Where Promises Die Preview

Chapter One

Summer 2004

“Grace, come here.” Eisav waved to the auburn-haired girl with wide, jade eyes.

He had known her all of two weeks, and in that time the young angel did not mouth a word. Despite her timid demeanor and quiet tongue, he could tell through her intense gazes and eyes that danced with curiosity that he intrigued her. Holding on to her white dress, she hesitantly took a few steps toward him. He pointed up to the sky, and she, following his instruction, lifted her eyes. Her head tilted to the side and her jaw slightly slackened. The twinkle in her eyes could not be missed. Deep in the forest, where the silence was so stark you could hear air rustling the leaves of lush trees that gave off the scent of nature, Eisav watched the beautiful eleven-year-old girl as she took in what he assumed was her first sunrise. Dawn broke over the undulating hills of this beautiful town she would now call home.

The peach and pink swirls running through the horizon reminded him of sherbet ice cream, and he wondered if she liked sherbet or maybe she was more of a chocolate lover. As he gazed at her watching the sunrise, he noticed she was frowning. It irked him that she seemed sad. He wanted to know what was troubling her, only he didn’t want to push. Other than his three older sisters, he didn’t have much experience with girls. He was, after all, a thirteen-year-old boy living in a devoutly Christian household.

“Isn’t it beautiful? The dawn of a new day brings with it so many possibilities. It’s beautiful, Grace, just like you. You have the face of an angel. I’m sure your voice is just as sweet. You should really speak.” Eisav tried to coax the young girl into talking. He definitely had a way with words and understood enough to know it wasn’t healthy not to speak at all. Grace was the daughter of his mother’s best friend, Lena. Lena had moved away from their hometown in Iowa in her mid-twenties finally settling in New York many years ago. Upon Lena’s death last month, she left the care of Grace to his parents. Poor Grace spent days in foster care back in New York while the paperwork was processed, and now she was living in Sade, Iowa, population: 2,500. Eisav didn’t know much about New York, but he had looked it up online one night when he sneaked into his father’s home office. He learned that New York City was a bustling city center with a population of eight million people and couldn’t fathom a population that large or a city that could house so many people. It was definitely a far cry from the simple, quiet life in Sade. Even at thirteen Eisav understood change wasn’t easy, especially when it came in spades and especially when you were an eleven-year-old who had just lost the only parent you’d ever known. Eisav thought of how he would feel if one of his parents died, and he immediately felt a pain in the center of his heart. Grace must have been experiencing that exact same pain.

Grace had arrived to Sade four weeks prior, wearing a simple pair of jeans and a T-shirt that had a picture of a half-dressed girl and the name Britney Spears. Her mother must not have been an avid Christian like his parents. He pictured her mother to be something like the photos of the New Yorkers he’d seen on the internet that wore fashionable clothes, high-heeled shoes, and bright smiles. It made him sad that Grace never smiled, also knowing how different his parents were and how difficult it must have been for Grace to say goodbye to her worn-out jeans and T-shirt in favor of long skirts and simple cotton shirts with no logos. Eisav had gotten a glimpse of another world when he rode his bike into Des Moines to meet other kids his age. Although Des Moines was only thirteen miles away, it was like another world because those kids weren’t forced to learn the Bible every night. Those kids were allowed to be friends with girls and didn’t have to follow everything their priest told them to do. In fact, just last week Eisav’s priest had asked him to come over and cut his grass for free. Eisav thought it was a ridiculous request, but when his father found out his son hadn’t agreed, Eisav’s father said that he was simply a foul-mouthed boy who was up to no good. Then his father grounded him for two full days. Eisav spent two lonely days in his room. He almost lost his mind because his father only left religious readings for him and wouldn’t allow any technology. Luckily, Eisav had the lucrative skill of sneaking into his father’s office late at night to search the internet. It was then he discovered the real world of music and art, using his father’s headphones he would watch music videos on Napster. It was during those few stolen moments in his father’s office that the idea of becoming a musician planted itself into his head. It was also how Eisav knew who Britney Spears was, although admittedly he wasn’t a fan of her music.

