Pinky Promise

March 24, 2012
"Daddy?" the raven-haired girl looked up at her father as they walked away from the childcare center. "Why were you so late?"

"I had to take care of something before I could come," he replied.

"Oh…" she said. The little girl looked down. They were walking in a very small parking lot filled with gravel and small potholes. These fascinated the child, but her father had told her not to pick up things she saw on a road, so she kept her arm dangling downward.

Suddenly, she brightened, remembering something. "My recital's tomorrow."

"I heard," her father replied, smiling. "I'm sure you'll do a fantastic job."

"Really?" she asked with shining eyes. "Promise you'll be there?"

Her father sighed to himself, amused by the antics of his six-year-old kin. "I promise."

"Good." His daughter, content, hummed. As they got into the car, she realized something else. She paused, and then she reached over to her father and held out a thin pinky finger.

"Would you pinky promise?"

"What?" Her father responded, confused.

"I asked if you would pinky promise. A pinky promise is a binding contract. If you twist pinkies with me, you can't go back on your promise unless you cut off your pinky."

Her father grinned and reached his hand to hers, but she drew her hand quickly back.

"No. I asked if you would pinky promise. I'm not going to make you do it, because I trust you. Some people say it's not really a promise if we didn't pinky promise, but you did promise. You didn't just say it, you promised, so you have to make sure you get here."

"I will." he smiled as she buckled in, ready to head home.
"Mel, you have to go on now, sweetie."

"No! I don't see my daddy. We can't start if he isn't here."

"But we can't hold up the show for you. They expect us to start now. It wouldn't be fair to everyone else, would it?"

"I guess not, but…"

"I know, I know, we'll make sure he sees you, okay?"

"Okay." The little girl sniffled as she made her way onto the 'stage' they had set up. Sulking to herself, she tried to put on a good smile as she got into her position, waiting for the music.
The teacher looked up as a man rushed into the building. "Has my daughter performed yet?" he asked her.

"Yes. She was in one of the first groups." she replied.

"I'm sorry. Something came up and I couldn't leave work quite on time, and I just-"

"It's alright." She cut in, quick to stop his babbling. "I understand, but try explaining that to a sobbing six-year-old."

The man walked into the main room where all of the other parents were gathered, but he could not see his daughter. One of the other teachers beckoned him to come past into a different room. There sat his daughter, a cookie in her hand. Her cheeks were red and her eyes were swollen, and she sniffed between every breath. Her black hair was strewn across her face, but it looked as though someone had messily tried to pat it back in place. When she saw her father, she did not say anything, but instead continued to eat her cookie.

"Mel, your father's here." The teacher said to her. The little girl looked at her reproachfully and still refused to speak. The teacher sighed and spoke to her father. "She really tried to be good, but you know children, and they don't cry quietly. We had to take her out just because the show was going on, but she's not in trouble. A few teachers have been coming in and out, trying to cheer her up, and we at least got her to stop crying, but I think she really wants to talk to you."

Surprised by this, the father looked at his little girl. She sat sullenly, scattering crumbs across her dress as she ate the cookie. "Could you sign her out?" he asked the teacher.

She nodded. "Certainly." she said before walking out.

"Come on," he said to his little girl, squatting down. "Ready to go?"

The child at last met his eye, and she blinked. Finally, she nodded, and sat up, scattering crumbs onto the floor.

"Make sure you take your things home with you." the teacher called after them. The young child grabbed her backpack and shoved a few things from her cubby hole inside of it, and then they headed out. She walked next to her father, one hand on the backpack, one on her cookie.

When they had been driving for a little while, she spoke at last. "Katie got in trouble today." she paused, waiting to see if there was any response from her father. He asked what happened. "She was talking when we were supposed to be quiet. It wasn't a big deal. But because she was in trouble, she couldn't play with me, so I made her promise she would play with me at recess. She promised, but I forgot to make her pinky promise. We promise all the time, she's my best friend. But when we went outside, she just wanted to play with the leaves, and I didn't want to play with the leaves because we used to do that all the time, and the teacher said we weren't allowed to unless it was fall, because otherwise there wouldn't be any leaves to play with and we had to rip them off of trees and the teacher said that hurt them. But Katie still did it, and she wouldn't listen to me when I told her, so I reminded her that she had promised to play with me. She said it wasn't a pinky promise, so it didn't count. And I had to go play with Myra."

Her father knew what she getting at, and he sighed. "I'm sorry, sweetie. It was an emergency, I told them I needed to leave. And I really tried to come."

"I know." she replied. "But if I made you pinky promise, d'you think they would have let you go quicker?"

"I don't think it makes a difference to them, honey."

"Oh. Okay."

"How did I end up with such a sly daughter?" he mumbled to himself as they turned into the parking lot of their destination.

"Ice cream!" she screamed, leaning into the window. They parked right in front of the café, but it had become a tradition for the father to bring his daughter there for gelato since her mother died. She ran excitedly into the place while he locked all of the car doors. Then, he followed the hyper six-year-old into the café.

"Hey, Zach. Haven't seen you in a while." called out the store owner, Marco.

"Yeah, well, been busy." he replied. Too busy, he added silently.

"Ahh. Too bad. Well, what can I get for you and the young lady?" Mel giggled as she stretched on her toes to see what flavors they had.

"IIIIIIIIIII want… strawberry!" she exclaimed. Her father nodded to Marco as he dug out his wallet.

When they were seated at one of the tables with their gelato, he decided he needed to talk to his daughter.

"How was your day?" His child sat quietly, eating her gelato. She looked away and did not respond, so he tried again." Did you do anything fun?"

"No." she said quietly.

"Are you sure? Nothing at all?"

"Katie didn't play with me. We did a practice for the recital, though. And drawing."

"What did you draw?" he asked. His daughter's eyes opened really wide, and she shoved a spoonful of gelato into her mouth. "Can I see?" he asked, reaching for her backpack. Reluctantly, the little girl nodded.

The picture had a group of people there was a group in front of everyone else, with a small, black-haired girl in front. Seated in the front of the audience, looking at the girl, was a man who looked a lot like him.

"Come on Mel, your father's here." A teacher dragged the little girl to the door so she could leave. She was the only child left after everyone else had been picked up.

"Okay! Just let me grab my things." She chirped ecstatically.

"Don't bother. Just go over there. Hurry, he's waiting for you." The teacher gave the little girl a small push, and she ran for the lobby. Sitting there, patiently in front of the 'stage' that hadn't been taken down yet, was her father.

"Daddy!" the little girl cried as she ran into her arms.

"Hey Mel, would you like to perform your part in the recital just for your daddy?"

Instantly, her eyes brightened, and she looked up at the speaker. "Can I?" she pleaded.

"Sure. I've got the music all ready. But it means you have to do a very good job, because you're going to be all by yourself, no one else is doing it with you.

"Okay!" she screamed excitedly. Then, she ran to her place and prepared for the music to begin.

When she was finished, everyone clapped, her father grabbed her bags, and they walked, hand-in-hand, back to the car. The picture was taped to the wall in their apartment, where it stayed for a few years. And every morning, before her father left for work, he promised not to forget her. He never did; he never could.

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