Broken Promises (Broken Series)
Author:Dawn Pendleton

Broken Promises (Broken Series) - By Dawn Pendleton



ONE

Mallory



Given the circumstances, I couldn’t exactly complain. The doctors were doing all they could for my cancer-ridden father. I knew he wasn’t going to be in pain for the remaining weeks of his life, but that didn’t make accepting his imminent death any easier.

My dad, the strongest, most alive man I’d ever known, lay in a hospital bed, thin and sickly. His eyes were sunken in and ringed with dark circles. His skin was pale, nearly translucent. Looking at him made me want to run as far as I could in the opposite direction. Not that I would. He’d been there for me for so many years; I couldn’t even imagine leaving him in his time of need.

Of course, he didn’t exactly think he was in need. Lucky for me, he was still perfectly coherent and had no qualms about dictating how exactly I should be living my life.

“You need to go back to school, Mallory. I don’t need a babysitter,” he insisted.

I hadn’t left his hospital room since I arrived a few hours earlier. I didn’t plan to, either. “You’re right. You don’t need a babysitter, but I’m not going anywhere. I finished my finals early. My professors were understanding about the fact that I needed to get home,” I argued. It was true.

I’d gotten the call from the hospital just three days ago at the university I attended in Boston. In a panic, I emailed all my professors, begging to take my finals as soon as possible so I could get home. Each professor responded in kind, allowing me to take my final almost immediately instead of waiting nearly a week before they were regularly scheduled. Taking them early meant I wasn’t exactly prepared for them, but I didn’t care. All that mattered was getting back to my dad.

I drove up that morning to my hometown, a place I hadn’t been back to for three years. After my freshman year of college, my friends and I rented out a place in Boston for the summer and got jobs. It worked out so well, we decided to stay in our apartment while attending school and save money on tuition. I’d always made my dad come down to visit me at my place in Boston rather than come home.

Casper, Maine wasn’t exactly the big city. In fact, there were only a few thousand people living in town, with several hundred in the outskirts. It wasn’t just small; it was tiny. I’d grown up there, had the same friends my whole life, and never once been out of the country. It wasn’t until I started looking out of state at colleges that I realized there was so much more to life than a small town.

When I’d told my dad I wanted to look at schools in Boston, I thought he’d have a heart attack, but he just smiled and made hotel reservations. He didn’t even question me, which made me feel guilty now. If I’d been home a single time in the last few years, maybe I would have noticed how sick he was.

“But you have your apartment in Boston,” he said.

He sat up in his bed, and I could tell he was exhausted.

“Leila and Sarah are going to sublet my bedroom for the summer. Obviously, I need to spend time here,” I smiled.

I was seated in the uncomfortable chair beside his bed but I refused to move. My ass was going to be planted in that chair until he was released from the hospital. I was still waiting to hear from his doctors.

“What about your job?”

“Dad, relax. I settled everything before I drove up. The bank granted me a leave of absence. You know I would never leave without getting things in order,” I explained.

He straightened up in his bed. “Speaking of getting things in order.”

“No!”

“Mal, we have to talk about—” he tried again.

“No, Dad. Not now.” I shook my head.

Not ever. I didn’t want to think about his death. I didn’t want to discuss the matters of his estate as if it was a business deal and not the end of my world as I knew it. The time would come, but until then, I wanted to put it off. How would I ever get through dealing with it? My dad was my rock; he couldn’t just die.

“Okay, fine,” he muttered. He picked up a puzzle book and pen and ignored me.

I grabbed the remote and turned on the TV, changing the station until I found something I didn’t completely abhor. I wasn’t used to watching television; my bedroom didn’t even have a TV. My roommates each had one in their rooms, and they demanded we keep one in the living room, but I just didn’t see the point. I’d much rather read or go outside. So I’d relented to them, choosing to spend my spare time exploring the city.

Boston was huge. There was always something going on or some new place to discover. The only downfall was that even in a city with hundreds of thousands of people, I felt continually alone. Maybe it was time I came home, regardless of Dad’s condition. I could finish my degree online. The university certainly wouldn’t object considering my situation. I could move back into my room at Dad’s house and call up a few of my girlfriends from high school.

