You Promised

Characters (in order of appearance):

MRS. WEST

MELISSA WEST

EVAN WEST

MR. WEST

GANG LEADER

3 GANG MEMBERS

DUSTY

THISTLE

KITTY

SHADOW

COIN

SCENE 1

Upstage left is a square platform, raised about two feet off the ground, representing the rooftop of an apartment building. A plebeian room is set up in stage right. A beat-up old couch is upstage right, and downstage left of it is a round dining table with a stone vase. Lying passed-out on the couch is MRS. WEST, with an empty beer bottle in her hand.

The spotlight is on MELISSA WEST and EVAN WEST, sitting on the rooftop and facing the audience. The rest of the lights are dim, as it is evening.

MELISSA (voice soft):

Pretty, ain't it, Evan?

EVAN:

It's as if the sky is celebrating your sixteenth birthday.

Voice grows sadder.

It won't be as pretty for my eleventh.

MELISSA:

You don't know that. The snow can be beautiful.

EVAN:

Sometimes, like before it freezes you to death.

MELISSA:

Come on, Evan. Let's not talk about death on my birthday.

EVAN (snorting):

Doesn't stop it from happening.

Pause.

Dad's finding me a job tomorrow, he says. Money is short. I'll miss sitting up here with you. It's the only place I can think.

MELISSA:

Hugs EVAN tightly.

I'll miss you, little bro. One day we'll be happy. I promise.

Stands.

It's getting late. We better go home.

EVAN (bitterly):

That place is no home.

They walk down an invisible set of stairs and over to the room from stage left. Lights brighten, but not much. As soon as they enter the room, MR. WEST enters from stage right.

MR. WEST (accusingly):

You're late.

MELISSA:

It's the same time as usual, sir.

MR. WEST:

It's darker today.

EVAN:

Well, that's cause the summer is in its second half.

Ignores the warning look MELISSA gives him.

Obviously, it must be darker.

MR. WEST:

Are you talking back to me?

Without waiting for a reply, he slaps EVAN across the face. EVAN cowers back, and MELISSA gasps.

MELISSA:

Father, please, don't!

MR. WEST:

Grabs the vase from the table and swings it at MELISSA'S head. MELISSA ducks, but it still hits her. She falls, holding her head.

Sorry, Melissa, but two of you cost too much. Evan is weak, but you deserve to live.

MELISSA groans, mustering all her strength to sit up and failing. MR. WEST drags EVAN off stage right. EVAN'S screams can be heard, along with the sound of someone being repeatedly hit. MELISSA struggles to stand. As soon as she succeeds, the screaming stops. MR. WEST reenters from stage right, holding the bloody vase. MELISSA retches, but nothing comes up.

I'll leave you alone. I guess you'll need time to adjust.

Starts to leave.

Oh, and there's no money for dinner tonight. Bad luck today.

MELISSA:

As soon as MR. WEST leaves (exit stage right), MELISSA runs off stage right, reappearing with a backpack and a kitchen knife in her hand. Faces the audience.

This is it. I have to leave now.

Glances at MRS. WEST, then runs off stage left. Lights fade to total darkness.

SCENE 2

It is nighttime. MELISSA enters from stage right, glancing fearfully around her. Along the back are piles of junk (tires, rusty sheets of metal, etc.). The raised platform has no trash surrounding it. Entering from stage left is a gang of four guys, all dressed in black hoodies.

GANG LEADER:

Look, it's a little girl! What are you doing out by yourself? It could be dangerous.

He grins and gestures to the GANG MEMBERS. MELISSA cowers back. The GANG MEMBERS snicker. One steps forward and tries to grab MELISSA'S arm. MELISSA snarls and strikes out with her knife. She falls into a practiced defensive stance.

MELISSA:

Four against one? Not very fair, is it?

She laughs harshly.

Luck that I'm used to not playing fair.

MELISSA attacks the GANG MEMBERS. After a swift fight, MELISSA emerges victorious, a long cut down the length of her arm. The GANG flees. Out of the darkness a thin boy, DOUGLAS IRVIN, stumbles (enter stage right). He holds a cloth sack filled with money.

DOUGLAS (insanely):

You! You're not supposed to be here.

MELISSA:

Glad to know I'm welcome here. It's been a while. What's in your bag, Doug?

DOUGLAS:

None of your business.

MELISSA:

I won't tell. I promise. Remember that thing you told me when I was six? I haven't told a soul.

DOUGLAS (reluctantly):

Fine, but I'll hold you to that promise.

