Thursday, June 30, 2005

Time Heals All Wounds 7/44

Chapter 7

A companion story to Ghosts

It was easy to let her thoughts wander in the dark quiet of the plane and as the movie once more drew Juraj into it, Alenka let the memories come...

Over the years she had found that she could almost forget how lonely she was as she lost herself in holiday preparations.  When friends would need baking done, or special gifts made for their celebrations they knew they only need ask and she would gladly take the tasks on herself.  In truth it was her way of forgetting, her way of not having to think of how it had been before her husband and son had died...before she had been left alone at a time when she should have been surrounded by family.  She had accepted their offers to dinner and family gatherings while all the while knowing what she really wanted was one of her own.  This year though was different, and without even knowing when it had happened, she had begun not to see Damir and Neven in her thoughts of the holidays, but rather Luka.  Like icicles on a warm winter's day, the heart she had long thought frozen, had begun to thaw.

In their time together they spoke often of the families they had lost, sharing each other's pain, allowing words to comfort when she knew she wanted more.  When had she begun to wish he would hold her, wish he would whisper the reassurance to her that he would always be there for her? When had she begun to look at him and wonder what it would be like to feel his lips against hers?

She smashed her fist into the bread dough on the table as the thought of what had always been unthinkable rose.  All these years she had remained true to her love for her husband, how could she possibly think she could feel that way again?  She knew others claimed to have found someone else...was it possible that the same might be true for her?

The thoughts lingered as she baked, her feelings torn between vows to a long dead husband and the awakening of feelings for someone new.  What if he had none of the feelings for her?  What if his loyalty to his wife was stronger then hers was to her husband?  How could she know what he was feeling without revealing her own feelings, more importantly, was she willing to risk losing his friendship and companionship if she did?

As she pulled the fresh bread from the oven she knew she had to see him, and what better excuse to use then to feed him?  She found herself smiling at the thought.  She often worried that he didn't take good enough care of himself, something she was sure he would deny, but the truth was there in how he lived.  She wrapped one of the loaves then set it aside as she pulled a bowl from the cabinet and filled it with the stew she had simmering on the stove.

The next hour would always come as a blur, she remembered that she had tended to some last minute shopping while she tried to decide what she would say when she arrived at his door. When he had delayed in answering her knock she had almost left...almost, but instead she had repeated the knock and heard his answering call, still heavy with sleep, in response.  His appearance as he had opened the door had caught her breath...what had she been thinking?  Even to her own ears her excuse had seemed weak, but he had taken her for her word and instead of sending her away had welcomed her inside.  Her embarrassment had to be noticeable to him, but was it simply that, or something far deeper?

It had almost been a relief when he had excused himself, allowing her in those few minutes to try and compose herself.  Even as she tried to suppress it she couldn't deny that the flutter was there...the flutter she was sure had died all those years ago.  When he had reappeared the feeling surged with a force that made her wonder if it had ever fully left her.  She tried to ignore it and maybe she would have succeeded, if only he hadn't touched her.  She'd known he was walking over, every movement he made seemingly in slow motion.  When he stopped in front of her she had almost made herself believe it was no different then all of those other times....if only he hadn't touched her.  As hers eyes met his she saw in that instant what she knew she was feeling, and as she nodded in silent consent to his unasked question the physical confirmation was there as well.

Nothing else existed in that moment of their first kiss and as she slid her hand around his neck she knew she had finally been given a second chance at love.  As the kiss deepened she was aware of the small things...the scent of his aftershave, the feel of his wet hair against her fingers, the taste of his toothpaste...and most noticeable, the comfort of his arms as he held her.  This was what she had missed the most, she was sure of that now, and as his hold on her tightened she couldn't help but wonder if he felt the same.

As she revisited their courtship Alenka found herself smiling, opening her eyes she let them fall on her husband.  Was it possible she could love him any more then she did, even after all these years?  As an unexpected bounce rocked the plane the static of the intercom broke the silence and into her thoughts.

"The Captain expects us to be experiencing some turbulence, for your own safety please make sure your seatbelts are fastened."

When neither Luka nor Maja stirred to the announcement Alenka unbuckled her own belt and she reached them she touched her husband's shoulder gently. "Luka."  When he did little more then turn away from her with the grumbled protest of one still lost to sleep she couldn't help but smile before trying again.  "Luka, you need to wake up for a minute."  As he turned to her and opened his eyes her smile deepened before she reached down to lift Maja off of him.  "The Captain turned the seatbelt sign on, you need to buckle up, I'll take care of Maja."

" 'Kay.."  The word came quietly, his voice still heavy with interrupted sleep.  As Alenka took their daughter from him he pulled his foot from the seat, sitting up as he did.

"Shh...Beba."  Alenka soothed the still sleeping girl as she settled her back in her own seat.  Once she had refastened her belt she tucked the blanket around her, then bent to pick up the discarded cat before turning her attention back to Luka.  It was obvious that he was still in the fog of half sleep and while he had sat up enough to fasten his own belt, he was already easing back towards full sleep.  Pulling a second blanket from the overhead, she lay it over him.

"Thanks..."  He reopened his eyes as she covered him.

"You're you need anything else before I sit back down?"  As she asked the question she reached down to brush sleep tousled hair off his face.

"No..I think I'll go back to sleep.  Juraj all right?"  He lifted his hand to hers.

"He's fine."

"You?"  The question came more softly as his eyes settled firmly on hers.

"I'm doing all right..sleep now, we'll talk later."  She offered a smile then brushed her thumb across his fingers before drawing her hand away and returning to her seat.  As she glanced back over to him she saw he had already turned into the window, the blanket pulled up over his shoulder as he tried to make his lanky frame comfortable in the cramped space allotted.  She watched him for several more minutes as he shifted and resettled, then finally found a position that allowed the much needed sleep to find him.  Not surprisingly, with his peace came hers, and with a sigh she leaned back in her own seat to let sleep claim her as well.

to be continued...

Time Heals All Wounds 6/44

Chapter  6

A companion story to Ghosts

Juraj knew better then to press his mother for more then she was willing to give, but as he turned back to the movie he found his attention wavering.  It seemed that he had always known his parents were different from those of his friends, and most of the time he could forget it.  It had been harder when he was little, when all he saw was their sadness, or when he woke to the sounds of their nightmares only to be sent back to bed with reassurances that they were fine.  He had known even then it wasn't true, that they only wanted to ease his fears, but how could he tell them that?  When they had finally felt him old enough to understand they had shared the truth and while it had not been easy he had adapted as they seemed to know he would.

Over time he had learned when he could ask for more and when he should step back.  He had learned to accept that there were times when they would lose themselves to their memories or grief.  He knew too that there were times when one or the other became quieter and the small black and white photographs that sat on the mantle would draw them into them.

It had been harder to accept that they were so much more protective of him then were the parents of his friends.  Hard to understand that to them his being even ten minutes late would seem a lifetime.  He leaned more comfortably against his mother with the thoughts, then lay his hand over hers as her arm circled around him.

"You all right, Beba?"  She asked the question quietly then kissed his hair as he nodded.  These were his parents and with all their differences there was one thing he never had reason to doubt.

"I love you, Mama,"  He spoke for her alone, then smiled as his words were met with a tightening of her arm and another kiss in return.

"I love you too, Juraj."

"It's all right, Beba...Tata's got you."  Luka reassured his daughter as his efforts to reposition himself caused her to moan softly in her sleep.  Drawing one foot onto her abandoned seat, he settled on his back, before coiling his arms more securely around her.  Had he not been so tired he might have wondered how it was that a time that should have brought dreams of loss, instead brought those of love.  Was this the indication of how far they had come?  He released a soft sigh of acceptance as his breaths slowed to match those of his daughter and he let sleep draw him to her again.

Since the loss of his family Luka had grown to dread the approach of the holidays.  In years past he had willingly taken extra shifts so he wouldn't have to dwell on what was no longer there, and he had every reason to believe this year would be the same.

The rapping on the hotel door stirred him from sleep and with a groan he raised his head to look at the clock...7:25pm...he groaned louder and let his head drop again, knowing he was due back in the ER at 11:00pm.  The rapping was repeated and he rubbed sleep from his eyes before tossing the bedding aside and sitting on the edge of the bed.  "Coming."  He drug his hand back through his hair as he stood, the action only seeming to worsen the unruliness of it.  The fact that he had only been asleep for less then two hours was not lost on him as he opened the door.   "What is it?"  He paused, dropping the hand he had wiped across his face as he realized who it was.   "Alenka?"

"I'm sorry....I should have called first."  Her dark eyes quickly took in his appearance and her face flushed slightly in embarrassment   "I was out shopping and thought I'd take a chance that you were home...I didn't think that you might be sleeping."  She offered a smile as she raised one of the bags she held.   "I brought dinner in case you were hungry."

" problem...come on in."  He moved aside to let her pass him, fully aware that he stood there in the wrinkled shirt and sweat pants he'd been sleeping in.

"Luka...I can leave this and go...I should have called."  Alenka smiled again giving him the chance to still refuse.

"No...please...stay.  I'm just not awake yet."  He closed the door to emphasize the point only to have an unexpected yawn break from him.   "I'm sorry."  He shook his head as she couldn't help but laugh.   "Let me go throw some water on my face and change, then we'll see if I can be a better host."  He offered the last even as he moved to the dresser and began to pull a change of clothing out of it.

"Luka, you don't have to apologize and you certainly don't have to change.  I'm the one who should for showing up unannounced."  She dropped all but one of the bags on the coffee table by the couch as she spoke.

