By J.D. and M. Blais
Even before he finished consenting to the walk he had turned in preparation of standing, then reached for the crutches. His actions more fluid as he seemed to be getting
used to them. Once on his feet he balanced both under one arm so he could reach for his tray with the other hand.
"I can get the trays." She took up hers and reached for his. "And I can just walk you back to.....whereever you want to go."
"I have it...thanks though."
She shrugged, then turned to take care of her own tray.
He unconsciously bit his lip as if that might somehow affect his balance as moved towards the waste area. The tray held a bit unsteadily but not so much that it would spill, he seemed to reach the table set aside to hold the dirty trays none to soon.
She emptied hers and took care of it, then patiently waited for him by the door.
Once he had cleared it and deposited the contents in their proper places he slid the extra crutch under his arm and walked over to join her.
"Where would you like to walk?"
He offered a shrug.."Wherever you want to go is okay."
She nodded, holding open the door for him, and stepping outside. "How well is your leg holding up, for a walk?"
"It's not too bad...we can walk." He stepped outside and paused to wait for her. "When do you leave?"
She looked out over the camp a moment. "In the morning."
"Pretty fast..you'll go home?"
She nodded. "Actually, I think I may need to leave tonight...depends on when the next set of trucks go out. Can't fly out of here," she said, with a half smile.
"No...just over..." He dropped his eyes to check the path in front of him with the statement. "Be good for you to go back..yes? Hot showers...a real bed?"
"Sure," she admitted. "But I won't be doing any good over there." She sighed.
"I think you'll find someone to take care of..." He gave her a sideways glance...
She rolled her eyes. "No one back home needs me to take care of them."
"You can't help in a hospital there?"
She shook her head. "I can, but it won't be the same. I'm still in school, technically. I could do a residency. Hopefully I would really get to work."
He seemed less bothered by those around them then he had on earlier walks...though he still kept his eyes mainly on the worn path. "You will find out when you get there?"
"Yes. I'll need to apply for a residency, because the spots may all be filled right now. I think I'll have a month or two to wait for a new program. But...I can study. Rest, I suppose. That's what Angelique says to do."
"But your Father won't go back with you?" His question was more one of concern that she would be the one left alone.
"No...he had agreed to a certain length of time here, and he doesn't want to go back on his word. Plus, he has good surgical skills. Not all doctors here have that."
"It will be hard for him I think."
She glanced at him as they walked. "Hard?"
He wet his lips...for a moment his thoughts drifting to the lonliness he felt at not having his family with him. "To be away from family."
"Oh." She walked in silence a moment. "I don't know....maybe. He's very into his work here."
"I think he will still worry about you...and miss you." He kept his eyes on the ground a bit longer then raised them to look off in the distance. "I've been thinking I should try to find where my Tata has gone...it's been a long time since we got word to him."
She looked at him, hopeful. "I think that's a great idea. I'm sure I....well, Poppa could help you."
"I sent word with someone leaving Vukovar after..." He paused. "I don't know if he got the message...and with all the bombings...I'm not even sure he was in the same place."
"I know you can find him again. He's probably looking for you too."
"There are a lot of places to look...many camps...yes?"
"Right," she nodded. "So it takes some time...but if you are both looking, it would go faster."
He nodded..."I should write another letter...see if it will find him."
"I think I might be able to help, but you won't have the letter in time," she mused. "I know that the Red Cross has been compiling lists of all refugees, but they haven't gotten here. They should be soon, but I can send someone this way..."
"I'll write something tonight..."
Someone was calling her name from a farther point on, insistently, and she looked in that direction. One of the other interns was coming their way.
He stopped as she did and looked towards the approaching man.
The man gave a brief nod to Luka, correctlyassuming him to be a patient. In quick tones, he told Claire that they had to move the transport up because of troop movement, and they were leaving within the half hour.
"Go ahead..I can get back on my own."
The intern jogged off, and said they'd be waiting, and she turned to look at him.
"You probably need to finish packing."
"There's not much.." she started, then released a breath, figuring it was foolish to draw out any farewell. "Alright, then....I guess I have to."
"I'm not sure what to say..." He fumbled a bit with his words..."Thanks seems not enough...so I'll say be safe...it'll be strange not to have you push at me."
She smiled, a little forlornly. "Maybe a relief, not to have me pushing you around. But...I'll be safe, as much as I can. Okay?"
"Okay..." He remained standing where he was, his hands tightening and loosening on the grips.
"Take care of yourself, Luka," she added, quieter. "You know...just one last thing for me to bug you about."
"Sure...you too." He offered a weak smile himself at her words.
She put a hand on his arm, squeezing gently. "Thanks too...for, you know....listening." It was clear she was having a hard time too, thanking him for comforting her when she was upset, and she withdrew her hand to run it through her hair.
"It's okay..."He let his eyes settle on her. "You should go...before they get mad...."
She looked back up, her eyes searching his for a moment, then she smiled, self-conciously. "I'm really bad with saying goodbye I guess. So....I'll just say, see you later." She started to move off, then turned to walk backwards a moment so she could wave. "Hopefully sooner rather than later," she called back, then turned to go.
He gave her a smile..."Yeah..sure..."
He remained where he stood long after she had disappeared into the camp, it was time to move forward, for both of them, or at least to try. With a sigh he straightened and slowly began the walk back to his tent.
To be continued....
Friday, September 30, 2005
By J.D. and M. Blais
Claire found herself looking over what Luka had gotten to eat, but made herself
refrain from commenting on it. The difference between the variety served in the staff tent and the refugees was obvious...the food being mostly carbs...bland but meant to
"You know...I can get.." She made her words trail off, knowing she had to stop trying to tell him what to do, or make offers.
He had picked up his fork to poke at the beans as she spoke and he raised his eyes to her. "Hmm?
"Nothing, nothing," she said. She held up her hands, palms outward in a supplicating gesture. "See? This is me not meddling." Her tone was teasing.
He gave her a half smile in response before scooping a bit up and putting it in his mouth. As he chewed he lay the fork back down on the tray.
She bent her own head a little, playing with the food on her own plate with her fork.
"It's not that bad."
She looked up, quizzically. "What?"
He broke a corner of the bread off with his comment and gestured towards her tray with it. "I said..it doesn't look that great but it's not that bad."
She looked down at the plate, realizing what she was doing. "Oh.....yea, it's not. I know." She took a small bite of the food, chewing silently.
"Then what is it?"
She lifted her eyes back up, swallowing. "How is it living with Thomas?"
He shrugged slightly..."All right I guess..."
Claire half-smiled. "Just all right?"
"Better then the hospital tent...or one of the bigger tents."
"Okay, I'll give you that. I didn't realize how bad it could get sleeping in the med tent," she admitted.
"Can be noisy..." He realized he was still holding with piece of bread he had torn off, and after balling it between his palms he popped it in his mouth.
"Yea." She took a piece of bread too, shredding it with her fingers absently. "But, you have Poppa to talk to as well...and Angelique....and you're doing much better now, with the peumonia almost gone.."
He tilted his head slightly, reading a bit between what she was saying..or rather not saying. "What's going on?"
Her look was bleak. "I'm being sent home...for a little while.."
He looked at her a minute. "Because of what happened?"
A small self-recriminating smile touched her mouth. "Which thing?" she said, wryly.
He glanced around them...then swallowed..."Any of it...being sick."
"Yea..all of it.." She dropped the bread onto her plate, brushing her fingers against her jeans. "Angelique says she can't get my blood sugar to stabilize, and that I'm at a much higher risk for infection here...but, yea, those other things too."
"Be good for you going back...better food." He poked at the potato, his appetite, what little had been there, essentially gone. "Lots of chocolate."
She half-smiled. "I suppose."
"Your Father will go too?"
She shook her head. "He's staying here. In fact, he'd probably like you to stay back in the tent with him...keep him company."
He paused in his assault on the potato. "So he can watch me again?"
"No, nothing like that," she said, with a small chuckle. "I think he'd just like someone to talk to." She paused. "I'd like that too, for his sake."
"He said that?"
Claire rolled her eyes. "Of course not. He told me that I should leave you alone already."
That raised a smile. "So I am supposed to just go there and surprise him?"
She warmed a little. "Yea...tell him Thomas snores, and you can't take it anymore."
"My choice to that was the bigger tent...I don't think snoring is a reason to move here."
She sighed, relenting. "Well, I've already mentioned it to him, and he seemed agreeable. I'm sure he'll come talk to you on his own, after I've left."
He nodded...looked at the barely touched tray and pushed it away.
"You should eat more," she said, automatically.
"I'm not too hungry."
She rubbed her eyes. "We sound like a broken record."
"Yea...you know....a record," she started to explain, then realized she couldn't. "Um.... repeating the same things over and over again."
"Oh...broken record." He nodded and filed the phrase away.
She smiled at his expression, although hers was wistful. "I wish I could stay," she admitted.
"Maybe you can come back in the summer...nicer here then. Or used to be..." The addition came half under his breath.
She blinked, a little surprised at the invitation, and nodded. "Sure....I could do that." She glanced at the forgotten food. "Neither of us seems up for eating," she said, quiet. "You want to go for a walk....you know, for old times sake?"
"Sure...I'd like that."
To be continued....
Thursday, September 29, 2005
Claire opened the flap on Thomas' tent it was in the late afternoon, she was holding a small folded pile of clothes in her arms and seemed surprised to find Luka sitting inside on his cot. The metal brace was stretched out and his other leg was upraised, bent at the knee with Angelique's book resting against it as he held it there. She still looked tired, a shade paler than usual, but she moved with her normal energy, and wore her faded jeans with a blue t-shirt.
As Claire nears she can't help but notice that Luka's clothes have taken on the
rumpled appearance of being worn repeatedly for multiple days on end.
She rapped with her knuckles on the center pole by the door. "Anyone home?" she called out.
At the sound of Claire's call he lifted his eyes from the page they had been on for the last half hour and to her voice. "Yeah..come on in." He leaned over to set the book on the table beside the cot and managed to find half a smile for her in the process. Most of the tent seemed shrouded in shadows except along the path illuminated by the opening door flap.
She slipped in, letting the tent door close behind her. Her eyes had a hard time in the low light and she blinked several times as they adjusted to it. "Hey....dark in here."
"You get used to it..." He pulled himself upright a bit more with a wince allowing her
space at the foot of his cot. "They let you out huh?"
