Missed Opportunities

part 3 by Jen



Luka woke to the sound of the radio news.  He opened his eyes and looked around him in confusion.  Where was the radio coming from?  Where was he? 

“Oh god, the alarm.”  Luka started at Anna’s voice.  She leaned across him and turned off the radio.  “Sorry,” she murmured. 

Luka turned to face her.  The long afternoon and night of holding her close came flooding back to him.  It had been real.  Before he could stop himself he took her face in his hands and kissed her warmly.  He felt her body relax next to him.  He pulled his face away.  “Good morning,” he said shyly. 

Anna went crimson.  “Good morning,” she whispered in a voice so low Luka wasn’t sure he even heard it.  He wrinkled his brow.  “Did you forget about me?”  Was that a bad idea, kissing her like that?

Anna smiled a little.  “No.  No, I just…didn’t know what to expect.” 

“Should I have left already? Should I not be here?” he asked awkwardly. 

“No!  Luka, no!”  She leaned in to kiss him.  Oh god, no, I’d die if you were gone when I woke up.  “I…I was just hoping you wouldn’t…regret waking up here,” she said looking down with a flush.  She could only guess at his ghosts and secrets. 

Luka hesitated just long enough for Anna to notice.  “No.  I don’t, Anna.  Do you?”

Anna’s blush deepened and she looked at a point over his shoulder.  “No.  No.”  Not exactly, she thought.  Just that it’s not likely to ever happen again now, and I regret that.

Luka watched her eyes move away from his face.  God, what a mess.  What have I done?  He sighed.  “What time is it, Anna?  I’m going to be late for work.” 

“Seven,” Anna replied without glancing at the clock, “the alarm always goes at seven.” 

 “I’m on at eight.  I should get up,” he said awkwardly.

“Sure,” Anna said. “I guess I should too.” 

Luka paused.  What exactly was protocol in this situation?  “I think I have to shower here, Anna.  Can I do that?  I’ll never get to work on time otherwise.” 

“Of course.  I think the gray towel is cleaner.”  Anna kept focused on the point over his shoulder.  I can’t believe I slept with him, she thought.  What an idiot!  Now what am I supposed to say?  In spite of what this must look like, Luka, I’m actually a nice girl you can go out in public with and even though you have no reason to believe this I don’t usually bring men home like this and in fact I haven’t had sex in two years. Oh, and by the way I adore you.  So, ya wanna have dinner or something?

Luka hesitated.  There had to be something he could say to make her stop looking like that.  She was so sweet she didn’t deserve to look like that.  He hadn’t used her, he really hadn’t, she had to see that.  He wanted to take her hand and kiss her and ask if he could see her again but his hand wouldn’t move and his English had deserted him and his mouth wasn’t working anyway.  He sighed and rose from the bed.  “Don’t go away while I’m in there.  I don’t know how to get to the El from here.  I don’t know where I am, you know.”

Anna managed a laugh.  “So you’re my captive,” she said teasingly and instantly regretted her choice of words.  Be careful with this one, stupid!  But Luka just laughed awkwardly.  “Well, I’m not so helpless that I couldn’t just get a cab,” he told her.  He turned and walked towards the bathroom.  “I just wouldn’t want to come out and find you gone,” he said over his shoulder.  She wasn’t sure if she should believe that.

Luka turned on the shower stood under the spray for a long time, letting both happiness and regret wash over him.  The night had been like a dream, but it should never have happened.  He knew that.  He had known it from the minute it became too late to stop.  He had let a moment of weakness get the best of him.  He had used that sweet girl for some comfort.  He turned the water hotter, bowing his head under the spray.  Selfish, he thought.  The worst of it was, as the afternoon and evening wore on he found himself liking her more and more.  She was light and cheerful and quick to laughter and she made him feel comfortable and he could talk to her.  They had talked off and on throughout the evening, comparing graduate school and medical school, each thinking the other’s grass greener; about adjusting to Chicago and having to make new friends; later he had found the energy to ask her a little about her time in Croatia and they had talked very generally about Zagreb, where she had done most of her work, and the coast around Split, where she had taken holidays, the whole time her eyes pouring over his face watching for the shadows to return, before he gently changed the subject.  She tickled him and laughed and played around in bed and for a time he felt like a young man again and he heard himself laughing and the sound was almost unfamiliar to him and he liked her even more for having brought it out of him.

