Authors: Tracie Puckett
Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance, #Contemporary
Friday December 14
“Can I see the sketches you came up with?”
Derek passed a small black folder across the bed. He was sitting with his bac
k against my headboard, his long legs
retched out in front of him. I rested
on my belly—head at the foot of the bed—kicking my feet back and forth as we traded visions for the parade.
execute the Fall Ball, Derek
a helping hand with the parade. He and I shared a passion for finer details and organization. When it came to bringing a vision to life, we were two peas in a pod.
,” he said, reading over the list of sponsors I’d composed. “
It looks like we’re working with quite a hefty budget
“And this,” I said, holding up a sketch he’d drawn
to detail the parade line-up
. “It’s beautiful. I love it.”
I turned to smile. H
is strawberry-blonde hair was
mussed, and his face
looked a few days
unshaven. He lifted his glasses to pinch the bridge of his nose and then nodded. “Thanks.”
“Yeah, why?” he asked, looking back down at the list I’d given him.
“You seem stressed.”
“Just tired,” he said. “
ot of sleepless nights lately
, that’s all
He managed a half-hearted smile, but I couldn’t find anything but sadness and remorse
lingering in his stare
Hannah’s trial was coming up. In fact, it was just around the corner—January 2
as long as it didn’t get pushed back for a second time. Despite his anger over
the crime his sister committed
it difficult to watch as
helplessly wandered down the same path her father had taken.
“It’s going to be okay,” I said,
pulling myself up. I leaned
against the headboard next to him, resting my head on his shoulder. “Hannah has to live with her decisio
ns, Derek. But you don’t
“You shouldn’t. You couldn’t have known what she was going to do
seen it, though,” he said. “She was so insistent on
. When I suggested we leave West Bridge and start over, she lobbied for Oakland like it was the answer to all
our prayers. Her behavior was so erratic, but I wanted to believe she just needed a change of scenery. I thought starting over would be the best thing for her… for both of us, really. But look where that got us. She sealed her fate with a single bullet.”
“You couldn’t have stopped her,” I said. “Hannah was
n’t going to stop until
she got what she came here for—”
“And I should’
ve recognized that,” he argued. “If I’d only stopped and paid more attention….
I was enamored by you, by our friendship. When we first arrived, all I wanted was to keep building on this bond we
created. I stopped focusing on my family and started focusing on myself.”
“That’s okay, though
“And the moment I took my eyes of
f of Hannah,
she nearly killed your boyfriend
my boyfriend,” I said, unable to stop the words before they fell off my lips. But it was too late. The mood shifted, and all it took was four little words.
Derek seemed to forget about his worry, and immediately shut down.
His eyes glossed over as he stared straightforward. I lifted my head from his shoulder and stared at him.
“Derek, I’m so—”
“It’s okay,” he said, but I knew it wasn’t.
As far as he knew, Luke
my boyfriend… or some strange version of one.
t was hard for
to know anything; he always t
uned out at the mere mention of
the other guy
He’d become so distant.
The fact that he’d even mentioned Luke was because of Hannah, and only then had it been an accident.
I understood. He’d openly admitted to having feelings for me (
my feelings for Luke). But because he wasn’t the one my heart ached for, Derek didn’t want any part of the discussion. We
unspoken agreement. He
about my love life—or lack thereof—and I
share anything that
“I should probably get home,” he said, pushing his overgrown hair out of his eyes. He didn’t bother coming up with an excuse. He and I both knew why he was leaving. T
he air was thick with unrequited love.
“Derek,” I said, watching as he reached the door. “Things are going to get better. I promise.”
He nodded, but didn’t say another word bef
ore disappearing from the room.
Saturday December 15
“Can I reject it?”
I arched my brow
and stared at him.
“It’s an honor, Luke,” I said. “Why would you
to reject it?
The people of Oakland want to recognize you for your service on the force. Don’t you want to accept their gratitude?
He looked at me, biting back a snarky comment (I’m certain), and let me continue. “
If nothing else,
at the perks. There’s a float, flowers… not to mention the
of captivated women in the crowd— all of them waiting to get a glimpse of the sexy, dangerous, and wounded Officer Reibeck.” His lips curved into a smirk. “How can you say no to that? Huh? Huh?” I nudged him playfully in the side.
He took a deep breath and shook his head.
