Saturday, December 26, 2009

Nothing haunts us like the things we don't say." - Mitch Albom, Have A Little Faith/Creative Muses



"Luka, do you want to talk about it?" Niko glanced over to his brother, only to then lay his hand on his arm, as his face reflected his concern for his younger brother.

"Not yet, I still don't even know what I feel about things." As he spoke, he shifted Joe's weight, on his shoulder. How was he going to explain any of this to his son? First he disappears from the boy's life for close to six months and now, not only is his mother ripped from him, he's being taken to a Country where he barely understands, let alone speaks the language. The thought prompted him to place a kiss on the toddler's fair hair before his hand began to rub his back.

"Do you want me to leave you alone?" In the quiet of the airplane cabin, the Croat shifted to their native language without thought.

"Maybe, I don't know. I wanted Tata to see him so much, to see them both, to know I'd finally found happiness again, and now I don't even know if anything of what I thought I had exists anymore." His voice broke as he tried to explain that which he had yet to even attempt to try and make sense of.

"Give it time, you still have your son, and Abby, you can make it all good again. I know you, you have that way about you, you've always had it, even when things were at their worst." Niko's grip on his brother's arm tightened as he spoke.

"I don't know if I can do it again, Niko. It took so long for me to get here, now, to have it all fall apart." Nothing could have been done to the tears that started to slide down his cheeks as he confessed his greatest fear.

"You don't know that, that's what's going to happen, she's going for help, things can still be fixed." Niko struggled to find a way for his brother to find some shred of hope to grab hold of. Something that would keep him from sinking back into the depression that had held him hostage for so many years after the deaths of Danijela and the children.

"She could have killed Joe, I could had lost him like I lost Jasna and Marko." Luka's voice choked in his throat and for a moment he buried his face in his son's hair.

"But, she didn't, and you didn't, he's here, with you now, and you're not going to lose him, I promise you that." It was Niko's turn to cry as he thought about the effect just such a loss would have cost his brother, and he hurriedly wiped the tears away before Luka lifted his head again.

"How do I blame her when I'm no better then she is?" Luka's eyes held as yet unspoken pain as he asked the question of his elder brother.

"I don't understand?" Niko's expression shifted to confusion as he tried to make the jump with Luka.

"Before I went to the Congo, I did things far worse then anything she could have done. I almost killed a med student with my carelessness for God's sake, how can I say her drinking is worse than any of that?" As their conversation continued in whispered Croatian, Luka threaded his fingers idly through the fine locks of the small boy on his lap's hair.

"Luka, look at me. It's too soon for any of this to make sense, we need to take care of things with Tata, then, together, you and me, we'll talk it through. You don't have to do this alone. You're not alone anymore, you have to remember that, you're with family now." Without thinking Niko leaned over and kissed his brother's cheek. "After all these years, don't think you're getting rid of me again."

For the remainder of the flight Niko left Luka to his thoughts and it wasn't until they had landed in Zagreb and Joe had been bundled off to bed under Niko's wife Ivka's watchful eye that the two men again sat down to talk.

"Beer?" Niko nudged Luka out of his thoughts with the tap of the bottle to his shoulder.

"Hmm? Oh, thanks. Is Joe in bed?" Luka stared at the bottle as if he wasn't really sure what to do with it.

"Yeah, already asleep, if you're not careful, Ivka will have him spoiled as badly as Rajka and Maki are." Niko couldn't help but chuckle at the image his own words brought to his head.

"Luka, it's a joke, now, drink up, you'll feel better." Niko slapped him on the back as he took a seat on the patio beside him.

"Sure, get me drunk so I'll feel better about my wife falling off the wagon, good plan, Niko." The straight-faced delivery of the words cause the elder Kovac brother to choke on the swallow of beer he'd just taken and it took several moments of coughing before he had his breath back and was able to respond.

"I didn't mean... Luka, I didn't think." Niko sputtered his apology in vain before Luka waved his hand to free him of it.

"I don't want to talk about it, or think about it, not now anyway." Without thinking Luka took a drink of his beer.

"The house will be full tomorrow, are you ready for that?" The transition from Luka's problems to the events surrounding their father's funeral came naturally.

"No, not really. I know what'll come, whether they mean it to or not, and it won't be a day just about Tata and his memories. People will look at Joe, they compare him to Jasna or Marko, they say, can't you imagine how they would look now? Only I don't want to think about those things, I don't want to imagine all they things he will do that they never had a chance to." As anger rose in his voice he stood and heaved the bottle across the stone courtyard.

"Luka, stop, don't do this to yourself, not again." It was Niko's turn to get angry. "For once think of someone beside yourself, Joe needs you. You can't let this eat you alive, and I swear, if I have to stay on your back every minute of every day to see that it doesn't just for his benefit, that's exactly what, I'll do. Do you hear me, little brother?" Climbing to his feet, Niko moved to stand in front of the taller man when he failed to respond.

"I said, do you hear me?"

"Yes, I hear you." Luka released a sigh as resignation settled in, at least for tonight he was willing to give in, whether he could continue to do so would remain to be seen, whatever happened though, the next sixty days would be long ones.

Standing at the airport in Dubrovnik, waiting for Abby to arrive, Luka found his heart racing. Two months had passed and while they had spoken on the phone, they had limited the conversations to casual talk about Joe, the weather, and day to day activities. Some would say they were avoiding the inevitable, but, how could they say what needed to be said without seeing each other's faces, How could he not look into her eyes as she promised that this time things would be different. There'd been no promises, not yet anyway, those would come, or at least he hoped they would, but, he had told her that he said he could no longer live a life where honesty was not a part of all they did, could she accept that?

Today he would find out. Today he would find out if the life he dreamed of was real, or if once again it would crumble away in his hand like so much dust.

His face lit up as he saw the small brunette clear customs and as he stepped into view from behind the others awaiting arriving passengers her hesitant smile matched his. Today would be the end of the secrets between them. It had to be.
============================
Note: For those regular followers of the series ER, you will know that there was one secret that Abby had yet to reveal to Luka as this piece ends, one in fact that would very nearly cost them their marriage before we received our happy ending.

My thanks to the mun behind the_countmc on Live Journal for the idea behind this post, I hope they enjoy the end result.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

December Prompt from October 003: Peaceful/Artistic License



The decision to celebrate Christmas in Croatia with his brother Niko and his family was one that he and Abby had been considering for over six months. For Luka it would be a chance to reconnect with old friends and family without the weight that had hung over him when he'd been back the previous two times. For Abby, it would mean a chance to see the country, without having to hide behind the secrets and lies that had marred her first trip, and almost cost her both her husband and her marriage. Those days were behind them though, sobriety, honesty, and a life in a new city had assured them of that, and this, they had decided could bring final closure to the past that they both wanted to find.

Since the decision to go had been reached, calls between the two brothers had become an almost daily occurrence as one or the other found something that needed an immediate answer before they could go a step further.

"Luka, Niko's on the phone, again." Abby held the receiver in her outstretched hand as she waited for Luka to stick his head out of the bathroom.

"Did you ask him what he needs? I'm in the middle of shaving."

"No, I didn't ask, but, it's costing him money, so you had better hurry." Laying the phone down, the woman turned her attention to the toddler who was currently finishing a bowl of cereal at the table.

"You almost done, Joe, we need to get you cleaned up, you're going to daycare so Tata and I can get ready for the airplane tonight." As she spoke, she reached for the washcloth that lay on the sink before going to him.

"Going on the airplane?" Joe spoke around the bite of cereal in his month causing half the milk to run down his chin.

"Niko, how are you?" Luka cast a smile to his wife and son as he joined them in the kitchen before picking up the phone and slipping into Croatian to talk to his older brother. "Yes, the flight is at 8pm, we change planes in Frankfurt, and should be in early afternoon. No, I don't have the time, I sent you the itinerary, didn't you get it?" Rolling his eyes he glanced to where Abby was still dealing with their son.

"Abby, didn't I send Niko our flight information?" He slid back into English

"I thought you did, you can send it again can't you? Okay, Joe, that's enough, you're just playing now." Taking the spoon from the soon to be 4 year old she set it aside as so she could begin wiping his hands and face.

"Yes," Turning back to his call, Luka quickly reassured his brother that the itinerary would be resent, before ending the call. "He's a little bit excited, so is Ivka by the way, I hope you'll be okay with her wanting to spend time alone with you." As he hung the phone back up, Luka moved behind her so that he could wrap his arms around her.

"I think I'll survive, what about you? Niko isn't going to corrupt you by dragging you to the pub all day? She covered his hands with hers are she released Joe.

"How can you say that, he's my big brother?" Luka laughed as he answered her before nuzzling her neck.

