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She Remembered Her Childhood Pinky Swear Promise

She was sad about her upcoming relocation to California. Then she remembered a promise she had made to her late best friend.

An illustration of a woman in a bath as angels swirl above; Illustration by Laura Pacheco

Morning rain tapped at the bedroom window, but it was my husband Noland’s gentle nudging that woke me up. “You were giggling in your sleep,” he said.

I blinked. “I was having the most wonderful dream.”

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Noland must have been relieved to see me in a good mood. Lately, I hadn’t been at my best. His tour of duty in the Air Force was coming to an end, and with it, our life in Ohio. Noland had a job waiting for him in Silicon Valley, California, so we were preparing to move, paring down our possessions and shipping them across the country.

California would be a whole new world for Noland, me and our 16-month-old son. A fresh start. It was exciting…but terrifying too. I’d grown up in Ohio. I’d never been to California. Never been on a plane. Never met my in-laws. And I knew this wouldn’t be the last move we’d make. The more I thought about it, the more I wanted to stay put.

“Let’s get a late start on this rainy day,” Noland said, probably eager to encourage my cheerfulness. “I’m going to make a batch of my chocolate chip and banana pancakes for breakfast. Why don’t you take a bath?”

Ten minutes later, I was soaking in frothy, lavender bubbles. My thoughts drifted to the dream I’d had, still vivid in my mind. In it, I was a kid again with my best friend, Judy.  Judy and I were inseparable growing up. We looked for adventure everywhere, riding around on our bikes or trekking through the woods. On Saturday nights in the summer, we brought a blanket out to the hill behind the gas station to watch free classic movies outdoors. Superman, Flash Gordon, Francis the Talking Mule—Judy and I watched them all.

Our favorite place was in the woods behind Judy’s house. In a certain spot, lightning had felled two trees to create a crude bench. That’s where Judy and I had been in my dream. Judy tried to teach me how to whistle on that bench, I thought, sinking deeper into my bath. She was a champion whistler. She could repeat songs, imitate birdcalls and get everyone’s attention with a loud, shrill note. But no matter how many times she showed me just how to place my fingers in my mouth to produce the sound, I never could. “It’s not fair,” I’d say when once more all I managed to produce was a wet raspberry sound. I couldn’t even whistle the regular way. But Judy never gave up on me.

Judy and I met for years on that felled-tree bench. When we were younger, we brought our dolls there to play with. Then it became the place we whispered about boys we liked. Finally, we used that spot to make plans for the future.

I wish I could talk to you about the future now, Judy, I thought as I got out of the tub. She had died in a car accident when she was only 19. I still missed her. For a moment, at least, I’d been with her again in the dream.

“Pancakes in 10 minutes!” Noland called from the kitchen.

I dried myself off, still thinking of Judy, our secret place, all those summer movies. As I was about to go into the kitchen, another memory struck clearly: Judy and me, lying on our blanket, kids without a care in the world. We’d just watched an old Superman movie together.

We were looking up at the stars when Judy said, “Let’s move to California after we graduate.”

California—the place where they made all those movies we loved. “Yes,” I said eagerly. “Let’s.”

Judy hooked her pinky around mine. “California,” she said. “Someday. Pinky swear.”

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“Pinky swear,” I solemnly repeated. “California.”

I stood there, the scent of my lavender bath on my skin, remembering the excitement I’d felt at the prospect of adventure. I might have even heard a faint whistle as the rainy wind hit the bathroom window. Judy’s dream had come at the perfect time.

After a stack of pancakes, I threw myself into packing up our bedroom. My doubts about California had all but disappeared. I was ready for the adventure, no matter what challenges it held. Noland stepped into the bedroom as I taped up another box.

“I haven’t heard you this happy in a while,” he said.

“Heard me being happy?” I said. “But I didn’t say anything.”

“I heard you from the other room,” he said. “You were whistling.”

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