Now that Roza was leaving for St. Louis, Luka suddenly found himself feeling very much alone. Everyday he checked his answering machine to see if she called to say she was staying. He drove by her house hoping to see her or the children one last time. But he didn't try to call her--he would respect her wishes not to.
One day he got home to find on his answering machine, a message from Roza. She and the children had safely arrived in St. Louis and were geting settled in. He played the message back at least a dozen times just to hear her voice.
At County, Luka performed his work adequately but was too quiet and withdrawn for Kerry's peace of mind. After observing him for several days, she made the decision to talk to him about what was going on.
Kerry was waiting in the lounge for Luka when he showed up to start the day. She gave him time to get his labcoat and stethescope before firmly pointing to the couch and saying, "Sit down. We need to talk."
"About what, Kerry? I have patients to see," Luka said.
"Mark and Maluchi can handle things for now," Kerry pointed out. "Sit down."
Luka relunctantly sat down and said, "I'm okay, Kerry."
Kerry tok a seat beside him and replied, "You don't look okay, Luka. You look like you haven't been sleeping and you look like you're losing weight. I'm concerned about you. Still talking with Dr. DeRaad?"
"Not recently. I was spending a lot of my free time with Rozalija Lukovic and her children," Luka admitted.
"I had an idea. But now you're back to being the way you were after Carol left," Kerry said.
"Roza and the children moved to St. Louis for now. She said she had some things to get straightened out," Luka told her.
"You miss her?" Kerry asked quietly.
"Yes. Both her and the children. She says that she'll eventually contact me," Luka answered.
"Well, you'll just have to wait. Isn't her baby due soon?"
"Yeah. In late October. I wish I could be there with her," Luka answered.
"Well, you'll just have to wait. Or move to St. Louis. But I want you to stay here at County. Unfortunately I don't have any medicine to cure loneliness or love sickness. So nothing to do but work through it," Kerry said. "Go on and get to work."
"I'll consider what you said, Kerry. Thank you," Luka said and headed for the door.
Kerry watched him leave and sighed. She'd gotten Luka to reveal what was going on and hoped she hadn't given him the idea to leave Chicago. He was a valued member of her ER staff and she didn't want to lose him.
Luka quickly started to work treating a patient. He had decided that the busier he stayed, the less time he could think of other things, especially missing Roza.
Luka's 36th birthday arrived, not that he really cared. He'd given up celebrating birthdays when he turned 27. That year, he'd been in a hospital trying to recover from his very serious injuries and dealing with the sudden loss of his family.
Despite being so busy treating the increasing number of war casualties, the hospital staff had done their best to cheer Luka up. Somewhere they'd managed to acquire a small cake and chocolate ice cream. They had brought both to him, singing 'Happy Birthday'. But Luka had refused their attempts to make him feel better and instead retreated back into the withdrawn state he spent so much of his time. And he thought about how how his birthday had been the year before. When his family was still alive.
They had just recently moved to Vukovar so he could begin work at the hospital there. They had made the decision made to keep the children inside the appartment all the time. Mirjana began teaching them to read and write to pass the time. Jasna had been so proud to be able to write HAPPY BIRTHDAY, PAPA! on her handmade card. Marco had carefully drawn him a
picture and Mirjana knitted a warm sweater for when winter came. She'd even gotten a neighbor to go buy some cake and ice cream as a surprise.
Abby and some of the ER staff conspired to throw Luka a surprise party.They obtained Kerry's permission to hold it in the lounge and her help to keep him occupied while they decorated.
After treating his last patient for the day, Luka headed for the lounge. All he really wanted to do was go home and have a beer and forget about the fact that he was getting older. When he opened the lounge door, everybody yelled, "SURPRISE!"
Luka stepped back, startled at the the sudden yelling. It had been quite awhile since anybody had thrown him a party. He'd had absolutely no idea that one was being planned. "How'd you find out that today is my birthday?" he asked.
"We got Dr. Weaver to tell us," Abby told him. She smiled and handed him a silly hat.
Luka smiled slightly as he put on the hat. Then he moved through the crowd to his locker. "I-I don't know what to say," he told them.
"Say "Thank you for the party."," Kerry suggested as she entered the lounge. "Relax, Luka, all I told them was when your birthday was and how old you'd be."
"Thank you for the party," Luka said, looking at the cake and presents on the table. "It's been a long time since I've had a birthday party."
"Well, you're certainly overdue for one," Chuny commented. She handed him a brightly wrapped package. "This is from all the nurses."
"I wonder what it could be," he said and tore off the wrapping. Inside was the most colorful and gaudy Hawaiian shirt he'd ever seen. And he'd seen plenty--working one winter in Hawaiia. Palm trees and parrots seemed to be fighting each other to be the main pattern.
"We thought you needed something a little more colorful to wear but I guess we got carried away," Abby explained.
Luka held the shirt up and had to smile at the mental image of himself wearing it. *If I ever wear it, everybody will think I've gone crazy for sure.* he thought.
"Maybe you should have started with something small--like a nice tie," Kerry suggested.
