The promise

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

The second story from my book "The city on the hill"

The Promise

We never believe those who don`t tell us everything,
and we never understand those who consider words unnecessary.

I travel a lot. I left my home a long time ago to get rid of the superstitions I was upraised with. I got a decent education, and even a job that allows me to travel around. My goal is to see the world so I can understand it and deal with the problems that are waiting for me at home. But that story can wait just like the others.

Most of the time during my journeys I become an unwilling witness of some events that I find interesting and willing to talk about. This particular story is unique because I was a little part of it. I don’t think anyone would like me to share it, but I want it to be remembered. I believe that some stories should never be forgotten because they leave marks on the innermost of our hearts and change us. Because we can never understand those who consider words unnecessary until we feel what they did.

A long time ago, I visited my friends living in the countryside. They were very sociable and often had parties, balls, and guest-nights. Because of their hospitality, I became acquainted with the people living around me.

One night there was a ball. After dinner, the guests spent their time dancing, playing cards, drinking and participating in other activities of social life. On the balcony I noticed a woman wearing a gorgeous blue dress. She stood alone, slightly shivering from the cold with a glass of wine. Her shoulders turned white from the cold, but she didn’t notice as she was staring somewhere.

The horizon was turning dark and the first stars were flashing in the night. The moon gave a coy smile from behind the clouds. The world around turned silent and solemnly met the night.

I went to the balcony to join her, but once she saw me, she put her glass on the floor and left, ignoring my salute. Even in the countryside that behavior would be considered rude. Confused, I went after her to the ball room and took a place at the card table with the host. He looked at me for a while, and then as if he understood the reason of my changed mood, gestured to the woman standing at the stairs and said:

- Miss Coldrim – he drawled – though she insists on Missis Coldrim. Quite extravagant. Did she leave her glass on the balcony?

I nodded.

- Thanks, it`s hard to find them sometimes – he smiled to my confusion – She does that a lot and at some moment we even thought that somebody was stealing our glasses, but as it turned out, somebody was just leaving the glasses everywhere. Raymond Coldrim brought her to his mansion a long time ago. Though we were not really sure whether they were related or married. He had never talked about her. In fact, I can`t remember him talking to anyone about anything except for his business. He died a couple of years ago. There are rumors – he continued with a conspiracy whisper – that she – he nodded to the stairs – somehow helped him to die, and now claims she is a widow because she wants the inheritance. She lives a sequestered life and seldom attends our nights.

He got silent for a moment, thinking about something, and then leaned to me so nobody would hear what he was saying.

- She always has a glass, but never drinks anything; Attends the balls, but never dances; Barely talks to anyone and leaves at midnight.

He gave me an expectant look and immediately went to the bar inviting all wishing to join him out loud.

I was genuinely interested in that woman and the rumors. Close to midnight, I was standing at the main door faking preparations to leave, but in fact waiting for the widow. As the grandfather clock beat 12 times, she came from the hall, switched her ball shoes to boots, and put on her coat. I went to her in hopes that we would talk but froze. She looked ridiculous wearing boots with a ballgown and coat, but it was her sad eyes that stopped me.

She smiled apologetically to my confusion.

- It`s a long way back home – she was nearly laughing. To her I must look funny, not being able to find words even on the second try.

I thought that she might not have a car and offered:

- Do you need a r…

- No, thank you – she interrupted me.

- Can I at least accompany you? As you said it`s long way back home.

- Yes please – and then added without even a hint of a smile – we will go through the forest, so I hope you are not afraid of werewolves and ghosts.

Instead of answering, I opened the door.

- Shall we ? – I smiled.

She didn`t pay heed to an answer and went away not turning back to see if I would follow.

We went into the pitch dark down a road covered with fallen leaves. The moon scarcely lit our path and tested my imagination along with the silence of the autumn woods. Every noise, every bush or tree could’ve turned into something scary, walking around but never coming closer. I can`t say that I`m afraid of the darkness, but I think there are reasons why people prefer not to go into the woods during the night. You feel vulnerable with nowhere to hide and no good place to fight back no matter what you face. The dark woods are someone else’s home, and from the perspective of the guest, you might turn out to be prey, even just in your own mind when it’s filling you with fear.

