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Authors: Merrillee Whren

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BOOK: Hometown Promise
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What else was going to trip her heart and make her care
about him more than she already did? Was she willing to take a ride through life with him? Not that he was asking, but where this relationship was headed was something she should consider.

If they continued to date, she had to deal with the reality of future expectations. And those expectations were barreling down on her like the toboggans that had rushed down the hill today.

But why should she borrow trouble from tomorrow? Didn’t Lukas have to take one day at a time? So should she. Everything about today had been perfect. Life was good. What could happen to change that?

 

The loud jangling awakened Lukas from his sleep. Sitting up in bed, he wiped a hand down his face. He grabbed his BlackBerry from the bedside stand. As he answered the call, the lighted face on the BlackBerry told him it was five o’clock in the morning. The caller ID indicated that the call was coming from Tim Drake. Was something wrong at the plant?

“Lukas Frey here.”

“Lukas, this is Melanie Drake.” Lukas couldn’t miss the distress in her voice. “I didn’t know who else to call. Can you…” Her voice trailed off as she began to cry.

Lukas’s heart sank. “Melanie, what’s wrong?”

“Something’s wrong with Tim. I’m at the hospital. Can you come?”

“I’ll be there as soon as I get dressed.”

“Thank you.”

His heart pounding and a sick feeling in his stomach, Lukas jumped out of bed and grabbed a pair of jeans and a sweater. He pulled on a pair of socks on his way to the door. Opening the door to the garage, he grabbed his coat and
shoved his feet into the shoes that he’d left by the door. As he drove through the darkness, he relived the night when the ambulance had taken his grandfather to the hospital. He prayed that Tim would be okay.

When Lukas arrived, he found Melanie in the emergency room, along with Ryan and Andrew. The poor little boys were half-asleep. The stress of the situation plus having to drag her children to the emergency room showed on her face. His heart went out to her.

As soon as Melanie saw him, she rushed over. “Thank you so much for coming.”

“I’m glad to help however I can. Do you know what’s wrong?”

Melanie shook her head, tears welling in her eyes. “The doctors are still examining him.”

Lukas put an arm around Melanie’s shoulders and tried to comfort her. “Would you like for me to say a prayer?”

She nodded. Lukas led her to the chairs where the boys were sitting. They held hands in a circle while he prayed for Tim. After they finished praying, Lukas looked up. “If I call Juliane, she could take the boys back home, so they don’t have to sit here. Do you think they’d go with her?”

“You don’t have to disturb her.”

“She won’t mind, and the boys should be comfortable with her since we watched them the other night.” Lukas knew he could count on Juliane.

“I’ll see.” Melanie talked softly with Ryan and Andrew, then looked over at Lukas with a nod. “That’ll be fine.”

Lukas called Juliane and explained the situation. She immediately agreed to come for Andrew and Ryan.

When Juliane arrived, Lukas met her at the entrance and gave her a hug. He wanted to keep her in his embrace, but this wasn’t the time. “Thanks so much for doing this.”

“You know if you ever need anything, I’m there. Do you know anything about Tim’s condition yet?”

Lukas shook his head, knowing Juliane’s statement went beyond this current problem. She would be there for him no matter what because she loved him. In the past two weeks she had made that abundantly clear. He still had a hard time believing what a lucky man he was. “I’m reliving that night with Grandpa.”

“I thought of that as soon as you told me.” Juliane went over to Melanie and gave her a hug. Then Lukas helped Juliane take the boys to her car.

After they buckled the children into the backseat, she turned and gave Lukas a kiss on the cheek. “Take care of Melanie. I’ll be praying.”

“Thanks.” He blew her a kiss and thanked God that he had found her.

While he walked back to the emergency room, he thought about the night barely two weeks ago when the two of them had watched Ryan and Andrew while Tim and Melanie had gone out to celebrate their tenth anniversary. Sharing that time with Juliane made him want a family of his own more than ever, and she was part of that dream.

Just as Lukas returned to the waiting area, a physician in a white coat escorted Melanie through the swinging double doors. Lukas prayed and paced as he waited to hear the news. In a few minutes, Melanie walked back through the doors. Her grim expression caused a lump to form in his throat. When she saw him, she burst into tears and covered her face with her hands. Rushing to her side, he gathered her in his arms. She blubbered something against his chest. In the almost unintelligible sentence, he understood two words.

