CHOICES
PART VI by Laney


Adele spent a restless night, tossing and turning, her mind a constant rush
of questions with very few answers.  Her day started out badly as well, with
a report of an escape the night before by one of the runaways who, although
caught, would still result in days of investigations, reports to be filed
and no doubt recriminations from many sources.  By lunchtime, her head ached
and she was having a hard time maintaining her usual relaxed self.  Luka
tapped at her office door; surprised that it was closed.  He found her
huddled over her keyboard, looking tired and irritable.

“Hi, thought I would see if I could take you to lunch.  I have to work late
tonight, so it’s now or never, or at least not until tomorrow.”  Adele hadn’
t stopped working, hadn’t even looked at him.  He came around the desk,
gently turned her chair and knelt down before her.  “What’s wrong?” he said,
his hands on her knees searching her face, concern etched on his own.  “I
don’t think I’ve ever seen you upset before.  Did something happen?”  She
melted immediately.

“No, I’m Ok, just tired and we’ve had an escape.  You know what that means.
We got the kid back, but it will take weeks to get through all of the red
tape.”

“You look exhausted.  Come, let me take you to lunch.”

“I can’t, Luka, thanks, but I really have a lot I have to get done.”  He
conceded and stood to go, stopping to brush his lips against hers.  He was
almost to the door when he remembered the other thing he needed to talk over
with her.  He hesitated, not wanting to add to her problems but to him this
was of vital importance so he returned to the desk and sat in a chair across
from her.  This time she stopped and turned to look at him.

“I have to stay late tonight and it’s Tuesday.  Please Adele, don’t go see
Donnie tonight alone, find someone to go with you.”  She gave a pained sigh;
they had this discussion every time it happened that Luka couldn’t be there
with her.  He hated for her to go by herself and their discussions had
become more heated at each occurrence.  She was definitely not in the mood
to go through this again with him.

“Luka, let’s not argue about this now, please.  I’m tired and have too much
to do.  I don’t have time to find someone to go with me.  I’ll be fine.  I
take mace with me and I can run like the wind if I have to.  Please, not
now, not today,” she pleaded with him.  He didn’t budge, just continued to
stare at her.

“How many times have you shown up that he hasn’t?  How many times have you
missed?  Just this once, that’s all I’m asking, or find someone to go with
you.  I’ll find you someone if you want.  Anything to keep you from going
alone.”

“I can’t show up with a different person each week, you know that.  He
accepts you, but he wouldn’t trust just anyone.  I have to go Luka, this is
all about being there for him and not expecting anything in return.  It’s Ok
if he doesn’t show every time, but it’s my job to be there.”

“Everyone misses their job now and then.  Come on, he has to understand
that.”  They had been through every angle of this discussion many times
before and she couldn’t do this right now, her head was throbbing and she
knew that she couldn’t keep her temper in check, she was struggling to stay
in control as it was.

“Alright, alright, I’ll take someone with me,” she said finally in defeat.
“Just this once and then we talk about this again.”  Luka nodded, and stood
to go.

“Promise?”  She was angry with him now, angry that he had forced her to
this, and now he wanted a promise, as if she couldn’t be trusted.

“I promise.”  He leaned across the desk to kiss her again.  It was all she
could do not to turn her head.  It was almost as though the entire scene
were a continuation of her discussion with Haleh from the day before.  Here
was her worst nightmare in operation, Luka asking, no demanding that she
change for him, and she was powerless to say no, to say no would surely
damage what they had.  And so she was giving up a piece of herself to him,
and wondering where it would stop, and what of herself would be left when it
did.

She tried to concentrate on work after he left, but her anger festered and
kept her from reaching for the phone to call someone to go with her.  She
knew that this was a childish thing to do.  She had promised him, but he had
pushed her into it and so she felt him to be equally at fault.  As wonderful
as he was at listening to her and trying to understand, this was one of
those areas where they had failed to find common ground.  She had tried to
explain to him how important Donnie was to her, her fears that someone would
find out, turn him in and he would be gone.  Luka would shake his head, say
he understood, but would still insist that she not go alone to see him.  Of
course, she hadn’t told Luka the whole story so maybe she couldn’t blame him
entirely, but she wished he could be more perceptive, to see how strongly
she felt and let go of this one. For someone as empathetic and caring as he
was, he seemed to have blinders on when he looked at her.

At almost the last moment she called her brother James, explained the
situation and told him when she would be by to pick him up.  James was a
preacher so she doubted that he would have a problem with what she was
doing.  She had told him how important it was that they be on time and then
had to rush herself to make it.  When she got to his house she found a note
pinned to his front door apologizing for not being there.  A parishioner had
had a heart attack and he was off to the hospital.  He asked her to pick him
up there, said he would go with her once he had spoken with the family.
Adele stood on his wide front porch surveying the neighborhood where they
had both grown up, wondering if she could ever bring herself to leave this
place.  This was home in ways that drove deep to her soul.

