A Promise To Keep

Chapter One: Monique

A frigidly cold wind blew in from south, which caused all of the beautiful azaleas in Monique Harrington's small, quaint garden to shrivel. They shriveled and withered just like her marriage was on the verge of doing. She sipped her warm hot cocoa, bundling herself deeper into her cardigan.

There were homemade oatmeal cookies on the beautiful island of her five year old kitchen, but no one there to eat them. Mark was supposed to have been home by now. Instead he was out doing goodness knows what on an important evening for their entire family. The snow was only lightly falling outside, but it didn't take four hours to get from downtown Boston to Brookline, Massachusetts.

She had spent all night baking, cooking, and preparing their spacious colonial style home for their family members, only to discover that everyone was coming three days earlier than expected, giving her little time to prepare, let alone talk with her husband or son. When Monique married Mark, she knew that things wouldn't be easy, but she never expected things to go so deeply astray.

Twirling her long hair wistfully, Monique remembered the good old days of living together in a small three bedroom apartment that she and Mark had shared as roommates with another student. In those days they were carefree undergrads, stumbling towards an unknown destiny. Now, bogged down by the monotony of a mortgage, bills, and 9-to-5 jobs, Monique wondered if they would ever get those cherished memories back.

At twenty-nine, Monique finally began to understand what the phrase "variety is the spice of life" meant. Day in and day out, she and Mark went about their daily tasks, occasionally going out, and even less frequently making love. Their friends were envious of their relationship, but she knew better. Mark was sick of her, possibly even losing his attraction to her, judging by his recent behavior.

Despite such troubles, their son Andrew, was happy and succeeding in school, although he was at that age in which he would continue to beg for a brother or sister because all of his friends had siblings. What could she tell him? Sorry son, there will be no babies in the works because Daddy doesn't like Mommy anymore?

They hadn't talked about more children, but Monique was under the impression that Mark didn't want more kids, at least not until much later. They weren't getting any younger, and lately she wasn't sure if she wanted more children herself—not since she found that suspicious card on the floor of their shared walk-in closet.

The card was not of cheap stock. In fact, the border was embossed in gold. The thick, acid free paper was perfumed and the only words typed in cursive script on the card were Mischa and then an unknown email address. It looked like the calling card of a high-class mistress, or worse yet, a floozy hooker.

She tried accessing the domain that the email was listed under, but it was nothing more than a proxy to another domain, which she gave up trying to access after Firefox crashed four times in a row. On the final try, she actually got the page to load, only for a pop up to show up on the screen asking for a username and password.

What was Mark doing visiting suspicious websites like this one? The bigger problem here was the question of Mark's fidelity. Was Mark cheating? Lately he had been absent from family meals for the past three weeks. He always came home smelling like cheap whiskey and cigarettes.

She personally didn't drink, and to her knowledge, Mark was hardly a social drinker. Not after that fateful night in their junior year of college had he drank more than a glass or two once in a blue moon. She had preferred that he didn't drink at all, but she knew that in his line of work, it was an expected part of the role that he played.

The cigarettes were another story. Mark didn't smoke, had never smoked, and knew not to bring anyone to the house that did around her and their son because she couldn't abide the smell. Yet, was she so swept up in love for her possibly and probably errant husband that she couldn't see the forest for the trees? No. No.

Monique could readily accept lots of things. She would never be as thin as her older sister Aubrey, nor would she be as popular as her older brother Marcus. Her feet were a size eleven and were here to stay. She would never be able to dance as well as her sister and cousins, and her husband would never cheat. Those were facts that were part and parcel to who she was.

And yet... And yet why was her hand shaking as she sipped her now lukewarm cocoa? Why didn't she follow Mark to his office a la Waiting To Exhale and expose him with one of his hot, blonde secretaries? She wasn't so meek that she couldn't put her husband in place. He knew that much going into the marriage. They were equal partners in this relationship and in would remain as such until they died.

Mark wasn't crazy. They had worked too hard and come too far for things to suddenly fall apart now. The answer was quite simple really. Mark didn't trust her. If he did he wouldn't be so secretive about his erratic behavior.

Monique was not of the mindset that married couples couldn't have their privacy. In fact, she believed more than anything that Mark had a right to his secrets—but what was he doing that kept him out late at night? What was he doing that was so important that he couldn't share it with her?

Her reverie was broken by the sound of small feet stomping down the staircase. Andrew, her little ball of fire, bundle of joy, and every other cliché term for her beautiful son ran in, holding a Nintendo DS in one hand, and a juice box in the other. Ignoring her completely, he ran straight for the den, looking out for signs of his father's car.

"Mom, when is Dad coming home?"

His eyes glowed brightly, as his small hands pressed against the window.

"So you finally decided to acknowledge my presence?"

She smirked, reaching over to tickle her cute son.

"Mooooommmmm!!!"

Monique smiled waving her hand as if to silence his annoyance. Even their son knew that something was off. Mark rarely made it home for dinner these days and perhaps Andrew noticed the tension.

"Your father will be home as soon as time permits, Andy. Why don't you go set the pillows and sheets on the beds in the guest rooms for me? When you are done we can play a game together."

The little boy grinned, racing off to accomplish his mother's task. Monique smiled in amazement at the ball of energy that was her son. Just a few short years ago he was a tiny, pink, squealing little thing crying for his mother's milk and his family's attention.

Pulling back her hair, Monique went back to work cooking the first dinner of what she and Mark termed 'Christmas Week.' The entire clan of Harringtons and Mitchells would descend upon their beautiful home soon and she couldn't help but wonder if everything would go off drama free.

