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Authors: Monica Alexander

Promise Me

BOOK: Promise Me
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Promise Me

 

By Monica Alexander

 

Copyright 2016 by Monica Alexander

 

ISBN:
978-1-3119-4495-5

Cover Image: (c) Serge Bertasius Photography / www.shutterstock.com Stock Photography

 

This story is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, or personals, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

All Rights Reserved

 

No part of this publication can be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, without permission in writing from the author.

 

The information in this book is distributed as an “as is” basis, without warranty. Although every precaution has been taken in the preparation of this work, neither the author nor the publisher shall have any liability to any person or entity with respect to any loss or damage caused or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this book.

 

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.

 

 

 

 

 

Prologue

Kate

 

8 Years Earlier

 

The tapping on my window came later than I’d expected it. Ever since I’d heard the front door slam next door and the yelling start, I’d been sitting up in bed, my heart pounding and my eyes glued to the window. I’d pulled my knees up to my chest, and I waited for him, knowing it was only a matter of time before his knuckles rapped softly but earnestly against the pane of the only window in my room.

Of course fear lived in the back of my mind that there would be a night he wouldn’t come to me. He was still small, and fighting back wasn’t an option, but Johnny talked too often about what it would be like when he was older, when he was stronger, and when he could hold his own. With determination in his hazel eyes, he told me that one day he’d make sure his father never hit his mother again.

That knowledge terrified me. His father was huge – an ex-Marine who worked out daily and could level a grown man with one blow. I’d seen it, and I knew that even if Johnny grew six inches, filled out and started training, he’d barely stand a chance. John Evans was terrifying, especially when he’d been drinking – which was most nights.

He had what Johnny called PTSD, and he’d had it since he’d gotten back from the war six years earlier. For a while he’d been really depressed, but then he’d started to get angry. That was when the yelling had started. It had been happening for years, and most nights I could hear clearly what was going on in their trailer next door, the sounds echoing throughout my room and making me scrunch further under the covers as I listened to Johnny’s father yelling and his mother trying to reason with him night after night.

But Mr. Evans’s voice was booming, and he never listened to reason. He just raged about their trailer, throwing things and screaming obscenities that I was probably far too young to hear. It was terrifying, but I knew he’d never come after me. I was more scared for my friend, unable to imagine how he must be feeling as his father ranted and cursed and shook the thin walls of their trailer, right outside of his bedroom.

The worst part was when I’d hear Mr. Evans yelling at Johnny. It was like having the best seat in the house to the worst movie, and it was made ten times more awful by the fact that I couldn’t see what was happening. I could only hear the screaming and the cursing and the insults flying around as I held my breath and prayed that he wouldn’t hurt my friend.

I knew Johnny never invited in his father’s rage. I knew he cowered in fear and probably said the same prayers I did that his father wouldn’t turn the knob on his bedroom door and fill up the doorframe of the small room, but I also knew it was inevitable that it was going to happen. Those were the nights I barely slept a wink, and if I did fall asleep, it was because I’d cried myself there as fear had gripped me.

I had no idea what Mr. Evans was capable of, and his voice alone frightened me to my core. I’d heard him knock over furniture, I’d heard him put his fist through a wall, and I’d heard him tear Johnny’s room apart. I didn’t think he’d ever hit Johnny, but simply hearing the agony in my friend’s voice as his father berated him and destroyed what few possessions he had was sometimes worse.

I was grateful that most nights Johnny’s father left him alone, but at least once a week he’d lash out at his only son, and fear would clutch me until I heard him leave Johnny’s room. Then I’d cry until I had no more tears left, because all I wanted to do was help my friend, but I knew there was nothing I could do.

For a long time Johnny didn’t know that I knew what was going on at his house late at night. He never talked about it, so if I hadn’t heard it for myself, I might never have known. He was always sunny and happy, just normal Johnny, when I’d meet him to walk to the bus stop each morning. It broke my heart to know what he was going through and to not be able to say anything, but he was my best friend, and I knew if he wanted me to know what was going on with his dad, he would have told me.