"Kicked me out more like it," she joked, taking a seat gingerly in the space he provided. "Hard to put up with me for too long."
"You look better." He offered the compliment hesitantly.
She smiled, looking down to the folded clothes in her lap. "Thanks.....I was exhausted."
He nodded, drawing his lower lip between his teeth as he did but otherwise remaining silent as if not sure what to say.
"I brought you some more clothes to replace the ones I took." She held out the folded items.
"You didn't have to do that...but thanks..." He leaned forward to take the small pile and laid them on his lap before looking at what was there.
There was another pair of jeans, not as new as the ones she had given before, but still durable. Below those was a dark green sweatshirt, slightly faded.
He didn't unfold them..but looked them over..."Thanks..." He managed another smile with the word.
"Are you getting out, walking around?" she asked, almost hopefully.
"Yeah...some." he sat the two items beside him on the cot "I usually go down to the tent for mid meal and to the showers. How are you doing?"
"I get tired faster," she admitted. "I hadn't realized how bad off I was, until.." She shrugged. "I couldn't ignore it anymore."
He nodded slightly. "Did you want to sit for awhile, or do you need to get back?"
She shook her head. "If you don't mind the company....I have the time to stay a bit."
He shook his head to the question. "No..I don't mind."
She sank onto the end of the cot, leaving plenty of room for him. "Does Thomas bring you things to eat, then, if you only go down for mid meal?"
"Why would he do that?" He looked at her a bit oddly like the thought of even asking the other man hadn't entered his mind.
She looked perplexed. "Don't you eat any other time besides midday?"
He shook his head. "No...not like I need that much."
Her brows came down in a frown. "Luka, you're a full grown man over six feet tall. You need more than one meal a day."
He shrugged then offered a vague hint of a smile. "It's more then I've eaten in a while, it's okay..really, and besides, they give big servings.."
She seemed like she would argue, but she relented, with a sad little smile of her own. "I wish you would eat more...but okay. I won't bug you about it."
He brushed his now shaggy bangs off his forehead with a sweep of his hand. "If I eat too much I'll get fat...then the clothes I have won't fit." He offered the comment to lighten the mood in the tent.
"Hey, if you managed to gain that much weight, I'd buy you new clothes," she shot back, hotly.
He shook his head again..his cheeks dimpling slightly before he swept his tongue over his lips and raised his eyes back to her. "I get enough to eat...don't worry."
"No you don't," she said, although she smiled, "but I'll let it go for now. And I don't know how you can call those servings big. Honestly, Luka." She chuckled, a little. "Maybe I'm just greedy."
His eyes widened a bit at her comment. "You could feed two people with what they give you."
She adjusted her seat, resting her hands on her lap. "If youjust wanted to keep them alive, sure, but not if you wanted them to thrive. Think back what it was like before the war, Luka."
He brought his uninjured knee up to rest his arm on it with her comment. "It's hard to compare...we made meals for 4 people then. Maybe they weren't fancy but they filled you up."
She was still smiling at him, a little distracted, then said, "Well....I wanted to talk to you anyway, so why don't we go get something to eat? Since they give away so much," she teased.
"Sure..." Figuring she needed to eat more then he did he didn't protest...and instead turned to lift the splinted leg from the cot before leaning down to retrieve his shoes from under it.
"How is the brace working?" She moved to kneel down and help him with his shoes.
He released the task to her with a quiet, "Thanks...it's ok. I take it off to shower but otherwise I try to keep it on all the time."
"That's good," she murmured, sliding them on his feet and lacing them well. "Before you know it, you'll be able to walk without it."
"I can't wait..." He leaned back down to pull the crutches out from under the cot and used them to pull himself up before tucking them under his arms. "Ready?"
She stood, taking care to move slower. "Yep." She held the curtain door for him.
He followed carefully..then squinted slightly as they stepped out into sunshine after the dimness of the tent.
"It's really nice out today," she murmured, walking slowly to the mess tent. "You should take advantage of it while you can."
"Another suggestion?" He allowed some teasing to enter his tone.
She hunched her shoulders sheepishly, although she smiled. "Just an idea."
The hoarseness had all but faded from his voice reflecting the passing finally of the pneumonia. "Maybe things will dry out ."
"Hopefully," she agreed. "I'm sure it will make things easier for the other doctors..and patients."
Many of the family tents had clothes draped on the ropes securing them..laundry left to dry in the sun.
As they walked Luka kept his eyes on the ground still wary of ruts and loose rocks on the path. "Yeah...less colds anyway."
"You seem to be doing much better," she ventured. "Your cough is all but gone now."
He lifted his eyes as she spoke, a hint of surprise that she had noticed in his look. "Just little bit sometimes at night..but mostly it's gone. How long you have to rest?" He asked the question automatically...not even realizing he had until it was out.
"Well.." She seemed hesitant to answer.
He slowed a bit with her hesitation..."Claire?"
"I'm fine," she said, waving her hand dismissive. "We'll talk about it over eating."
He almost pushed her to continue but instead stopped himself."Okay..." As they neared the mess tent though he did slow...mentally preparing himself for entering the space. The process was one he faced at every visit, an internal battle that he waged with himself and which in truth was the reason he limited himself to one meal a day. Having to hear and see so many other intact families, it was just too much for him to face three times a day.
She again held the door for him.
He shook off the thoughts as he realized that Claire was holding the door for him then eased past her. "Thanks." The room wasn't bad, he stopped to look at the line, they seemed to be between rushes anyway.
"If you want to sit," she offered, "I can wait in the line and get plates for us."
He shook his head. "That's okay, I can get mine, have to get used to doing it myself anyway."
"Okay, if you're sure." She moved with him over to the line.
He worked his way through the line...taking the tray and letting them put the basics on it before balancing it against the crutch as he made his way to an empty space on one of the tables.
She joined him, setting her own tray down and sliding into the seat. "You're right," she joked, "it's like a banquet." She grinned.
He glanced over the tray at what it held..a slice of farm bread, a generous scoop of beans, a medium sized roasted potato, and coffee. "Yeah, a banquet..."
"Yeah, a banquet..."
To be continued...
Wednesday, September 28, 2005
Finally satisfied, Angelique seemed to relax a little, slowing the flood of questions that had accompanied her examination Luka since he had presented himself at the main medical tent. . "I'm glad the brace could be used on your leg."
As promised to William he had showered and shaved though he still wore the same shirt and jeans Claire had brought back, and while he was looking thin his lungs
sounded fairly clear. "Yeah, it's better.."
She smiled. "You have improved so much...." She smoothed the shirt over his shoulder in a motherly gesture. "Soon, Dr. Northstar will have you working here, yes?" She chuckled, letting her hand linger a little longer then necessary.
He dropped his eyes slightly. "He's asked me to...I'm not sure I'm ready..."
"I know...do not worry, take your time," she said, soothingly. "We are only wanting you to get better right now."
"I know...it's just I owe him now...and with Claire sick..." He shifted his leg a bit as a delaying tactic more than anything else. "I can't really put him off...not now."
"We still have people to help," she said, firmly, "if you cannot work yet. And Claire will be fine, soon."
"But not enough...I saw how it was when I was here..."
Angelique half-smiled, relenting. "Yes, we need more help. I just do not want to be pushing you.."
"I know..." He fidgeted with the strap around the brace at his thigh. "I can't keep hiding from it though...even if I may not finish...I can still do some things."
Slowly, she said, "You are more than welcome, Luka. You can start anytime you wish, if you are feeling up to it..."
"Where's Claire? I have something for her..." Another doctor hurried over, calling her name, as he asked the question, delaying her reply.
After a brief conference with the doctor, she smiled apologetically to Luka. "I must go, mon ami. But I would like it if you came back soon, perhaps to be working." She paused, then said, "Claire? She's not too far...down by the other tent entrance." She pointed, helpfully, then hurried off with the other doctor.
"I'll try." He braced the crutches so he could get to his feet then started off in the direction she had indicated...looking over those in the cots in search of Claire.
She was in one closest to the door, looking as if she were asleep, lying on her back with a blanket up to her waist. There was an IV into her right hand, and it rested on her stomach. Her breathing was slow and even, and there were circles under her eyes.
He paused as he reached her...biting his lip as he debated if he should wake her.
SetsunaLuna: Most people at this end were obviously suffering from different levels of colds or flu, with random coughs. Still, it was quieter here, with the less injured patients. Hearing the creak of his brace, and the quiet thump of the crutches, she opened her eyes just barely.
"Hey..." He offered the greeting as her eyes opened.
She blinked several times, her lashes like dark smudges over her cheeks, before finally opening them a little more fully. "Luka..?" she murmured, in a rusty voice. She raised the hand with the IV in it to her eyes, to rub them.
"I brought you something..." He shifted the crutch to reach in his pocket and once he had the thing in his hand moved closer so he could hand it to her. Whatever it was was concealed by his hand as he extended it to her.
"You did?" She had to clear her throat, thick with sleep, but she didn't try to sit up. Instead, she just lifted her left hand for whatever it was.
He held his hand over hers and released the small silver foil packet. The size of two squares of a Hershey bar..which is what it contained when she opened it.
"I traded half a bar of soap for that...thought you could use it."
She lowered her right hand from her eyes as she brought the silver packet closer to her eyes, perplexed. Once she realized what it was, she gave a little half-laugh. "Chocolate? You're amazing....I couldn't find any, no matter how hard I tried." She smiled up at him, sleepily, but before he could respond, her smile gave way to a surprised expression. "Hey...you're walking..."
"Some of the Peacekeepers were handing them out to the little kids, I was coming back from the showers and just happened to be there when it was going on. So I made the deal with one of them for what I had left of my soap."
She brought the packet to her nose, closing her eyes a moment as she inhaled the scent of the candy. "God....thank you so much, Luka. It smells heavenly."
He leaned slightly on the crutches..the braced leg extended a bit in front of the other as he had taken his weight off of it. "I'm sorry I couldn't get more."
She shook her head, her hair tangling on the pillow. "This is more than I hoped for. Thank you." "Now comes the hard part," she murmured.
"Claire..."He wet his lips as he hesitated. "I'm sorry about the other night."
She rested her hand on her chest, cupping the chocolate with her hand. "I'm the one who should be sorry....I didn't mean to tell you about the hospital like that.."
"I think I knew all along, I mean...I'd heard the shooting...the screams...we'd
heard stories before...you just don't want to believe them."
"Still....it was..insensitive of me."
