Monday, 26 December 2016

The Promise l 25 - The Promise

It was as if the hand of God had fallen from Heaven to smite Evelyn Goldsworthy's house from the face of the planet. There was a colossal crack, as if the world itself were breaking in two, and then a pillar of fire burst forth to link the sky to the ground. It blazed amidst a cloud of debris as black as the ace of spades. Cherry felt her teeth ache and her heart sink as she watched the rear-view mirror light up like day. So much for this not being a movie, the stunned little thought to herself. She couldn't tear her eyes from the spectacle. Or being subtle. 

Raymond pulled over to the curb, and for a long moment all any of them could do was peer through the back window at the cataclysm they'd wrought. Wreckage rained from the night sky like shrapnel, and Cherry's heart further sank from her gut to her toes as she saw just how far some of it was being flung. They'd not only nuked Evelyn's house, they'd nuked a sizeable chunk of suburban Thornbridge. The realisation that freeing her sister was going to potentially injure innocent strangers left a bitter taste in her mouth. She'd gone from being a liberator to an arsonist. How had it come to this?

Her sister evidently shared her train of thought. "If I'd known this was going to happen, I wouldn't have even thought of leaving." Dawn ripped her gaze from the carnage to look Cherry in the eye, her face pallid and distraught. The chubby little wrung the hem of her nightie as she said, "I never thought I'd say this, but spending a lifetime filling my pants suddenly doesn't sound so bad. I might have even smiled as I did it."

"Speak for yourself. I'm just disappointed Mama wasn't inside." Lucas had to physically stand up to peer out the back windscreen. The inferno eddied and swirled on his face like rippling water. "It's the least she deserves."

Cherry grimaced. Horrible though Evelyn may be, the little wasn't one to wish death upon anyone. "That's awful."

"More awful than what she did to me and your sister?"

Raymond spoke up before his roommate could force herself to make a half-hearted rebuttal. "We should get going," the Amazonian waiter said quietly. His knuckles were white on the wheel, and unlike his companions, their chauffeur seemed physically incapable of looking anywhere but the road ahead of them. Sweat lined his brow despite the chill of the night. "We've already stayed to long."

He wasn't wrong."Keep it together, big man." Cherry gave her roommate's thigh a reassuring pat, wishing she could feel as confident as she sounded. As it was, she wasn't confident she was capable of controlling her bladder anymore, let alone ending the night a free woman. "The end's in sight, isn't it? Let's get moving."

"I guess you're right."

"Aren't I always?"

He didn't look convinced. All the same, Raymond gave a curt, reluctant nod, and then they were off once more, rushing down the streets of Thornbridge as if the devil himself were snapping at their heels.

*

“ – except roll down the window and let the wind blow back your hair,” an earnest voice half spoke, half sang over a frolicking piano line. A glockenspiel chimed in agreement, echoing the melody of its companion. “The night’s busting open and these two lanes will take us anywhere...”

“Turn it off,” Dawn ordered thickly.

“You don’t like the Boss?” Raymond’s voice was a full octave higher than its usual, gravelly self. “Everyone likes the Boss.”

“We got one last chance to make it real...”

“I don’t care. Turn it off.”

“...and trade in these wings for some wheels...”

Seemingly unperturbed by Dawn's protests, the Amazon then took it upon himself to indulge his inner rock star. “Climb in back, heaven’s waiting down on the tracks,” Raymond attempted to sing. He looked ready to cry. “Whoa, oh, come take my – ”

Her friend was never going to find employment in the E Street Band. Cherry punched the off button and slunk back in her seat. “We just nuked her house,” the little muttered, closing her eyes and resting her head against the leather. “And you’re fucking singing?”

“I thought you might appreciate my singing because we just nuked her house. You all look like you’re about to piss yourself.”

“So do you.”

“Exactly.” The shakiest laugh Cherry had ever had the misfortune of hearing followed Raymond's remark. “Ex-fucking-actly...and unlike some of us, I'm not equipped to deal with that particular situation." He threw a pointed glance at the junction of the little's legs before returning his attention to the road.

All Cherry could do was cringe and pretend she didn't know what he was talking about...although once again, her roommate had a point. They couldn't take back the destruction of Evelyn's...well, everything, so what were they achieving by stressing like they were? What was done was done. They'd be better off looking forward to all the things they now had to look forward to.

If we we don't get arrested. How many years in prison do you get for incinerating a city block? 