"Yeah, I do...make yourself comfortable, I won't be long."  His comment was punctuated by still another yawn and prompted another laugh from her.

"I did remember coffee if that'll help." She said as she struggled to contain her humor, her attention moving to the contents of the bag as she pulled the assorted containers out.

Whatever else he planned to say was lost to a third yawn and he shook his head in mock surrender as it ended.   "Ok, I give right back."

When he emerged from the bathroom less then five minutes later she had the table set and the smells which filled the room were enough to make him forget he was still tired.   "That smells wonderful."

"Good, because I brought plenty." She glanced over to him, taking in his damp hair and freshly shaven face.  Dropping her eyes back to the table she uncovered one of the bowls then lay a chunk of homemade bread on a napkin next to it.   "Come, eat."

As he walked over to her Luka already knew that what he really wanted was not the meal she had spread onto the table.   "Alenka?"  He paused in front of her, then lifted a hand to tentatively touch her cheek with his fingertips.  As his eyes met hers he was sure that the nervousness he was feeling was equally present in her and he swallowed, giving her a moment to register his action.  When she said nothing and instead offered only the slightest of nods in consent he leaned in to kiss her.  In that moment he would swear that time stopped and the one thing he had feared he would never know again was realized.  The very thing that Angelique had assured him would one day find him had come true, and he let the kiss deepen with the realization.

to be continued...

Time Heals All Wounds 5/44

Chapter  5

A companion story to Ghosts

Alenka couldn't help but smile as the memory unfolded in her dreams, they had both been so fearful...

"Are you sure you don't want another serving?"  She found herself already reaching for the dish as Luka brought his last forkful to his mouth. 

"I'm sure...I've already eaten way too much."  He lay the fork on his plate before sitting back in his chair.  "It was wonderful...I don't know the last time I had anything this good.  Thank you."

Alenka smiled at the compliment, feeling the blush rise in her cheeks.  "Why don't you go have a seat in the livingroom.  I'll put some coffee on and clear these dishes away." At the request she rose and reached for his empty plate.

"Here, let me help."  Luka rose as well, only to have her wave his offer off.

"You're my guest..go on, I can do it, it won't take a minute."  She smiled before stacking her plate on his.

She knew her blush had to be worsening in that moment when he hesitated, torn between arguing or complying, and when he finally smiled then nodded she could do little more then smile in return. 

Whatever fears she'd had about his intentions were dispelled when she entered the livingroom not ten minutes later and found him asleep on the couch.  That he was sitting with his long legs stretched out before him and the newspaper on his lap, said it was not what he had intended.  Setting the tray with the coffee and cookies on the table she unfolded the afghan that lay draped over the couchback beside him, then covered him with it. 

He'd mentioned over dinner that he had worked an extra shift when one of the other doctors had called in sick, was it possible he hadn't been home since?  As she took a seat in the chair opposite she wondered if she would have the courage to allow herself to fall asleep and risk the nightmares revealing themselves to another.  Had he, without saying so felt her trustworthy enough to allow himself to chance that? 

She had never thought she would find anyone who would understand what her life was like, but the more time she spent with Luka the more she was sure he would.  How many times had they spoke of their time in Croatia only to realize that they could easily have been speaking of the same thing?  How could she ever tell him what it meant to not have to explain every nuance of her feelings? 

As he began to stir she let her thoughts about what might be fade, and as he rubbed a hand sleepily across his face to rouse himself she couldn't help but smile.  "Did you have a good nap?"

A bump of turbulence woke her and she immediately glanced across the aisle to see if it had woken Luka and Maja as well.  When she was satisfied it had not she turned her attention to their son, brushing her fingers through his hair.  "How's the movie?"

"Good..."  He momentarily shifted his attention to her though she knew he was far too involved to keep it on her for long.

"Are you hungry?  I brought some snacks."  She leaned forward to pull her bag from under the seat with the question.

"A little...but I can wait."  He laughed at something on the screen then flicked his eyes back to her as she touched his arm before handing a package of fruit snacks to him.  "Thanks, Mama." 

With his interest back on the movie she found it hard not to turn her attention to her husband again.  While he had barely moved she could see that Maja had, crawling higher so her head now rested on his shoulder, the cat lost as she wrapped both arms around him.  There were times she couldn't help but feel jealous of the relationship the two had, but from the moment of her birth it seemed she had him wrapped around her finger.  How many nights had she woke to find him standing by the window with her in his arms, whispering quietly of things only they would know?  It had been hard not to wonder if he was comparing her to Jasna, but then he might think the same of her and how she looked at Juraj.  How could they not look for similarities to their other children in these?  As they had gotten older that had changed, but there were moments she knew it still happened, and they would both forever wonder how those they had lost would have grown had the war not claimed them so young.  She raised a hand to stop the tears that threatened to fall at the thoughts. 

"Mama?"  Juraj's hand on her arm pulled her attention back to him. "Are you all right?"

"Yes...just remembering...don't worry."  She leaned her shoulder to his and slid her arm around him.  "Watch your movie."  She kissed his hair before settling back to watch with him.  The past would always be part of them,neither could deny that, and she knew she would always revisit it as Luka did his, but their future was here and it was that thought that made the moments of sadness bearable.

to be continued...

Time Heals All Wounds 4/44

Chapter  4

A companion story to Ghosts

In the weeks since that first meeting he'd found his attraction to Alenka growing.  Where once he had delayed going to the church until the Mass was almost ready to begin, he now found himself going early in hopes that he might get a moment to talk to her before the service.  Likewise he no longer was among the first to flee the church at Masses end, and instead he found himself looking forward to the casual conversation that would accompany the coffee and snacks served in the Rectory.

He would never know the moment he knew he wanted it to be more, and so it was one Sunday after Mass that he sought her out as she was pouring herself a cup of coffee. 

"Alenka?"  He spoke quietly as he approached her.

"Luka."  She offered a warm smile before picking up an empty cup and filling it for him.  "You look like you could use this, did you work last night?"

As he took the offered cup he nodded, surprised that she had noticed.  "My shift ended at six."  He lifted the cup and took a sip.

"Don't you think you should be heading home to get some sleep then?"  She took a sip from her own coffee before letting her eyes sweep over him.

Sliding one hand in his pants pocket he let his eyes drop to the cup he held in the other before raising them to her again.  Why was he so nervous about this?  He took a fortifying sip of the coffee.  "I wanted to see you..."

In the moment that passed before she spoke they might very well have been the only two people in the room.  Her face flushed slightly as she first dropped her eyes to her own cup, then raised them again at his scrutiny.

"And now you have."  She offered a shy smile, unable to suppress the butterflies that she was sure filled her.

"Alenka...I wondered..."  He found himself stumbling over the words as if he had never spoken to a woman before.  "Would you let me take you to dinner?" There he had done, if he could only remember to breathe while he waited for her to answer.

The flush to her face deepened as did her smile before she nodded.  "I'd like that."

That they would take things slow was never voiced, but seemingly mutually understood and over the weeks that followed they both relaxed considerably and soon became almost inseparable.  Knowing what he did of her past Luka had made no attempt to kiss her as yet and the similarity to his courtship of Danijela was not lost on him.

As the cabin lights dimmed to mark the start of the movie Alenka rose, pulling one of the airplanes blankets from the overhead bin before covering Luka and Maja as they slept.  That her husband didn't stir at the action revealed just how tired he really was and with a smile she touched his face before returning to her seat.

She had never thought she would find anyone who stirred the emotions in her the way Damir had, or that she would know again the feeling of holding a child to her breast, She slipped her arm around their son as he seemed to sense the change in her and leaned comfortably into her. 

"Mama?"  Juraj pulled his attention from the movie to her for a moment.

"I'm fine....just thinking, watch the movie."  She squeezed him to her before releasing him again.  The film immediately drew him back into it and with a sigh she leaned back and closed her eyes, hoping sleep found her as easily as it had Luka.

It was the first time she had invited him to her house and she was nervous...nervous, no, she had passed nervous more then an hour ago, what if she made a fool of herself.  For the umpteenth time she checked her appearance in the mirror and debated whether she should change from the simple plaid skirt and dark sweater she wore.  What if he expected something dressier...or something more revealing?  She was too old for this... it had been different when she was a young girl and had met Damir...then she had her whole life ahead of her. 

She brushed the thoughts of her husband from her mind and instead returned to the kitchen, turning her attention to the pot of bean soup simmering on the stove.  She had decided to make their meal one of those she had enjoyed as a child...and as she stirred the soup she found her concerns fading.  Her impressions of him had always been good ones, why should she think that would change?  She withdrew the spoon and recovered the pot before checking the sausage and potato casserole.  He was due anytime..had she forgotten anything?

The sound of the doorbell put an end to her worries and she moved quickly to answer it.  "Luka."  She let her smile fill her face as she greeted him, then stepped aside to let him enter.  "I hope you're hungry..."

to be continued...

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Time Heals All Wounds 3/44

Chapter  3

A companion story to Ghosts

"The Captain has turned off the seatbelt sign, feel free to get up and move around the cabin, however for your own safety...."

As the Stewardess made her announcement Luka popped the buckle on his seatbelt and turned slightly sideways, offering a smile to his daughter as she watched him stretch his legs out to fill the space in front of her seat.  The fatigue of having pulled four shifts in the last three days had finally caught up with him and he knew it wouldn't be long before he was forced to give into the sleep his body needed.

"Tata, can I sit with you?"  The dark haired girl was already unbuckling her seatbelt with the question.

