part 7 by Jen
He called her the next day, and they arranged another dinner date, and another after that. They took walks along the lake, dodging the rollerbladers on the bike path. They went to Bluesfest, which Luka enjoyed, and the Taste of Chicago, which he didnt, and a Cubs game, which he could have lived without except that Anna had gotten them bleacher tickets and she took off her shirt to reveal a bikini top. He had almost forgotten how lovely she was. All he could think about was the memory of trailing his finger over the curve of her shoulder as she slept with her head on his chest. He had to constantly remind himself not to stare at her. He kept putting sun-block on her, and she kept complaining that she needed a tan, and he kept telling her about skin cancer until she told him to stop acting like a doctor and start acting like a boyfriend. It was the first time either of them had said something like that. Anna flushed and fumbled with her scorecard. Luka took her face in his hands and kissed her. My girlfriend has beautiful soft skin, he said. Id like to keep it that way. Anna kissed him and yielded to the sun-block.
If his courtship of Carol had been clumsy, his courtship of Anna was easy. She was extremely courtable. He would dial her number and be five minutes into a conversation with her before he realized he had even picked up the phone. The knot he used to get in his stomach before calling Carol do I call her too often? am I bothering her? never materialized. Hed lie on his bedroom floor with his feet against the wall to rest his back and ask her how her day was, and she would tell him with a laugh it was the same as every other day, I typed until my fingers fell off. I think I need a doctor. Do you make house calls, Doctor Kovac? He could see her grinning through the phone. Once he actually got into his car and drove over. When she opened the door he asked Did somebody call a doctor? and held up his little bag and she fell into his arms with laughter and kisses. She flirted with him shamelessly, something Carol had never done, and Luka struggled with the sensation of being so desired and tried desperately to remember how to respond to it.
At restaurants she slipped in next to him rather than across when they sat in booths and every time it reminded Luka of their first date. She had been the one to save us from that mess, he thought. She had taken control of the situation when he had been unable to. She was calm and purposeful and he wondered if she had always been like that or if it was a manner she had been forced to learn doing interviews for her research. He thought that she was perfectly comfortable in her skin and he thought again, absurdly, of bread.
He told her about Carol as a doorway to Marija. He told her about Kate and Tess as a doorway to Jasna and Marko. He told her about his family, and he told her that they had lived in Vukovar. Annas face went very still then, and her mouth moved Oh no, but no sound came out, and she held his hand tightly. He saw understanding pass over her face he knew from the start she would know what that meant and he saw a flicker of something else he didnt recognize. Oh no, she moved her mouth again. She closed her eyes. This is my worst imagining she thought. Ohgodohgodohgod. How am I going to tell him now?
She told him about her work in Spain and Switzerland and never discussed Yugoslavia. He learned more about the Basque separatist movement than he ever wanted to know. She had spent five months in the Basque region, interviewing French and Spanish and separatist politicians and a few people who Luka could only describe as terrorists. He cringed at some of the risks she had taken and scolded her and she shrugged him off with a Well, theyre done now, so its a little late to get upset, Luka, but yeah, I guess Ive done a few stupid things in my life and Ive been lucky so far. She paused. Mostly. Luka cocked his head questioningly but held his tongue. Anna saw the gesture and shrugged. Luka. A lot of the people I interviewed werent exactly gentlemen, if you know what I mean, and I weigh a hundred twenty pounds soaking wet. You do the math. He looked at her again and watched a door close in her face. At that moment he could have been looking in a mirror. He leaned forward to kiss her gently and she turned her face away but took his hand.
They saw each other often. Annas flexible schedule let her move her work around Lukas shifts, and when he got put back on nights for two weeks, she changed her schedule so that they could have an early dinner and a cup of coffee before he went to the hospital. She made up the missed hours by working later into the night than usual. He told her not to change her schedule, it was just a few weeks, and she said okay and went right on doing it anyway. Shes headstrong, Luka thought, like Marija. It figures.
He woke up calculating when he would be able to see her again. He fell asleep wanting to make love to her. In between he paced himself carefully. After dinner he would take her home and kiss her at her door. Their kisses grew longer, but he always pulled away and said goodnight. Anna would smile what he came to think of as her are-you-still-being-a-gentleman-smile and say goodnight and slip into her apartment with a final kiss on his cheek. One night after dinner at their middle-eastern restaurant a light rain started falling. They reached Annas door and she told him, Im not going to kiss you out here in the rain, Luka. Come inside. His blood raced as he sat on the couch with Anna curled in his lap. He kissed her hungrily and let his hands slide over her breasts and her ribs and her stomach. She kissed him back urgently and pressed herself against him and wrapped her arms around his neck and whispered softly in his ear and he knew she would let him stay if he asked. She made it clear she wanted him and it made him crazy. It would have been so easy to lift her and carry her to her bed, to take off all her clothes, to spend the night making love to her again, but he held himself back. After their dates he would go home and lie awake in a dizzying combination of contentment and frustration. Just being with her was a delight hed almost forgotten, but he wanted her, too. And he wanted her in his bed this time.