"You didn't know...I never said anything about it...how could
"Angelique mentioned the hospital to me....I didn't realize you didn't know the truth, but as soon as I said it..." She let her voice trail off, swallowing.
"I think she was afraid to tell me...after everything else...and it didn't come up in the interviews since they only wanted to know what I had seen..."
Her fingers closed around the chocolate, gently. "I'm just sorry I hurt you like that. I didn't mean to."
"I know...it's okay. You should probably rest now...and I should get back before your Father worries more then he already is."
She regarded him another moment, before her eyes started to flutter closed. "Okay.... you want to share this before you go?" she offered, uncurling her fingers from the candy.
He shook his head. "No..you eat it. I'll try and come around tomorrow..."
She reopened her eyes. "I should be out of here by then..."
He eased his weight back onto the braced leg slowly. "Okay...I'll see you then."
She gave him another tired smile. "I owe you one, for this."
He shook his head as he turned to walk away and half under his breath added. "I didn't think we were counting but I think I owe you far more..."
To be continued...
Tuesday, September 27, 2005
He didn't know how long he lay there in the dark before he let himself slip back into the sleep the drug offered, all he knew was that even there he failed to find the escape he needed. The knowledge that he had been spared while the others from the hospital had died stirred the memories and he found himself fighting his escape again...hearing the warnings..seeing the trucks...he tossed restlessly, only to moan as he jarred his leg.
A firm hand came down on his shoulder, grasping it to calm him down.
The touch was unexpected and in his mind he thought the Serbs had found him, his eyes flew open thinking his luck had finally run out, the hand belonged to one of them and death had finally come to claim him. At the sight of William a tremble of fleeting fear rolled through him before he caught his breath and fully registered him.
William tightened his grip a moment, having brought in a lamp with him and set it on the table so it illuminated the dark tent. "Luka," he said, quietly. "You need to calm down...you're moving too much."
"The dreams..." He offered the explanation even as he tried unsuccessfully to slow his breathing.
"I know. I don't want to redose you so soon if I can help it." He smoothed his hand over his jaw, with a small breath, and settled onto his stool. "Bad tonight?"
"They all died..." He lifted his hand, rubbing sleep and spent tears from his eyes.
William leaned forward slightly, concerned. "Your family?"
"Yes...but...not only them, I was back at the hospital...the day I finally had to leave, it was so real..."
"You're here now, Luka. It's just a dream, right now."
"I ran away and left them there to die..." He moved his eyes to Williams, expecting to see disgust in them, the same disgust that he was feeling in himself.
William regarded him intently, although he didn't look more than just worried. "There was no other option for you, Luka. It was under attack."
Luka shook his head. "We didn't know what would happen, others stayed behind...for the patients...I should have been one of them." His breathing had finally slowed but his voice remained unsteady.
William sighed, interlocking his fingers together, his elbows resting on his knees. "You can't dwell on what could have happened, Luka. There's no guarantee you could have altered a thing by staying there."
Luka rubbed at his eyes again...clearly doing battle with himself. "Why am I the one who keeps beating death? What makes me so different then the rest of them?"
"You're not the only one," William answered. "This camp is full of survivors who think they are alone. Who have lost whole families and friends."
"Three...four times it should have had me...but it didn't...and I don't know why."
"I can't tell you why...I wish I could." William kept looking at him, his face drawn and serious.
He drew a shuddered breath..his emotions fraying..."I don't want anyone else hurt because of me...I just want it all to end."
"Sshh, calm down," William murmured, rubbing Luka's shoulder with his hand. "No one else is going to be hurt....you're safe here."
"Claire was hurt...she got too close...if she hadn't...God...I'm sorry...I never meant for her to be hurt..." His breathing grew unsteady again as he started to work himself up.
"Everyone I touch gets hurt or dies..."
William hesitated, surprised at his words, but drew him to his chest as he sat on the edge of the cot. "Luka, calm down...I know you didn't mean for anything to happen.." His voice sounded thin.
"I'm sorry...I'm sorry..." He murmured the apology over and over as the man held him, at first unable to bring himself to return the hold.
He smoothed back Luka's hair, his hand trembling. "It's not your fault.."
"I let her get too close...I can't let it happen again...I can't risk anything else happening because of me...not to you...not to her..." Despite his words he found himself finally giving into the need for the security the man's closeness offered, knowing he was trying
to pull away in his head but unable to do so physically.
William didn't loosen his grip. "You can't get rid of us that easily," the older man said gruffly. "We're not going to abandon you."
Luka's body trembled under the man's hand as he fought what was proving to be a losing battle to maintain the last of his control on his emotions. In the end it was too much for him and as he lay his head on the older man's shoulder the tears came,and with them the repeated apology "I'm sorry...I'm sorry.
No one blames you," William murmured, soothing. "Not me....and not Claire. She doesn't blame you.."
There weren't anymore words for the moment that would explain what he was feeling so he simply gave into that base need for comfort that a child seeks from a parent no matter their age and in lieu of his own being present he allowed William to serve in his stead.
Reassuring, he continued to hold him, murmuring low consolations to him to help him calm down.
He wouldn't know what what it was about this man more then others that allowed him to let go with him when he couldn't with others...maybe it didn't matter, but under his hand and his words he gradually relaxed and with it he once more edged closer to sleep again.
He finally allowed Luka to pull away, to lie back again on the cot. "You shouldn't worry about us right now," he said, gently. "We're not going anywhere."
Luka blinked...a final resistance to giving fully into sleep...but soon even that battle was lost, he searched William out with one hand...grounding himself in that simple touch then finally released himself to it, and as he closed his eyes, sleep claimed him.
The late morning sun was slanting light across the bare floor when Luka next awoke to the sound of William inside the tent.
As the sounds of the tent and voices outside filtered in he stirred...turning a bit on the cot.
William touched him, first on his shoulder, like a notice that he was there, and then to his forehead, a habitual gesture checking for fever.
At William's touch he opened his eyes...there was the momentary confusion from the meds then the clearing as full consciousness came to him. "Morning..I think." His voice was deep with sleep.
William smiled, straightening up. "Barely....but yes, still morning. How are you feeling?"
He shook his head slightly...even with the man having said nothing he knew what had passed the night before was over, it would never be mentioned again unless he chose to relive it, which he didn't, not now. "Hard to think..." He rubbed at his face...then started to push himself up on one arm.
"I think I'm going to start easing up on those sedatives....we lucked out." He pulled something off the table, what looked like a brace with metal supports, and several straps. "This will hold much better than the splint."
Luka followed his actions as he retrieved the device. "How did you get it?"
"Same way we get most of our supplies...donated or retrieved from locals." He hefted it and brought it over. "It's worn, but still in very good condition."
He raised himself up with his other arm so he could get a better look at the brace. "I'll be able to get up with it?"
"I think you may even be able to walk with it." William rested it on the bed next to him, then moved the covers over his knee. "Let's try it out."
"With the crutches?"
"Depends on how you manage with it." He started to unwind the bandages, but only enough to remove the splint, then started to rewrap. In minutes, he had it in place and was adjusting the cloth straps, testing the give of them.
Luka watched carefully...managing to keep his leg relatively still as well despite the pain the movement caused him.
Finally, he leaned back. "Alright. Want to give it a whirl?"
"Okay...he bit his lip as he fully sat up..it took him a minute more to find his picture and after getting his pants on he was ready to stand. He turned so he could put his good foot on the floor.
William stood first, offering his hand for support.
He lifted the other leg with his hands...shifting it so it was over the edge before looking up at William and taking the offered hand.
William pulled him to his feet and steadied him, letting him find his footing.
When he was on his feet he was a bit unsteady..the weakness of the bedrest and lingering medication evident.
"Fresh air will likely clear your head better as well."
"Can you walk on it this way?"
He moved his eyes to William..the hesitation to bear weight on the leg visible. "I can try..."
"The brace will keep it immobile...it's just a matter of it paining you now. I think you can still use the crutches with it too.."
"It's not so bad..." He wasn't sure how much pain was being covered by meds but knew he had to stop relying on them.
William waited while he tried a few steps on it, eyeing him critically.
He looked at William then bit his lip and took a tentative step...then another...his balance still unsteady but not bad.
William nodded, almost to himself in satisfaction, then picked up the crutches. "Here...to steady you until you get used to the brace."
Luka took the crutches and settled them under his arms.."Thanks." His appearance reflected the days of bedrest...his hair shaggy and his face lightly bearded. The shirt he wore wrinkled from continually sleeping in it.
"I've got to get back to a few patients soon....maybe you want to go have a shave?" William asked, with a wry smile.
He lifted a hand to rub his chin and nodded. "Yeah..sure. You can go..I can get there. Can I shower with this?"
William nodded. "It shouldn't hurt it, and Angelique wanted to stop by and see you once you were more awake," he mentioned.
"But not Claire?" He shifted his eyes to William with the question.
William glanced back, his smile giving way to a more somber look. "Are you asking if she wanted to come see you as well?"
He let his eyes drop to the floor..."She wants more from me then I can give her..." He tried to explain.
"What does she want from you, Luka?" he asked, concerned.
He wet his lips..."She wants me to let her in...to be able to forget with her...but it's too soon." He stopped and lifted one hand from it's crutch to scratch his head. "It's hard to explain."
William nodded, rubbing his chin a moment. "Maybe...she understands that now. I'm sorry, but she hasn't asked about you, not since I started you on the sedatives. She's in the med tent right now, anyway."
He lifted his eyes to William as he took hold again.
William knelt a moment, adjusting one of the straps, before standing again.
"Long story. You've been out about four days...we had a bad run of new pnemonia cases, and she was helping out where we were short. You know Claire...persistent. Last night, we had to start treating her for exhaustion, dehydration."
"You should be there...not with me."
"I have been there, Luka. But I can only stay in the med tent so long...I have many other duties. She was asleep when I left."
He eyed him, not fully sure if he believed him but not ready to call him a liar either. "I can go back to the tent...let her be here with you."
"Maybe tomorrow," William relented. "I doubt she'll be released from care today."
He nodded, seemingly satisfied for the moment. "Okay."
"You could go visit," William hedged. "Angelique is there as well."
He nodded again.."I guess I should clean up first then."
William allowed a smile. "Indeed."
"Claire brought me some things...a small bag." He glanced around for the bag as he mentioned it.
"It's on the locker at the foot of your cot," William gestured.
