Read Just a Little Promise Online

Authors: Tracie Puckett

Tags: #Young Adult, #Romance, #Contemporary

Just a Little Promise (7 page)

BOOK: Just a Little Promise
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“Miss Julie,” Detective Bruno said, rounding the corner. “Still nothing?”

“Where is he?” I asked, tears
welling
up
in my eyes. “Why isn’t he answering?”

Bruno wrapped me in his warm
arm
s and let me cry
against his chest.
Before long, he pulled away, draped his arm across my shoulders, and walked me down the street to his car.

“Come on,” he said.

He didn’t say
where we
we
re going, but I knew.
He was taking me home.

Five minutes later, I was sitting on the first step inside the house, listening as Detective Bruno told Charlie he’d found me w
andering through the
historic
district,
cold and frazzled—and looking for Luke.

“Thanks for bringing her home,” Charlie said, waving as Bruno let himself out.

When
the door was shut
, Charlie turned to me and sighed.

“What do I have to do to get through to you, Julie?” he asked, grabbing at the root
s
of his hair.

Stop—
chasing

Luke.
He’s no good for you
—”

“I know you think that,” I said
, pulling myself up to take a stand
. “And I know you’ve thought that since the day he came here to t
alk to
you
.
” A questionable look swept across his face, but he bit his tongue and let me continue. “
But you know what, Charlie? I don’t care anymore. I’m not
gonna
keep pretending that what you’re doing is okay. You can’t keep bending over backward to keep me from seeing him.
You can’t follow me around, question my every move, and lock me up in jail cells
for the rest of my life
. I love him—”

“I don’t care,” he said. “A
s long as you’re under my roof—”

“I live by your rules,” I said. “Yeah, I know. I’ve heard it a million times.”

“You and Luke… that combination is out of the question—”


I don’t under
stand why you hate him—”

“I don’t care
if you understand
!” he yelled.
He took a deep breath to calm himself before continuing.
“Luke is
a
damn good cop; he’s an even
better
person.
I couldn’t ask for someone better on
my force. My feelings about this
situation have
nothing
to do with
me not liking him
. I love that kid like he’s my own. My problem, Julie, is that I don’t like the idea of
you
with
him.”

“If he’s so great,” I said. “Why are you so
recklessly determined to
keep
us apart
?”

He glared at me, wearing h
is typically stern expression, b
ut I refused to falter. For once in my life, I had something worth fighting for, and I was
going
to fight for it. Charlie must’
ve sensed the determination in my stare, because he finally dropped his head.


Because,” he said. “
I
f you keep running after him, you’ll finally get what you want.

“And…
getting what I want is a
bad
thing?”

“Yes,” he admitted, and I had to give him credit for honesty. But I still didn’t understand. “
You’re beautiful,
Julie. Y
ou’re
so
intelligent, a
nd
sure…
Luke would be an idiot to ignore
all
that. So yes,
if
you go after him, he’ll fall.
Hard.
And maybe someday you’ll get married and have a kid of your own.

“I’m failing to see the problem with this picture,” I nearly whispered, imagining the joy that would come with spending an eternity with Luke.

“W
hat happens when you get that
call
?” he asked, his eyes welling up with tears. “
I’m sorry, Mrs. Reibeck, your husband won’t be coming home.
He’s dead.

He choked down a sob, and I could see him reliving his very own past.
A tear escaped from his eye and he quickly wiped it away.

Then what
,
Julie?
Then you have
nothing
!”

“Charlie—”

“No!” he yelled. “Why haven’t you learned? Don’t you remember what you went through
the night Luke was shot
? Don’t y
ou remember the hell it put you
through?
Multiply
that by a million and maybe you’ll understand what it would be like to fall in love with
him
, marry him, have a family with him… then have it all ripped away in one fell swoop.”

I bit my tongue and swallowed hard.

Matt
was only
three w
hen
Charlie’s wife, my Aunt Laurie, was killed in a hit and run car accident. When Charlie’s peers showed up on his doorstep, heads hanging low, and delivered the news to my uncle, his life came crashing down. He’d lost his wife, and there was nothing he could do
to
rectify
the situation
.
It was completely out of his control.
He
was left to raise Matty alone… and...
true
to what I’d always believed,
he
’d
never healed his broken heart.