"Um hmm, that's what I'm afraid of. Okay, turn me loose, we don't have time for that, and you still have to take Joe to daycare so we can finish packing and get everything ready before we have to go to the airport." Turning to face him, Abby gave him a quick kiss. "Now, get your son, we've got a busy day ahead of us."

The flight from Frankfurt to Zagreb seemed endless to Abby, and while both Luka and Joe had quickly been able to fall asleep, she'd instead found her mind too consumed by worry. It had been almost a year since Josip Kovac had passed, a year since she had told Luka of her indiscretion, and it would be the first time she would be facing his family since almost destroying him and their marriage. It was eating her up, how would they see her? She had no way of knowing what Luka had told them in the months since they'd returned to the States and he'd learned the truth of what she'd done while he had been caring for his dying father. Since they had moved to Boston, Abby no longer feared for their marriage, if anything the relationship she had with Luka was the strongest it had ever been, if they knew about her betrayal, would his family be as willing to forgive her? What would it mean to them knowing that it had taken place while Luka was not just nursing his dying father, but, missing six months of his young son's life?

As Luka shifted positions in his sleep, Abby turned to face him, then brushed his bangs out of his eyes gently. He'd had every right to take Joe and leave her, she'd been convinced his plan was to do just that when he'd initially moved out of the apartment in Chicago, but, he hadn't. When he had come to her and told her that wanted to give things another chance she'd at first been shocked, then grateful. He'd seen something in their relationship that she had still been too blind to see at the time, and he was willing to give her another chance.

Boston had saved them, she was convinced of that. The decision to leave Chicago had been the fresh start they'd needed, it had given them a chance to start over in all aspects of their lives. Boston had meant the end of any secrets or lies between them plus their marriage and relationship as a couple was stronger because of it. However, even knowing all of that, she was still left to worry about how his family would see her.

"Are you all right?" Luka's groggy question came as he opened his eyes to find Abby watching him.

"I don't know." Her words were honest, and she followed them with a small smile.

"Do you want to talk about it? Moving one hand to support Joe's weight as he changed position, Luka resettled himself in his seat.

"I'm just nervous about meeting everyone I think. I don't know how they're going to feel about me after what I did to you." Her gaze dropped to her hands as she revealed the truth of her fears.

"Abby, they are going to see you as my wife, as the mother of my son, and as the woman I love. Whatever happened in the past is over, you have to let it go, I know I have." Taking one of her hands he brought it to his lips and kissed it, a moment later the fasten seat belt warning sounded.

"I hope you're right." Abby smiled again, glad to let the subject drop as they began the task of waking Joe and getting ready to disembark, besides, why worry now, they'd find out soon enough.

As it turned out, Luka seemed to be right, if Niko and the others were holding any grudges, they certainly weren't showing it as they welcomed the family back to Croatia. After exchanging hugs and kisses all around at the airport, the party moved to two small awaiting cars and the journey back to the elder Kovac's house.

The days leading up to Christmas were busy ones for everyone, filled not just with last minute shopping, but often with a house full of Ivka's extended family as well as friends of both she and Niko. If Abby had expected the holiday to be a solemn one with days spent mourning the absence of the Kovac Patriarch, she couldn't have been more wrong, and laughter seemed a common ingredient in all of the day's activities.

"How are you doing?" Her thoughts were broken as Luka came up behind her and slid his arms around her waist, the smell of beer present on his breath.

"You've been drinking." She turning in his arms to face him, her voice only mildly chastising.

"Blame Niko, he's a bad influence." Luka smiled as he tried to deflect the blame.

"Right. Do I need to call a doctor for the twisted arm you got while he was forcing you to join him?" Her smile almost immediately matched his as she teased him.

"It's okay?" Luka found himself unable to hide his reaction to her response.

"Yes, it's okay. Luka, I don't expect you to give up drinking just because I'm an alcoholic." Stretching up on her toes, Abby gave him a kiss.

"All I ask is that you just try not to get falling down drunk if you can help it, I'm not ready to explain to Joe why his Tata is acting funny."

"I'll do my best." He returned her kiss before saying more. "Abby, are you going to be all right going to Christmas Eve Mass with us? I mean, I'd like you to be there, but, if you'd rather not, I'll understand." Luka's eyes remained hopeful even as his words seemed ready to accept defeat.

"I think I'd like to go with you and Joe, to honor your father's memory, and just be at your side. Is that reason enough?" It was Abby's turn to study her husband and when his smile broke, she couldn't help but return it.

I would like that very much, and I think it's a perfect reason." Luka kissed his wife again.

"Luka!" Niko's voice broke the moment as the elder Kovac called from the other room.

"Coming! I'd better go, I'll look for you later, maybe we can go for a walk , just the two of us?" He bussed a quick kiss on her lips before releasing her.

"I'd like that. Now, go see what your brother wants, I'll be fine."

If Abby had thought that Niko and Ivka's house had been full in the day's leading up to Christmas Eve, it began to overflow in the hours leading up to evening Mass. With each ring of the doorbell arrived yet another of either Ivka's or Niko and Luka's. In all of the time she'd known her husband, she'd just assumed he had little or no family outside of his father and brother, yet, here were all of these people embracing not just him, but, her and Joe as if they had always been a part of their lives. Why had he chosen to cut himself off from so much love for all of those years?

Joe's laughter brought Abby out of her own thoughts and she automatically began searching for him among the room of people. She'd just spotted him, giggling happily as he was held in the air by a silver haired man who looked to be in his seventies when she saw Luka approaching her.

"That's Stjepan, one of Tata's brothers, I'll introduce you later." He slid his arm around Abby's waist as he identified the elderly man for her.

"Luka, why didn't you ever tell me you had such a large family?" She moved in closer as her arm encircled him.

"I don't know. I think when I left, it was just easier to cut off contact with everyone. You know, pretend they weren't there?" His voice grew quieter as he spoke.

"I'm not sure I understand why you would want to do that." As the conversation grew more serious she leaned into him, offering unspoken support in case he found it difficult to go on.

"Losing Danijela and our children was like losing all of the good parts of myself. After I left the camp, I tried going back home, living with Tata, having family around."Luka drew a slow breath and forced himself to continue. "Everyone thought that the best way to help me was to keep reminding me of what I'd lost. I don't mean that they said it like that, but, they always want to retell stories of things that had happened with Danijela or the children. I finally couldn't take it anymore, I knew I had to let them go, I had to forget, and I couldn't do that when everyone had so many memories they wanted to share. That's one of the reasons Niko and I had our falling out, he didn't understand how hard it was for me. He thought my leaving would be like I'd died with them, and inflicting that on Tata was just selfishness on my part. The worst part of it all was that the Luka they all were remembering had died that day, I wasn't that man anymore and I wasn't sure I would ever be able to be him again." His voice broke as he finished and rather then saying anything more his eyes settled on Joe.

"Are you regretting our coming back here, doing this?" Abby's voice held a note of concern for him.

"I don't think so, I think it was time I came to terms with it for good, besides, this is Joe's family, they're yours too, it's not fair for me to deprive you of their love anymore than it is for me to deprive you of the chance to know them." The seriousness of their conversation was suddenly broken by Stjepan's laugh in response to something that Joe had said to him in Croatian.

"He's certainly holding his own with them, isn't he?" A slight note of pride surfaced as Luka drew Abby's attention to Joe and his great uncle.

"That's all because of you, and your decision to start teaching him Croatian from the day he was born. I wish I'd paid more attention." Abby's smile broadened as Stjepan knelt to listen to whatever the three year old trying to explain.

"Okay, everyone, time to find coats, Ivka says we have to leave in five minutes or we'll be late for Mass." It was Niko who made the announcement, and while she knew no one else likely needed it, Abby was grateful to see that he followed his Croatian one with another in English.

While the mood on the walk to the church was light and mixed with laughter, Abby couldn't help but notice that the closer they got to the church, the quieter Luka became. By the time they reached the steps themselves, she found herself wondering if he would even follow through by going inside.

"Luka, are you all right?" As she spoke, Abby touched his arm, stopping him before he climbed the stairs.

"Yeah." While he at first offered the lie without thinking, he immediately amended it. "I don't know. I think I need to do something before I sit down, will you take Joe and find our seats?" His eyes held a sadness in them she hadn't seen in sometime as he made the request.

"Of course. You don't want us to come though?" Even as she asked the question she knew he would refuse.

"No, I have to do this alone. Thank you though." Pausing, he leaned down to kiss her before picking up Joe so they could enter. Once inside Luka passed the toddler to his mother.

"Be good for Mama."

"No, wanna go wi' Tata." Joe automatically resisted the transfer and reached out for Luka.

"No, you go with Mama, I'll be right back." Freeing his sweater from Joe's grip, Luka gave first his son, then Abby a kiss. "I won't be long."

