Authors: Tracie Puckett
Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance, #Contemporary
“Hey,” he sa
id, speaking louder as the band behind us
warmed up in unison.
“Are you okay?”
“About the parade… or Derek leaving?”
I shrugged again for a second time. I didn’t know how Luke knew Derek was gone. I’d never told him. But in a town as small as Oakland, news travelled fast. I could only imagine the whole town knew he was gone with
24-hours of him pulling out.
He wrapped his arm
around me, pulling me close, and brushing our noses together.
“Julie,” he nearly yelled, still trying to talk over the band. “Don’t worry about him. He’ll be fine
“I know,” I said, matching his volume. “But I have to go now. They need me at the back of the lin
“Go,” he said, letting me slip away. But before I could jump off the float, his hand wrapped gently around my wrist and he twirled me back to him. Our chests were pressed together, and I was breathing far too heavily. I didn’t know if
body against mine, or the freezing
cold wind, but something left me
numb and frazzled.
leaned down and
whispered something, but I couldn’t make out the words. Even this close, the band was
far too loud.
“What?” I yelled. He
smiled, shook his head, and whispered again.
ke,” I yelled again, pointing to
my ears. “I can’t hear
you, it’s too loud—”
“I love you!” he yelled…
and this time
heard it. The band had stopped at the most inopportune moment, and now everyone in the line-up, and even a few members of the gathering crowd,
watched us with wide eyes.
I took a long, deep breath
as I looked around, failing to meet his gaze.
his voice much quieter now. He lifted
his hands to cup my face. “Did you hear me?”
I couldn’t help but smile. Of course I heard him.
The whole town heard him
“Julie!” Grace yelled from two floats over. “The 4
H float is overcrowded. They want
help arranging a second unit—”
I’m on it.”
, but never looked at her. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from Luke’s
. “I’ll be right there.”
“Can you just
… hold that thought? I have to—”
“Go,” he said
. “Do what you have to do. I’ll see you after the parade.”
With a quick and unexpected kiss, I took a step away from him and jumped to the ground. The warmth from his lips still tingled on my skin as I stumbled back to the end of the line.
It felt like a dream.
I almost couldn’t catch my breath. My heart pounded inside my chest
, louder with each passing second.
Luke… just… said… he… loved… me…
Charlie’s voice snapped me out of my trance.
whipped around to find him
pushing through the crowd
toward the Grand Marshal float.
“No,” I said under my breath, fighting to get back to Luke before my uncle made it there.
But Grace intercepted.
I barely heard her say. “Glad you made it on time.” Charlie tried to push past Grace to reach the front of line, but she kept a firm grasp on his arm. “You’re representing the Oakland PD; sixth in line. Please get back to your patrol car.”
Charlie’s face was red as I’d ever seen it, but he seemed to know better than to mess with Grace.
He pointed up to Luke, not saying a word, but communicating a pretty clear message. Luke had crossed a line. But, minding Grace’s authority, Charlie
turned on his heel and marched back to his car.
nodded to me with a slight grin. “Go get the 4-H kids squared away, sweetheart. I’ve got this
Saturday December 15, 11:20am
The event went off without a hitch.
The parade was over by eleven. Most of the participants stuck around to disassemble their floats before heading over to the diner—the site of my emotional breakdown—for a
y the time the band was out of uniform
and loading their instruments
the bus, most of the crowd had cleared out.
“Hey,” I said to
Grace, who was now clearing
flowers from Luke’s float. “Thank you… for… earlier.”
s a stubborn ole mule,” s
he said, shaking her head. “I
ut to let him lay a hand on
She looked at me for a moment and then straightened up. “About what happened at the diner
“I’m sorry, Grace,” I said. “
I should’ve walked away, but I let my anger get the best of me. I hope you can forgive me
No need for apologies
” she said. “This fight isn’t between us, sweetheart. It’s be
en Lucas and his father.
No one blames you for what happened back there.
“Thank you,” I said
. “You have no idea how much it was weighing on my conscience
e your shoulders?” she asked, brushing my hair aside. “Did he hurt you?”
“I’m okay,” I said, trying to pull away. But she took a firm hold on me—just like she’d done to Charlie when he went after Luke—and pulled
the neckline of
my sweater back to look at my arms. I took a deep breath, because I knew what she would find. When Lonnie grabbed me, he hadn’t done so gently. The bruises on my shoulders were proof enough.
