CHOICES(finale)

by Laney 2


Luka was hungry, tired and irritable.  He slouched against the sink in the exam room, scribbling a prescription while the young woman he had justf inished treating gathered her things.  He handed the papers to her with a few final instructions and accepted her thanks with a weak smile and a nod of his head.  He was so tired he couldn’t push himself up from his resting
place even though he knew that all he had to do was check himself out and he would have an hour of peace and a chance to get something to eat.

He stared blindly at the chart in his hand seeing Adele’s face instead.  He should be with her now, not here.  Romano.  The man infuriated him.  It was as if he knew what Luka valued most in life and had set himself to find some way to interfere with that at every opportunity.  His anger at Romano’s command that he work a double shift though had been nothing compared to
Adele’s.  This had surprised him.  She had always taken his schedule in stride, understood from her own experience what it was like not to have a 9-to-5 job.  This time his words had been greeted with icy silence when he had called to tell her he wouldn’t be coming home and their conversation had ended shortly after leaving Luka feeling cold and alone for the first time
in months.

It wasn’t his fault, he wanted to say to her and yet perhaps it was.  He should have pushed back, told Romano no, that he wasn’t going to be the fall guy again.  He wouldn’t be surprised if Romano fired him on the spot though, he had threatened to often enough.  The guy had no patience or understanding for anything, least of all Luka and he seemed to sense that Luka was still finding his place here and in his newness could still be manipulated.  He didn’t want to lose his job, he liked it here and he liked the people he worked with so, so far he had done what Romano had asked of him without complaint.  So far.  There was a limit to everything however and if this job were going to start impacting his personal life then he would push back, push back and take the consequences.  He had waited far too long to have a personal life to let anything get in the way of it.

He swiped his hand over his face and pushed himself away from his resting-place to trudge slowly for the main desk.  No reason to hurry, he had another 8 hours of this and by the time he found his way home Adele would be off to work.  At least the night had been slow.  “I’m going across the street for something to eat,” he informed Randi as he filed away the patient’s chart, cleared his name from the board and headed for the breakroom to get his coat.

“Not so fast Dr. K,” she stopped him before he could start down the hall. She sat on a stool, her elbows resting on the desk, staring with great concentration at the door to exam 2.  He followed her gaze and felt an immediate surge of irritation.

“Let Malucci take it, I haven’t eaten all day,” he snapped, “Where is he hiding, anyway?”  He glanced up and down the almost empty halls searching for someone, anyone to bail him out.

Randi thrust a chart towards him shaking her head vigorously.  “I think you’re going to want to take care of this one.”  Luka was too tired to argue. He headed back to the desk and snatched the chart Randi handed him without a word.  He jammed it under his arm as he shuffled toward the closed door of exam 2, massaging his eyelids with his palms as he went, trying to rub some of the tiredness out and some alertness in.  He reached the door to the exam room, pushed it open and entered, at the same time pulling the chart from beneath his arm.  The paperwork on top was blank.  He flipped through several pages taking much longer than he should have to realize that they were all the same, blank.  He muttered an expletive in Croatian and looked up to apologize to the patient he was supposed to be seeing only to discover that the bed was as empty as the chart.

At that same moment he heard the door click shut behind him and a soft voice say,  “You really are going to have to watch your language.  You never know when there will be someone around who can understand you.”  He recognized Adele’s voice even before he turned to find her leaning against the now closed door regarding him with an amused look on her face.  His exhaustion vanished and he felt an instant pleasure at seeing her wash over him. He smiled widely and asked as he began to move towards her, “What are you doing here at this hour?” She must not have been here long, he thought, noting that she still wore her coat, or maybe she wasn’t staying long.  That possibility caused him to quicken his pace.

“No, stay there,” she held her hand out to stop him in mid stride.  He stood in the center of the room, confusion creasing his brow.

“What?  Is something wrong?”  Adele’s look of amusement disappeared, replaced with something more serious as she began to move slowly toward Luka, unbuttoning her coat as she approached.

“Everything’s fine.  I just wasn’t happy about your boss messing up my plans.  That won’t do at all.”  She reached him just as she undid the last clasp and the heavy folds fell away to reveal a thin, translucent shift, the soft material clinging to her curves, the neckline plunging below anything Luka would have considered decent attire. He couldn’t pull his eyes away, watching her as she stretched up on her toes to whisper against his lips, “Do you know what today is, Luka?”  She dropped the coat from her shoulders, moving closer until her body was pressing into his.