"Want, Tata." Joe's protest carried into the church as the couple separated and while they joined Ivka and many of her family in the pews, she couldn't help but notice that many of the Kovac's, Luka included, made their way into a small alcove to light candles in memory of those they had lost. After lighting his candles, Luka knelt in prayer and she noticed that Niko and his uncle took places on either side of him, offering silent support as he reached out to those long gone. Then, when Luka's shoulder's slumped and Stjepan reached out to pull his nephew to him, Abby was left wishing that it were she there in his place.

After what to Abby seemed an eternity the three men rose and after embraces and kisses were exchanged they made their way to the pews where their families were waiting. As Luka slid into his seat beside her, Abby searched his face for clues to what might be going on in his head. If she had expected to find grief, she was disappointed for if anything, there seemed to be a peace in him that she she hadn't seen before.

"You're okay?" Abby leaned close to her husband as she spoke.

"Yeah, I am." Unlike earlier his response was true, and that in itself amazed him. How long had it been since he could say that and really mean it? For the first time in almost seventeen years the past was truly in the past where it belonged.

As the Mass began, Abby leaned against Luka's shoulder as he held Joe, the choir's music bringing a smile to her face. They had been through so many years of pain and struggle and now everything finally seemed to have finally fallen into place for them. When had she last felt this peaceful? When had either of them? Sitting here now, she couldn't imagine a more perfect way to celebrate that then in this place surrounded by those who loved Luka unconditionally, and who had now welcomed she and Joe into their family as well. What better gift could they have received for Christmas then this?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

December Prompt:Fireflies at Dusk fic from August prompts/Artistic License



Fireflies

It was the sound of cupboard doors opening and closing that first alerted Luka to Abby's presence in the kitchen. When the noise progressed to actual door slamming, it finally became enough of a distraction that he was forced to lay the medical journal he was reading on his lap.

"Abby, what are you doing?"

"I'm looking for the jars with lids that are supposed to be in here." As she answered, the banging of the cabinet doors continued, though the sound was now mixed with occasional curses as she failed to find the jars.

"You do know that there are plastic bowls to the right of the sink that have lids, right?" Luka offered helpfully as he lifted his eyes from the article he was attempting to finish.

"Luka, you cannot use plastic bowls for fireflies." The words carried the tone of one reaffirming something so clear that everyone should know it.

"Fireflies?" The Croat's confusion was not appeased by his wife's answer, what had become clear though was that he would find no peace until she found the jars. Tucking the article page inside itself, he closed the journal before laying it aside and rising to join her in the kitchen.

"Yes, fireflies, I thought we could take Joe out into the yard, catch some, maybe do the ring thing. It'll be fun." Dropping to a squat, the small brunette began rummaging through the cabinet under the sink.

"Ring thing? What do flies have to do with rings?" Snagging a bottle of beer from the refrigerator, Luka propped his elbows on the counter across from her in order to watch his wife's almost obsessive search continue.

"Don't tell me, you've never caught fireflies, or made rings from them?" Abby turned to look upward as his response caught her off-guard. "Joe will love it, you catch one then, when it's lit, you pull it apart and stick the light on your finger."

"Okay, that's disgusting." The Croat's words were accompanied by a slight grimace.

"It's not disgusting, every kid does it, it's all part of growing up." Abby resumed her search as she spoke.

"Killing bugs and wearing their guts is part of growing up...right." A swallow of beer chased the words down.

"You'll love it, you'll see. Why don't you get Joe's jacket on him, while I find the jar." Her head disappeared under the counter only to emerge seconds later in triumph.

"Joe, want to go outside with Tata." Luka had started for the coat-hooks when he heard Abby's squeal of success.

"Found one! Now, you'll see, Luka, it'll be great, Joe will love it, and I'll even make a ring for you." Closing the door Abby stood and turned to see her husband's reaction.

"You are not putting bug guts on me, tradition or not. Okay, Joe, put your arm in this sleeve." Alternating his attention between the two, he finished getting his son's jacket on him before scooping the toddler up. "You ready to go outside?"

"Joe go outside." The boy's face lit up in a smile as he nodded enthusiastically to his father's question.

"Guess we're ready then, let's go catch you some fireflies."

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Prompt 3.C.2. Explosion/ Elitist Bitches



I heard the whistle of the shell before I heard the explosion, the shrill piercing sound that could spell nothing but death and destruction, and grief for those who somehow survived it. It was only as I rounded the corner that I realized that this time I would be more than a witness, more than a doctor rendering aid to one of those poor unfortunates who who might be lucky enough to survive with nothing more than the loss of a limb, or their sight. This time the explosion had struck the building that housed my family, and as I took the stairs upwards to our small apartment, I barely saw the injured or heard the cries of those who begged me for help.

Nothing mattered to me in those moments but getting to my family and on reaching them, finding them safe. It didn't happen. I heard my wife's cry for help as I reached the hallway and as I entered I was met by the sight of my baby boy's body buried under the rubble of what had been his crib, his tiny hand reaching for help that never came to save him. I can't begin to tell you how hard it was to leave him like that, but for the moment my wife and daughter were still alive, they had a chance if I could only get them out of the building in time.

The smoke was already making it difficult to breath but I had had to ignore it, Jasna, Danijela, they needed my strength, not my fear. I picked up our daughter and told my wife we had to go, only to discover a piece of metal had impaled her, when I laid Jasna down to see to her injuries, my little girl stopped breathing, and I realized I couldn't carry them both to safety. How could I choose between them? I'd already lost my baby boy, I couldn't lose my daughter too, I started CPR, and in between breaths tried to tell Danijela what to do to slow her own bleeding. I screamed for help until my voice was raw, but, no one ever came, and when I lost my wife I fought even harder for my daughter's life. It was finally my own exhaustion that forced me to stop, and my weakness meant the end of my daughter's young life. There was only one final thing I had to do.

I placed Jasna in her mother's arms before going to Marko's crib, I couldn't leave him buried like that. I begged him to forgive me for not being home to protect him as I pulled away the debris with my bare hands, even as I knew I would never forgive myself for failing them. When I had finally freed him, I carried him in to his his mother, and after placing him too in her arms I lay down beside them. I think I was hoping that if I went to sleep, maybe God would take pity on me and allow the smoke to claim me, that he would allow me to be with my family in death, but he didn't, the rescuers found me before morning. I was one of the lucky ones they said.

If only they knew.

Prompt 85.8 John Beckwith Quote/Couples Therapy



John Beckwith: True love is your soul's recognition of its counterpoint in another.

I wish I could say that my relationship with my wife represented finding my true love, but, I'd be lying. As hard as it is to admit it, Abby's known from the moment we met that my heart would always belong partially to another. Her name was Danijela, and I loved her from the moment I saw her. Even though it's been 17 years since she died, I still love her, I know I'll always love her, and Abby understands that when I die my final resting place will be at her side with our children.

Danijela was 16 when we first met, or I should say when I first saw her, it took me some time to work up the courage to actually talk to her, but, from that first look she had my heart. I wish I could say that I knew exactly what it was about her that captured it, but I don't. It wasn't just one thing about her, it was everything, from the way she looked to how she interacted with those around her, and then I heard her laugh.

Danijela and I were inseparable, well, with the exception of the time she was in school and I was going through my military service. After we married, nothing outside of my work could keep us apart and I blame that closeness we had partially for why she and our children died. Maybe if we had been apart more she would have left Vukovar when I asked her to, but, the idea of being away from me was too much for her, so she stayed and those final weeks we shared cost us the rest of our lives together.

When we were together it was like we shared the same breath, the same thoughts, we could look at each other and know without speaking when one or the other was worried or had a bad day. I look at my relationship with Abby and I wish we shared a bond like that but, I know that kind of love only happens once in a lifetime. Don't get me wrong, I love Abby, I would do anything for her, but, she and I will never have what Danijela and I had, and I know that has to hurt her. So, she accepts what I can give, knowing that I will be there for her, to protect her, and most importantly to love her until death do us part.

Monday, November 30, 2009

Prompt 66.6. Can I ask you something?/ On The Couch



When Abby and I first dated, it was during a time when I very rarely spoke about my life prior to my arrival in Chicago. Most knew I came from Croatia of course, a few who worked in the ER knew that while I had survived the war in my home country, my wife and children had not, only one, Carol, knew the full story. I'll never know what prompted Abby to open the door on my past that early morning all those years ago, but, I've often wondered if she regretted the decision.

The year was 2000 and we were lying in bed talking about a number of things from our relationship to a patient of mine at the time who was a Catholic Bishop. While I at first resented having to treat Bishop Stewart because of my feelings toward the Church and God left over from Vukovar and the loss of my family, before he died the man enabled me to find my way back to both.

I was a little surprised at first when the conversation settled into silence, then figured it was still early, it was just likely Abby wanted more sleep, and then very quietly she asked the question that started it all.

"Can I ask you something?"