She had always known what she wanted in life as Kate had reminded her.  She
could have veered from this path many times, the lawyer that wanted to marry
her and take her to Hawaii, the artist that offered the carefree existence
of a vagabond, the offer to operate a halfway house for children in New
York.  But she had made a commitment to these kids, not just any kids, these
kids and they were like her own.  She couldn’t fail them and she wouldn’t.
She pushed herself off of the porch, glancing at her watch as she bounded
down the steps.  She would have to hurry to get there before Donnie.

She made her usual call to Luka on her return, trying to decide what to say,
whether to tell the truth or not.  She had wanted to explain what happened
and hope for the best but their relationship was still on callow ground.
They had never had a real argument and after the day’s events, Adele didn’t
think she could face one tonight.  She didn’t know if he would blow up, or
even worse grow cold and silent.  She doubted seriously that he would accept
it.  She made her decision the moment she heard his voice say hello, he
sounded as tired as she felt.  She told him that her brother had gone with
her, that everything had been fine and hung up the phone quickly, saying as
little as possible.  He would probably put it down to his having forced her
to take someone with her.

She tried to sleep, but couldn’t.  She saw the hours tick by on the clock,
each one bringing her wider-awake, and filling her up with more aching
guilt.  At 2am she could take it no more, threw on some clothes and headed
for Luka’s house.  She tapped lightly on the door, having lost her nerve
once she arrived, thinking that he would never hear her and she could just
leave as she had come, burdened with her guilt, which was exactly what she
deserved.  But the door flew open, a yawning and disheveled Luka on the
doorstep, reaching out, dragging her over the threshold, pulling her to him.
He held her tightly for a moment, then at arms-length so that he could
observe her.

“Are you all right?  What is it?”  He bent close so that he could look
directly in her eyes, searching her face for signs of illness or injury, why
else would someone come out in the middle of the night like this?  She stood
shivering before him, no jacket, just a thin T-shirt and sweats.  She had no
makeup on, he doubted that she had even combed her hair, and she looked
irresistible, perfect to him in every way.  Her eyes had filled with tears
and a few had spilled onto her cheeks, the sight of which completely tore
him up.  He pulled her to him again stroking her hair, then led her to the
living room, and gentled her onto the couch, the one piece of furniture in
the room, solitary, except for the piles of books that had collected in one
corner and the TV sitting on a box in the other.  The change seemed to have
calmed her finally.  She pushed away from him, wiped her eyes and confronted
him, resolve and apprehension written across her face.

“I lied to you, Luka.  My brother was called away on business at the last
minute and I went to see Donnie anyway.  I couldn’t tell you on the phone.
I thought I would tell you tomorrow, when we would both be rested and I
could make you understand why I had to go.  But I couldn’t wait, I felt so
bad.  And I am really angry too, that I should have to feel bad.  Why can’t
you just see it my way, just this once?  Why do I have to be the one to give
in?”  She thought she sounded like a petulant child and bit her lower lip to
stem the tide of words that was threatening to spill out.

Luka had said nothing, was watching her, but she could see in his eyes his
hurt and disappointment.  There was something else there too, doubt, and a
sudden fear crashed through her.  Before her eyes she could feel him backing
away, realizing as he did that she loved him.  Why did it always have to
work like that, you understood what you had right when you lost it?  “I
haven’t lost him yet though,” she thought.  He was still there before her,
stiff and unyielding now, where only moments before he had been so tender
and loving.  She had lied to him, something that he would probably find
unforgivable, with that old-fashioned set of values he wore around him like
a banner.  He jumped to open doors for ladies, offered up his seat on the
El, judged people by moral and ethical mores of decades ago.  They had yet
to sleep together, not from lack of desire by any means, but because Luka
had told her that to him, it meant something, it meant that they had made a
commitment.

This had impressed her, she had never met a man that felt even remotely that
way, all of her boyfriends had had one thing on their mind from the first
date.  There were many times when it was Adele who had kept Luka true to his
belief however, he was definitely a man, even if old fashioned.  She reached
to touch his cheek, noticing that he flinched slightly as she did.  She had
hurt him deeply.  “I’m so sorry,” was all she could think to say.  She
tucked her feet under her and rose slightly on her knees before him, kissing
him softly first, then more ardently as she felt him respond.  When the
moment was right, she pushed him back against the couch and straddled his
lap, their kisses growing ever more passionate.  This time she wouldn’t stop
him, she knew and she knew too that he would be powerless to stop himself,
she would make sure of it.

For the first time in years, Luka needed the alarm clock to wake him.  He
had always set it out of habit, but was up, oftentimes hours before it went
off, sleep came to him so fitfully, usually dream laden and tormented.  This
morning he was dead to the world when it sounded in his ear.  As he reached
to shut it off he encountered Adele’s sleeping form still curled in his arm,
soft and warm against his side.  He watched her in the half-light filtering
through the blinds, wanting to touch her but not wanting to wake her.  He
could have stayed like this all day, watching her.  He was afraid that if he
moved, she would disappear, like a dream.

