Last Little Things
part 12 by Jen
Another day. Another day and another day and another day and who could tell the difference anymore? But it had been productive, Anna thought. She would find out how productive after she sent off the email attachments of her Basque chapter. She looked forward to sending them. She didnt necessarily look forward to the comments she would get back, but she would worry about that later. Right now she just looked forward to sinking on her couch and playing with Macka. And eating. Definitely eating.
She turned up her walk, digging in her bag for her keys, not watching where she was going. Out of the corner of her eye she saw a form slumped on the steps of the old house. She stopped and looked up.
Anna, it whispered into the night.
She looked at him. Oh youre back! Oh are you really back? Her heart pounded in her chest and it took everything she had not to throw herself into his arms.
He looked up. Anna, he whispered again.
Luka, she whispered back.
She sat gingerly on the step next to him. She was silent. She had finally reached the point where every day wasnt a struggle. It wasnt great, but her thoughts of Luka were under control and the memories werent so vivid. She could sleep at night. She wasnt having many nightmares anymore. She didnt need the rubber band to get through the day. Shed given up, and was accepting the surrender as gracefully as possible. She had her work and her noodles and her Macka. She couldnt afford to get her hopes up. Maybe he wasnt back. Maybe he was here because he wasnt done yelling at her yet. She cringed at the thought.
Anna. He couldnt speak. He didnt know what to say. How can a man take back such hateful things as hed said to her? Such hateful things hed said on purpose because he knew they would hurt her more than anything else he could do or say? He had no right to be sitting here.
Im sorry, Luka, she whispered. Her throat was tight. I should have told you much earlier.
Dont apologize. Thats what Im here to do, he managed to say. He played with the button on his coat. Im sorry, Anna, for those things I said. He could barely get the words out. So inadequate. Im sorry for saying all those things. Im sorry for what happened to you Anna and Im sorry for what I said.
Luka, do you really think that I
Anna, he cut her off. Anna Im so ashamed of that. Please. Im sorry for those things I said Anna please. Can you ever forgive me that? Can you forgive those things I said? I didnt mean those things. You know I didnt mean those things. Im so sorry Anna. You know I dont think that. I wasnt thinking, all I could think of was Marija and the baby, and
and you shouldnt have told me just then, Anna. What were you thinking? If youd told me later, even by the time we got home, I could have he struggled for the word in English, handled it better. What were you thinking telling me that just then? He hadnt meant to follow his apologies with accusations.
He was right. He had stripped himself bare in the park, telling her about the baby, and had nothing left. She should have known that. She had held his shaking body until it collapsed in exhaustion. Nine years hed carried that secret, and he had picked her to be the one to receive it. Shed whispered in his ear that he was safe, that she would keep him safe. And then she had violated that promise the first chance she got. She had handed his exhausted body and mind one more thing to carry. She had told him because she couldnt bear not to, but she hadnt considered whether he was in a fit state to hear it. It was probably the most selfish thing shed ever done. Shed brought this on herself.
Youre right. Youre right. Im so sorry, Luka.
You should have waited, Anna.
Id put it off so long already, waiting felt like lying. But youre right, Luka. Im sorry.
Waiting felt like lying. Exactly what he had thought. He at least understood that.
Please. Im here to apologize, not you. You have nothing to apologize for, Anna. I think the things I said are maybe unforgivable, but Ill do anything if youll forgive them. Anything, please.
Anna, please, just let me, I dont deserve your forgiveness but I have to try. I cant bear losing you, too. That I found you and threw you away, I cant bear it. Elizabeth told me to throw myself at your feet and beg you to forgive me. I will, Anna, Ill do anything. Just tell me what to do and Ill do it. Anything, anything.
Luka stop. She couldnt stand it, she couldnt stand that she had driven this strong man to this. Stop. Please. Dont.
He dropped his head, defeated. It was unforgivable. Even Anna, as generous as she was with him, couldnt forgive him this. He had thrown her away. He had found a woman who made even Marija smile approvingly in the night and he had thrown her away.
Anna slipped down to the next step and rested her head against his knee. He looked down at her in surprise and tentatively moved a hand to stroke her hair. She didnt resist him. He closed his eyes and let his hand caress her hair, played with a loose strand, stroked a finger along her cheek and the line of her jaw and gently brushed her lips. Let me just have this last little thing before you send me away, he thought, tears springing to his eyes. Let me get one last look at your beautiful face, he thought, running his finger up her cheek to her eyebrows, tracing the lines he knew by heart. He stroked her forehead and ran a finger down the bridge of her nose and across her cheek. Her wet cheek.