So for a long time, I let it go, telling myself that although the yelling and the breaking of things was terrifying, it wasn’t that bad. It only happened at night, and it only lasted for a little while. But then came the night when I heard what I’d thought was flesh striking flesh. Silence followed for a few seconds, as I held my breath, gripped by fear, and then I heard Johnny’s mother start to cry. A second later, Johnny was out of his room, asking his father what he’d done.

His father had slurred that he hadn’t done anything, but I knew differently, and so did Johnny. I heard him go to his mother, and then I heard him ask his father through his tears what had happened. His father had sneered that his mother had fallen, but we both knew he was lying through his teeth.

“I hate you!” Johnny had seethed at him, and his father had just laughed.

“I hate you too, boy – always have,” he said to him, and then I’d heard the front door of their trailer open and close.

His father’s truck engine broke through the silent night air, and then he was gone. Only then did I take my first full breath in several minutes, but I also felt the overwhelming urge to throw up. I couldn’t believe what I’d just witnessed, and I was still wrapping my head around it. I couldn’t hear anything from Johnny’s trailer, but I imagined he was comforting his mother. Hatred boiled deep within me as silent tears spilled down my cheeks.

My mother wasn’t home. She was out, and my sister Sara was asleep in the next room. Sara could sleep through most anything, but hearing me cry would wake her up, and I had no idea how I’d explain my tears to her. I wasn’t going to tell her what I’d just heard. There was no way I’d ever scar her with something so terrible. I felt like it was my job to protect her, to shelter her, and to keep her life as happy as possible. I was just glad she’d never woken up and heard Mr. Evans ranting and cursing.

After that night, I started to notice more and more frequently that Johnny’s mother had bruises on her arms and legs, and sometimes she even had them on her face. I remembered the first time I’d seen her with a black eye. Sara and I had gone by Johnny’s trailer to meet him to walk to the bus stop, like we’d done every day since he and I had started kindergarten. His mother had been ushering him out the door. His eyes were red-rimmed, as if he’d been crying, and fear had instantly filled me. I’d heard his parents’ fight from the night before, and it had sounded especially brutal.

I told Sara, who was two years younger than us, to go ahead to the bus stop and we’d be there shortly. For once she didn’t question my direction and accuse me of bossing her around, and I wondered if she could tell something wasn’t right. She was perceptive like that, even at eight years old.

Once she was out of earshot, I looked at Johnny in confusion and asked him what was wrong, even though I knew. He refused to tell me. His mom had called after him to have a good day at school, and we’d both looked back at her. It was then that I’d noticed her eye. I gasped in surprise right as Johnny let out a strained sniffle. I looked over at him just as he forced a smile on his face and waved to his mother.

When I asked him what had happened to her eye, wondering if he’d tell me the truth, he’d said she’d fallen down, had tripped over a rock while hanging the laundry on the clothesline the day before. I’d looked back to see that the clothesline he’d referred to was empty. It was late fall, and because I did the laundry at home, I knew it took at least two days for clothes to dry in the cold air, but I didn’t say anything to Johnny. I knew then that he was living under the assumption that I had no idea what went on at his house late at night, and it was obvious that he didn’t want me to know.

I wanted to tell him that I knew everything, that I’d heard it all, night after night, and I was so afraid for him. I wanted to tell him that he wasn’t alone, that he could talk to me, and we could figure out what to do together. But I didn’t say anything. Even at ten years old, I knew I shouldn’t pry – not about that.

Maybe it was the harsh life we both lived, or maybe it was the look in his eyes, but I kept my mouth shut. I didn’t say a word, and from that day forward, I didn’t question any of the fresh bruises that would appear on his mother’s skin from time to time – even the one time when I clearly saw the two handprint marks around her neck.

Maybe I should have said something to my mother, but every time I thought about it, I changed my mind. She worked a lot, and she was trying to raise my sister and me on her own. She had enough to worry about. Besides, it wasn’t like she could stop Mr. Evans if he was hurting Mrs. Evans.

I guess I could have told our guidance counselor, Mrs. Vine, but I was afraid of what would happen if I did that. What if she got other people involved, they investigated the situation, and Johnny got taken away?