As the sun slowly rose above the horizon, Eisav watched Grace intently. As her eyes twinkled, her breathing seemed even and a slow smile curved her lips. It was a rare moment, indeed, to see her content and at ease. Most of the time she looked frazzled and unsure. He figured it was because she probably found the change of scenery and the slow, easy pace of life in Sade to be very different from New York. He wondered if his large family overwhelmed her, since he knew she was an only child. He always wondered what it would be like to be an only child. He loved his sisters dearly, but his twin Jacob had always been a different story. Jacob was more like a thorn in Eisav’s behind and since his sisters were years older, Eisav usually kept to himself—until Grace made an appearance at the front door of the Duncan home four weeks prior. Eisav had immediately tried to take on the role of gracious host as he’d been taught. Problem was Jacob had also set his sights on Grace and wanted to play the same role. There was only room for one host, which Eisav assumed should be him since he could tell that Grace wanted it that way.

The Duncan children had been given little information about Grace. They knew Grace’s mom and their own mother were childhood friends. They knew Mrs. Roberts once lived in Des Moines but their mother was vague as to why she left. She simply stated Lena had always been the artsy type and didn’t enjoy country life and that was why she left for the big city. There were two things clear to Eisav: Grace was suffering the loss of a mother she adored, and she was definitely intrigued by him—or else he wouldn’t have caught her watching him on so many passing moments. She certainly didn’t look at his twin Jacob in the same manner. Eisav had a knack for detail and for reading people. He was sure that under the grief blanketing Grace, there was a happy girl full of life, a wild soul like himself. Eisav believed that he and Grace were kindred spirits. He hoped he was right.

His connection to Grace was as organic as nature, like a rainbow after a sun shower. Maybe he was drawn to her because his siblings viewed her as different since she wouldn’t speak; he’d heard them on several occasions, speaking in hushed tones, trying to guess why an eleven-year-old girl chose to be mute. Eisav eavesdropped on a conversation a few days prior. His sisters were gathered in Greta and Ida’s room, whispering. He had stood by his doorframe, the door halfway closed. He only noticed Grace standing out in the hall after all his sisters presented their judgmental opinions. Grace had overheard the conversation because her eyes filled with tears. Greta, his eldest sister, and his middle sister, Ida, had been whispering about how tough it must be to find yourself a part of a new family. They commented on her clothes when she first arrived and how awkward she seemed in Father Joseph’s church. Eisav knew his sisters probably meant no harm and figured they were pointing out the differences between Grace and themselves; Grace was a city girl thrown into farm life. Despite their intentions, Eisav could tell Grace was hurt by their words. In Eisav’s eyes, words were stronger than sticks and stones, despite the nursery rhyme. He understood what it was like to be an outsider because his family treated him like one all his life. His own father berated him on numerous occasions calling him the black sheep of the family simply because he was not able to follow the teachings of the Christian church the way his other siblings did. So, yes, Eisav understood Grace’s anguish in that moment. He even whispered “kindred spirits” to himself as he watched her from afar. Then he grabbed his notebook and got to work writing lyrics about a girl who lost her home and found solace in a new friend. In his mind he was the new friend.

Things began to change for Eisav once Grace arrived. Some stolen moments with her proved to be his happiest moments. Making her smile had given him purpose. It wasn’t just her beauty, her long auburn mane and round jade eyes, that intrigued him. It was more the way she surveyed him as if he were a wonder. The way she watched him jotting things down frantically in his notebook. The way she admired him as if he were the most striking boy she had ever seen. Those moments reeled him in. When he would sing a song he’d written, she would listen to it as if the rest of the world stood still. When she closed her eyes, she felt his words and swayed from side to side in blissful harmony. It made him burst with pride. No one had ever made him feel so capable or accomplished in his life. Most of all it was her smile that captured his heart.

That was why he made it his duty to pull a daily smile from her. With each smile achieved, he was building the foundation for something much larger. A connection that went beyond the need for words.

The strength of their bond became clear one evening last week when Eisav’s father had just come down on him hard. Eisav left the house saying he was going to check on the chickens and bumped into Grace. She stalked over to him immediately, tilting her head and glaring at him through sad eyes. She placed a hand on his cheek and nodded her head. Even without words, he could tell she cared; it meant everything to him. That was why he forced her out of bed so early on this Sunday morning because he was sure that the breaking dawn would put a smile on her face. It was another smile to add to the list of smiles meant only for him.

His plan had worked. She looked radiant. It was a breathtakingly beautiful moment. Even without words to communicate, she would sometimes look to Eisav and make a ‘snapshot’ movement with her finger as if she was taking a picture with a camera. Sometimes he hoped that her mind was indeed like a camera and she would press ‘click’ so she could savor the moment in her mind forever. Grace turned her head to look up to him and did the finger clicking motion again as the sun rose higher in the sky.