"Um hmm."

"What was her name?"

"Whose?

"Your wife."

"Danijela."

"Did you love her very much?"

"Um hmm."

To some it wouldn't seem like much, but, for Abby and I it was huge. Everything to that point had always been about Abby, her life, or her problems, this was the first time she had asked about my life. Over the years there have been other times. She's learned more about Danijela, of our children, of our families, and most unsettling for her, of the war that separated us forever. But, those times would come later, we both had to grow first, to part ways and then find our way back again.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Prompt 309 - What have you Forgotten? / Theatrical Muse



What haven't I forgotten? There's been so much over the years or at least I thought there was.

For a long time I was sure I had forgotten how to smile, how to laugh. I had forgotten that any kind of joy existed because all I knew was death and sadness. I wanted the world to be dark place, because I needed to live there as my punishment for surviving when my family did not.

I'd forgotten what it meant to have a sense of family, of belonging, of home, and that too was by my own choice. All of those things were reminders of those who were no longer with me and while I still had my father and Niko, even being with them became too much, I had to leave, I had to abandon everything and everyone that reminded me of Danijela and my children if I was to have any hope of moving forward.

Moving forward, that's a joke in itself, it was more like running away. I couldn't set down any roots, and I didn't dare allow myself to form any serious friendships. Having friends meant they would ask questions about my past, questions I didn't want to answer, it was easier to just pick up and go, so, that's what I did until I got to Chicago, then everything started to change.

For a while I forgot about my past, I began to think I might be allowed to start a new life, okay, maybe I was slipping into someone else ready-made family, but, it was still a family, and I was all right with that. How could I have been so gullible? By the time I remembered the damage was done.

I can't say what made me try again and when that too failed to work I found myself losing my hold on not just my personal life, but my professional one as well. For so long work had been my escape, and suddenly I seemed to have forgotten why I was doing what I was doing. Nothing mattered anymore, not the patients, not the job, I simply put in the hours and when I wasn't there I drank myself stupid, and became a person I hated to look at in the mirror.

It took my own near death for me to finally find my way back from the darkness, and as I stepped into the light I rediscovered life, love, joy, I found my wife, I became a father again. I've learned that everyday may not be perfect, but, that doesn't matter, because I can handle it and if at the end of the day I can hold my son, and kiss my wife, then nothing else matters.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Prompt 112.10: The Writer's Way/ Love and Romance, A Marriage/Writers Muses



Be all my dreams remembered.

Danijela and my children have been in my thoughts a lot lately. I shouldn't be surprised of course, they're always in my thoughts at this time of the year, but for some reason, this year is different. For the first time in seventeen years I'm not finding myself awakened in the middle of the night by Danijela's cries for help, or the sight of my baby boy's lifeless hand reaching for the help that didn't reach him in time. Even my failed efforts to keep Jasna alive have not visited me, and I can't help but wonder why this year is so different than all those that have passed before.

I can't go so far as to say that my nights have not however been dreamless, and as much as I understand Abby's increasing worry as night after night I find my sleep interrupted, I've been unable to share the nature of this year's dreams with her. I can't explain how I feel when I wake and traces of the dreams are still lingering with me, but, then I see Abby's face, and I wonder if she somehow knows. Have I said something in my sleep, and if so, does she see my reaction to them as a betrayal of the vows I made to her when we were married? It's at that point that it becomes too much and I know there will be no more sleep for me, so I flee the bed, and her, choosing instead to wander the still dark house in hopes of reconnecting with some of those memories that the dreams touched on.

Unlike in years past, jarred awake, only to be left wondering about what the dreams that woke me are about. Instead, It's like nightly I'm being led through a movie meant to remind me of the good times that my wife and I shared.

It's hard to believe that we'd have been married for 22 years now had Danijela not been taken from me that day in Vukovar. From the moment we met there was a connection neither of us could deny and neither the two years we were forced to wait to marry, or my time in the military were enough to change how we felt about each other. Even now, I still feel it at times, and these dreams seem to be reinforcing that bond we shared.

In previous years, the weeks leading up to the anniversary of the death of my family and the fall of Vukovar have always been filled with dreams. No, check that, not dreams, nightmares. Nightmares that not only woke me, but more often than not had left me drenched in sweat and shaking, with few memories of their details. I could generally guess about the contents of those past nightmares though, nightmares have haunted me for longer than I want to remember, and while for the most part they have faded, there are times of the year, like now, that they've always returned. So, again I ask myself, why is this year different?

For so long I dwelt on that final day to the exclusion of everything else it seemed, and in my mind it was as if my life had ended with the loss of my wife and children. I think too I had reached the point where I didn't want to relive the joy we shared because I felt I didn't deserve that anymore, and by only remembering that last day I could punish myself for failing them. Maybe this was God's way of saying that I had punished myself enough, or maybe Danijela herself was sending the dreams to me as her way of showing that she's forgiven me.

Reliving the first time we met and those early times together, it shocks me when I remember how young we both were. We had no idea of what our future held, we didn't care, all that mattered was how much we loved each other, and how long we would have to wait before we could be married. Daniejela was only 16 when we first professed our love to each other, I was 18, there was no question of her finishing school and I had to serve my stint in the military, it made sense to wait, but two years seemed like forever.

We survived it though, and when we married I was sure there had never been a bride more beautiful then Danijela was. After years of having the image of her bloodied body burned into my head, these dreams have given all that and more back to me, and I can't help but be thankful to whoever is responsible for sending them to me.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

November Prompt 006: Bravery Quote/Artistic License



006. Bravery is the capacity to perform properly even when scared half to death. --General Omar Bradley

"Luka, we have to go!" While the gunfire outside the small African clinic made Carter jump, it seemed to have little if any affect on the tall Croat as he continued with the amputation of the leg of the small girl on the table in front of him.

"Not yet, take the others, I can finish up here. I'll follow with Chance when I'm done." Despite his efforts to conceal it, the tremble in his voice betrayed his own fears on the danger of their current situation.

"We're not leaving you." Carter stood firm even as he spotted several soldiers, with their rifles at the ready, cross the yard outside the window. "We won't have long and they'll be inside."

"I know, Carter, but, if I don't get everything closed before I move her, I risk losing her. I'm not taking that chance if I don't have to." Kovac's irritation toward the younger doctor was growing as the man persisted. Did he really think he wasn't aware of what was happening outside and the risk he was putting them all in by not stopping the surgery immediately? Hell, if Carter could get past his own fear he would see there was no choice in finishing, he reached for more gauze in an attempt to clear the field of the rapidly pooling blood.

"Luka!" Carter reached of the IV as the gunfire and yells outside signaled that they were now directly involved in the battle. "It's now or never, we take her as she is or they'll kill her and us."

"Damn." Kovac tied off his last stitch before hastily wrapping what remained of the young girl's leg. It would have to do. "All right, I've got her, give me the IV and let's go." After wiping his hands on the already bloodied towel on the cot, he scooped Chance up into his arms.

"Run!" As he hit the back-porch he heard the sound of the clinic's front door being forced open, it was all a number's game now, for all of them.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Nov Prompt Qc) What do you think is the most amazing thing that anyone has ever accomplished? /Creative Muses



Full Circle

As a doctor, as someone who survived a war, and as someone who has chased death more often than any one person should have to in their life, I suppose the expected response would be for me to say it is having the ability to hold someone's life or death in your hands on a daily basis. You would think I would say that, but, I can't, because for me, there is one greater accomplishment that I didn't realize the importance of until I thought it had been lost to me.

I married my first wife, Danijela, when I was 20, and she was just 18 and within a year of our beginning our life together, we welcomed our first child, a daughter, Jasna. Within three years we welcomed our second child, a son, we named Marko. I loved being a father, and though work and classes often kept me away from them more than I liked, when I was home, when I wasn't studying, I wanted nothing more than to spend my time with my wife and children.

And then they were gone.

I thought my life was over. I wanted it to be. I prayed for the next mortar that fell to strike the building I was in, for a sniper's bullet to find me as I walked the streets of Vukovar in the days and weeks after they were laid to rest, but, they never came. Even in those final days, as the City fell to the Serbs I was left to wonder why I would be one of those spared when so many close to me would perish.

Danijela and I were only married for 5 years, but, it may have well been a lifetime for the love we shared, and without her and our children, I was nothing. I was lost, I was alone, and I couldn't understand why God refused to allow me to join those I loved in death.

It took years for me to learn the reason behind his sparing me. Years that would lead me far from the memories that still sometimes visit my dreams. In time I discovered I was able to love again, and with that love I rediscovered the one thing I thought I would never know again.

Parenthood. Fatherhood. The day I looked into my baby son, Josip's face I knew there was nothing more amazing, no greater accomplishment in fact, than the ability we have to create new life and with it to become a parent. To this day, I hold my son, and he seems to have a power over me that I can't explain. It doesn't matter what my day has been like, one look at his face, seeing his smile, and everything pales in comparison.

