A promise is forever
“Trick r’ treat Mrs. Summers,” the little boy said, Autumn unsure of who exactly it was, the mask hiding the child’s face and muffling his voice. A hideous mask, a Cyclops monster, the little one-eyed creature held out their plastic Jack-O’-Lantern bucket expecting candy.
“And just who is that hiding behind such a scary mask?” Autumn asked, giving her evening’s first trick-r’-treater a heartwarming smile. She knew it had to be one of her students, just which one. Getting a hearty handful of candy from the large, purple plastic bowl resting on her lap, she dropped the candy in, knowing that would make any child happy, though she knew she gave such a hearty amount since it was one of her students.
“It’s me,” the child said as they lifted their mask, revealing it to be Tommy Clare, one of her favorite students. Not the brightest, but the boy had been raised right. Well mannered and attentive, he made up in young character what he lacked in academics. “And thank you Mrs. Summers.” Pulling his mask back down, the boy told her happy Halloween and made his way back to the sidewalk and down to the next house.
The trick-r-treaters were starting early that year, but it was still slow, still a little too early in the evening, which was just alright for Autumn. Taking a sip from her beer, the Busch light she was hiding behind her back so kid’s coming up for candy wouldn’t see, she checked her phone, which she knew was pointless, the Iphone having died no more than ten minutes earlier. Looking to the baby monitor next to her, her baby girl April was still fast asleep.
Autumn Summers had lived in Cleveland, Ohio her entire life. She loved the city. Not the sports teams. She knew nothing about sports. No, it was the city itself. The people. It was why she had become a teacher. She loved the city’s people, but more so she loved children. Seeing the kid’s play on the playgrounds, hearing them laugh. And how smart they could be; she found herself everyday in some way astounded by something one her students would say or do.
A third grade teacher, she was also a happy mother, her baby girl April having been in her life for almost seven months. Her daughter asleep, Autumn had mixed feelings about Halloween, but that wasn’t going to stop her from handing out candy to all the children that wanted it.
After thirty more minutes, more and more kids and parents had begun to fill the street, all different kinds of costumes, most making their way up to her house where she sat on her front steps, letting the children reach in and take whatever pieces of candy she had to offer. Some like Tommy would address by her name, Mrs. Summers, and every time one would, just like when they did in the classroom, it made her swallow hard, forcing her fight back her tears.
Eight months had passed since the funeral, and even after eight months it wasn’t easy. Smiling to each and every kid, she wasn’t going to break down, not on her front porch, not in front of all the trick-r’-treaters. Ryan wouldn’t have wanted that. Halloween had been their night, and he would have wanted her to enjoy it she convinced herself.
“Happy Halloween Autumn,” Mr. Wilson said, bringing his two daughters up to the house so they too could get candy from Autumn’s candy bowl. Mr. Wilson lived down the street with his wife and twin daughters, Tara and Brittney. The girls dressed in cowgirls, the costumes were practically identical, except for the colors, Tara mostly in pink, Brittney mostly in aqua blue. Mr. Wilson, waiting as his daughters got their candies, looked Autumn over. While he was married and she was widowed, he couldn’t help but admire the young woman, him like most other men finding her very attractive.
Only twenty six, her skin was flawless, a natural tan only complimented by her auburn hair and chestnut eyes. When she’d fully smile, she’d smile so wide her eyes would squint, which was her cutest feature. Dressed in a burnt orange turtleneck, she was wearing a brown and lighter orange striped scarf. Autumn had a weakness for scarves, her bed and closet littered with too many to count. Her hair shoulder length, she always wore it down, more often than not her bangs falling down into her face, her ever the casually brushing her hair away, and more often than not another boy or man would notice it and fall in love with her that moment.
But for Autumn Summer’s only one man and one man only had ever won her heart. The father of her child, her late husband, and the man she loved more so than she could ever love another, Ryan Summer’s had met Autumn on that night itself, Halloween, four years prior.
She’d been at a party, dragged there by her friend Katie. Not really one for parties, she had half-assed her costume, putting on a cat-ear head band and mascara whiskers upon her face. Katie had wanted Autumn to dress a little more, as Katie had put it, “sluttier”, Katie’s intentions being that of finding Autumn a boy-toy for the All Hallows evening, though Autumn wasn’t to delighted at the thought of hooking up with a stranger. Having turned down wearing the Playboy Bunny outfit that Katie had wanted Autumn to wear “oh so badly”, Autumn was content with her half-assed kitten costume.