But he had hardly put his best foot forward.  He couldn’t imagine what she must think of him.  Still, he thought, wasn’t there something more there?  The soft night of whispering to her in the dark and holding her hand was more than sex.  It was warm and familiar as if he had known her for a long time.  Did she feel it as well?  I could like this girl.  If I hadn’t been such a fool, ruining it from the start like that.  Stupid.  I liked her from the first, I should have been more careful.  Taken my time.  Bought her coffee.  Bought her dinner.  Instead I went to bed with her.  Five years you’ve waited, almost ten since it mattered, you couldn’t wait a little more?  Stupid.  Stupid, and weak.  He was amazed he’d been so weak.  Sure, he’d been thinking about women since that day at the beach but hadn’t expected to fall into a woman’s bed at the first possible opportunity.  What had he been thinking?  He straightened up.  Let it be, Luka.  There’s plenty of time for regret later.  There are still a few minutes to steal with her, don’t ruin them.  Just let it be.

He looked at the shelf full of bottles in the shower.  Sunflower shampoo, kiwi conditioner.  Passion flower body wash with rosemary. Rose body wash.  Apricot body scrub. God, no wonder she smells so good, it’s a garden in here.  He had forgotten this about women, all the little bottles and fragrances and lotions that came with them.  When he and Marija moved into their first apartment she had taken over their bathroom with lotion and perfume and soaps.  For a woman who wore little or no makeup she had had a surprising collection of shampoo for this, conditioner for that, all of them lightly fragrant.  He used to like for her to shower first, and then Luka would walk into the bathroom when she was done and be hit by fragrant steam all around him.  The scent of her would envelop him and seep into his pores and hours later he would turn his head quickly and catch a small vestige of her.  How he had loved the smell of her.  Luka laughed a little to think of his shower now, his bar of Ivory soap and whatever shampoo was on sale.  Marija wouldn’t be happy with that.  He looked around Anna’s shower for a regular bar of soap.  Nothing, just the bottles on the shelf.  Worse than Marija, he thought, shaking his head.  Well, should I go to work smelling like passion flowers or roses, Luka thought.  He opened the rose bottle and smelled.  Nope, no way.  He tried the passion flower.  Barely better.  He sighed and lathered himself.  Maybe nobody will notice.

Anna lay in bed listening to the sound of the shower.  She stretched out and pulled the covers up to her chin.  The mattress was still warm where Luka had been and the scent of him was everywhere.  She looked up at the ceiling and shivered when she remembered his hands on her body.  She remembered the warmth of lying close to him, feeling his chest rise and fall under her.  His gentle voice in the dark.  The way his ghosts reached out and broke her heart.  She missed him already.  Oh god, I’m in way over my head, she thought.  I really like this guy.  What have I done?  God, what he must think!  Why did I do that?  I couldn’t have just dropped my bag on the couch and gone back outside?  That would have been so bad?  God he must think I’m a tramp.  For a good time call Anna.

Luka came out of the bathroom with a towel around his waist.  “You need soap,” he said, breaking into her thoughts.

“What?  Soap?  There’s a ton of stuff in there.  It’s in the bottles, I don’t use bar soap. Just look on the shelf.”

“Oh, I found them,” Luka answered.  “And now I smell like flowers. You need plain soap.”

Anna laughed.  “Sorry.  I’m sure nobody will notice, they’re pretty light.  I’ve just never needed plain soap before.”  I don’t bring men here all the time, really I don’t.  See, I don’t even have guy soap.