"Maja, let Tata go to sleep, you're fine where you are."  Alenka found herself intervening even as she helped their son pull his bag out from under his seat.

"It's all right."  Luka stifled a yawn before moving to make room for the small girl.  "Come here, Beba."

"Luka, you won't be able to sleep with her crawling all over you."  She tried not to let her concern reflect too strongly in her tone as she watched their daughter drag her stuffed cat with her onto his lap.

"Right now I don't think anything will keep me from sleeping."  He offered in an attempt to reassure her before sliding one arm around the girl then raising the other to prop his head in his palm.  "She'll be fine."  As if that alone settled it, he smothered another yawn, then closed his eyes with a soft sigh.  Taking her cue from her father, Maja lay back contentedly against his chest, letting her dark eyes pass briefly to her mother before turning her attention to her cat.

"Tata will miss the movie."  Juraj commented with concern even as he adjusted his headphones in anticipation of the novelty of the in-flight movie.

"You can tell him about it later, he needs to get some sleep now."  Alenka glanced over to her husband, then smiled as she saw that in the brief span of their exchange, Maja had turned to lay facing him, letting one arm drape around his neck as the other wrapped around her cat.

"Mama..."  Juraj paused a moment as he reconsidered what he had started to stay.  "Are you sad to be going back?"

His question caught her off guard but Alenka had known it would eventually come, the boy was like his father in that.  How many timeshas she read the same look in her husband's eyes before he gave voice to something he had been concerned about.  She reached over to brush his bangs off his face as she weighed her answer, though in the end she knew she would give him nothing but the truth.  "A little, but not in a bad way."

The boy frowned slightly at her answer.  "Because you don't know what it'll be like?"

"Partially."  Alenka nodded.  "When I left Croatia, the war was still going on."  She lowered her voice and leaned closer to him so her words would be for him alone.  "Unlike Tata, I've never gone back, so I know how it was before...and during the war, or at least how I remember it.  I know what he has told me has changed about it..."  She paused and offered him a smile as she saw the seriousness in his face.  "You don't have to worry Juraj, both Tata and I want this to be a happy time for you and Maja, not one you'll remember in sadness."

"But it'll be sad....for you and Tata."  He let his dark eyes settle on his mothers.

"In some ways, yes."  She reached across to take his hand in hers, knowing that she and Luka from the very first had decided to be nothing but honest with the children about their shared pasts.

"Like when we go to see the graves."  He offered the comment even more quietly.

"Yes, that'll be sad for both of us."  She dropped her eyes to their hands for a moment then lifted them to his face again.

"It'll be all right, Mama."  He scooted closer so that he could lean against her.  "Maja and I will take care of you both."

Luka shifted slightly as his daughter settled herself more comfortably, letting his hand splay across her back.  The past several days had affected each of them and his need to pick up extra shifts to compensate for those he would miss while gone meant that many of the children's concerns had fallen to Alenka.

"Tata...are you sleeping?"  He eased his eyes open drowsily at the small girl's quiet question.

"Not yet."  He let his hand rub across her back to ease her closer to the sleep he knew was coming.  "You can't sleep?"  He kept his voice so low that none but her would know they were talking.  She shook her head and he could feel her playing in the hair at the back of his neck as she lay there in silence.  "What is it Beba?"  He repositioned himself so he could fold both arms around her.  "Maja?"

"We'll come back home won't we?"  She raised her head so she could look at him, her fear at the possibility that he might say no reflected in her eyes.

"Of course we will, why would you think we wouldn't?  He lifted a hand to stroke her hair with the question.

"Mama said it was hard to leave before..."  She let the question trail off as she lowered her head to his chest again.

"Maja...Beba" He stilled his hand a moment.  "It was hard for both of us to leave, but that was a long time ago, before we met each other and before we had you and Juraj."  He lowered his head to kiss her then rested his forehead against hers.  His answer must have been all the confirmation she needed and she snuggled closer, signaling an end to the conversation, when she closed her eyes he found it easy to do the same.

Between the hum of the plane and his daughter's breathing, Luka had little difficulty regaining the edge of sleep Maja had roused him from.  He had been surprised that the approach of their departure had brought none of the anticipated nightmares that had preceded earlier trips.  Yes, there had been dreams, memories of his life with Danijela and the children, Alenka had experienced the same in regards to her husband and son, but it was something both had known would come.  That they shared marriages of love and loss was something neither could deny, but it was just that shared tragedy that had brought them together in a way neither could have expected.

Was it possible that six months had already passed since the night Angelique Forquet had reentered his life?  Luka brushed his hand back through his hair as he pulled the car into the Church parking lot.  In the time since he had been forced to face parts of his life he had avoided for far too many years and the revelations exposed had forever changed him.  He could never repay the woman for the sacrifices she had made in that first month, nor for those that had come since, neither would he ever be able to repay Father Joe for helping him regain the comfort of his faith.

It was in truth, the combination of those things which had finally forced him to accept that his relationship with Abby could never work, and less then a month earlier he had finally broken it off with her.  In a way he had wondered at the time if she had reached a similar conclusion even before he did, and when he told her she had seemed neither surprised nor upset with his decision.  In the month since he had if anything seen only a strengthening of their still strong, friendship.

He had known the Survivors Support Group met monthly, Father Joe had made sure of it, but whether it was his work schedule or his own fear he had never attended.  When he received the current church bulletin he couldn't help but notice that the announcement had been highlighted, subtlety was not the Priest's strength.  That he had somehow also been given the night off from work had left him wondering if a higher intervention was at work.

As he opened the door to the rectory he was immediately greeted by the sounds of multiple conversations in as many different languages.  Small groups of people were clustered around the entryway and a feeling of warmth seemed to fill it.  Pausing for a moment he let his eyes sweep through those assembled for the Priest.

"Luka, you made it."  He turned to the welcoming voice, a smile crossing his face as he watched the man extract himself from the group he was with before making his way over.

"Father."  Luka took the extended hand.

"I'm glad you decided to join us, are you hungry?  There are some wonderful homemade cookies...."  He lay a hand on his back already angling him in the direction of the table of refreshments before he had a chance to respond.

The two women behind the table were sharing some private joke and it was the taller of the two's laugh which stopped him.  In that brief instant he felt the abandon that had been in another's and deep inside a memory of Danijela was triggered.  He wiped his hand across his face as it was gone almost as quickly, then took the two in.  Both women were dark, the taller with hair so black there was almost a blue cast to it, her eyes large and a deep brown.  If he had to guess he would place her age close to his own, though he saw in her eyes a look that spoke of one who might be older.  The other had to be closer to 40, a good head shorter and her skin speaking of a Hispanic ethnicity.

"Rosalie, Alenka, I'd like you to meet someone."  Luka found himself dropping his assessments as the Priest began to speak.

"Si, Father."  Rosalie offered a smile as did the taller woman as she nodded her agreement before turning her attention to him.  

"Rosalie de Vega."  He motioned to the first, then to the second,  "Alenka Ostovic, I'd like you to meet Luka Kovac."

to be continued...

Time Heals All Wounds 2/44

Chapter  2

A companion story to Ghosts

"Maja...are you going to eat that sandwich or just play with it?"  Alenka glanced over to where the small girl sat at the table, before returning her attention to what she was doing.

"Tata always cuts it in 4 pieces."  She pulled the remaining crust from the cheese sandwich in her hand as if her comment answered what her mother had asked.

"I am not eat it."  At the sound of footsteps on the stairs she reached for the empty coffeecup on the counter and filled it, then carried it and the plate she had been working on to the table.

"Just in time?"  Luka stifled a yawn before pulling out the chair next to his daughter and taking a seat. "So..what are we having?"  He took in the sandwich on his own plate as his wife sat it in front of him then accepted the coffeecup as she handed it to him.  "Thank you...I need this."

"I thought you might."  She offered a smile to him before looking back over to the little girl as she pulled the cheese from between the slices of bread that made up her  sandwich.  "Maja..."  Then shook her head as she decided it wasn't worth the argument.

"Juraj already ate?"  He asked the question as he swallowed then sat the cup on the table and reached for his own sandwich.

"He wasn't hungry, I think he's eager to go."  Pouring a cup of coffee for herself she took a seat opposite from him.  "We'll need to leave within the hour."

He nodded in agreement as he chewed, then lay it back on the plate to reach for his cup again.  "What about you?  It's been a long time."  He took a sip then extended his hand only to lay it on top of hers.

"More nervous I much will have changed."  She turned her hand to lace her fingers in his.  "I wonder if we'll even recognize it."

"I don't're not having second thoughts about going are you?"  He searched her eyes for the signs.

Swallowing she shook her head.  "No..I need this as much as you do."  She offered a smile to reassure him. "If it wasn't for them we wouldn't be here now."

"Come here."  He raised her hand letting a smile enter his face as she rose in compliance.  As he moved to make space for her on his lap her smile joined his.  "Have I told you how much I love you?"  He let his eyes settleon hers with the question.

In response she leaned over to kiss him sliding one arm around his neck.  "I could never bring myself to go back..."  She whispered the confession quietly to him.

"I know, it's all right...we'll do it together."  He returned her kiss then looked over as he felt a pull on his sleeve.

"Me too Tata..." 

"You too..and Juraj..."  He returned his attention to his wife as she lay her head on his shoulder, letting his fingers run through her hair as he studied her.

"Is Mama sad?"  The small girl asked the question even as she abandoned her lunch and slid off the chair to move over to them. "Don't be sad Mama..."  She lay her hand on her Mother's arm in shared empathy.

