Authors: Merrillee Whren
Elise nodded. “That’s what I did for nearly six years.”
“There you go.” Lukas held out a hand toward Elise. “Our entertainment.”
“I’ll be glad to help, but I can’t be the entire entertainment. What would I sing—secular or religious?”
“Whatever we come up with that works, as far as I’m concerned,” Juliane said.
Elise steepled her hands in front of her mouth for a moment, then lowered them. “How about…they used to do
this thing on the ship sometimes where they played a game like that old TV show
The Newlywed Game.
They separate the husbands and wives and ask them questions about each other. They got points if their answers were the same. Do you think people would enjoy that?”
“You mean like have couples who attend the banquet participate? Only we wouldn’t have newlyweds.”
“Yeah, it works just as well with people who’ve been married for years.”
“Oh, that sounds like fun.” Juliane grabbed a pen and a tablet from the drawer in the end table that sported a chunky ceramic lamp. “I’ll make a list of ideas.”
“Brainstorming. No idea is too crazy to consider.” Lukas settled back in his chair. Maybe this was going to work out after all. The tension he’d sensed earlier between the sisters seemed to have eased.
Juliane giggled. “I just thought of something…oh, no…on second thought, maybe not.”
“Come on. What were you thinking?” Lukas would love to read her mind…or maybe he wouldn’t. He didn’t want to find out that she still didn’t like him much and was only doing this to please her cousin or because she thought it was her Christian duty.
Shaking her head, Juliane pressed her lips together, then burst out laughing. “I’m so sorry. Forget I said anything.”
“We should put all ideas on the table.”
“Not this.” Juliane vigorously shook her head.
“Come on, Juliane. Tell us.” Elise eased her feet back onto the floor.
“Jasper Cornett does these really corny impressions.”
“Write it on the list.” Lukas leaned over and tapped the tablet Juliane had on the table in front of her. “Just because we write it down, doesn’t mean we have to use it.”
Juliane quickly scribbled her ideas on the page. “Okay, are you satisfied?”
An hour passed as they filled the tablet page with ideas. “We’ve got a good start.” He glanced over at Elise. “You have any other ideas?”
“Fresh out, but I’ve got cookies I made this afternoon. Anyone up for cookies and hot chocolate?”
“That sounds great,” Lukas replied.
Elise hopped up from the couch. “You two can keep working while I get the snacks.”
“You made cookies, too?” Juliane asked.
“Don’t get used to it.”
“Oh, I won’t.”
Lukas wasn’t sure, but he thought he caught some kind of underlying meaning in the exchange between the sisters as Elise left. He wasn’t sure what to make of the relationship between the two women. While Elise busied herself in the kitchen, Lukas and Juliane continued to toss around entertainment ideas.
A few minutes later, Elise reappeared carrying a plate of chocolate-chip cookies and a large red teapot. She set them on the dark oak coffee table in front of the couch. “I’ll be back in a minute with the mugs.”
After Elise returned, she filled the mugs with the hot chocolate and put a few miniature marshmallows on top. “All right. Enjoy.”
“Thanks.” Lukas grabbed one of the mugs. Steam swirled out of the top, and the heat from the hot chocolate radiated through the mug and warmed his hands. He glanced over at Juliane. Looking at her warmed his heart in much the same way, but he didn’t have much hope that he warmed hers, even if the spark he’d seen in her eyes wasn’t his imagination.
Despite their outwardly friendly interaction, he still sensed that she was keeping her distance. She was only going to let him get so close. That was probably a good thing. At least that’s what he tried to tell himself. He took a gulp of hot chocolate, then glanced at Elise. “This is great.”
Juliane picked up the plate and held it out to him. “Have a cookie. In fact, have several. I don’t want these things around to tempt me after tonight.”
“Yeah, Juliane’s worried that she might gain a pound.”
Even though Juliane laughed as if Elise’s teasing didn’t bother her, Lukas didn’t miss the little hint of venom in the look she shot Elise. “I’ll put some in a baggie for you to take home. All of us can’t be skinny like some people I know.”
“Sounds great. I love chocolate-chip cookies.” Lukas took a bite and ruminated about the sibling rivalry that was obviously going on here. Being an only child, he couldn’t relate. And he certainly didn’t understand why Juliane would feel self-conscious about her weight. Lukas liked looking at Juliane’s feminine curves rather than Elise’s slim model-like figure. But then he shouldn’t be thinking about Juliane’s curves anyway.
