Authors: Merrillee Whren
Leaning back, he laced his fingers behind his head and smiled. Maybe this wasn’t going to turn out badly, after all. But he cautioned himself not to get too carried away just because Juliane had agreed to meet with him.
Taking one day at a time made his life easier. He reminded himself not to borrow trouble from tomorrow, because God was always there to help today.
he roar of the crowd filtered through the hallway of the gymnasium, while the high school band played the team fight song. Juliane knew from experience that this signaled the entrance of the Kellerville Tigers onto the basketball court. Bustling around the concession stand, the members of the basketball boosters prepared and sold hot dogs, nachos, popcorn and various other snacks and soft drinks.
While Juliane helped Carol Donovan prepare for the halftime onslaught of fans, she wondered where Lukas was. She’d told him to be here at six-thirty, but it was nearly seven, and he hadn’t arrived. Telling herself she might as well get the meeting with Lukas over, she’d given herself a pep talk about tonight. Now, if he didn’t show, she’d have to do it all over again.
After she’d made arrangements for him to help, she hoped Lukas wouldn’t arrive inebriated, or not at all. Or was he like her father—able to function most of the time despite his drinking? After all, Lukas had been falling-down drunk the last time she’d seen him eleven years ago, but maybe he’d gotten more discreet over the years.
She should try to make the best of the whole situation with Lukas. She had to face facts. He was going to be around for the foreseeable future, and she was going to have to learn to live with his presence in town and at church—like it or not.
Still, how was she going to explain, if he didn’t show? She didn’t want to make excuses for him. Juliane couldn’t help thinking about the times she and her mother had stepped in and saved her father from showing up drunk at an event. Through the years she’d given her mother moral support while she dealt with her husband’s drinking. How often had Juliane taken his place at functions, always making some excuse for him? She didn’t intend to do that for Lukas.
Although family and close friends had witnessed her father’s overindulgence, she wondered whether she and her mother had successfully covered for him with other people. Or had they guessed over the years that her father had a drinking problem? She’d never heard any gossip in that regard, but maybe people were careful to avoid letting her hear the unkind talk.
“Juliane, sorry to be so late. I thought I’d never get here.” Lukas’s voice startled her from her thoughts.
Trying to pretend she wasn’t bothered by his late appearance, she turned and smiled. “Oh, that’s okay. We’ve been doing fine without you.”
His head lowered, an older man with thinning gray hair stepped from behind Lukas. “It’s my fault, miss.”
Juliane peered at him. Somehow he looked familiar, but she couldn’t pinpoint why. Then he looked up. “Ferd, what are you doing here with Lukas?”
“Juliane!” Ferd smiled.
Stepping closer to her, Lukas knit his eyebrows in a frown. “You know my grandfather?”
“Ferd is your grandfather?”
Lukas nodded. “You asked about him at choir practice, and I told you my grandfather is Ferdinand Engel. Did you forget?”
“No.” Juliane glanced from Lukas to his grandfather, then back at Lukas. Although Ferd was much shorter than Lukas, they shared the same startling blue eyes. “I know your grandfather from the senior center, but only as Ferd, not Ferdinand. I volunteer there one morning a week.”
“You don’t have to talk about me like I’m not here,” Ferd said.
“Sorry.” Juliane hugged the older man. “I’m so surprised to see you here. I didn’t recognize you at first.”
“And I did not realize when Lukas told me he was meeting a woman from church that he was meeting Juliane from the senior center. I was expecting someone much older and not so pretty.” Ferd winked and made a sweeping motion with his hand. “I’m here to help, too.”
Lukas laid a hand on Ferd’s shoulder. “Grandpa, I didn’t say you were here to help.”
Shaking his head, Ferd wagged a finger at Lukas, then turned to Juliane. “He thinks he has to babysit me.”
Juliane didn’t miss the look of exasperation on Lukas’s face. “We can always use another hand, especially at halftime.”
Ferd grinned at Lukas. “See. I told you so. Just because you think I’m a useless old man. Juliane knows I’m a big help at the senior center.”
Pressing his lips together in a grim line, Lukas looked as though he was forcing himself to say nothing. Juliane could only guess what might be going through his mind. Did she dare offer an opinion in this family dispute? Probably not, but she could turn the discussion in another direction. She couldn’t believe she was actually trying to help Lukas. “Let me make some introductions.”