Hed never seen her cry. Not once. Hed handed her horror after horror about his life and she responded by taking a deep breath and taking his hand and forcing her strength into him as though their skin were permeable and she could give him parts of herself. He had raged in her face and she bent before him like a tree in the wind and let him spill his bile and anger all over her because he needed to, and hed never once seen her cry. Hed beaten at the most vulnerable part of her and she took it like more of a man than he was. Her tears now broke his heart. He had done that to her.
He tilted her face up and dropped to a lower step so that his eyes were level with hers. He gazed at her face. That face. The face that had blushed at him from across a computer screen. The face he had made love to. The face that had disappeared with a smile down the El tracks one morning. The face that had laughed at him as he stood bedraggled in the rain. The face he had kissed madly, softly. The face he saw in the night next to Marijas. The face that drove him crazy in his dreams. The face that gave him strength when he cried. The face hed watched go pale in shock and hurt as he hurled words at her like stones. The face he loved.
Oh god Anna I love you, please dont send me away. Please forgive me those things.
Do you really think that, Luka?
Shhhh, Anna, please Im so sorry.
She pulled back. No, Luka. Dont tell me to be quiet. She took a deep breath to regain her composure and brushed her hand quickly across her cheek. Do you know what you said to me? The things you called me? What you accused me of? Dont tell me to be quiet, Luka, she hissed. Do you really think Id do that, that Id whore myself out to murderers and butchers for a few lousy interviews? Is that what you think about me? If thats what you really think about me fuck you and the horse you rode in on.
Luka bowed his head. I deserve it, Anna. I know. You can yell all night and into the morning if it means you might give me a chance. I dont think that. You know I dont think that. I was just you know I dont think that. Would I be here if I thought that?
Do you want to know how I got those interviews?
No. No, I dont need to know, he whispered
Tough. Im going to tell you and youre going to listen to me. I have a friend who works for Public Radio International. He did a series on Vukovar years ago. He gave me the names of two men he had talked to. One was still alive. He agreed to speak with me, and he gave me a few more names. And I talked to them, and they each passed me a name or two. Most times people were willing enough to talk to me once they understood I wouldnt use their names, that I was just a student, and that I was the friend of someone who had dealt with them fairly once before. A few thought I was from The Hague and wouldnt talk to me at all. If people didnt want to talk to me, we didnt talk. Mostly they would, usually I had to pick up the tab for dinner or something, Im not allowed to pay for interviews but they usually wanted something and I tried to figure out how to get it for them without completely violating my research protocols. I guess sometimes they did want to sleep with me, Luka. A few came right out and said it, and that was always the end of that. In a weird way I appreciated their honesty, for lack of a better word, since it alerted me to what was about to be a dicey situation and helped me stay out of it. Not everybody was so straightforward.
She hesitated and then thought okay, hes a doctor Ill just tell him like I told the doctor.
Once I was halfway through an interview when the subject started putting his hands all over me and I tried to get out of his office but he had caught me off guard and he smacked me upside the head with a paperweight and raped me on his desk. Then he said that was all the time he had for me and excused himself. I let you believe it happened in Spain and I guess maybe that was like lying. Even before you told me about Marija and the baby, Luka, I just didnt think you could take any more.
Im sorry, he whispered. Im sorry you thought that. Im sorry you thought you couldnt lean on me because I was so busy leaning on you. Im sorry I didnt take better care of you. You werent being entirely fair to me, Anna.
I wasnt fair to you?
Anna, youre always so worried about me you dont let me worry about you. You never let me help you. Thats not fair to me. I want to help you, too. Isnt that what Im supposed to do? Are you ever going to lean on me, Anna? Do you even need me around at all?
Do I need you? Look at me, Luka. Im a mess. I sure couldve used you around lately, but you were gone. She settled back into his arms. I missed you so much, Luka. She let out a long weary sigh. I needed you, she whispered. Im so glad youre back.
Im sorry I didnt take better care of you, Anna. The one time shed needed him to lean on he had abandoned her. And he was the reason she needed to lean in the first place. Im sorry. I wont leave you like that again. I promise.
Why didnt you come sooner? I missed you.
I didnt know how to face you again, Anna. After saying all those things, Anna, by the time I got home and I realized what Id said and figured out what had really happened to you I wanted to take them all back but I didnt know how to face you after that. How could I face you after that? And each day it just got harder. And then it had been so long since Id talked to you that I didnt know how to. It was like, what did you call it, it turned into an elephant?
Anna smiled. That was so long ago now. You should have tried sooner. Ive missed you so much, and I needed you, Luka, and you should have come sooner. She tightened her arms around him. Why didnt you come sooner?
I was afraid.
Of me? Anna asked, and Luka smiled.
