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Promises We Meant to Keep
Author: Monica Murphy







The past


“Mommy!” My voice is a rasp, my throat raw and sore. I ache all over and I can’t get comfortable in my bed, my blankets so heavy and hot, I kick them off in frustration.

“Sylvie, darling.” My mother rushes into my bedroom, reaching for the duvet at the end of my bed and pulling it up so I’m completely covered once again. “Keep your blanket on. You’re not well and you don’t want to get sicker.”

Frustration makes me want to scream but instead I close my eyes, concentrating on taking a deep breath without coughing. I’ve been home for the last couple of days, and I’m so bored. “I already have a cold.”

A sigh leaves her. “Right. That’s why you shouldn’t go to school in the first place. You’re always catching something.” My eyes flash open when I hear her firm tone. “It’s a cesspool full of germs at that place. Most expensive private school in the city, you’d think it wouldn’t be this way.”

“I love school.” She threatens to take it away from me all the time, and I always cry and beg her to let me stay. I don’t want to be home schooled. Just me and Mommy all day long. I like my teachers and my friends, though I don’t have a lot of them. I’m never there long enough to get invited to sleepovers and birthday parties.

I’m always sick. I don’t know what’s wrong with me, or why I’m going to the doctor all the time. They can never seem to figure out what’s wrong with me either.

“What time is it?” I ask her, wanting to change the subject. If she gets too fixated on school, she might try and do something. Like pull me out of it completely.

She’s done that before. This is the third school I’ve attended since kindergarten, and I’m only in the third grade. Daddy says I need stability, but she always tells me when we’re alone that he has no idea what he’s talking about.

I guess I believe her.

“Almost nine. You need to take your medicine.”

Sitting up in bed, I make a face when she turns away to grab the cough syrup that’s on my dresser. I hate the way it tastes.

“Do I have to?” I whine.

“Yes.” She turns to face me, pouring the thick, dark red syrup into the tiny cup before she hands it over to me. “Make sure you drink every drop.”

I do as she says, grimacing after I choke it down. Cough syrup always tastes awful, but this stuff is worse than normal. There’s a metal taste to it that I can’t figure it out, and every time I ask her why it tastes like that, she says that’s just the way it is.

“Good girl,” she murmurs when I hand over the empty cup. “Thank you for always being so agreeable, darling.”

I readjust my pillows before I make myself comfortable in bed, wishing I could leave my room and watch some TV or something. A movie maybe? But I know she won’t let me. She’ll tell me it’s too late.

She always has an excuse.

“You should be sleeping. I’m sure you’re exhausted.” She tucks the comforter just beneath my face, leaning over to drop a kiss on my forehead. “My beautiful little darling girl. You need someone to take care of you, hmm?”

I ignore what she says, not liking how her words make me feel. “I’m not tired. I’ve been sleeping all day.”

“You need to rest.”

“I’m bored. Did you call my teacher and get my homework for me?” I want something to do. I don’t have my learning packet for the week, and I need to work on my multiplication tables.

She rises to her full height, standing at the side of my bed. “You don’t actually want to do homework, do you?”

Homework. She says it like it’s a dirty word.

I shrug. “I like to learn.”

“I can teach you so much more than whatever you learn at school. Practical things that you’ll use later in life.” She settles in on the edge of my bed, smiling at me. “We’re different, you know. Our family. Our lifestyle. Some of those subjects they teach you…you’ll never need.”

She says that all the time. How we’re different. Like we’re better than everyone else. Sometimes I want to believe it and sometimes…

I feel bad for thinking that way.

“But I like school. I like my friends.”

She frowns. “Don’t you like your mommy?”

“I love you,” I say without hesitation.

Her frown fades. “Then you should want to stay home all the time. With me.”

But I don’t. How do I say that to her without hurting her feelings?

There’s a rapid-fire knock on my partially open door, startling us both. We turn to find my father standing in the doorway, his forehead lined with concern when his gaze finds mine.

“You okay, Sylvie-bug?” he asks, his voice gentle.

Before I can answer, my mother answers.

“Don’t call her that. She’s not a bug.” Mommy’s mouth screws up when she says bug. Like it’s a bad word.

“I’m okay,” I tell my dad, grabbing the stuffed unicorn he gave me a couple of years ago and hugging it close. “It’s just a cold.”

A cough escapes me as if to emphasize what I said.

His frown deepens and he glances over at Mommy. “She sounds terrible.”

“We have a doctor’s appointment tomorrow morning,” Mom answers, her voice cool.

Disappointment fills me. I don’t want to go to the doctor. I go there all the time. It’s just a cold. It’s no big deal.

“You always take her to the doctor, yet she never seems to get better.” Daddy flashes me a quick smile before returning his attention to Mommy. “Why is that, you think?”

“What are you trying to say? That you doubt me? They’re still trying to figure out what’s wrong with her.” She starts to leave my bedroom. “We’ll be back, darling.”

I watch them go, can hear them whispering furiously in the hallway, and when their voices rise, I close my eyes, letting my head sink into the pillow.

“Why don’t you let me take care of her for once? Whatever you’re doing, isn’t working.”

“How dare you say that? Like it’s my fault she’s ill. We don’t know what’s wrong with her! At least I’m doing something and trying to help her.”

“I want to help, but you never let me. It’s like you want to keep her all to yourself.”

“Maybe I do. Maybe she’s all I have. Not like you care what I need, or what she needs either.”

My father goes quiet. I can practically feel his anger, and hers too.

They’re always angry when they talk about me. She talks about him when she’s alone with me too. Complaining about Daddy and how he doesn’t love her anymore.

I don’t like it. I don’t want to hear it. Her words scare me. Sometimes…

She scares me.









Three years ago


“Make a choice,” Mother hisses as she roughly grabs my arm, her hold firm.

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