A Fair Exchange – Part 1

By Pebbles

 

The first time that Luka clapped eyes on her was through the fly smeared windscreen of a beat up Landrover as it screeched to a halt in front of him. He had been on the verge of jumping clear as the vehicle threatened to mount the kerb but now his attention was entirely focused on the woman descending from the cab. His first impression was a confusion of strength and vulnerability. She was tallish, possibly 5’ 10”, and dressed in oversized mechanic’s overalls which were heavily impregnated with a mixture of oil, paint and smudges of what could have been mud or perhaps even manure? Her blonde hair was cut boyishly short. And yet, despite the masculine attire and firm grip of the hand, which reached out to take his in greeting – the strongest impression felt by Luka was of vulnerable femininity. It was the eyes, which spoke volumes. They seemed so large in her small, elfin face and deep like green forest pools. Luka realised that she was speaking to him and he had not heard a word. She was softly spoken and her English accent was tingled with a West Country bur.

 “God, I’m so sorry. Have you been waiting long? I thought I had ages but the lane was blocked by a load of sheep.and..I’m sorry I’m wittering on..You must be tired. I’m Melissa Stock…” her words trailed of, having begun confidently she began to look a little embarrassed. Luka smiled. “Hello, I’m Luka Kovac. I haven’t been waiting long but I was beginning to wonder if you were going to run me down!” He thought a little humour might help to lighten the mood but Melissa looked away and Luka could swear that she was blushing.  

“Well hop in then. It isn’t far. If you don’t mind I need to pick up some chicken feed on the way…” her voice trailed off and conversation was curtailed by the noise of the engine. Luka wasn’t sure what the regulations on vehicle roadworthiness were like in England but he found it hard to believe such a wreck was allowed on the road. Black smoke belched out behind them as the Landrover roared its way up and down the narrow lanes. As they left the small town of Totnes behind Luka was again struck by the lush green-ness of the English countryside. He had landed at London Heathrow at dawn and taken the train west towards Devon. In the late October sunshine the whole landscape had appeared to be turning golden brown as autumn took it’s hold but here in Devon the colours were still dominantly green. Grass spilling out from the banks on either side of the road brushed the car as it swept by.


Melissa kept her eyes mostly on the road but from time to time she sneaked a quick sideways glance at her passenger. He was not at all what she’d expected. In fact if he had not been the only passenger left at the railway station surrounded by his baggage she would never have guessed he was waiting for her. When the receptionist from the Kingsbridge Health Centre had phoned last week asking if she had a cottage to let for 3 months to an American doctor on exchange she had never imagined anyone so young, so tall – well to be perfectly honest - so drop dead gorgeous! All the doctors at the Health Centre were middle aged, ordinary family men and women. Very nice and good at their jobs – especially Dr Hughes who had taken his wife and children to the States for the exchange. But nothing to set your pulse racing. She gathered from Mrs Millicent, the receptionist, that there had been a last minute change in plan as the American doctor who was supposed to swap jobs, homes etc with Dr Hughes had become ill and dropped out. This Dr Kovac was a replacement. He didn’t even appear to be an American at all.
 

“So where about in the States do you come from, Dr Kovac?” She finally broke the silence.
“ Well latterly from Chicago but I have travelled around quite a lot. Please, you can call me Luka” Melissa noticed how his smile lit up his eyes.
“But you’re from Europe aren’t you? Originally?”
“Yes, Croatia.” He sighed.
 

Their conversation was interrupted as Melissa swung the Landrover into a muddy farmyard. Turning off the engine she jumped down to the ground. Luka noticed that her feet were clad in wellington boots as she squelched across the yard and in through the barn doors. Moments later she was back with a paper sack of animal feed slung over her shoulder. With one fluid motion she heaved it into the back amongst Luka’s luggage. She was obviously used to manual labour. Perhaps she and Mr Stock are farmers thought Luka. He realised that there must be a Mr Stock as Melissa was wearing a thin gold wedding ring. He was at a loss for how to restart their brief conversation but there was no need. Melissa announced “Well here we are”. They had been descending into a hidden valley now for half a mile. The lane had become so narrow that the foliage in the hedges brushed both sides of the vehicle. At last it widened slightly before ending in a shallow valley. 

 ‘Merrifield’ was the only property in sight and what a sight! The house, built of solid stone, rose up out of the bedrock and groaned under the weight of climbing roses, honeysuckle and wisteria, which threatened to overwhelm it. A courtyard garden was filled to overflowing with a riot of late flowering cottage garden plants. The air was full of bees taking in the last of the season’s nectar. Flanking the house on three sides were a range of rustic stone barns – one of which had been recently converted to a self-contained cottage, which was where Luka was destined.