Settling the crutches he made his way over to pick it up...then turned and made his way back.
"I'll be back here shortly...take it slow, and get used to the brace," William cautioned.
SetsunaLuna: He glanced around. "Actually, let me help you with your shoes before I go." He retrieved them and knelt to help slide them on.
To be continued....
Monday, September 26, 2005
"You said you came to thank me for the things I brought."
He moved the picture, laying it beside him before he used that arm to support himself in the semi-raised position, careful not to stir the injured leg. "Yes...I did."
She eyed him, almost defiantly. "So, you could say I messed things up this time. After all, if you hadn't come here, you wouldn't have reinjured the leg."
He wet his lips...dropping his eyes a moment..before lifting them to her again. "No...but it might still have happened....no one can say."
"Exactly," she said, quietly. "Just like my going to get the supplies."
"No..." He pushed himself up more with the protest. "You went to find things for me... you said that...if you hadn't.."
She shook her head. "I didn't just go for you. And it wasn't even my idea. The others got the Jeep and looked for volunteers."
He wanted to argue it...wanted to contradict her, take the blame from her shoulders... but how? "If I hadn't needed the things...would you have gone?" He watched her intently, looking for the signs that she was going to tell less then the truth.
She sighed, her shoulders still bent. "We needed more than just the clothes...meds and supplies..."
"I didn't ask that."
"I don't know, Luka," she answered, looking up at him. Her eyes were worn, dull. "Maybe. They asked me before I thought about getting things for you, and I said I would think about it."
His arms trembled slightly from the strain of keeping himself upright but he remained as he was, fighting the drugs in his system. "Maybe...but not for sure."
"Nothing is for sure. You said you might have hurt the knee again anyway. That no one knows for sure."
"Some things are for sure..." He let himself down on the cot and draped an arm across his face as if shielding it for a moment.
"Like what?" Her voice was quiet.
He moved his arm before turning his head to look at her. "That my life is gone...and nothing I do now can change that."
"The life you had is gone," she responded, returning his look.
He shook his head..."They were my life..."
She looked down a moment, then back to him. "You aren't going to stop living just by wishing it. You have to find something new."
"I tried...I went back to work...to my training...and that was taken away too."
"That doesn't mean it will be taken away again."
"I.....Poppa and I want to help you do that again."
"I don't know that I can start over again..."
"I think you can. I know I can help you do that." She rested her elbows on her knees, hunched over still. "I want to do that. It's gives me my reason to go on."
He rubbed his hand over his face...torn over what to say, how to respond...
"I know you're still going to fight me, but that's okay.."
"Claire....I just don't want you hurt again because of me...." He paused to swallow... "Everyone that gets too close...I just don't want you hurt anymore..." He pressed the heel of his hand into his eyes...then dropped it to rest on his chest.
"It only makes it worse when you say that, because it means you're pushing me away," she said, strongly. "It feels like.....I mean, I can't even stand myself right now." Her voice was thick, pained. "I feel like less than a person right now...and I don't want to be rejected. It only makes it worse."
He squeezed his eyes shut against what he knew was coming before forcing them open before he pushed himself up again..."I'm afraid...don't you understand? I'm not sure I'm strong enough to lose anyone else and I'm afraid if I let you too close that could happen... like it's happened to everyone else."
"If you do this, you will lose me, Luka," she answered, almost tearfully. "Just as if I had died. I mean....I almost did, you know? They were going to shoot me. God...I wanted them to. I wanted them to just shoot me. But I thought about you...and Poppa....and knew that if that happened, you'd never recover."
He let himself drop to the cot again before wrapping both arms over his head as he let a long moment of silence fill the small tent...when he uncovered his face again he fingered the hem of the rough blanket that lay draped at his waist..."I'm afraid..." His voice was no more then a whisper..
In the silence she managed to compose herself, gently refolding her clothes. "You don't have the be afraid of me," she said, sadly, rising to her feet. "But I can't tell you where you'll believe it."
"I feel like I'm betraying them..."
"Because you are living?"
He found the picture and held it in one hand. "Yes..."
"You deserve to live, Luka."
"Do I...why? For protecting my family so well...for staying with my patients...for protecting them?" His words came off harsher then he had intended and were laced with long withheld pain.
"You did what you could, and you can't tell me differently. You still deserve to live, if only because you got a second chance. You can't just throw it away."
"Did I? I ran away...I knew the Serbs were coming and I ran away to save my own life...I left them to die, Claire...maybe ...just maybe I couldn't keep my family alive but I ran away from my patients to save myself."
"Do you honestly think you could have saved them from the Serbs if you had stayed?" she asked, almost desperately. "Do you think you could have fought them off?"
"I could have tried...I should have...like my teacher...like the others who chose to stay behind."
"They died, Luka. Those that stayed behind died, and none of the patients were saved."
He wiped the start of tears from his eyes as they seemed to burn, then let his arm drop over them to shield them...hearing from her that which Angelique had never fully told him but that, which in his heart, he had always known. "No..."
"I'm sorry," she said, softer, instantly wishing she hadn't said anything. "I shouldn't have.....I'm sorry."
He turned his head to the side..away from her for a moment as he gave into tears for those he would never see again.
As he turned away from her, she rose from the cot, wiping tears off her own face, as she carried her clothes out of the tent.
To be continued...
Sunday, September 25, 2005
Luka was dozing, the medication eventually numbing the pain enough to allow him that luxury. He lay on his back with the leg immobilized, one hand splayed on his chest, the picture reassuringly under it. Even though it had been only two weeks since his transfer to Thomas' tent the effects were already evident on both his face and body leaving no doubt that his diet had suffered from the move.
The tent was still dark, meaning it was either late night or early morning. A slight figure moved in the dark, making a small amount of noise although was obviously trying to be quiet.
He twitched slightly in his sleep, caught on the fringes of a dream...not deep enough to pull him fully into it, but enough that it seemed to stir him.
There was the click of one of the lockers, as it shut, and Claire rose from it, holding a small bundle of things in her arm.
Whether it was the click..or something deeper he came awake with a start..sitting up too suddenly then releasing a quiet moan as the action jerked his leg. He drew a couple quick breaths as he braced his hands on the cot, calming himself before he looked around.
Claire froze, her arms cradled around some of her clothing, standing a few feet from the door. She looked chagrined that she woke him.
It took him a moment to register her presence and what she was doing then his brow creased as he made the connection. "You're leaving?" He didn't immediately register that his words came in Croatian.
She glanced down at her clothes, as if debating a lie to tell him, but instead, she answered, in English, "We can't all sleep in here."
"I should go back...you don't have to go." As he came more fully awake and oriented his words shifted to English.
Setting her jaw, she took a few stiff steps over to the cot. "We can't move you yet, not unless you want to lose use of your leg, Luka."
He blinked not having realized the severity of the injury. "Lose the use?" His gaze shifted to the bandages wrapping the knee then back to her.
She dropped her clothes on the other cot in a heap, and knelt next to his cot. "Yes, lose," she repeated, using her hand to indicate where the injury was. "Poppa said the ligament was stretched again, weakened in that fall. It can still attach back to it's original spot, if we leave it alone and don't strain it. If we move you, any bending of the knee over the next few days might make it come off completely. If we were in the States, we could surgically reattach it...but we can't do that here. And until we could, the knee wouldn't work."
He rubbed his forehead and released a frustrated breath. "I messed it up...mess everything up." His voice trailed off as if the end of his words weren't meant for her to hear.
"It's just a knee injury, Luka," she said, evenly. "It's hardly everything."
"You shouldn't have to go..." He picked his picture up off the blanket as if he thought it might somehow get misplaced, an action he knew was simply a distraction to keep him saying more
She looked away, then rose to get her clothes. "A lot of things shouldn't happen, Luka."
"I don't understand." He lifted his eyes to her, knowing she had to be talking about more then leaving but unable to grasp what, the drugs still clouding his mind enough that he couldn't separate what it was.
"It's not the first time I've had to go, and it won't be the last." She glanced back from gathering up her things. "It's still dark, you should get some sleep while you can."
He shook his head. "I don't want to sleep...there are too many things there now."
"You were asleep when I got here," she pointed out, gently.
"Your father gave me something to make me."
"And it should still be working."
He blinked to clear his vision..a good sign she was right though he wasn't ready to admit it. "I didn't mean to say the wrong things before. Do the wrong things..." He added the last more quietly.
Her eyes went down, away from him, drifting over the cot. "You didn't do or say anything wrong," she said, thickly.
"Made your father mad at you...at me for being too close. He thinks I use you to not think about my wife." He dropped his eyes from her and to the picture.
"He what?" She sank down onto the other cot, obviously caught off-guard.
He drew a breath before he could continue. "He was here...he said I called you Danijela..."
"When..?" Her voice was very low.
"The day I left. It was a dream...I know you can't be her."
She continued to look down, at the floor.
"I think he's not too sure that isn't why I talk to you."
"Why do you talk to me, Luka?" Shelifted her eyes after a moment. "You don't want my help, and a lot of the time you try not to answer me when I talk to you."
He released the picture so he could rub his eyes, the other arm still keeping him upright. "It isn't easy to explain...at first it was because you kept coming...no matter how much I said no...later ..." He shrugged, then continued more carefully. "You didn't make me talk...you were just there." He paused to draw a breath before he forced himself to continue though his words came even softer. "I didn't want to let anyone else close to me...to get anyone else hurt because of me. I didn't want to risk losing anyone else." The last was barely audible and his eyes had once more fallen to his picture as they came.
"Well, you don't let me get close to you, Luka," she said, with a soft sigh.
He shifted his eyes to her before he responded. "Closer then anyone else."
"I had thought so," she answered, her voice strained, "and then we don't speak for days, and when I try and help you again, you pull away from me as if I'm a stranger all over again. When only days before I was crying on your shoulder."
"I didn't see anyone...I thought ...when your Father found us...he wanted me away from you....because he thought I would see you not for you. Then when you didn't come I thought maybe you thought that too."
Her shoulders hunched, as if there was a great weight on them. "I wanted to give you a break. And then I did come, but you weren't there..."
"I know...that was why I came to find you." He swept his tongue across his lips as he struggled not to avert his gaze.
To be continued...
Saturday, September 24, 2005
Dusk had fully fallen while he had been inside the tent and Luka found that he had to keep his eyes on the ground in the darkness...carefully watching for rocks or anything that could catch a crutch and trip him.
"Luka?" The quiet voice came out of the darkness.