Lukas’s expression appeared to change from exasperation to relief. “Sure.”
First, Juliane introduced them to Carol Donovan, then to the rest of the crew. Carol immediately gave Ferd a job filling bags with popcorn. She asked Lukas to help Juliane cover the drink station.
After Ferd started his task, Juliane checked to make sure there was a good supply of cups near the soft drink fountain. She hoped she hadn’t made a mistake by inviting Lukas to join the boosters.
As she worked, Lukas came up beside her. “Is there anything specific you’d like me to do?”
“Take drink orders. These are for fountain drinks.” She held up a large plastic cup, trying to ignore the way his nearness made her pulse quicken. This close, she could tell that there was no trace of alcohol on his breath. Had he really changed? It was too soon to tell. Still trying to get a grip on her emotions, she picked up a foam cup. “These are for the hot drinks that are over here.”
Lukas followed her to the back of the concession stand to a table where two large urns sat—one labeled Coffee and the other Hot Chocolate. “Looks like everything’s in order.”
“It’s pretty easy. We’ve been doing this for years. We have a lull now, but starting just before the end of the first quarter, we get a steady stream of customers. Then it gets a little crazy at halftime.”
As a roar went up from the crowd, Lukas leaned closer to her and whispered, “Thanks for helping me with my grandfather.”
“Glad to help. Your grandfather is a very nice man.” She tried not to let his closeness affect her, but he set her emotions on edge. She didn’t want to think for one instant that her reaction had anything to do with a romantic interest in the
man. She’d spent nearly her whole life helping her mom deal with her father’s drinking. How could she possibly entertain a fascination with a man who had the same problem?
“Yeah, but he can be stubborn sometimes.”
“Can’t we all?”
“I guess.” Lukas chuckled. “I didn’t plan to have him come with me until I stopped by his house on my way home from work. He was down in his basement and could barely make it up the stairs. He couldn’t get his breath, so I was afraid to leave him alone.”
“You were smart to bring him.” Juliane’s opinion of Lukas rose a notch. He really cared about his grandfather.
“He doesn’t like to admit he needs help.”
“Lots of people are like that.” Juliane couldn’t help thinking of her father. Maybe Lukas, too. But she had to admit that so far he showed no signs of his wild past.
Before either of them could make another comment, a group of folks approached the concession stand, and time for conversation ceased. But questions about Lukas popped in her mind like the popping kernels in the nearby popcorn machine. Her worry about him showing up drunk had been laid to rest. Was he on the wagon all the time now, or did he have relapses similar to her dad’s?
Her dad wouldn’t have a drink for months, but without warning, she would find him at the store passed out, slumped over his desk in his office. Other times she and her mother would discover him passed out in his recliner at home. The images tore at her heart and made her sick to her stomach. She hated dealing with this problem, but she’d learned to live with it.
Time and time again her father broke her heart. She couldn’t imagine the anguish that his drinking had caused
her mother. Juliane had made a vow that she would never live like her mother—imprisoned by her husband’s drinking.
Juliane had prayed for years that God would somehow help her father, but he’d never changed. Sometimes she wanted to blame God, but deep in her heart she knew nothing would change until her father wanted God’s help. She couldn’t blame God for her father’s troubles.
Juliane glanced at Lukas, who laughed and talked with the customers as he waited on them. She had to admit that he had a way with people. She had recognized his ability to relate during choir practice and later at the coffee shop. His outgoing personality probably made him a wonderful plant manager. He knew how to work with and manage people.
The puzzling thoughts continued to plague Juliane while she waited on customers. The squeal of sneakers, the thud of a dribbled basketball on the hardwood and the cheers of the crowd did nothing to lift her spirits even though the hometown team was winning. She couldn’t reconcile the Lukas she’d known with the one who looked after his grandfather and who laughed and talked with customers as if he’d been a part of this crew and community for years.
As the end of the game drew near, Juliane started to help Carol with the cleanup. Lukas and the rest of the boosters helped the remaining customers whose ranks had grown slim. Finally, the time came to close the concession stand. The impending meeting with Lukas loomed ahead. Despite her agreement to meet with him and her prayers that she would be able to survive their one-on-one talk without letting old prejudices color her thoughts, she wasn’t ready. Could he possibly call off the meeting because of his grandfather?