Trying to focus his attention elsewhere, he picked up the list Juliane and he had compiled. “We’ve got a great lineup here. Anything else you ladies want to add?”
Shaking her head, Juliane looked at him over the top of her mug. “I think we’ve got all the entertainment we need.”
While they munched on the cookies and drank the hot chocolate, they hashed out the details for the entertainment, even calling Jasper, who agreed to do his impressions. They finalized their list and decided on the order of the program.
Juliane plunked her mug on the table. “How do we pick the couples for the game?”
Lukas finished off the last of his cookie. “Maybe we should have the people who are willing to be contestants sign up when they buy their ticket for the banquet.”
“That’s an excellent idea. I’ll put that information in the announcement for the church bulletin.” Juliane wrote something on her tablet. “I’ll make a note to myself so I’ll remember.”
“Great.” Lukas grabbed another cookie, thinking he’d better be getting home, though he wasn’t in any hurry to do so. “Is there anything else we need to do?”
“Yeah, we need to come up with the questions for the game.” Juliane folded the top sheet of the legal pad back as she started a new sheet. “We can make a list of questions, then put them on note cards for the moderator.”
“Who are you going to get as the moderator?” Elise wadded up her napkin and tossed it on the table.
“Why don’t you do it, Lukas?” Juliane looked at him.
Lukas shook his head. “They might get tired of looking at my face if I sing and moderate, too.”
Elise gathered the empty mugs. “I’m going to clean up. You two can battle this out.”
After Elise left the room, Lukas turned to Juliane. “You should find someone else.”
“What if I can’t find someone?”
“Then I’ll do it.” He pointed at her. “But I’ll know if you don’t try very hard.”
Laying her head back against the couch, Juliane laughed. “You are too funny. Of course I’ll try, but everyone may turn me down.”
“That’s what I mean. Don’t take no for an answer.”
“Okay, I’ll make a list of people I can ask.”
“You are good with the lists.”
“They keep me organized.” She laughed again.
He liked hearing her laughter. He liked watching her
make lists. He liked seeing her smile. He was certainly messed up—maybe in a good way—unlike the years when he’d been drinking. Why after only a couple of weeks was this woman, who could tell everyone about his disreputable past, the one woman he couldn’t get off his mind?
He absolutely had to leave. There was no excuse to hang around. He stood and stretched his arms above his head. “I’d better head home.”
Juliane hopped up from the couch. “I’ll get your coat.”
“Thanks.” He hated that she seemed so eager for him to go. Obviously the time they’d shared tonight meant nothing more to her than doing the job her cousin requested. He should just be thankful she wasn’t shunning him instead of wishing she could be more than a friend.
When she returned with his coat, the phone rang. “Do you need to get that?”
She shook her head. “Elise will do it.”
Lukas put on his coat and picked up the bag of cookies. “I wanted to say goodbye to Elise and thank her for the cookies. Do you suppose she’s off the phone?”
“One way to find out.”
Before Juliane reached the kitchen door, Elise came charging into the living room. “That was Mom on the phone. She said their power is out and wanted to know whether we had any.”
Juliane frowned. “Did she say why they lost their power?”
“Blizzard? I thought we were only getting a little snow. When did the forecasters say we were going to have a blizzard?”
Elise shrugged. “I don’t know, but Mom says they’ve closed some roads because of blowing snow. And the National Guard is getting the nurses for the night shift at
the hospital because the roads are impassable in the outlying areas.”
“What about other parts of town?” Swallowing a lump in his throat, Lukas thought about his grandfather.
“Are you thinking about Ferd?” Juliane asked.
Lukas nodded. “Do you suppose he’s lost his power?”
“I’m pretty sure his area of town is on the same grid we are. Mom and Dad live a mile from town, so they are more susceptible to power outages.” Juliane placed a hand on his arm. “If you call, do you think he’ll still be awake?”
Her touch momentarily froze his brain. Regaining his senses, he knew it was only a comforting gesture, but just the fact that she’d chosen to touch him brightened his thoughts. “I’m worried that he won’t hear the phone when I call, because he takes his hearing aids out when he goes to bed.”