But he was desperate not to frighten her. She made it clear without ever saying it she had been raped in Spain, and his desire for her was tempered by fear he would do something wrong, push too hard, say the wrong thing, touch her in just the wrong place and trigger memories that would frighten her. And he had put himself on severe probation and felt he had yet to restore his honor. And it was even more important now that she trust him, that she believe he would always be in control of himself. He tried to imagine how he would touch her, how forward he would risk being if he had never made love to her, and found he had no idea. It was impossible to pretend he hadnt been with her and it was hard to pace himself. He fell back on memories of himself as a young man with Marija, touching her carefully and tentatively, never letting himself do as much as he yearned to. He had moved so slowly and carefully with Marija and he tried to do the same now with Anna.
In many ways he found it was much more difficult. Marija had been a virgin when they married, and while he was courting her he had thought it torture to hold himself back while his mind raced imagining what it would be like to finally make love to her. But now he found that memories of making love to Anna tormented him in a way that the anticipation of the unknown with Marija had not. He couldnt even kiss Anna without remembering all the kisses theyd shared warm and naked in her bed. He was going crazy. But he held himself back. He held himself back to prove himself to her, and he held himself back to give her the complete freedom of choice with him that somebody had taken away from her once, and he held himself back because he wanted to wait until she knew him, really knew him, so that when they made love again she would be making love to all of him. He wanted that from her, that completeness, and it slowly occurred to him that anything less from her would leave him feeling empty. He would rather have nothing now than just be a body to her body. He thought it would be possible with her, that kind of knowing. He moved slowly so as not to risk it. He moved slowly so as not to frighten her. He let Anna decide what she was ready for, and she nudged him gently along. When he put his hands under her shirt and caressed her skin it was Anna who pulled her shirt over her head and unbuttoned his. If he touched her tentatively, Anna often would lean close to him in encouragement. But he took seriously the responsibility of stopping, always stopping. It had been that way with Marija as well. It was the only clue Luka had to know he was doing things right.
* * * * *
After their pizza dinner, Luka, Mark and Elizabeth had established a tentative new friendship and often tried to grab a beer or a quick bite when their schedules permitted. As the summer wore on Luka began begging off, wanting to spend more and more of his free time, of which he was beginning to think there would be precious little until Carter returned, with Anna; finally it occurred to him that they should meet, all of his new friends. It had taken some doing to find a time all three of them could get away from the hospital for dinner, and Luka suggested they go for Ginos pizza again. He had rather enjoyed it there before, the casual atmosphere with the writing all over the walls and even the ceiling, and American pizza was fun to eat. And he didnt want to overwhelm Anna by going someplace fancy and formal. She refused to admit it, but he thought she was nervous about meeting his friends? colleagues? something in between, he thought.
But Anna and Mark had hit it off almost right away, discovering a mutual admiration for Phil Jackson and an equally mutual disgust at the Trailblazers poor showing in the playoffs.
I mean, have you ever seen a team fold like that? Scotty Pippen should be ashamed of himself, Anna was saying animatedly to Mark.
Oh, come on you had to figure the Lakers were going to pull it out, Mark said back, sipping his beer. I cant believe Luka found a girl who talks basketball, he thought, and its wasted on him. Its hard to beat Shaq and Kobe.
Fine. Probably. And head to head Ill take Phil Jackson over anybody. But at least put up a fight. They never even showed up for the fourth quarter.
Elizabeth and Luka grinned at each other across the table, strangers in a strange land. Oh dear, I think weve lost them, Luka. I do believe thats basketball talk. Elizabeth leaned across the table. Luka, shes lovely, she whispered. Luka smiled and cast Anna a sideways glance. He agreed wholeheartedly. You know, Elizabeth said raising her voice again, I do think were going to have to learn something about basketball. Do you know anything? she asked him.
Hey, I do! I know there is a famous Croatian basketball player in Chicago, Luka said proudly.
Anna smiled. She almost didnt have the heart to tell him Toni Kukoc was in Philly now. Oh, he said and tried to put a pout on his face. Now I dont know anything again. Anna laughed and leaned up against him. Thats okay. Ill teach you everything you need to know, she said, smiling up at him with a wink. By the time the playoffs roll around youll be an expert and we can make a bet and I wont even being taking advantage of you.