Her stomach lurched at the sound of Lukas’s voice. Glad
he couldn’t read her mind, she forced herself to turn slowly. He stood directly in front of her. “Yes?”
“I’d still like to have our meeting, but I need to take my grandfather home. Let’s meet at his house instead of going to the coffee shop, okay?” His blue eyes held a pleading look.
Juliane didn’t want the meeting at all, but she was stuck. She’d been stuck from the moment Val had asked the two of them to organize the banquet entertainment. Maybe in one quick meeting they could settle it all. Then she wouldn’t have to deal with the confusion he caused her anymore.
Shaking his head, Lukas motioned toward Ferd. “I know this wasn’t part of the plan, but…”
She forced a smile. “That’s okay. We might as well get it done.”
“Great. He lives on Oak Lane. You know where that is?”
“There aren’t too many places in this town that I don’t know.”
“Good. Here’s the address.” He handed her a slip of paper.
Taking it, Juliane glanced in Ferd’s direction. The feisty older man seemed to have lost all his energy. “We’ll be done here in a bit. I’ll meet you there.”
“Sure.” He turned to look at Ferd, who sat on a nearby stool. “I’m going to go ahead and take him home now. I’ll see you in a few minutes.”
“Okay.” Juliane watched Lukas assist his grandfather out of the concession stand. Lukas Frey was making a whole new impression on her. She was almost beginning to like him, and that was way too dangerous.
Driving down Oak Lane, Juliane searched for the address Lukas had given her. She barely touched her foot to the gas pedal as her car crept passed tiny houses with snow-covered
lawns. Finally, she saw the numbers on a white bungalow illuminated by the nearby streetlight. Lukas’s tan, mid-size sedan sat in the driveway. Even his choice of cars surprised her. She’d expected him to drive a fancy sports car like he’d had in college.
As she exited her car, Lukas flew out the door and charged down the front walk. “Something’s terribly wrong with my grandfather. I’ve called nine-one-one. They’ll be here any minute.”
Juliane took a shaky breath. “Is there anything I can do?”
“Yes. Please wait out here and watch for the ambulance, so they can find the right house.”
Lukas barely waited for her answer before he raced back up the walk. A lump formed in her throat as she watched him take the front steps in one bound. Swallowing the lump, she looked heavenward into the starry night and whispered, “Lord, please help Ferd. You know what he needs.”
While Juliane waited for the ambulance, she pulled her BlackBerry from her purse and called her mother. When she answered, Juliane told her about Ferd. “Mom, can you get the church prayer chain started?”
“Absolutely. Call me back when you know more.”
“I will.” In the distance, sirens wailed. “The ambulance is almost here. I’ll talk to you later.”
As Juliane ended the call, she saw the flashing red and white lights. Stepping off the curb, she waved her hands above her head. The ambulance slowed and pulled into the driveway behind Lukas’s car. With hurried efficiency, the paramedics wheeled a gurney across the snowy yard and into the house. Juliane followed behind them.
The reassuring voices of the paramedics floated from the bedroom down the hall, as she listened from the living room.
She wasn’t quite sure what to do. Should she leave or stay? She supposed she should at least stick around until she found out how Ferd was doing.
While she stood there, Lukas came into the room. He looked her way, worry coloring his face as he approached. “Thanks for your help.”
“What’s happening? How is he?”
“They’re preparing to take him to the hospital.” Lukas ran a hand through his hair.
“Did they say what’s wrong?”
Shaking his head, Lukas paced back and forth. “We’ll find out once we get there.”
“I said a prayer for Ferd and called my mom to start the church prayer chain.”
“Thanks.” Stopping mid-step, Lukas knit his eyebrows as he looked at her. “I knew something wasn’t right, but he wouldn’t tell me anything.”
Before Juliane could reply, the paramedics pushed the gurney with Ferd aboard toward the front door. Lukas rushed after them, and she followed. She stood on the front walk as the paramedics carefully put the gurney into the back of the ambulance.
After locking the front door, Lukas joined her. “I’ve got another favor to ask.”
“I’m going to ride in the ambulance with Grandpa. Would you mind driving my car to the hospital?” He reached into his pants’ pocket and pulled out his car keys. He held them out to her.