Dr.Luka Kovac looked around at the small
apartment, making sure that everything was ready. He had
harnessed his nervous energy and cleaned everything, scrubbing
even the walls, making everything shine. He had been careful to
pick furniture that she would like, with tiny flowers and ivy,
bright and light and feminine. The man at the furniture store had
raised an eyebrow at him, but said nothing. Luka hadn't cared-
they were coming home, and he was too happy.
He went into the girls' bedroom. The bunk beds were ready, with pink covers and dolls and teddy bears, the same for each daughter, to be fair. He had painted their names on the headboards, Marija on the top bunk, Nena on bottom He had wanted to do more, to buy more, to make up for the years they had missed- two years apart, two years lost- but now they would be together, and he would never leave them. That would be enough. He would beg in the streets before he ever left them for so long again.
He went into the other bedroom, were he would sleep with Jelena that night, for the first time in forever. He knew she would tease him, would remind him that he had once swore that he would never sleep on flowered sheets, that it wasn't "manly". But he was done with being manly, with being stoic- he looked forward to laughing and loving, together again. The doorbell rang, and he almost ran to get it. The roses had come- four dozen in all, in great bunches that he arranged in the living room and bedroom, the air quickly filling with their scent, her scent- and he willed time to go faster. It was still ten hours before their flight was due- ten unbearable hours. But the thought of the time after that filled him with joy.
The phone rang, and he froze for a moment, wondering if something had gone wrong, that they had missed their connection in Rome, that they were stranded somewhere.... But it was Kerry Weaver, asking for him to come in, to help- Dr. Greene and Dr. Finch had taken ill, she was desperate for help. "Even if you can only come in for a few hours," she pleaded "it would really be a life-saver."
Luka took a breath, and told her "I have to leave by five- I'm meeting some people at the airport." Even now he didn't want to tell anyone that his family was coming; he was too afraid to jinx everything. He wouldn't say anything until they were safe in his arms, safely together again.
As he rode the el, he thought of the past two years. They had decided together that he would go ahead to America, to get established, to make enough money for them to live. They knew that they couldn't live in Croatia any more, even though it was peaceful there now. They had lost too much in the Patriotic Wars, seen too much death and pain to want to stay. They dreamed of the 'good life' in America, never thinking it would take two long years for Luka to find a place where he was accepted, where his skills as a doctor would over come the xenophobia of the American doctors. If he had known- if Jelena had known- their decision would have been different. But now he had enough money- just enough, to get them here. It would be tough at first, he knew, but they would be together, together- the word danced in his mind, and he realized that he was beaming, his smile so broad it almost hurt. The old woman sitting across from him smiled back.
"You must be having a good day." she said as he got up to exit.
"The best," he answered, smiling even more. He felt so free, so light. Nothing would bother him today.
The er was filled with patients. It was as if all of Chicago had decided to descend on County General, each with the flu or a broken arm or some kind of pain that they felt needed tending. Luka practically breezed through their cases, setting limbs, getting work-ups on stomach pains and heart pains, telling at least a dozen people to just go home to bed, drink plenty of fluids, etc, etc. He hardly spoke to the other doctors- they were all just too busy- but he did hear Malucci say to one of the nurses, "What's up with Dr.Dark? He seems happy today."
Luka knew that he was usually stoic, aloof- but he had been alone then. Now they would be together again. He had paused at three o'clock, supposedly for coffee, but mostly to check the airline. Their flight was on time, everything was fine- just four more hours now....
By four, the crowd had disappeared; there were only two people in chairs, and Malucci and Carter could handle them. The rest had been admitted or sent home. Dr. Weaver came to find him.
"Thank you so much for coming in, " she told him. "You really did a great job."
"It was nothing, " he said modestly, "It helped me pass the time." He meant that sincerely. If he had stayed at the apartment- how many times can you scrub a sink? "I have to get to the airport now," he said, grabbing his coat.
"it's just after four, "Kerry said, "I thought you didn't have to go until five."
"It's ok if I leave?" he asked, "You can never be there too early..."
"Of course you can go." she replied. He was beaming again. "You must be getting someone important." she said, unable to hold in her own smile.
"The best, "he answered, "See you Monday." he finished, slipping out the door before she could ask him more; still superstitious.
He boarded the el, then checked his wallet. Plenty of money for a cab back for all of them. He took their picture from his wallet and let their images dance before his eyes. He couldn't wait to hear them, not on some phone halfway around the world, but right there, in his arms, in his life.
Luka got to the airport much too early- the flight wasn't due for almost two hours. He found the exit from customs, found a spot where he could see everything, where he wouldn't miss them. He realized he had had no lunch, nothing since breakfast except that one cup of coffee, so he went to the concourse and got some soup and crackers. He sat near the monitor, keeping an eye on the "Flight 110 Rome- On Time", eating too fast. Still too long to wait. He had his shoes shined, then bought a razor and shaving cream, and shaved in the men's room. He had to look right. He though of getting his hair cut, too, but by then it was six thirty, and he couldn't sit still. He went to the big windows and watched the planes taking off and landing, one after the other, so quickly that it worried him. Dear God, let nothing happen now, now that it was so close to the reunion time. He saw the sign for the chapel, and he quickly ducked in to say a quick prayer and to light a candle. He came out to see "landed" next to flight 110, and he thought he would be late, that they would be waiting.... He hurried to customs, straining to see in, but here was no one, not yet.
By seven fifteen, people had started to leave, the flow from the customs area a steady stream of travelers meeting friends and family in hugs of joy. But his family was nowhere to be seen. Could it be that they weren't there? They'd missed the flight, they couldn't call- or they were trapped in customs, Jelena trying to explain who they were, unable to find the papers that said they could stay forever... a million disasters played out in his head. He was pacing, concerned, almost frantic.
Then he saw them. Jelena was struggling with a huge suitcase and a pack; the girls each had a backpack and shoulder bag weighing them down. He could see them looking around, scared and alone, wondering where he was. Marija saw him first, whooping with glee, throwing down her bags and catapulting towards him. He scooped her up and held her tightly- too tightly.
"Daddy, you're squishing me!, " she gasped, and the words sounded so wonderful that he held her tighter still. Then he was with Jelena, embracing, kissing her forever, whole again.
Nena stood back, almost afraid of the father she could barely remember, hiding behind her mother. Luka understood-it had been too long; they would all have to learn about each other again. He held out his hand, smiling gently, and she took it, timidly, while Marija climbed onto his back. Jelena laughed and pulled Marija off. He felt he would burst with joy.
"Let's go home, " he said, rejoicing in the words he had longed to say for so long, whole again.
To part 2
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