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...