Aneurysm.

Died.

His heart sank to his stomach. A churning sensation hit him in the gut while a cold, numb feeling settled around his heart. He took a shaky breath as Melanie clung to him and wept. How was he going to comfort her when he was hurting so badly himself?

Chapter Fifteen

S
hivering in the cold confines of his car, Lukas gripped the steering wheel. The day had been rotten. The past two weeks had been even worse. Sorrow over Tim’s death still weighed him down. He’d never had a good friend like Tim. They’d only known each other for a few months, but it had seemed as though they had known each other for years. Now he was gone, leaving a huge void.

The red-and-white neon sign advertising the beer Lukas used to drink beckoned to him from the pub’s window two doors down the block. While he relished the taste of a cold draft beer, he could still see the casket and the stricken faces of Tim’s widow, Melanie, and her two boys, so solemn and brave in their little suits and ties. The scene tore him up inside. A crushing sensation filled his chest as he swallowed the lump that formed in his throat and made him feel as though he couldn’t breathe.

The extra responsibilities at work and the pain of losing his good friend made Lukas want a beer in the worst way. He’d managed to get through helping Melanie with the funeral arrangements and the funeral itself without the need
for a drink. But the cumulative effect of all that had happened was beginning to bring him down, and the need for a drink became stronger every day.

His thoughts played good-cop, bad-cop. The bad cop kept telling him that a couple of beers would ease the tension and take the edge off his problems. Just two tonight and then he’d go back on the wagon. The good cop told him he was a fool to believe that he could stop with two.

Lukas knew which one was right, but he didn’t want to listen. The pain was too great. Even thoughts of Juliane didn’t take away the hurt or the desire for that beer.

Why had God allowed Melanie and her boys to lose their husband and father? Tim’s death brought back all the anguish Lukas had dealt with when his mother had died.

God hadn’t been there for Tim, and God wasn’t helping Lukas now. His prayers went unanswered.

Lukas got out of his car and pocketed his keys. His breath created a cloud in the night air. Still warring with himself, he stood on the sidewalk and stared at the blinking sign. What would be the harm? He’d order a burger and fries and wash them down with a couple of beers. That was the plan.

Shoving his hands in his coat pockets, Lukas strode toward the pub. As he reached for the door handle, a car honked and he turned to look. A movement across the street caught his eye as a man lurched away from the curb in front of Keller’s Variety. He stumbled down the walk, then stopped and leaned against the brick building. In the store window, a mannequin dressed in a spring outfit mocked the cold surrounding him.

In the darkness, Lukas tried to figure out what was wrong with the man. Was he ill, or was he drunk? Lukas hurried across the street to assist him. When Lukas reached the man’s side, he took his arm. Then he looked into his face.

Juliane’s father—Ray Keller.

Shock stabbed Lukas in the heart when he smelled the alcohol on Ray’s breath. Gazing into Ray’s eyes, Lukas had no doubt that the man was drunk. What was going on? Lukas swallowed hard. He’d never known that Juliane’s father drank anything stronger than cola. What was he going to do?

Contemplating what this would mean for Juliane, Lukas managed to steer Ray across the street toward the car. Lukas helped Ray into the passenger seat and realized that the older man didn’t recognize him or know where they were.

Lukas stared at Ray’s slack jaw and glassy eyes. Was that the way he’d looked when he’d been drunk? The picture created a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. “Ray, do you want me to take you home?”

Ray looked up, his head wobbling like a bobble head. He seemed to try to focus. Then he started to weep and talk at the same time, his words slurred. “Don’t take me home. Barbara will be upset. I’m so sorry.”

Lukas closed the car door and went around to the driver’s side and got in. As he sat there wondering what to do, the neon beer sign caught his eye again. He’d almost given in to temptation and thrown away everything he’d worked for over the past six years. At that moment, he knew God had saved him by providing a wake-up call. He felt like weeping the same as Ray but for a whole different reason—gratitude to God. Lukas knew he’d been wrong. God was there. He’d been there the whole time.

If he hadn’t been tempted to have a drink tonight, he wouldn’t have been here to see Ray and help him.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
The scripture from Romans that Lukas had memorized ran through his mind.