“The day you catch pneumonia?  What are you doing dressed like that?  It’s freezing outside!  And it’s late and you shouldn’t be out this late, running around dresssed like that…” She kissed him softly after each reprimand, and his words grew weaker until he was mumbling and finally kissing her in return, his reproaches dying on his now very occupied lips.  She began to push him gently back towards the bed.

“No, that isn’t the right answer.  Would you like me to remind you?”  He wasn’t fighting her; he could see her body clearly beneath the diaphanous fabric of her dress and couldn’t have resisted if he had wanted to.

“Yes, remind me.  I can’t remember.” he said, his voice husky with desire, wondering with some far away part of his mind that still had an ounce of logical thought left if he had forgotten some anniversary and if this was what had upset her so much on the phone.  If it had been, she had certainly forgiven him.  “What is today?”

“It’s been three months.”  The back of his legs had finally met up with the bed and he rested against the edge, drawing Adele close to him, positioning her body between his legs.

He began to kiss her with all of his attention, pausing only to murmur against her lips, “three months?  What three months?”

“Three months and now we can try again, and it just so happens that it’s perfect timing.  That’s why I was so disappointed when you called.  So I decided to make the best of it, if you can’t come to me well, then,” she placed her hands on the knot of his tie and drew it down, “I will just have to come to you.”  Her words sent a warning flare to his brain and he pulled back to observe her.

“Try again,” he knew instantly what she meant, she had talked about this moment off and on since she had lost the baby, how much she wanted to have a child and how she didn’t want to wait to do it.  He hadn’t taken her seriously, thinking that she would be caught up in work again and with all that they had to do as they settled into their life together.  He thought he would have time before he would have to face this.  Fear rose up inside of him so fiercely he thought for a moment that he would be ill.  He reached behind to grasp the side of the bed, his fingers digging into the mattress. He tried to keep his face empty as he struggled to regain control.  He swallowed hard and asked in what he hoped was a normal voice,  “Are you sure?  This is what you want?”

Her return gaze was unwavering and honest as she answered, “Darling, I know exactly what I want, I have never been more certain of anything.”  He was in luck.  She seemed more concerned with convincing him that she really wanted this than to question whether he did.  “I know it seems like I’m rushing, but I’m not really.  I’ve poured my life into other people’s children and I don’t regret that for one moment, I’ve been a good mother to all of them, but now, I want my own, I want ours and I don’t intend to fool around about it either.  Well, actually, I guess I do intend to fool around…” she giggled as she reached up, slipped the tie from around his neck and tossed it over her shoulder where it landed on the floor with her coat.  “I can’t think of a single reason to wait.”  She paused noticing at last how rigid his body had become, how white his knuckles were as they gripped the side of the bed. She hesitated, her hand on his chest and said, “Unless you think we should?”

His heart sank.  He had hoped to put this off on her, make her question what she wanted even just a little so that he could wile her away from her objective, give himself a chance to think, to sort through what he was feeling.  Now he had been asked a simple yes or no question and she was waiting patiently for his answer.  The panic that had ripped through him a moment ago had left every nerve in his body raw.  His heart beat so heavily in his chest that it hurt.  How could he explain himself to her, explain that the thought of being responsible for another tiny soul was more than he could bear?

He had a choice in this.  He could tell her he thought they should wait and maybe over time he would be able to get past this.  But that would be a lie. In the deepest reaches of his soul he knew that he didn’t want to wait.  He wanted this to be his turning point, for the last nine years of his life to fade away and allow him to finally have a present and a future, not just a past.  Not that he would forget, he could never forget, but for once he could have dreams and not nightmares, memories not ghosts.  He wanted to tell her that there was nothing more in the world he wanted than to start a family with her, the woman he loved more than life itself, to start his life over with her.  But with this declaration came also another wave of fear, hitting him with such strength that he shuddered and he had to swallow the bile that rose in his throat.

