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