The call was unexpected and he stopped at the sound of his name before looking around to pinpoint it.
Claire was still shrouded some in the dark, but she came closer...heading back towards her tent on his same path. She wore a plain tank top, her arms bare, and some worn jeans. There were circles under her eyes, but she managed a small smile. "I didn't expect to see you out...sorry to bother you."
he brushed off her apology with a shake of his head. "You're not bothering me...I came by to thank you, but you weren't there."
She blinked, her smile faltering. "You....came by to thank me? I didn't think you left the tent."
"Not much..." Her words held the truth he had hoped she wouldn't know.
"Poppa said..." She changed her words midsentence, simply answering, "Well, you are welcome. I...thought you might need some things."
"He said what?" He leaned forward, so most of his weight rested on the crutches.
She shook her head. "Nothing. Just....I didn't want to bother you, so I didn't come by your new place."
"What did he say? " He shifted on the crutches again as he persisted, carefully letting his left foot touch the ground.
She hesitated. "Don't you want to go rest your leg?"
"Claire?" His tone grew more serious.
"He said something to you or you would have come sooner. I know because you kept coming back when I tried to stop you at the hospital."
She sighed. "He said I should think about whether you really needed me....or if I just needed you. And if it was the second, that I should let you alone."
He let his eyes drop to the ground a moment. "He seems to think I'm hurting you by being around you...making you think something is there that I can't give you." He raised his eyes as he finished speaking. "I can't be what he thinks I can be...it isn't that easy."
"I don't...." She paused, searching his face. "I don't understand.."
"I can't just keep starting over...it's too hard."
"How many times have you started over, Luka?"
"I tried to pretend I could do it after I lost my family...it didn't work...why should I think it will this time?" He tried to explain while avoiding her question directly.
"You could....just try it," she started, sounding unsure. Her face was harder to see in the dark now. "If it's only been the once....you should try it at least once more. What have you got to lose?"
"That's the whole point isn't it...I have nothing to lose. I've already lost everything haven't I?" The words held a bitterness to them he couldn't hide.
She swallowed. "But you are still alive....you still have a chance to have a new life. I only wanted to help you with that."
He steadied the crutch and lifted his leg enough to start walking. "I better get back."
She opened her mouth to protest, then said, "Okay...okay, I'm sorry. I'm supposed to be leaving you alone."
"I don't deserve a new life...just this one..." He tossed the comment back over his shoulder as he started away too quickly, his pace erratic as he let his frustration take too much of his concentration.
She stood there, her shoulders slumped, not trying to stop him.
He was no more then 4 tents away when his crutch caught the edge of a rut and skidded. With a groan his leg took the full weight of the misstep before it buckled and sent him crashing to the ground clutching the knee in pain as he rolled onto his side.
"Luka?" She started towards him hesitantly, then broke into a run as he doubled into himself. "Luka!" She skidded to a stop beside him, and went to her knees. "Your leg..?" Her hands went to touch it.
He simply nodded, as he fought the intensity of the renewed pain, the knee already starting to swell from the fluid filling it.
She cursed, quite fluently, as her fingers prodded the flesh around it. "The ligament...it's stretched too far, not healed enough..."
He groaned with the touch then bit his lip trying to hold it back.
"I'm sorry, I'm really sorry," she lamented. "I'll go for help....unless...I can help you with the crutches.."
He released the knee as he caught his breath and raised up on one arm. "I think...I can get back to my...tent with them.."
"Luka, damnit," she swore, "You need someone to rebrace the knee. Let Poppa do it." Despite her angry tone, she supported him as he moved.
He wasn't sure how he was going to get to his feet, the knee seemed to still be swelling, finally he conceded that it needed rebraced if he was going to walk at all. "All right."
She looped his arm over her shoulder, taking his weight as she got her feet under her and pushed. "I'll even leave the tent....I don't care," she said, her teeth clenched as she pulled on him.
He was barely keeping control on the pain as he grabbed one of the crutches and between it and Claire and a great deal of effort got upright. "You don't have to do that...."
"I'll come back...for the other crutch," she said, holding him tightly with an arm around his waist.
"I can do it with them." His stubbornness persisted.
"Do you not want my help that badly?" she shot back, stung.
"I never said that...but I think I can do it...just..need to watch..where I'm going."
"Of course you would not say it," she said, removing her arm once he was stable on the one crutch, then bending down for the other one and holding it out for him.
He took it and tucked it under his arm...the leg barely off the ground. "Thanks."
"I think you know the way to the tent," she gestured with her hand for him to start off.
He turned and dropped his eyes to the path...moving slowly as he walked, his eyes alert for ruts or half buried rocks.
She walked beside him, silently, her hand behind his elbow ready to help, although her fingers didn't quite touch him.
Several times he released a groan as his foot touched the ground but otherwise his jaw remained tight, his teeth clenched as he forced full attention on getting where he was going.
The tent loomed out of the darkness, lit by one of the rare lanterns hanging from a post nearby. Claire paused and held open the tent flap for him.
He managed a small smile as she held the flap. "Thanks." Then he moved past her and inside ready to once more confront William.
William rose from where he sat on the cot, a folder open on his lap. "Luka? That was fast....something the matter?"
The tent flap fell closed behind him. Claire had not followed.
"I tripped." He shifted his weight and let his eyes drop, not yet ready to see the look on the man's face at the news. "Think I might have tore it again. Claire was behind me."
William frowned deeply, quickly moving over and putting a hand to his shoulder. "Here, here...sit. Claire was where?"
"Outside..." He accepted the older man's help as he moved to comply...then carefully eased himself down with only a small groan.
Perplexed, William ducked his head outside the tent a moment, then back, his frown deepening. "There's no one outside."
"She came back here with me."
William didn't answer, merely rubbed his chin a moment. "Lie back...I need the leg straight."
"Don't think it will..." He eased back though before fully lying down and then moved to unfasten his pants knowing they were going to have to come off as well.
William helped him ease the pants off, then set them aside, his fingers immediately going to the knee.
Luka bit his lip...though the groans were still unavoidable as William touched it.
William's brows furrowed as he prodded it, gently but firmly, feeling all around the area.
"Alright, Luka....you were lucky. The ligament is stretched thin, but it's not torn again. It shouldn't take so long to heal. But.." He held up a finger. "It has to remain immobile."
Luka's hands wrapped in the blanket on the cot, his knuckles white as he kept from pulling away from the touch. He offered a nod of understanding at the man's words.
"I'll make another splint for you in the meantime." He rose, going to his bag and rooting around inside for the small boards, and brought four back this time. "And I think you need to stay here again. I'll be damned if you go off and reinjure yourself again." His voice had an edge to it as he unrolled some gauze.
"I can go back...I don't want to make things so hard for you and Claire."
"Luka." He set down the gauze, looking the younger man square in the eye. "You are not so disruptive that you would ruin the relationship my daughter and I have forged for this many years. I doubt you could, truthfully, even if you wanted to. So for once, start listening to what I tell you instead of always questioning."
He closed his mouth before anything else came out, hearing too much of his own Father in the man's words and simply nodded his assent.
"I have been alive a considerable amount of years more than you," he huffed, unrolling the gauze again, "and I have attained some amount of wisdom. God forbid any of you listen to it." He set his mouth, maneuvering the sticks into place and starting the gauze wrap as soon as he was satisfied with their placement.
Luka's hands tightened in the bedding at the pressure on the knee but he didn't move or answer.
He fell silent, moving the leg as he needed to secure the gauze. After a few moments, he adjusted the strips, and tucked the end in.
Once he had finished Luka released his grip. "Thanks...sorry to be so much trouble."
"It's like having another child," William grumbled. "I'm sure I can handle it." Beneath his gruffness, there was faint worry.
William took a breath. "I have to insist you stay here. If you walk on it, and reinjure it again..." He rubbed at his face. "I don't want you to lose use of it."
Luka nodded...the first sign of panic registering on his face..that was obviously not a possibility he had considered.
"The ligament is all that holds your knee in place...and we don't have the luxury of expensive surgeons here, who can do it. With what we have, surgery would almost be worse for it, than better."
He wet his lips, his face serious. "I understand."
William's eyes searched his. "I'm going to give you something for the pain, and so you can sleep. I do not want you moving around in your sleep."
For once Luka didn't attempt to refuse the meds, once again simply nodding his consent.
He rose, going back to his bag, then fetching a cup and pouring a glass of water. The pitcher was back on the table, filled now. He brought some pills and the cup to Luka.
Luka pushed himself up on his arm to take first the pills then the water, downing each before handing the cup back.
He wet his lips as he looked to William. "My picture...can you get it for me? In my pocket."
William set the cup aside, and retrieved the pants, fishing the picture out and handing it over.
"Thank you." He glanced to the two in it before laying it on his chest and placing his hand over it.
"The meds will kick in soon, Luka." He poured himself a cup of water and drank it as well. "If you don't mind, I'm going to step out for a moment and see if I can find Claire. But I'll be back.."
William sighed, then left the tent, quietly.
Resigned to his fate he kept his eyes on the door until the flap settled, his conversation with Claire lingered in his thoughts and left him troubled, how could it have all gone so wrong?
To be continued...
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Things had settled into a monotonous routine since Luka had moved into the tent with Thomas. With the weather damp, he'd found it easy to stay in bed until late morning, once awake he would force himself outside, a trip to the showers and his once a day visit to the mess tent. It was easier that way, the fewer people he had to face the better. If only he could find a way to get Thomas to understand that he wanted little more then to be left alone. He'd begun to take a longer route back to the tent after the midday meal, a part of him hoping that the man would be gone when he returned. Not that he didn't appreciate the privacy of the smaller tent of course, but all he wanted out of the arrangement was the bed. As he reached the tent he pulled the flap aside so he could enter and stepped inside.
Thomas looked up, pushing his glasses back on his nose in that familiar gesture. "Hey...there you are."
"Yeah..." He moved over and carefully sat...cautious of sudden movements to the newly unbraced knee.
He laid his book aside on the table, face down with the pages splayed out. "You know, if I had a girl that pretty talking to me all the time, I'd say more than 'yeah' once in a while." He grinned toothily.
He looked a little confused by the man's comments. "What?"
Thomas tapped his left foot on the floor, where it rested. "That girl...Claire? Yes, her. I got to meet her."
"Oh.." He started to lean forward to pull his shoe off, he didn't want to think about Claire and how badly he had messed things up...better she forget about him anyway.