All these thoughts seemed not to bother her. Missis Coldrim gaily went a little ahead of me. Every time gusts of wind caused the leaves to dance around us, she laughed and waltzed along. As we were walking silently, her dancing with the leaves and wind was appalling. At some moment I thought she was insane, and I hated myself for continuing bumbling behind her. The few things that I knew about her played in fresh colors.

Soon I saw the shape of gates.

- My home – she exclaimed, and then humbly added – I’m having a little party of my own tonight. Would you like to join me?

- I would be honored miss…sis Coldrim. Are you celebrating something?

- It`s nothing. Well actually, it`s a big deal to me. An anniversary. Although my husband died, still I… – she answered in a trembling voice. She sounded sad, and somehow furious – I live alone. Only a maid comes in the morning, and a gardener sometimes, but they are of no use to me.

When we came to the threshold of the mansion, she opened the door and went inside, leaving it open. There were no lights on. The relief I felt when we reached the mansion disappeared. I was again surrounded by the darkness, only this time I thought I might face something worse than just my imagination. Her dark secret. Her dark house. Her mad eyes.

Even though I considered her insane, I accepted her offer and went in.

It was an old and depressing house, or so it seemed, as there were no lights on except for the one candle that she had lit.

- Missis Coldrim – I started but she interrupted.

- Scarlet. My name is Scarlet. Take off your shoes please and follow me to the library.

It was a big room with aisles of bookshelves. There was a big arc window that allowed moonlight into the room. Near the window was one table set with dishes- two glasses and a bottle. Two chairs were at the table and I noticed one by the door.

She put the candle on the table and offered me to take a seat.

- It`s a good wine, Year 1920. – she pointed to the bottle – I will get a corkscrew.

- Do you need some help? – I asked.

She didn`t wait for an answer and went away with the candle.

I was left with my thoughts in the darkness for a couple of minutes. I had many questions for her but knew she wouldn`t answer. It bothered me that she refused my help, that the table was set in the library and that there were two glasses and two chairs, as if she was waiting for someone.

- I found it in the kitchen – she came and took the bottle. Her hands were shaking and she couldn`t even pierce the bottle cork. She made some efforts, blushed and eventually put the bottle on the table.

- Is everything okay? – I asked.

- I … - she paused – can`t. This…this isn`t right.

- What is not right Scarlet?

- I must not. He promised me – she stammered and looked at me as if I knew what she was talking about.

- Is everything okay?

- You don`t understand – she said disappointingly – I suffered so much because of it. I am not sure you can appreciate it.

- Just give me a chance and I promise I will – I answered.

- Promise? – her tone changed to angry – What is your promise worth? Have you ever considered the price of this word or have you just always said it? – when she finished her questions she was yelling.

- Just give me a chance please – I answered humbly.

- Apology accepted – she said through clenched teeth.

She stood by the window collecting her thoughts with crossed arms. It seemed that the more she collected, the bleaker she was becoming.

- I am sorry – she suddenly turned to the window and continued – it is harder than I thought. I wasn`t always like this. Just don`t pay attention to my tears. I need it. I`ve been keeping these feelings for too long.

We grew up together, Ray and me. For as long as I remember I`ve always known him. He lived next door and his room was separated from mine by a thin wall. We knew about each other’s problems because the wall was everything but soundproof. We didn`t have perfect childhoods and we both were from … complicated families. I won`t specify, just will say that I have cried a lot. But every time I cried and felt like I was broken, he was by my side and healed me. I can`t explain how he did that, but he took away all my sorrows. One time when I was hiding on the roof and was crying because I had been beaten, he promised me, that if I fell he would raise me, if I`m broken he would heal, and no matter what, he will hold my hand. I didn`t know then that when he said that, he meant it.

He was my best friend and together we overcame our childhood. Things changed when we grew up and I realized how different we were.

Ray didn`t like company. He was happy to have just me and his books around. I think I was his whole world and he never had enough space for someone else. I didn`t understand that then. Instead of respecting his wishes I tried to make him a part of my life, one of my friends, so he could enjoy their company too.

He didn`t want that and at some moment he faded into insignificance because he had never started our conversations, I did. So, when I stopped contacting him, our friendship was practically over. All I needed to do was call him, and I knew that if I did, he wouldn`t turn me down. I wanted him around, but somehow, I was also relieved that he was not around anymore to see all of my failures. Deep inside, I even hated him for being a witness of my childhood miseries. And that is how my decision was made, and he became a fading shadow to me. Even though I missed him, I found consolation in my new friends and my new life. I wished him farewell.