"So how does it feel to be a free woman?" Cherry called over her shoulder, pondering whether she'd prefer living the rest of her life behind the bars of a crib or a cell. "You're wearing your last diaper, sis."

Her response was a disbelieving snort. "I wish," Dawn disagreed. The pudgy little glanced down at her crotch, where the bulge of her underwear was outlined in perfect clarity against her leggings. "My potty training is fifty fifty at best these days. I'm not getting out of these anytime soon." She sighed and glanced across at Lucas. "Although I guess you have it worse."

"I'd kill for fifty fifty," the inbetweener agreed. He slapped the padding between his legs, grimacing at the muted thud the collision made. "You didn't have that disk mess with your head. You can at least get your potty training back if you work at it; mine's gone for good."

"We'll get you to that Moore guy Evie was talking about," Cherry reassured him. She tried a smile on for size. "She said that was what he specialised in, didn't he? Un-messing heads?"

"I guess." Lucas' own smile was tentative, but a tentative smile was better than no smile. "Hey, maybe you're right."

They were quiet for a short while then, content to watch the world whiz by the window, when Dawn at last said, "This is really happening, isn't it?"

Cherry met her sister's eye in the rear-view mirror. "You better believe it."

"I mean, you're right." Dawn nodded thoughtfully at Lucas. "I will eventually get my potty training back, and you will eventually have your head sorted out. Ma - Evie's not going to be around to stop that from happening. We're going to go home, we're going to get out of these stupid clothes, we're going to go back to being normal people, and we'll...we'll..." her voice trailed off. "Man, we're going to be normal people again. We're going to be adults."

The nervous smile Cherry had sighted on Lucas' face before began to blossom into something magical as he too began to consider the freedom his future held. "You're right," he said slowly. A stupid grin broke out across his face. "Geez, I can go back to school. I can drive again. I can..."

"You can see your sisters again," Cherry suggested, suppressing a grin of her own.

The look on Lucas' face made everything she'd suffered through over the last week worthwhile.

Dawn evidently agreed, because she immediately began to laugh. She threw herself at her adoptive brother, hugging him as tight as the seatbelt allowed. "Oh my God, we're not related anymore!" She ruffled his tuft of hair and beamed at the startled boy. "Thank Christ. You're the worst little brother a girl could ask for."

Lucas looked as if he'd seen a ghost. "Thank you?" He cast a tortured glance Cherry's way, smothered in his companion's meaty embrace. "Dude, you're sweating like a pig. Get off me."

"Nope." Dawn rocked her companion in her arms as if he were a teddy bear. Her laughter tapered off to ecstatic giggles, and to the shock of absolutely everyone present she plastered a fat, wet kiss on the smaller boy's cheek. "We got away, Lucas. We got away!"

They pulled into their motel's carpark then, and the very first thing Cherry noticed was that their room light was on. Her joy evaporated instantly. That golden window could herald only one thing, and that one thing could only be Sylvia. Neither Cherry or Raymond had heard from the giantess since her dramatic departure yesterday afternoon, and she felt her heart sink at the realisation that they were going to have to get reacquainted.

"She ruins everything, doesn't she?" Raymond muttered to himself as they came to a stop in front of their door, voicing the thoughts of everyone present. He glanced at Cherry. "What do we do?"

The little sighed. "Do we have a crucifix handy?"

"I have one in my back pocket. Never leave home without it." Raymond shook his head and killed the engine. "Seriously, Cherry."

"How would I know? She's your girlfriend." She shrugged and returned her roommate's exasperated stare. "What was it you said yesterday? 'Get out of this room, get out of my life, and don't come back?' Just do that again, that did the trick."

"It obviously didn't do the trick. She's in there, isn't she?" Raymond grunted as he undid his seatbelt and kicked the door open. "And she's not my girlfriend anymore. You're the last person I'd expect to forget that. Come on, let's just get this over with."

Half a city removed from the ruins of Evelyn's mansion, the night was surprisingly quiet. Sirens could be heard wailing in the distance, but they were far enough away to be muted and inconsequential. The loudest sound was Cherry's own anxious breathing, and the crunch of their footsteps on gravel as they made the short trek to the door. After everything she'd endured over the last week, the little felt half in a dream as she watched her big sister toddle along in front of her, Lucas balanced precariously on her hip. Everything both girls had suffered through had built towards this moment, and now that it was here, it was almost hard to believe. Every trial, every scheme, every indignity had been a stepping stone bringing them that little bit closer to where they now stood. It was as awesome as it was unbelievable, and Cherry had to smile. Well, it's all over now.  

