Part 3 of the "Reunion" series
The next two days passed much too quickly. Now
it was time for Luka to go back to the hospital, to become Dr.
Kovac again. He wanted to stay with his family, so newly
reunited; he never wanted to leave them again, not even for a
minute. But the reality was he had to work; it wouldn't be easy
to support a family of four on his salary as junior attending.
Luka got up at five; his shift ran from six to six. He shook the sleep from his head- he hadn't had two days off in a row since he started at County. He had originally asked for three days, but he had worked Friday- so someone owed him a day; he'd have to remind Kerry. When he'd been alone he hadn't worried about working extra shifts, but his time was so precious again...
Jelena had stirred when he got up, but he kissed her and told her to go back to sleep. She sighed and curled under the sheets, still tired from the previous days. They had done so much, had filled in so much time...
Saturday they had stayed in the apartment, just the four of them, shutting out the world, trying to become a family again. Luka had helped Jelena unpack, amazed at how much she had fit into the big suitcase, layers of clothes and pictures and of course her sewing things.
"I had everything packed so carefully," she lamented, then those Customs people got their hands on it!" Luka could only grin and shake his head.
"They must have thought you were trying to smuggle in half of Croatia", he had told her, trying to joke about it. But Jelena just glared at him.
"It was terrible- they had me so frightened. I thought they weren't going to let us in..." her voice trailed off, the memory too awful. He held her, soothing her hair, trying to comfort her. All through the day they found reason to touch each other, with hugs or kisses or simply brushing their hands. It was so wonderful just being near each other again.
Nena had stayed close to Jelena at first, over whelmed by everything. Even Marija had been subdued, wanting only to sit and watch TV, drawn by the cartoons splashing across the screen. Eventually Nena had joined her. Luka and Jelena let them watch, knowing how much they'd been through, knowing they needed time to just sit and absorb what was going on around them. But Marija had still come to hug him often, as if trying to prove to herself that he was really there. Nena watched them, cautious, trying to figure out what to do with this father newly returned to them.
Jelena had deliberately left Nena alone with Luka while she unpacked the girls' things, closing the door and making Marija help her. Nena had stared at the closed door, unsure, then turned back to the television. Luka sat at the far end of the couch with his sketchpad, drawing a picture of Nena as a princess. It had been a long time since he had felt the urge to sketch, now he wanted to capture his younger daughter, draw her on paper and maybe at the same time draw her closer to him. When he finished, he showed Nena, and he could see that she liked it. She took the picture from him shyly, smiling at him.
"Now you draw me, " he told her, handing her the pad and pencil. She took them and started to draw, seriously, trying to get it right. She really is her mother, he thought, watching her serious face, the total concentration. Nena's picture of him showed a smiling face, with off-kilter eyes and nose, but still excellent for a four-year-old. Jelena had said Nena had a talent for drawing, and now Luka could see for himself. They spent time trading pictures, each drawing what they thought the other would like, coming closer, reconnecting as father and daughter. When Jelena had come back to the living room, Nena had stayed with him, happy with the drawing, comfortable with her Papa.
After lunch Father Greg had dropped by. He was the only one Luka had trusted with the news of his family coming; Luka figured a few extra prayers could only help. The Father had wanted to see if everything gone as planned; he'd stayed just long enough to say a blessing for them and then gone, not wanting to intrude for too long. He could tell that they needed time to be together, to just be a family. They'd locked the door after the priest left, shutting out the world again, turning to themselves and reveling in being together.
That night the put the girls to bed early. With all the traveling and time changes, and just being in a new country they were ready for sleep by seven. Nena's goodnight kiss felt genuine, a real kiss instead of a chore, and she had murmured "Goodnight, Papa" as he kissed her forehead. Small things, for anyone else, but they meant the world to Luka.
