In the days that followed Luka began to plan for Alices discharge from hospital. He had decided that she was going to come and stay with him so that he could look after her properly. The first thing he did was to buy himself a bed-settee so that she could have his room. It took up almost all the room in his lounge but he had to have the largest model in the store just so that he could stretch out properly.
Then he stocked up the cupboards and refrigerator with healthy foods. He wanted to cook for Alice to build up her strength. The food at County was supposedly nutritious but Luka could see that Alice had lost even more weight since shed been there.
Finally he arranged to continue paying rent to Chunys aunt to keep Alices options open but he hoped that she would want to stay with him indefinitely. The only thing he didnt do was ask Alice if she agreed with his plans he figured hed cross that bridge when he came to it.
When the day came at last, Alice couldnt wait for Luka to arrive. She had been up and dressed, all her stuff packed and waiting for what seamed like hours. She had brushed her hair until it shone and applied a little makeup. She could not completely hide the shadows under her eyes or the pallor of her skin but she looked a lot more human. Finally Luka arrived slightly out of breath as he had got fed up waiting for the elevator and had sprinted up the stairs.
Ready? he gasped. Oh yes Im ready! Alice picked up a couple of bags. Let me get those. Luka made to take them from her. No, I can manage. She pulled then away from his reach You can take those others. Luka shrugged, he guessed they didnt look too heavy for her.
Here, let me help you. Luka put his arm around her waist as if to support her, which was awkward as he had bags in both his hands. Oh, for goodness sake Luka. I dont need help to walk, Im not an invalid! Alices tone was sharp and she struggled impatiently out of his arms. She couldnt believe she was behaving like this. Her face flushed red.
Luka just looked at her, a look of hurt on his face. He took a step back from her. Have I done something wrong? Alice looked at her feet. No, Im sorry She shrugged unable to express what she felt Shall we go? She took the lead towards the door, Luka following close behind.
Nothing was said all the way down in the elevator. Silently they walked out to the parking garage where Luka threw her bags into the back of his car. Automatically he went to open the car door for her; their hands met on the handle as Alice made the same move. She snatched her hand away as if the touch had burnt her. Luka was startled but still said nothing.
It was only when they were both sat in the car that he turned to her and in his gentle voice enquired What is it, Alice? Why are you acting so ..so jumpy? Alice couldnt meet his gaze and stared at her hands in her lap. She didnt know how to put into words what she was feeling. It was his kindness and protectiveness that were getting her all worked up but she didnt understand why.
I just dont know, Luka. Im sorry. Im a little edgy. I ..I dont know why. It was the best explanation she could manage. She felt really bad about hurting his feelings and yet every little gesture of friendship seamed to get right on her nerves. What was wrong with her?
At last Luka started the car and drove them out of the garage. The atmosphere in the car was still pretty tense but Luka tried to calm himself by concentrating on the traffic. Whatever the problem was would not be made any better if he lost his cool. After they had driven a few blocks it was clear that they were not headed for Chunys aunts house.
Where are we going? Alice asked. To my place. Luka was now regretting not consulting Alice about his plans. I, er .thought it would be best if you stayed with me for a while until youre er .fully fit He mentally cringed ready for her reaction.
Oh. Was all that Alice said. Her mind was racing though. She felt tears stinging her eyes but couldnt understand why she was feeling so upset. Luka was just being his usual kind and thoughtful self. What was wrong with that? She valued his friendship. He was her best friend. But, she at last admitted to herself, she wanted more. She loved him! She sniffed back her tears and looked out of the side window, afraid to let Luka see her face.
What was hurting so badly was that Luka only saw her as a friend. She was so much younger than he was and in trouble. He pitied her. She didnt want pity! She wanted him to see her as a woman, to desire her and love her. Alice sniffed again.
Youre not crying are you? Lukas voice betrayed his concern for her. No! Alice lied, digging her nails into her palms to try and stop herself from sobbing. The car pulled up by the kerb and Luka turned off the engine. Getting out, he strode around to the passenger side to open Alices door. This time she let him do so without complaint.