"She dropped something off for you." He pushed a wrapped bundle towards him, where it was resting on the small table.
He left the shoe untied and sat up...reaching for the package as if it might somehow explode in his hands. Laying it on his lap he slowly opened it.
Thomas sat up, his curiosity evident.
He lifted the small things out first...the razor...soap and a toothbrush..then sat them on the bed as his eyes widened before he withdrew a tee and a pair of grey sweatpants. He swallowed before replacing them back on the paper. "She look okay?" He asked the question quietly as he fingered the items.
Thomas merely raised an eyebrow, interested but not thinking it was all that special. "She looked pretty fine to me...not that I know what she might have looked like before. Was she injured or something?" He screwed up his forehead, thinking. "She had a limp. That's about it. Twisted an ankle maybe?"
Only then noticing the item that had slipped onto the cot without his having seen it. He retrieved the cocoa pouch then lay it on top with the rest. "Yeah..something like that."
Thomas glanced over the items again. "Is that everything you needed? Because she seemed keen to talk to you."
He looked over to him. "She said that?"
Thomas nodded, pushing the glasses back then lacing his fingers together. "She was real disappointed that you were out, said she didn't have much time or something. Then she said that she was hoping to talk to you."
He sat the package over on the table. "She say where she would be?" He leaned forward to retie his shoe with the question.
Thomas shrugged. "I said I didn't think you wanted to go anywhere....you stayed in the tent alot. I guess she's back at her own tent." He glanced to the flap of the tent. "Getting late anyway."
He nodded and reached for the crutches to pull himself up. "Doesn't matter maybe..." He started for the door.
"What doesn't matter?"
"Ah. Have fun then. I didn't realize you two were still friends..."
As he reached the door he pulled the flap aside...swallowing his response before exiting. Were they friends? He made his way through the camp slowly, ignoring the chill coming with evening, by the time he reached the row which housed the Northstar's tent though he was having doubts, what if her Father was there? What if it was her turn to tell him good-bye." He hesitated a few tents away..eyeing it and trying to make up
his mind as to whether he should continue or turn around. Drawing a breath he released it and approached...pausing again at the door. "Claire?" When there was no answer, he wet his lips and looked around before moving forward and lifting back the flap enough to look inside. "Claire?" The tent was empty, and somewhat sparser than usual. The foot lockers were closed, and the sheets on the cots were undisturbed. The water
pitcher was gone although the cups were there. Behind him, footsteps sounded, quick and hurried. He turned to the sound of the footsteps letting the flap close behind him, readying his excuse for whoever it might be.
An older man, with a heavy, gray beard and darker skin approached, carrying a child no more than two in his arms. "Doctor?" he said, in Croatian. His eyes were wide, and he panted a little. "I am looking for the woman-doctor, who speaks Croatian..." The child in his arms, a little boy, wasn't moving, his eyes closed.
"They're not here..." His eyes moved to the boy, not much older then Marko would have been..the lump rose. "What's wrong with the boy?" His words had naturally returned to his native tongue. "Bring him inside..."
The man seemed relieved he spoke the familiar language. "My grandson.." he offered, holding the boy a little away from his chest so Luka could see him. "He was being treated for infection....I was just feeding him."
He pushed the tent open and moved inside..."Put him on the bed...what was he eating?"
"He doesn't eat much." Tears welled in the man's eyes. "He only likes the things he can't have. I think he had found some candy, from one of the other children."
He followed him in, going over to Claire's cot and setting the boy down. He moved to the footlocker...then glanced back to the door before opening it and pulling a stethescope and some forceps out before returning to the boy.
"He went to run outside....he was fussy and upset all day, and kept crying too. Then when I go look, I find him behind the tent, all quiet like this." The man bit his knuckles, disraught.
Easing himself down on the cot Luka dropped the crutches on the floor before settling the scope in his ears. Opening the boys shirt he listened to his chest...then frowned setting them aside. "He's having troubled breathing.." He picked the boy up, trying to rouse him. "What's his name?"
"Matte." He hovered, looking over Luka's shoulder. "I looked in his mouth, I saw nothing. He said all day that he didn't feel well, but I thought he was just bored."
He lay him back down then tilted his head slightly before picking the forceps up...biting his lip he slipped them into the small boy's mouth...reaching almost too deep it seemed...
The old man kept his hand over his mouth, pulling at his beard a little with his worry.
"Something is there." He leaned closer to the boy as he maneuvered for it and finally withdrew a half chewed taffy. As it came free the boy began to cough and Luka lifted him up again...rubbing his back slowly. It was then he felt the small lump on the back of his neck...brushing his hair aside he looked at it. "You said he isn't eating?"
His grandfather fell on him, taking up his hands and kissing them repeatedly, overcome with relief. "Yes.....he is fussy." He smoothed the boy's hair with a gnarled hand, tears in his eyes.
The boy, startled and pained, started to cry, although he was comforted by the old man.
The bite was red and raised. "He's been bit by something...maybe allergic...take him to the hospital tent...show the older woman Doctor...Angelique. Can you remember that...the French Doctor." He released the boy to the Grandfather before leaning forward to retrieve the discarded crutches so he could stand.
"A bite?" He leaned forward, looking at the reddened spot. "Oh, you poor child," he cooed, gathering his grandson back into his arms. "Of course you did not feel well....I should have noticed that." He looked up at Luka, rising to stand. "Thank you, Doctor. I
did not know what to do...he is all my family."
"I'm not a Doctor...now go, you should hurry."
He nodded. "I will go. But even if you are not a doctor, I am grateful that you could help us. Thank you again." He clasped Luka's free hand tightly, his eyes still moist, then turned away with the little boy, hurrying to the main med tent.
With the man gone he gathered the equipment up and carried it back to the footlocker... wiping each off on his shirt before replacing them. As there was another sound of footsteps at the flap of the tent, he shut the lid turning towards the entrance, already readying himself for the consequences.
William ducked into the tent, looking fatigued. He drew up short as he saw Luka in there already. Lifting an eyebrow, he said, "Luka? Is something wrong?" He set down the medical bag, but his eyes didn't scan the tent, not wanting to imply Luka was a thief.
"Someone was here looking for you...an old man and his grandson...I sent them to Angelique." The chewed taffy still lay on the now rumpled cot and he picked it up as he spoke. "I was looking for Claire....I can go."
"Ah....they needed a doctor?" He seemingly ignored the comment about Claire.
The way he was holding his leg made it obvious he had removed the splints since leaving the Northstar's tent. "Yeah....the boy was hardly breathing...he'd swallowed candy he had found."
Immediately, William shifted into doctor mode. "An obstruction in his airway? But you got it out, yes?"
"I had to get in your trunk.." As he explained he began to slowly ease his way to the door.
William nodded, quickly. "Yes, all the equipment is in there. Now I am glad I left it all. What had he swallowed?" William hadn't moved much farther, so he still was within the
Luka opened his hand to reveal the taffy. "Chewy candy..he was a small boy." Small... like Marko..too small for that candy. His mind twisted itself with thoughts he didn't want
William nodded, a little to himself. "Good thing you were there, then. How is your leg? I don't see the splint.."
"I took it off...needed to shower."
"Of course...wasn't meant to be permanent." He regarded him still, the same shrewd look. "And it's healing well?"
He shrugged. "Doesn't hurt too bad."
"Good, good." He took off his coat, lying it over the foot locker before picking up a tissue and extending his hand for the taffy."Candy...strong temptation. Now, how is it with Thomas?"
"It's okay..it's a bed."
William sighed, depositing the candy in a small wire trashcan beside the main table. "As talkative as ever. I admit I was worrying about you."
"You don't have to." He released the man from blame even as he was unable to hide the dullness that had crept back in his eyes, the same as it was when he first arrived.
"You don't worry about people because you have to," William said, gently. "You do it because you care about them."
He fidgeted a bit with the crutches. "I'm sorry I messed things up...it's probably better I'm not here anyway."
William rubbed at his eyes a moment, then the bridge of his nose. "No, you didn't mess anything up, Luka. Perhaps I was too harsh with you. All this going on around us..." He let it trail off.
He sighed quietly not sure what to say to the man and sure he had ruined whatever had been there. "I should go, it's getting dark."
"Why did you come to see Claire?" William asked, quietly. "Have you decided to leave?"
"She brought some things by..I wasn't there when she did...thought I should thank her."
"Is that all, then?"
" No, I wanted to see how she was doing too..."
"Okay.." He moved over and sat on his cot, with a small grunt of tiredness. "You can always come back and see her later."
"Sure..." He used the man's moving away as his escape and walked closer to the door. "Night."
"Luka.." he called.
He stopped and turned back at his name.
"Are you going to come back to see her?" he asked, his tone serious. "I'm not going to tell her you are, and have her get her hopes up. She's barely spoken to me since you left." That last was said with a wry half-smile.
"I still need to thank her."
"Very well," the man conceded. "And you can always come speak to me, you know. I miss adult conversation." He shook his head.
"Lots of people here to talk to..." Too many he wanted to say especially when you didn't want to talk.
"Alright, Luka," he relented. He looked up, his gaze more worn than usual. "I won't force you to do anything, anymore. I said I would let you alone, and I will, if that's what you want."
There it was..the hinge he couldn't know...if Danijela had forced him to leave his family would be alive...if his teacher hadn't forced him to leave he would be dead...he had to be forced...his decisions were always the wrong ones. "I'd better go..." He moved to the flap again
He nodded, a slow goodbye, then disappeared silently into the darkness...
To be continued...
Wednesday, September 21, 2005
Luka followed the man into the tent...his thoughts were everywhere, and he knew he needed time to figure out what had happened, what he had done to cause everything to unravel. The tent was smaller than the Northstars, although not by much. It held the same twin cots, with a three-legged table between them, with a lantern on top of it. At the end of each cot was a foor locker, one blue and one black. The blue one was open, on the left, and it showed a mixture of clothing and books. There was also a table off to the open space on the right, that had a plastic thermos and a small stack of plastic cups. Once inside he paused, waiting for the man to make the next move.
Thomas rubbed his hands together, with a genial smile. "As you can see, I've got the left cot...I made sure there was everything you needed in the right locker."
Luka looked over to him as he spoke. "Everything I need?"
Thomas nodded, his movements more broad and excitable than those of the Northstars. "Sheets, an extra blanket...only just enough to go around, really. I found a decent towel too."
