Taking Chances (part 5)
Luka hovered outside The Java Hut and glanced at his watch. It was almost one. If she were working there today, shed probably be there now. Hed tried to look her up in the phone book. He had found no Annas but one A. Simpson, but that turned out to be an Andrew. Well, a woman living alone it made sense shed be unlisted. He had no choice but to hunt her down at the coffeehouse. He was a bit uncomfortable about it, he felt like one of those stalkers. But he had no other choice. He couldnt stop thinking about her and he had to try to find her again. Hed thought about it and guessed around one would be the best time to catch her even if she started working early in the day shed probably still be there, and if she started work in the afternoon he guessed shed get there sometime around then. It was the best guess he could come up with. It was the third time hed gone back and he was out of favors he could ask to get some time off on a weekday. Hed traded a shift with Mark and begged a half day from Kerry and had reached the limit of what he was comfortable asking for. It had been a week now since hed seen her, and he was running out of options. She was disappearing into the city.
Luka entered and walked to the coffee bar to order. At least the coffee was good, he had drunk enough of it lately. Hed needed it, too. Sleep had continued to elude him. At least he was making it to the bed now, but he rarely slept for more than a few hours. He would lie there and stare at the ceiling and think of Anna and wonder what she was doing, wonder if she was sleeping. He could picture her apartment, her kitchen, her bedroom, her bed. Her face, her hair, her hands, her neck. He couldnt help it, he ached for her. His bed was suddenly huge. It had never been so empty before. Sometimes he could fall asleep, sometimes hed have to get up and watch TV.
He was waiting for his coffee to come up when he saw her. He felt his stomach leap. She was sitting cross-legged on one of the couches, the table pulled close, the laptop open. Her elbows were on the table and her head was bowed, her forehead resting heavily of the heels of her hands. She sat like that for a long time, and slowly lifted her head and rested her chin in her hands. Luka was stunned. She looked ready to drop on the spot. If she were a patient hed start an IV. She stared at the screen in front of her and Luka would have bet anything that she saw absolutely nothing. She rubbed her forehead and closed her eyes.
Luka took his coffee and hesitated. Suddenly this seemed like a very bad idea. He wasnt at all sure she would want to see him anyway, but today looked like a particularly bad day. He looked around. The coffeehouse was unusually quiet. If she looked up she would see him. What would be worse, catching her off guard like this or getting caught avoiding her? The last thing Luka wanted was for her to think he didnt want to see her, since it was the farthest thing from the truth. He decided to take a chance. Besides, who knew if he would be able to find her here again?
Anna looked up at the sound of his voice.
Luka! Her heart flopped over. She blushed and started and spilled her coffee. Oh, damn! She hopped off the couch and righted her coffee cup. Damn. She mopped up coffee with a napkin. Oh, please tell me it didnt get the laptop, she muttered, running her hand over the keyboard. Luka winced. He was beginning to think hed made a big mistake.
Im sorry if I surprised you, Luka said sheepishly. Sorry about your coffee. Can I replace it?
Anna finished inspecting the laptop. What? No, no thanks, Luka. Hi. Yeah, Im surprised to see you. She bit her lower lip and looked at a spot just over his left shoulder. What are you doing here? Thank you god!
Luka hesitated. Her watched her eyes drift to the wall behind him; she didnt seem at all pleased to see him. He sighed. Actually, he said, I was hoping to run into you.
Anna met his eyes and smiled, then frowned, then bit her lip and looked at her hands. Oh. Hi.
Hi. Luka shifted his weight. Can we sit?
What? Um, sure, have a seat. Luka waited for Anna to resettle herself on the couch before he took a seat. He wanted to reach over and take her hand, but thought that would be a bad idea. He looked at her. She was still looking at her hands.
She half looked up and by ducking his head and arching an eyebrow he managed to catch her eye. She blushed and looked away.
Anna, he sighed. You fool, he thought. Did you think shed be happy to see you after you took her to bed and then left her on the train like that? Ive been looking for you actually. Youre not in the phonebook. I didnt know where else to look but here. Ive been hoping to run into you.
He had gone to some lengths to track her down, then. She finally looked at him. He was painfully handsome. She brusquely pushed aside memories. Really? Why?
The other morning on the train Luka stammered. Anna closed her eyes in embarrassment. If I could take back one stupid thing it would be that night! I wanted to I didnt want to just get off the train, but Anna opened her eyes again. She had ruined the chance before she even had it. How could she explain? That it wasnt just sex, that she really did feel tenderness for him. That something about him just made her want to make it all better. That she liked him. She couldnt possibly expect him to believe that. He probably thought what most European men think about most American women. She had given him no reason to think otherwise. Her irritation with herself spilled over.