"Maja..can you go find Juraj and help him bring the bags down by the door while I talk to Mama?"  Luka shifted his attention for a moment, hoping to give his wife some of the privacy he felt she needed, then as the girl nodded and ran off he turned back to her.  "We can cancel if you aren't ready to do this."  He made the offer even as he knew she would refuse.

"No,'s been twenty-five years...we said we would do this for them...for us...I'll be all right."  She lifted her head then kissed him again.  "We both need this, and the children deserve to see where we were born.  We've never hidden our pasts from them...I want them to have a chance to see the places we've talked about."

He nodded in agreement to her words then lifted one of his hands to rub his eye.  "It won't be easy for either of us will it?"  He asked the question softly.

"Probably not...but Danijela, Jasna, and Marko have always been a part of who you are in the same way that Damir and Neven will always be a part of, it's time we said good-bye."  She brushed her fingers through his hair, then allowed a faint smile to find her.  "It's time Luka..."

to be continued...

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

Congo Collage

Just had to share Congo ready you for "Healing," the story that will be coming after "Time Heals All Wounds."

Goran shows his gray side...

These two pictures seem to lend themselves to "Time Heals All Wounds," I hope you agree. From an interview "Cakula."

Time Heals All Wounds 1/44

Chapter  1

A companion story to Ghosts

"Juraj, have you finished your packing yet?  Tata will be home soon, and I want it done before he gets here."  The slender woman paused with the sweater she was folding in her hands as she looked towards the bedroom door, then shook her head when there was no immediate response.  "Maja...two more...I told you that already."  She lay the sweater on top of the clothes already in the suitcase as her attention turned to the five year old girl trying to shove yet another stuffed animal in her already full backpack. 

"But I need them."  She stressed the need before continuing, her dark eyes radiating the seriousness of her next words.  "Tata said it was all right and I can't leave them home alone." 

Brushing a stray strand of hair from her face, the woman let her eyes settle on her daughter.  "Maja..."  Anything else that might have been said was lost to the sound of the opening door downstairs and the small girl's yell of delight as she abandoned the toys and fled the room. 

"Tata's home!"

It had been a long shift and today more then most he had found that almost a relief.  He rolled his shoulders as he pushed the door open, feeling the ache of tired muscles even as he accepted that sleep would not be coming anytime soon. 

"Tata!"  His daughter's scream of welcome reached him only a moment before she launched herself at him and with a smile he let his bag drop and swept her into his arms.

"Where's Mama?"  He offered her a kiss before shifting her to his hip as he closed the door behind him. 

"Upstairs have to tell her it's okay for all my babies to go with me." 

"I'll talk to her..."  His face dimpled into a smile as he sat her on the ground. "Is Juraj upstairs too?"  He grabbed his bag from beside the door and carried it into the livingroom before dropping it and heading for the stair, only to stop again as his son came around the corner ahead of him.

"Hey!"  The ten year old's resemblance to his father was obvious, the inherited height already showing itself.

"Hey, yourself....are you packed?"  He asked the question even as the boy moved into his arms, tolerating the kiss he knew would follow. 

"Almost, I'm trying to find my good sneakers...Mama says I can't wear these." He dropped his eyes to the scuffed pair he wore as he freed himself from his father's embrace.

"Try under the couch...and turn the television on for your sister would you?  I need to change and mediate a toy dispute."  He ruffled the boy's hair before letting him pass.

"Thanks, Tata.  The remainder of what he said was lost to the sound of his sneakers hitting the landing as he jumped down the remaining half dozen steps.

Taking the rest of the stairs up two at a time he stopped as he rounded the corner to the bedroom.  "Having fun?"  He paused to lean against the doorframe as he watched his wife struggle to close the bulging bag on the bed. 

"Very funny, you could help you know?"  Her accent flowered the words as she matched his teasing.  "Your daughter is trying my patience today."  She stepped aside to let him tackle the bag then moved into his arms as he finished, her lips finding his in a welcoming kiss.

"So I heard."  He tucked the fallen lock of black hair behind her ear. 

"Luka, she can't take all of her toys."  She gave him a second kiss before laying her hand gently on his face.  "You look tired, rough shift?" 

He shook his head in dismissal, "Not that bad, and I'll sleep on the plane.  I do need to shower though, and maybe some coffee?"  He let the expectation of an already brewed pot reflect in the question.

"You should eat something before we have to go to the airport, I'll fix something while you shower and change."  She let her hand brush back through the gray at his temple before dropping her hand with a smile.  "Then we can decide how to break the news to your daughter about her toys..."

to be continued...

Ghosts Finale


An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

The disorientation of a mind still tangled in the tendrils of sleep lingered and Angelique offered a reassuring smile as she waited him out.  Even with as long as he had slept his eyes were barely open, the dark circles below them speaking of more then a few restless nights.  "You can go back to sleep, Sweetie."  She gave him the option even though she inwardly hoped he would refuse.

"What time is it?"  The words came out as a hoarse croak and brought a frown to her face before she lay a hand on his forehead. "Almost ten, Luka, have you been sick?"  When he nodded lethargically her frown deepened.  "Have you been taking anything?"  She asked the question as she rose, then filled a glass with water.  "Antibiotics..."  He saved the response for her return.  "I suppose you treated yourself too." She couldn't help chastising softly as she held the glass so he could drink.  "How long have you been sick?"  She withdrew the water as he raised a hand to push it away. "I don't know, a few weeks."  He rubbed the hand across his face in a failed attempt to rouse himself then started to sit only to have her lay a hand on his shoulder to still him.  "Stay.  Now, let me get this straight, you've been sick for several weeks, you're self medicating yourself, barely sleeping from what I can see, and if you're true to form probably not eating either.  Is that about right?"  Her face had hardened slightly with the summary and the realization of how close to the edge he was.  When he offered nothing in his defense she sighed, then reached across to touch his chin with her fingertips, forcing him to look at her.  "'s been ten can't keep punishing yourself because you lived and they didn't.  We can keep going around and around this, but nothing will change the fact that your wife and children died that day and you didn't."

"I can't do this...not now."  He made a failed attempt to pull away from her hold with the protest.  "You have to do this now, Luka.  Whatever led me here," She paused only to start again.  "It's time to put this to rest."  When he simply closed his eyes she found anger edging into the worry she felt for him.  "No, I will not let you pretend this isn't happening... Luka... look at me."  She tightened her hold enough to make it uncomfortable, then eased it as he opened his eyes again.  "You can't fool me Luka, if you really wanted to die you would have done something about it by now...I'm guessing death isn't your goal.  You can't possibly think that by punishing yourself you are somehow going to feel better about all that has happened?"  She could feel the tensing to his jaw as he reacted to her words and though he had yet to move otherwise she sensed she had stumbled onto his ultimate goal.  "That's it isn't it?  You think that by denying yourself a real life you can make amends for having survived when the rest of your family didn't.  

As he closed his eyes she felt the tremble pass though him.  "Sweetie...."  She allowed her tone to soften, "We all lose's part of life, I'm sorry you had to learn that lesson so young and that it cost you so much, but you can't stop living your own life because of it."  She released her hold on him to brush her fingers back through the hair at his temple.  "I know the man Danijela fell in love with, who she married, and who she chose to have her children with is still inside you, even if you don't want to admit it."  She wiped the tears off his face as they began to fall with her words.  "You deserve to be a husband and a father again Luka."  She paused as he lifted an unsteady hand to his face.

"You don't understand...."  He opened his eyes as he wiped the wetness away.  "What don't I understand, Sweetie...tell me, make me understand?"  Angelique fixed her eyes on his with the request.  "I can't betray them."  When he tried to roll to his side so he wouldn't have to face her she stopped him.  "No, Luka, tell me....why do you think you'd be betraying them?"  This had gone on for far too many years and as much as she knew it would hurt, she also knew it was time to bring it to a resolution.  "Luka, tell me why you think you would be betraying them?"  She repeated the question when he didn't answer her.

She watched him silently as he raised a hand, rubbing first one eye then the other as he stalled for time.  His hold was slipping and she could see the tremble of a barely controlled breakdown running through him.  How much more could she push before he fell over the crumbling edge that he clung so precariously to?  "Luka, tell me."  As he cleared his throat she offered the water again, letting him have that extra moment to frame his thoughts.

"Danijela..."  He spoke her name reverently as the glass was withdrawn.  "My wife...she was my first love, my only love."  He made the admission knowing that in doing so he was admitting what he already knew in his heart about his feelings for Abby.  "We promised to love each other forever."  He sniffed back the approaching tears.  "Jasna and Mar..."  His voice broke and he paused to gather the strength he needed to continue.  "Jasna and Marko, they were our future.... everything we did was for them."  When he moved to roll to his side this time Angelique made no move to stop him.  "I thought by becoming a doctor I could give them the life Danijela and I never had."  He swallowed deeply, fighting for the words.  "Instead I got them all killed."  He covered his face with his hand as his hold slipped even more.  

"'re choice of careers didn't kill your family, a mortar shell did."  She touched his shoulder lightly, "It was war, and you can't keep blaming yourself for something you had no control over."  How many times would she have to go over this before he could finally accept it?  "I still don't see how you think that living your life...that being happy is betraying them."  Angelique raised her hand gently touch his cheek.  "Can you tell me?"  It took several agonizingly long minutes before he could find the words to answer and when he finally did speak it was in an unsteady whisper.  "When I'm with someone else....oh God, forgive me...there are times I forget about them."  He lifted pained eyes to her.  "What kind of person am I that I could forget my own wife and children?"  