He wasn’t happy how this had happened.  He had plans for when they would be
together, if it should ever come to pass.  He knew how he felt about Adele,
had known since that first day when they had visited Jake at the school, but
he wasn’t sure how she felt.  He was inexperienced in some senses of the
word where women were concerned, but he knew what was important to him.
Adele had not been what he thought he would have wanted, he was old
fashioned, she was anything but.  But standing there in the parking lot that
first day, he couldn’t imagine anyone more interesting, more exciting, more
full of life and love.

Their differences were many and with that thought came the remembrance of
last night, how they came to be together here in his bed this morning.  A
moment of doubt wormed its way into his happiness and Luka must have let a
sigh pass his lips.  Where the alarm hadn’t wakened her, that sound did.
Adele’s eyes fluttered open to find him gazing at her.  She could see the
remnants of that doubt still in his eyes, even though a smile crossed his
face.  He moved to kiss her, but she put her hand to his lips to stop him as
she whispered, “I love you, Luka.”  She had said it the night before in the
throes of passion, but she wanted him to hear it now and believe that it was
true.  He kissed her forehead, her eyelids, the tip of her nose and finally
her lips.  The alarm bleated again, he had missed and hit the snooze,
instead of the off button.  He reached over, pulled it from the wall and
tossed it across the room.

“Would you mind if we were late to work today?”  She pulled him to her by
way of an answer.

Luka had been late once because he had been ill, and a few times when he had
been helping Carol with the girls.  This was the first time he was late for
no good reason, well no good to anyone in charge.  He breezed in almost an
hour after he was supposed to be on, smiled at Kerry, waved at Haleh.  Haleh
knew instantly what was going on, she was no spring chicken either.  Kerry
was unsure, perhaps her powers of observation were clouded by her managerial
instincts, which wanted to reach out and wipe the smile off of her tardy
employee’s face.  Instead she sicked Mark on him, told him to find out what
was going on and if it wasn’t a very good excuse, she would be sure to give
him a lecture.  Mark marveled at her naivete.  Did she really think that he
would turn Luka in, subject him to a lecture from Kerry?  Between the two of
them they could come up with an acceptable excuse for a happy, healthy man
to be late to work.

He met up with Luka in the break room.  One look at the other man’s face and
he had a pretty good idea what had transpired.  He congratulated Luka,
clapped him on the back and asked what had taken him so long.  Luka dropped
onto the couch; sat back, looking pensive while Mark filled a cup with
coffee and wondered how long Kerry would give them to think up a story.  The
truth sure wasn’t going to work.  He noticed that Luka all of a sudden
looked like someone had taken the wind out of his sails.  He settled on the
other couch and asked, “What’s the matter?  Don’t tell me the honeymoon is
over already?”

“We’re so different, Mark.  I don’t know, maybe too different?” Luka began
slowly, but once talking about it was able to put into words what was
bothering him.  “There are times when we are so in sync, that I can’t
imagine anything coming between us and then something happens and I realize
that there is so much we haven’t talked about or dealt with.  There are so
many things that we have just skirted around the edges of, that I know are
huge and important issues.  I can’t stop thinking that they will end up
tearing us apart.”  Mark disagreed.  He and Elizabeth had spent time with
Adele and Luka.  He couldn’t imagine two people more in tune with each
other.  Their differences only seemed to make them closer, respectful of
each other.  He hadn’t seen any of the clawing and gnashing that so many
couples who disagreed displayed.  Maybe Luka was just out of practice, had
forgotten some basic principals of relationships.

“You’ve been married before, and I will hazard a guess that it was a happy
marriage?”  Luka nodded.  “Do you remember what the most important part of a
relationship is, I mean, aside from sex, of course?”  Luka shrugged his
shoulders and shook his head “no”.  He had never analyzed his marriage, he
had been far too busy during it, and when it was gone, it hurt too much to
think about for the longest time.  When he finally could think about it
again, everything in his memory was flawless, he had let go of the bad
thoughts, had kept only the good, and had lionized those to the point where
everything had been better than perfect

Mark found it amusing that he was advising Luka on relationships, he who had
so far managed to mess up almost everyone he had had.  Luckily he could
still say almost.  But advise he did.  Chalk it up to hard lessons learned.
“It’s something that I was never very good at, which is probably why I’m no
longer married.  It’s called compromise, how to strike that balance that
doesn’t require you to lose yourself completely in a relationship, but still
you’re willing to give up parts of yourself to maintain the whole.  You have
to pick your battles and be willing to lose even the important ones
sometimes.  Ask yourself if you’re willing to do that for Adele.  And ask
her if she’s willing to do that for you.”  He stood and left the other man
to his thoughts, realizing as the door closed behind him that he had no
excuse thought out for Kerry and he had better come up with something quick
if he were going to save Luka.

To part 7

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