Mark glanced at Luka. The playoffs were almost a year away, and he had no doubt Anna would still be around. Shes crazy about him, he thought. And hes hooked. He cant take his eyes off of her. He mooned around Carol a lot, but I never saw him look at her like that. Even while Luka was talking to Elizabeth, Mark could see him seeking Anna out of the corner of his eye, reaching out to touch her lightly, a little reassuring gesture as if to remind himself she was really there with him. Its good to see. He looks ten years younger, Mark thought.
Oh, you know you can always take advantage of me, Anna, Luka said quietly and Anna blushed furiously and Luka blushed a little when he realized he hadnt been as quiet as he thought and Mark and Elizabeth had heard.
He shrugged his shoulders and grinned at Mark. Sorry, he seemed to say, sometimes I cant help myself around her. Can you blame me? Mark smiled back and nodded his head. Okay, Im done worrying about you, the gesture said. Youre in good hands.
* * * * *
After dinner Anna and Luka were walking to his apartment from the El when the sky opened with a crash. Large drops of rain began to fall fast and heavy. They ran under a shop awning and pressed against the wall. Anna shook out her hair and laughed.
Where did that come from?
Luka put his arms around her and pulled her close. Summer storms, Anna. They come out of nowhere.
She looked up at him. His hair was wet and falling forward into his face and little rivers ran into his eyes. She laughed again. Oh, Luka, you look like a wet puppy! she squealed and dissolved into laughter.
Luka ran his hands through his hair and brushed it back off his forehead. How romantic, Anna. And here I was going to tell you, you look sweet all wet like that.
Anna giggled. Im sorry, Luka, its just
Its just Im a mess, and here you are so pretty, he interrupted her. How is it women get so pretty in the rain, he said in that low voice that always made her stomach jump and her knees go weak. Anna blushed. Luka took her hand. Come on, Anna, lets run for it!
They ran from awning to awning until they were so wet the next awning didnt matter anymore and then they just ran down the street, laughing and weaving between the passers-by. When they reached his apartment, Luka held the door open and ushered Anna inside, following behind her and slamming the door shut behind them, still laughing.
Wwwww! Luka said, shaking his hair. Anna, youre soaked! He smiled broadly. And now even you are a mess!
Anna wrung her hair and a small puddle formed at her feet. Brr. So are you.
Come on, lets get you out of these wet things, Luka said, taking her by the hand and leading her to his bedroom. He suddenly felt awkward pulling her in there, drawing her so close to his bed. He hadnt meant for that to happen and hoped Anna didnt think he was trading on the situation. Okay, get out of those things. Go take a shower, when youre done Ill have dug up something you can wear. Leave your wet things in the bathroom. Well take care of that later.
Anna stood in her wet clothes and started to shiver. Anna! Go! Luka took her by the shoulders and pushed her towards the bathroom and shut the door behind her. She shivered and wasnt sure if it was from being wet and cold or from thinking about Luka standing out there while she stripped and showered. She began peeling off clothes. When they all lay in a heap at her feet, she turned on the water and stepped in when it had heated up. It momentarily occurred to her to be mildly insulted that Luka had passed up such a heaven sent opportunity to make love to her again. This gentleman thing is getting old, Anna thought. Im starting to think its just me.
Luka pulled out a pair of scrub bottoms and a cotton sweater and set them on his bed. Then he busied himself in the kitchen putting on water for tea, anything to distract himself from the image of Anna in his shower.
Coming, Anna. He walked to the bedroom. The sight of her in his robe and her wet hair reminded him of the morning after theyd met, made him want to push the robe off her shoulders and lay her down on his bed. He shook his head once, sharply. Here. He pointed to the clothes on the bed.
Luka youre still wet! For crying out loud, get out of those things!
Yes, yes. We had to take care of you first.
Luka, now! For a brief instant she thought of stripping off his wet things herself, but she thought Luka would be appalled rather than aroused and abandoned the idea. Go.
Im going. Luka smiled. I found some scrubs and a sweater for you. Theres water for tea in the kitchen. Please, go get comfortable, Anna. Brrr, I really do want to get out of these things now. Ill be right there. He closed the bathroom door behind him and peeled off his wet things, dropping them on top of Annas. He looked at the heap of clothes on the floor and sighed. Then he stepped into the shower just long enough to get warm.
Anna slipped off Lukas robe and stepped into the scrubs, wondering what it would take to get him into bed again. Wishing she had never let him know about the rape. Wondering how much that frightened him, pushed him away from her. Wishing he werent such a damn gentleman. Wondering if that werent just an excuse. She rolled up the legs on the scrubs a couple of inches and pulled on Lukas sweater. It was huge and smelled like Lukas skin. She closed her eyes and remembered his body beneath her. With a sigh she padded to the kitchen and saw to the tea. After a minute Luka appeared barefoot in Khakis and a tee shirt.