Alone in his new ‘home’ – Melissa had excused herself mentioning her son’s immanent arrival home from school – Luka gathered his thoughts. A week ago he had never dreamt that he would be leaving the States - for England of all places. Craig Barton was all set to travel when at the last minute he had suffered a ruptured appendix. He was making a good recovery but obviously someone else would have to take his place. Luka could not believe it when Kerry Weaver suggested he put himself forward. It had seamed ridiculous at first - he had not practised family medicine since before the war in Croatia – but things had been turning sour at County since his run in with Benton. He was finding it increasingly hard to stomach the frequent shoot out victims, attempted suicides and all the other sad flotsam and jetsam that the city threw at them. He had been at the point at handing in his notice when this opportunity arose.
 

So he had taken the plunge. Perhaps Kerry was right. It was better than just handing in his notice and going on the road again. He could treat it like a sabbatical and take up where he left off at County in three months time. Already the beauty of the country was acting like a balm to his troubled psyche and he found himself humming as he unpacked and put away his things. The cottage was small but comfortable. The views out over the old apple orchard to the meadows beyond were like a picture postcard and, opening the French- windows Luka stepped outside to smell the air and watch the last rays of the sun as it went down behind the hillside.  

“Hello!” Luka was startled by a small child’s voice and, turning, came face to face with a small golden haired boy of about six who was perched in the apple tree beside him. “Hi, I’m Luka, what’s your name?” Luka smiled at the child whose hair was a mass of ringlets falling around a sun tanned cheeky face. “Mikey. You’re a doctor aren’t you?” Not waiting for an answer the boy swung down from the tree landing like a cat at Luka’s feet. “You’re very tall!” he observed squinting up at Luka “Mummy says I’m going to be tall when I grow up. I’m the tallest in my class you know and my feet are the biggest. I’ve got a dog called Baggins. He’s big too. Bet you can’t do this” Mikey broke off from his monologue to draw breath and then proceeded to attempt a handstand. After several unsuccessful attempts he finally balanced himself up against the trunk of the apple tree and a broad grin wreathed his face. “See! Told you I could do it!” Luka was not to be beaten - the challenge had been laid down. Placing his hands amongst the grass at the foot of the tree he swung his legs skyward. For a moment he wobbled precariously and then his shoulders, hips and knees found alignment in a perfect freestanding handstand. “Wow! You’re even bigger upside down!” Luka laughed “So are you, Mikey!” and they both collapsed to the ground in a fit of giggles.  

“Mikey! It’s time to come in!” Melissa’s voice carried across the orchard.
“Mikey! Oh, there you are. I hope he’s not making a nuisance of himself Dr Kovac?” Melissa frowned as she observed the dishevelled state of Luka’s attire. Grass and leaves were stuck to his jumper and there was a small twig entwined in his hair. Instinctively she reached up to remove it but, meeting Luka’s quizzical gaze, she hesitated and withdrew her hand. “You…. You’ve got some stuff in your hair..” she explained and then went on
“I was wondering if you would like to join us for supper – you haven’t had a chance to sort anything like shopping out yet have you? This remark she addressed to his feet as looking into his face was making her feel breathless, hot and flustered. Something she hadn’t felt for a very long time.
 

“Well thank you very much. I should like that and thank you for the provisions that I have found already in the kitchen. You are very thoughtful, thank you.” Luka realised he was gushing but he felt quite light-headed in her presence. It must be her perfume, he thought, filling his senses with its sweet allure. He could not help noticing that she had changed. The grubby overalls were gone. Replaced with a simple floral skirt wrapped around her long slender legs like a sarong and topped off with a white fluffy jumper cropped short at the waist and slashed at the neck revealing a pair of the most beautiful collar bones that Luka had ever set eyes on. He felt a strong urge to stoop and plant a trail of kisses across that seductive neckline!  

“Dr Luka, do you want to see my cars?” Mikey interrupted his erotic thoughts. “You’ve got more than one?” chuckled Luka being deliberately obtuse. “Cause I have, silly” “Mikey don’t be rude!” Melissa swiftly admonished. “Sorry Mum.”

They walked together across the orchard to the house. Luka wondered when he was going to meet Mr Stock. He was a lucky fellow to have such a beautiful wife and child and a home like out of a fairy tale. Luka could not pretend that he didn’t feel a pang of jealousy. 

Before they had a chance to get into the house Mikey persuaded Luka to take a quick detour to view his collection of cars in the hayloft. Melissa excused herself to put the finishing touches to the meal. The floor of the loft had been painted out to make a landscape of patchwork fields bisected with winding lanes along which Mikey ‘drove’ his little toy cars. In one corner a farmyard scene was laid out and in another a fire station. “Mum makes me keep all my noisy cars out here” Mikey demonstrated why with a loud screeching of sirens. “And my Daddy gave me all these” he added waving his arm expansively over a collection of very shiny sports cars. “This ones a Ferrari and this is a Jaguar,” After Mikey had correctly introduced his entire collection Luka took the plunge.

“And where is your Daddy now?”   

 “My Daddy’s an Angel.” Mikey answered brightly and continued to push his toy cars around the floor adding his own engine noises and conversation between the various vehicles. Luka sat back on his heels and watched staggered by the child’s bald statement. He was not sure how he felt about this bombshell but he was very aware of a quickening of his heartbeat.     

To part 2

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