Authors: Merrillee Whren
Still, Juliane often wondered what turns her life might have taken if she’d pursued a career using her musical talents as her sister had. But there was no going back. Being the oldest child, Juliane had felt the responsibility of helping with the family business. Elise had always been the outgoing adventurous one, anyway. It was part of her charm. A charm Juliane had always known she lacked.
“So what brings Elise home?” Carrie asked.
Shrugging, Juliane shook her head. “I’m not sure. She just
called a few weeks ago and said she wasn’t signing a new contract with the cruise line and would be coming home as soon as her current contract is finished. No other explanation.”
Val laid a hand on one of Juliane’s arms. “Maybe she’s tired of living on a cruise ship.”
Juliane nodded. “Probably. She’s moving in with me.”
“That’s great.” Val sat forward in her seat. “She’ll also be a great addition to the choir.”
“She certainly will.” Juliane couldn’t help thinking that if Elise had returned sooner, she might have gotten Juliane’s part in the Winter Festival program. But wasn’t that what she’d wished for earlier—to let someone else have the part so she wouldn’t have to deal with Lukas? Elise could fill that role with ease, but deep inside, Juliane didn’t want to relinquish it to her sister.
Elise, two years Juliane’s junior, had more singing talent. Elise was also the pretty sister, who had attracted boys at every turn while they were growing up. Even the boy Juliane had longed to date in high school had fallen for Elise instead. Despite being older, Juliane felt as though she couldn’t compete with her sister on any front. How would her return affect Juliane’s life?
“I’m so glad she’s coming home.” Carrie clapped her hands. “It’ll be like old times—the four of us together.”
Shaking her head, Juliane laughed. “I kind of doubt it’ll be like old times with you about to give birth and Val with two kids already.”
Carrie sighed. “Well, maybe not old times, but it’ll still be fun to have a girls’ night out or spend a Saturday shopping in Cincinnati.”
“Did I hear you say something about shopping?” Adam leaned closer to Carrie. “Haven’t you had enough shopping trips to Cincinnati lately?”
Carrie gave Adam a playful swat. “We’re talking about when Elise gets home.”
“So now you’re going to use Elise’s return as an excuse to go shopping.” Adam tried to act displeased as he gazed adoringly at his wife.
“You know we still need things for the baby.”
Eric clapped Adam on the back. “Hey, pal, haven’t you learned by now that there are always at least a hundred reasons to go shopping?”
“Yeah, what was I thinking?” Adam batted himself on the side of his head.
Eric stood and pushed his chair under the table. “Well, gang, it’s been fun, but I believe about now Val’s mom has had enough of our kids, but she won’t ever say so.”
“Or maybe you’re worried that she’s spoiled them rotten while we’ve been gone.” Chuckling, Val slipped an arm through her husband’s.
Juliane smiled at the jovial exchange, but her thoughts were still caught on what life would be like with her sister back home. She wanted to be as excited as her cousins, but ever since she’d learned of Elise’s plans, she worried that she’d fall into her sister’s shadow again.
The troubling thoughts weighed heavily on Juliane’s mind as she shrugged into her coat and slung her purse strap over her shoulder. Juliane loved her sister, but she wasn’t sure how things would play out with Elise. She shouldn’t be envious of her sister. But she couldn’t shake the unkind thoughts. How could she be right with God when she harbored jealousy in her heart?
Now Juliane not only had to deal with her feelings about Elise, but Lukas, too. The perfect storm of events was bearing down on her life.
Lukas hurried after Juliane. As she was about to open the coffee shop door, he reached around and opened it for her. “Let me walk you to your car.”
She stopped abruptly in the doorway and looked up at him. “Thanks, but I’m only parked a few steps down the block.”
He didn’t miss the surprise brimming in her eyes. “Then it won’t be much trouble to escort you.”
“Okay, if that’s what you want.” Despite the wary set to her shoulders and the resignation in her voice, she smiled and plucked her keys from her purse.
Wondering what thoughts lay behind the smile, Lukas fell into step beside her. Was she uncomfortable in his presence? He’d asked himself that question at least a dozen times tonight since their initial meeting.
