Read Just a Little Promise Online

Authors: Tracie Puckett

Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance, #Contemporary

Just a Little Promise (3 page)

BOOK: Just a Little Promise
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“Your daddy, sweetheart,” she said, nodding behind him.

Luke and I turned to see Lonnie and Grace in the anteroom of the diner. Neither of them had
seen
us, so we turned back quickly and stared at one another.

Luke closed his eyes.

“You want me to bring them this way?”
The waitress asked. “I can
put
them right next to you—”

“No,” we said in unison, but it was too late. Grace had already spotted us. She was dragging Lonnie—by a fistful of his
sweater
—through the diner toward me and Luke.

“Don’t lose your cool,” I whispered across the table. “But Grace and your dad are headed right for us.” Luke nodded, but kept silent. “Do you want to get the
check
and go? We can
go somewhere else to eat
.”

“No,” he said, resting his hand on top of mine.
“The timing sucks, I won’t lie.” He took a deep breath and
let
it out slowly. “
I told you I’d make things right with Lonnie… so, I might as well start now.”

Chapter Three

Saturday December 15

Grace and I had met on several occasions to discuss the floral arrangements for the Oakland Holiday Parade.
Of the times we’d met, we’d never discussed anything outside of business (with the except
ion
of the normal pleasantries).
When Luke was brought up, it was only in discussion about the Grand Marshal float. As far as she—or anyone else—knew, Luke and I weren’t involved in any way, shape, or form.

Still,
Grace had been the person to welcome Luke into their home the morning after the big storm in October. She’s the one who told him that I was upstairs sleeping in his old bedroom. She’s the one who’d welcomed him with open arms, despite the
tension
between him and Lonnie.
So, in a way, i
t was hard to tell
exactly
what Lonnie and Grace Reibeck knew about Luke’s social life. What had Detective Bruno—Grace’s brother—told them, if anything? Did Lonnie know that the little blonde girl he’d swept off the ground, rescued from the storm, and sheltered in his home was (somewhat) romantically involved with his estranged son?

Grace forced Lonnie to
the neighboring
table
before turning to us and smiling.

“What a pleasant surprise!” she said, leaning over to press a quick kiss to my cheek. “How are you Julie?”

“Wonderful,” I said, looking past her to see her husband.
“Hi Lonnie
.

He looked up and nodded,
incoherently mumbling under his breath
. Grace shrugg
ed and looked back to Luke. “Lucas
, sweetheart, how’ve you been?”

Luke imitated his father, grumbling as he took a drink of his water.
It was no wonder Lonnie thought his son hated Grace… Luke was acting as cold and distant as I’d ever seen him.

Grace and I shared a
solemn sigh.

“Grace, Lonnie,” I said,
taking my purse off the chair next to me
. “Why don’t you join us?”

“What a lovely idea!” Grace said, now turning to pull Lonnie out of his own
chair
. Grace slid in next to Luke
and Lonnie
slouched in the chair next to mine
.

“This is absurd,” Lonnie said, his eyes darting across the table.

Luke met his stare
with an equally hate-filled look
. “It’s not a
walk in the park for me either—”

“Now boys,” Grace interrupted. “Can’t we just enjoy one meal together?”

“Not hungry anymore,” Luke said, pushing his plate away. He rolled out of his
chair
and stood up. He pulled his wallet from
his back pocket
and threw a few bills
down
on the table
.
Snatching his jacket, h
e looked at me for a moment before turning to walk away.

“Luke,
” I said, grabbing my purse and standing up. “Where are you going?”

“Stay here and eat, Julie,” he said, turning back. “I
’ll see you around.”

“Luke,” I said, taking a step forward. “Come on, don’t do this
.
We had plans—”

“Don’t expect much else from him,” Lonnie said, finally making his words loud and clear. “Running is what he does best.”

I turned back and glared
at
him before looking back to Luke. “Please, Luke. I haven’t seen you in weeks. I don’t know when I’m
gonna
get
to see you ag
ain
. We were supposed to spend the day together
—”

“Jules,” he said, dropping his head to th
e side. He took a few steps
to meet me in the middle of the diner. He lifted his hand to my face and wiped away the tears that had fallen on my cheeks. His brown eyes softened as he lowered his stare. “I thought I could do this, but I can’t.”

“Luke—”

“I’m sorry, kid,” he said, tucking stray strands of my hair behind my ear. “I still have too much anger.
I can’t be in the same room with him—”

“Please don’t,” I whispered, feeling the tears fill my eyes once again. “You have to fix things with him. You
have
to.”

“I can’t—”

“Luke—”

“Julie,” he said, the softness in his voice fading away.
“Goodbye.”

He dropped his hands and turned on his heel. He was through the door and out of sight before I had time to blink.

Lonnie scoffed behind me and I turned to look back at him.

“You!”
I said, taking another step back toward the
table
. “This is
all
your
fault—”

“My fault?” he asked, looking from me to Grace, and then back to me. “How do you figure?”