"Here we go," Raymond grumbled to himself as he fumbled with the key. He hesitated only long enough to make an agonised face at Cherry before letting himself inside. "Sylvia!" He called as he crossed the threshold, an entourage of littles hot on his heels. "I meant what I said yesterday, you're not going to get any sympathy. You've got ten seconds to leave before I call the police, so you should...uh..."

His voice trailed off, and peering around the Amazon's legs, Cherry quickly surmised the reason why. There was a little girl standing in the far corner of the room, facing the wall with her hands planted firmly on top of her head. The back of her dress was tucked into the waistband of a diaper discoloured from overuse, revealing a pair of reddened thighs that had clearly endured a brutal spanking in the recent past. The girl squirmed at the sound of Raymond's voice, but she made no move to turn and face him.

The Amazon shot Cherry a quizzical look, which she could only return with a shrug. "Hello?" Raymond's voice was uncertain, and he crossed the room the way a tiger might stalk its prey. Cherry watched, feeling the first twinges of unease in her belly. She'd suffered enough deviations from the original plan for one night. Why was there a stranger in their room? "Little girl?"

"I'm sorry." The voice that spoke up from the corner was small, broken and awfully familiar. "You were right all along, I didn't know, I'm sorry, you've got to leave, Ray, she's insane, she's here, you've got to - "

Two things happened in that moment.

One, Raymond's hand fell upon the intruder's shoulder, and he spun her around to reveal the little girl in the loaded diaper was none other than his ex-girlfriend. Sylvia's face was flustered and streaked with tears, and she'd somehow managed to shave off over half her height since Cherry had last seen her, but there was no mistaking her long-time antagonist. The shrunken giantess stared up at her boyfriend with a potent mixture of terror and shame. "I'm sorry," Sylvia sobbed, shrugging free of his grasp and pressing herself against the wall. "I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry."

At the same time, the door dramatically slammed shut. Evelyn Goldsworthy stepped out of the corner, a frown on her lips and a gun in her hand.

Everything seemed to slow down. It was as if Cherry was watching the world in slow motion, as if her brain simply couldn't process the impossibility of the situation fast enough to run it in real time. The little's heart skipped a beat, then began to work overtime to catch up. She could see everything with perfect clarity - the way the firearm gleamed beneath the overheads, the way Evelyn's wrinkles were pulled taut as she scowled, the way her sister physically flinched and began to tremble. No, she wanted to shriek. No, you weren't meant to be here, we were so close. 

Her tongue felt like an anchor. Paralysed, all she could do was watch with round, horrified eyes. A gun, she has a gun!

"It's about time you lot showed up. If you'd taken any longer, your friend would have been too tired to stand up." A grim smile graced Evelyn's face as she surveyed the scene. Her gaze came to a rest on Cherry's face. "It's nice to see you again, Tyra. Or should I say Cherry?"

"What did you do to her?" Raymond spun away from his terrified girlfriend and took a threatening step towards the giantess, only to come to an immediate halt when she spun around to level the gun in his direction. His face collapsed into a mask of black fury. "What did you do to her?" 

"She shrunk her." Lucas' voice was meek and frightened. He'd slid off Dawn's hip at some point, and now he gesticulated wildly at the device in his adoptive mother's hand from the floor. "With that."

"The boy has the right of it, for once." Evelyn shrugged, as if the matter was of no more concern than a buzzing bee. She never removed Raymond from the sight of her gun. No, not a gun, Cherry abruptly realised. A shrink ray. The shrink ray. "Your friend here came to see me yesterday afternoon, and she had quite a tale to share. Something along the lines of how the girl I welcomed into my household wasn't who she said she was, and that she and her sociopath roommate were going to kidnap my daughter later that night." A hard glint appeared in the older woman's eye. "I already knew little Tyra wasn't who she said she was, but the kidnapping came as quite a shock. I had to do something about all that, didn't I?"

"So you shrunk her?"

"She thought I'd be happy to hear from her." Evelyn bared her teeth at Sylvia, who promptly cowered behind Raymond's leg. "Her, who conspired to take my daughter away from me. If she wants to tattle like a child, then she can be a child."

