By M. Blais and J.D.
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...