Promise Me: Chapter 1
Hannah took a moment to process that one little word. Barcelona? As in...Barcelona, Spain?
Well, duh... Was there really any other Barcelona situated next to the bright blue waters of the Mediterranean? She glared at the picture of his new house on her computer and blew out an unsteady breath. He lives in Spain. He's an engineer for a global multi-billion dollar company. He has a beautiful wife and two, just-as-beautiful children.
And I'm the idiot who dumped him.
Hannah didn't know why she felt the sudden urge to search for Luke Kirkland. She had not seen, nor talked to, him in almost thirteen years. Not since that year after they both graduated high school and she left their small hometown to pursue her dream of becoming an actress/singer in Hollywood.
Actually, yes, I do know why I had to see Luke for myself. Because his dad walked into her store yesterday, and Hannah couldn’t avoid him this time. Ronald Kirkland cornered her in the herb garden section and asked how she was doing after all these years. She said she was fine, and she asked about himself and his family, which only started this chain of thoughts about Luke, leading up to her compulsion to see his success for herself.
And look at me...alone, single, a few non-speaking parts in a some cop dramas -- mostly as corpses, she chafed -- one tampon commercial, a b-rated scream movie in which she died within the first thirty minutes and a chain of pointless, unsuccessful auditions under her belt...and that was about it. And no one wanted to hear her songs, not even in the clubs. Said she had a good voice but was too country. Said she should go to Nashville. Hannah didn’t want to go to Nashville. She wanted to be a Hollywood star...like her mother had tried unsuccessfully to become, and Hannah thought she could do what her mother couldn’t. But that was before Lawna Miles married James Baker, settled back in Conway, Arkansas, gave birth to Hannah, and left forever because the place was “too country.”
Hannah had been determined to do prove she was better than her mother, but she returned home five years ago to care for her ailing father as the cancer slowly took his life. She’d been running her dad’s farm and garden supply store ever since then because she could never bear to disappoint her father, and this store had been his whole life after her “mother” left. But Hannah’s life had become meaningless...hopeless...loveless.
Just the week before, she tried to recall the last time she had sex. It was back in California five years ago, she remembered that, but the man’s face was a blur, a weak moment from a painful bout of loneliness, but ever since then she’d been taking care of business herself because she just wasn’t the casual sex kind of girl. She’d seen enough bed-hopping in Hollywood to realize she’d never be able to complete with some of those young, ambitious actresses that way. And now, she was stuck in a town full of good ole country boys, and Hannah wanted to yank her hair out every time one said, “Hey there, sugar.” But who could blame her? Working all day in a farm store in this little town, the only men she ever saw were the ones working for her, those regular customers who her dad knew, and occasionally a new face. Still, they liked to tease her -- “Sing us a song, Reba!” -- and proposition her, but Hannah Baker didn’t find anything attractive about a man covered in mud and smelling like cow manure.
Her eyes strayed back to her computer screen. Luke, he had grown up on a farm, but he never seemed like the guys around her all day...rough, loud, smelly. Oh, no. Luke Kirkland had been so mature for his age, always so polite and kind and so very responsible. Now, he still had that same look to him, but older, more handsome, happier than the last time she saw him. He’d been her first...on that old, tweed couch in his parents’ farmhouse basement. She remembered how quick and awkward it had been, some heavy breathing, his cold fingers under her bra, his belt buckle poking her in the knee, but he’d been a gentleman the whole time. Over the next few months, they found a rhythm with each other. And they had found a sort love in each other’s arms, but even the physical temptations hadn’t been enough to wait for him while he went off to college. She let Luke go all those years past. He asked -- begged -- her to stay with him, to wait for him to get his degree, to marry him. She said no. She wanted more from her life. She wanted to be a star.
She'd been a complete and stupid fool.
Dropping her head to the keyboard, she banged out a tattoo of regret. Stupid, stupid, stupid! Luke...so gorgeous, smart, funny, sweet, patient, and strong. The perfect young, maturing man, and she practically drop-kicked his heart when she returned his promise ring and left town. Or so she thought. Apparently, she didn’t do a very good job at breaking his heart. He had gone on and made a life for himself, become successful and traveled the world with his beautiful family trio.
Okay...get a grip, Hannah. You knew this would happen. What did you expect? For him to be poor, single, and miserable like you?
Not Luke Kirkland. Not the star of the baseball team. Not the president of the French Club. Not the straight-A student who had earned a full academic scholarship to one of the best engineering colleges in the country. Oh, no. He had dreams, too. The only difference was that his were realistic and sane, whereas Hannah thinking she’d become the next Meryl Steep just because she played the lead in three high school plays and won two talent competitions with her singing...
Hannah sighed and pushed away from her desk. There was no point in pining over the past...what could have been. She still had dreams, but now she was more sensible about her future. She no longer wrote songs or thought about acting. With her father’s passing, she inherited a small chunk of change along with the supply store, and she hoped one day to have the courage to sell it all and move away from this countrified place forever. Maybe actually go back to college and finish it this time. She liked the business part of the store, so that might be a career goal for her...a business degree.
No, she sighed, she couldn't change the choices of her past, but she was determined to make something of her future. But for now, she needed to forget all about Luke Kirkland and get her booty to work. The phone bill, car note, and credit card wouldn't pay themselves.
Now, there’s wishful thinking...
Two nights later, Hannah stood at the gas pump on her way home from the store, filling up her Honda. She couldn’t seem to get Luke out her mind...Luke and his wife and kids. Every free moment was crowded with her thoughts of him. She even took to stalking his Facebook page. Which was creepy, even by her standards.