Opens the bag and shows MELISSA, who gasps.

MELISSA:

That is a lot of money. Where'd you get it?

DOUGLAS:

There's only one place 'round here that'd have that much money.

MELISSA:

You… you didn't steal it did you?

DOUGLAS:

I can tell you're new to this life. 'Course I stole it. Now you promised, so no telling.

MELISSA (hesitantly):

Of… of course.

DOUGLAS staggers off stage left, and MELISSA makes a haphazard shelter from the metal sheets. She falls asleep holding her injured arm. Lights slowly raise to full brightness. MELISSA wakes and stretches. For a moment, she is disoriented, and then she remembers. Voices are heard off stage left. MELISSA tenses. A teenage boy, DUSTY, and girl, THISTLE, enter stage left.

DUSTY:

Dare you to take Mr. Johnson's keys while he's asleep.

THISTLE:

If you take Mrs. Walker's purse and hide it like you did the other day.

THISTLE and DUSTY grin at each other.

DUSTY:

Deal.

The two walk nearer to MELISSA'S shelter. DUSTY notices her.

Oh! Are you new around here?

MELISSA:

No. I've always lived 'round here.

DUSTY:

But not here, surely. We'd have seen you before.

Offers MELISSA his hand. She refuses.

Not much happens here we don't know about.

MELISSA:

Who's "we?"

Crawls out of the shelter.

THISTLE:

Us children have made ourselves a home. Now we live as a community. I'm Thistle, and this

Points to Dusty.

is Dusty. We're both sixteen.

MELISSA:

Laughs.

Sorry, but those are weird names to name your kid.

DUSTY:

My mom didn't name me that. I did. She called me Trevor. We pick our own names. New place, new name. And your name is?

MELISSA:

Melissa.

DUSTY:

You sure?

MELISSA:

Yes. You can name me whatever you want later, but for now I call myself by the name my brother calls– called me.

THISTLE:

Nods in understanding.

So, you're coming with us?

MELISSA:

Shrugs.

I've got nothing left to lose.

Stands and follows DUSTY and THISTLE, going towards stage left. They reach the raised platform.

THISTLE:

Here we are, and here come the others.

KITTY, a smiling girl, SHADOW, a boy looking almost identical to DUSTY, and COIN, an older boy, enter downstage left. They murmur among themselves, not noticing MELISSA. THISTLE points to KITTY.

That there is Kitty, born Sylvia. Don't get on her bad side. She might look adorable, but she's violent. I swear she broke out of a high surveillance prison or something. She very well could have with how little anyone knows about her past. I'm not even sure how old she is. Thirteen, maybe?

She points to COIN.

Coin is probably the sweetest but cruelest guy you'd meet. He flips back and forth. That's how he earned his name. Not sure what his old name was. He never said. Eighteen or nineteen.

Points to SHADOW.

And that's Shadow, Dusty's younger twin brother in all his seriousness. It takes something really funny to get him to laugh. Born Jeremy.

Turns back to MELISSA.

And that's our little gang. Ready to actually meet them?

MELISSA:

Shrugs.

I guess so.

Together, they walk slowly towards KITTY, SHADOW, and COIN. COIN smiles and waves to MELISSA.

COIN:

Hey, I guess you're our new kid?

MELISSA:

Yep.

SHADOW stares at her. MELISSA shifts awkwardly.

So, you're Dusty's little brother?

SHADOW:

Yeah.

MELISSA:

What's up with the names? I see how the other's got theirs, but I don't understand yours.

SHADOW:

Grins suddenly.

Well… We're both pretty dark and stuff, but I was always the darker of the two of us. Plus, it's kinda funny. You know that quote, "We are but dust and shadows?"

MELISSA:

No, but okay.

SHADOW:

Yeah, I'm not surprised. Most people 'round here don't know that stuff.

MELISSA (almost defensively):

Yeah, well, I ain't from a fancy, rich family.

SHADOW:

Trust me; being rich ain't as nice as people make it out to be.

MELISSA rolls her eyes, but SHADOW keeps talking.

We might not have had the same problems as the poor, but we had problems.

MELISSA (bitterly):

Yeah, problems like your father killing your little brother. That definitely isn't a problem for you.

SHADOW:

Maybe not for me, but it happens. People do anything for money.

Pause.

Like a mother abandoning her five year old twins on the side of the road with only the clothes they have on their backs.

They stare at each other for another moment. KITTY interrupts.