“That could be a problem.”
“I know.” Lukas sighed. “If his power is out, that means he doesn’t have any heat.”
“Oh, dear. I didn’t think of that.” Juliane bit her lower lip.
Lukas pulled his BlackBerry from his pocket. “I’ll give him a call and hope he answers.”
“While you do that, I’m going to see about this blizzard.” Juliane headed for the front door. “We were so busy working on the banquet stuff that I forgot all about the weather.”
“Me, too. I didn’t know it was supposed to get this bad.” Elise followed Juliane to the door.
When Juliane opened the door, a big gust of wind blew snow from the porch onto the living-room floor. She immediately slammed the door shut and turned to Lukas. “You should see the snowdrifts! You can’t even see your car in the driveway.”
“It’s hard to believe we were so involved in planning for the banquet that we didn’t hear the wind howling out there.” Elise pushed the drape aside and looked out the window.
Lukas finished his call and shoved his BlackBerry into his pants pocket. “Everything’s okay. He was still awake and watching one of his shows.”
“That’s good news.” Juliane tried to wipe up the snow with the napkins that had been on the coffee table.
“So it’s bad out there?” Lukas zipped up his coat.
“See for yourself,” Juliane said.
Lukas opened the door a few inches. He stuck his head out and looked at the drifts that had formed around his car, making it look like a giant marshmallow. Drifts covered the porch. He closed the door and turned around. Rubbing the back of his neck, he narrowed his gaze as he looked at Juliane. “Do you guys have a snow shovel?”
“Yeah, it’s in the garage.” Juliane pointed toward the back of the house.
“I only live a couple of miles away. If you get me that shovel, I should be able to dig my car out and get home. I’d feel better if I was home and close to Grandpa in case we all lose power.”
“Sure. Let me grab my coat, and I’ll get it for you.” Juliane started toward the back door.
“You guys are crazy. Even if Lukas does dig his car out, he won’t be able to see to drive home. Take another look out that window.” Elise stepped over to the door. “Or better yet, go out to the street and take a look.”
“Elise, if he wants to dig his car out, let him. He’s concerned about Ferd.”
Elise flung her arms into the air. “Okay. But I still think there’s no digging out of this mess.”
Again Lukas took in the sisters’ conversation. Although he was disappointed that Juliane was so eager to send him on his way, he didn’t want her to feel uncomfortable with him here. At the same time, he felt caught in the middle of
their disagreement and worried about his grandfather’s safety. “At least let me try.”
“Follow me, and I’ll get that shovel.” Juliane headed toward the kitchen.
His spirits sank, but he charged after her. Even though he knew deep inside that she was still keeping him at a distance, he’d foolishly hoped the times they’d spent together lately had changed her opinion of him. He’d told himself her touch had meant nothing significant, so this episode should convince him that his first instincts were correct. She’d rather not have him around. When was he going to get the message?
When Juliane opened the back door a gust of wind threatened to blow it shut. Lukas reached over her head and held it open.
She glanced up at him. “Thanks.”
One word of gratitude from her took his breath away. She had him swirling in the wind like the snow. Forcing his mind to think about the task at hand, he helped her open the door to the garage. She flipped the switch just inside the door. The lone lightbulb in the middle of the ceiling cast a dull yellowish light in the single-car garage that housed Juliane’s little blue subcompact.
“The snow shovel is right over there.” She pointed to the far wall. “Do you see it?”
“Yeah.” He walked over and took it off the hook.
“I wish we had more than one. Then I could help you.”
“That’s okay. No sense in anyone else going out in this storm.” Lukas put on his gloves, pulled up the coat collar around his neck and picked up the shovel. “I’m ready to tackle that mountain of snow.”
“Let me know if you need anything.” She scurried back into the house.
Lukas trudged out into the storm, thinking that what he needed was Juliane’s acceptance. Would that ever happen? Even though she seemed to understand the struggles he’d been through and seemed to believe he’d changed, for some reason she kept him at arm’s length. Was it still his past or something else?
He scooped his way to his car, his mind filled with thoughts of Juliane. With each shovelful of snow, he thought of one more reason he should bury his interest in her. Why did he keep punishing himself by trying to figure out what made her tick?