That had happened to my friend Kristin the year before. She and her mom were living in their car, and when our teacher, Mr. Kent, found out that Kristin’s mom would leave her alone at night to go to work the streets, he told some people, and before long Kristin was taken away by a social worker. From what I’d heard she was living in a crappy foster home with six other kids.

I couldn’t let that happen to Johnny. He loved his mother, and it would break his heart to be taken away from her. I knew how protective he was of her. Even if he’d never told me, I’d seen it in his eyes, and I’d heard it late at night when he comforted her after his father had passed out or had gone back to the bar. Johnny would never leave his mom. If he did, who would keep her safe from his father’s wrath?

So for years I kept quiet and tried to ignore the ache in my chest I felt whenever I’d hear arguing from the Evans’s trailer that sat ten feet from ours. And each day I’d pretend like everything was normal when I saw Johnny, because I knew he didn’t want to talk about the nightmare he was living. I prayed every night that his father wouldn’t decide to hurt him, but I also knew that was my breaking point. If his father started hitting him, I was telling someone about it. I wouldn’t let my friend get hurt. I couldn’t do that.

I cared about Johnny so much – probably more than I should have at such a young age – but from the day we’d met, it was like we had a bond between us that ran deeper than a normal childhood friendship. We were both poor as dirt, living in a shitty place, wearing ratty clothes, and we were both trying to survive and make the best of our situations. Life wasn’t easy, and it sucked a lot, but it was a little better than it could have been because we had each other.

And aside from what was going on with his father, we told each other everything. We talked about life and our dreams and what we’d do if we ever had money – which felt like a ridiculous notion, but it was still a fun game. We spent every day together, and we were as close as could be, which was why it killed me to know that he was going through something so terrible. But having to keep quiet about it for so long, because he wouldn’t tell me, was worse. I knew he had his reasons, but I also knew that if he talked to me about what he was feeling, I could share his burden. That’s what we did for each other.

It was almost a year after the first time his father had hit his mother that Johnny finally told me what was going on. He knocked on my window, crawled into my room, and then he just stood there across from me as we listened to the sounds of his parents fighting next door. Realization dawned on his face, and he met my gaze with pain in his eyes.

“You’ve known all along, haven’t you?”

I hesitated before nodding, because there wasn’t really any point in lying. “Yes.”

“It’s getting worse,” he said around a sigh.

“I know.”

“I want to talk to you about it,” he said, and then he sat down on my bed and told me the awful things about his life that I already knew.

Hearing them from him was such a relief, because I’d felt helpless for too long. Now I could take away some of his pain. I could be there for him, which was what I’d wanted to do all along.

We talked for a long time that night, two eleven year-olds discussing things that were way beyond their years – or at least that should have been in any normal circumstance. But we didn’t live normal lives. I’d been taking care of my sister for as long as I could remember, since most days our mother was usually asleep when we left for school in the mornings, she was gone when we got home, and she usually didn’t come back until after we’d gone to bed. I made sure Sara got breakfast, lunch, and dinner, I helped her with her homework, and I tucked her in each night. I also cleaned the house, did the laundry, took out the garbage, and I grocery shopped, walking the half mile to the store and back at least once a week.

It was an odd way to grow up, because even though I knew our mother loved us, she wasn’t around much. Our dad left when Sara was a baby, and I had no memories of him. My whole life it had been Mom, Sara and me, and we did what we could to survive.

Our mom worked a lot at the diner in town, and for a while I believed that was where she was when she wasn’t home. But as I got older, I started to realize that it wasn’t likely that she was working all day and all night. If she was, we’d probably have enough money to keep the heat on all winter, and at least few times a week, we’d eat meat that didn’t come out of a can.

But I never asked her about it, and she never told us where she went when she said she was going out. Once in a while she’d stay home with us, and we’d watch TV and make microwave popcorn, and it would feel like we were a real family, but most nights she was gone. I’d hear her come home in the middle of the night, because she tended to bang into things, or she’d shush whoever was with her. I never saw the people she brought home, which I figured was probably a good thing. I’d never really liked any of her friends all that much anyway.

BOOK: Promise Me
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