A companion story to Ghosts
"Were you finished talking with Tata?" Alenka asked the question quietly as she studied her son. When he lifted his eyes from the book he'd been reading and nodded, she couldn't help but smile.
"Pretty much, but it's okay." He gave her a look that she immediately recognized as one of those he shared with his Father.
"Juraj, if you have questions, or are worried about anything, you know you can talk to me about them too."
"I know, Mama." He closed the book so he could bring his full attention to her as he spoke, then hesitated with the question that he knew needed an answer.
"What is it, Beba?" Alenka found herself leaning closer as her voiced dropped, seeking some privacy for him amongst so many strangers. Noting the seriousness of his face as he still hesitated she slid her arm around him and drew him to her. "Juraj?"
The boy swiped his tongue across his lips in yet another of his actions that mirrored those of his Father, and one which usually came when he was on the verge of broaching a difficult subject.
"Mama?" He started only to stop as he rewet his lips.
"What, Beba? She reached over to brush his heavy bangs from his eyes as she waited him out.
"Mama...do you and Tata?" There was still another hesitation before he could get the entire question out. "Do you love them more then you love Maja and I?"
Alenka would swear that her heart stopped the instant the words left his mouth, how could she answer that?
"I'm sorry, Mama." Juraj was already regretting the question as he noted her reaction. "I didn't mean to ask it"
"Beba, no..." Alenka swallowed then pulled her son tightly to her, before kissing him. "It's not that, the way I feel about Neven, the way I"ll always feel, it's like how I feel about you and Maja. You don't know how your heart could love another as much as the first, but when the next baby comes you do." She kissed his hair again with the explanation.
"Do I look like him?" Juraj wet his lips, the uncertainty of how far was safe to go in his question.
"You're taller then he was, Damir, my first husband was shorter then Tata." She smiled slightly with the fond memory. "You're both dark though, I wish I had more pictures to show you of him." A touch of sadness laced her words and she knew no amount of pictures would make up for the loss of the two she loved so much.
"It must be hard for Tata not to have any pictures of Marko."
"He has pictures in his head, it's not the same of course, but it's better then nothing." Alenka offered the words as a way of easing the awkwardness of the conversation.
When Juraj grew silent she didn't press him, and instead she took advantage of the small moment of intimacy. Maybe this was what the trip was intended to do for them, maybe it wasn't just about she and Luka putting their pasts to rest, but about their children coming to terms about it as well.
"Tata....you can't make the cow blue." Maja pulled the crayon from his hand before he could place the offending color on the page in front of him then replaced it with a brown one.
"What if I want a blue cow?" He cast his eyes to her with a teasing smile.
"Tata. You have to do it right." The small girl's smile was one of mild tolerance and seeing it prompted him to laugh.
"I'm sorry, Beba." He forced the smile back at the glare he received in response. "You know you can make them whatever color you want, you don't have to do it the same every time."
"Cows aren't blue, Tata." Her tone remained serious and it was obvious that nothing he could say would sway her from her position.
"Can I make the grass blue?" He allowed the smile to form again with the gentle teasing.
"No. You can make the sky blue." Her face maintained the look of seriousness until he conceded and began to color with the brown, at which point she returned to the page she was working on.
Even as Luka complied with his daughter's wishes he found the long forgotten memory surfacing and for once he allowed it to come freely.
"Tata!" Jasna's plaintive wail carried through the small apartment clearly, forcing him to almost drop the plate he held in his hands before he could set it aside. "Tata!" When the cry repeated he was sure something terrible had happened and he abandoned the dishes to find her.
"Jasna, what is it? Are you hurt?" He stopped suddenly as instead of the imagined carnage he found the girl standing over her brother, clutching a handful of crayons and the tattered coloring book she cherished. A glance to his young son only deepened the confusion as he chewed contentedly on some snack. "What's going on in here?" He knelt beside Marko trying to identify what had him so pleased yet his sister so upset.
"Marko ate the yellow crayon! How can I color the sun without a yellow?"
"Marko..spit it out." He held his hand in front of the boy's mouth with the demand only to have to force his fingers in as he stubbornly refused and continued to chew.
"Tata...where am I going to get another one?" Jasna's distress threatened to send her into tears with the question and they were delivered as he scooped the pulpy remains of her crayons from her brother's mouth.
"Candy. The little boy reached for it again as his Father took it away.
"No, Marko, not candy...crayon." He tried to maintain the stern demeanor the situation required but found himself failing.
"Tata, don't cry, you can make the cow blue if you want." It was Maja's words that brought his thoughts back to the present and only as she wiped the wetness from his cheek did he even realize that the memory had prompted tears.
"It's not that, Beba." He offered her a smile of reassurance before he tried to explain. "I was just thinking about something from a longtime ago that I hadn't thought about until now." He wet his lips before dropping his attention to the book on the tray in front of him.
"It's okay to remember though, Tata...even the sad things." Maja's words surprised him and he lifted his eyes to her with a smile. So much wisdom for one so young.
"Yes, Beba, it's okay to remember..even the sad things."
to be continued...