She even let him take her arm and lead her up the steps to his apartment. Inside Alice looked around, noting the huge couch now taking up most of the lounge. She and Luka had spent many happy times here watching rented movies, listening to music and talking talking for hours at a time. Could they go back to that easy friendship? She wasnt sure but she was frightened of driving him away altogether. His friendship was too valuable to loose.
Thank you Alice gave Luka a shy smile. Im sorry Ive been a bit grumpy. I think Im a bit tired. Why dont you go and take a nap then? Luka suggested And Ill fix us some lunch. He opened the door to the bedroom. The room was immaculately tidy all Lukas personal bits and pieces tidied away. The furniture was shining with polish; the linen on the bed crisply pressed and a huge vase of flowers stood on the dressing table.
Oh, Luka! Theyre lovely! Luka was delighted to see a genuine smile light up Alice face. He pulled her into his arms and gave her a huge bear like hug, resting his face against the top of her head. Its good to have you back, Alice. I ..I couldnt bear to see you in the hospital.
Alice pressed her face against Lukas chest feeling his heart beating loudly and breathing in his warm masculine scent. Could she be content with this? Luka was generous with displays of affection. He was always touching her, stroking her hair even kissing her platonically like he was now on the top of her head. Could this be enough? It would have to be for Alice couldnt bear to loose him altogether.
Releasing her from his embrace Luka mumbled something about lunch and excused himself from the room. Alice sat down on the bed; suddenly feeling really tired after all. Perhaps she would lie down for a moment and close her eyes. Before she knew it she was sound asleep.
Luka had planned to make a light dish for Alice that his mother used to make. First he measured out a quantity of cracked wheat and then put the kettle on to boil. Then he turned on the oven to its maximum setting and got out some large red and yellow peppers. He sliced them in half and set them in a shallow roasting tin. He drizzled olive oil over them and seasoned them with salt and pepper before setting them on one side to wait for the oven to reach temperature.
As he worked, assembling and chopping the ingredients to make the stuffing for the peppers, Luka tried to make sense of Alices behaviour. He understood that she was going to need time to deal with the trauma of the rape and the subsequent surgery indeed she was already seeing a therapist. But this was something else, something to do with him. He searched his memory for something that he has said or done to upset her.
He admitted that he should have asked her first before assuming that she would want to stay with him and perhaps he had been treating her a little like an invalid. He couldnt help feeling protective towards her. She was so precious to him. He was already worried about her returning to work. The Centre was in a less than salubrious neighbourhood and even the young people who attended her music therapy sessions were a pretty strange bunch. Luka tried not to be prejudiced but he knew from experience that some people with learning disabilities could be violent.
He had discussed Alices safety with Bernard Huwyler, the Centre manager who had assured him that they had protocols and policies for dealing with violent behaviour and that Alice was no more at risk at work than he was working in the ER. Somehow this did not comfort Luka one bit. He knew that he could not wrap Alice up in cotton wool but he was finding it hard to deal with his own anxiety about her.
Worse still, Alice seamed to be pushing him away. He had not followed Kerrys advice and told Alice about his feelings for her. He was glad he hadnt now. It was quite clear that she did not feel the same way about him and was even cooling off their friendship a bit. It was going to be hard to have her living under his roof if there was no hope of her ever responding to him but the alternative was even worse. Luka leant against the worktop as if the weight of the world was on his shoulders.
Sighing, Luka decided to check and see if Alice was sleeping before putting the lunch in the oven. He quietly opened the door and was pleased to see that she was indeed asleep; curled up like a child - cuddling the comforter tightly.
She was so beautiful she took his breath away and for a long time he stood in the doorway just watching her sleep. Her denim skirt had ridden up exposing her long shapely legs and Luka ran his tongue over his lower lip as he imagined what it would feel like to have them wrapped around him. Smiling to himself he quietly slipped back out of the room, closing the door behind him.
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