Much better, eh? He took their tea cups and set them on the little table next to his arm chair. He sat down and pulled Anna onto his lap. Warm now my Anna? he asked, kissing her. Better?
Mmmm, better now Luka. Anna smiled and kissed him back, deciding on the spot to try to seduce him.
Luka inspected her. I like you in my clothes, he said with a smile. He put his hands under the sweater and ran them up her back and felt nothing but smooth skin from waist to neck. He kissed her again. Everything was all wet, eh?
Yes, Luka, every last thing was all wet, she whispered in his ear and tilted her head to kiss his neck. All I have on is what you gave me, she added and nibbled softly. She felt him shiver.
Mmmmm, now I really like you in my clothes.
Id rather you liked me out of them.
Luka went hot. So forward, Anna! Fresh girl, he said, kissing her again. His hands roamed under the oversized sweater. He felt Anna put her hands under his shirt and run them up his chest. He kissed her harder and caressed her and felt her body yield to him completely, that softening he had felt when he first made love to her. She let out a soft moan and he thought he was going to drown in her. He had rarely taken her to his apartment for just this reason. His bed was too close. It was much easier to control himself at her apartment. He could keep telling himself wait, wait until shes at my place. He moved his hands slowly to the small of her back and laced his fingers together to stop his wandering hands.
Anna sighed. Luka, she whispered tentatively in his ear, dont you still want me?
Luka jerked back in surprise. Do I want you? What kind of question is that?
Anna blushed. An embarrassing one, actually. She looked down. Have I done something wrong? Do you not want me anymore, she asked in a voice that had suddenly gone fragile, is that why you dont want to make love to me?
Dont *want* to make love to you? Anna, of course I want to. Look at me, Im a mess.
Then why dont you? You know I want you, Luka. I cant make it more clear. Or is that the problem, do you think Im trampy?
Anna, dont be silly!
Didnt I make you happy before, Luka?
Not make me happy? What? In bed? Are you crazy? He didnt understand.
Luka, its been, what, three months? I get it, youre a gentleman, I believe you. So if its not the gentleman thing, is it me?
Anna, listen to me. He took her face in his hands. Listen to me, Anna, this is important. I want you, Anna, you have no idea. This summer has been wonderful. Being with you has been wonderful. You know we almost ruined this from the start, and I dont want to take that chance again. Im just trying to be careful, Anna.
Theres such a thing as too careful, Luka. Youve got me thinking you dont want me. Anna looked down. I dont think youve wanted me since I told you about that I was do you not want me now because of that?
Luka felt a little pain in his heart that he had made her think that. No! he whispered fiercely. Dont ever think that. Dont ever think that. He had to think, he had to say this right it mattered so much that he say this right. Ill admit to being scared, Anna, that Ill say the wrong thing or hurt you or do something that reminds you of things you want to forget. I dont want to hurt you, Anna, and I dont want to frighten you. But no, that doesnt change how I feel. It makes me want to be more careful with you, but it doesnt make me want you any less.
She pressed closer into him. Luka. Look at us. When have I ever not felt comfortable with you? When have I ever not wanted you? Ill let you know if Im uncomfortable, and Ill let you know if something hurts. You dont scare me, I know you, Luka, and even the quietest word from me and youll stop everything.
I know you, Luka, she had said. Not quite, Luka thought. Not quite yet, but were getting there, Anna, theres just this one thing. Please be patient while I get there with you. Im sorry Ive been putting it off.
Look, Anna. Please. Dont ever think for a minute Im rejecting you. Im trying to show you how much you matter to me that we do this right.
Okay, she whispered. She blushed. What you must think of me, Luka, Im always throwing myself at you. I really dont behave like this with other men.
Im glad Im not other men, then. And dont worry, Anna. I will take you up on the offer again. He kissed her hard. Trust me.
She looked doubting. And defeated. Have I been hurting your feelings, Anna, all this time Ive been trying to treat you so well? Do you really think I dont want you?
Maybe a little.
Luka sighed. Hed forgotten this about women as well. You werent supposed to treat them like you thought you could have them at will, but you were supposed to treat them like you wanted them. He shook his head. Im too old for this.
Can I stay here tonight, Luka?
Anna, I think just after this conversation would be the worst possible time for us to make love again.
Just to sleep, Luka, I promise. I just want to fall asleep with you again.He wasnt sure he could do that, that was asking too much even from him, her body in his bed. Waking up to her. Anna nestled her head against his shoulder. Can I just stay here with you? she whispered.
Of course, Anna, he said. He couldnt send her away, she was too vulnerable and hed never seen her like that before. Hed just have to figure out a way to keep his hands off of her. Of course.
to part 8
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