“You like the view? Huh?” he asked.

She nodded.

He was dying to hear her voice. After interacting with her for weeks, his curiosity was growing and his need to hear her laughter began to consume him. If only he could somehow break through the wall she erected that prevented her from speaking, then he would know he had done something right.

“You’re going to talk again, Grace. I just know it.” Eisav smiled down to her, trying to reassure her. Didn’t we all need some encouragement once in a while? He knew he needed someone to lift his own spirits.

His soft voice caused Grace to draw her brows together, and she pulled her gaze to the ground. When her gaze returned to him, her wide green eyes met his and there was a small curve to her lips.

It made his heart feel warm, something he was unaccustomed to. The burden of being the black sheep in the family had been something he could not escape. His father, Isaac, had told Eisav he made a big mistake naming him; clearly, he brought a bad omen onto Eisav by having him share his namesake with Eisav from the Bible. According to the Old Testament, Eisav had been a warrior and a good hunter, but in the end he also wanted to kill his brother Jacob. Eisav’s father constantly expressed his regret when Eisav didn’t want to attend church on Sundays, when he refused to use his beautiful voice for church choir, and when Eisav wrote lyrics that weren’t in accordance to Father Joseph’s religious values.

The Duncan family had strong roots in Sade, Iowa. Eisav’s grandfather owned the farm they lived on and the Duncan children grew up tending to it. The hundred-acre farm had been in the family for one hundred years. It was a picturesque piece of land with a pond at the edge and a beautiful forest thick with trees. The edge of the land was Eisav’s most cherished place. He came to the forest for inspiration, for freedom from his father’s strict rules, and to just take in the beauty of his surroundings. Before Grace’s arrival, Eisav never brought anyone with him to his special place.

Today had been the exception. Eisav gazed into the depths of Grace’s emerald eyes, trying to coax her into speaking. They had developed a common understanding and could communicate without words, but it was important for her own wellbeing that she spoke. That was why Eisav kept trying.

“Why don’t you speak, Grace? Maybe I can sing a song … just for you?” he offered, hoping to win her over. Having been put down most of his life by his parents, he felt like he didn’t have much going for him, but he did have a nice voice. Her eyes turned bright like the sun, and he knew that was exactly what she wanted. Her lips parted and she took a soft breath the minute he began to sing.

With a palm over his heart, Eisav recited the first words that came to mind.

Green-eyed angel, eyes so bright.

Don’t look sad tonight. The stars are shining in the sky.

Your dark hair flows and it’s such a sight.

Don’t stay quiet anymore.

Please, angel, speak to me.

Because your green eyes they shine so bright and your dark hair is now

catching the light and if I am being honest here I’d say that you literally

 just took my breath away.  

As Eisav finished the last words to a melody in his head, he noticed Grace’s eyes dancing with delight. Then it happened. Her lower lip began to quiver, and she looked as if she wanted to say something but was struggling.

“It’s okay.” Eisav placed a soft hand on her shoulder and spoke with a quiet voice. His family only thought poorly of him, the misbehaved son always getting into trouble. They would have never guessed he would be the one to break through to the silent angel with trauma etched on her perfect features.

Grace’s lips continued to quiver as she opened her mouth to speak, but nothing came out.

“Breathe, just breathe.” She was trying so hard with no result. He just wanted to relax her. She paused and took in a long breath followed by a shaky exhale, and he nodded to her in encouragement. “It’s okay, Grace. I’m here and I’m very patient.” Eisav said, knowing it was all true. Life in his hometown was slow. People there had time on their hands, and so did he. He could spend hours on end in the forest or swimming in the pond. Of course this also meant he lost time and didn’t do his chores.

Finally, the angel spoke.

Two words.

“You promise?” Grace’s words were hoarse and choppy, but they pulled at something deep in his heart and a slow smile formed on his mouth. He hadn’t realized what her response meant at first, but then he realized he’d told her he was patient. It was the truth.

“I promise, Grace. I promise to always be patient.” Eisav reassured the scared young girl nodding her head in return.

Then she did something he didn’t expect. She spoke. “That song was beautiful. My mama used to read poems to me. You’re talented, I know it.” Grace’s lip curved on one corner, and Eisav’s heart burst just a little bit more. His family always put his songs down and accused him of ungodly things, but the angel in front of him liked what she heard.