But as it turned out, shadows have their own opinions.

I became an actress. I thought I was a good one. It created a certain lifestyle that I became very happy with. I had thousands of friends and admirers. My life became working hard in the theatre, little sleep and parties. I won`t deny I loved that life. But things didn`t go as well as I wished. Sometimes the best parts were given to others and I didn`t take it well. I did everything for my career, and I will not discuss it with someone like you.

My problem was my pride. I couldn`t deal with a lot of things, including the things I did. I was depressed all the time. Friends and admirers at some point were of no use anymore. I found my peace in the bottom of a bottle. Did you know that women are more vulnerable to alcoholism? We get addicted faster, even though few of us drink that much. I should have known then. The life of an actress is full of parties, banquets and hard work. But not all of us can strike a balance between the stage and home. The scenes didn’t end after work; My life became a play.

I started having problems associated with my drinking soon after. It was often the cause of my…as a doctor called them… “temper tantrums”. Ray said to me that I was mentally unstable. How good of him use those words instead of ‘insane’ – she ended sarcastically.

Scarlet stopped. She went to one of the shelves of the bookcases, took a book and thumbed through it quickly. She looked around, took one of the chairs that was near the table and put it near the one that stood by the door. She took a seat and continued.

My mood was like a volcano ready to erupt and nothing and no one could bring me to my senses. At some point, I realized that my depression would not leave me no matter what I did. Even my career didn`t inspire me that much anymore. I found respite only in my short, drunken sleep.

It changed me. Everything I had ever wanted, my dreams, my life had all suddenly become insignificant to me. Even children… You know I have always wanted to have children. But the only thing I cared about then was my drink.

I lost my job and my life. Eventually my apartment was exchanged for just a little room in some rat-hole that I could afford. It didn`t matter. My only priority was my drink. My mind started to fail me, and my beauty started to pass. The people I used to call friends turned their backs on me in disgust. I found new friends though, those who gladly joined my delirium. And from leading actress, I turned into something I can`t even name appropriately. I can`t even think about how I lived back then.

I would have most likely died there someday, sooner than later, unnoticed, like a fading light. And I wanted that. The papers might have even prepared a short line for me «A former actress died, if you care».

But my  fading shadow cared too much for me.

He found me. I don`t know how, but he did. He came into my room when I was among my new friends enjoying our last bottle. Without any word, he took me in his arms and carried me away. He brought me to his place where I slept the whole next day.

When I had woken up, he was sitting right next to me. I recognized him from the first look. All those years meant nothing. He hadn`t changed much. But the happiness of the meeting was overshadowed by the circumstances of how it happened. I was ashamed. He couldn`t see me like that. Instead of saying something, I ran to the bathroom to wash my face.

On my way to the bathroom, I smelled something weird. It looked like I had woken up a couple of times and thrown up. Carpets were rolled up, some of his clothes were in the washing machine, and there were wet rags with a bucket of water near the balcony. When I considered the fact that I may had thrown up on him while he was carrying me to the car, I wanted to drown myself right there, and worse, I wanted a drink.

When I returned to the room, he was waiting for me with a glass of pickle juice and breakfast. I wanted to drink it, but was too ashamed of my condition.

- Hi – I managed to say – you haven`t changed.

- It`s good to have you back – he smiled.

- Did I … - I couldn`t even formulate my questions – wake up?

- Yes, you did – he answered – We had a very long day.

- I should go home – I started meekly.

- You can stay, as long as you want to, just no guests. We can pick up your stuff tomorrow. You don`t have to talk if you are not ready yet.

- Thank you – I said – although I am not a child and can do it myself.

He agreed and we had a silent breakfast. My shame kept my worst side at bay for a while. Then I asked him for a drink. He ignored me. Before we finished breakfast, I asked again and still received no answer. He carried the dishes to the kitchen and sat in front of me. His silence drove me mad.

I didn`t ask anymore. I demanded. He didn’t answer though, he just watched me. When I lost my temper and tried to leave, he held me and didn`t even let me leave the couch. I started screaming and he covered my mouth. I knew he was the obstacle I had to overcome to quench my thirst, so I attacked him, bit, hit, and scratched him with my nail. He didn`t surrender.

