The continuation of REUNION
Dr Luka Kovac stood with his newly reunited
family at the O'Hare Airport cabstand, mulling over what to do.
The cabs all seemed too small to hold his entire family and their
bags. He didn't want to go in separate cars- didn't want to be
apart so soon. Then a van showed up, paged by on of the cabbies.
"Don't worry, mon," the driver said with a Caribbean accent, "I'll get you home."
Jelena buckled the girls in while Luka and the cabbie loaded the bags. "What's in here, mon? You got enough stuff for a lifetime."
"Exactly," Luka replied. He gave their destination, and then climbed in. He had to pause, to kiss his daughters once more. Marija hugged him readily, kissing him many times. She had always been "his" girl, he was the one who had been able to soothe her when she was colicky, had been the one she had turned to. The bond between them had grown tighter when Jelena had been forced into bed rest while she was pregnant with Nena. Marija even looked like her father, with straight black hair and deep blue eyes, his nose, his mouth. Jelena often said that he should have been the one to carry and deliver her, since Marija had obviously gotten nothing from her mother.
Nena was different. She was her mother in miniature, her hair curly and dark, her eyes so deep they were almost black, but with the same sparkle that lit his heart. She returned her father's kisses, but hesitantly, only because she felt she had to. She had been only two when he had left; suddenly he realized that he had missed half her life, and he kissed her again, to apologize, promising not to leave ever again. He knew it would take time to regain her trust. But now they had plenty of time....
Luka buckled himself in next to Jelena. "We're in the back seat again, " she whispered to him, her eyes flashing, reminding him of past backseats. They had been too small, too, but they had managed.... He smiled knowingly and pulled her closer, needing her touch, her scent, just her, near him. He felt as he had on their first date, excited, nervous, oh, so very happy....
Marija was talking to her sister, and he paused to listen. At six- almost seven- you know everything, he thought.
"We should speak English," Marija was saying, "So people understand us. It's rude to say things that other people can't understand." Jelena must have taught them, he realized, knowing they would come one day; she wanted them to be ready.
Marija was still talking. "And you must give Papa extra hugs and kisses. We had each other but Papa was all alone, and sad. We have to kiss his tears away." Marija was speaking, but he knew they were her mother's words. Luka hugged Jelena tighter; even half-way around the world she had heard his despair, had known how much he had missed them.
"But he's so--big." Nena whispered. He had forgotten how large he was; he must have seemed a giant to his tiny daughter.
"He's big so that he can protect us," Marija replied matter-of-factly, "He can hold us in his arms and keep us safe." A chill went through Luka- he knew that she was remembering the park, when the bombs had come suddenly out of the blue sky. Luka had sheltered her against the blasts, shielding Marija's small body with his own. They had been unhurt, but others weren't so lucky. Afterwards, he had been torn between his duties as doctor and as father, needing to help the injured but needing to protect his daughter, too. He shuddered as he remembered what she had seen. Jelena read his thoughts, and squeezed his arm, then leaned forward to soothe Marija's hair.
"Look at the city, " Jelena told her, wanting to change the subject, forget that time. The girls looked out in awe as they sped down the highway. The train ran by, in median of the highway.
Then they turned into the city itself, through the valley of the buildings. The girls were awestruck, wondering at the size of everything, the shear volume of it all. They drove past County General hospital and Luka proudly pointed out where he worked.
"Can I visit you there?" Marija asked excitedly.
"Perhaps one day, "he answered.
And then they were there- their new home. Luka had picked a quiet street, lined with small apartment houses, clean and inviting, and perhaps most important, close to the el. Someday they might buy a car, but for now, they were used to walking, to taking the train or the bus, and money could only go so far...
"We're on the second floor," Luka explained, pulling out the giant suitcase and all the smaller bags. He wondered how Jelena had managed the bags and the girls and the planes- she continued to amaze him.
The cabbie offered to help, and Luka accepted gratefully. Nena was clinging to Jelena, and it struck him that she must be tired; hungry, too. In his joy he had forgotten that they had been flying all day. The cabbie helped them to the elevator; Luka paid him and tried to give him a tip, but the man refused.
"Use it on your family," the man told him, his accent thick. "I know how it is to have been apart." And the cabbie disappeared out the door, smiling at his own memories of reunion.