Spending the summer in Casper would be good for me. I was trying to talk myself into it. I knew I would probably hate it, but it didn’t matter. I would stay. For Dad. I looked over at him and smiled. He was already asleep, the book and pen lying haphazardly on his chest. I leaned over him and moved them to the table next to his bed.

A nurse appeared in the doorway and waved at me to draw my attention.

“Miss Wells?” she asked.

When I nodded, she motioned me to follow her. I gave my dad another glance and then got up. She didn’t speak again until we were in the hallway, several doors down from my dad’s room.

“Has your father told you about his release?” the nurse said.

“No, not really. He doesn’t really want to talk about the cancer. He just wants to discuss the funeral,” I said.

“I can’t say I’m surprised. Mr. Wells has been in a lot of pain, and although he doesn’t complain, he will need a higher dosage of pain medications at home, over the course of the next few weeks as his pain increases. We need to make sure, though, that he has someone with him at all times, as the medications will make him a bit unstable, physically,” she explained.

“That’s not a problem. I’ll be here for the entire summer. Longer, if necessary.”

“Great. He already has a hospice service lined up, so he’s good that way. And providing he doesn’t take a turn for worse overnight, we’re prepared to release him into your care first thing tomorrow morning.”

Which meant there wasn’t anything more the hospital could do for him. He was living on borrowed time now. I nodded at the nurse and asked her to let my dad know about the release. I needed a drink from the café. When she turned back toward Dad’s room, I raced down the hallway toward the bathrooms on that floor.

I barely made it into the first stall before I heaved up my breakfast. It was like someone turned on a switch and everything came to light. My dad was coming home to die. It was so unfair. What was I going to do without him? My life was going to be so … empty.

I stayed in the bathroom for several minutes, waiting until my stomach settled a bit before I made my way back to his room. I entered quietly so I didn’t wake him. To my surprise, he was already wide-awake.

“Did you hear? I get to go home!” he exclaimed. His cheeks were pink with excitement.

I couldn’t help but smile. Maybe going home would be the very best thing for him. He might even get better. He could overcome the cancer, maybe.

“I heard. Do you have clothes to wear home?”

“Actually, no. Can you drive out to the house and get me some? I want to look my best when I leave this place,” he announced.

“Sure. Tell me what you want,” I said, jotting down which jeans and t-shirt he wanted and where they were in his room.

“Don’t come back until dinnertime, Mal. Get your stuff unpacked a bit before I come home,” he suggested.

I had to agree. I hadn’t had a shower in two days; I desperately needed to freshen up at the house.

“Sure. I’ll bring you dinner,” I said.

“No way, I’ve already got someone bringing dinner at six. I’ll see you then,” he said.

He brushed me off, but I gave him a hug and then left, recognizing there was no way I would change his mind.

I made my way to my car, a recent purchase, and newer model Chevy. I turned the ignition and took a deep breath. This was going to be harder than I anticipated. I drove through the streets of Casper, noticing there were dozens of children out playing in the warm sunshine. May was the beginning of tourist season in the area, and the weather was cooperating perfectly. I sighed as I realized I was going to be forced to interact with people I hadn’t spoken to in years, people who thought very little of me and I of them. I had a feeling it was going to be a summer of fake smiles.

The town boasted a single stoplight three years ago, but I noticed they added a second near the corner of the grocery store and the one fast food joint. I smiled as I stopped when the light flashed red. Maybe things had changed while I was gone. The light glowed green and I kept straight, turning right three streets down. Another half a mile and I pulled into the driveway of my dad’s ranch-style house.

It had two bedrooms, two bathrooms, for which I was truly grateful during my teenage years. Who wanted to share a bathroom with their parent? Especially their Dad.

The yard was trimmed and the porch looked like it had been somewhat repaired recently. Maybe my dad hired someone for that, since there was no way he was mowing the lawn or fixing up the porch in his condition.

