends with someone and would push away those that tried to be one. When he was her age and all throughout high junior high, he was the same way.
A large grin plastered itself on her face. “Ah-huh, he always lets me use his extra roller-skates. We race them all the time. Once, we went so fast we both crashed into the bushes and got all covered in mud!”
“That sounds cool!” He had on a grin that mirrored the one of his little sister’s face. This Derek kid sounded like someone he’d want to meet while he was back home. He had befriended his sister. It was only right that he did.
“Ah-huh!” A pause. “So… have you slain any dragons?” Her volume returned back to its usual quiet self.
Christopher shrugged. “Y’know me. I’m always getting into this, that, or the other thing. Since I got back four months ago, I’ve been getting readjusted to the American culture.” At her frown, he explained with a grin. “I’ve been eating twice as much food as a normal person and doing absolutely whatever I want to.”
‘Yup, that’s the true American dream.’ He thought of the food he had lived off of for a year. It tasted like cardboard. In comparison, American food was like edible drops of heaven. He knew how to appreciate now. Cardboard couldn’t compare to grease covered cheeseburgers.
He was rewarded with a giggle. “Sounds cool.” She paused for a couple of seconds. “So… what we gonna do?”
Purposefully, he had made no plans. –He definitely was not being lazy– He was the type of guy who liked to make things up as he went along. It was hard while overseas, but even his teammates said that his spontaneity had saved their lives on more than one occasion. Besides, it was more fun to do it that way. Having an itinerary just made things mechanical.
“No idea, you decide.” He urged her.
“Um…” She didn’t like being put on the spot, which was partially the reason why he did it. “A movie?”
“Sure thing!” He grinned. “Have you seen the ads for that new sci-fi one?”
She, perhaps without realizing, cocked her head to one side. “The one with the robot-zombie things?”
He nodded to confirm her question. “Yeah, that one. Do you want to see it?” It seemed interesting, something about mechanical inserts being placed in people’s brains to get rid of brain disorders then the inserts took over the world.
“Sure, I guess…” She shrugged.
A sigh he tried to hold back escaped his lips. He turned to her. “Gracie, it’s yes or no. We can watch another one if you don’t want to see the robot one.”
“Green light.” She mumbled.
Christopher was confused for a second before he heard the old blue pick-up behind him honk his horn. –He definitely did not almost jump out of his seat– Immediately, he pressed the gas pedal and started moving. The driver of the old pick-up changed lanes and passed him. When they did, they saw a wizened hand stick out of the window and perform a very rude gesture. He swore quietly under his breath, but Grace apparently heard him, because she giggled.
“I wanna see that ghost one.” She said. “It looks awesome.”
He nodded twice. “Ghost movie it is. We’ll drop off my bags at the house and then head straight to the theater. Sound good?”
“Yeah!”
****
Over three hours later, they were at the house. The movie was really really cool. The ghosts had possessed the main character’s wife, and then he had to kill her in order to kill all the ghosts. Grace only had to cover her eyes twice! Christopher bought her popcorn too and a blue icee. After it was over, he took her to dinner and let her get dessert. It was the perfect day, even after he was late picking her up.
“You want to play cards?” Christopher held an old and bent deck of cards in his hand. He had changed out of his uniform and into normal clothing. He called it ‘civilian’ clothes, whatever that meant. A T-shirt and jeans would always be just normal clothes to her. What was the point of a fancy name? The word ‘civilian’ made it seem boring. “My buddy Slush taught me a new game.”
She nodded and went over to the family room. They both sat on the old uncomfortable couch. Christopher dealt out cards as he began to explain the rules of the game. It seemed easy, and it was. The first five games she won. They played it for an hour while they talked about the dragons they slain.
Eventually as the sun was starting to set, Christopher spoke again. “I have something to tell you.” He told her.
“Hm?” She asked as she placed a card down onto the pile. There were more cards in her hands. That meant he was winning but not for long. She would catch up.
He sighed, which caused her to look up at him and frowned. His face looked different than before. The smile was gone. Now, his lips were in a straight line. ‘Have I done something wrong?’ Thinking back, she couldn’t think of anything. Maybe it was what she didn’t do. Her teacher said in class last week that that’s the reason why most problems started, like when your friend has a gun in school and you don’t tell anyone. That’s bad, her teacher said so, and her teacher was right about everything.
“I’m going on another tour.”
A tour? What did that mean? It wasn’t a bad thing to go on a tour. They were fun. You got to see things in museums and everything. Why did her big brother look so sad though?
“Why’s that bad?”
He shook her head and muttered something under his breath. She wasn’t able to hear it. Then, he said something that Grace understood perfectly. “I’m going back to Iraq.”
For a few seconds, she couldn’t say anything. “B-but you just g-g-got back. T-t-they can’t. You said you st-st-stay here.” Tears were falling down her face and she tried to wipe them away, but they kept falling. “I don’t w-want you to g-go.”
Suddenly, she felt warm arms around her small body. Christopher was hugging her. Without a thought, she hugged him back as tightly as she could. He smelled nice, like chocolate almost. “I’ll be fine. I promise.” He told her. “I won’t be shipped out for a couple weeks. We’ll spend it doing whatever you want to do. We’ll be together the whole time, except when you’re at school. It’ll be fun.”
It was fun. Those two weeks were the best in Grace’s entire life. Sometimes, they’d get so caught up in things that they’d forget Christopher was going back, but at night the world would come crashing down on their shoulders, and Grace would almost always wind up curled up next to her big brother as they slept, trying to spend as much time with him as she could before she lost him again.
Finally the day came when they had to part ways. Before he left, he went down on one knee so he could see her in the eye. “Don’t worry, Gracie. I’ll be back before y’know it, and I’ll tell you about all the dragons I’ve slain, ok?” He knew she was scared for him. He was scared for him, but he couldn’t let his little sister know he was scared. She thought he was invincible. He couldn’t let her down.
She nodded and stuttered, “O-Ok.” Her arms were wrapped tightly around herself. She had just got him back, and now he was leaving again. ‘It isn’t fair!’ Her thoughts were in a rage, but she was really just heartbroken. ‘Why would they take him away?’
“I promise I won’t get hurt and come back safe and sound.” He put his hand on her shoulder. “And I don’t break my promises, y’know that.”
With tears running down her cheeks and a quivering lip, she nodded. “I-I-I’ll miss you, Christopher.”
“Right back at you, Squirt.” He grinned, but his face almost instantly turned back to serious. “I don’t break promises, Gracie, and I promise you that I’ll come back and be fine, maybe a little battered and bruised but fine. Got it?”
He was trying to assure himself just as much as he was trying to assure Grace. If he could promise his sister he’d come back, he thought it would encourage him to fight and live until he could go back to her. The solemn eight year old was the only thing he would ever be willing to fight for. He didn’t care what the war was about. He cared about his baby sister.
“Got it,” She smiled ever so slightly at his comments. Christopher had never broken a promise to her. So, she had no reason to think he would start now. He was her hero, and heroes never break promises. If they did, they wouldn’t be heroes. They would be the bad guys, and no one liked the bad guys.
With her brother’s words, she felt that he would be fine. She knew he wouldn’t die. He would come back to her and take her to movies and buy her more icees and popcorn. Then, everything would be back to normal, and no one would ever take him away from her again.
Christopher Davis’s funeral was held six months later.




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