Luka was looking around for his clothes.  “Where’s my shirt?”

“In the living room I think.” Anna blushed.  She sighed and reluctantly climbed out of bed and headed for the bathroom.  “Don’t you sneak out while I’m in there,” she teased, but a small part of her wondered if he wouldn’t do just that.  Wondered how long it would take for regret to kick in.  She had believed him when he said it would.  She had watched the ghosts hover around him all afternoon, hanging in the shadows and corners of the room.  She felt that her presence had just barely kept them at bay, and now he would be alone with them.  Mornings were made for regret, and Luka struck her as particularly susceptible to it.  It wouldn’t surprise her at all to find him gone.  She only hoped that if he ever thought of her, he wouldn’t let regret win out completely over the pleasure she knew she had given him.

Luka was dressed and waiting for her when she came out of the shower.  She smiled in relief.  “Are you going to work?” she asked to break the awkward silence.

Luka stared at her in her oversized robe and wet hair.  Oh god she’s lovely he thought.  He coughed and looked at his watch.  “Yes,” he stammered.  “I might make it on time.  But I don’t know where I am, exactly.  I wasn’t really paying attention how we got here.”

“If you can wait five minutes for me to get dressed, I can walk you to the El.  It’s like five minutes from here. I have to go to the library anyway.  Might as well get an early start.”

“Thank you,” Luka answered.  He stared at his feet while she dressed.  Is she sorry, he wondered?  Does she want me to leave now?  Will she ever see me again?  How can I possibly fix this?

Anna shrugged into a pair of jeans and a cotton tee shirt.  “Archival research day,” she explained, twisting her wet hair into a clip.  “Never wear nice clothes on archival research day.”  She didn’t know what to say to him.  She wanted to say what a nice time she had, how she wanted to see him again.  That she thought he was special.  That she hadn’t used him just to have some fun in bed. That she wasn’t really like that, taking men home at the drop of a hat. That if she could do it differently now, she would.  Not that she expected him to believe that now.  He had gotten up and dressed so quickly, he clearly wanted to leave.  She busied herself collecting her lists of documents and articles she needed.  He was shifting his weight nervously.  Anna hurried, sensing he was eager to end their encounter. 

Luka smiled awkwardly.  “I’ll keep that in mind.”  Much to his surprise, he really liked this girl, but he didn’t know what he was supposed to do or say now.  If he was rusty at what to do in bed, he was woefully out of practice at what to do after.  He didn’t know what she was thinking.  He had come here purely out of desire, the same reason she had led him here, but was that all now?  They had shared such a pleasant night.  He could still feel her hand in his as she drifted off to sleep.  Did that mean something to her?  He looked to Anna for a clue, but she seemed to be closing inside herself now, not looking at him, gathering papers distractedly.  She wants me to leave, Luka thought dejectedly.  She’s sorry I came here.  She’s embarrassed again, ashamed, and I can’t hold her and tell her not to be this time.  He stuffed his hands in his pockets and wandered into the living room.  A minute later he heard Anna’s voice behind him.

“I just need to put down breakfast for the scardey-cat and we can go.”  Luka looked at her blankly.   “My kitten. Ten to one she’s under the couch.” 

Luka knelt down and looked under the couch.  A pair of tiny eyes stared back.  He laughed a little and straightened up.  “I thought you made her up,” he admitted.

“To get you to come in and shut the door?  Lucky for me I didn’t have to.  But I would have made her up if I had to,” Anna answered from the kitchen with a laugh.

Luka sighed.  She had just wanted some company for the night, and now the night is over.  Well at least I didn’t disappoint her.  Whatever the day is going to be, he thought, the night was delightful.  Let that be enough.  Isn’t that all I asked anyway?  So let it be.  He started when he felt an arm curl around his waist from behind.  Anna pressed her cheek against his back with unexpected tenderness.  Luka rested his hand on her forearm and they stood like that for a moment.  Luka drank in the feeling, storing it up so he could dole it out again for himself later, when Anna was gone and he was left alone.