"Thank you for the shirt. I'm sure I'll find some occasion to wear it,"Luka told them.
"Open your other packages," Abby instructed.
While Luka was still holding the shirt, Lydia had came in with the camera and quickly snapped a couple of pictures. "Your birthday portrait," she said with a laugh.
Luka set the shirt aside and sat down on the couch to take the package that Abby handed him. After getting the shirt, he was a little wary of what the other gifts could be. Tearing off the paper, he found a pair of navy blue walking shorts. "Let me guess--to go with the shirt?" he said.
"Yes. We figured that matching shorts might be a little TOO colorful," Abby replied.
"If those other packages contain sandles and a one-way ticket to Hawaii--then I'd think you were trying to get rid of me," Luka joked.
"Sorry, Luka. No ticket to Hawaii," Kerry told him. "I guess you're stuck here in Chicago."
"With us," Amira added.
"Chicago's not so bad--and neither are most of the people here," Luka told them and picked up another package.
Malik stuck his head in the door and said, "Sorry to break up your party, Dr. Kovac, but we have a multiple victim trauma coming in about six minutes out. Boating accident on the lake."
"That's it. Come on, everyone," Kerry said and headed for the door. She looked back to where Luka was still holding his present. "You can help yourself to the cake if you want."
Luka set aside the present and got to his feet. "Need my help, Kerry?" he asked.
"Maybe," she replied.
Luka quickly grabbed his labcoat and stethescope and followed the rest of the staff out of the room. "You and I can each take a trauma room," he said to Kerry.
"All right. But as soon as Mark gets here, just finish up what you're doing and leave. You've put in enough work for one day," Kerry told him.
Randi had just hung up the phone and she quickly intercepted Kerry, saying, "Dr. Greene just called. Said he was in a traffic accident and will be running late."
"Accident?" Kerry asked. "How bad?"
"Nothing serious--just a minor fender-bender. But the woman he hit insists on waiting for the police and exchanging insurance information," Randi answered.
"I guess you really need my help after all," Luka commented as he headed for Trauma One.
"I guess so," Kerry replied.
Mark still hadn't showed up by the time they had finished treating the trauma victims. Kerry followed Luka back to the lounge and watched him gather up the unopened presents. "If you stick around until Mark gets here, I'll run the board for him and then buy you supper," she said.
"Sounds good. Doc Magoo's or the cafeteria?"
"No. Some place beter. I was thinking of taking off for a couple of hours before we got TOO busy. I know a nice little Greek restaurant not far from here. Do you have your car with you?" Kerry asked.
"No. Took the el this morning. Flat tire and no air in the spare. Have to get it fixed tonight," Luka replied.
"I'll just drop you off at home," Kerry said.
Mark finally showed up and was in a very bad mood. "What took you so long?"
"I hit a car but this crazy woman ran a red light so I couldn't stop in time. She demands that we wait for the police before exchanging insurance information. Then she demands that that I be given a breathalyzer test when I hadn't had anything to drink!" Mark snapped back at her. "The police took their damn time getting there."
"Well, as soon as I run the board--I'm taking off for a couple of hours. I can be paged if needed and I will be back," Kerry said.
"Where are you going?" Mark wanted to know.
"It's Luka's birthday and I told him I'd treat him for supper since he covered for you during the last trauma," Kerry replied.
"How old are you?" Mark asked Luka.
"36," Luka replied.
"Getting up in years now," Mark commented.
"Yeah. Getting up in years," Luka agreed.
As soon as Mark was brought up to date on the patients, Kerry and Luka left for the Greek restaurant. Despite being a Saturday evening, the place was fairly empty and the two doctors were able to get a quiet booth in the corner.
The young waitress handed them the menus and asked, "Can I get you something to drink?"
"You're not driving or working so you can order whatever you want, Luka," Kerry told him.
Luka quickly looked over the drinks list and said, "I'll have a glass of the sweet wine."
"I'll have a club soda," Kerry added.
The waitress wrote down their orders and hurried off.
"You know, Kerry, that telling everyone about my birthday was revealing personal information," Luka began.
"I know--and I shouldn't have done that. But everybody thought a surprise party might cheer you up. Either that or sending you to St. Louis. And I know you're still waiting to hear from your freind. You're not mad at me, are you?" Kerry asked.
"No, Kerry, I'm not mad. I appreciate the gesture and I really was surprised," Luka replied. He began looking through the menu. "Do you come here often?"
"Sometimes. They have good food. Nothing fancy but delicious."
By the time the waitress arrived with their drinks, they had decided on what they wanted to eat. "This is on one ticket. I'll have the broiled fish and salad with feta cheese," Kerry said.
"I'll have the same and also a bowl of fresh fruit," Luka added.
The waitress quickly wrote down their orders and said, "It won't be too long."
"I always liked simple meals since we didn't have much money after I got married," Luka said and took a sip of wine. "I used to drink this when I was a student in Zagreb."
"Seems a long time ago, doesn't it?" Kerry asked.
"A long time ago," he agreed.