The small elevator creaked up one floor. Jelena was holding Nena now, and Marija had caught hold of his hand, squeezing as if she would never let go, beaming up at him. He had to let go too soon; the ride was too short. He pulled the bags off the elevator, leaving some there while he opened the apartment door. The smell of the roses wafted out as he flicked on the lights.
"Welcome home, " he said, tears welling up in his eyes. Jelena hugged him with her free are as Nena stayed snuggled close to her neck.
"It's beautiful." she whispered, watching as Marija ran in, opening doors, finding the closet, the bathroom and finally the girls' room.
"Mama-Mama look! Come see, Nena!" Jelena took Nena to see her room.
Luka brought the rest of the bags in and shut the door, locking it behind him. He leaned against it, feeling he could breathe again- they were all together, safe with him, as it should be. Jelena came out from the girls' room.
"It's wonderful, " she said, and he didn't know if she meant the room or the fact that they were together at last- then he realized it didn't matter. They embraced again, willing the years away, complete again.
Marija came flying into the room, running to them. "Papa, it's perfect! We love it!" and she threw herself at him again, just wanting to be with him.
Nena tugged at Jelena. "Mama, "she whispered, "I'm hungry and I have to go..."
"I'll make some sandwiches," Luka said, carrying Marija with him to the tiny kitchen while Jelena helped Nena. Marija helped him, getting the bread and pouring milk for herself and her sister. She was singing, an old folk song, light and happy. It was almost as if they had never been apart. Almost. She kept hugging him whenever she came near, as she said, kissing his tears away, healing the empty spots in his heart.
Nena still clung to Jelena, insisting on sitting in her lap to eat the simple meal, almost bewildered by her new surroundings.
"She's so tired, " Jelena told him, and she was speaking for all of them. It was ten already; the airport had taken so long.
"You need to go to bed, Miss Marija", Luka told his older daughter, "It's very late, and you've had a long day."
"But I haven't even seen American TV yet, " she whined, looking for an excuse to stay up.
"You'll have plenty of time for that. Come, I'll give you a quick bath first, and then to bed."
"I'd rather take a shower!"
"Whatever- lets go." He looked at her sternly, using the "Father Face" that he hadn't used in too long. Marija remembered it too, and she knew that all fooling around was done. She followed him to bathroom and he started the shower for her.
"I can do it myself," she informed him, so he left her to see to the others. Nena had fallen asleep in Jelena's arms, and her mother put her to bed in just her underclothes, tucking her in lovingly. Luka stood watching them, touched by the tenderness, regretting what he'd missed.
"She come around, "Jelena whispered to him, hugging him close. "It's all so-new to her." Luka nodded, a lump in his throat.
Marija padded up, wrapped in a towel but still dripping water everywhere. Luka scolded her gently while he dried her, unable to be angry. It was only water; it would dry. Jelena handed him Marija's nightgown, and Luka pulled it over her head, then lifted his daughter into bed, receiving more kisses. "Tell me a story, Papa," she pleaded, not wanting him to go. Luka smiled.
"There once was a princess, " he began, "Who lived in a land far, far away." It was the story he always told- her story.
"Was she beautiful?" Marija asked, on cue, remembering, too.
"Yes- very beautiful. She had black hair and blue eyes that danced when she smiled." Marija sighed and closed her eyes, content. She fell asleep before he could continue.
Luka stood staring at his sleeping children, hardly believing they were here, not wanting to let them out of his sight. He could hear Jelena in the shower, washing away the stress and the dust of the travel. He finally went out into the living room, turning off the lights and sitting on the couch, waiting for her.
"You look wonderful, " he said, holding back his tears. "I missed you so much." She sat next to him, curling into his side.
"It was so hard, " she said, and he realized she was crying, the stress of two years apart overwhelming her now that she was safe with him again, and he was crying, too. They held each other, healing themselves with their tears, releasing emotions each had kept in for too long.
"I'll never leave you again, " Luka promised, and Jelena knew that it was true. They stayed together on the couch, safe in each other's arms, too tired to move. They were awakened by Nena's crying; she was afraid of being in a new place. Jelena had heard her first- Luka had become unaccustomed to children crying in the night: his response was slow, but he went in too. Marija was awake now, as well, and so they all ended up together in his big bed, snuggled tight together, a family once more. Home.
To part 3
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