I stood there, my heart pounding
rapidly
against my chest, staring at the man who’d scarred Luke—physically, mentally, and emotionally. My blood boiled when I looked at him, sitting there so nonchalant, acting as though Luke
was
the one to blame for their falling out.

“Let me ask you a question,” I said, bending at the waist to meet his gaze. “Where were you a couple
of
months ago when your son was laid up in the hospital with a bullet lodged in his chest?”

“Excuse me?” he asked, straightening his posture. He was quickly becoming defensive, and his body language said it all.

“When Luke was shot,” I said, widening my eyes. “
I was at that
hospital
day and night for weeks. Where were
you
?
I mean, y
ou
did
know he was shot, right?”

“Read something like that in the paper,
yeah,
” he said, acting as though it
was just another casual article on the front page.

“And it never occurred to you that maybe you should get in your car, drive down
to
the hospital, and be with
him?” I asked. “He nearly died—”

“Looks like he pulled through just fine,” Lonnie said, still wearing an emotionless expression.

I leaned closer, now pointing my finger in his face, and lowered my voice. “Your son took a bullet to save my life. Had he not been there to protect me, I’d be six feet under and nothing more
than
a vague memory in this town. I owe him
everything
. This town… they owe him infinite gratitude. But you…
you
owe him more than the rest of us
combined.” Lonnie pursed his lips, but remained silent. “I lost my father, Lonnie. A reckless drug dealer put a gun to his head and took his life.
He
left
me, but not by choice. If he could be here, he would be.
Because that’s what a good father does. And the sickest part of all is that
you
think
you were a good father. But you abandoned your son.
You
had a choice, and
you
let him go. You stripped him of his will and dignity… he runs because of
you
.
So stop acting like he does this to hurt
other
people. He runs… so
he
doesn’t get hurt.

I turned to walk out. I had
nothing else to say, but Lonnie’s voice interrupted my dramatic exit.

“You might want to get your facts straight before you
start
tossing
around accusations,
Miss
Little
” he said, now standing.
He took a few steps toward me and shrugged.

If you knew what my son put me through—”

“I don’t care,” I said. “I know what Luke told me, and I believe every word.”

“So he told you
that he just up and left
?” Lonnie asked, raising his voice.
His anger caught the attention of the diner wor
kers, and everyone turned to watch
.

Did he tell you that
he
just left? No explanation. No note, no call.
Nothing.
And
that he never came home?
He didn’t bother to call, to check in. He just
disappeared
. It was like he vanished in
to
thin air.
Years passed… still, no word. I met Grace, moved on with my life….” He scoffed and dropped his head. “
And when I finally found him, and sent him an invitation to my wedding, I never even got so much as a simple
rejection
, Julie
.
It wasn’t until three years ago that I’d even heard he’d come back to
Oakland
.
E
ven then,
he didn’t bother to stop by
. Do you care to explain that, since you apparently know everything?”

I lowered my gaze and took a step toward Lonnie.

“I heard you had a bit of a drinking problem right after your wife passed
, Mr. Reibeck
.”


That’s public knowledge,” he said. “
But I got help.
What’s that have to do with anything?”

“You want to hear an interesting story?” I asked. “It dates back to a fe
w months ago, not long after I m
et your son. Luke was over at my house for
my uncle’s
annual poker night, and had one too many drinks with the boys. That very night, just before he left, he told me he loved me.”

“So, you and Luke are an item
, big deal.”

“We’re not an item,” I said. “Luke was my mentor for a school project. Needless to say, we’ve always had a bit of a love-hate relationship. But the point of my whole story is, when Luke came to pick me up the following Monday to continue our project, he didn’t remember telling me that he loved me.” Lonnie shrugged as if my words were irrelevant to
our argument
.
“He was so wasted, Lonnie…
so far gone, that he said and did things that he wouldn’t have done under normal circumstances
.”

Grace was now standing. She rested her hand on Lonnie’s back, caressing him and comforting him the best she could. It was clear that Grace had followed what I was saying, but L
onnie appeared just as clueless as ever.

“Your drinking problem was more of a problem than I think you realized, Mr. Reibeck,” I said, turning again to leave.

“Julie,” he said, now angry. “You’re not leaving until you tell me what he told you.”

“It’s not my place,” I said. “Luke made it clear that he wanted to fix things on his own terms.
But I think it’s wise for you to remember that
he’s
not the one respons
ible for what happened….

Once again, I turned to leave, but a hand landed on my shoulder to stop me. I defended myself out of reflex, turning and slapping Lonnie Reibeck square in the face.
A bright, red handprint glowed from his cheek almost instantly.

We stood and stared at each other for a few long seconds.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” Lonnie said, his face turning red as he inched closer.

“Why?” I asked, swallowing
hard
. “You gonna hit me back, Lonnie? Beat me to a pulp the way you did Luke?” The expression melted from his face. “At least this time you’re sober, so you’ll remember
every strike
.
So… g
o ahead, hit me. Since hitting kids is what
you’ve proven to be so good at—”

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