“We should go,” he whispered, hating even as he said it to break the spell.  Anna kissed his back through his shirt.  “Okay,” she whispered back.

They walked together to the El stop, Anna stealing glances at him out of the corner of her eye.  She tried to read him, but his profile told her nothing.  She needed to see his eyes, but he had avoided meeting her gaze.  Well, that should tell you enough, Anna, she thought with a sigh.  You just scared off the nicest man you’ve met in a good long time.  They stopped at the coffee house on the way.  Luka ordered himself a chai and Anna laughed.  “Sorry, the sentiment is sweet, but my I need my caffeine,” she said, and ordered a latte.  On the El platform they sat next to each other in awkward silence.  Hesitantly, Luka took her hand.  Anna squeezed gently.  Luka squeezed back too hard, and leaned over to kiss the top of her head.  “I had a wonderful night,” he told her shyly.  I want to see you again, he thought.  Am I allowed to do that?  Will I remind you of something you regret?  Are you angry with me?  He didn’t know how to ask.  “Me, too,” Anna replied with a blush, leaning into him.  And not just the bed part, she thought, I want more of you than that.  Luka opened his mouth to say something, then changed his mind as the train rattled up.  They boarded together and rode in silence, holding hands.

“Here’s my stop,” Luka said.  Anna looked at him, and he finally looked straight back.  He smiled a half smile and leaned down to kiss her softly.  “Anna,” he whispered.  “Thank you for such a lovely night.  I…” his heart was pounding and the doors were opening.  She put a hand on his neck and held him close, kissing him hard.  “I…Luka…oh, have a good day, Luka.”  Luka freed himself from her kiss and stuck an arm in the doors to hold the train, never taking his eyes off her face.  He couldn’t just leave, it wasn’t supposed to be like this.  It was bad enough he had taken her to bed like that, she must think he was awful, now to just leave her alone on the train.  She would hate him, if she didn’t already.  The rush hour crowd began to grumble at him holding up the train.  Somebody jostled Luka out onto the platform.  Anna smiled at him and put a hand on the window.  Luka smiled back and watched the train rattled off.

Luka turned and walked down the stairs to the street.  He had to see her again.

*  *  *  *  *

 Luka’s mood soured as the day went on.  It was quiet, and he almost wished for more patients so that he could busy his mind.  Instead there were long stretches of time with nothing to do but chart reviews.  Every time he sat in the lounge with a stack of charts before him, all he could think of was Anna and their night together.  If he closed his eyes her could feel her hand in his and hear her quiet breathing.  Remember feeling her warm and near.  Hear her whispering voice.  He couldn’t stop thinking about her.  But each thought of her just made him angrier with himself.  It was unforgivable, what he’d done. Unconscionable.  And stupid, because now he couldn’t stop thinking about her, and she would never want to see him again.  He’d taken his pleasure from her, then jumped off the train like nothing had happened.  Unforgivable.  He had always prided himself on being a gentleman, but when given the chance he’d treated her shabbily.  Now he felt like a hypocrite.  His conscience lashed him mercilessly, determined to beat down every happy thought of the afternoon and night he had spent making love to her and leave only his regrets.  You knew you’d pay for it, Luka, I hope it was worth it.

 “What was that?”


Luka jerked his head up to see Mark pouring a cup of coffee and looking at Luka in confusion.

 “Sorry, Luka, did you say something?”

 “What? I must have been talking to myself.  It’s nothing,” Luka stammered.  What did I just say, he wondered?

 Mark sat down across from him.  Luka felt uneasy around Mark.  He was Doug’s friend, after all, and Luka always sensed he disapproved of his courtship of Carol.  Their relationship had been rocky at best. 

 “Everything going okay?” Mark asked collegially.