In the beginning I was worried that Joe would be taken from me as Jasna and Marko had been, but as the years pass, those fears have faded as well. As I watch him grow from infant, to toddler, to this amazing little boy who wants to know and do everything I can't imagine not being here to share those experiences with him, and I thank God for not answering my prayers all those years ago. More then anything though, I want to teach him all of those things I wasn't able to give to the brother and sister he will never know. I want to be the father to him that I would have been to my first children had they not been taken before they had a chance to experience life as he now is.

Prompt 307: Trick or Treat



Her name was Valerie, and she walked into my life at a time when it seemed like everyone else was walking out of it, or at least everyone who mattered that is. I suppose I couldn't really blame them, I'd become someone even I didn't want to be around, and as much as I wanted companionship, I was doing nothing that made anyone want to spend more than a few hours with me at most.

I met her in a bar. I was sitting at the bar alone, doing my best to drink myself into a stupor before finding my way home, a habit that was becoming far too common at the time, when she approached me. I wasn't surprised when she stopped to talk to me, women hit on me all the time, and back then I was taking advantage of it more than I want to admit. I needed to be with someone, I needed someone to hold me, to show me I could be loved again, even if it was only for an hour, and even if it was a stranger.

I guess what made her different from those that came before her, and even those that would come after, was that she was the only one I ever paid. Don't get me wrong, I didn't immediately jump at her offer, if anything my ego was a little bruised by it. Why should I have to pay a woman to spend time with me? But at that moment, in thinking about it, I knew I was alone, and I needed so very badly not to be, so, I said yes, and that night became the first of many I spent in her company before I found my way out of the darkness that I was living in.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

I have news!



Finally I have good news after so long of nothing but bad. I learned the results of my last blood draw and I'm up to 3.8, only .1 from what is considered the "normal" range. No more restrictions from going places, and my doctor is fairly confidant the danger associated with the allergic reaction to my newest medication change has finally passed.

I also saw my eye surgeon today regarding the cataracts I have in both eyes, and I go back tomorrow for additional pre-surgery tests before going under the knife for my first eye on the 17th. After a couple of weeks recovery time, I'll go back in, and the second eye will be done on October 1st. I'm hoping that by mid-Oct I will be able to fully concentrate on writing again, and once again start providing you with the story updates and new one-shot stories that you have all been so patiently waiting for.

Thanks to everyone who has sent their positive thoughts, they've been much appreciated.

JD

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Update



My apologies for not having updated recently, I've been dealing with serious flare-ups with several of my health issues that have severely impacted my ability to concentrate enough to write. I'm hoping that recent injections to both shoulders and a change in one of my meds will change that though, so please bear with me. Thanks for reading.

JD

Saturday, May 30, 2009

May Prompt 005: Meet One Person? /Creative Muses

"Why do you keep asking me things like that?" Luka glanced at Abby over the rim of the beer he was drinking.

"Because I'm trying to find out more about you, now, answer the question. If you could meet any person in the world, dead or alive, who would you want it to be?" As she finished, Abby picked a peanut out of the bowl on the bar and tossed it at him.

"Hey, don't throw things." Luka lifted a hand, deflecting it before it made contact, but, not before Abby had another at the ready.

"Are you going to answer the question then? I've got a whole bowl, I can do this all night." As if to prove her point, the small brunette cocked her wrist, intending to make good on the threat.

"Last chance."

"You're not going to know who it is." As he spoke, Luka kept his hand up, ready to block again if needed.

"You're stalling." She flexed her fingers for the throw, sure he was going to force her to make good on her threat afterall.

"Okay, okay, Tin Ujević. Satisfied." Luka kept his hand up just in case Abby decided to throw the peanut anyway.

"Who?" Unable to register anything but confusion at his answer, Abby automatically released the weapon and let it fall back into the bowl.

"Tin Ujević, he's considered to be one of the greatest Croatian poets of all time, and I told you that you wouldn't know who he was." Luka reached for his beer not that the threat of attack had passed.

"A poet? A poet. Since when have you been into poetry?" Abby swept her hair from her face as she tried to reconcile herself with his answer.

"Since, I don't know, longer than I can remember."

"Do you have any of his poetry?" Abby found her curiosity growing as this new side of Luka was revealed.

"Yeah, I do."

"Will you share it with me?"

"It's not in English."

"That doesn't matter, you can read them to me." Abby laid her hand on his as she made the request.

"I want to hear them the way you do. Luka, I want you to share them with me."

Two poems for you to enjoy...

Zelenu granu by Tin Ujević


And Uhapsen u magli by Tin Ujević

Thursday, May 28, 2009

May Prompt 006: Shadows / Artistic License




Keep to the shadows...

It was a mantra he forced himself to repeat anytime he left the apartment. In the early days it had been done simply as a reminder to himself.

Keep to the shadows...

The snipers were becoming more and more prevalent, their aim far deadlier. It didn't seem to matter who their targets were, the elderly woman queuing for a loaf of bread, the man with his child filling water jugs at the City spigot. Anyone was a ready target.

It's easy before dawn, at dusk, even into the night, though risk is still there, the darkness holds safety. Or so we like to trick ourselves into believing, in reality there is no safety in our lives anymore. It's with full daylight that the true danger arrives though, but, what can we do? We have to feed our families, we have to have water, for some, like me, there is still work that must be done and so we risk our lives in the world we no longer know.

What choice do we have? Do we become hermits, hiding away in the darkness of our apartments with no heat, no electricity, no running water until necessity forces us to venture beyond those walls? This is our world now, the world we have bequeathed to our children, a world of fear and certain death unless we pray for God's protection, and keep to the shadows...

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Prompt 2009.18.2. What meals or food do you make really well?/ Realm of the Muse



Now that we're settled in Boston, I find I'm spending more time in the kitchen than I ever did in Chicago. I enjoy it, I not only find it a great way to relax, but, it also gives me a chance to cook the foods I grew up with. I think being back in Croatia for as long as I was while my father was ill, and reconnecting with the importance of those family mealtimes made me realize that I wanted to share that with Abby and Joe once I was home.

I look at the comfort I find in the foods I grew up with, the thick soups and stews with their fresh baked croutons, the goulash and seafood, and yes, even the pastries, and I want that for my son. In fact, I'm cooking today, and as the smell of the simmering broth fills the whole house, all I have to do is close my eyes to find myself transported back to my mama's kitchen. I want my son to have these same memories, to enjoy the food as much as I do, so, I give him this gift as it was given to me, out of love.

Čobanac sa žličnjacima
Shepherd's Goulash

Ingredients

300g. (11 oz.) veal
300g. (11 oz.) pork
6 tablespoons oil
200 g. (7 oz.) onions
100g. (4 oz,) carrots
50g. (2. oz) parsley root
1 clove garlic
ground sweet red pepper (to taste)
salt and pepper
1 chili pepper
1 tablespoon ajvar ( a piquant, spicy and delicious mixture of round, red, sweet peppers (known locally as tomato peppers), aubergines, and chili peppers, first baked, then peeled, minced and cooked to a thick consistency).
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon smetana
half a litre (20 fl. oz.) white wine
1 tablespoon Vegeta

Foer Dumplings:
350 g. (12 oz.) flour
1 egg
salt

Chop the onion. Grate the carrots and parsley root. Wash and dice the meat. Chop the garlic.
Heat the oil and lightly fry the onion, add the carrot and parsley root and braise for a while. Then add the meat and spice it with chili (or cayenne) pepper, red pepper and salt. Add a little hot water, bay leaf, Vegeta and allow to simmer gently, adding further water as required.

When the meat is half cooked, add the dumplings, garlic, and ground pepper. Finally, stir in the ajvar, wine and smetana.

Dumplings:
Mix the egg, salt and flour with sufficient water to produce a thick dough. Work the dough by beating it against the side of the mixing bowl with a wooden spoon until it becomes smooth and elastic and peels easily away from the spoon. Spoon pieces of prepared dough into a larger saucepan of salted boiling water. Cook for about 15 minutes, remove the dumplings and drain them.

Prompt 48: 4. Love is what you've been through with somebody- James Thurber/On The Couch



From the time I was a young child I remember sitting and listening as people told stories of finding that one person who they knew was meant for them. From my parents, to my grandparents, to their friends, everyone had a story, if not of finding their own love, than of someone they knew who had. I don't know if I really gave them anymore thought than all of the rest of the stories I heard through my childhood until that moment that I first saw Danijela.

From my very first glimpse of her I knew that she was the one I wanted to spend my life with and nothing anyone could say could sway me. Because of our ages, Danijela was just 16 when we met, we waited two years to marry and during that time we made so many plans for our future. I don't think two years could have moved any slower than those two did, and it certainly wasn't helped by our being separated because while Danijela was finishing school, I was away fulfilling my military obligations.