"Oh...I don't need much.." He moved over to the cot with the words and took a seat before laying the crutches aside so he could work his shoes off.
Thomas took a seat on the other cot, sweeping a few random books off the small table between them. "Your welcome to any of my books, o'course."
"Thanks.." He voiced the word knowing he had no intention of making use of the offer. With both shoes off he leaned forward to slide them under the cot before lifting his injured leg onto it.
Thomas peered at him a little, pushing his glasses up on his nose. "All bandaged up, I see."
"Yeah.." Luka looked over before bringing the other leg up beside the first, though he didn't as yet lay down.
The man nodded, as if the simple word had answered all his questions. "You must be a good friend of the Northstars...but you're not American, are you?"
"I'm Croatian...and not really a friend...I met Claire when I was in the main hospital tent."
"Claire? Ah, that's the daughter, right? Not met her yet."
"Yeah..." He gave into a short cough then turned a bit to his side before laying down with his head on his arm. Once there he confirmed his picture was still in his pocket,
though he didn't pull it out.
"Well, Dr. Northstar himself is pretty nice guy, all around." Thomas swung his own legs up onto his cot, leaning on an elbow as he picked up one of his books. "Probably the whole family is like that."
Luka felt it safer to say nothing, his irritation with the older man's words still simmering too close to the surface. Maybe he could pretend to sleep...it had worked in the hospital, or at least it had with everyone but Claire, too bad he couldn't hide behind his language as well. He shifted slightly trying to get comfortable though his leg still throbbed from the day's exercise.
"Now, Dr. Northstar said you might be volunteering with the rest of us?" He eyed Luka a moment. "No offense to ya, but you look like maybe volunteering be too much right now."
"I told him if I have to do it I can." There was no enthusiam of the prospect in his tone.
Thomas chuckled. "We must be harder up than we thought, eh...putting the injured to work too.."
"Why are you here?" He asked the question quietly despite his better judgement.
Thomas opened his book, his left foot bouncing a little on the cot, to his own internal music. "Because I'm single and broke, and they needed doctors." He chuckled. "Isn't that what doctors do when they are at loose ends? Join up for war."
"I wouldn't know.." He touched his hand to his pocket again, as if somehow the picture might have disappeared in the short time since he had last checked. "I think I'm going to try and sleep."
"Gotcha," Thomas murmured, flipping a few pages of his book. "I'll try and be quiet."
Sleep, that was the laugh...escape..to the dreams that found his family alive if he was lucky. With the man's permission he he rolled over to his other side, his back to the man in the cot opposite and closed his eyes, shutting everything out with the act, if only he could shut his mind down as well. With the reclining came the coughing and he shifted first to his back then to his side again before it finally eased enough that he could finally sleep.
To be continued...
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Luka was at a loss as to how to explain his fears or even his reasons for not wanting to start over yet again to the older man. Maybe all he wanted to do was disappear somewhere. Delaying his reply he swallowed and dropped his eyes to the rough path.
"You can always start small, Luka. But you can help, and you should."
He drew a breath and forced himself to look back at the man. "I tried to start over once before." The sense of failure was hard to conceal as he spoke.
"This isn't just starting over. I'm not asking you to do anything more than help, right now. Your health is improving every day, and you have the knowledge that not many of the volunteers have."
His jaw tightened a bit as he mulled the words over. "If I have to do it I will, but as soon as I'm able to leave I'm finished with it." He closed then opened his eyes, his words seeming to be a surprise even to himself, but for the moment he wasn't ready to rescend them.
"And where will you go?" William asked, quietly.
"It doesn't really matter does it?" The words held too much truth in them. It wasn't like he had a reason to be anywhere anymore. That thought prompted a deeper realization, no matter where he chose to go, he would still be alone.
William took a long pull on his pipe, then said, "I'm disappointed to hear you say that."
"Why? It's the truth...I don't have anywhere or anyone to go back to."
"I'm disappointed you look at helping others as some sort of penance, or chore. That you couldn't care less who needs you, as long as you get to go escape and hide," William said. His tone was flat.
He let his eyes drop to the ground again with the impact of the words...then shifted his weight on the crutches. When he raised his eyes again they held a hint of the dullness he'd been hiding behind in the month's since he'd lost his family."It's not like I'm a doctor... maybe I never would have finished anyway."
"I'm not very interested in maybes, Luka," he answered, his teeth still on the pipe. "I doubt you would have brought your family to Vukovar for your education if you thought that 'maybe' you wouldn't even finish. You're looking for excuses now."
"Things were different then...that was before I let my family die...before I ran away from the people I was supposed to be taking care of."
"And so now you are going to run away again?"
"I said I would do it..."
"If you had to. Well, Luka, I don't need a volunteer who doesn't really want to help anyone, but is just there because I intimidated him. I can do without that."
"That's supposed to make me change how I feel? " He was surprised at the anger that seemed to be seeping into his words...when had he last felt that...to who? God? The weight pressed down harder upon him, how could he not blame the man for taking his family? He drew another breath.
"No, that's my refusal of your less-than-generous offer," he returned, unfazed by Luka's show of emotion. "Let me tell you something, Luka, because I like you. I do understand what you are going through, over your family. But your pain is no more special than anyone else's. You don't feel it so much stronger than anyone else here who's lost someone that you can ignore them all. If you want to persist in that, then don't help. Go to wherever it is you wish to go. But remember this too....as angry as I am right now, mostly from disappointment, I refuse to turn my back on you. If you want to leave, so be it....it will hurt me and it will hurt Claire, and you'll be missing out on helping your people. But we'll be waiting for you to come back." He clamped his teeth tightly over the pipe, stemming any more angry words.
He felt like he was in a hole with no way out...part of him wanting to allow himself to be buried and a smaller part wanting him to concede...but he couldn't...not yet. He tightened his hands on the crutches until his knuckles whitened.
After taking a long breath, William said, "I thought going to the men's tent might be too much for you, so I found a volunteer that you could share a tent with. His name is Thomas Grybowski. He's about your age....his tent is on this pathway."
"Why should I be any different then anyone else?"
"This isn't different. Thomas has room and no one living there. The men's tent is already getting cramped. If you don't want it, then I'll find someone else."
He released a breath..."I'll take it..."
William nodded, curtly. "He's expecting you whenever you are ready to go."
"I might as well do it now."
William turned his dark eyes to Luka, the gaze serious. "Listen to me, Luka. If you are going to leave as soon as you are able, then do the decent thing and say goodbye to Claire. I don't want to see her hurt."
It was his turn to nod. "I will."
His eyes bored into Luka's for a long moment, as if testing his resolve. "My offer stands, but I won't take your help with the patients unless you are willing. I don't want forced labor. And what I said about not turning my back is true." His lips moved, tightening a little. "I did my best to help you, but every parent has to come to a point where they let their kids go out on the own, to succeed or fail. I know you are not my son, and you do not see yourself as a kid, but that is how I feel. It's up to you to determine if you are going to sink or swim, Luka."
He let his eyes drop again...taking the words in before finally looking up. "Better go then."
"You don't want to go back to my tent for a little longer?"
"No reason to...you said I was getting around enough."
He set his jaw, as if he wanted to argue more, but he didn't. Instead, he nodded, and led Luka to one of the medium tents lined up along one side of the path they walked on.
He paused before one. "Remember what I said about Claire," he said, quietly but evenly.
Luka followed slowly...for the most part his eyes on the path afraid the man might see the sense of betrayal on the man's face that he was sure he must be feeling. Only as they reached the tent and William spoke did he finally look back up. "I will."
He sighed, his expression drawn. He knocked on the center support, and after a moment, a man nearly as tall as Luka came out of the flap, adjusting glasses on his nose.
Luka took the man's appearance in. Thomas was scarcely an inch shorter than he, and almost as thin, although it was obviously genetics and not starvation. His mouth was wide, in his pale face, with lanky blond hair hanging over his brow. He held out a long hand. "Luka, yes? Hullo!"
Shifting the hand off the crutch he took the offered hand with little enthusiasm. "Yes... Luka."
"I'm Thomas," he said, shaking his hand with a firm grip, oblivious of the balancing of the crutches. "You decided to take the empty spot?" He had a thick accent, not from the region.
"Yeah...thanks." His words lacked any emotion and were spoken more out of obligation then anything else.
Thomas waved his hands around, one automatically going to his glasses again. "No, thanking you...I'd like the company. Also, it's safer, having a partner." He shook his head. "Lost my old roomie...too many volunteers up and quit these days, can't take the conditions, you know."
He shook his head."Not really...I'm not a volunteer."
Thomas shrugged, as if it wasn't much consequence. "Still, be good company to have here. I'm not in the tent much, so you'll have some to yourself, but good to have another body around."
William blew out some smoke, and cleared his throat. "Luka's ready to stay, if you're fine with that, Thomas."
Thomas nodded. "I am. Welcome, you are, come on in." He clapped William on the shoulder. "Glad to help any friend of Dr. Northstar."
Luka nodded to his comments but saying little more then was necessary. When he withdrew his hand he tightened it on the crutch again. He looked to William. "Thanks for everything...I'll talk to Claire later."
William nodded, a little worn. "So be it. You know where to find me, should you want to." He smiled briefly at Thomas, then turned to walk away.
He watched the man walk away saying nothing else then waited for Thomas to go inside so he could follow.
Thomas ducked down, so he could enter the tent comfortably, and held open the flap for Luka.
Luka moved in as well then paused, allowing his eyes to adjust to the dimness.
To be continued...
Monday, September 19, 2005
Luka found himself watching Claire for sometime. At first simply holding her while she gave into the tears she had withheld for so long, then later offering soothing words he hoped would ease her closer to sleep. The narrow cot offered little room for two and he had turned to his side, giving her more of the limited space. Only when he was sure she was truly asleep did he allow himself the same luxury and with it came the memories of Danijela. Maybe it was Claire's closeness, the feel of her heart beating against his chest strengthening the memories. He drew her more tightly to him inhaling the smell of her shampoo..her soap...his fingers looped in a strand of Claire's hair without his realizing it, imagining it was Danijela he held in her place. The effect was better then any drug and though his breathing was still rough it came easier, his sleep far deeper then it had been in sometime.
The tent maintained the dim darkness as the sun outside crept higher and neither seemed to rouse to the change in the room, both of them asleep as they had been the past hour. The faint smell of tobacco smoke filled the tent.