"Well, Luka, it's been quite a year since you first came here looking for a job. If I hadn't thought you were a capable doctor, I wouldn't have hired you after Dr. Lawrence left. He meant a lot to me. He was my teacher, my mentor," Kerry said.
"I know. I had a special mentor back in Zagreb. He taught me a lot. Especially to respect the nursing staff because a doctor cannot do everything," Luka replied.
"He certainly taught you well," Kerry commented. "I see how you work with the nurses."
By the time their food arrived, Luka had finished off his glass of wine. He asked the waitress to bring him another one.
"Would you like me to bring the bottle?" she inquired.
"No. I don't believe so," Luka answered. He looked over at Kerry. "Have some of the fruit."
She smiled and took a piece. "Thank you, Luka."
The waitress brought him his wine and asked, "Is everything okay?"
"Everything's fine," Luka told her. He started to eat, realizing that he was very hungry. The fish and the salad were just what he liked and he made a mental note to come back again soon.
They had finished their meal and sat quietly talking when their waitress and another one came to the booth. They were carrying a large piece of baklava with a lighted candle. "We heard you talking about your birthday so here's the cake.," she said and the other waitress joined her in singing 'Happy Birthday'.
Luka looked over at Kerry to ask, "Did you put them up to this?"
"No," she replied.
"Make a wish," the waitress instructed.
Luka closed his eyes and quickly made his wish. *I wish that I hear from Roza.* He blew out the candle.
"Good wish?" Kerry asked.
"Good wish," he replied. He looked at Kerry. "There's enough of this desert for both of us."
"It's your baklava," she said. "Eat what you want,"
"But I insist on sharing," Luka said and cut the desert in half, putting one piece on Kerry's plate. "Enjoy it."
She took a bite and said, "Thank you, Luka."
The waitress brought their check and Luka studied it, saying, "I'll get this."
"But I'm supposed to be paying--it's your birthday," Kerry protested.
"Kerry, I was always taught that the gentleman always pays for the lady in his company. You've given me enough--pleasent company and took me to a place where I could get an excellant meal," Luka said. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet.
Kerry looked at him, knowing that he wouldn't let her pay. It was a part of what made him different from a lot of the men she had known. "Okay. But I can at least take care of the tip."
"It's a deal. Then I think you'd better be getting back to County," Luka said.
"You're right. I'll drop you off at your house," Kerry replied. She left some money on the table while Luka went to pay for their meal.
When they arrived at Luka's house, he said, "Thank you for the meal, Kerry. I really enjoyed myself." He grabbed the shopping bag full of gifts and got out of the car.
"It was my pleasure, Luka," Kerry replied as she started to drive off.
Luka gave her a wave and then stopped to check his mailbox. Leaning against the post was a package wrapped in brown paper and postmarked St. Louis. He emptied his mailbox, dropping the contents into the shopping bag and then picked up the package.
Inside, he hurriedly fed and watered Katica before sitting down on the couch. He was very eager to to find out what the package contained. Tearing it open, he discovered a couple of brightly wrapped presents, some handmade and store bought birthday cards and a note from Roza. Tearing open the envelope, he quickly read the note.
I hope this finds you enjoying a happy birthday. The children and I miss
you and want you to know we think of you often. Jasaminka asks when she
will see her 'Dr. Luka' again and I must tell her that I don'T know when. I
am doing very well and have found a wonderful doctor whom I am now seeing
once a week. The baby is healthy but so active that I'm afraid he's anxious
to be born. I promise to let you know when he arrives and you can come
Luka folded the note and stuck it in his pocket. He began looking at the cards from Roza and the children, smiling at the drawing Jasaminka had made of her teddy bear. Nikola had drawn a picture of his favorite Pokemon. The twins reminded him so much of his own dear Jasna and Marco that he'd sometimes would blink back tears when he looked at them.
Luka set aside the cards and opened the first package. Inside was a silk tie with violet and mauve flowers on a dark green background. He held it up, liking how it looked against his navy blue shirt. *Maybe it is time I added a little color to my wardrobe.* he thought.
His other present was a small tie of homemade butter cookies which he immediately closed back up to keep Katica from getting into it. He then began sorting through the rest of his mail. There were the usual bills, junk mail and a couple birthday cards, including one from Carol. He opened it first, wondering what she had to say. The card was a humorous one and she'd written to say that they were doing very well in Seatle and that the girls were 'growing like weeds'. he smiled at the recent photos she'd enclosed, remembering with fondness the times spent with the three of them.
The next day Luka wore his new tie to work but planned to take it off so it wouldn't get messed up. As he opened his locker, Abby glanced over at him and said, "Nice tie."
"You think so? A friend gave it to me," he replied as he started to take it off.
Kerry entered the lounge and watched Luka. "I said a said a nice tie would be good," she said. "Where'd you get it?"
"Rozalija Lukovic sent it to me," Luka replied. He hung the tie in his locker and reached for his labcoat and stethescope.
"Well, it certainly looks good on you," Kerry commented.
"Thank you," Luka replied. He pulled on his labcoat and headed for the door.
To part 7
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