A companion story to Ghosts
As the family exited the church they were greeted by bright sunlight and the beginnings to a day that showed evidence of one that was best spent outdoors. Almost immediately the children reacted to the freedom of being away from the quiet confines of the Church, and youthful laughter accompanied them as Juraj tagged his smaller sister then took off with her in close pursuit.
"What would you say to us finding a market, then picking up some things for a picnic? We could probably find a park without too much trouble." It was Luka who made the suggestion as he walked down the steps with his wife, only to stop as he just missed a collision with his daughter.
"It does look like they could use the exercise." Alenka's agreement came amidst a broad smile as she watched the two children release some of their pent up energy.
"Do you have Juraj's book with you? There must be a park in the area." Luka came to a halt at the bottom of the steps and loosened his tie.
"I do." Alenka nodded, then opened her purse to pull the travel guide from it As she thumbed through it in search one that met their needs she was all too aware of her husband beside her. "Only a few blocks and it looks to be in a small shopping area." She raised her eyes to his, releasing a small smile as her thoughts touched on an old memory. "Before the war...when it was nice like this, Damir and I would take Neven to the park after Mass...we didn't have anywhere for him to really play where we were living."
Slipping his arm around her as she spoke Luka found himself tightening his hold in preparation for the tears he was sure would follow the telling of the story. When there were none he took it as a means of encouragement for him to allow his own memory to surface.
"It was like that for us as well....our apartment was small, almost two small for two children." Luka let his eyes shift past Alenka, seeing the past rather then the present, wetting his lips, he forced himself to continue. "We had a park a few blocks away, not too big, but a place where Jasna could run...later we took Marko there." He smiled slightly before bringing his eyes to his wife again. "There were fewer bruises when he was learning to walk there then in the apartment."
As he finished speaking Alenka found herself slipping comfortably into his arms, her eyes moist. "It's good we came back, good we can remember things besides the loss." Her words came quietly as she lay her head against his shoulder.
Leaning down so he could touch his forehead to hers he simply nodded, content for the moment to do nothing more then hold her. If not for the sudden shriek from Maja signaling her capture of her brother he would have stayed as he was but the present wouldn't wait and he released his wife with a gentle kiss.
"Tata...I caught Juraj!" The small girl was already circling her parents, her joy at the accomplishment bubbling from her.
"I saw that, Beba."
"I let you catch me." Juraj countered the comment quickly, "Can we go get something to eat?"
"Please?" Alenka added the word to her son's request.
"Please, sorry, Mama." He offered the apology with a simple nod of concession.
"Tata and I were talking about that, how would the two of you feel about a picnic?" Alenka looked between the two children with the question.
"A picnic!" Maja danced between the two before finally launching herself towards her father.
"Careful." Luka called the warning with a laugh in the same instant that he staggered backwards slightly under her weight.
"Will there be swings? Can we have hot-dogs?" Maja began tossing the questions out as she let her father shift her to his hip.
"As long as we can eat..." Juraj found himself silenced with a look from his father before the man answered the earlier questions.
"I don't know about the swings, we'll have to see when we get there...as for what there will be to eat, let's decide when we find a market okay?"
"Okay." Planting a kiss on her father's cheek Maja indicated her readiness to be released and as Luka complied she once more began to bounce around them.
"Juraj, here's the park...can you lead?" Alenka pointed to the listing in the book before turning it over to him.
Taking the responsibility seriously the ten year old studied the book then looked around for the street markers...matching them to their position on his map with a touch of the finger before locating the park as well. Planning the route they would take brought a crease to his forehead as well as a chewing of the lip, inherited from his father.
"Do you needsome help?" Even as she asked Alenka knew the boy would refuse.
"I can do it..." Juraj spent another few minutes with his dark head bowed over the book as the rest of the family waited him out When he lifted his head again a smile had replaced the earlier look. "We have to go two streets that way, then turn right." He gestured to them as he explained.
"You're the guide, Juraj, lead the way." Luka offered a hand to Maja as he spoke, then when she shook her head in refusal extended it to Alenka. "Guess that leaves me for you." He gave his wife a wink before she laughed in preface to taking it. "Stop at the curb." Luka found himself shouting the warning even as he pulled his wife closer.
"We will.." The chorus came moments before the two began to run down the sidewalk.
"They have too much energy." Luka shook his head with a laugh as he watched them.
"It's good for them though, I want them to have happy memories to take home with them." Alenka nodded with agreement.
"They will..we all will." Luka tightened his hold on his wife with the reassurance.
"If you had said that on the plane I might have argued with you, but now." She hesitated a moment before continuing. "I see now that it doesn't all have to be about the sadness here, that there's room for the happiness we knew here too." They had been walking as they talked and as she finished she stopped to kiss him. "I love you, Luka, thank you for convincing me it was time to come back."
He shook his head, dismissing her words. "I love you too, and you don't have to thank me...this is something we both have needed to do for too long."
"We're at the curb!" Maja's voice broke into their conversation and both looked towards her before turning back to each other with exchanged smiles.
"Timing...how about we pick this up later when we aren't going to be interrupted?" Luka let his voice reflect the unspoken invitation as well.
"I think maybe that could be arranged..." If she had planned to say more it was lost to the calls of the children and after sharing a kiss Alenka and Luka moved to join them..
to be continued...