What is it youre doing here, Luka? she asked impatiently. Im in the middle of a perfectly awful week. Because I cant stop thinking about you, she added silently. Because I cant stop thinking about what an idiot I am. Because I couldnt just talk with you in a coffeehouse and give you my phone number like a normal person, no I had to take you home and throw myself at you. Now you think Im the girl you can bump into and screw. Not that I can blame you for thinking it.
Luka winced at her voice. Hed rather she just slapped him and got it over with.
Im sorry I interrupted you. I thought you looked overworked. Im sorry. But I just didnt know if Id get a chance to see you again. I wanted to talk to you.
Anna sighed. I am overworked. And underpaid. And short on sleep. Because I cant sleep in that bed now, she thought, where youve been. How are you? she asked, and a note of softness entered her voice.
Luka was slightly encouraged by her tone. Ive been better, Anna, he said quietly.
She examined him. He looked like hed been doing a pretty good job of beating himself up. Maybe even better than she. She remembered him saying hed regret going to bed with her. That it wasnt who he was. Im sorry to hear that. I hope its not my fault, she finished in a pained voice. I didnt mean to hurt you, she thought. The whole point was to make you feel better. I should have known better.
No, Anna, its my own fault. Ive been never mind what Ive been, its my fault. He looked at her closely. The doctor in me thinks you dont look well, Anna. Are you okay?
Im fine. Just a bad case of dissertation-itis. Too much work, not enough sleep. Banging my head against the wall. Figuratively, of course. Kicking myself over you.
Luka reached out for her hand. It looked worse than not enough sleep. Hed guess close to none at all. You dont look fine. You look ready to drop. Have you been sleeping at all, Anna?
Im fine, Luka. She shook her head. I just need some sleep.
I hope its not my fault, he offered softly.
No, Anna replied. Same as you its been my own.
What a mess hed made. Because of me?
Because of me. It was all pretty much my doing, if you recall.
Anna. Anna please. He had to fix this.
Anna tried to free her hand. Luka knew if he let her go now hed never see her again. She would never come work here again. She wasnt in the phone book. Hed never find her again. Against his nature, he held on.
Luka Anna began. She wanted to reach out and stroke his hair and tell him it was okay, not to be so hard on himself. Ive done enough of that for both of us, she thought. It was my doing anyway.
Anna wait. Please. Give me two minutes, please. Please Anna. His voice was like a bruise. It made her want to kiss away the dark circles under his eyes.
Okay. But please let go of my hand, Luka. She couldnt stand being so close to him knowing she had lost any right to get this close again.
Luka winced and let her go. He put his hands on his knees. She folded her arms across her lap. A very protective posture, he thought. Like my patients when they dont want to answer my questions.
Anna. Ive been thinking about you since since I got off the train. I I was wondering I was wondering if youd give me a chance to be a gentleman? To show you Im not really like that?
Anna was regarding him cautiously. What do you mean?
Luka inhaled deeply and rattled it out in one long breath. Ive been thinking about you all week, Anna, and Ive been thinking Id like to see you again but properly this time and get to know you better and Id like to take you to dinner.
Anna smiled. He sounded like a first-grader reciting his play lines all in one big anxious rush. What do you mean? Her voice was immeasurably softer.
I would like to take you to dinner. Properly. Like a gentleman, you know? Pick you up at your door and take you to dinner and drop you off at your door. What I should have done in the first place. I promise you, Anna, I can be proper.
Anna smiled. Luka felt her softening. He didnt want to push too hard but he knew this was his only chance.
Give me a chance, Anna. I promise Ill be good. Luka smiled. If Im not, you can have me deported.
Anna laughed. Well, I wouldnt do that. Probably.
Luka let out a long breath and felt the tension of a week begin to dissipate. Is that a yes?
She looked at him. Is it possible Im going to get a second chance? That I didnt blow it by sleeping with him? I want to know this man. I need to do this right. Its a maybe, Anna replied after a minute. Heres the thing. It really is just dinner, Luka.
I know. I promise you Ill be a gentleman. Let me show you how nice I can be to you, he thought, please let me make it up to you. Let me do something to make you stop looking like that.
Well, I *guarantee* you Ill be a lady. If this is a soften-her-up-with-dinner-then-go-to-bed-with-her thing youre wasting your time. I was stupid with you once, Luka. Im never stupid twice.
Luka rubbed his temples. He couldnt blame her for thinking such a thing. He had been far too happy to take her up on her offer before. No. This is an I-spent-all-week-thinking-about-you-and-would-like-to-have-dinner-with-you thing. But I cant blame you for thinking that I guess. I havent made the best impression, eh? Let me correct that. Give me a chance to show you who I really am, Anna.
Anna put a hand back on the table. Luka reached up and tentatively met one fingertip. She took one long look at him and knew like she was born knowing it that he was good to the core. She slipped her hand into his.
Then its a yes.
to part 6
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