A companion story to Ghosts
With the length of the flight it was easy for most people to escape the monotony of it through sleep, or reading, or in the case of children, far simpler pursuits. Maja paused in her play, her dark eyes shifting to view her parents before returning to her brother. "Mama and Tata are sleeping."
Raising his eyes from his own LEGOs, Juraj glanced across the aisle to confirm her words before replying. "Yeah."
"Tata says we won't have to stay in Croatia..." She dropped her gaze to two of the smaller pieces on her tray as she fiddled with them, her words holding the tone of a question she searched for an answer to.
"Of course we wouldn't stay..why would you think we would?" As he spoke, then took in his smaller sister's appearance and obvious worry his interest on the blocks in front of him ceased, and he shifted his full attention to her.
"Maybe Mama and Tata won't want to leave again...maybe they'll want to stay there with Neven, and Jasna and Marko." Her lip trembled slightly with the imagined fear.
"Maja, they aren't going to stay." He eased the tone of his voice before continuing in an attempt to stop the tears he thought might be coming. "The reason they wanted us to go back was so they could say good-bye, not to stay...Mama and Tata both told you that." He locked his equally dark eyes on hers firmly as she lifted her head at his words. He gave her a moment to absorb what he had said before pointing to the toys on her tray in an attempt to distract her from the concerns that he knew were beyond his handling. "What is that supposed to be?"
Wiping her hand across her nose Maja ignored the attempt, the doubts still too strong to let go. "But what if we don't?"
"You worry too much. If Mama and Tata said we were coming home then we're coming home, they wouldn't lie to you." He scooped up several of the choice LEGOs off his tray and deposited them among those she already had. "Here, you can use these too."
"Juraj..." She started to speak only to stop as he handed her a figure on a horse.
"Everything will be all right Maja, you'll see. Now, build a house for the horse." As if that settled all her concerns he grew silent, only turning back to his play when he was satisfied that she'd once more become absorbed in her own.
As the children's conversation carried across the aisle Luka cracked an eye open drowsily. Years of working emergency medicine had left him with the ability to exist at times with a half sleep, catching it wherever and whenever he found it and sleeping lightly when he did. As Juraj seemed to quell his sister's fears a half smile found him. There were times the boy seemed much older then his years, wiser then many twice his age. There were times too, he couldn't help wondering if that had come from the fact that both he and Alenka had been too honest with their children regarding their pasts. If the fact that they had chosen to share the losses of those who'd come before hadn't been more of a burden on them then they should have been forced to carry at their ages. The decision had never been an easy one, but the truth was undeniable, both he and Alenka would be forever bound to the spouses and children that they'd lost before finding each other. No matter how much time passed, the memories would remain and they owed it to these children to share the lives neither of their parents would ever forget.
Dropping his hand to his wife's he found himself toying with her wedding ring in much the same way she had earlier fingered his. She had been his anchor, holding him steady after far too many years of floating adrift, and as he watched her sleep he found his thoughts easily returning to their past.
He would always remember the stages of wakefulness that first morning, as if he was coming out of a far deeper slumber. The smell of her perfume was his first awareness, seeming to call to him even in his sleep and he found himself drifting upwards to it. The sound of running water, the quiet clinking of dishes, the rustle of a newspaper, the soft lilt of her voice as she hummed to herself. At first he resisted, afraid it was simply another dream and he would wake once more to the loneliness he had grown to know too well. He clung to the sleep, rolling to his side before drawing the blanket over his head to counter the sunlight's intrusion. The scent of fresh brewed coffee and the sound of the toaster teased at him and as his stomach rumbled in response he gave up.
As he sat he rubbed his hand over eyes still captive to the drowsiness of interrupted sleep.
"Good morning, I didn't mean to wake you." Alenka's voice drifted to him from the kitchen a moment before she appeared with a steaming cup of coffee.
"You didn't." He turned on the couch, then dropped his feet to the floor to make room for her beside him before raking his fingers through his hair. "What time is it?" The question came only seconds before he smothered a betraying yawn. "I'm sorry." He offered the apology as he took the cup from her.
"You don't have to apologize Luka, and it's almost seven." She smiled as she took a seat beside him, letting her own cup warm her hands.