Having stood alone at the back of the party most of the night, Katie talking to one boy or another, and a few guys having tried their moves on Autumn, she just turned them all down as politely as she could and sipped at her red plastic cup of beer, the smile on her face never once vanishing. Though she wasn’t the party type girl, she was still enjoying herself, seeing all the other’s having fun. The music wasn’t terrible either.
“These things are always such a drag.” Another guy seeing if he was lucky enough to win over the lonesome “kitten” of the party. Tall, dressed in a half-assed werewolf costume, with a dog eared head band on his head, a leather jacket with a fabric dog tail safety pinned to his jeans, Autumn did think he was cute, but she was most likely gonna turn him down like she had the others that had tried earlier.
“Got that right,” she said, joining into the idle conversation.
“So how do you get an elephant into a safeway bag?” the question the boy asked leaving Autumn perplexed. She looked puzzling at cute boy, his face serious, or as serious as he could keep it. Unsure if she heard him correctly, she just stared at him till he repeated himself. “How do you get an elephant into a safeway bag?”
“How?” Autumn asked, not sure what the safeway bag was, but curious as to what the cute werewolf was going with his strange, very strange question.
“Well. It’s quite simple my little party kitten. You just remove the letter ‘s’ from the word ‘way’. And the letter ‘f’ from the word ‘way’. That simple.” Taking a sip from his own red plastic cup, the cute werewolf gave a warm grin as the obvious bewilderment on Autumn’s face became more and more obvious.
“What?” Autumn insanely confused by the solution the cute werewolf had just given her to his strange, random question. “There’s no ‘F’ in way.” As soon as she said the sentence, as soon as she heard the words exit her lips, she couldn’t help but laugh.
“Oh, but there is an F’in way,” the cute werewolf retorted, joining into the laughter with her, a boy across from the two seeing their shared laugh, irritated that the cute kitten girl had turned him away, instead falling for Ryan’s stupid elephant in a safeway bag joke. “I’m Ryan” the boy said, extending his hand for a handshake.
“Autumn Christmas,” Autumn said, taking her hand in his, his grip strong, but not too tight. In fact, as she held his hand, she felt butterflies begin to flutter in her tummy. “And that’s not a joke. That’s my real name. My parents have a strange sense of humor.”
“Well Autumn Christmas, in a strange turn of events, my last name just so happens to be Summers. Quite the kawinkydink if I may so myself.” Knowing he should let go of her hand, he, just like her had butterflies, something he’d never felt before, at least not from a handshake.
“Summers, huh?” Autumn took another sip of her beer. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we got married. Then my name would be Autumn Summers.” Rambling on, her normally adherent and logical thinking was somewhat hindered by the beer she was sipping at, and the uniqueness the cute werewolf had from all the other boys at the party. “Oh god! I just met you. I mean, I just found out your name, and I’m already going on about getting married. Oh god. Yeah, you can walk away with that ‘yep that chick was psycho’ look on your face and I’ll completely understand. It’s just that I’m slightly tipsy, and you are REALLY cute, and…”
Silenced when Ryan put a finger to her lips, he was quick to pull it away and take a sip from his cup, then give a warm smile. He found himself more attracted to this Autumn Christmas than he had any other girl. At these parties, he, just like his friends would see how many girls they could hook up with. And while that had been his plan when he had begun conversation with Autumn, that was long since abandoned, the butterflies in his gut making him think with the head on his shoulders, not the one in his jeans.
“You seem like you can hold a stimulating conversation. You want to get out of here? And I mean that in a ‘I-find-you-funny-and-cute-and-think-it-would-nice-to-get-out-of-here-and-get-to-know-you-better-not-a-get-you-alone-to-see-what-kinda-panties-you-are-wearing-though-I-wouldn’t-mind-knowing’ kinda way. A nerdy smile on his lips, Autumn couldn’t help but laugh and nod, agreeing to get out of there with this Ryan Summers.
Looking for Katie, the girl was nowhere in sight, most likely a “victim” to one of the other guys, just another number for the boy’s ego, not that Katie minded any. Knowing she would have to tell Katie all about Ryan the next day, she was more worried about what was going to happen, what story she was going to tell her friend.
Following Ryan through the crowd to the door, she took one last sip on her beer before she set it down, Ryan doing the same and opening the door, motioning for her to make her exit first.
“Such the gentleman.” Leaning in close, she could smell his cologne, and the fact that he smelled so good was just another reason she found him so very, very attractive. Feeling a little uninhibited, most likely from the few sips of beer she’d had (Autumn was a light weight when it came to drinking), she thought she could reward Ryan with just a tidbit of information. “And by the way, they are Pink, with frilly white trim, and these little red hearts on the cheeks.” Planting a kiss on his cheek, she pulled away with the biggest grin upon her lips, unbelieving what she had just said, but rather proud that she had, leaving Ryan to realize what he’d just been filled in on.