We married when Danijela turned 18, and nine months later we welcomed our daughter, Jasna into our lives. If I thought I had loved my wife before, it was nothing compared to what I felt toward her once she began to carry that life inside of her, than later gave birth. Can anything be as beautiful as a mother and her child. I could have spent hours just watching them together, envying her that closeness gained with our daughter as she breastfed her. It would deepen still further with the birth three years later of our son.

I'll never know why our love was tested in the ways that it was. I'll never know why the life that seemed so perfect from it's start would end so suddenly, but, it did. I do know though that the love I felt for Danijela, the love I still feel for her will always be with me. It took me a long time to understand that it's okay for me to keep loving her. It took me a long time to understand that there was room in my heart for someone besides Danijela, and once I realized that I not only loved her even more, but, I could at long last move on.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Prompt 64.5 Reminder Picture/ Couples Therapy

Find a picture of something that reminds you of your partner and explain why.



It was our first date, we went to a bar for a drink, and...there was this foosball table there. I'd never played before, and while she denys it, I still say she cheated. I'd like to say it was the perfect first date, but it wasn't, things happened that neither of us could have expected, things that could well have ended things for us even before they had begun.

I'm not saying the date, date part was bad, well, other than the fact that she cheats at foosball, we had a good time. We drank a little, talked about nothing that meant anything, had something to eat, and we enjoyed each other's company. Oh, yeah, and I kissed her. We had a good time. When it came time to leave we decided to walk along the river, that's when things fell apart.

If I could go back now and undo that decision, I'd go it in an instant. No one wants to believe they hold that kind of rage inside of them, but, even worse than it being exposed, is having someone else witness it. You see, I killed someone that night. I didn't mean for it to happen, I just reacted, and as a result a man died. Abby could have walked away, turned her back on me forever, I wouldn't have blamed her if she did. Who wants to be with someone capable of such violence? I even tried to push her away that night, I was disgusted with myself and disgusted by what I'd done. Yes, the man had tried to mug us, but, he didn't deserve to die for that.

Abby didn't give up on me though, and while things didn't work out for us then, we eventually found our way back to each other. It took time, and we both went through a lot of changes to get to where we are, but, we have a beautiful son now, and we're happy, and you can't ask for more than that.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Prompt 282: Cremation or burial? Talk about funeral arrangements./TM



This is something Abby and I have talked about quite a bit, maybe because of my past, but, mainly because I felt she deserved to know that this was something I feel quite strongly about. For a long time I felt that my life had ended with the death of my wife Danijela, and our two young children in that small apartment in Vukovar. When their caskets were lowered into the ground, I couldn't shake my feelings of guilt over having failed them, and in that moment, had I been given the choice of joining them, I would have done so willingly. Despite the number of years that have passed since those burials, I know, and Abby understands, that my place belongs beside my first family, and so, when my time comes, she and Joe will take me home to Croatia and bury me there in that Vukovar cemetery. It's my hope, that in their own time, that they might too join me, but, that is a decision that will be theirs to make and not one I can make for them.

Because I was raised Catholic, and that faith was so much a part of my life with Danijela, and still is important to my family, I've already expressed my desire for a Catholic funeral and burial. I think it's a way too I can honor Bishop Stewart's memory, and thank him again for opening the door that allowed me to re-find my faith after many years away. On that day, when my body is once more reunited with those of my family, and my spirit rises to Heaven, I have no doubt that Danijela, Jasna, and Marko will be there waiting to greet me, just as I one day will be there to greet Abby and Joe when their time comes.

Graphic by Jana

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Prompt 85.6: Time Flies / Writers Muses



"Luka?" Abby switched the light on as she came down the stairs. While it wouldn't have surprised her to find him in the kitchen, seeing him standing at the patio doors was something else.

"What are you doing?" As she came alongside him, she couldn't help noticing that he held the small photo of his first wife and their daughter in his hand.

"Did you have a dream?" It was difficult to completely keep the concern from her voice. Was she ready for another cycle of his sleeplessness?

"No, not really." Luka shook his head, while there was a time when he might once have concealed the photo from her, that was no longer the case and he turned it so she could see what he held.

"What's going on then? You're not up for no reason." Sliding her arm around his waist, Abby found herself pulling him closer with the question.

"She would have been 22 today, Jasna, a year younger than Danijela was when she died. I still see her as this little girl playing with her doll." Luka lifted his hand to wipe his eyes as he spoke.

"There's nothing wrong with that, Luka, she's always going to be your little girl."

"Yeah, it's just hard to believe how fast time flies, and I can't help wondering what she might have been like if..." His words trailed off as his gaze seemed to become lost to something outside the window.

"If what, Luka?" As much as she hated pushing him for more, too many years had been wasted in their not talking about his past for her to go back.

"I just wonder what she might have been like if she'd had the chance to grow up." Luka's words seemed to come from a long distance away, almost as if he were talking to someone other than Abby.

"Would she have chosen marriage and a family like her mother, or would she have decided she wanted a career? She was such a bright little girl, and she was so looking forward to the day she would go to school. She never even got a chance to do something as simple as that." The reminders of how much his daughter had missed out on were too much and as his voice broke, Abby felt the tremble run through him.

"Luka, whatever she did, you know you would have supported her in it, just like you would have done for Marko, you'll do for Joe when the time comes. You're a wonderful father now, and I know you were a wonderful father then. You can't go back and change the past, but, you can remember all the things that made your daughter so special to you. You have to know she'll always be part of you, and because of that, she'll always be a part of us, and it's that which will keep them all alive.

Night Out Part 10 / Revised



The increase in the tension of the robbers had an immediate effect on their hostages and while some simply gave into the tears born of their fear, among most there was a pronounced increase in the level of the conversations among them.

"Shut the fuck up! So help me I'm gonna start shooting people if you don't shut your mouths." The announcement from the robber stunned almost everyone into immediate silence, not just because of the threat but because he was the one that to this point had been the silent one, the one they thought they had least to fear from. Clearly, tensions were rising and not just among the hostages.

Bobby...back off, we need to figure a way out of this." Albert returned to the front window, pulling the curtain aside only enough to get a glimpse of the street outside.

"Why don't you just let everyone go, before things get worse then they already are?" The words were out of Luka's mouth before Abby could stop him.

"You were told to keep your mouth shut already." Whether it was fear or something more that drove him, it was the youngest of the three that reacted to Luka's words and before either of the other two could stop the man he was already in front of Kovac. His first kick doubled the Croat over, the ones that followed would leave him gasping for breath on the floor before Albert could pull his brother off.

"What the hell are you doing? You want to kill him? You were supposed to be checking the back alley, keeping an eye on what's going on out there, and you, get your ass up." After assuring himself that Joey was finally doing as he'd been told Albert nudged Luka with the toe of his shoe, when he made no effort to comply he reached down and grabbed a handful of his shirt and jerked him upright.

"I said I wanted you up, so help me, you're just asking me to turn him loose on you again." His voice held the promise of a threat that he'd have no trouble acting on.

"Can't you see he's hurt...untie me, I'll keep him sitting if that's what you want." Abby offered the compromise without worrying about the consequences to herself. As the robber released his hold on Luka's shirt and he watched the man simply curl into himself again he realized he'd have to make a choice.

"Alright, but you try anything, and I mean anything, and he's the first to die. You got me?" As he finished speaking Albert stepped behind Abby and untied her hands.

"I mean it, you get him up and you keep him up, anything happens he dies first, then I kill that little blond girl there, you make sure he understands that." Without waiting for her response he stepped away from their hostages.

"Bobby! What's happening in the back alley?" This was not how things were supposed to have gone down.

To be continued...

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Prompt 83.1.A. "No, I am certain you don't want to know what I really think."/Writers Muses



"No, Mr. Spera. I am certain you don't want to know what I really think." As they walked back toward the lake, Margaret Hall found it difficult to look at the young man beside her.

"What do you want me to say, Mrs. Hall? Do you want me to say I can call all of this off? Because, I can't do that. My partner is convinced the money is there and he is prepared to do whatever he has to do to get it."

"What about you, just what are you prepared to do? If your partner told you you had to beat me up, break my leg, you'd do that for him? Would that get you this money that you seem to want so badly?" The red-head's voice held more frustration than anger at the situation she found herself in.

"I don't want to do any of this, but, I don't have anymore of a choice in things than you do." Alek found it hard not to sympathize with the woman, but how could he possibly tell her what a failure on his part might cost him. Without thinking his hand rose to rub the tattoo on his neck as they continued walking.