The door was, as expected, unlocked. I carried my purse and a small duffel inside, dropping both bags on the couch. I walked through the kitchen and noticed how clean and fresh it smelled. Nothing was out of place; there weren’t even any dirty dishes in the sink. He must have hired a housekeeper in addition to hospice; my dad was anything but organized.

I went back to the living room, grabbed my duffel, and made my way to the back bedroom. It was almost exactly the same as it had been three years ago. The paint was a deep purple, the closest color to black my dad had allowed. The bedspread was black and purple; even the curtains were dark and gloomy. What an emo child I’d been, I thought. I looked down at my bright blue t-shirt, wondering if my life in Boston had changed more than just my color habits. I used to be a depressed little girl. I suddenly felt grown up, as if I hadn’t realized I was an adult until that moment, when I saw the childish ways of my past. It was eye opening.

My desk was in the corner of the room, looking old and tiny. My office in Boston had a desk at least three times as large as the student-sized one in my bedroom. It made me chuckle. I tossed my duffel on the full-size bed and opened up the closet. There, underneath a loose floorboard, was the shoebox I never thought I’d ever want to see again. I was suddenly anxious to open it and let the memories come flooding back.

I brought the box to my bed and sat, lifting the lid. It was full to the brim with pictures, movie ticket stubs, and letters. I flipped through the photos first, ready for the rush of emotion. The first picture was one of my mother, who’d been a legacy in this town.

After getting pregnant at seventeen, she and my dad agreed to get married two weeks after I was born. But she’d left him at the alter; she’d left him and me alone for the remainder of my life. I often wondered how she could just bail on her own family. Lucky for me, Dad stepped up. He raised me. Alone. I closed my eyes, mourning the mother I’d never known.

The second photo made me laugh aloud. It was a candid shot of me on my dad’s shoulders. I was probably about seven years old. I remembered the day perfectly; he insisted we needed some photos of us together and enlisted a professional photographer to follow us around all day. I only agreed if we could take some goofy pictures, too.

The next picture made my heart clench as if a vice was secured around it. It was a group photo from my senior prom. There I was, arm-linked to Luke Bates. He’d been my boyfriend for all four years of high school. He was two years older than I was, but I’d been in love with him since the first day of freshman year. He put off college for me, claiming he wanted to wait until I graduated and then go to college with me. But when I told him I wanted to go to Boston, he refused. He proclaimed he was just a small-town guy and wasn’t cut out for the big city. After months of discussions and arguments about college, we pretended to be happy for one last night: prom. We broke up that night and haven’t spoken a word to one another since.

We were supposed to be together forever and he dumped me. Well, basically dumped me. Because he was afraid to take a chance on city life. But his rejection had only furthered my ideas to get away. I didn’t want to be reminded of him every day for the rest of my life living in Casper.

I wondered what he was doing these days.

The shower spray was too hot and it pelted my skin painfully. I didn’t mind. I needed to clear my head. I had at least another hour until I had to go back to the hospital. I raised my face into the steamy water, cleansing my body but it felt like I was cleansing my soul. There were so many reasons why staying in Casper was a bad idea, but if I was going to stay, I needed to let go of the hurt, the regret, and the pain.

I shut off the shower and heard a loud thud from somewhere in the house. I froze, unsure of what to do. In the city, I would have called 911 first and asked questions later. But this was Casper. I hadn’t been out of the small town life so long that I forgot people didn’t knock here; They came right in, uninvited and full of gossip. I figured maybe one of the neighbors had seen me pull in and decided to check up on Dad’s place.

I wrapped a towel around my body and wrung out my blonde hair, letting it fall in ringlets down my back. I opened the bathroom door and stepped into the hallway. I made it all the way to the kitchen before I heard another thud. It was the unmistakable banging of a hammer to a nail. And it was coming from the front porch. I made my way to the front door, slowly pulling it open and peeking my head outside.

I was floored.

My eyes met the hard, chiseled body of a shirtless carpenter, complete with tool belt and a hammer in hand. His muscles were well defined and his skin was bronzed from the sun. I raised my brows and pretended to cough. When he turned to me, I couldn’t hide my surprise.

I was clad in nothing more than a flimsy towel and staring into the chocolate brown eyes of none other than Lucas Bates.