And when it occurred to him what she had just told him, he was quick to catch up to her, just as big a grin on his face, and his eyes wide as he pictured those panties on his “kitten”.
That night, the two had gone for a long walk, eventually Ryan giving Autumn his jacket, her loving the gesture, and the two walking and talking for hours. She told him about how she was so close of becoming a teacher, her dream. Explained what the ring she wore on a chain around her neck was.
“It had been my grandpa’s wedding band. He was my favorite person in the world, and when he died, my grandmother gave me the ring. It’s like my lucky charm.”
“Does it work?” Ryan asked, his hands in his pockets, and the goosebumps on his arms going away. He was freezing, but he wasn’t going to ask for his jacket back.
When the conversation turned to him talking, he told her about his parent’s divorce, how his little brother was a flute prodigy, and how in a week from that night, Ryan would be leaving for basic training in the Army. A military police job awaiting him, she seemed sad till he told her he was just a reservist, which made her feel a little better, but not the much.
At the end of that night, she exchanged number’s and shared a long, passionate kiss before parting ways. The next day Autumn had been the one to text him first. They met for lunch. Then dinner. And they saw each other every day till he left. And even then she wrote him a letter every day, well, at least one letter every day.
She went and seen him when he graduated basic training, meeting his parents and little brother. They talked on the phone every chance they could when he was in AIT. And when he finally came home, they were inseparable.
The next Halloween, a year after they had met, Ryan proposed, to which Autumn accepted and the two were married a week later, the two too impatient to wait. Giggling like a school girl when it was finally done, she loved her new name.
“Autumn Summers,” she would say over and over again to herself. “Mrs. Autumn Summers.”
The last pieces of candy taken by Optimus Prime, Autumn wished the child a happy Halloween and got up to retrieve more candy, a few more bags sitting right inside the house by the front door. Grabbing her beer as she stood, she paused to listen to the baby monitor, April still fast asleep. Taking a long gulp of her beer, Autumn had a foot inside the front door when she was stopped in her tracks, her heart skipping a beat when she heard what she heard.
“Knights in white satin, never reaching the end. Letter’s I’ve written, never meaning to send.” It was Ryan’s ringtone. Coming from her phone. Her Iphone that was dead. Dropping the candy bowl, dropping the beer bottle, she turned slowly, tears welling in her eyes and she looked down upon the phone, the screen black, but the song playing. “Beauty I’d always missed with these eyes before, Just what the truth is, I can’t say anymore.”
Knights in White Satin by the Moody Blues. Both Ryan and Autumn had had a love for seventies psychedelic music. And that song, it was Ryan’s favorite. In her phone, that song was his, and only his tone. Not that it mattered. Her phone was dead. There was no way it could be playing. No way, she thought.
Moving back to the steps, falling to her knees, tears running free from her eyes, she just looked at her phone, stared at it. It was impossible, was all her thoughts were. Impossible for her dead Iphone to be playing that song. Her husband was dead, like the phone. Just a month before their daughter had been born, he had been killed in a roadside bomb. Breathing hard, Autumn was scared, shaking her head as she clenched her eyes shut tight, just wanting the phone to shut up, but too afraid to touch it.
Reaching for her necklace, it was the first time since Ryan’s death she had done so, but her neck was bare, her grandfather’s ring absent from where it had hung for years. Before each of Ryan’s deployment’s she’d given it to him, making him promise to bring it back. She’d always believed the ring to be lucky, hoping it’s luck would keep her husband safe, bring him back to her. But apparently it wasn’t lucky enough.
Feeling her heart beating, thudding in her chest, the Iphone silenced as she was startled by another, a young child at the foot of her steps.
“Mrs. Summers,” the child had spoken, spooking Autumn, making her squeal and jump a bit. The little boy, Steven Price, another of her students, was dressed as a pirate, and standing there, he had an apologetic look upon his face, not meaning to startle his teacher.
“Steven. Yes, Steven,” she said, wiping her tears away, trying to remain calm. Giving the Iphone one last look, she wasn’t sure if she had been imagining the song playing, or if it really had been heard.
“Here,” Steven said, holding out an envelope. “The soldier man across the street wanted me to give this to you.” Autumn, reaching to take the envelope, looked across the street but only saw kids walking back and forth, no soldier. Taking the envelope, Autumn read the words written upon it as Steven just walked away, turning to move on to the next house for more candy.