The fluorescent lights over the gas pumps hummed and insects flew around her head in the balm of the summer night. The gallon counter on the pump ticked slowly by, and she was getting frustrated. Tired beyond tired, she was ready to get home and check Luke’s status. Did he go on that sailing excursion he planned yesterday? Or did his wife talk him out of it? Hannah had to know. She was obsessed with his life...the life she could have had with him.
A black, jacked-up Dodge truck rumbled into the gas station and parked on the other side of the pump from her. A girl -- around twelve or thirteen? -- popped out of the passenger side, yelling at the person still inside the cab, “I hate you! Leave me alone!”
A man exited the driver’s side, his whole body bristling with contained anger, and Hannah ducked her head. None of my business.
“Josie, calm down! There is nothing I can do about it, and you know that!”
“I don’t want to go to Grandma’s!”
The man walked around the hood of the truck and approached the girl. “What am I supposed to do, then? I am not taking you to your mother’s!”
“Because I just drove eight hundred miles so you wouldn’t have to get on an airplane!” he yelled at her. “It’s another eight hundred miles to Columbus!”
The man bristled...absolutely trembled violently with restraint. Hannah was mesmerized. Wow. She remembered the one time her dad looked like that. She couldn’t remember what she did to make him look that mad, but she clearly recalled him shaking like that.
In a low, menacing voice, the man said, “Josie, I don’t care if your mother lived across the street, you’re still not staying with her for three weeks without my supervision.”
“Then you can stay home,” the girl yelled back at him.
“I have to go! It’s my job, Josie!”
“Then, why can’t I stay with Laura’s for the summer?”
Hannah peeked at the pair. Obviously a father and his daughter The girl was pretty with blond curls framing a kewpie doll face, and the man was tall, built, also blond and looked vaguely familiar, but she couldn’t place him. This town wasn’t that big, so she probably saw him somewhere...maybe at Walmart, the mecca of this commuter, interstate community. Then again, he did say he drove eight hundred miles, so what did she know? Maybe he just looked like someone she knew, though her brain wasn’t putting his face on someone else’s body.
“I am not talking about this again,” he said angrily. “You and Laura get into too much trouble together. You are not spending the whole summer with her. And I am not driving all the way back to Savannah tonight, even if you could.”
“I hate you!” the girl screamed again and stomped toward the convenient store entrance.
“Where are you going?”
“To the bathroom!”
Hannah inconspicuously watched them, though neither seemed to notice her. The pump finally finished, and she breathed with relief. The man lightly punched the side of his truck as his daughter disappeared into the store. “Dammit, she’s going to be the death of me,” he muttered to himself. Hannah smirked. She put the pump handle back and waited for the receipt to print.
The frustrated man turned then, and his eyes locked on Hannah. She felt her breath escape her. Whoa. Now, those are some green eyes.
“Well...” he drawled, “if it isn’t Hannah Baker, the songbird.”
Hannah blinked. “I’m sorry...do I know you?”
“You don’t remember me? That figures,” he said bitterly. He pulled out his wallet and fished his credit card from it. “Hannah, the songbird, the siren of temptation, always so busy leading all the guys around with your pretty, shallow smile and long legs...”
Hannah reared back like she’d been slapped. “Excuse me?” No wonder his daughter hated him, if this was the way he spoke to all females.
“Oh, don’t blink those big, beautiful hazel eyes at me, Songbird,” he scoffed, sticking his card into his side of the pump. “I’m not one of your lovesick followers.”
Hannah glared at him, wondering if she could strike a match on his scruffy chin while spraying him with the diesel fuel he pumped into his truck. “Just who the hell do you think you are? You have no right to judge me!”
He snorted. “Please...I remember how you batted your lovely eyes, sung your pretty songs, smiled your pretty smile and had every guy falling over themselves to please you. Heaven knows how you strung my brother and all his idiotic friends around for years.”
“You don’t know anything about me,” she growled and ripped her receipt from the dispenser. “And I don’t know who you are, so go back to Hell, you stupid jackass! It’s no wonder your daughter hates you! I just met you, and I feel like stabbing you in the throat with my car keys!”
He chuckled, a rich, vibrant sound. “Always so damn feisty, Songbird.”
“Stop calling me that!”
“Sure, Hannah Banana,” he retorted with a grin, and Hannah gasped.
“How do you know that name?” Very few people knew her father used to call her that.
“I know a lot about you,” he said. “I’m surprised you don’t remember me.”
She stuck her hands on her hips. “Then enlighten me,” she snarled.
“Nah...this is too much fun,” he said, winking at her. “I’d love to be there when you finally figure it out. Too bad I’ll be out of town for a few weeks.”
Hannah stood there, racking her brain for recognition, but she came up short. She just couldn’t remember where she’d seen him before. He acted like they went to school together, but she’d know it if he’d been in one of her classes together. He must be older. He looked a few years older. The dark blond hair on his head seemed to be thinning at the temples, and his striking green eyes implied that he’d recently gone through some hardships. Recalling what he’d told his daughter about going to her mother’s, Hannah assumed he must be divorced. She glanced at his left hand. No ring. But there was a faint line where one had once called home.
“Still can’t remember?” he asked, putting his pump handle back in the holder. Hannah jerked out of her reverie. How long had she been staring at him? The blond girl came back, climbed into the truck and slammed the door. He never took his gaze off Hannah. Softly -- seductively -- he said, “Well, Songbird?”
Squaring her shoulders with indignation -- mostly because his deep voice caressed her in a way she’d never felt before -- she replied, “I’m afraid I’ve never known many jackasses in my time, so no...”
“Oh, you will, my little siren...you’ll be thinking about me until you figure it out,” he purred, like a tiger on the prowl. Hannah got chills.
“Don’t worry,” she hissed, “I won’t waste my time.” And with that, she got into her car and drove off, her irritation making her speed all the way home.
Which was probably why that policeman felt it was necessary to give her a ticket.
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