"Oh, Sweetie, " She couldn't not share his pain in that moment.  "You aren't betraying them by not thinking about them every minute of the day.  They're always going to be part of you, but your heart is big enough to let others in too, just like you would have found room for more children with Danijela."  As she spoke she moved to the bed, settling down beside him before easing his head onto her lap.  "I know it seems like your world ended that day Sweetie, but it didn't, I promise you that.  As long as you live, they live."  When he turned into her she smiled, folding her arms around him as she leaned down to kiss his hair.  "Let it go Sweetie, you've held onto it for long enough."  

The release from him was almost immediate, a shuddered breath the signal that the wall had finally given way.  As had been the case the night before Angelique found herself unable to do little more then hold him as his body shook, whispering reassurances and comfort until exhaustion finally claimed him.  The ghosts that had held him prisoner for ten years had been exposed, his fears stripped bare.  The healing could finally begin, and with the healing he could once more learn to live, and even someday love.  She could only hope she would be there to witness it.

The End

Monday, June 27, 2005

Ghosts 36/37

Chapter  36

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

Exhaustion had finally claimed him and though his mind wrapped itself around the memories of his past, they were not enough to rouse him.  For the first time in longer then he could remember his dreams were not filled with the horrors of war...of death and loss....

<Croatian> "Luka..."  Glancing up from the book that lay propped on his knees he turned towards the kitchen where he knew his wife was.  "I'm studying..."  He tapped the pen on his lip as he returned his attention to the textbook in front of him.  "Luka... don't make me come in there...I need your help."  Danijela's tone didn't reflect any immediate need but the fact she had asked twice made him look back to the doorway.   "It can't wait?"  Without waiting for an answer he lay the pen between the pages as a bookmark before closing the text and setting it aside.  "Nevermind... I'm coming."  Rising he grabbed the empty coffee cup that sat by his chair and went to join her.  As he reached the kitchen he sat the cup on the table before walking over to where she sat at the table nursing their son.  "You're beautiful when you do that."  He offered a smile with the compliment before pulling a chair out to join her.  "You always say that...but thank you anyway."  She returned his smile with one of her own even as she switched the baby to the other breast.  "Jasna needs a bath before bed...can you do it for me?"  She let her deepening smile act as leverage.  "I have 3 more chapters to do tonight..."  He reached across the table to stroke Marko's hair.  "You also have a daughter who needs a bath and I'm a little busy here...go spend some time with her...please, I'll make it up to you later."  With a laugh he drew his hand back then stood...moving behind her before planting a kiss on her now upturned mouth.  "I'll hold you to that..."

The laugh of his wife mingled with those of his daughter as his dream shifted to memories of the small girl in her bath...a cherished gift of bubblebath doled out a few precious drops at a time.  "Tata..."  She giggled in delight as she blew bubbles from her hand only to watch them strike him as he knelt beside the basin that served as her bathtub.  "Jasna..." He admonished her in mock anger which only further delightedher before she repeated the act.  "I'm going to get you..."  He scooped some of the bubbles into his hand and plopped them on top of her head.  "We need to wash your hair now..."  He scooped still more bubbles up with the explanation...

This was the past he wanted to remember...he brought his hand up to rest alongside his face as he shifted slightly in his sleep...

Hearing the bed squeak Angelique looked over to where Luka still slept, then to her watch...almost ten..she would need to wake him soon...she moved to his side, taking a seat in the chair beside him.  He seemed so at peace...a look that had been as rare for him in the past as it seemed to be on him now.  What would it take for him to put it all to rest, to face the consequences of what his families loss had done to him and to allow him to move forward? 

She should have known she couldn't sit and simply watch him and as she brushed stray locks of hair from his face she smiled as he opened his eyes.  "Good morning..."  She expected him to be confused...too much had happened for him not to be and he did not disappoint her.  "Angelique?"  His voice was quiet, deepened by sleep...rubbing his hand across his eyes he struggled to clear his jumbled thoughts.  "You weren't a dream?"  She could only smile at the question, before caressing his cheek with her fingertips. "No, Sweetie...I'm not a dream...we met at the seminar last night... at the you remember that?"  When he nodded she smiled, "Good...are you hungry? I ordered some breakfast in..why don't you go take a shower and I'll call down for some fresh coffee, we have a lot of catching up to do..."

to be continued...

Ghosts 35/37

Chapter  35

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

The shrill ring of the telephone jarred Angelique from her thoughts.  Cursing both the intrusion and the chance that the sound would wake Luka she hurried to the phone, picking it up on the third ring.  "Hello?"  Even as she answered her attention shifted to Luka for the moment it to register if he had been awakened.

When she saw he hadn't she released a relieved breath and returned her full concentration to the call.  "Alexander...yes...I'm, I had to take care of a personal matter."  She rubbed her brow as the man on the other end expressed his concerns.  "Yes, it was didn't go home...he's still here....Alexander, he's sleeping."  The longer her colleague spoke the more she found her irritation rising, how could she expect him to understand why this was so important to, she quickly amended the thought, why he was so important to her?  "I told you he was asleep...I am not leaving him here alone."  She paused, letting her eyes return to Luka as he stirred slightly, reacting even on the deepest level to the noise in the room.  "Yes, I'll call you back when he wakes up...good-bye Alexander."  With the call finished she replaced the handset in the cradle, she should shower and change before he woke...maybe she could even order breakfast in.  She managed a smile at the thought of what still was to come, then set about gathering her things.

As he set about preparing for his morning mass Father Joe found his thoughts wandering back to the events of the previous evening.  There was no doubt in his mind that those who had attended the forum had walked away with a better understanding of the problems many of them suffered from.  The fact that some remained until past midnight spoke to the importance of it...but the one he had so counted on helping had not been among them. 

What he wouldn't have given to have been in the hall when the woman had led the young doctor from the hear what was said and to know what had happened that had kept either from returning.  The speaker had seemed just as puzzled as he was though he seemed to have recognized Luka from conversations he'd had with his colleague.  There was no question in his mind that the workings of the meeting were being manipulated by a higher had to bemore the sheer coincidence...but what was still to come? 

The start to the organ music signaled an end to his musings, he had a parish to worry about and though he considered the young doctor one of his parishioners he knew others needed him as much if not more.  He would call him after mass...or maybe pay him another visit...yes, that was exactly what he would do.

She had debated taking the El to Luka's stop..maybe something had happened..maybe he was ill and couldn't get to the phone.  As she stared out of the train window her thoughts were filled with all of the worst case scenarios what if he had gone but it had just been too much for him....what if he had picked up and left.  No..she couldn't think like that...most likely he had just gotten home late and unplugged the phone so he could sleep...he would call...she knew he would.  She had to force herself to stay in her seat as the car slowed and the doors slid open...she had to let him handle this on his own.  She turned her attention back to the window as the car began to move again...she was just overreacting, he would call her at work, or maybe show up at lunch..tell her it had been long and boring.  She found herself smiling as she seemed to find satisfactory conclusions to her worries.  He wouldn't leave her hanging..he would know she was worried and like always he would be there to ease her fears. 

As she stepped from the bathroom Angelique was relieved to find Luka still sleeping, folding her arms she found herself watching him as she had so many days and nights all those years ago.  It was hard not to make comparisons to her old memories as he lay there...looking for the indications that his dreams were still strong...seeing the lines that had come with his age.  Ten years since she had first met him...five since she had seen him last, but a lifetime in so many ways.  She drifted back to the chair, reaching a hand across to brush his hair off his forehead and to check his temperature with the action.  Why now though?  What had made this the right time?  More importantly, was their meeting part of a greater plan?  

to be continued...

Sunday, June 26, 2005

Ghosts 34/37

Chapter  34

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

Had it not been for the continuing beeping of her alarm clock Abby was sure she could easily have returned to sleep.  Easing open a bleary eye she looked around for the offending culprit of the noise..then realized she never had made it to bed.  A glance to the still blaring television and an all too cheery news anchor was the final reminder that morning had come, and she had still heard nothing from Luka.  With a groan she forced herself to her feet and stumbled in to shut the alarm off.  How could he not have even bothered to call her?  She wasn't sure whether to be angry or hurt by being ignored and as she grabbed a towel and made for the bathroom, she decided to be both. 

How dare he? She had been the one who had been there for him through all of this and he couldn't even find the time to pick up a phone.  She resisted the urge to scream her frustration as she turned the water on and then stripped.  No more...if he wanted to do this he could do it on his own...she was finished.  She stepped under the spray and grabbed the shampoo before pouring a large dollop into her hand.  What did he think she was anyway?  She began to scrub her hair and imagined that she could somehow scrub away their past as well.  No..she wasn't doing this anymore...if he wanted to lose himself in his past then he could do it on his own.  If he wanted to spend his life married to a father to two more ghosts then she wasn't hanging around to watch. 

She tilted her head back and closed her eyes..letting the spray wash away the suds and pretending that it was washing away the past several months with it.  Fresh and clean Abby...that was how things would be from now on...

Angelique groaned...why hadn't she thought to pull the curtains all the way closed?  Squinting against the stream of sunlight that was creeping between the crack, she stretched then looked to the bed where Luka still slept.  At least he hadn't had any more nightmares...he had moved only enough to roll onto his hand curling up to rest next to his face and for a moment it was easy to forget what had led to him being here.  She reached across to brush a strand of hair from his face then withdrew her hand quickly as he moaned slightly in his sleep.  She had to be careful...he needed the sleep now and the longer she could keep him there the better for him. 