“Jules,” he said, a soft gleam of humor dancing in his eyes. “I know you’ll find this hard to believe, but it hasn’t been my lifelong dream to sit atop a heavily decorated parade float and perfect my princess wave.”
I threw him a sideways glance and shrugged.
“Do whatever you want,” I said. “But it’ll fall on your shoulders to tell Grace.”
“Tell Grace what?”
“That you’re backing out.
She’s spent hours working on your
and your float alone. Do you really want to break an old woman’s heart?
He closed his eyes for a minute and shook his head.
I’ll do it.”
I clapped my hands and smiled.
We continued our
long walk through the historic
district in the heart of Oakland. It was a beautiful one-street co
mmunity of brick-faced buildings
. In the summer, the trees on the sidewalks were fully bloomed, casting a cool shade on the passersby as they
d out of the stores
. Now, in December, the branches were bare and snow-covered. It w
as a scene right out of a Kinka
I was out to finish the last of my
, and Luke was a last-minute tag
. It rarely occurred that we
find a moment to spend together, let alone a full afternoon, but
today was special. Charlie was stuck at the station all day dealing with a load of paperwork that he couldn’t push off on someone else. With no threat of him lurking about, I called up Luke and asked if he’d like
to join me on
my final shopping day of the holiday season.
This was the first one-on-one time we’d shared since our final dance at the Fall Ball. When the dance ended, Matt and Kara—his newest love
—were ready to blow the joint. Luke left me with a sweet, warm kiss to the cheek, a hug, and a goodnight wish. Since, I’d only seen him twice—once when Matt and I dropped by the station to take Charlie out for his birthday, and then once again when I bumped into him at
supermarket. Both times, Charlie was breathing down my neck… so Luke and I could only utter the simplest of hellos.
“What’s with the goofy grin?” Luke asked, zipping his leather jacket a little further.
I asked, but shook my head to ward
any unusual expression
. “Sorry, I was just thinking.”
,” I admitted.
“Hey,” he said, nodding at a small
s down. “You wanna stop for lunch before we
? If I know
—and I think I do—I’m going to need the fuel to get through this day.
I can’t picture you being a fast shopper.
I smiled and nodded, and together w
walked in silence to the diner. H
e held the door as we reached the building
s strong hand on the small of my back
me through the door.
Five minutes later, we were nestled
table in the furthest corner
. The breakfast rush had subsided, and it was still too early for the lunch crowd to start straggling in. The diner was ticking at its daily low. It was quiet, serene. Luke and I were the only customers in sight. The waitress, who seemed to know
exactly who we both were
, took our orders and left us alone.
It was one of the perks of small town life. Everybody knew everybody.
“I won’t lie,”
Luke said when the waitress
disappeared into the kitchen. “This is nice.”
you,” he said
, unzipping his jacket and taking it off
He draped it along the back of his chair and turned back.
“You have no idea how many times I’ve thought about dropping by.” He jokingly pointed a finger at me and his scarred lip curved into a smile. “Don’t assume I’m going soft,” he warned. “But I’ve missed you.”
I smiled, but didn’t respond.
“You know,” I finally said a few minutes later. “There are these crazy little gadgets people are using nowadays.” He lifted his brow as if interested to hear
. “They’ve actually been around since… about 1876. A
,” I said slowly, as if he’d never heard of one. “You use it when you want to
someone you like. Someone you’re thinking about.
Someone you miss
He licked his lips and shook his head. “A phone, you say?”
“Don’t humor me, Reibeck,” I said. “If you really wanted to talk to me, you could
me… or, in the least,
sent a text
. You know my number—”
Just, curious,” he said, leaning back. “
Who pays your cell phone bill?”
“And did it ever occur to you that he might be checking your phone records? If he’s keeping tabs on you the way I
he is, he’ll know the time and date of every text and call I send you
r way. And vic
e versa, kid. I’m already in hot water as it is; I don’t need any more grief
from your uncle
The waitress returned a few minutes later and set two plates on the table. As she refilled Luke’s glass with
pitcher of water, the bell over the diner door chimed. She looked up and nodded at the latest customers to let them know she’d be over momentarily.
She looked back to Luke and smiled. “You look more like him every day.”
“What’s that?” Luke asked, raising his brow as if he hadn’t heard her.