Yes of you, my Anna. Didnt she know? Of being sent away by you. I couldnt take being sent away by you, Im not made of stone, Anna.
No, of course he wasnt. That had been her mistake. Hed been so strong for so long that she had blinded herself to his inevitable breaking point and she had crossed it without even noticing.
No, I guess youre not. And Im sorry. You needed to know about the people Ive worked with but my timing couldnt have been worse and for that Im really really sorry, Luka. But Im not made of stone either, Luka. You cant just leave like that, Luka, without a word. I deserve more than that. Do you know what that did to me, Luka? Thinking you had just walked away for good? That Id never see you again? Do you know what its meant to have you in my life? And then to think Id lost it? You cant just take that away without an explanation.
Im sorry, Anna.
I know. Dont do it again.
He drew her to him. She pressed closer against him. Luka tightened his arms around her. He tried to pour back into her some of the strength she had given him so freely.
I dont want to be alone anymore. I dont want to push you away anymore. Come home with me, Anna, he whispered, kissing her hair.
Are you going to keep running, Luka? Are you going to wake up and run one day and leave me wondering where the hell you are?
Luka wrinkled his brow. Im not running, Anna.
Anna pulled back to look at him and laughed. Oh, Luka, of course you are. Look at you. How many hospitals have you worked in in the past five years? Boston, New York, Washington, Cincinnati, Chicago. Youre either a runner or a lousy doctor who keeps getting fired and Im willing to bet youre a great doctor. So that leaves runner. Luka, I dont even need a map to guess where youre going next. Its either Sioux City, Iowa or Lincoln, Nebraska, depending on how far you feel like driving. Get on I-80 and dont turn, Luka, and youll find it.
Luka ignored the sarcasm that crept into her voice. She was entitled to it. Okay, youre right. I have been running, but its not who I really am. I never ran before, before the war. And Im tired of running now, Anna.
Are you sure? You have no idea what Ive done to convince myself I can live without you now. I cant do that twice, I just cant.
Anna. I dont want to leave here. I dont want to leave you. I want to make a home. I want you to be in it.
Her stomach leapt. Luka.
Luka rested his head on her shoulder. Involuntarily Annas hand began stroking his hair. Im tired of running, Anna, I just want to stand still. For the first time in almost ten years, Anna, I just want to stand still. You make me want that.
It was over before it began. It had been a foregone conclusion when she saw him on the steps that if were there to come back she would take him. Shed forgiven him before hed opened his mouth. Her fingers stroking his hair told her as much.
Ive missed you so much, Anna. This past month has been hell. I dont want to do that any more. I want you in my life. I want to love you.
You want to or you do? Anna asked.
Its the same thing, Anna, Luka said in surprise.
It is for me.
Are you sure? I wont be a project, Luka. If you have to make some big effort out of it, I dont want it.
Oh, Anna, you think too much. Blame it on my English. It wasnt meant to sound that way. I love you, and that feels good to me. I want to love you, thats what I mean.
So why are you here, Luka?
You. I want you. If youll have me. After what Ive said, what Ive done.
Its forgiven, Luka.
And before that, Anna? In the park?
What about the park?
I never cried like that in front of Marija. I guess there was never much to cry about before she died. Im afraid of what you must think.
Why? I dont understand.
It must be hard for you, Anna. Watching a man mourn the family he had without you. Listening to me tell you how much I loved Marija. How much I still miss her even now. And to see me well, to see me like that.
To see you like what? Human? In pain? Strong enough to face up to it? You think I think less of you because you cried? Luka, I think more! What could she say? Of course you loved Marija. You still do. I know that. I wouldnt expect less. Im not an idiot, Luka. Have I ever asked you to stop loving them? Have I ever asked you not to speak of them? Have I ever given you any reason to believe I dont want them in your life? That I expect you to forget them?
No. No. Im not accusing you of that. But it must be hard for you.
You should let me decide whats hard for me, Luka. Im tougher than you think.
No, he thought, you want me to think youre tougher than you are. He could see in her face the sleep she had lost and when took her in his arms he felt the weight she had lost off of her already slight frame. Im going to let you lean on me, if youll let me. I promise Im going to take care of you.
Besides, Anna continued, its probably no harder for me than it must be for you to be with a woman who isnt Marija. To contemplate making room in your life for me. That must be hard for you. When you told me she would like me, Luka, Im not kidding, that was the nicest thing youve ever said. It means the world to me that you think she would. That maybe she approves of this.
Oh, she does, Luka said and managed a small smile. Dont think Im crazy, Anna, but I asked.
I dont think youre crazy. I know you asked, Anna replied.
Theyre always going to be in my heart, Anna.