Sylvia's demotion to diapers, sweet though it may have been in other circumstances, was the last thing that concerned Cherry right then. "You knew?" the little blanched, suddenly dizzy. She thought she might be sick. "What do you mean, you knew? For how long?"

The giantess' eyes momentarily flickered to the little before returning to Raymond. "You weren't particularly crafty, dear. That's what I mean." She grimaced and shook her head. "I had my suspicions from the beginning - isn't there another girl named Tyra at Pumpkin's daycare? - but I knew for sure once you decided to open your mouth in the bathtub. Did you really think I'd leave you alone after the mess you made of my living room?" She clucked her tongue. "Come on, dear. I'm old, not senile."

Her heart was a stone in her throat. "But...you said nothing." Cherry glanced back to where Dawn stood frozen in the doorway. Her older sister's face was a rictus of terror. She supposed her own mustn't be all too dissimilar. "If you knew, why didn't you - "

"I was curious." Evelyn shrugged yet again. "And it wasn't like you ever had a chance, dear. You weren't getting into Annie's room by yourself, so there was no risk leaving you to your devices. The only real chance you had was tonight...and your friend ruined that by running her mouth."

"Ray, I'm sorry." Sylvia's voice was ragged. Her arms snaked around her boyfriend's leg, and she clung there like a koala in a tree. She buried her face in the back of his kneecap. "I was so mad yesterday, I never thought - "

Raymond recoiled from her touch. Wordless, he shook himself free and marched across the room to stand between the littles and their antagonist, pointedly ignoring the way Sylvia's face crumpled as a result. "What do you want?" he asked stiffly. He crossed his arms and glared daggers at the shrink ray scant inches from his face. "You're going to shrink me, too? Add me to your freak show?"

There was no amusement in Evelyn's smile. "You have to be very brave or very stupid to be running your tongue right now, all things considered."  

He didn't rise to the bait. "I asked you a question."

"I want my daughter." The giantess' glanced past Raymond to the obese little in the doorway, and for a split second she looked every year her age. It was only for a second, though. She shook her head, and once again she was as cold as ice. "And I want her sister. Tyra, Cherry, whoever she is on any given day. You can take the boy and leave, I don't give a fig for either of you. You just leave us be, and no one needs to get hurt."

"Leave you be to ruin my friend's life?" Raymond crossed his arms. "I don't think so."

"No?" Evelyn cocked the gun and raised it till it was level with the Amazon's face. "You're not exactly in any position to barter, dear."

Raymond stared down the barrel. A tiny bead of sweat dropped from his brow. "You're mad," he declared unsteadily. He balled his hands into fists, clenching and unclenching them over and over again. "Stark raving mad. You have no right, you - "

"You want to lecture me on who has the right? You, who broke into my house and abducted my daughter, want to tell me I have no right?"

"She's not your daughter." Raymond stood tall in the face of adversary. Had she not been terrified, Cherry would have beamed with pride. "We'll call the police."

"The police aren't like to believe a naked little with a tall tale, alone in a motel room at the crack of dawn." The gun was quivering in Evelyn's hand. "I've had quite enough of this nonsense, dear. This ends now. You can join the boy and your girlfriend in a crib, it's no skin off my nose. Pumpkin and I will drop the three of you off at the orphanage, and we'll go about our lives like this never happened. I'll be laughing all the way to - "

And that was when Lucas struck.

The in-betweener had managed to crawl into position, unnoticed whilst the spotlight was elsewhere, and now he threw all of his weight into the back of Evelyn's calf. The older woman staggered forward, cursing and twisting to lay eyes on her assailant. "What - " she managed to gasp, her eyes narrowing at the sight of her antagonist, but by then it was too late. Raymond struck out, fast as a striking snake, and the gun went flying. It sailed towards Cherry, and with adrenaline lancing through her veins, the little leapt to catch it. This is it, she thought wildly, watching the weapon draw closer and closer. This isn't over, we can still get out of here, I just need...to...

But as she had once reflected to Lucas, she was only the size of a chihuahua, and her legs simply weren't tall enough for the task. The gun sailed high over her grasping hands, crashing into the floor with a colossal clatter. Her heart in her throat, Cherry spun to find it, tasting bile and hearing a thunderous drumbeat in her ears...