"Sure you do, you're young, I would guess single too, you could go anywhere, well, I can't. This is all we have Mr. Spera, we have nowhere to run to, no way to escape this. So, you do what you have to do, but, I don't have the kind of money you want." As she finished, Margaret looked off toward the lake, only to immediately turn back to the house as she heard the call of her oldest son.

"Look, I have to go, I'll try, but, I know we don't have it." Turning she began walking away from him before he could answer.

"What if I see if he'll take less, that would be better, it would help?" Alek hurried to catch up before checking his stride so he could walk back to the house with her.

"I'll do what I can, and call you later, okay? I'll try." His tone held a touch of hopefulness in it and the woman couldn't help but grab onto it.

"Thank you, now, I do have to go." The sense of relief was immediate as she walked away from him, and while she had no guarantee that he would be successful, at least it gave her hope, and that was what she had needed.

Muse: Alek Spera
Fandom: The Deep End
Words: 414

April Prompt: 005. In what ways do you relax and de-stress when you are really tense?/Creative Muses



"Watch 'em, Joe, they're going to get the ball." Luka held the conversation over the football match with his son in Croatian, something he's started even before the boy had been born. From the moment he'd learned Abby was pregnant he'd known how important it would be that Joe be bilingual, not just because he was half Croatian, but for those times when his father would call, or they might one day go to Croatia. Unfortunately, his father had passed before Joe was old enough to really talk, but, that hadn't stopped him from continuing the lessons, and when the two of them were together, he found he rarely spoke to him in English.

"Tata, him running." Joe pointed at the at the screen as he spoke, making sure that Luka was catching what was happening on-screen.

It was hard to explain how important his time with Joe was to him. Maybe it was because he realized how little time he'd had with Jasna and Marko, or maybe it was just knowing that he and Abby would never have another child. Whatever the reason, the moments they spent together were ones he found himself looking forward to. It didn't matter what kind of a day he'd had, or how tired he felt, the minute he walked through the door and heard Joe call his name it all disappeared.

"Tata, him running, see." Joe tugged at Luka's sleeve to drag his father out of his thoughts and back into the soccer match on the television.

"I see that, Joe." What could be better than this?

Friday, April 24, 2009

Prompt 280: What do you think?/Theatrical Muse



"What do you think?" Luka looked up from the journal he was reading as his wife asked the question.

"Hmm? Of what?" His expression shifted to one of puzzlement as he realized that he honestly had no idea of what the woman was talking about.

"You weren't even listening were you?" Abby poured milk over the cereal in Joe's bowl before placing it in front of the toddler.

"Um, sorry, I'm trying to get caught up." Reaching for a second journal, the Croat tucked the second inside the first to use it as a bookmark before setting it aside.

"Tell me again." Pushing himself up off the chair, he made his way over to the short counter that separated the living-room from the kitchen.

"I don't know if I'm ready to let you off that easy." Abby tilted her head slightly as she debated how long she wanted to continue the give and take.

"Hey, that's not nice." As he stood beside his son, Luka found himself unable to resist stealing a piece of cereal from the boy's bowl, and as he popped it in his mouth, he gave him an exaggerated smile.

"Well, that's what happens when you don't listen the first time." As Luka settled next to Joe, Abby couldn't help but smile, the moment for the two of them now passed.

"Yum, good stuff, Joe." Pleased at the attention turning toward him, the soon to be three year old, fished another Cheerio out of the milk and offered it to his father.

"Thank you, Joe." Leaning toward him, Luka accepted the bite, then reciprocated by offering a kiss in return.

"That's enough for me, now, you eat your cereal."

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Night Out Part 9/ Revised



With the patrons secured, their haul piled out of reach on the bar, the three moved back to the front of the restaurant, leaving their hostages alone for the first time since they had entered. Not surprisingly, most began to talk among themselves immediately, some simply to offer comfort to spouses, others to complain, though wisely not loud enough to be overheard. Abby's concern chief concern was on Luka as he struggled again to sit. She couldn't ignore the force of the blow the man had delivered to him, and as she observed his movements, she looked for signs of a potential head injury.

"Luka, are you all right" She kept her voice low, barely above a whisper as she spoke.

"I don't know." Once he was fully upright, he shook his head, only to instantly regret it as the room seemed to spin forcing him to close his eyes in response.

"I think my head's going to explode, if I don't throw up first." He winced as he tested the restraints on his wrists and found himself rewarded with a tightening of them.

"I'm sorry, Luka." Abby's concern was written clearly on her face as she studied his face for changes from her earlier exam of him.

"Sorry for what?" He shifted his full attention to her as he picked up the change in the tone of her voice.

"For not listening to you earlier, when you said you felt like something wasn't right, I should have trusted your instincts, and I didn't." Abby dropped her eyes from his face with the admission.

"Abby, look at me." Luka waited until she was looking at him again before continuing.

"You couldn't have known this was going to happen, I didn't even know what was wrong, don't blame yourself." He glanced toward the entrance where the men were gathered then back to her.

"They've got what they wanted, there's no reason for them to stay, they're probably already getting ready to leave, you'll see." The words were no sooner out of his mouth then there was a yell from the door.

"Damn! Joey, go check the back, son of a bitch, there are cops outside." Albert had drawn the curtain back to look over the street and now let it fall as he turned to his brother with raised hands.

"What are you waiting for? Would you check the back."

to be continued...

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Night Out Part 8 / Revised



The man was crazy, Abby was sure of it, but, as much as she wanted to tell him that, her fear for what he was capable of held her back.

"Move." Albert shoved Luka in the direction he wanted him to go, paying no mind to the fact that the man was still dazed and disoriented, and causing him to stumble as he lost his balance.

"Get down on the floor, hands behind your back, now." He glanced over to where the other two men had begun securing the rest of the patrons, before bringing his attention back to Luka and Abby.

"You too, what are you waiting for?" He momentarily shifted his attention away from Luka as he sprawled on the wood floor, more concerned with making sure that the woman didn't try to escape. He needn't have worried, as Luka lost his balance Abby quickly moved to his side, kneeling next to him before laying a hand on his shoulder.

"Luka, look at me." She barely had time to register the size of his pupils let alone whether they were equal before Albert was jerking her away from him.

"That's enough, I said sit." He pushed her to the side before laying his rifle on the bar so he could concentrate on tying Luka's hands behind his back.

"Your turn." Albert grabbed one of the collected ties before turning to Abby, and yanking her arms sharply behind her back. His actions finally prompting a response from Luka as he tried to stop him by butting him with his shoulder."

"You don't have to be so rough with her." He shook his head, trying to clear the dizziness as he spoke.

"Bad move Cowboy." Without giving it a second thought Albert backhanded Luka with enough force to knock him again to the floor.

"That's two, next time is going to be a hell of a lot worse." With the warning given he turned his attention back to securing Abby.

To be continued.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

2009.15:4: Talk about someone who is/was an adversary or enemy that you respect and/or admire/ RotM



How do you thank someone for giving you your life back?

For the longest time John and I were adversaries I guess you could say. I'm not sure how it started, or even why exactly, though I know it was at a time when Abby and I were first dating and things weren't going too well.

At the start, when Abby and I were together, she and John were simply friends, when things started to change it couldn't help but bleed into the relationship we had. Maybe I was jealous because I saw that he could give her a life I couldn't, or maybe it was just the relationship that seemed to exist between them. When we finally did break up, we both had our reasons, and where she used my continued love for my wife against me, I hurled her feelings toward Carter at her. I'd had enough, I told myself I was done with the games, I was done with the fights, I told her that Carter could have her. I didn't realize at the time what a mistake I was making and what that decision would cost me.

Over the next year and a half it seemed things only got worse, it wasn't just that I still held feelings for Abby, I know I did, but, I'd lost my best friend, and seeing her everyday with Carter, it became a nightmare for me. I began to hate Carter, and that hate started to change me, ultimately affecting how I did my job. I became someone I no longer recognized, and often someone I couldn't stand, and while it was easy to blame John, in truth I know I knew it wasn't his fault.

It's funny how time changes things, how things that once seemed so huge become insignificant. When I decided to go to the Congo my life was in ruins, I hardly recognized the person I'd become, and was to the point where if I had died, I was sure no one would even have noticed. I'd made my peace with Abby, and while things between us weren't perfect, we had at least become friends again. It took going to the Congo though for me to see just how much things had changed between John and I.

I'd worked in a war-zone before, I'd seen the devastation, the grief on the faces of parents as they held their bloodied children in their arms. I knew what it was like to work under the worst conditions you could imagine, with little to no sleep, but, you can't explain that to someone like Carter. The first time I saw him there, I knew he was shocked by the conditions, but, what was I supposed to say to him? It wasn't like it was going to get any better. It wasn't like he could buy a way to fix this. Then, after our encounter with the Mai Mai there was no doubt of he and the others leaving Matenda.

