AW Flash Fiction — The Promise — 5/16/10

Rennie turned the corner and froze. There he was. She turned left, turned right but there was nowhere to hide. Smack dab in the middle of the hallway, her goose was cooked as soon as Arvin turned her way.

“Rennie! Hi!” He skipped toward her and she cringed. Men did not skip and neither should sixteen year old boys.

“Arvin, hey.” She peered over his shoulder and hoped she might find a good Samaritan to rescue her but none appeared.

“So…remember you promised me in the eighth grade you would go to the dance with me only if it fell on February 29th our Senior year. Guess what day the dance is this year?” He sang the last words in a soprano vibrato.

“Yeah but I told you that over four years ago, Arvin. You know I’ve got a boyfriend, right?” A little white lie. Grant had dumped her just two days ago and had already asked the head cheerleader, Ashley, to go with him three days ago.

“But a promise is a promise, Rennie. Besides, everyone knows that Grant asked Ashley to go with him.” Arvin tilted his head and winced. “Oh…sorry, I thought you knew.”

Rennie began to gnaw on her thumbnail as she wracked her brain for a new excuse. She considered the boy in front of her. They had once upon a time been best friends, back when they were in grade school. But when they both entered adolescence, Arvin had suffered a rapid growth spurt and shot up almost a foot in height, a spurt that gobbled up all his bulk in its upward climb. Now painfully thin and lanky, he towered over Rennie and all the other boys. His skin bore the faint reminders of regular break outs that had only calmed down a month prior. Pro-activ did wonders for some people.

In a flash, she made her decision. Better to stay home than to show up with Arvin and have to watch Ashley bill and coo at Grant.

“I’m sorry, Arvin, but I really can’t. I agreed to house sit this week for the Westerfields and Friday night is plant watering night. A promise is a promise, after all, and I can’t let them down.” She smiled winsomely at him then patted his arm and said, “You know I would if I could, right?”

“But you promised me first.” Two deep dents formed in Arvin’s brow. “Can’t you water the plants before the dance?”

“Uh, well they are on a really strict schedule you know. Mrs. Westerfield very specifically told me to water them at nine o’clock and…” she shook her head, “that’s right in the middle of the dance.” She followed her comment with a shrug.

Arvin sighed and said, “Fine,” then stomped off, his huffs of outrage audible until he turned the corner.

Rennie never considered that Arvin would invent a timer-run plant-watering system that he proudly installed at the Westerfield’s home for her the Monday before the dance. He repeated his request to escort her.

“I’m afraid it’s not just the watering, Arvin. I also have to take care of this pesky mole that’s been burrowing through their front yard. I sort of told them that I was an expert mole exterminator and they said they’d pay me an extra hundred dollars if I took care of it. I’ve not had any luck so far at the rate I’ve been going. I couldn’t possibly have fun at a dance knowing that awful thing was ruining their lawn.”

But Rennie never considered Arvin’s mole-killing expertise. Within three hours, he’d trapped the mole in a deadly snare of his own invention. He reissued his request that she honor her promise.

“I don’t have any money for a dress and the Westerfields won’t pay me until they return,” Rennie whined.

But Rennie never considered Arvin’s expertise with fabric and sewing machines. He constructed an exquisite gown for her in a mere two days, the likes of which no other shop in their tiny town could come close to surpassing.

After Rennie tried on the dress, she heaved a rib-cracking sigh. “Alright, Arvin, I’ll go with you.”

The night of the dance, Arvin rang her doorbell, presented her with a perfectly coordinated corsage for the gown he’d made, and offered her his arm as they walked to his car. She couldn’t help but notice how firm his bicep felt under her touch. She also noticed the faint smell of aftershave on his recently shaved and blemish-free skin.

“Well, Arvin, you certainly clean up well,” Rennie exclaimed as she tweaked her hair in the front seat of his Porsche. Arvin had built it from a kit and spare parts he’d scrounged up from a long line of junk yards.

When they entered the dance, several girls gasped then began to giggle. Arvin smiled and said “hello” as they filled in their name tags and cast their votes for King and Queen. But Rennie mostly noticed Grant and Ashley and seethed with envy.

Though Rennie came with Arvin, she’d decided that dancing with him was not part of the bargain. She refused and chose instead to sit out on the sidelines and gossip with her friend, Susan, who had come alone.

Arvin danced with the gasping girls and left Rennie to her misery.

Ten years later, after Rennie had cashed Grant’s latest unemployment check and finished washing his filthy t-shirts, she frowned at the man himself. He couldn’t be bothered to look after their six children even though he had nothing else to do. She sighed as she remembered that last dance of her senior year.

“I should have married Arvin!” she taunted. “He’s the head of a multi-billion dollar corporation and the owner of seven patents!”  She threw a tshirt at his head but it fluttered to the ground a foot from its mark.

“Like he’d have an old hag like you!”   Grant belched loudly and rose from his chair.

She recalled the Facebook friend request she’d sent that had gone unanswered.  Her emails had fared the same. She’d tried to see him at his office but had been told he didn’t have time for social visits but she was welcome to contact Investor Relations if she had a business inquiry.

“Yeah, well once upon a time, he promised to marry me but he got too stuck up to honor that promise,” she hissed at him.

“But Arvin also promised me, Rennie, that he’d do everything in his power to make sure that you ended up with the guy you deserved. Guess neither of us thought at the time that it’d be me, eh?” Grant shook his head as he heaved his three hundred pound bulk to the front steps of their trailer for a smoke.

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