...to find that Evelyn's hidden ace had landed right in front of Dawn, who promptly lunged to grab and level it at her adoptive mother. "Get back," she yelled in a shrill, terrified voice. Her grip on the weapon was clumsy and uncertain. "Get away from them, I'm warning you."

Evelyn's relief was palpable. She laughed a shaky laugh and opened her arms. "Pumpkin," she began with a tenuous smile. She began to move towards the little. "Pumpkin, look what these...these thugs have done to you and your Mama. You've got to - "

"These thugs are my friends." Dawn strode across the room, her nightgown swishing about her legs and the gun shaking in her hand. Taken by surprise, Evelyn squeaked and retreated. She found a wall at her back and a very angry little at her front. "And you are not my Mama. You never were."

"Pumpkin - "

"Dawn." Dawn raised the shrink ray straight up into Evelyn's face. "My name is Dawn."

 "I took you in." Evelyn's face was pale save for two bright spots high upon her cheekbones. "I could have had you arrested for what you did, and I took you in. I fed you from my table, I clothed you, I - "

"You only wanted me to replace your daughter. Your real daughter."

The giantess look as if she'd been struck. "Pumpkin - "

"DAWN."

"It's not fair." Evelyn yelped and flinched as her antagonist prodded her thigh with the barrel of the gun. "Everything I did, I did for my family. For Harry and...and for her. I did horrible, horrible things so they could live an easy life, and some monster murdered her before my eyes. My Annie was taken for me, because some monster couldn't wait another week for his fix." Her eyes began to water. "I didn't deserve to watch my daughter die. I didn't deserve to have my husband divorce me, to have him ha...hate me. I don't - "

"I am not Annabelle Goldsworthy."

The air left the giantess' lungs. "No, of...of course you're not." Tears began to fall down her cheeks in earnest. "No, heavens, you're not, but you're...you're all I have. Pumpkin, you have to - "

Dawn took a step back. "Stop calling me that." Her face was as wet as her mothers. "I'm not your pumpkin, damn you. Not anymore. My name is Dawn. DAWN."

"You can't do this to me." The giantess finally broke down completely. Her chest rose and heaved, and her voice was hoarse and hysterical as she sobbed, "Annie, you can't do this, I'm your Mama, how can you do this to your own Mama, please, you can't - "

Tears streamed down Dawn's face like swollen rivers. "You're not my Mama." She pulled the trigger. There was a blinding flash of green light, and then all there was was a shattered old lady with a red face and a snotty nose. Evelyn stared mutely, as if she didn't believe the little she'd cherished for so long had actually shot her, shocked into silence and inaction...

...and then the changes started, and she had no choice but to believe it.

"No," Evelyn gasped, hugging herself as her body began to fold into itself. Her arms disappeared into the sleeves of her coat, and her pants began to slide down her thighs. The giantess blushed, squealed and snatched them up, and as she did so her hairnet slid off her bun. It clung to the side for an instant like some grotesque insect before falling to the floor. "No, you can't do this, you can't...you...this isn't how it was meant to be."

She was fighting a losing battle with her clothing. Already, Evelyn had lost a third of her height, and all of a sudden she resembled nothing more than child playing dress-up in their parents clothing. For a long moment, she fought to right her clothes even as she found herself swimming inside them...until, recognising the futility of it all, she attempted to shed them completely. By then, however, she was too short to do so. Naked fear ran unchecked across the giantess' face as she realised her fate was inevitable, and with a miserable wail, Evelyn melted away into her clothes like a snowman in Summer. In the end, her best efforts left her nothing more than a struggling, misshapen lump beneath a pile of oversized clothing, no taller than the average little.

It took the older woman a minute to disentangle herself from her own attire. Clutching an enormous shirt about her body in an attempt to preserve what little was left of modesty, Evelyn fell to her knees and wept. "What have you done?" she lamented, hiding her face in her hands. Her body was wracked by sobs as violent as they were loud. "This isn't fair, you can't do this to me, I'm...I'm..."

"You're a little." Cherry could scarcely believe it, but her eyes did not deceive her. She was standing eye to eye with the woman that had made her and her sister's life hell. Even after spending a not inconsiderable amount of time in Lucas' presence, the fact that such a transformation was possible didn't fail to awe the little. "Jesus, you're even smaller than me."

It was small comfort to the traumatised giantess. All Evelyn could do was cry and mourn the loss of everything she'd ever held dear, loud enough for the dead to hear.