Saying good-bye, that day on the steps of the clinic, I think I knew it very well could be for the last time, but, I had my patients, and for the first time in far too long I felt like I was doing the right thing. I don't think any of us could have anticipated how much worse things would get, or the lives that would be lost in the process. More importantly, I never would have thought that John would endanger his own life to recover my body upon learning of my death.

My death. They thought I was dead, killed with so many others, Patrique among them. County had received the call, and for whatever reason ,John decided he had to come back back for me. He didn't have to, he didn't owe me anything, we weren't even friends, or so I thought, but, he put his own life in danger and he found us, Chance, her Mother, and I, in a filthy mud hut. I was barely clinging to life when he got there, in a day, maybe two I could well have been truly dead. Yet, there he was, and somehow, he convinced them to release us, and to this day I'll never know the how or why of it.

My relationship with John has never been the same since that day. I can now honestly say, he's my friend, and I owe him my life, and so much more, and I have no idea how I will ever repay him for all that he gave me when he gave me back my life.

Friday, April 17, 2009

45.1: Home/On The Couch



"Luka, you are not giving him a paintbrush." It took every ounce of willpower in her for Abby not to stop what she was doing to prevent just that as she saw Joe hovering close to Luka while he readied the paint for the living-room wall.

"He'll be fine, I'll give him a bath when we finish. Right, Joe, you want to help Tata paint, don't you?" As he asked the question, Luka handed the 3 year old a small brush.

"Joe, paint." The boy gleefully waved the brush before eying the bucket in anticipation of what was yet to come.

"Oops, before we do that, we better put this on you." Reaching for the adult tee shirt that lay next to the bucket, Luka pulled it over his son's head, only to smile as he saw that it very nearly touched the floor on him.

"Maybe I should have used one of yours instead of mine." He joked as he shot a glance to Abby all while still keeping his eye on their son.

"Funny. You do realize we're planning to be in this home for some time, are you sure you want his handiwork on the walls? I can find something else to keep him busy." Abby couldn't hold back the grimace as Joe got closer to the paint.

"Abby, you worry too much, we've got it covered. Isn't that right, Joe? Let's get you some paint." Guiding his son's brush into the bucket, Luka put just enough paint on it to allow him to feel like he was helping before dipping his own.

"Okay, Joe, paint just like Tata, up and down, back and forth." He guided the toddler through several cycles before coating his brush a final time and turning him loose on a section of wall.

"Up, down." Joe echoed his father's words as he slapped the paint on the wall before him, oblivious of the paint that dripped onto his hand and down to the drop-cloth he stood on.

"Joe, paint." His smile spread rapidly across his face as he grew more confident with what he was doing and it wasn't long before he was even dipping his own brush.

"Good job, Joe." Luka reached over to ruffle the boy's hair as he offered the praise, who would have thought it would have gone so well.

The apartment in Chicago had always been his, people came and went, but this place, this was a home, a family lived here, and when people saw it, there would never be any doubt of that.

The End

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

April 001 Chicago At Night/ Artistic License



I killed a man tonight. And while I see death on an almost daily basis, I know this one will haunt me for the rest of my life. This wasn't a death I can write off to fate, or even injuries too severe for those of us treating him to stabilize. The truth is, this death was preventable. Tonight's death came at my hand, and for one single reason. I lost it.

Abby and I had gone out for the evening and instead of taking a cab after dinner, we went walking down by the river. Out of nowhere we were attacked by this mugger and I remember hitting the ground. When I came to, Abby was screaming and I went after him, but, instead of simply stopping him, I laid into him, sending him to the ground. It wasn't enough that I hit him, or that I kept hitting him, I also shattered his skull by repeatedly pounding his head against the pavement. If Abby hadn't stopped me I'd have killed him right there, I'm sure of it, as it was, they ended up taking him to the hospital, but, it was too late, his brain was already mush.

I came to America, to Chicago to find myself and hopefully start a new life, but, now I wonder if that's even possible. Do I want to know the person capable of this? Maybe the bigger question should be, will anyone else here want to have anything to do with me once the word gets out about it? Who knows what it might take to make me snap again. What if it were to happen at work, or worse, to someone I knew? My God, what kind of an animal does this make me?

I look at this City and I think I could disappear into it so easily, but, the truth is, I never could because the one person I most need to escape from is myself. Maybe Niko was right, maybe I am running away. Maybe my not being able to deal with all that happened back home is only going to keep building up in me until I'm left with these unexplainable rages that I can't control. How am I going to be able to live like this? It's not like I can justify my actions, so, what do I do? Run away again? What would that accomplish? Do I find yet another place to bury this as I've tried to bury so many other things in my past that I'm not ready, or not able to face? I don't know how much more of this I can take before it's too much.

As much as I know it's not possible, I still find myself clinging to that thread of hope, and so, I close my eyes and I wish, no I pray for that miracle that will make all of this go away. I pray for that miracle that will give me back those I've lost and the life that we used to have, but, it never does. No matter how often I try, I open my eyes and I'm left instead with the view of the City and all of those hopes that I fear will never be fulfilled.

The End

Night Out Part 7/ Revised



Albert Falbrizzo remained silent for a long moment, truth was he was taking perverse pleasure in watching the woman's anxiety rise the longer he delayed her. Finally, he released a smile and lifted the gun from Luka's chest.

"All right, but, I want his wallet and cell phone before you do anything." He remained close as the small woman rushed to the unconscious man's side, dropping to her knees she fished through his pockets.

"Take them." She handed first her husband's phone, then his wallet upward, they were just things, none of them mattered as much as he did.

"Luka...come on, time to wake up." Abby dipped one of the napkins in the water before wiping the blood from his brow. When her actions prompted a soft moan from him as consciousness returned, she couldn't stop the smile from surfacing.

"That's it, you're all right." She applied even pressure to the gash, only to find she had to fend off his hands as he tried to stop her.

"No..." He started to sit, then groaned as she put her hand on his shoulder, pushing him back.

"Stay still for a minute, let me look you over." With Luka awake Abby felt a weight lift, the first hurdle was cleared, she held two fingers in front of his face.

"How many fingers?" As she waited for his response she gauged the size of his pupils, looking for differences in the size that might further indicate a head injury.

"Two." Luka raised his hand again, intending to rub his eyes only to find his efforts stopped yet again.

"I have a headache." He offered the complaint as if that might sway her.

"I'm sorry, but, you need to keep your hand down, I mean it." Her tone held a threat of implied violence, though both knew none would follow.

"What happened?" For the first time Luka looked past Abby, and as he caught sight of the man with the rifle he again started to sit up.

"Luka, stop, just lay still." Abby barely got the warning out before Albert intervened.

"He wants to sit up, the two of you can join the others, he's a big guy, he looks like he can handle it." Moving to Luka he grabbed his arm, yanking him to his feet before Abby could protest.

"Come on, let's go."

to be continued...

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Night Out Part 6/ Revised



"I need a towel, a napkin, something to stop the bleeding." Abby forced herself to look away from Luka long enough to try and get what she needed to address his visible injuries. "Please?"

"Get it yourself, but, you try anything, just remember first I kill him." As if to bring home his point the man moved closer.

"Then that little blond girlie there." He glanced fleetingly to the still crying teen before returning his full attention to Abby, who had yet to move from her husband's side.

"Now, if you're going to get something you'd better get what you need, this is the only time you're moving except for when you go back and join the others over there." He used the gun as a pointer, jerking it around toward the bar where his partners were busy tying up the other patrons and staff.

"All right, all right, just don't hurt him." Abby slid Luka's head from her knee and eased it back to the floor before scrambling to her feet. She only had one chance, what would she need for him? Her thoughts were racing, what if she missed something? Heading for the closest table she grabbed several napkins, then almost as an afterthought she began emptying the table of everything else so she could take the tablecloth as well. Once she had what she thought she'd need in hand, she looked back at the man who still hovered over Luka. God, it wasn't nearly enough, but, what choice did she have?

"I need to get a glass of water, for when he comes around, to clean the wound." She shifted the items in her arms as she pointed to one of the recently vacated tables, but remained where she was until she received his nod of approval.

"Get it, that's it though, you've stalled long enough." As if she needed a reminder of the risk he posed to Luka, he nudged the still unconscious Croat with the toe of his shoe, prodding him in the stomach.

"Don't." Abby the word was out before she could stop it and she quickly grabbed the closest glass of water before hurrying back to Luka's side.

"I wasn't going to do anything else, don't hurt him anymore." Before she could move her captor grabbed her arm, pulling her close enough that she could smell his breath.

"You don't tell me what to do." His finger's bit into her arm, causing her to yelp in pain. "You got me?"

"Yes." Abby nodded her assent, willing to say anything if it would get her to Luka's side sooner, this was taking too long, Luka needed her, and she needed to see to him.

"Please, let me see to him." She was willing to do whatever it took...

to be continued...