 Luka examined him cautiously.  “Yes.  Fine.”  He knew he was being abrupt.  “I worked a shift and a half yesterday,” he added hastily as an explanation.  “My, uh, routine is thrown off now, you know?”

 “I know the feeling.  I think we’ve all been off since Carter left.”

 Luka sat awkwardly.

 “Look, are you okay these days,” Mark asked.  “I mean, you know, since Carol moved.”  There, he had said it.

 Luka closed his eyes and rubbed his forehead.  “I am, Mark.  Really.  It’s better for Carol and the girls,” he said, using the words he had made himself believe. “I know that.  A family should be together.”

 “Sure.  But that doesn’t mean it can’t still be hard for you.  I know you were…close with her.  I know being around the girls made you happy.  You must miss all that.”

 Luka opened his eyes.  Mark seemed genuine.  He’d be appalled to know how Luka had spent his night.  Luka’s conscience lashed him again.  You sure get over things fast, Luka.  Forget Marija with Carol and forget Carol with Anna.  Maybe this afternoon there will be some girl on the El you can forget Anna with.  You can take her home.  Take advantage of her.  You’re getting good at it.  Luka groaned. Let this day end, let me get out of here, just let this day end. 

“I’m okay.  I do miss her.  I don’t make friends easily, and it’s hard for me to lose one.  But I’m okay.” 

He didn’t look okay. Mark decided now was a good a time as any to have a talk with Luka.  “Look, Luka, I don’t want to pry.  I know things have been…hard for you.  You do make it hard, though, Luka, for people to get to know you.  We’re not a bad bunch you know.  Tensions run high in an ER sometimes, that’s normal.  I know you fought with Elizabeth over that transplant, and I know I jumped on you about that girl you brought in.  But we’ve all disagreed with each other at some point, Luka, and at the end of the day, we’re okay with each other.  I’ve lost count of the fights I’ve had with Peter,” he added, shaking his head.  “Ask Carter about his third year sometime.”  If Carter comes back.  We can’t afford to lose you too, Luka, he thought.  If you’re going to flip out, at least wait until Carter comes back.  Mark paused, hoping Luka would understand he was trying to make his peace with Luka and Elizabeth’s too.  He made a mental note to tell Elizabeth he’d done that.  And to duck when he told her.

“Maybe it comes from knowing more than we want to know about our patients’ lives sometimes,” Mark continued, “but we don’t get too pushy. It’s not that people don’t want to know you, but we know better than to ask too many questions.  But if we don’t ask questions, you don’t offer us much either.  It makes it hard.  Nobody’s trying to leave you out in the cold here, Luka.  But if we need to warm up to you, well, you need to warm up to us too.  Grab a bite, get a drink sometime.  Help us out a bit.  And let us help you.  You know, if you knew us better maybe you could get something off your chest.  You seem to be carrying a lot around these days.”

Luka sighed.  “I know,” he said simply.  “I’ve never been too good at making friends, even before…” he stopped short.  Even before Marija died, he was going to say.  Marija.  Lost to me.  Everything lost to me.  Luka dropped his head.  “Even before I came to Chicago, where everything is new,” he finished.

Mark thought he had never seen Luka looking so battered.  “Luka, how long have you been in Chicago now?” he asked suddenly.

“A year or so.  Why?” Luka was glad for the sudden shift in tone.

“Have you been to Gino’s East yet?” Mark asked.

“Who? No, I don’t think so.”

“Gino’s East, Luka.  Pizza.  Great Chicago pizza.  The best.”

Luka smiled in spite of himself.  These Chicagoians and their pizza.  “No, I haven’t.”

“Have dinner with me and Elizabeth tonight, Luka.  We’ll split a pizza and a pitcher.  I can’t believe you’ve been here a year and haven’t had Gino’s East.  That’s ridiculous.” Mark waited for a response.

