Promises

The last thing I wanted, expected, or needed was to be standing in the doorway of Carly Ray’s room, watching her clutch a picture of her father, my old friend Beryl, up to her face. She is so tiny, but at the same time there is something very adult about the way she looks. Maybe it’s the light spreading over her shoulders from the nightstand lamp, her slick-straight brown hair lying limply behind her. Something about her seems too mature for ten years old.

“Carly Ray,” I say, hesitantly, fearful. “It’s time to go to bed. You’ve got school tomorrow.” I expect her to turn, to look at me with cold eyes and resentment, but she doesn’t. She puts the picture away, under her mattress, and rolls to her back, looking up at the ceiling.

She’s used to Beryl being here, maybe telling her a story or just sitting on the edge of the bed until she falls asleep. I can’t be sure of what. She’s only known me as her father’s friend, the one who comes in every so often, bringing her a present from some far-off city she’s never visited. She doesn’t see me in any sort of fatherly way. I’m not sure if I’m even like an uncle.

“Goodnight, J.D.,” she says.

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