Lukas started his car and headed for his home, where he planned to have Ray sleep it off. When Lukas reached the house, he helped Juliane’s father inside and into the guest room. Lukas wanted the man to explain the situation, but this wasn’t the time. Ray needed to be sober for that talk.

While getting Ray settled in the guest room, Lukas thought of the estrangement with his own father. Their parting wasn’t bitter, but Lukas had let that relationship deteriorate while he’d been drinking heavily. Once he was sober, he didn’t know how to repair it. Maybe the time had come.

Ray started snoring as soon as he hit the bed. Lukas shut off the light and went into the living room. Plopping on the couch, he worried about Juliane’s reaction. Should he call her? Surely Barbara would be concerned when Ray didn’t come home. He had to call Juliane.

When Lukas heard Juliane’s voice, his stomach clenched. “Hi. How are you?”

“Good. Is your meeting at the plant done?”

“Yeah.” Lukas hesitated. “I need to talk to you about something, and I don’t want to do it over the phone.”

“You want to come over?”

“No. There’s something
here
I have to show you.”

“What?”

“You’ll see when you get here.”

Ending the call, Lukas hoped he was doing the right thing.

While he waited for Juliane to arrive, he paced. He tried to figure out how he was going to approach this problem. He stopped in his tracks. God had helped him tonight. Why wasn’t he praying about this, too? Bowing his head, Lukas prayed until he heard the doorbell.

He raced to the door. “Thanks for coming.”

“You’ve been too busy. I’ve missed you.” Putting her arms around his neck, she kissed him.

When the kiss ended, he held her tight and let his chin rest on the top of her head. He knew how close he’d come to ruining their relationship, but what he was about to tell her could damage it just as much. “I’ve missed you, too.”

She stepped out of his embrace. “What do you have to show me?”

Lukas wished this was all a bad dream. “Come sit on the couch.”

Juliane joined Lukas and sat there with expectation written all over her face. “Okay, show me.”

“First, I have to ask you something.”

“Okay.”

Lukas had no idea how to phrase the question. Finally, he blurted, “Has your father ever been drunk?”

Her eyes grew wide as the color drained from her face. “Why would you ask that?”

“Follow me.” Lukas stood and went down the short hallway to the guest room. He opened the door and stepped aside as the hallway light illuminated the snoring figure on the bed. “I found him tonight outside your store, barely able to stand.”

“Not again.” Her words came out in a soft cry. Leaning back against the wall, Juliane lowered her head and placed a hand on her forehead.

“So this has happened before?”

She nodded but wouldn’t look at him. She pushed away from the wall and walked back to the living room without saying a word. He wanted to rush after her and pull her into his arms and comfort her. But part of him was angry—angry that she hadn’t been willing to share this with him.

When she reached the living room, she pulled her BlackBerry out of her purse. “I have to call my mother.”

While Juliane talked to her mother, Lukas fumed. He wanted answers.

After she finished talking, she looked at him with a detached expression as if she was trying to void herself of all emotion. “I’ll take him home.”

Lukas shook his head. “He’s asleep. I’ll bring him home in the morning.”

“Okay.” She jammed her BlackBerry into her purse and picked up her coat. “I’ll be going then.”

With both hands, Lukas grabbed her by the shoulders. “Juliane, talk to me about this.”

She refused to look at him. “I can’t.”

“Why?” Dropping his hands, Lukas pointed to himself. “Me of all people. I would understand.”

“I wanted to tell you—to talk about it. But I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I was too embarrassed. I’ve been keeping this secret for so long, I just—”

“If this has been going on for a long time, your father needs help.”

“Don’t you think I know that?” Blinking back tears, she looked up. “But you ought to know that you can’t help someone until they want it.”

“You’re right, but with my experience, I might have been able to get through to him. If you refuse to tell people about his problem, you’ll never be able to find anyone to help him.”

“The way you told people about
your
problem? Admit it, you didn’t want to let anyone in town know about your past. You hid it, just like my mother and I have been hiding my father’s drinking problems for years. If I hadn’t already known, you wouldn’t have told me.”

Her comment stung. He’d been kidding himself, thinking that this relationship was going somewhere. He loved Juliane, but she didn’t love him enough to trust him. And the worst part was wondering if she was right. He’d been honest with her…but was it only because she already knew the
worst? “I can’t believe you said that after all the things I’ve shared with you. I thought we loved each other, but you’re shutting me out.”

