A companion story to Ghosts
As he returned to his seat Luka saw that Alenka had once more moved across the aisle and Juraj had replaced her in the seat next to his, an arrangement which still seemed to be suffering repercussions.
"I don't want to sit here...I want to sit with Tata!" Maja's protests drifted to him and he couldn't help but notice the break that revealed accompanying tears.
"Maja...I said stop...I am warning you." Alenka's voice carried an unspoken threat that the small girl couldn't help but notice as her mother tried to silence her.
"But I don't want to stay here...I want to sit with Tata!" She forced the words out between the hiccups brought on by her crying, not quite ready to concede despite the possible consequences.
"Maja. Mama said enough." Luka reinforced his wife's warning as he reached them, then offered a smile meant to comfort in concession. "Sit with Mama now, you can switch with Juraj later."
"I don't want to wait until later. I want to sit with you now!" She lifted her tear streaked face to him, her dark eyes settling on his, unable to restrain the trembling of her lip as she choked back tears.
As he met her gaze Luka leaned down so his head was almost touching hers before shifting his words to Croatian. "You have been told twice, you know better then this, don't make me tell you again." When she sniffed and dropped her eyes he lay a hand on her hair. "You'll have plenty of time to sit with me, but now it's Juraj's turn, be a good girl and sit with Mama." He withdrew his hand as she still refused to lift her eyes to him. "Maja?" He waited for the dark head to raise, when it did he leaned back down to kiss her, his words remaining in Croatian as he spoke softly for her ears alone. "I love you, Beba."
"I love you too, Tata." That she returned the words in Croatian even amidst the sniffing back of lingering tears touched at old memories and he could almost hear another's voice shadowing them. As he straightened he offered Alenka a smile that only deepened before he shook his head at her mouthed, "Tata's girl."
"If you want the window seat go ahead and scoot over." The words came as he turned around and the smile remained as he waited for his son to do just that. Taking his seat beside him, Luka stretched one leg into the aisle as he sat then handed his shaving kit over to him. "Would you put this in my bag, please?" As he waited for him to finish he shifted his attention back across the aisle, assuring himself that things were settled down once more before looking back at his son. "Thanks for watching Maja earlier so Mama and I could sit together."
"That's okay, it wasn't a big deal." Juraj shrugged off his father's words almost too quickly.
"How are you doing with all this?" Luka found himself asking the question almost as he finished, sensing more to it then his words might imply.
"Maja thinks we'll stay in Croatia, I told her she was wrong." He shifted slightly in his seat as he avoided the direct question.
"I heard that, she's little, it makes sense it would scare her, but you didn't answer my question. How do you feel about our going back?" Luka couldn't not notice the seriousness that the boy's face took on as he debated his response.
"The war's been over a long time." He selected his words carefully.
"Yes, it has." Luka matched the quieter tone his son had adopted as he responded.
"You still miss them though, and Croatia." Juraj offered the observation as he brought his eyes to those of his father's.
"Yes, I still do, and I probably always will." Luka found himself struggling to keep the emotion in his voice under control as he answered, and action made only harder as Juraj slipped his hand into his. "Juraj...what is it?"
"Tata...will the nightmares come again when we get there?" His voice had grown even quieter as he voiced the deeper of his fears.
The question was one that Luka could not have anticipated and it caught him off guard. Dropping his eyes he found himself drawing a deep breath before rolling his tongue around the inside of his lips in preparation of answering. "I can't say for sure...I hope not." He raised his eyes again as he spoke, then patted his leg with his free hand. "Come sit with me." He made the request quietly then shifted to accommodate the boy as he unfastened his seatbelt and moved over. "Juraj." Luka found himself pausing, not sure how to proceed. "The things that I see in the nightmares..the things Mama sees, they aren't things you or Maja have to worry about."
At his father's words Juraj leaned back against his chest, needing the physical comfort more then he was ready to admit, as he began to speak Luka slid his arms around him, resting his cheek against his hair. "I remember when they were bad...before Maja was born. I would hear Mama crying...or sometimes I'd hear you before you would wake up. It scared me, Tata...but more because you would both tell me that nothing was wrong and that I should just go back to bed." He paused a moment to wet his lips before continuing, laying his hands over his father's. "I kept waiting for whatever it was to come to me in my dreams too."
"I'm sorry, Beba." Luka kissed the boy's hair softly with the apology. "We were wrong to try and hide it from you, but we wanted to protect you from it and we didn't think you would understand."
"Will we go to the places in the dreams? He couldn't help but feel the unexpected tenseness of his father at the question.
"I'm not sure...we'll go to the graves though." Luka lifted a hand to wipe his eyes then slid it around his son again.
"So you can say good-bye to them all?" Juraj found himself turning so that he could slip his arms around his father before resting his head on his chest as he asked the question quietly.
"Yes...so we can say good-bye." Luka rested his cheek against his son's hair as he answered. Realization dawning in that moment, that the boy had make the connection to the importance of the trip that they had never shared.
to be continued...