“Why thank you, Grace. It was easy to make something up when looking at you,” Eisav responded with assurance. The young girl’s cheeks flushed a rosy pink, and Eisav liked having that effect on her. At thirteen, he knew a pretty girl when he saw one, and Grace was purely divine; she was an angel, after all. Looking at the pond in the distance, Eisav got an idea. “Hey, Grace, why don’t you come for a swim with me in the pond? On a muggy spring day like today, you’re going to enjoy the cool water. I love playing in that pond.”

Grace nodded her head again, and Eisav reached down and took her hand, guiding her to the small pond. She followed willingly. As they approached the pond, she looked down at her white dress. It had been a hand-me-down from one of his sisters, but it showed no signs of yellowing from the wash.  Grace suddenly looked unsure about her decision to swim. Eisav knew his mother would be angry with him, but this was also his special place a place he now shared with Grace. The others didn’t come here to swim. During their free time, they read the Bible. They didn’t take walks through nature or enjoy the cleansing and refreshing pond. The pond was his. A place he relaxed with no interference from anyone. A place he could be himself. Where he wrote songs, poems, and anything else that came to mind.

“You can swim in that dress. I will take the blame if Mother says anything to you,” Eisav reassured her. He wasn’t scared of his parents. Getting in trouble had become second nature. He still sensed her hesitation.

She followed him and shrugged her shoulders.

“I’ll go first,” Eisav said, running backward in the grass as he whipped off his white T-shirt, which had stuck to his skin from the muggy May weather. He took off running straight into the pond, flying into the air and screaming loudly, his sounds freeing his expression filled with excitement. As Eisav’s body connected with the water, his head went under and came up a moment later. Smiling widely, he shouted, “Now it’s your turn!”

He had expected her to walk up to the water’s edge and slowly slide herself inside.  That was not what she did. She backed herself up as he did moments before and took off running in the same wild manner, her arms flailing beside her as she ran toward the water. When she hit the edge of the pond, she jumped high and splashed into the cool water, boisterous laughter escaping her perfect pink lips. Eisav had never felt so happy before. He had found a friend just as wild at heart as he was, which was hard to find in his neck of the woods. He decided in that moment that she was a keeper.

Her laughter was contagious, and they spent the remainder of the morning playing in the pond, splashing water at each other and playing tag. Grace’s voice was more beautiful than Eisav could have imagined. She was special, and she was his very own kindred spirit.

As Eisav noticed the sun settle in the middle of the sky, he realized it must be lunchtime. He also realized he’d kept Grace from church and his parents would be furious with him—again. It must have been why she was wearing the perfectly ironed white dress. None of that mattered to him, though, because he enjoyed spending time with his friend more than he enjoyed anything in life. Eisav also got her to speak. That act alone made him feel proud. It made him feel like he had goodness in him, that he wasn’t the bad son his parents made him feel like all his life. They’d always compared him to Jacob: Why can’t you study like your brother? Why do you have to give us such trouble about going to church? Why can’t you listen like Jacob? His parents didn’t understand that he was simply different. That he was intrigued by a different life. That he couldn’t mold himself into something he wasn’t. As much as he craved his parents’ approval, he was also determined to do what he felt was right. That was why he was grounded so often, but today was different. He wouldn’t meet his father’s harsh tongue or another punishment because his parents were sure to give him a pat on the back for getting sweet little Grace to speak. Or so Eisav thought.

As Eisav and Grace grew tired and hungry from their busy morning in the forest and pond, they decided to make their way back to the main house. “Did you have fun, Grace?” Eisav turned to the pretty girl. Her auburn hair was wet and hung in thick dark strips down her back. Her white dress stuck to her skin. Even in her rumpled state, she was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen.

Grace nodded. “I had so much fun. The most fun I’ve had since …” Grace paused and her face fell. She looked like she wanted to say something, but instead stared at him with a longing need, opening her mouth and then closing it.

“What is it, Grace? You can tell me anything.”

Grace clamped her eyes shut. “Maybe one day. I can’t today.” When she opened her eyes, she smiled.

Eisav tilted his head to the side and a slow grin played across his lips. “You promise?” He repeated her own words to him about being patient and liked the idea of keeping promises that were special between Grace and himself. It made him feel like a good person. His parents had accused him of breaking promises too many times.

“I promise.” Grace blinked and bowed her head, and he knew in that moment that he could trust her, that she wouldn’t let him down or look down on him like the rest of his family. There was something pure and trusting in her gaze and for the first time in his life, he felt deserving of that trust. After all, he got her to speak and smile. No one else had managed that.