“I don’t know what I’m doing. I can’t deal with you or my father right now. Please leave me alone.” Sobbing, she ran from the house, the door slamming behind her.

Lukas stood there staring at the door. She might as well have slammed his heart in it. Anguish pressed down on him, giving him a hopeless feeling that made him long for a drink. But he remembered how Ray had looked tonight. Lukas knew he didn’t want to go down that path no matter how much he hurt. A bottle of beer wouldn’t help him. God was his hope. And with God’s help, he’d find a way to mend his broken heart.

 

A month later, Juliane sat at her kitchen table while she sipped hot tea and nibbled on a piece of toast. Elise hummed a contemporary hymn as she poured some tea and made a big bowl of cereal.

Elise brought her food to the table. “Did you hear? Mom invited Lukas to join us for Dad’s getting-out-of-rehab celebration lunch today.”

Juliane almost choked on the toast. She quickly drank some tea to help wash it down.

Elise grinned at her. “I thought that would get a reaction.”

“I suppose you think that’s great.”

“I do. It’s time you quit trying to avoid Lukas.”

“You should be the last person to lecture me about relationships.”

“You’re right, but I hate seeing you so miserable. You’ve lost weight because you never eat.”

“Did it ever occur to you that I’m working so hard to make up for Dad being away from the store that I don’t have time to eat?”

“Funny how your loss of appetite started right after you quit seeing Lukas.”

“We’ve been through this before. Nothing’s changed, so let’s not rehash it.”

Elise sighed. “Okay, but I hope for Dad’s sake you can be civil to Lukas.”

“I can be civil. I just don’t want a relationship with him.”

“I think you’re kidding yourself. You still love him no matter what you say.”

“You can believe what you like.” Trying to deny the truth of Elise’s assertion, Juliane put her dishes in the dishwasher and headed for her bedroom. “I’ll be leaving for church in fifteen minutes.”

“I’ll be ready.” Elise stopped Juliane at the door. “I don’t understand why things went wrong between you and Lukas, but I wish you wouldn’t let what happened with Dad stand between you. Lukas understands. After all, he helped convince Dad to go into rehab.”

“One day I hope you’ll understand.” Hurrying to get away from Elise’s lectures, Juliane wanted so much to explain her fight with Lukas, but she couldn’t. Especially since Lukas had been right. Once he’d known the truth, Lukas had been able to convince her father to get help. If she’d been open about her father’s problem earlier, maybe he’d have sought treatment years earlier. She bore the blame for not getting her father the help that he needed, and she couldn’t bear the thought of facing Lukas while she believed that he blamed her, too.

 

Juliane sat in the back pew and tried not to look at Lukas, who was in the choir loft. She’d stopped singing in the choir because of the extra load at work and also to avoid Lukas, but her gaze was drawn to him almost against her will. For the first time, she found him looking back. Her heart tripped.

Everything Elise had said to Juliane this morning crowded into her mind. She couldn’t deny that she still loved Lukas, but on the night of their argument the pain and embarrassment had overwhelmed her, and she had run.

Run from her feelings.

Run from her fears.

Her dad’s celebration lunch would compel her to face them.

She should quit noticing Lukas and pay attention to the sermon. As the pastor concluded his sermon on spiritual gifts, he motioned toward someone in the audience. Melanie Drake and Lukas both approached the pulpit.

“Two of our members come today to tell you how they are using their gifts to start special ministries to assist others.” After the pastor’s introduction, Melanie stepped up and talked about the people who helped her after her husband’s death. She explained her plans for a grief recovery group. When she finished, the church elders prayed for this new ministry.

After the prayers, Lukas stepped to the pulpit. “Hello, my name is Lukas, and I’m an alcoholic.”

A murmur rolled through the congregation. A lump rose in Juliane’s throat as Lukas proceeded. “That statement has shocked some of you, but I wanted to share my struggles so you’ll understand why I’m starting a recovery group for people who have experienced substance abuse. God calls us to help each other, but if we don’t share our problems, no one can help. I’d like to read a couple of scriptures. First, Galatians 6:1–2. ‘Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.’

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