Ever since she and Mark had become a couple, they had experienced the ups and downs of merged families. However, she had been hurt to learn of some of her and Mark's family members deep seeded prejudices.

Mark claimed that he came from a family of understanding liberals who would not care what color she was as long as she made him happy. For the most part that statement was true. However, there had been a few cousins who violated that rule quickly. Heck, even her parents had their reservations about their relationship.

When he first proposed, Monique didn't care how much trouble they would face. With Mark by her side, she was willing to meet any challenge head on. Everyone's main argument was that any possible children would suffer from being the product of an interracial union. Monique just didn't care. She loved Mark, and damn—it was their lives and no one else's. She simply refused to be beholden to the ideologies of others.

The sound of cars pulling into the driveway stopped her rampant thoughts. Monique went to the window and frowned at what she saw. Instead of Mark exiting from his luxury edition, apple red Lexus, her husband's parents, Mason and Rebecca Harrington, their sixteen year old son Beauregard or Beau, as he preferred to be called exited from their car and headed up the slippery walkway.

"What the hell are they doing here?! Rebecca told me that they would be here tomorrow evening, not tonight. Mark must have gotten their itinerary mixed up again."

Checking her hair and makeup in a hallway mirror, Monique raced to the door, steeling herself to tolerate what was sure to be interesting behavior from her in-laws. In all honesty, the only likeable family member was Beau, and her niece and nephew, and even then she knew that they just barely tolerated her. At least she could say that Beau held genuine affection for his sister and law, but that was probably because he was going through his rebellious teenage years.

Still, it was nice to have an ally among the Harrington clan aside from Mark. She knew that he sometimes felt conflicted with having to sometimes choose between the two of them. The bottom line was that these were her in-laws, and the moment she said 'I do' they became cemented as her family, whether she liked it or not.

"Hello Mason, Rebecca. How are you both?"

She reached for a hug, grimacing as Rebecca Harrington shot her a smug little smirk, as if she were happy to be dropping in so suddenly. Inconveniencing others seemed to be a past time of the Harrington matriarch. Monique hugged her gruff father-in-law, before releasing him into her warm home. Beau came up the rear, grinning at cheekily as if she were the best thing since sliced bread.

"Sorry about this Mo'. The parents were determined to beat traffic as if anyone would be rushing to get to Brookline."

The teen rolled his eyes, before his brain caught up with what his mouth had said. She grinned, giving him a chaste kiss on the cheek. He grabbed his parents' luggage and placed them in the den. In the den Andrew was playing with his grandparents as they quizzed him about what he wanted for Christmas.

"Andy what do you want Santa to come bring you for Christmas?" Mason asked, with his grandson on his knee.

"Grandma, I want the new GI Joe action figure, but Mommy said that I shouldn't play with violent toys. I also got a C- on a spelling test so she said that I couldn't get a new action figure until my grade went up."

Rebecca cut piercing blue eyes to me as if I had committed a terrible sin by not giving into the demands of my son. It really was no wonder that Mark and his brothers were so spoiled. Beau was the only son who seemed to not take advantage of his mother's nature towards her sons. She could feel a lecture coming about how she should reward him for "trying," even if Andrew was capable of much better grades.

"I believe you are aware of me and Mark's policies towards Andy's grades. We want to instill a love of learning into him so that he will know that to get what he wants requires hard work."

Monique said as politely as she could. Where the hell was Mark? She needed a buffer between Rebecca and herself. She thought San Bernardino provided such a border, but the Harrington's insisted on spending a White Christmas in Massachusetts with their middle child.

"Uh, I think I'll check on that pot roast. I really wished you all would have called me to let me know that you were coming earlier than expected so that I could prepare more food for tonight's meal."

Rebecca shook her head, blonde curls cascading down her back. She tut-tutted like all old school mothers did, before joining her in the kitchen and already making herself at home. Before Monique could get started on the salad, Rebecca already had something to say about the pie. After Monique corrected the pie, Rebecca went on about the mashed potatoes.

Monique longed to throw her ladle at the woman who had invaded her kitchen, but before she could do that a knock at the door broke through her brief wave of murderous intent.

"I'll get it!" Monique cried, racing to the door, shoes off and hair wild.

Despite her misgivings, she knew that seeing Mark would alleviate some of her tension. She just couldn't believe that he wouldn't tell her that his family was coming home earlier than expected!

"Welcome back Mark!"

She said hugging the man whose hands were full of delicious smelling baked goods placed nearly in white cardboard boxes. She drew back when instead of feeling the broad, muscled back that she had scratched many a night during their uh, activities, she felt a slightly taller, chubbier body. Taking some of the boxes out of the man's hands, she frowned when saw that instead of her husband, Mark's brother stood before her.

He wore his usual "good old boy" face, and Monique found it difficult to maintain her smile. She stared at him for a minute, remembering a moment long ago which made her once question if marrying Mark had been the right thing.

"Ahem. Excuse us, darling."

Monique craned her neck to see Darcy Harrington, her sister-in-law and Darcy's two children, Reed and Sydney Harrington. She stepped aside, allowing them into her home and taking their coats as they shook the snow off of their coats.

She smiled at her nephew, pointing him to the cookies on the table. As usual, Reed's eyes were glued to his latest electronic device, no doubt a gift from Darcy for barely passing muster in his classes. Sydney offered a weak smile, but no hug.

Darcy no doubt was subtly training her children to dislike her. Monique frowned, closing the oak door quickly. Mark had better get here quickly. She didn't know how much longer she could stomach the commentary from the peanut gallery that constitued the Harrington brood.