"I don't suppose you would consider calling in sick." He asked the question even as he leaned towards her to give her a good morning kiss.
"Keep that up and I'll be tempted." She laughed lightly before returning it.
"That could be arranged." He sat his cup on the table then freed hers from her hands before doing the same with it so that he could draw her into his arms.
"Is this what I can expect from you every morning?" Her words were almost lost to a deepening kiss and she let her hand trail down his bare back as she returned it.
"That remains to be seen...but you won't find me complaining." He drew back, letting his eyes pass over her a moment before speaking again. "No second thoughts? It's not too late to change your mind." Even as he offered her the option of walking away from her acceptance he found his breath catching with the fear that she might take him up on it.
"Luka.." Alenka shook her head, almost not believing what she was hearing. "I've wanted this for months now, I was just afraid to say anything because I didn't want to spoil what we already had." She found herself unable to resist the urge to run her fingers through his sleep tousled hair as she spoke. It was all she could do not to add that she longed to have him in her bed, to fall asleep in his arms, to wake next to him. She offered a shy smile, sure that a blush was rising with the direction her thoughts were moving. "I should be going or I'll be late for work...will I see you tonight?" She let her hand drop before her smile deepened in response to his answering nod.
"I have to work until eleven though, if that's too late..." He paused as an unexpected yawn broke.
"It's not too late, I want to see you." She leaned over to kiss him as he dropped his hand, then rose. "I had better go now or I'm going to miss my train."
"I could drive you." Luka rose as she did, reaching for the shirt he had draped across the chair the night before.
"You don't have to, the stop isn't that far...besides, you should get some more sleep."
"I can sleep later, at least let me walk you to the stop." He was already pulling his shirt on and rather then argue Alenka simply nodded.
"If you insist..."
At the casualness of the memory Luka found the peace filling him that for so many years had been missing. This was what she had brought him and even after all the years they had been married he still found comfort in it. He looped a strand of her hair between his fingers as he held her. Would he ever tire of just being close to her?
He found his attention shifting across the aisle again as he heard Maja's giggle in response to something Juraj was saying. Would there ever be a time when he could fully explain to her what it had meant to him to become a father again?
As if sensing the direction of his thoughts Alenka woke, then tilted her head so she could see him as she offered a still drowsy smile.
"I didn't mean to wake you." He lowered his lips to hers, as he curled his fingers in her hair, letting the kiss linger a moment before drawing back.
"You didn't, did you sleep?" She found herself searching his face for the lines she knew would be there if the nightmares had come to visit him even as she asked.
"Yes, and you worry about me too much." He offered her a slight smile with the quiet comment before lowering his hand as he draped his arm around her shoulder again.
"No more then you worry about me. "She lifted her own hand to touch his cheek as her smile deepened. "You need to shave." She wrinkled her nose slightly with the observation.
"Do I now?" Luka turned his head to kiss the palm of her hand before withdrawing his arm and rolling his shoulders. "I suppose it wouldn't hurt me to get up and stretch before they start serving lunch anyway." He straightened, then leaned down to pull his carryon out from under the seat, when he had unzipped it and retrieved his shaving kit he pushed it back. "I won't be long." He leaned his head to kiss her again before he stood.
"I'llbe here." Alenka couldn't help smiling as he had to duck to clear the luggage bin, then found it deepening as she caught at least three other woman pulling their gazes to him as he stepped into the aisle.
"Where are you going, Tata?" Maja wasted no time shifting her attention as she caught him moving.
"Just to the bathroom, I'll be back." Luka leaned down to kiss the top of her head before straightening again. "Be good, Beba."
"I am...see?" She motioned to the LEGOs as if they could answer, then allowed her attention to once more be drawn into them.
With a soft chuckle he shook his head at her then offered Juraj a smile of his own before walking towards the back of the plane.
Alenka found herself watching him as he moved down the aisle, aware still of the attention his height and dark looks drew. She couldn't help wondering sometimes if he was even aware of the way others saw him, then again, she knew too, that how others saw him left her nothing to worry about. From the day he had proposed to her it had been as if the world existed for only the two of them. In that moment it was as if the lives they had thought long over were reawakened and his loyalty to her and his vows were as sacred to him as hers were to herself, and even after so many years she had never had reason to doubt him.
to be continued...