Luka wanted nothing more than to go home.  To get out of this shirt that smelled like Anna now, to wash off her soap, to drop into his bed and to try to forget how badly he’d behaved.  To try to forget how much he’d enjoyed every minute of it.  How wrong it was that he had felt so much pleasure.  How he couldn’t stop thinking of her.  To try to forget that he had met a perfectly nice girl he wanted to see again and he had ruined it. 

“Come on.  I’m making an effort here, Luka.”

Mark was right, of course.  It was the first such offer he’d gotten from anybody but Carol.  Wasn’t he just telling Anna he had lost his only friend?  He knew he couldn’t go on like this.  But he couldn’t, he just couldn’t, not tonight.  He was going to go crazy if he didn’t get home.

“Mark.  I know you’re right.  I appreciate the invitation.  I know I should accept, since I wouldn’t blame you if you never offered another one after this.  I can’t Mark.  Not today.  I would be,” Luka paused and rubbed his temples, “poor company tonight.  If you can ask again in a day or two, if you still want to, I promise to say yes.  I just need to get through today Mark.” 

“Luka, sometimes a bad day is better if you can share it.  No offense, but you look like hell. You’re wearing yesterday’s clothes and you haven’t shaved.  A dark guy like you can’t really get away without shaving, Luka, it’s pretty obvious.  You’re talking to yourself and frankly, you look like death warmed over.  I don’t know what happened yesterday, Luka, and I don’t need to, but you look miserable and I think dinner might help.  That’s all.  Look.  The offer stands.  If you think you can stand company at the end of the day come find me or Elizabeth.  If you don’t think you can stand company, go home.  Get some rest.  Lucky for you you look so lousy, Luka – it means I won’t hold it against you.  I’ll try again in a day or two.”

“Thank you, Mark.” 

Mark rose to leave.  “I mean it Luka.  If you think you can stand it come find me.”

“Sure.  Of course.” He looked up from his stack of charts.  “Thank you, Mark.”

“Sure, Luka.”  Mark hesitated.  “Can I help you with something, Luka?  No offense, but you really do look like hell.”

“I look like hell because it’s what I deserve.”  It took him a second to realize he’d said it out loud.  He sighed and shook his head.  “Never mind, Mark.  It’s nothing.  Thank you though.”

Mark regarded Luka for a long minute and decided to leave it alone.  For now.

*   *   *   *   *

 Anna had gotten nothing done all day.  Her mind drifted off to Luka at every possible opportunity.  Advancing the microfilm from one page to the next took five minutes.  Changing a roll took half an hour.  She couldn’t stop thinking about him; his eyes and the shadows she saw pass over them; the caution in his voice when they spoke of Zagreb and Split; the way her body gave itself up to him with a mind of its own.  She blushed in the darkness of the microfilm room just remembering it.  She had scanned through two weeks of newspapers before she realized she hadn’t taken a single note.  Futile.  She went home early.  If she wasn’t going to get any work done, there were always chores around the house.  The place was a mess, which she hadn’t really noticed until she brought Luka there and realized she must look like a slob.  A slob and a slut.  Way to make a good first impression, Anna.  That man is never going to want to see you again.  She turned the bolt in the lock and slumped against the door.  The first thing she saw was her chai cup still on the floor.  She sighed and picked it up, depositing it on the kitchen counter before taking her mail back to her desk in the bedroom.  The unmade bed and rumpled sheets and her skirt on the floor knocked her back a step. 

 “Damn!” she spat, and stripped the bed fiercely.  “Damn, damn, damn.”   She gathered the sheets and pillow cases and stormed to the laundry room in the cellar.  Then she remade the bed with her spare sheets and collected her clothes from the floor, stuffing them in the laundry basket as if they were the ones who had done everything wrong.

 She sat on the edge of the bed where Luka had first set her down.  Her stomach tightened at the memory.  She stood up.  He was everywhere.  The memory of him was everywhere.  She wanted him back.  She wished she could relive the night exactly as it was and she wished she could do it over differently.  She wanted him back.

 Oh my god, she thought.  Oh you stupid, stupid girl.


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