Her hurried pace made her heels click against the concrete sidewalk. In the crisp cold air, the sound echoed off the nearby buildings and into the darkness. Was she in a rush to get away from him? Probably. He wished he were brave enough to ask.
More questions formed in his mind. He wanted to know what she’d told Pastor Tom, but this wasn’t the time or place to ask her. Still, the question sat on the tip of his tongue. He gritted his teeth in order not to let it slip out.
A few yards down the street, she stopped beside a dark blue subcompact, a patch of unmelted snow still sitting on the back bumper. “Well, this is it. Thanks for walking me to my car, but it really wasn’t necessary.”
“I wanted to, so we could set a tentative time to meet. Then you can check with your dad before you confirm it.”
“I guess.” Even in the dim light, he detected the uneasiness in her expression as she glanced his way. “When did you have in mind?”
“How about dinner on Friday night?”
She shook her head. “A dinner meeting isn’t possible.”
“Why not? We both have to eat.”
“I work the concession stand at the high school basketball games on Friday nights when they have a home game. And this Friday is a home game.”
“How about letting me work the concession stand with you? If it’s anything like my high school years, the boosters are always looking for more help. We can talk afterward.”
Juliane shrugged. “Let me check first.”
“Should I call you, or do you want to call me?”
“I’ll call you.” She hurriedly got into her car and closed the door, not waiting for him to respond.
Feeling shut out, he stood at the curb and shoved his hands into his coat pockets. The car lights came on, the engine roared to life and she drove away. He watched as her car made the turn at the town square and disappeared.
“She’s often in a hurry. Sometimes, I wish she’d slow down and enjoy life. She’s too driven.”
Lukas turned at the sound of the female voice. Val stood a few feet away. He took a step toward her. “So I see.”
“Eric got waylaid. He ran into a guy from work as we were leaving.” Val looked back at the coffee shop, then returned her gaze to Lukas. “I hope you didn’t mind that I asked you to work with Juliane on the banquet. I realized later that you might think I was a little pushy.”
Lukas chuckled. “No problem. I’m glad to get involved.”
“Then you don’t mind working with Juliane?”
Shrugging, Val let her gaze slide away and grimaced. “I noticed after I made the suggestion that there was some hesitation, especially from Juliane.”
“Then…shouldn’t you be asking her the questions?”
“Probably, but I thought you might know why she hesitated. Do you?”
Talk about being put on the spot. Christians were supposed to tell the truth, but that was the last thing Lukas wanted to do right now. The temptation to lie lurked in his mind. Could he give Val a reason without going into detail?
Lukas took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “I have an idea.”
“And what’s that?”
“Um…” He couldn’t believe he had to explain things already. He thought he’d have a chance for people to get to know him—the new man in Christ—first, before he had to tell them about the old one. “Probably because I lived on the wild side when Juliane knew me during college. I’m sure it was a shock for her to see me in church.”
“Oh.” Val just stared at him.
Now what did he say? What was she thinking? What would these people say when they found out the details of his past? He doubted Juliane would keep it from them. Before he could say more, Eric strode toward them.
He put an arm around Val’s shoulders, his breath visible in the cold air. “Sorry about that, hon. We’d better get home.”
Val smiled at her husband. “Sure.” Then she turned to Lukas. “See you in church on Sunday.”
“I’ll be there.” Lukas started toward his car.
Just ahead of him, Val and Eric walked arm in arm. While he watched them, loneliness crept into his soul. Would he ever find a love like theirs? What kind of a woman would be willing to take a chance on him, a man who was trying to live down his past?
The clock on the top of the courthouse in the square
began to chime. He looked up. The clock’s illuminated face read ten o’clock. It was past time to check on his grandfather.
As Lukas drove along the quiet streets, he replayed the evening in his mind. What pushed him to seek out Juliane when she could bring him down with a word or two? He tried to convince himself that he only wanted to show her how he’d changed, but he couldn’t deny his attraction to her.
Although his ulterior motive to get her on his side didn’t give him a good feeling, he still wanted to cultivate her friendship. Was there any chance she’d accept his friendship? He wished he could remember what he’d done to make her so wary of him. Of course, there was every chance he’d be finding out soon. Val would surely ask Juliane about his past, and the whole mess of his life would come out in that conversation. He might as well accept the inevitable.