“My God,” she whispered, running her fingers across the
bruises. “Honey, why didn’t you tell me?”
ce,” I said, lowering my head. “He snapped because of me. It was
“But he hurt you
“Who hurt you?” Luke asked, stepping up on the float and gently pushing Grace
. He pulled the back of my shirt away to see what Grace had
, and then
looked back to me
—fire burning in his eyes.
“Charlie?” he asked, bending to meet my stare, but I kept from looking at him. “
Let it go, Luke.
It doesn’t matter,” I said. “What’s done is done
“Did Charlie do this to you?” he asked, ignoring me.
“No,” I said, knowing as well as he
that Charlie would never lay a finger on me. “It wasn’t Charlie.”
Derek?” He stopped for a moment and took a d
eep breath. “
Is that why he left?
“Calm down, Lucas,” Grace said, putting her hand on his back.
“I’m not going to calm down until she tells me wh
,” he said, looking down
His face was growing redder by the second.
“This is why I didn’t tell you, Luke,” I said. “I knew you would overreact.”
?” he yelled. “Someone
” Luke was chivalrous, yes. Even now… all he wanted was justice. But then the anger in his eyes melted away, and that
was replaced with sorrow. “
Why… why do you trust Grace and not me
“I didn’t tell Grace,
, looking at my feet
. “I didn’t tell anyone.
I never planned to.
The only reason she knows is because she was there when it happened
And I didn’t have to say another word.
The realization hit him in a nanosecond. Another
wave of anger swept across his face as he whipped around to look
at his step-mother.
“I’ll kill him,” he said, less to her and more to himself. “I’ll kill the bastard.”
He turned away and jumped off the float without another word, no doubt on an unstoppable mission to find his father.
Grace and I shared a look of mutual worry, but there
s nothing we could do.
Sunday December 23
“Sorry, Julie,” Grace said, flipping the sign hanging on th
e door of her small floral shop to close for the day.
I haven’t seen him since yesterday, sweetheart
“It just doesn’t make sense,” I said, rubbing my
temples to relieve my migraine.
Ever since Luke stormed away, leaving me and Grac
e alone on the float, no one had
seen or spoken to him. I called Detective Bruno this morning to see if Luke had come into the station, but he wasn’t scheduled to come in. Ever since the shooting, Luke’s hours have been
hit and miss
“Julie,” she said, glancing out the window at the heavy snow. She turned back to me. “Go home. It’s late. It’s dark. Wherever he is, I’m sure he’s fine—”
“Julie,” she said again, her voice growing testy. “It’s
Christmas. Don’t you think your family wants you home right now
… instead of on a wild goose chase
I stood in the middle of
the floral shop
and shook my head.
or not, I didn’t care. I wanted to find Luke… or at least know that he was okay.
“Something must be wrong,” I said
, ignoring her
. “Luke wouldn’t just take off and not come back.”
“Sure he would,” Lonnie said, stepping out from behind the curtain that separated the storefront from
the back office.
“Stop,” I said, pointing at him. “You’re the last person I want to hear attitude from right now
“I’m just saying,” Lonnie said, now leaning against the counter.
“Where does he live?” I asked Grace, ignoring he
tell you if we wanted to,” Lonnie said. “We don’t stay in touch, remember?”
“148 Main,” Grace said, avoiding Lonnie’s stare. “It’s a two-s
tory apartment in the historic
district. Right down from Dot’s Antique Shop.”
Not sticking around to hear how Lonnie and Grace’s
would unfold from there, I ducked out into the snow and headed for Main. Three blocks later, my toes were frozen. My nose felt
like it could
break off, and I’d lost the feeling
in my fingers somewhere back on
I reached Luke’s complex and
I knocked—pounded, actually—but still, no sign of him. There were no lights on inside the building. An
d suddenly, an
eerie feeling settled in the pit of my stomach.
all felt too familiar.
What if he left?
What if all the pressure was too much? He’d been depressed for so long about not getting back to his normal work schedule, and now that he’s
back, Charlie is treating him like dirt
. And then there’s all the familial pressure he’s under with Lonnie. And then… there’s m
What if… when he added it all up… it was just too much?
Did he make like Derek and leave Oakland for good?
“Luke!” I screamed, now banging on the door. “
The crunch of footsteps in the snow rounded the corner and I stopped, praying it was Luke as he returned home.
But it wasn’t.