I got exhausted soon after and started crying. He released me and said:

- It`s not the first time you’ve woken up in this apartment. You have spent four days here. On the first day, I left a bottle for you with something to eat and locked the apartment while I was at work. When I came home, you were sleeping, drunk, and my guestroom was ruined. I am not sure you remember. The second day, I gave you something to drink and soon you were unconscious. The third day you agreed to stay and went home to pick up your stuff. I found you there dead drunk and brought you here again. Do you remember?

Surprised, I shook my head. The things he had said made sense and my eager mind was trying to put together my shattered memories. I remembered something of what he said, though it was all blurry.

- Listen carefully – he said – the only way for you to improve your life is to leave the city. As long as you return to your place or have old connections you will never get better. Your old life will always pull you down.

- Who are you to judge me? – I snarled at him – You have no right to hold me here. I can leave whenever I want. And if you don`t let me go I will make your life very troublesome. All I have to do is scream loud enough to make the neighbors interested, or I can always do something worse. So, let me go and I will forget I had ever met you.

Instead of answering, he moved the table to the couch, then went to the kitchen. He returned with a bottle. He opened it and gave it to me. As I was thirsty, I started drinking right from the bottle. It tasted so good and made me so happy that I didn`t even noticed when he brought some food for me and extra bottles. He sat in front of me and silently watched how I was having my little party. I hated him. Though I was delirious, I remember how much I hated him and drank because I hated him watching me drinking. I wanted to punish him somehow by drinking and drank everything he had. I found satisfaction by making him watch me lose the last shreds of my humanity and turn into something non-human. I think I could have died from that amount of alcohol, but he didn`t stop me.

I woke up here in this mansion. For the last six years I have been waking up here. The last three all alone.

I could hardly remember the road leading here. Obviously, he let me drink so he could bring me here without any opposition. I hated him. He had nothing to say to me as long as I was detoxicating. My screams didn`t matter anymore and the room he held me in became my whole world. I don`t know how long I was his prisoner because there were no windows and the days all felt the same. He was always there for me, never leaving me alone.

He never let me out until I showed him my first glimpses of intellect. Then, we started having walks around the mansion, and the first thing I saw was that there was a bed in the hall near my room, or what I would call my ‘cell’. It was at that moment when my thirst, and recently returned instinct of self-preservation had told me that he was dangerous, and I should protect myself. Then I got the idea that I should kill him.

During our walk across the mansion, I grabbed a glass, broke it against a table and tried to cut his face with it. He avoided my strike but didn`t try to take the weapon from me. Instead, he motioned me to the door down the hall behind him.

- This is the way out.

- Just let me go, I won`t tell anyone – I said threateningly holding the glass to my arm.

- I don`t care – he smiled – if you want to leave you can just cut my throat, I won`t resist.

- Why are you doing this? – I asked, stammering because I started crying.

- My promise.

The word woke me up. I leaned toward the wall, dropped the glass and slid down onto the floor. Since that day there were no more locked doors. I understood what he was doing and why. There was no other way to help me. He gave me a piece of paper with the promise he gave me written down so I could remember why I was here. I was not a prisoner anymore, but I still hated him for saving me. I could leave, but I chose to stay.

That is how my journey back to life started again.

She stood up, walked to the table and took the bottle. She held it for about a minute, examining it, and then put it back. She stood by the window with her back to me and continued:

- It was not easy. The better I felt, the more I remembered. I didn`t want to have memories of my life, but it was the price for my sanity. We started reading together, though very simple things. He told me that my mind was too weak for something more complex than a fairy-tale. I hated him for being that rude, and, because he was right. Everything I had was sold to get me one more day of delirium. Eventually, my intellect faded and my temper made me mentally unbalanced. So, I had a hard time with understanding complicated texts or even sentences.

What made things worse was Ray himself.

She turned around to me.

He didn`t want me just to forget my past, no! He wanted me to remember how I was! He kept reminding me of my weakness, humiliating me every day! For example, every meal started with him offering me a drink, and when I refused, he would give me a glass with some alcohol! It always was something different: vodka, brandy, whiskey, wine… Why would a person do that to someone he loves?!