Was it God’s plan that everyone should know about his former behavior? Maybe that was the way it was supposed to work. Like that scripture about carrying each other’s burdens. Christians were supposed to help each other, but Lukas still had trouble trusting people to do that.
Stopping his car in his grandfather’s driveway, Lukas noticed that his grandfather had shoveled the snow from the drive and the sidewalks. The man was going to kill himself with overwork. Lights shone through the window in the front room. As he approached the porch, he could hear the TV. Grandpa was watching TV again with the volume turned on high. He slipped the key into the lock and opened the door.
Lukas glanced around as he entered the living room. His grandfather lay sleeping in his recliner while the TV blared at a deafening decibel. Lukas walked across the room, grabbed the remote and shut off the TV.
As soon as the screen went blank, his grandfather sat
straight up and waved a hand at Lukas. “Why did you turn that off? I was watching my program.”
Lukas tried not to laugh as he raised his voice so his grandfather could hear. “Grandpa, you were sleeping.”
“I just had my eyes closed,” his grandfather said, his heavy German accent obvious.
“Okay, whatever you say.”
“Why are you here?”
“Just stopping by to see how you’re doing.”
“I am fine. See?” Ferdinand held his hands out in front of him. “Turn the TV back on, and let me watch my show.”
Lukas braced himself as he punched the remote. When the TV blared back to life, he quickly lowered the volume.
“Turn that back up.”
Pressing the pause button on the remote for the digital recorder, Lukas turned to his grandfather. “I’ve paused your show, and you can watch this with the volume as loud as you want after I leave.”
“You can do that anytime.” The older man scowled. “I didn’t ask you to come here. I was getting along fine until you came to town. Now you are in my face all the time.”
Taking a deep breath, Lukas bit back a nasty retort. He understood that his grandfather didn’t like feeling as though he needed to have someone to watch after him. He was a proud, brave man, who had risked his life to find freedom on the other side of the Berlin Wall. Lukas had taken too long to realize what his grandfather had done and to appreciate the courage he’d needed in his escape from East Berlin and communism.
“I know you didn’t, but I love you, Grandpa. This is a chance for us to be close again. Now that I’ve turned my life around.”
Ferd pushed himself out of the recliner. “Yes, and I am glad for that. But that doesn’t mean you need to take care of
me. I can take care of myself. Make my own decisions. Watch my programs as loud as I like.”
“We can get you fitted for hearing aids.”
“Why do I need hearing aids, if I can turn up the volume?”
“Then I won’t have to shout or repeat myself when we talk.” Lukas laid a hand on his grandfather’s shoulder. “It wouldn’t be so bad to give them a try. What do you say?”
Letting out a long sigh, Ferdinand gave Lukas a resigned nod. “I suppose you are right. I will try them just for you.”
“Thank you, Grandpa. I’ll arrange an appointment for you.” Lukas handed the remote to his grandfather. “Now I’ll head home, and you can watch your show.”
“Don’t forget I go to the senior center on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings, so don’t make an appointment that interferes.”
“I’ll try to avoid those times.” Lukas walked to the door, then turned back to his grandfather. “Is there anything you need?”
“No, I am fine.”
“Okay, see you tomorrow.”
Before Lukas shut the door behind him, the TV blared again. He almost expected the windows to shatter from the volume. As he drove the short block to his own house, he wondered whether he’d be able to get his grandfather to use the hearing aids even if he got them.
After entering his house, Lukas went into the small bedroom that served as his office. He plunked his briefcase onto the desk and noticed the blinking red light on the answering machine. Grabbing a pen and paper, he hit the play button.
Juliane’s voice floated through the room. “Lukas, this is Juliane Keller. I spoke with the woman in charge of the concession booth, and she said she’d love to have more help. So I guess we’re on for Friday night. You can call me for details.”
As Juliane recited her phone number, he scribbled it on
the notepad. Dropping into the nearby chair, he stared at the machine. Then he listened to the message a second time to make sure he hadn’t imagined the whole thing. After the way she’d rushed off tonight, he never expected to hear from her so soon, if at all.