Adele felt the shiver that rippled through him, saw his face pale before her.  She took a step back and stood, arms at her sides, watching.  “We don’t need to rush into this,” she said gently, “I thought that this was what you wanted, it seems I’m forever putting words in your mouth.  I need to learn to listen to what you really want and feel.  I’m sorry…”

Luka steeled every nerve he had in his body, reached out and took her hands in his.  He tore his gaze from her soft brown eyes and stared instead at the slender hands he held so carefully in his own wanting desperately to put this fear into words, to somehow make her understand.  He took a shuddering breath and whispered, faltering, choking on the words, “I failed my children, my wife, the people who meant everything to me Adele.  Why, why would I think that I wouldn’t fail again?”  He continued to stare at her hands not wanting her to see the tears that welled in his eyes.  When he felt himself sufficiently under control he raised his head.  Adele was staring at him.

“Do you think it was my fault that I lost our baby?” she asked point blank.

“No!” he gasped, horrified that she could even think such a thing.  He put his arms around her waist to pull her close but she put both hands on his chest, holding him off.

“How is what I did any different than what you did, Luka?  Explain it to me.”  Of course their actions had nothing in common, he reasoned, but each comparison he came up with didn’t support his theory.  She was a victim, but he had been too, she hadn’t known what would happen to her, he hadn’t either, she had simply made a bad judgement, ditto.  When she spoke, her words were the perfect conclusion to the battle that had been playing in his head, “If there are differences, they are surface only.  We both made mistakes, put people that we love in danger and the worst possible thing that could happen, happened.  I want another chance Luka.  I deserve that and so do you.  We aren’t criminals, just normal people who made bad choices.”

He cast his eyes around the room as if searching for the words he needed to say.  Finding no inspiration there, he dropped his head again and said simply, “I’m afraid,” realizing that she understood even without elaboration.  She paused for a minute, watching him, then touched his chin with a single finger, tilting his head up so that he again looked into her eyes.  She stroked her fingertips along his cheek and cupped the side of his face in her palm.

“I am too,” she said.  “I can’t promise you that everything will be all right.  I can’t promise either of us that.  I can only promise to stand by your side and love you for all of the time I have on this earth. The rest is faith, Luka.  It’s all we have.  You have it every morning when you get out of bed, every time you press the brake pedal on your car or say good bye to me at the door and know I’ll be in your bed again that night.  No guarantees, only faith my love.  I think you were a wonderful father once and I know you will be again.”

He settled into her steady gaze realizing that he wanted nothing more than to be here now, making this decision with her.  For the first time in years he felt that he wasn’t just an observer.  He stood at a door.  He could open it or not, it didn’t matter which, Adele would still be there at his side whatever his choice.  With that knowledge came freedom, his pounding heart
calmed a little and a smile touched his lips.  “No I don’t want to wait.  I’ve waited long enough.”  As he said the words he circled her waist with his arms drawing her near.  She wrapped her arms around him in return and hugged him hard for a moment then pulled away again, her eyes searching his face for a sure answer.

“We don’t have to do this today, we can just get used to the idea a little, we have our whole lives, I don’t want to rush us into anything…” He touched his finger to her lips to silence her then took one of her hands in his and placed a gentle kiss in her palm.

“No,” he answered, “I know exactly what I want too, for once.”  He kissed the inside of her wrist felt her shudder as his lips touched her bare shoulder.  He tightened his hold around her waist, slid back onto the bed pulling her up and beside him in one fluid motion.  He maneuvered her swiftly onto her back so that before she knew what had happened she was lying comfortably beneath him.  He smiled into her surprised face and whispered, “I believe that desire is a stronger emotion than fear,” and kissed her, pressing into her, feeling the warmth of her skin through the sheer fabric of her dress.  “You know we shouldn’t do this here,” he said without conviction slipping a strap of her dress from her shoulder as he trailed kisses down her neck.

Thrown off for a moment by this sudden turn of events, Adele caught up quickly and responded while setting to work on the buttons of his shirt, “Oh yes we can.  I’m on a schedule and if Romano wants to mess around with that well then he will just have to allow you a few special privileges.  If he doesn’t like it then he can find someone else willing to work double shifts with no warning.  We don’t need this place you and I.  I can get you a job anytime you like.

“Working for you?  Would they allow that?”

“Mmmm,” she said her voice muffled by the folds of her dress as it was swooped over her head.  “And then we could do this anytime we like, I have a couch in my office you know!”