But he explained that of course. The man with the answers for everything! I had to face my past and accept it so I could let it go forever. But did it help my suffering?! I felt miserable every time he did that or said those things!

He said my arrogance is one of the reasons of my mental instability, but it could help at least once! Can you imagine how much that HURT ME?! – she yelled and turned around.

I nodded, though I wasn`t sure she noticed because she looked over me, where the door was. She sighed.

- Once, I lost control and drank it before he stopped me. It was a step back for me and I knew that. We agreed to have our meals here. He got the small table I beat the glass against when I tried to kill him, and two chairs. This was to make me remember what I did, and so he could stop me if I lost control again. It became our dining room and classroom, where we worked on awakening my mind – she kindly smiled and returned to the chair by the door.

- He became my whole world. I knew that I had always had feelings for him. He was the one who didn`t let our friendship become something more. He was the one who chose the role of a friend and tricked me with his independency to accept it. He ruined my life when refused my blooming love for him.

But now there was nowhere left to run for him. I knew he loved me. That loyalty can`t be without love. Which makes his betrayal even more painful.

She lowered her head and got silent. Then she stood up and went to the shelf again. She took the same book and returned to her chair.

- It was my birthday when he gave me that bottle – she nodded to the table – as a present. We had already lived here almost a year. He led me to the ballroom and gave the bottle to me. He said that he would teach me how to dance. To teach an actress how to dance – she paused – isn`t that ridiculous? He didn`t think so. He gave me the bottle first. And instead of answering my questioning look he turned on some music and offered me to dance. It was the waltz.

While we were waltzing, he gave me the answers to all of my questions. He said that «our life is the waltz of dancing leaves in the wind. Life is circling us like the wind circles the leaves that fell from the tree. And while we are falling down, we are dancing. You think you are in charge and make all the decisions, but it`s up to the wind to decide. But unlike leaves, we can dance in couples. And every time you make a step up, I make a step aside and circle around you so that you can fly longer. You make a step aside, but I make two following you, and we keep dancing until we reach the ground. You can make a step back from me – he stopped and released my hands inviting me to do what he said. I stepped back – And now we are not dancing. It doesn`t mean the music has stopped and it`s our time to reach the ground. You can always make a step up to me – I made one step up to him, but he made two steps in the opposite direction – but I will make two steps back. There is no me anymore waltzing with you. Doesn`t mean that the music has stopped. You should just keep dancing. It`s better than just falling down».

That was the first time he tried to tell me that he would soon betray me. He then came up to me, took my hands, and we started dancing again. He continued:

«Because of that, I give you this rare wine. I promised I wouldn`t let you fall, and I believe that you will never drink again because every time you think of that you will look at this bottle and think of me. Please keep it no matter how hard life gets». He gave me a kiss on the cheek «Happy birthday».

I love him. I do love him so much – she was sobbing – and it`s so hard for me now without him. When he died, I realized that my torture had just begun. That was the real test. I wanted to forget everything, go back to my delirium.

The doctor said that Ray knew he was doomed. They diagnosed him with lung cancer a year before he found me. The lees of his life he spent saving me from myself. His friend, a lawyer named Steven something, came from Africa to be the executor of his will. He informed me that we were married. What news! Ray was a lawyer and had somehow arranged our wedding when I was half-drunk and just signed some documents. He gave me a marriage certificate. We had apparently gotten married on one of those first four days in his apartment.

Steven said that Ray arranged everything so there would be no legal problems for me with inheritance when he died. He said that Ray had always been loyal beyond all.

- I know he loved me. That kind of loyalty is impossible without a reason. And now I have to stay here all alone when all I want to do is to be with my husband! – she was yelling. She took the book and threw it at me – His last gift that his lawyer gave to me! A book! Read what he wrote!

I picked up the book and read out loud the note on the other side of the book cover. «My beloved wife. I hope your mind is strong enough for this journey».

- He abandoned me! – she was hysterical – He promised he would never leave me! Even in death he is mocking me! Hubristic bastard! I have to suffer here so his word would not be broken because I love him!

She took her chair and came to the window. She was mumbling something I couldn`t hear. Then she threw the chair at the window. Mad, she shoved a bookshelf, but it didn`t fall. Then, she was throwing everything she could reach, including the candle, at everything that was in the room. Fortunately, the candle extinguished before it landed on the books. She was throwing everything from the table except for the bottle and screamed «You promised! You broke your word! You betrayed me! I hate you». Then she took the bottle and turned the table upside down, pushing it to the broken window.