Marija had nearly strangled him, of course. Luka loved her hugs, her butterfly-light kisses on his checks; he loved that he felt like a father again, a lost part of his life had returned to him. The girls fell asleep quickly, nestled safe with their toys. He'd smiled as he watched them; it had been a good day, a wonderful day- the first time in over two years that he had been truly happy.
Jelena was waiting for him on the couch. Finally there was time for just the two of them. They sat on the couch, touching, just being near each other felt so good. They kissed, tentatively at first- they'd laughed at themselves, at their awkwardness- it was like being on their first date all over again. Slowly, carefully, they peeled back the two years of being apart, of being alone. He carried her into the bedroom like a honeymooner, rediscovering each other, joining gently, then becoming more and more passionate, eager; finally exploding in joy and tears and love, still so right together. They had made love again and again. Trying to make up for time lost, finally collapsing exhausted, still entwined, two made one, at peace.
Sunday had meant going to Mass. Luka shepherded them into the church, smiling to the people who knew him by sight, his face telling them that this was his family, once apart, now together. Father Greg even mentioned them in his remarks to the congregation, telling of their "joyous reunion". People came to them after the service to congratulate them, but Luka and Jelena had found all the attention embarrassing, so they didn't linger. Instead, Luka showed his family the neighborhood, where the school and the bank were, how to get to the el. They even rode the el up to the stop for County General and then ridden it back, just so he could show Jelena how to pay, where the trains went, where he worked. He thought about taking them in to the ER, but he decided against it, not wanting to share them just yet. Instead they returned to their apartment, staying safely together.
But now Sunday was gone. Over the next two days he had to work two twelve hour shifts; at least he had Wednesday off- but then he had two more full days, including Christmas Eve. But the schedule had worked out so that Christmas was his regular day off- and now amount of begging by one of the other doctors would get him to switch shifts this time. He knew the other doctors might be surprised, but now he was going to start calling in some of the favors he had done.
Luka ate his breakfast as noiselessly as possible, then went to kiss Jelena goodbye. This time she didn't even stir.
Marija was a different story- she was wide-awake, waiting for him.
"Papa!" she cried softly when he came in.
"Shh- you'll wake your sister." he warned her. She grasped his neck.
"Then I'll just go with you," she told him. Luka froze.
"No, honey- I have to go to work." he whispered, wishing all the time he could stay. She hugged him even harder.
"You can't go!" she cried," You promised you'd stay forever!" Luka could feel her tears on his face. He took a deep breath, then carried her from her bed into the living room. He sat with hr in his lap.
"I have to go to work, sweetheart," he told her earnestly, "That's how we get money for our food, our apartment, everything. I have to go to the hospital- people need me there."
"But I need you more than them!" She had her arms around his neck still, unwilling to let go, sobbing uncontrollably. Luka was unsure what to do, he hadn't expected this, not from Marija. He soothed her hair, looking for the right words.
"I must go, "he said finally, "But I will be back tonight, I promise. See the clock?" She nodded through her tears, "And see the six? When the big hand meets the little hand at the six, I'll be home again. It's not so long, really." But he knew it would be...
Marija nodded sadly, trying to accept his going. Suddenly she jumped from his lap and ran to her room. She came back in an instant. "Take this, Papa." She held out a small pin, shaped like a heart. "That way you won't forget to come home."
"I could never forget that," he told her honestly. He took the heart and pinned it to his sweater. "There, " he showed her, "Right next to my heart." Marija smiled and kissed him, satisfied even though she still wasn't happy. "Now I really must go."
He realized that Jelena was there, watching them. She must have been awakened by the sound of her daughter crying, Luka thought. Luka hugged Marija again and handed her to her mother. He kissed them both, still not wanting to go, but knowing he had to leave. Finally he headed out the door.
"I'll see you later," he called, trying to smile.
"Don't be late." Marija called back.
"I won't." he promised. Luka closed the door behind him. It pained him to go, but at least tonight he'd return not to an empty apartment, but to his family, and that thought brought a smile to his heart.
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