Read Just a Little Promise Online

Authors: Tracie Puckett

Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance, #Contemporary

Just a Little Promise (5 page)

BOOK: Just a Little Promise
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Nothing.

It wasn’t like him to ignore a knock, so I
assumed he was out
. His car wasn’t in the driveway,
and
he almost
never
parked in
the
garage
.
I rang the doorbell—in case my knock
wasn’t
loud enough—but still no r
esponse
. It didn’t dawn on me until the second ring that Elvis wasn’t barking. The dog always guarded the door when Derek was ou
t. Wher
ever Derek was, Elvis must have gone too; there wasn’t a single sound coming from
inside the house.

Shrugging, I stepped down from the porch and walked to the garage. Looking through the small windows lining the top of the door, I immediately noticed
it
was empty. Not only was Derek’s blue Prius not parked
inside
, but the boxes that
usually lined
the far
wall
were also missing.

I ran back up to the porch and started banging on the door.

“Derek!” I yelled. “Derek! It’s Julie! Are you home?”

I waited for a brief second and then ran to the window to peek inside. The house was
empty. The few furnishings he
had were no
longer there.
I hopped off the porch and dug up
a
spot in the flowerbed—where I’d once watched him hide a spare key—and retrieved it.

I went back to the door, unlocking the bolt, and push
ed
it
open.

The reality of the emptiness
stopped me dead in my tracks
.
My stomach felt as h
ollow as the room I was looking at
.
T
he house was vacant; there
was nothing left.

“Derek?” I asked, tears filling my eyes. “Hello?”

My voice carried through the empty rooms, echoing off the
naked
walls.

I walked slowly through each room.

The living room… the kitchen… the bathroom… Hannah’s old bedroom—all
empty.

I turned the corner and faced the door at the end of the hall. Derek’s bedroom door was shut, but I didn’t have to open it to know what I would find. If the rest of the house was any indication, Derek’s room would be
nothing but
an empty void of space.

I took slow steps to the final door, grasping the knob, and taking a
long,
deep breath. Tears filled
my eyes as I braced myself for the emptiness
.
But when I opened the door,
something suddenly caught my eye
.

There was a box; a small
, pale blue shoebox, sitting in the middle of the
hardwood floor
. It was the only thing
Derek
had
left.

I stared at the box for what felt like
an eternity. My heart
beat was gaining momentum by the second.
I
closed my eyes and thought back to a day
I’d shared with Derek
in this
very
room just weeks ago.


Get rid of the box, Derek
,” I’
d
told him
. “
You are
not
defined by the things your family has done. I know who you are, and this isn’t you talking. That box… everything in it…
it’s
trash. You need to stop holding on to it. You need to move on. We both do
.”

Sitting on top of the box was a white envelope
with
my name scrolled neatly across the front.
Taking slow breaths, I suppressed the tears
that came to the surface
.
I walked to the center of the room and sat down next to the
shoe
box, picking up the envelope. I opened it carefully, scared of
what the letter inside might say.

Julie,

I don’t have to tell you what you already know. If you’re reading this letter, you
can already see that I’m gone.

I wanted to say goodbye, but I couldn’t face you. I couldn’t come up with
a good enough explanation
, and I knew you’d never let me walk away unjustified
.

I had to leave Oakland; I couldn’t stay anymore. The guilt has become too much for me. This house… the memories… it haunts me every day. I have to find myself again, Julie. I have no choice. If I want to survive this pain, I have to move on.

You were right. T
his box—and everything in it—is
holding me back. I can’t keep living with the ghosts
of my past
. I have to put the past behind me now,
and that includes you.

Please understand that this isn’t personal. I care about you… so much. But I can’t face another day with the reminder of who I really am, o
r the
places I’ve been.
I can’t look in your eyes one more time and see the hurt and pain that
my
family caused.

I need
a new start… alone. Elvis
is
at the shelter
; he’ll find a good home, I’m sure
.

I’m sorry to leave you in a
lurch
with the parade, but I have a world of faith in you. You’ll do great.

Maybe someday we’ll meet again…. I hope that’s the
case. But now isn’t the time. I need to follow my heart. And s
o do you.

Thank you for being the friend I
always
needed,

Derek

p.s.
I hope you find the happiness you
’re
searc
hing for, with or without Luke.

I read the letter for a second time and wiped away my tears. I buried my
face
in my
hands
and cried, letting my tears seep through my fingers and
create a puddle on
the floor.

It was a pain I had yet to experience… the kind that I’d accused Lonnie of inflicting
on his own son
. It was the pain
of
being abandoned

by choice.