Standing, she made her way across the room, then pulled the curtains closed as she reached them, plunging the room back into darkness.  How many times had she watched him sleep in the many times had she listened to his fevered cries?  She covered her mouth as the memories long had it taken before she had gained the trust that allowed him to even admit what his tears were shed for?

"Dr. Forquet...I'm sorry to bother you."  Angelique looked up from her paperwork at the young nurse before her, then seeing the expression on her face laid her face down to give her full attention to her.  "Gretchen...what is it?"  She watched as the young woman glanced across the tent then back to her before speaking.  "I know I should be able to handle this's the man in bed 7..."  She paused, biting her lip as she debated how to explain.  "Luka..."  Angelique found he gaze shifting for a minute to see if he appeared to be in pain before looking back to her, "His name is Luka, what about him?"  He forehead creased slightly as she waited for the reply.  "I just don't know what to do with him...he won't eat anything...I can't get him to let me change his dressings...and when I suggested he might feel better if I gave him a bath he told me to ...well, let's just say it wasn't very polite.  Maybe someone else should take over his care."  Angelique shook her head slightly as the young woman explained then stood..."That's all right Gretchen..let me try...go ahead and see to the other patients.

As the woman walked away Angelique poured a cup of tea, she should have seen this coming...ever since he had been forced to talk about what he had gone through he had been retreating into himself.  Dropping a sugarcube into the cup she carried it over to his cot...he was laying on his side and without looking she knew his photo would be on the pillow beside him.  "Luka?"  She saw him tense at the sound of his name, though he did not move..."I know you're awake...we have to talk about what is going on."  Still no response...she exhaled and walked around to the other side where he would be forced to look at her, then pulled one of the stools over so she could sit.  "Sweetie...Gretchen was pretty upset...all she was trying to do was her job."  She let her eyes settle on his and immediately noticed the dullness in them.  "I brought you some tea..will you take some?"  She leaned forward..offering the cup to him only to see him turn slightly away from it.  " can't keep this up...your dressings need changed before your wounds get infected...I did not patch you up to watch you die of something you don't have to die from." 

"I didn't ask you to save me..."  He spoke almost too softly for her to hear him.  "I know you didn't Sweetie..but it's my job...and it's my job now to help you get better."  She sat the cup on the floor and pulled the stool closer to him as he spoke again.  "I don't want to get better..."  She watched as his eyes fell to the small black and white photo. "I am not going to stand by and watch you will yourself to die."  How far was she willing to go to stop him?  "Why...what difference does it make?  He refused to look at her..his eyes all but locked on his picture.  "What difference does it make?  Luka...what would your dying accomplish..would it bring either of them back?  Would it bring your son back?'re looking for an easy way out and there isn't one...I wish there was but there isn't."  She reached across to brush her fingers across his hair, wincing slightly as he flinched, then relaxing when he didn't attempt to stop her.  You can keep their memories alive Luka...but only if you are still here..."  She withdrew her hand and leaned down to pick the cup up again, then held it between her palms as she waited to see if he would react to her words.  "It hurts too much..." The confession was even quieter then his earlier words.  "I know it does Sweetie...but it'll get's just going to take time.  Now, I want you to drink some of this for me, then I want to change your dressings..."  She offered the cup again without waiting for him to either refuse or accept, then smiled as he raised himself up on his arm to take it.  It was a start and for now she was willing to take what she could get.

to be continued...

Ghosts 33/37

Chapter  33

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

When Luka lifted his hand to push the hot cloth from his face Angelique couldn't help but smile.  "That's it, Sweetie...fight it."  As his eyes opened she withdrew it completely only to replace it with her hand as she brushed his damp hair off his face.  "JA pustiti njima kocka..."  He offered the confession so softly that she wondered if he was even directing the words at her.  "Luka, look at me Sweetie...English."  She moved out of the chair and onto the bed itself as she spoke to him, she had to get him tied to the present again. 

As he started to close his eyes she stopped him.  "No, Sweetie...not yet...I want you to stay with me for awhile....can you do that?"  Lifting him by his shoulders she scooted under him before cradling his head in her lap.  "You can't keep blaming did everything you it's time to let them rest."  She found herself idly stroking his brow as she spoke, the action allowing her to connect to him on a more personal level.  "We all lose people....but you can't keep holding onto the blame for something you had no control over."  How many times had she spoken those words, or similar ones over the years? 

"She wanted to leave Vukovar...but I couldn't leave my studies..."  His voice broke as he tried to explain and he closed his eyes to give him a moment to collect himself.  "I put my work before my family..."  The admission did not come easily and even as he voiced it the tears welled. 

"You wanted a better life for them, there's nothing wrong with that."  Angelique offered the words in comfort before wiping the wetness from his face.  Luka took a shuddered breath, "I knew she wouldn't leave without me."  His words might have been spoken for his ears alone as quietly as he spoke them.  "She loved you...she wanted to stay with you.  She was an adult..she knew the risks as well as you did."  How many times would they have to travel this same road before he could accept the words as truth? 

When he did nothing more then release a quiet sigh in response Angelique's hand stilled again.  "'s been almost ten have to let them go."  He shook his head, blinking back the tears that had yet to fall.  "I can't..."  How could she reach him?  What words could she possibly offer that she had yet to say that would make the difference, that would rip aside the guilt he had so tightly shrouded himself in? 

"Sweetie...if you had died...if Danijela and the children had been the ones to live that day, " She paused..knowing she had entered dangerous ground..."would you have expected them to stop hang on to their grief?"  She found herself studying the lines in his face as she fingered the damp strands of hair that lay on his forehead. 

"No..."  He barely got the word out and she offered a soft smile as reward for the effort it took him to admit it.  "Then if you wouldn't expect it of them, how can you believe that they would expect it of you.  You have to live your life for the three of hold their memories." 

As she paused Luka rolled to his side, letting his eyes settle on a spot on the wall as he tried to process her words.  How could he let the blame go?  How could he walk away from the guilt of his own survival?  How could he explain that the guilt was his way of ensuring that he would never forget them?  That each moment he felt happiness was in his mind a betrayal ...yet another of those things they would never know? 

"Luka?"  He closed his eyes then swallowed in an attempt to get a better hold on himself.  When Angelique brushed her hand along his cheek his breath caught, "She would want you to live for all of them Sweetie..."  Biting his lip he squeezed his eyes shut in a failed attempt to stop the fresh flood of tears.  "Let it have to let them go..." 

His hold was slipping and Angelique knew he was dangerously close to falling over the edge, leaning over him she cradled her arms around him, offering the comfort that seemed the only thing left to give him.  "It's time Luka."  She whispered the words quietly into his ear then smiled softly to herself as he drew another breath before surrendering himself fully to the cleansing tears that would hopefully mark the start of his acceptance of her words.  To hell with propriety...Angelique pressed her lips to his forehead.  "That's right, Sweetie...let it go..."

As his trembling increased and his body became racked with the outpouring of grief she found her own tears joining his, falling freely as she refused to relinquish her hold on him even for the time it would take to wipe them away.  The weight of all that those tears held was not lost on her and perhaps that made the moment all that much stronger.  Ten years of pain...of grief...of blame that he had cover himself with when it was not his to take...she could only hope that this was the start of his healing.

When he had finally exhausted himself to the point that sleep claimed him again Angelique eased Luka's head off her lap, then stood before draping the blanket over him.  She was stiff and tired..but she wouldn't trade either if it meant giving up this moment... stretching she looked over at the small bedside clock..3 wonder she was tired.  As her gaze returned to Luka there was no doubt in her mind that exhaustion would allow him to sleep the rest of the night, and common sense told her she should claim her own sleep. 

Wandering into the bathroom she splashed cold water over her face to wash away the trails her own tears had left on her cheeks.  Who would have though she would have to travel half way around the world to find him again?  She offered a smile to her reflection before lifting her eyes to the ceiling in an almost silent prayer of thanks.  "Thank you for bringing him back to me... and thank you for giving me a chance to do what I couldn't do the first time I had him in my life..."  With that she turned and returned to the room... staking claim to the chair at his bedside..her hand resting lightly on his shoulder as she surrendered herself to well deserved sleep.

to be continued...

Saturday, June 25, 2005

Ghosts 32/37

Chapter  32

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

Angelique continued to stroke Luka's brow for several minutes after his breathing had slowed, assuring herself that he had finally given into the sleep that he so desperately needed.  As she drew her hand back she allowed the events of the evening to catch up to her and despite her efforts to hold them back the tears fell.  The hardest part of working in the camps had been letting them go...she lifted a hand to wipe the wetness from her face, then reached for the blanket that lay on the foot of the bed and covered him.  When she'd first arrived she had listened to the warnings about forming attachments...about keeping her distance in order to do her job more efficiently...they were her patients, she their doctor, she should stay objective.  She had to see each as only one more in the endless stream of patients that would pass through her hands, and for several months she had heeded those warnings.

The first had been a child...a boy, no more then 4 who had lost both parents to a bombing raid...he'd been so frightened, and she had made space for him in her heart.  Over the next few weeks he became her shadow as he healed and when an uncle was found and it came time to let him go, she had grieved the loss of him even though she knew it was for the best.  She'd promised herself it wouldn't happen again, she had sealed heart, tending their wounds then releasing them from her care with little more then a hug, or a whispered thank you from them in exchange.

She never knew when another would chink away at the shell she built around her heart to keep her safe, and when they did she welcomed them openly, only to grieve the loss when they left.  Luka had been one of those...she shifted her attention to him as he stirred, moaning softly at whatever haunted his dreams.  "Shh,'re all right."  She brushed her hand along his cheek, then began to lightly caress his brow until he quieted.  He'd come into her life taunting death, not so much from his injuries, as from himself and though she would never know for sure, she'd always thought it was that which had drawn her to him.