“Charlie,” I said, keeping my voice low. “I know you
miss
Laurie…
but… no matter who I choose to love, that love will come with the risk of loss. Laurie had the safest job in the world, but that didn’t keep her from meeting her inevitable fate.” Charlie continued to shake his head, practically blubbering at this point. I couldn’t be sure he was listening to a single word I said. “
I don’t want to live my life in fear anymore. Getting through this past year has been one of the hardest thing
s
I’ve ever done.
I cried myself to sleep for months after we buried my parents. I struggled to fit into this town and make friends at a new school. News flash,
I didn’t fit in
. The only friend I had was Matt. The
only
reason people accepted me was because of him. But deep down, I was just that freak whose parents were slaughtered. No one wanted to be my friend. And then I met Luke…and Derek… and everything changed. People started to actually care about me for
me
. I finally felt like I belonged somewhere.” Tears soaked my face, running from my eyes to
my
mouth. I wiped them away with
the
back of my sleeve and shook my head. “I lost Derek. He’s gone… he’s probably never com
ing back. But please don’t take
Luke from me. He’s all I have.” I cried harder still, almost towering over from the pain.

So please… if you know where he is….”

Charlie dropped his head. He wiped away a
single tear
and shrugged.

“I haven’t heard from him, Julie,” he said. “
You’ll be the first person he tries to contact.
And if he’s not checking in with you, maybe you should take
the hint
.”

I nodded and turned back for the stairs.

“As long as Luke wants me in his life,” I said
, turning back to get my last word in
. “I’m going to be there. I don’t care if it’s one day, two months, or a lifetime… I’m not going to run from him just because I know he could die someday.
Charlie, we’re all dying. Every breath we take… we’re one step closer to the end. And I want to spend every second of my life holding on to the people I love. If you can’t respect that, fine. That just makes you one less person I don’t have to waste my time loving.”

He nodded as if he finally understood, but didn’t say a word.
I followed the steps to the second floor, reaching my room, and shutting the door quietly behind me.

I spent the next hour trying to call Luke, but
the
calls were going straight to voicemail.

By ten o’clock, I decided
to
get some sleep. If I hadn’t heard from Luke by now
… I probably wouldn’t. Not tonight, anyway.

I lifted my school bag off the end of
the
bed, cursing myself when
the contents of the bag spilled on the floor. I picked up each binder and notebook
, one by one, and tucked them
back into their rightful place
. But the final notebook on the floor had fallen open. I picked it up and sat on the bed, leaning over the pages of scribbles
, doodles, and chicken scratch
.

It was my notebook f
r
om
the job shadowing project.

I’d been in Luke’s patrol car when I first scribbled these questions on the page. And each answer he
’d given
me was
written
next to the original question.
Little h
earts covered the page. Tiny notes in the margin said things like
you’re not the only one suffering, Julie
and
find out where his scar came from
. I read over the notes for ten minutes,
laughing at the stupid little notes I’d left myself. And then, as if by a force I couldn’t control, my eyes gravitated to the bottom of the page.
Angry cops make bad cops
.

And without another breath
, I suddenly realized where Luke was.

Chapter Seven

Sunday December 23

I slid on ice for the third time, using the branches along the wooded path to keep myself from falling.

There was something incredibly eerie about the Oakland
w
oods in the middle of the night. It wasn’t nearly as serene, beautiful, or magical as I’d remembered it.

I’d only ever taken this path once before
. The first time I came through here,
it was daytime… and
I was holding on to Luke’s hand to keep from losing my way through the trees.

After ten minutes of drudging through the snow, I finally reached the opening. The hills that were once spread with thick, luscious
,
green grass
and beautiful wildflowers
were now covered with two inches of white, mostly untouched snow. The blanket glistened in the moonlight, and now—more than ever—I could understand why Luke came out here to escape.

Sitting at the far edge of the nearest
hill
, Luke stared out at the rolling
acres
.
A fire burned next to him,
crackling and popping as he looked on
.

I took a few loud steps toward him, still trying to keep my balance.

“Luke,” I said quietly, hoping not to scare him.

He didn’t turn to acknowledge me. He simply looked on without moving an inch.

“You’re getting good at this disappearing act,” I said, trying to break the ice with a little smile. “You’ve been MIA for quite some time now, and you never did tell me how you got out of the cell last week.
What’s your secret?” Still, he didn’t look at me.
“I hope you’re not mad that I came
out
here….
I figured you wanted to be alone, but
I’ve
been
worried about you.
I just wanted to make sure you were okay.

A few quiet minutes passed.
I took a seat on the snow-covered hill
and
stared at him from the corner of my eye
.
“You’ve been ignoring me.”

“No,” he whispered, finally looking at me. His nose was red
and his chee
ks were burned from the wind. “I left my phone at home. It’s probably dead—”

“Have you been out here all day?” I asked. “Is this where you came yesterday after you left? Lonnie said you never showed up at the house, which we all kinda thought you would.
When… when no one heard from you,
I
was scared that you might’ve
—”


Fled
?” he asked, understanding why I’d assumed so. “
I’ve been here, yes.”

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