A companion story to Ghosts
"Tata's awake." Juraj nudged his mother, drawing her attention from the book she was reading. As she looked over she saw Luka's attempt to straighten and loosen the kinks brought on by the cramped space, being thwarted by Maja and how she lay and his efforts not to wake her.
"Juraj, could you watch Maja for me so I can sit with Tata for a while?" As she asked Alenka leaned forward and tucked her book back into her bag.
"Sure, Mama." He flicked his eyes off of the LEGOs he had scattered across his seat tray. "She can play with me."
With a smile Alenka unfastened her seatbelt and rose, then moved across the aisle. "Sleep well?" She eased the small girl off of Luka with the question.
"Not too bad, how about you?" With the new freedom he couldn't help stretching fully, raising both arms over his head so he could free the knots from his back.
"I want to stay with Tata." Maja woke as she was transferred to her mother's shoulder, offering the protest even as she made no struggle to change her situation.
"Why don't you play with Juraj, and let Mama sit with Tata for a while?" She held her a moment, then as the girl nodded, carried her to the seat beside her brother.
"Here, Maja, you can have these." Juraj pulled her tray down as his little sister was buckled into the seat, then piled some of his LEGOs on it before going back to his own building.
When she was assured Maja was settled Alenka moved back to the seat beside her husband. "Do you want to get up and walk around a bit?" She asked the question as she sat, then reached across to brush her fingers through his hair.
"No, I'm fine." As she dropped her hand Luka laced his fingers with hers. "How are you doing?" He let his eyes settle on her face, looking for the signs that she might be worried or nervous.
"Was it like this for you the first time you went back?" She asked the question quietly, the conversation meant for no one but him.
That Luka did not immediately answer was a signal to the seriousness of her question and as she waited Alenka covered both of their hands with her free one, giving him the time he needed. That he rolled his tongue inside his lips then wet them before speaking was a habit she'd grown used to seeing when he was contemplating more serious issues. When he shifted the conversation to Croatian it only emphasized the fact.
"The first time I went back was about 6 years after I'd left...my father had asked me to come back for Christmas." He rubbed his fingertips in the corner of his eye as he spoke. "I really didn't want to go back, but I had no way of knowing if I would see him again so for him I went for him."
Alenka remained silent as he spoke, recognizing the distancing in his eyes as he remembered. Though as a way of keeping him grounded to her she found herself brushing her finger over his.
"It wasn't easy, I didn't have my faith then..." He dropped the volume of his voice even more with the admission. "I really didn't have anyone then I could talk about my fears with...or anyone who understood what it was like for me." He cleared his throat before continuing. "The week before my flight I was a wreck, I couldn't eat, I wasn't sleeping much at all and when I did the nightmares were there."
Alenka found herself leaning against him without even being aware of it the longer he spoke. In the years they had been together she had learned the signals that meant his thoughts had returned to Danijela and their children, as well as he had learned hers. She felt no jealousy to the woman who'd held his heart before she had, just as she knew he held none to the love she still kept for Damir.
"I kept thinking I should just cancel..but I'd promised my father." He glanced over to her with a slight smile. "Once I got there it was so different...and of course he treated me like I was a piece of glass that would break, watching everything he said."
"I wish the children had been able to meet him." Alenka easily returned his smile with the comment, sliding easily into their native language as well.
"So do I...but I have to believe he still watches over them, even if he isn't here anymore." He rubbed his eye again before continuing. "I didn't want to go back to Vukovar then...I think in a way it was still too soon, but he convinced me it was for the best. I won't lie to your Alenka, it won't be easy, but I'll be with you." As he finished speaking he lifted his hand to cradle her face before he kissed her lightly. "I love you."
As she slid her hand around his neck to return his kiss Alenka knew that his words were far more then that, he was her lifeline...as she knew she had been his. It was hard sometimes to think what her life might have been like without him, and she'd long ago stopped thinking of herself without him being part of who she was. "I love you too." She returned the kiss then settled against him comfortably as he draped his arm around her. "We'll get through this, just like we have everything else...but this time we'll do it together."
to be continued...