She turned around and yelled again «You left me!». I didn`t know what to say because I wasn`t sure she was addressing me. This whole night had made my skin crawl.

She half-turned and looked at the bottle and then stared at the door behind me. In dim moonlight I saw her haunted eyes. I saw her thirst that she couldn`t quench for very long, her broken heart, and her arrogant spirit that couldn`t be neglected without any consequences.

- How will you stop me now? – she challenged the darkness behind me. The last thing I wanted was to turn around, so I didn’t.

She smashed the bottle`s neck on the wall, and took a drop of wine, spilling it all over her face. She was lucky that there were no shards and the only cuts she got were on her wrists. She stared at the door behind me, and laughing, sat on the floor.

- Scarlet – I was slowly moving toward her – could you give me your address? I will call the doctor. Your hands are covered in blood.

- He promised – she laughed and cried – he promised!

I couldn`t follow the whole spectrum of her emotions, but she kept repeating that over and over again, as if she was explaining it to a child who didn`t understand the obvious. I took the bottle from her and examined her wounds, when I realized that something was amiss.

There was no scent of alcohol. I poured some contents of the bottle into my palm. It was water.

 

***

After two years, I went back to visit Missis Coldrim. She was sick. I met her in her house, and she was lying in bed.

- Will you read this to me? – she asked and handed me a piece of paper – I recently found it in his bedroom. I had never gone in there. Too scared to face the fact that he is gone. But I did and I found this. I should have been braver. I can`t read it. It`s his handwriting, it`s beyond my strength.

I took the paper, wet from her tears, and read it aloud:

«My dear Scarlet, Forgive me that this part of your life you must dance without me. Be brave and the wind will help you waltz. Not only the living can lead».

She closed her eyes filled with tears and whispered «You abandoned me» then covered her face and cried.

***

She died a couple of days later. The doctor said that she had a minor cold but didn`t care to go to the local hospital. The untreated cold turned to pneumonia and burned her lungs. She didn`t really feel a thing. Some of the doctors call it the tender killer.

Her last words were reproach to the one who broke his word.

According to her last will, her lawyer gave me the book that she had gotten from Raymond Coldrim when he died. It was titled «The Lion».

- Quite a book – her lawyer said when he gave it to me.

On the first page was his note to her, and the post card was affixed to the last. The card had a picture of a lion lying on a terrace under a rickety roof. There was only one word written on the reverse side of the picture, ‘Home’, and four vertical lines reminding me of some kind of claw.

- Is that all? – I asked.

- No – said the lawyer – This will be the last time I return here. I don`t like leaving my lady for a long time. According to Missis Coldrim`s will, she will be cremated, and her ashes scattered in the same place as her husband`s. It`s at one particular place in Africa. The same instructions were left for me by her husband unless she wills different. Everything here will be burned.

- You can`t be serious.

- I am. That is her will as the only heir. It took some time for me to arrange that quite extravagant business. Though it pains me because I found it very interesting, solving the riddles and looking for the secrets. So Ray. – he smiled.

- Secrets?

- Raymond Coldrim left a lot of secret letters and gifts to his wife. We found out when we donated his books to a library. When they checked the books, they found a lot of hidden letters and messages, and extra pages that were not supposed to be there. I studied them and found out that they were the keys to secret gifts for Scarlet Coldrim. I even found a portrait of both of them under his bed – he smiled and pointed to the book – The first key was in there. Though, I don`t think she ever read any of the books after he passed.

- Why do you think so?

- If she had only read at least one of the books, she would have found one of his messages and then she would have been able to find the others. They would’ve cheered her up and helped her to move on. The only thing Ray hadn`t foreseen was that Scarlet might be crushed by her grief and wouldn`t be able to get through it. Her only wish was the end of her journey  – he said sadly.

- Thank you Mr…. – I drawled, expecting him to introduce himself.

He silently shook my hand and went away.

I looked at the book and then at the mansion. She knew the answer was there all this time. She only had to be a little bit braver. It saddens me that she died never knowing that even in death he managed to keep his promise.

 

The end.


Submitted: November 19, 2020

© Copyright 2020 OlSynStar. All rights reserved.

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