Dawn stood at the forefront of the scene, staring down at her reduced tormenter with morbid fascination. "It's the least you deserve," she said dully. The look on her face was equal parts disbelief, guilt and rage. "After everything you've done, a taste of your own medicine is getting off easy."

Evelyn didn't seem to hear her. She simply sobbed and sobbed and sobbed, something which apparently irritated Dawn to no end. The chubby little scowled at the wreck before her with disgust. "To think I was terrified of you," she wondered through gritted teeth. "You're pathetic. You were always pathetic."

"I just wanted us to be happy." Evelyn wiped at her eyes and sniffled dramatically. "You and me and your sister, just one big happy - "

"We can't stay here."

Cherry glanced up at her roommate. Raymond was as transfixed by the spectacle as anyone else in the room, but his face was drawn and exhausted where the rest were curious. He looked down at the little by his side and answered the question in her eyes with a sigh. "She's going to attract more attention than we need right now," he said in a detached voice. "And you better believe that there's going to be police scouring the city after what we did to her place. We need to pack up and go. Now."

That distracted Evelyn from her misery. She looked up, confusion etched into her flustered cheeks. "What are you talking about?" She looked from Raymond to Cherry and back again. "My place? What did you do to my place?"

Raymond elected not to answer that question. "Up we go," he said, and with no pretence of concern for the reduced woman's wellbeing he pulled her to her feet. It had the unintended side effect of causing Evelyn's shirt to fall away, and the newly-minted little squealed as her naked body was revealed in all it's glory. Before anyone could process the sight, she was being marched across the room and unceremoniously pushed into the bathroom.

"You can stay in here while we get our stuff together. Out of the way, where no one can accidentally hear you." Raymond glanced around the room for his associates' approval, and upon finding it, turned to meet his ex-girlfriend's traumatised gaze. His face was unreadable. "You too, Sylvia."

The giantess was hiding under the table, watching the proceedings with puffy, bloodshot eyes. They grew wide at the proclamation that she was to join Evelyn in the bathroom. "Ray - "

"It's not up for discussion."

"I tried to help you," the woman protested weakly. "As soon as you walked in, I told you it was a trap, that she was here, that - "

"Sylvia." Raymond's voice cracked as he spoke, and he cleared his throat before continuing. The night's events were finally taking their toll on the last Amazon standing, and it was with some effort that he finished, "Sylvia, you sold us out. Don't make this harder than it has to be."

Whatever she saw in her towering boyfriend's face ended whatever protests she was formulating. The once-giantess crawled out from under the table, brushing off her kneecaps and meekly crossing the room. "I still love you," she said quietly as she took her position beside Evelyn in the bathroom. She seemed utterly unperturbed by the crying, naked woman beside her. She had eyes only for Raymond, seeking absolution in his rugged visage.

"I know you do," her boyfriend responded. "I love you too."

With that, he closed the door, removing both women from his life forever. When he turned back to face what remained of his cohort, Raymond's face was as wet as anyone else's. He wiped at his eyes angrily before getting straight down to business.

"Neither of them can be allowed to convince anyone that we had anything to do with what happened tonight," he began. His voice was choked and thick. "We're going to drop them off at some etiquette school on the way out, and they can lose the use of their tongues. Better yet, we find someone that can change their faces around a little so they don't look like someone that might know something. We don't need the police to find a miniature Evelyn Goldsworthy. Agree?"

A taste of her own medicine indeed. The thought was an uneasy one, but Cherry nodded along with her accomplices all the same. "That's pretty messed up, Ray," she allowed quietly. She could see her misgivings mirrored on Lucas' face, and even Dawn looked a little skeptical. "Can't we just - "  

"Can't we just what?" Raymond shook his head. The Amazon looked less than happy, but his face was set. "If either one of them blabs about us being related to that explosion, we're toast. It's no less than she'd have done for us, Cherry. She said it herself."

She glanced past her roommate, towards the bathroom. She imagined Sylvia and Evelyn listening to their fate through the door and wondered what was going through their minds. "I guess you're right," the little conceded reluctantly. It galled her to stoop to the level of the woman she'd been working to thwart, but when she got down to it, what choice did they have? "I guess you're right."

"You don't need to guess. You know I'm always right." Raymond managed a weak smile and a phlegmy chuckle. "Come on, we don't have time to debate ethics. Pack your bags, Cherry. We're going home."

The Promise concludes 
(at last)
 in the Epilogue

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