<Croatian> "Tata...the sound of his daughter's cry reached deep inside of him and Luka stirred as he tried to register where she was.  "Tata!"  Her cry grew more agitated and he forced himself to focus on her...wanting to sit up and go to her only to find he wasn't in his bed.  Where was he?  He tried to make sense of it all but his mind only saw the darkness and a growing cold... "Tata!"  The small girl screamed and he felt his blood chill with the renewed panic of needing to find her at any cost..."Jasna..."  He felt his breathing quicken as the cries of his wife and son joined hers...their panic rising until all three twisted together and threatened to choke him.  "Tell me where you are."  He found himself stumbling through the darkness...nearing them only to have their voices fade again.

It was hard not to let her own thoughts wander as he slept, the questions she had yet to find answers to surfacing as she watched him.  How much of her life was she willing to give up to work with him?  Her practice was finished, she had never found time to have her own family, was she willing to leave her own country to be with him again?  She'd helped him find himself once before, could she do it again?  His restlessness was worsening and Angelique felt her own worry over him rise... was this how his life had been, the dreams haunting him as much now as they had then?  "Shh...Luka... listen to me Sweetie...listen to my voice...its only a dream..."  

<Croatian> "You said you would protect said you would keep us safe."  Danijela's words pierced the darkness and cut through him as sharply as if they were a knife.  "I tried....I didn't know...." He dropped to his knees, clutching his stomach as if to staunch the flow of blood to the wound he perceived to be there.  "I couldn't know...."  He forced the words out...his tone one that begged for forgiveness even though he knew it would never come...

"JA mogao znati..."  Luka rolled to his side, drawing his knees to his chest against the pain of the imagined wounds, his words spoken aloud for those he couldn't see.  As he suddenly moved Angelique strained to translate the Croatian words....her forehead creasing as she tried to make sense of them.  "Couldn't know what, Sweetie?..."  There was no doubt that his dream had taken hold of him on one of the deepest levels and as she lay a hand on his shoulder she had to wonder if he was even aware she was at his side.  He was feverish...she could feel the heat radiating off of him long had he been like this?  Had there been anyone here for him?  

"Damn!"  Abby slammed the receiver back into the cradle in frustration, this wasn't going at all the way she had planned.  Here it was almost midnight and still she'd heard nothing from Luka...but worse then that he hadn't even bothered to go back to the hotel.  She pulled her bathrobe tighter around her as she curled into the couch before reaching for the television remote.  What was keeping him?  She found herself flipping through channels without even noticing what was on them, then finally stopping on a late night showing of Sybil as she noted the irony of it.  There were times she could almost swear he was different people, one moment fully attentive to her the next so distant that he seemed not even to be there.  Why did she even bother to make sense of it...why did she stay?  She raised the volume in a vain attempt to drown her own thoughts out.  Because you love him stay because you love him, and in his own way you know he loves you too.  The realization only seemed to make the situation worse... where are you Luka?  

<Croatian>You let us die promised to protect us and you let us die..."  Each word only seemed to increase the pain and Luka gasped with the increasing intensity of it.  He was going to die...he was sure of it...he released a sigh of acceptance..he deserved death...what right did he have to live when they were all dead?  He let his breathing slow as he relinquished some of his hold on life to the nightmare...

"Luka...Sweetie.."  Angelique felt her concern rising as his breathing slowed....she had to get him out of it..."Luka!"  He took hold of his shoulder and shook him..."You need to wake up now need to let them go and come back to me."  Please...let him hear me...she found herself whispering the prayer without thought...she couldn't find him after all these years only to lose him again.

"Luka...Sweetie...I need you to wake up now."  Against her better judgment Angelique rose and went to the bathroom, grabbing a washcloth she held it under the faucet until steam rose from it.  Carrying it back into the room she took her seat next to him and began to wipe his face with it, hoping it would be enough to pull him away from the hold of his dreams.

He was dying....he drew his hand away from the wound he was sure was there and felt the stickiness of his blood on his fingers.  He should be afraid of it...but he wasn't... he surrendered even more to the sensation.  "Luka!"  He found the peace shattered by the sound of his name...and within the darkness and cold he felt a growing warmth...

to be continued...

Ghosts 31/37

Chapter  31

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

It didn't take Angelique long to decide that leaving Luka's car at the church was the best option, he was obviously in no condition to drive, and the hotel had been chosen because of it's close proximity.  As tired as he was she was sure he could handle the two block walk.  Judging from the number of cars still in the parking lot as they passed, Alexander was still talking and while she knew she should go back and at least fill him in on what happening her ties to Luka pulled stronger.  When she reached the hotel she could leave a message for him at the desk, it wasn't like he didn't know her well enough to guess her absence would be the result of something important.  She'd leave the message and then when he called she would explain everything to him..well, maybe not everything, but enough that he would understand what had happened.

She glanced back over to Luka as he walked beside her, hands shoved in the pockets of the navy peacoat he wore, eyes fixed on the ground in front of him.  He was barely managing to put one foot in front of the other, prompting her to slide an arm around his waist in an effort to steady him....and maybe even to keep him grounded to where he was.  There would be little time for talk tonight, she'd offer a sedative to him if he refused to give into his fatigue..but sleep was what he most needed now and she would do whatever she needed to see that he got it.  They had all of tomorrow for talk and as curious as she might be to find out all he had done since she last saw him her concerns for his health and well being were far stronger. 

"This is it, Luka."  She slowed as they neared the older brick hotel, "I want to leave a message for Alexander when we get inside, let him know I am already back so he won't worry about where I am.  As soon as I do that we can get you upstairs." 

Luka merely nodded in response, dulled senses barely registering the hotel or the few patrons moving about the lobby as they stepped inside.  "I won't be more then a couple wait here for me, Sweetie." Angelique's voice registered again with him and he forced his attention to her as she stopped near the front desk.  A simple nod to indicate his understanding and she moved away, leaving him to his own thoughts.  There was something he was forgetting...something he should do...but what?  Why couldn't he get his mind to focus on anything?  He shook his head slightly as if the action might jar his memory then with a soft sigh he let it go..whatever it was gone before it could take hold.  A touch on his shoulder signaled the older woman's return and he turned his head to her as she spoke. 

"All finished...ready to go upstairs now?"  She found herself smiling as first he blinked in sleepy recognition at her return then long after they got upstairs would it be before he was fast asleep?  Sliding her arm around his waist again she guided him towards the elevator, then as the doors slid open, inside.  His eyes had taken on the glassy look of one just barely aware of his surroundings and as the car signaled their arrival and the doors opened she had begun to wonder if he would even make it to the room before he fell asleep.  "This is my room.."  Leaving him to lean against the wall she fished her cardkey out and swiped it though the reader.  "It's nothing special I'm afraid..."  Angelique found herself apologizing though she doubted he even noticed.  "Go ahead and take your coat off, Sweetie.."  She instructed once she had him inside.  Reaching behind him she flipped the light on then closed the door, before finally removing her own. 

Luka found himself doing as she asked without thinking, it was easier that way, though once he had the coat off he found himself holding it, his mind unable to process what he should do with it next.  "I'll take it, Luka."  He released it as she spoke then a moment later let her lead him over to the bed.  "I know this is hard for you, Sweetie...none of it is making sense."  She coaxed him to sit on the side of the bed, then knelt to remove his shoes.  "We'll get you all tucked in and then you can get some sleep, in the morning everything will be better, you'll see."

"Will it?"  The question was asked so quietly she barely heard him in the midst of everything else.  "What was that, Sweetie?"  She brushed his bangs back off his face, a gesture that allowed her to check his temperature at the same time, then lifted his legs onto the bed as she got him settled.  "I don't know what they want..."  Stroking his brow she knelt beside him, her brows knitting together in confusion as she tried to follow his train of thought.  "What who want, Luka?"  She continued to soothe the tension from his forehead, her fingertips massaging lightly as she lulled him closer towards sleep.  "The ghosts.."  His voice had become little more then a drowsy whisper and she found herself straining to hear him as he spoke.

What could she say to him?  Whatever had prompted the relapse had to have been traumatic for him, something far more then he could deal with on is own.  Was that why she had been guided to him?  "Sleep now, can let it go for now.."  Had he not been so exhausted she might have let him talk...but not when he was like this, not when he was barely holding on to consciousness.  There still remained a shadow of fear in his eyes...and it was obvious he was fighting letting go.  "They come when I sleep..."  Angelique found herself fighting her own emotions as he spoke, she had to be strong for him now.  Brushing her fingers through his hair she forced a smile before she returned to stroking his brow.  " have to don't have to worry tonight, I'll be right here with you."

He wanted to fight it...but he was losing the battle, raising one hand he wrapped his fingers around her wrist, stilling her hand.  "I'm scared..."  Nodding, Angelique pried his fingers loose then lay his hand on his chest.  "Sweetie, I promise..I'll be right here with you."  The look on his face was enough to break her heart and in that moment she wanted to pull him to her and do nothing more then hold him, instead she brushed her fingertips over his eyelids, easing them closed before she began softly to sing the familiar lullaby that would send him finally to sleep.

"Viens mon petit ours dans mes bras
La nuit est tombée et j'ai un peu froid.
Une perle vient de couler sur ma joue
Tu vas l'essuyer de ton pelage doux.

Quand demain matin,le soleil
Me dira : "debout,la vie est merveille"
Toi,tu resteras assis sur mon lit
Tu es le gardien des ombres de la nuit"

to be continued...