Claire started to stir, as if she were coming out of a dream, shifting on the cot. She coughed once, at the tang of the smoke, and the leftover roughness in her throat from crying.
"Danijela...go back to sleep ..." His words came quietly in his native tongue, still lost to the world of half-sleep and not aware of where he was. His hand moved idly through her hair with his words in an attempt to soothe her again.
A rough hand closed over Luka's...one that was obviously not a woman's hand.
The touch of the hand jerked him into consciousness and his breath caught as his eyes flew open in panic, his mind immediately expecting the worst.
William was sitting on the stool, close to the cot. He was holding what looked like a long pipe in one hand, faint smoke coming from it, and his other hand was tight on Luka's although not painful. He wasn't smiling. "She's not your wife," he said, low but gentle.
Luka blinked twice...his eyes registering the man and the tent, and his mind scrambled to put the puzzle pieces into place. Claire lay next to him, her head on one arm while her own draped him, he closed then opened his eyes again as he tried to rationalize William's words. "I know." Even as he said them he knew for at least a moment he hadn't.
He let go of his hand, and straightened on the stool, placing the pipe back between his teeth. His eyes glittered a little, but otherwise his expression was unreadable.
"She didn't want to sleep..." He offered the explanation as if the words alone clarified everything the man was seeing.
William exhaled the tobacco smoke, absorbing the words. "You called her Danijela, in your sleep."
He rubbed his eyes...forcing himself fully awake. "My wife...I was dreaming of her..."
"I see." Still holding the pipe in his teeth, he put his hand on Claire's shoulder, shaking it gently until she woke up.
She came awake, groggy, blinking eyes that felt sticky. They went first to Luka, whom she still had her arm over, then over to her father. "Poppa?" She carefully disentangled her arm from around Luka, swallowing.
As Claire moved Luka took the opportunity to raise up on his arm...turning enough to retrieve his cherished picture and pocket it before looking back at William.
William took another drag on the pipe with his breath, and let it out slowly, almost as if he were counting inwardly. "You should move over to my cot, Claire." His tone made it clear it wasn't a suggestion.
She glanced at Luka, her eyes seeming lost for a moment, then she got up and moved over to the other cot, sitting down on it.
He wet his lips, his own nervousness obvious, then gave her a nod with the look...before pulling himself up into a sitting position preparing himself for the consequences of his actions.
"Now," he started, calmly, still unsmiling. "What happened this morning, that I should find you two in the same cot?"
Claire lowered her eyes, drawing a leg up onto the cot. "I just couldn't sleep, Poppa.."
Luka wet his lips again, suddenly very dry...then glanced to Claire before looking back to William. "She was afraid to sleep...I thought...I thought..if I held her...like I would my daughter when she was frightened..." He stumbled over words in his nervousness then stopped as his voice broke with the image of Jasna coming to mind..
She raised her eyes to him, noticing the tremor in his tone, her expression pained.
"I thought it would help." He found himself at a loss of what else he could say and looked toClaire for help.
William chewed on the pipe a moment. "Apparently so." He let out a breath. "Claire, I want you to take a short walk with me. Luka, we'll be back in a few minutes."
He nodded and moved to the edge of the cot...already looking for his shoes as if expecting to be leaving.
Claire bit her lip, but rose as her father requested. William noticed the movement Luka made, but did not naysay it, instead just walking to the door and holding it open for Claire to step outside. Just before he followed, he said, firmly, "Don't remove the oxygen." He poked the pipe in Luka's direction to underscore his words.
Luka dropped his hand...readying to do just that as the man had turned his back.
He eyed Luka as one might do a wayward child, a mixture of irritation and affection, before putting the pipe back in his mouth. Once he was satisfied that Luka was staying put, he followed Claire, letting the tent flap fall back into place.
Not daring to challenge the man Luka simply sat...awaiting his fate, unsure what it held.
About fifteen minutes later,Claire reentered the tent, chewing at her lower lip. Her eyes were red from obvious crying, but oddly, she seemed much more at ease than she had before, except when she was asleep on his cot with him.
Luka sat where he had been when they left...the only difference being he now held the small photo of his wife and daughter in his hands.
She brushed a hair away from her cheek and sank onto the cot opposite him.
As Claire entered he pocketed it, and wiped his hand over his face, erasing the betraying signs of where his thoughts had been. "He's pretty mad?" He asked the question though he was sure he already knew the answer.
"Yes and no," she answered, giving him a thin, but warm smile. She started to say more, but William reentered the tent as well, still holding his pipe.
"Got your shoes on?'" he asked Luka.
Luka looked to the door as the man re-entered...then shook his head..."You said not to move."
A corner of William's mouth twitched, although it did not turn into a smile as yet. He merely nodded. "So I did. Well, I would like you to walk with me. I want to show you something."
"Okay..." He reached up to pull the oxygen tubing off then paused as if waiting for permission.
William waved his free hand, indicating heshould remove it.
He did just that before scooting forward to try and catch his shoes with his free foot to bring them closer.
Claire watched, wanting to say something, but obviously feeling like she couldn't.
William pushed over the shoes with one of his feet.
As he had them near he leaned forward putting the one on his good leg then untying the other before he stood to put it on...balancing on the bed as he did. That done he grabbed for the crutches and slid them under his arms. He drew a steadying breath and lifted his eyes to William. "Ready."
"You're getting better at that," William observed placidly, holding open the tent flap. "We'll be back soon, Claire. Try and lie down for a while."
He slowly followed William to the door..casting Claire a quick glance as he passed.
She returned it, a mixture of pain and gratitude.
William let the flap fall down behind him as he exited, then started off on the path that would lead towards the outskirts of camp.
Luka followed somberly...several paces behind...his eyes more on the ground then off. .
William moved slowly, drawing on the pipe. Finally, he said, "This is a difficult thing, Luka."
Already expecting the worst he shook his head. "I'll move into the big tent...I'm sorry...I just thought it might help..I didn't mean anything by it." He tossed the words out too quickly, hoping one of them might be what he needed to appease him.
"It's not that..." He took another slow breath. "And yet it is. I admit I was...upset when I came back to the tent." He looked speculatively at the pipe a moment, holding it away from him. "I decided to take the time to think before I woke you both up."
Luka paused to watch him...deciding maybe it was safer to say nothing for the moment.
"Since you are most likely curious, I did not scold Claire either, on our walk. I did tell her that she didn't need to hide things from me anymore...I am her father." He sighed, closing his lips over the pipe again, almost sadly.
He swallowed but continued to hold his tongue, sensing the man was only getting started.
"I...believe she is relieved that it's out in the open now, so to speak. Now she'll let me comfort her..." He turned to look at Luka. "And I know that I have you to thank for at least part of that."
He looked a little confused. "I don't understand."
William regarded him thoughtfully. "She told me you impressed upon her that a father has unconditional love for his daughter."
He swallowed the lump that formed with the man's words and then nodded.
"But that is also why this is difficult, Luka."
"I'll go to the tent...I can't keep hiding from things either." He made the offer before the man could tell him to go.
"Actually, I have other ideas. But that is not what I meant. It's more in regards to Claire in general...and your relationship with her."
"Relationship?" The word came quietly...he had to be misunderstanding the meaning.
He touched the pocket that held the picture with his fingertip, unable to help feeling that the man thought somehow he had betrayed his vows to his wife and his family...
William nodded. "As glad as I am that you two are friends, sometimes that same closeness worries me." Taking a drag on the pipe, he added, "I do trust you, and I know that you won't hurt her, but I wonder if that closeness is keeping you from coming to terms with what happened to your family."
"My family is dead...I know that...I saw them..." His tone held a sharpness that seemed abnormal for him.
"And when you see Claire," he asked quietly, "you are not seeing a replacement for your dead wife, are you?"
He shook his head...stunned at what the man was saying. "My wife has been gone less then two months...I loved her...and my children."
"Not that kind of replacement, Luka. Not trying to erase that memory...but instead trying to cling to it."
"No one can replace them." His words held a stronger bite as the man touched a nerve.
"You are right. No one can."
"Their memory is all I have left of them...I need to hold onto it." He tried to regain control as he explained.
He put a hand on Luka's shoulder. "When a man loses those he loves, sometimes the instinct is to find the same contact again, to remind him what it felt like. It's not uncommon....not just with people here, but everywhere there is war. Do you understand what I mean? Having Claire around calms you, and some of that is because she is your friend. I only worry that the other part is because she reminds you of your wife. And that makes me more concerned for you.....not angry, Luka...concerned."
He tensed momentarily under the man's hand..then drew a shuddered breath. "She's not like Danijela...I'm not sure I'll ever know anyone like her again...but it's not like that...it's why I tried to keep her away...I don't know that I want to feel like that for someone again."
"Okay," he said soothingly, rubbing with his hand. "You probably won't ever know anyone enough like your wife, no. But I have to talk to you about these things. I don't think you are in danger of falling in love with anyone right now, even Claire, so you shouldn't worry about that. It's not in you to do that."
"Maybe it's better I not see her...I can go away...it'll be better for her." Better for me he thought, better I'm alone the way it's supposed to be. He could feel the hollowness opening inside him again with the thought.
"This isn't the same as feeling that way for a person all over again. It's just a response some people have, while grieving...a way to try and reconnect with what they lost. Well, now we come to it. Claire is not in the same position as you, obviously. She's close to you because she likes you, although don't worry...it's just friendship. Yet she needs to have room as well, especially now."
"I make her remember." He shifted his hand off the crutch to pull at the fabric of his shirt. "Every time she sees me she'll remember."
"And yet she stays around you. Doesn't that make you wonder, Luka? Why she does that?"
He dropped his eyes. "She still thinks I'll let myself die if she isn't near me."
"Maybe, although you are much farther from that now. No....I think she needs you a little, too."
"Am I? Even I don't know that."
"Than where you were? Yes....compared to before, I think you are anyway. If Claire is near you, you won't let yourself die?"
He dropped his eyes...not ready to concede that he was fully ready to live...
William took a pull of the smoke, letting it soothe him. "Claire feels like she can talk to you about what happened. That is why I think she still needs you."
He kept his eyes on the ground. "I know. But now she can talk to you."
He nodded. "She also needs to feel independent....back in control of her life. I think she needs to work again." He looked at Luka, his eyes serious. "Just like I think you need to work again."
That forced his eyes from the ground though maybe there was a hint of panic in the look. "I can't..."
"Why can't you?"
To be continued...