Derek wasn’
t really gone, but he had left.

I dropped the letter to the floor and looked at the box.

Why would he leave it here? What did he want
me
to do with it?
I didn’t want those memories.

I pulled the lid off the box
and caught a sob in my throat.

Ashes; he’d burned everything that he’d collected over the years. The pictures, the newspaper clippings, the suicide note his mother left… nothing but gray ash
lining the bottom of the
box.

My heart ached as I stared at
what was left of Derek’s room; there was n
othing but four walls, a single window, and a box and envelope on the floor.

It felt selfish to mourn after someone who’d intentionally left me behind, but
somehow…
I found the strength to smile. He was doing what he had to do. He finally trusted himself to be the person he wanted to be.
It was the most admirable thing Derek had ever done.

I picked up the box, the letter, and envelope, and carried them out of the room. I walked slowly through the hous
e, taking the time to reminisce.
As I stood at the front door, one foot already on the porch, I looked back
in
the house and nodded.

“Thanks for the memories
,
” I whispered, finally stepping out and closing the door behind me.

I kept the key; it didn’t belong in the ground.

I wanted to keep it with me—
as
long
as
I had to—
just in case I ever needed it.

Just in case I ever
did
run into Derek again… so I could give it back to him… and so
he would know
he could always come back home.
There
would always
be a place for him in Oakland… and
he
would always
have
a place in my heart.

Chapter Five

Saturday December 22

I spent the better part of the week focusing on nothing but the parade.
But w
ithout Derek, I
found myself drowning
.
I thought I could do it without him, and I probably could have… if I still had Grace on my side. But I hadn’t heard from her since the day I confronted Lonnie at the diner.

I’d promised the Oakland Celebration Committee that I could handle the finer details alone, and I wanted to stay true to my word. But
there was always this little voice in the back of my head, criticizing every move I made. The voice, strangely enough,
always
sounded like Charlie’s.

“Kara,” I said, motioning for her to climb aboard the float. “Can you take your position for just a second? I need to get an idea of where we’re at.”

Kara, Matt’s new girlfriend, was
t
he sweetes
t girl I’d ever met. She was Oakland High School’s
J
unior
C
lass
P
resident,
dance committee chair member
, and
a diplomatic representative
in the M
odel UN. I
still
don’t k
now how their relationship
sparked
, but there’s no secret why she caught Matt’s eye. She was beautiful; 5’6, brunette hair, amber eyes, and a smile that could knock any guy off his feet. Furthermore, her
amazing personality
added to the
charm
.
Just last spring
she was voted the
2012
Oakland
City Festival
Queen.
That, I’m sure, came with its own set of duties and obligations—one being a participant in the holiday parades.

Kara climbed aboard her float and sat down on the throne. Bundled in her coat, scarves, gloves, and hat, she waved at the imaginary audience.

“How’s it look?” she called down.

“Perfect,” I said, giving her a thumbs up.

Grace stood on the float
next to Kara’s throne
, strategically placing flowers on either side.

Grace and I had been at
the parade line-up since seven
. It was now eight, and neither of us had spoken a word to the other.
If I didn’t know any better, I’d assume she
was
still angry that I’d provoked Lonnie…
and I couldn’t blame her.

Twenty minutes later, the marching band stepped into place. The fl
a
utists were adjusting their mouth pieces to tune their instruments
in
the cold wind. The drummers were goofing off, shoving each other in the back of the line.
The rest of the band warmed up their instruments in a melodic scale.

I glanced t
o the front of the line, where the Grand M
arshal float
sat
, and wa
tched as Luke climbed aboard.
I finished giving instructions to the last of the
group
around me, and rushed over to the front of the line.

“Hey,” I said, calling up to Luke on the float.
“Lookin’ great!”

“The float or me?” he asked,
jiggling his eyebrows
. He offered his hand to help pull me up. I accepted his gesture, cupping his hand in mine, and jumped up on the
wagon-turned-parade float.
Once I was standing next to him, he draped his arm over my shoulder
s
and glanced back at the long line of cars and floats.
“You’ve done an amazing job, Jules.”

“Thanks,” I said, trying to tune out the marching band directly behind us. “I can’t stay. I have so much to do at the end of the line.
Derek was supposed to….” I dropped my head and shrugged. “
It’s chaotic; no one knows what’s going on.
” Luke nodded as though he understood. “
But I wanted to stop by real quick and say
hi
and
thanks
.”

“For what?”

“Doing this,” I said. “It means a lot to me… and… well, everyone else. You really deserved this
—”

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