A promise is forever. The words written on the envelope. Crying harder, Autumn recognized the handwriting. It was impossible for her not to. It was Ryan’s. Running fingers over the letters, it was impossible. Just like her dead phone ringing, it was impossible. Opening it, there was a letter within, but there was something else as well.
Pulling the letter free, Autumn turned the envelope over, and falling free, much to her shock, was her grandfather’s ring, still on the chain. Her breath caught in her throat, Autumn sobbed heavily. Large tears forming from her chestnut eyes, they ran slowly down her cheeks, meeting at her chin, coming together to fall, the large tear drop hitting the ring itself upon her lap.
Looking up again, there was still no solider across the street. Part of her wanted to see her husband standing there, while the rest of her wasn’t sure what to think. What was happening? She did believe in ghosts, but she never thought something like this would ever happen to her. Where she thought her grandfather’s ring had been lost when the bomb killed her husband, there it was on her lap. And still unread in her hand was a letter, Autumn afraid to open. Afraid to read what was written.
One more look up, still nothing to shock and awe her, just trick-r-treaters walking back and forth, she slowly opened the letter, her eyes closed the whole time, Autumn taking a deep breath before beginning to read.
I didn’t mean to scare you with the phone. Didn’t think you’d answer, but hey, a guy can hope, right? This is all so hard to believe, I know. But, a promise is a promise, and I promised to bring back that ring.
I miss you. And April. I watch you both, make sure you’re safe. You smile in your sleep still. And talk in your sleep. Incoherent gibberish.
Autumn laughed. It was definitely her husband’s hand that had written this letter. Even after death, he was still able to find a laugh in anything. Smiling so big her eyes squinted, forcing a few more tears from her eyes, she continued reading.
I’m sorry I can’t come home. I really am. I miss your kisses. I miss your touch. I miss you. I wish I could hold our baby girl, which April is the most beautiful girl I’ve ever laid my eyes upon. She gets that from you. And I bet she gets that weird star thing you can do with your tongue from you too.
Anyhoo, I’m always here with you Autumn. Always watching you, keeping you and April safe. So, I did come home, I’m just not going to ever clean out the garage for you babe.
And if you are thinking, there is no way your husband is a ghost, or your guardian angel, there is an “F’in” way.
I love you Autumn Summers.
P.s. Look up.
Doing as the letter said, Autumn looked up to finally see him, Ryan, standing there across the street from their home. Dressed in his service dress uniform, his hands were in his pockets and he was smiling. Looking at him, he looked handsome, but it was obvious that there was something otherworldly about him. Unnaturally bright, it was like someone had turned up the contrast on her husband.
Going to stand, going to run to him, he shook his head, not wanting her to be disappointed. She couldn’t hold him. Couldn’t kiss him. It was taking a lot of energy to just be seen by her. No one else could see him, and that was a helluva trick that took him quite a while to learn, him having practiced it on the old couple that lived down the street. The one’s that had always given him weird looks when he had been living.
Pulling his right hand free from his pocket, he placed his right index finger to his nose, and like it was a button, his tongue slid out through his lips and smile. Autumn laughing, she did the same. That had been there “thing”, doing that to one other whenever they were at gatherings, parties, too far away from each other to talk, but still wanting to be silly and showed they loved each other. His hand falling back to his side, Ryan mouthed that he loved her, a shiny tear falling from his eye.
“I love you too,” Autumn whispered, watching as he disappeared in a bright flash. Sitting there, holding her letter, more tears ran from her eyes, but these were tears of happiness. Putting the necklace around her neck, she felt a brush on her cheek, a familiar feeling, like Ryan’s fingers brushing her cheek, brushing her hair away from her face.
Taking a deep breath, sighing deeply, Autumn was happy. Watching kids walk by, laughing, some already digging into their candy bowls, Autumn heard something that didn’t scare her at all. Coming from the baby monitor, she heard Ryan, and focusing on his voice, she had missed it so.
“I love you baby girl,” Ryan said, talking to his sleeping daughter, the baby monitor picking it up, Autumn sitting, an audience to a ghost father’s love. “Daddy’s here. Daddy’s always gonna be here.”
Knowing her husband was there, knowing he was her husband forever, well after death did its part, Autumn knew she loved him just as much then as when he was alive. The amount of effort he had to have gone through to return the necklace, the write the letter, she felt that she had to return the favor. And she knew just how. Gathering the baby monitor and her phone, she would clean the beer and broken glass later. She had a pair of pink panties with white frilly trim to find. Her husband was going to get a show that night.