Translation of "Viens mon petit ours" ("Come my teddy bear"),
courtesy of Marie

"Come in my arms my teddy bear
The night has fallen and I'm a bit cold
A pearl has just rolled down my cheek
You will dry it with your soft fur

When tomorrow morning the sun will tell me
"Get up, life is wonderful"
You will remain sitted on my bed
For you're the keeper from the shadows of the night"

Friday, June 24, 2005

Ghosts 30/37

Chapter 30

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

Keep it light...keep it non-threatening, Angelique found herself having to repeat the reminder to herself as if it were a mantra as they, she amended, as she ate.  More then once she had found herself coaxing Luka into another bite as he'd picked at the burger on the plate in front of him.  When he finally pushed it away from him with less then a third of the burger eaten she'd decided the battle was lost and she surrendered to him with only a mild frown to reflect her displeasure.

The conversation throughout the meal had centered on the present...the lecture tour, her recently closed practice, his position at the hospital.  That he wore no ring had answered her unasked question as to whether he had remarried and she'd not yet asked if he was involved.  No, there would be time for those questions later when they could talk without fear of interruption...part of those things that would only be discussed in private.

He'd dropped his eyes to the cup that he'd wrapped his hands around, his mind obviously chewing on something that had bothered him in their conversation, and she chose not to interrupt.  She found herself studying him more intently as the action allowed her the luxury of taking in his appearance more critically, without being obvious about it.  His weariness was the most noticeable...dark circles framing eyes that still reflected a sadness she would never begin to understand, testimony to the several sleepless days that had led up to this night.  The caregiver in her began to take over, he needed rest, but how?  How did she tell someone whose life she had just reentered after a five year absence that he was under too much stress..and how could she even be sure that that was what was causing his sleeplessness?  A far more difficult matter was whether she was ready to let him leave again...what if she sent him away only to never see him again?  The odds that his fears would convince him that keeping the ghosts of his past hidden was the best thing for him were great.  Added to that was not knowing whether he would be returning to someone when he left, and if he was, would that person support his hiding from his past rather then facing it?  No...there had to be another way to handle things...a way for her to see that he got the sleep he needed without losing him again...

"Okay, Luka...enough is enough."  Abby tossed the magazine aside for the umpteenth time that evening.  She had paced and cursed...she had tried to pretend that things were normal..and she had worried that something terrible had happened to him and for what?  She couldn't do this anymore...not much as she wanted to be here when he walked through that door, the wait was driving her crazy.  She fished a cigarette out of the pack she'd laid on the table before looking at her watch...10:30...not a word from him in over 4 hours. was too late to call the church...she needed to get out for a while...go home...shower...spend the night in her own bed, away from him to give her some perspective on things.  Yeah, that's what she'd do..she rose and stuffed the cigarettes and lighter in her purse...let Luka worry about her for a while..let him wonder where she was and see how he liked it. 

Grabbing her coat she stuffed her arms in the sleeves and all the while she could feel her resolve building...this was perfect...he needed a wake-up call and this was just the way to give it to him.  Something to remind him that she had been the one who'd seen him through all this..nursed him through the pneumonia, and the nightmares, and her payback had been to be left alone.  No..if this didn't get his attention she didn't know what would.  Snagging her purse from the table she slid the strap over her shoulder, then took a last look around the room...yup..this was what she needed to do and with that she turned and headed for the door and home.

As the conversation once again lapsed Luka let his thoughts drift...the fatigue left by the previous days lack of sleep catching up to him.  How had she found him after so many years?  There was no doubt in his mind that if not for her intervention he would never have survived the camp...if his wounds hadn't claimed him he would have met death at his own hand to be with those he had lost again.  Instead she had been the one who had found a way to reach him, she had been the one to give him a reason to live again.  Had she somehow sensed that he was slipping..that the ghosts were calling to him and he was beginning to listen to them again..that he was being drawn to them as he had been drawn to them all those years ago?  He rubbed his thumb along a chip in the cup..searching for an anchor to the present.  How could she have known how badly he needed her when even he had not known it?  He lifted his eyes to find hers on him, "I'm tired Angelique."  The confession came without warning..and he couldn't even say why he felt he had to tell her. 

"I know, need to hotel is close by...will you come back there with me?"  She hadn't known she would make the offer to him until she made it and she inwardly prayed that he would least she could watch him, be there for him if the nightmares still plagued him.  The nightmares..she remembered how they had been for him in the real that they left him trembling, unable to speak through the   sobs that wracked his already weakened body.  No, she wouldn't leave him alone tonight if she could help it..."It'll be all right Sweetie...we can talk if you want, and if not, I can give you something to help you sleep."  At his nod of acceptance she rose, moving to offer her support as he stood as well...a good night's sleep..that's what he needed and then in the morning they could talk of the of what had been and maybe even the future...

to be continued...

Ghosts 29/37

Chapter  29

An ER Fanfic following the "Bishop Stewart" arc

Damn you, Luka.  Abby tossed the magazine that she'd been thumbing through onto the table, then cussed inwardly as she watched it slide across the smooth surface and onto the floor on the other side.  Where are you?  After glancing at her watch she rose and walked across the room to the window, he should have been back by now, or at least called.  What if something had happened to him.  She could feel her heart beginning to quicken as her mind raced through the various tragedies that might have befallen him.  What if he hadn't even gotten there?  Maybe she should call and see... she reached for the phone then forced herself to lay it back in the cradle again.  She wasn't his keeper, he was an adult...damn you, Luka.  Hadn't it been his decision to go alone?  Why was she even sitting here waiting for him?  She turned back to the window in frustration, resisting the urge to scream, maybe if she wished hard enough she could make him appear.  Laying a hand on the cool glass she closed her eyes, only to open them a moment later.  Nothing, the street below remained all but deserted, Damn you, Luka, why couldn't you have just let me go with you?

It was all he could do to keep himself from following the woman as she led the young doctor from the room.  Father Joe shifted his gaze from the closing door to the podium where Alexander Fletcher continued to speak, seemingly oblivious to the drama they played out at the back of the room.  As he panned his eyes across the members of the congregation who listened to the man in rapt attention he found himself wondering who needed him more.  The Croat was one man, while he had no doubt he was indeed lost, how many others here were also in need of his counsel and support?  It all came back to the choices he had always had to make and almost unbidden a quote surfaced in his thoughts.  The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few...or the one.  He cast a final glance to the door then brought his full attention to those who remained, Luka was in good hands, he had to believe that, whatever was about to happen would happen between the two of them, with or without his being there.  Dr. Forquet's appearance was not accidental and if God had intended for them to be reunited this night then it was not his place to intervene.

Luka said nothing more as they walked the short distance to a small diner, and Angelique used the time to watch him.  He still seemed dazed and that concerned her more then she wanted to admit.  Was this how he had lived the last 5 years?  All the progress he had seemed to make before she had lost touch with him gone in that time?  She smiled over to him as they reached the door, laying a hand in reassurance on his back.  "It's all right, Sweetie."  She could feel his tenseness and the underlying tremble of fear.  Why was he so frightened by this...what was he so afraid of seeing?  The questions rolled through her thoughts even though she doubted she would ever find the answers to them.  How could she ask him to explain what even he probably didn't understand?

When they had settled in the farthest booth she gave him a moment to himself, ordering coffee for them both as she gratefully accepted the offered menus from the waitress.  "You need to eat something, Sweetie."  She slid one of them across the table to him as the waitress moved away from the booth then dropped her eyes to her own.  Normalcy she reminded herself.  "I think I'm going to get the chili...what about you?"  She lifted her eyes from the laminated card only to find his settled firmly on hers, the menu still untouched on the table in front of him.  Offering a simple smile she tapped his to draw his attention back to it.  "You need to eat something, it'll make you feel better, trust me on this."

Luka opened his mouth to protest that he was anything but hungry, then closed it again after releasing a deep sigh of resignation, and nodded.  She was right, Abby had been trying to get him to eat all day...Abby, shit, he'd forgotten about her.  He flicked a glance to his watch, she'd be worried...but what would he say to her, how could he explain this?  If he told her what had happened she would want to come to him and he wasn't ready for that, not yet.  He lifted his eyes as the waitress returned, then ordered a cheeseburger though he knew he wasn't hungry for it.  Only when she was gone did he finally trust himself to bring his full focus back to Angelique.  "I didn't think I'd ever see you again."  He made the confession quietly as he toyed with the coffee cup in front of him

At the statement Angelique lay her hand over one of his, giving it a slight squeeze before speaking.  "It's funny how fate works sometimes...I just retired, I was closing my office when Alexander asked me to come on the tour with him."  She found herself drawing a deeper breath before continuing.  "I had been thinking about all I had done as I  packed my offices and how many people had come in and out of my life, and how I would never know what had happened to most of them."  She smiled again, patting his hand, "I never expected this, you look so good..."She lifted her other hand to touch his cheek gently, "You've put on weight."

Despite everything Luka found himself smiling at the simple gesture and her observation, "How long will you be here?"  The woman found the chuckle bubbling out despite her efforts to contain it.  "Why, you want to get rid of me already?"  She reached for her own coffee and took a sip.  "No, I....I didn't mean it like that."  Luka's face reddened slightly as he found himself flustered and stumbling for words.  "Sweetie, it's all right, I was joking."  Angelique patted his hand again before releasing it as the waitress returned with their meals.  "I'm, staying as long as I need to stay, now, let's eat now, you can tell me all about your job."

to be continued...