I know that. I wouldnt have it any other way. Its not fair for you to hold that against me, Luka, I never ever once expected anything less. So long as theres room in there for me, too. I want you to love them, Luka, but I need you to be able to move forward with me.
Are you kidding? I love you, Anna, do you even have to ask?
Anna smiled at a distant memory. I need to know, Luka.
Of course theres room for you, Anna. Dont you know? You moved in a long time ago. Its want I want, making a life with you. Do you still want it, though, Anna? Youve seen me at my worst. I said unforgivable things to you. Youve seen how weak I can be.
I think Ive seen you at your best, too, Luka. Ive seen how strong you can be.
I dont want you feeling sorry for me. I dont want to see that in your face. Its part of what took me so long to tell you, I dont want to see that in your face.
I dont feel sorry for you, Luka. I feel for you, but thats different. I love you and youve lost so much and that matters to me. What do you expect? Youve had a hard life, Luka, and you carry it around with you. Of course you do. Its part of who you are. Its not all of who you are, but I need to know it to know you. Youre the one who said that, that I need to know all of you. But you were the one keeping me from that, not me. You cant keep parts of your life important parts a secret because you dont want people to feel sorry for you. How will I ever know you like that? You cant run away from the people who love you. She squeezed his hand. Luka. I love you. God knows Ive tried not to, you have no idea how Ive spent the past month, but I do. I dont feel sorry for you, Luka, I feel everything for you. Look at me, Luka. Is it that awful for you to be seen by me?
Its everything to me to be seen by you, Anna. Its what Ive been waiting for. He drew her close to him. He couldnt stop himself from leaning forward to kiss her lightly. It frightens me.
I know, but you cant run roughshod over me like that. I know you were hurt and angry but you didnt even try to come back to me and explain, Luka. Thats all I wouldve needed, you know. But you didnt even try. You didnt even give me a chance to understand you and forgive you. You didnt give me a chance to help you. And you didnt give me a chance to ask you for the help I needed. I needed you too, but you just left. I wont live with a man who wont even give me chance, whos going to run when things get hard. I dont mind if things get hard, Luka, Im sure they will. But I mind you taking off just because its hard.
Hed been alone for so long hed gotten used to it. He could wrap himself in his solitude and nobody would notice, nobody would care. Hed forgotten how easily his actions could affect other people it had been years since there had been anybody there to affect. He wasnt used to having other people to think about. Hed forgotten how to compromise, how to give in. He couldnt just decide things by fiat anymore. Elizabeth was right. It was time to grow up. He would have to learn everything again, how to share, how to talk, how to trust. To make space without pushing everybody else out of the room. To get angry within the circle of her. To stay. To think he had been worried about making love again after all these years. Lovemaking had turned out to be the easy part. Remembering how to love her well was going to take some doing.
Im sorry, Anna. I guess Im used to being alone. Its hard, remembering how to be angry with somebody and wake up and theyre still there the next day, and youre still angry, and you have to fix it. Ive been alone for so long, Ive forgotten how to do that.
Let me help you remember. Im not going anywhere, Luka. Trust me. You dont have to be alone anymore.
I dont want to be alone anymore. I dont want to push you away anymore. Come home with me, Anna, he whispered. "I want you with me, Anna."
She pressed herself into him and he felt her begin to shake in his arms.
Ssshhhh, Anna. Its okay. Shhhh.
A month of pent-up tears poured out of her. I thought you were gone, she choked out. I thought you were gone. What was I going to do if you were gone?
Shh, he kissed her hair, her forehead. Shh, Anna. He brushed away a tear and kissed her cheek. Its okay, Im sorry. Im here. Shhhh. Im not going anywhere, shhh, Anna.
She tightened her arms around him. Dont go. Stay here with me, Luka.
He pictured himself making love to her in his bed, pictured waking up in his apartment with her warm body curled next to him, waking her slowly, loving her, like he had pictured so many times before. He thought of all the nights he had wanted her there so desperately. He thought of all the times hed held himself back, said good night, gone home, in part because he was waiting for the time he could take her into his bed. He thought about how much it had seemed to matter that she be there in his bed. The pictures blew away like feathers. How stupid hed been. She was his bed.
Ill stay with you, my Anna, he whispered. He bent to kiss her and she kissed him back desperately, clinging to him, murmuring I thought you were gone between kisses. From the start her body had always given her away, speaking volumes. He felt her now trying to fuse herself into him.
He stood up and pulled her to her feet. Give me your keys, Anna, and she handed them to him and took his hand in hers in the same motion. He separated himself from her long enough to unlock the door and step aside for her, a little gentlemanly gesture he would make for any woman but that he loved so especially making for her. Then he crossed the threshold and closed the door behind them and he came home to her.
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