“I’m turning in my resignation tomorrow,” he said with a grin just before sending her dress to join the fast growing pile of clothes on the floor. She laughed and he could feel her relax in his arms.  The fear still flowed through his veins, churning his stomach, mixed now with pulsing desire.  But another feeling swirled through the volatile brew, a peace, a calm acceptance of this choice he was making.  He knew that he would most likely awake with terror when his child cried in the night, that he would be over-involved in and ridiculously protective of every aspect of his or her life.  But he also had faith, faith in this world that had dealt him so many cruel blows, faith that he had a purpose and a reason for being here and most of all, faith in this woman lying beside him.

Randi was blindly tapping on the computer; an amazingly large bubble balanced a millimeter from the screen blocking her view, when Adele and Luka reappeared.  Adele was again wrapped in her heavy coat; Luka was as neat as always, a little flushed in the face perhaps.  He sidled behind Randi to check the board, not looking at her.  “Everything go okay?” she queried, after sucking the bubble back into her mouth.

“Great!  And thanks again for covering for us.”  Adele paused at the desk.

“Oh, anytime guys.  You know it’s amazing that people even get pregnant when you realize how synchronized everything has to be.  You might ought to make a standing date just to improve your chances, Del.  We could even put you on the board!”  Adele stifled a laugh when she saw the flush on Luka’s face turn a deeper red as he realized that Randi had known exactly what they had been doing.  You know Dr. K,” Randi spun around on her seat to face Luka.“Your kid’s going to be about 8 feet tall, you need to teach him basketball.”

Luka stopped, chart in hand, a huge grin breaking across his face.  His kid. He liked the sound of that.  He had to shake his head though and said regretfully, “Can’t, don’t know how.”

“Well, it could mean free college you know, if he or she is scholarship material.  Maybe Cleo would give lessons?”

“Free college?  I’ll make an appointment with her tomorrow,” he laughed. Romano materialized from around the corner, but when he spoke it became obvious that he hadn’t just arrived.

“So, in the family way are we, Miss Neuman?” he injected himself into the center of the group, standing with his hands on his hips his head cocked at Adele.

“Well we aren’t Dr. Romano, but I certainly hope that I am.”  Adele slipped on her gloves, “and it’s Mrs. Kovac.”

“Oh yea, I keep forgetting,” he smirked.  He turned to regard Luka; “You’re legal now aren’t you?  They won’t yank your green card if you’re married to a citizen and a kid sure seals it with immigration, excellent maneuver.” Luka shook his head slightly and turned back to the board.  He wouldn’t let Romano’s taunting disturb his good mood.  Nothing could do that right now.

Randi interrupted before Romano could get another dig in, “You know Dr. K, you still have half an hour and you haven’t eaten.”

“Oh yea, thanks Randi.” Luka brightened perceptibly.  He could safely escape Romano and take his beautiful wife for dinner, even if it was only diner food across the street.  Another 30 minutes staring at her and he would be able to take whatever Romano threw at him.  Now if he could only get away. He slid past the little Napoleon, and headed around the desk toward Adele deciding to go without a coat in case the few seconds required to grab it gave Romano time to come up with an excuse to keep him from going.  Romano followed on Luka’s heels pausing in the corridor, his arms across his chest.

“Shame you giving up that fast track career of yours Miss Neuman, ah Mrs. Kovac,” he amended himself after catching the stern look on Luka’s face.

“We’ll have to see about that.”  Luka put his hand on Adele’s shoulder, pulling her away from the desk and Romano.  “Who knows Robert,” he said as they moved toward the door, “she makes more money than I do, maybe I will be the one to stay home.”  Romano continued to follow the two towards the door,still baiting Luka.

“You surprise me Kovac, I would have thought that you of all people would be a man’s man, would have made me proud.  What is this sissy stay at home crap?”  He stopped just shy of the open door, stepping back from the blast of cold air that assaulted the room when it opened.

Luka wrapped his arm around Adele, as they headed out, throwing his parting shot over his shoulder at Romano, “It’s the dawn of a new age Robert, you need to move into the 21st century with the rest of us.”  The door snapped shut behind the couple, leaving Romano pondering Luka’s words.

“We’ll see about that.”  He stroked his chin for a moment wondering how much they were paying social workers these days anyway and what kind of raise he was going to have to come up with to make certain that Luka ate his words.

 

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