A companion story to Ghosts
Maybe it was the lingering threads from his conversation with his daughter, maybe trepidation of their return as a family to Croatia, but whatever the reason, Luka found a return to sleep eluding him. The cabin of the plane was quiet, and with the lights dimmed most of those aboard had slipped easily into sleep. He let his eyes settle on Alenka, then smiled as he saw she held Juraj as they both slept. Could he ever have imagined knowing this feeling of loving someone as much as he did her? All those years he had clung to the memories of his life with Danijela. All those years he'd denied himself anything but feelings of grief and loneliness. Yes, he had tried to rekindle the feelings of love, first with Carol, then later with Abby. All the while knowing that he couldn't shake off the sense that he was somehow betraying his vows to Danijela when he was with them. What had made it different with Alenka?
With a sigh he shifted slightly, his hand still moving slowly over his daughter's back. Was it possible that the fact she shared those same feelings in regard to her first husband were what had made the difference? The knowledge that he didn't have to explain to her the feelings he still held for a woman long dead strengthening instead of weakening their connection. He released another breath as he gave into the call for sleep, his hand coming to a rest as his eyes closed.
They were going to be late, he was sure of it. As he circled the drive for the third time Luka found a whispered prayer coming to him. When he next rounded the corner it was easy to convince himself that the suddenly vacant space was due to a higher power's intervention.
The blast of cold air as he climbed out of the car was enough to take his breath away, and he quickly buttoned his coat to counter it. When he reached across the seat to pull the wrapped box from the passenger side he found it hard to resist glancing at his watch. Fifteen minutes until the Mass was scheduled to begin, he slammed the door then started for the porch, the as yet unshoveled snow crunching under his feet.
Shifting the box to one hand he rang the bell, as he waited for Alenka to answer, he found it hard not to make comparisons to Christmas Eves past. All those years he'd used work as an escape so he wouldn't have time to remember what he was convinced he would never again know.
"Luka." He let the thoughts drop as the door opened and Alenka greeted him.
"You look beautiful." He returned her smile, letting it broaden slightly as she ducked her head at the compliment. "I'm sorry I'm late." He stepped inside as she opened the door fully, sitting her present on the table just inside it before moving to kiss her.
As she returned his kiss she lay her hand on his cheek. "You're like ice, and we're going to be late, but I still want to give you your present before we go."
"It's freezing out there." He followed her with his eyes as she walked across the room and picked up the small wrapped package from the coffeetable, then carried it back.
"I hope you like it." She smiled deeply as she handed it to him.
"Alenka." He shook his head lightly before leaning over to kiss her, then straightened and began to unwrap it. As he tore the paper loose then balled it in his hand so he could open the lid his breath caught. "Alenka...I don't know what to say..." He lay the paper and lid in her outstretched hand before lifting the crucifix out of the box, the significance of it not lost on him. "Thank you." He leaned over to kiss her again with the words.
"You're welcome...can I put it on you?" She extended her hand to take it from him at the question.
"Please." As he gave his consent he turned to allow her to slip the now unfastened chain around his neck.
"We should probably go, Father Joe will have a fit if we come in late." She let her hand linger a moment before drawing it away, then walked past him to pick up her coat.
The feeling that was with him in that moment remained with him through the service, and was one he had thought never to know again. All the years he'd thought betrayed by his God, all the years he'd spent alone. As they listened to the sermon he glanced over to Alenka and in response she squeezed his hand, the look she exchanged saying what her words could not. Was it possible that all he had been through was in preparation of his finding her?
He closed his eyes, the silent question asked as if he might somehow receive an answer on this of all nights. No one had touched him the way Alenka did, not since Danijela, and in that moment he wondered ifin fact the gift of her wasn't the sign he had been looking for.
He let a smile deepen on his face as she leaned against his shoulder, seeming to sense his need for closeness. For the first time since Danijela had been taken from him the ache of her loss seemed to be missing, and perhaps that was the greatest of all the gifts she could give him.
to be continued...