KITTY:

This is all very sentimental and everything, but we need to get food, or we'll go hungry tonight.

She grins a grin that is too cruel for her young face.

I saw a rich man walking down the street when we went on our rounds. He'd probably have something worth some money. I really don't want to scavenge tonight.

COIN:

Sounds great!

He notices the uncomfortable face MELISSA is making.

What's wrong? Are you too good for stealing? I suppose you'd rather starve.

MELISSA:

N-no. I'll… help you.

SHADOW (as if to comfort her):

You know, it's not as if they need the money as much as we do.

MELISSA (shakily):

Yeah.

Clears throat, then, stronger, she continues.

Yeah. They have a house to go home to.

All four of them walk towards stage right, THISTLE stays behind on the platform. MELISSA and SHADOW walk together in the back. Behind them, hidden in the shadows is DOUGLAS.

MELISSA:

I just feel kinda bad. My old friend — please don't tell anyone — was disowned by his family, and I ran into last night. He had this bag, and he showed me what was in it. There was money, like lots of money. There was easily a hundred dollars in there. It just… bothers me, I guess, but I know we steal for a reason. Still, people shouldn't act so… so blaséabout it.

SHADOW:

I know how you feel. When I first came here, I felt some of the loss, too. I mean, I was used to being rich, and taking from them seemed to be kinda like betraying my family — not that my family has done anything to secure my trust.

MELISSA:

I understand. With a drunk of a mother and a father with a gambling problem, I think I can safely call my family dysfunctional. Did you know that my brother and I don't even legally exist? Well, existed, for my brother.

Voice grows sadder.

After I die, there's gonna be nobody to remember him. I'm sure that father and mother are eager to forget him.

By now, they have reached the far side of stage right. KITTY points right, and they all run offstage (exit stage right). There is the sound of a brief struggle, and then they reenter the same side they ran off. COIN holds his gold watch and a wallet, grinning.

COIN:

This'll get us about a week's worth, probably.

They walk back over to the platform. DOUGLAS trails after them. MELISSA and SHADOW are murmuring quietly to each other, walking very close together. When they get near the platform, DOUGLAS pulls MELISSA away from the crowd. SHADOW'S eyes widen in recognition.

MELISSA (hissing):

Doug, what are you doing?

DOUGLAS (shouting angrily):

You promised. You promised you wouldn't tell a soul. You know how much trouble I'm going to be in? That guy you're drooling over was the cause of my sister's death.

MELISSA:

But I thought she drowned.

DOUGLAS:

She did. My parents blamed me for it, and that's why I was disowned. But he was the one who did it. He made me into the thing I am now.

The other children are talking inaudibly among themselves. Every so often, SHADOW glances back to DOUGLAS and MELISSA.

MELISSA:

Wow, Doug, I didn't know that.

DOUGLAS:

Of course you didn't. My parents did a good job spreading their story around.

Pause.

You know what has to happen now, don't you?

He pulls out a gun. MELISSA gasps in shock.

MELISSA:

You really are crazy. Don't do this, please. Shadow's a nice boy; he wouldn't do anything like that. I think you need to talk to him.

She looks back at SHADOW'S group. They haven't noticed the gun yet. DOUGLAS smirks.

DOUGLAS:

Talk? He won't want to talk.

He shakes his head ruefully.

Sorry, but this is the only solution. I shouldn't have ever trusted you.

MELISSA steps closer to him, and DOUGLAS presses the gun to her chest but doesn't shoot her. The other group of children notice the commotion. SHADOW throws himself in front of MELISSA.

SHADOW:

You. Don't you hurt her.

DOUGLAS:

Trust me. I wouldn't have to if she hadn't spilled my secrets.

SHADOW:

So you're gonna kill her like you killed your sister?

DOUGLAS:

I did not kill my sister; you did.

Without warning, DOUGLAS backs up and turns the safety off. Until now, the others have observed in silence. Now, DUSTY lunges forward, shoving SHADOW out of the way. DOUGLAS shoots DUSTY instead of SHADOW.

DUSTY:

Shadow… Jeremy. Loosen up a bit will you? Melissa will be good for you.

SHADOW:

No! Travis? Are you there? You'll be okay. It'll be okay.

DUSTY collapses motionless. SHADOW collapses with him. With a harsh cry, KITTY attacks DOUGLAS, who drops his gun. The others have to restrain her from shooting DOUGLAS to death. The lights fade out on the scene: KITTY and DOUGLAS being restrained, and the rest crying over DUSTY'S dead body.