The Invitation

part 7 by Poet


  It was Halloween when Luka arrived home from pulling a double shift in the ER. He played back his answering machine messages and heard an unfamiliar woman's voice. She was saying, "Dr. Kovac, I'm Marjorie Ellis and I'm calling to inform you that Roza delivered her baby last night. A healthy boy--both mother and son are doing fine."
  Luka replayed the message, committing the words to memory. He was relieved to know that both Roza and her baby were fine. But it made him want to be in St. Louis all the more.

  A few days later the baby's birth announcement arrived in the mail. to Luka's surprise and and delight, Roza had named her son 'Luka Alen' after him! She had included with the announcement a brief note of explanation.

'Dearest Luka,
I'm sure you're wondering why I named my son Luka so I'll explain. After
you began visiting us, Viktor and I discussed naming the baby after you
since we were going to choose you for his godfather. I know that Viktor
would approve of my choice of a name and I hope you approve. Enclosed is a
photograph of Little Luka. I promise to let you know when you can come
Your friend,

  Luka set aside the announcement and sat staring at the picture. As much as he wanted to be with Roza, he would do anything to not have Viktor dead. A father should be with his children and a mother should not have to raise the children alone. Luka had seen so much death and suffering in his life because of the war. But Viktor's death had been so senseless.
  Thanksgiving found Luka working as usual and recalling a year ago when Carol's babies had been born. He'd always felt somewhat protective of them since he'd helped Carol to the hospital.

  The letter arrived about two weeks before Christmas. Luka arrived home to find it waiting in his mailbox. Not even bothering to get in out of the cold and the snow, he tore open the envelope and quickly read the letter.

'Dearest Luka,
I am writing to invite you to come to St. Louis for Christmas. I know you
will probably be alone for the holiday. My friend Marjorie has a fold-out
couch and doesn't mind an extra guest. the children and I miss you and it
would be a good time for you to meet Little Luka. Please let me know as
soon as you can because I need to tell Marjorie.
Your friend,

  Luka hurried inside, ignoring Katica's complaining meows, and headed for the phone. He knew that Kerry was working the nightshift and he wanted to tell her about wanting Christmas off. Quickly he dialed the ER and spoke to Amira. "Is Dr. Weaver busy?"

  Amira glanced at the board and said, "I don't believe so, Dr. Kovac. Hold on a minute while I go get her."

  "Thanks, Amira," Luka said.

  Amira got up from the desk and headed for the lounge to see if she could locate Kerry. She found her going over some charts.

  Kerry looked up and asked, "What is it, Amira?"

  "Dr. Kovac is on line 3," Amira answered.

  "Thanks," Kerry said. She set aside the charts and got to her feet, heading for the desk where she picked up the phone. "Yes, Luka?"

  "Kerry, I wanted to know if it would be possible for me to have Christmas off this year," Luka answered.

  "I already have the schedule made up but I'll see what I can do. Mind if I ask why you suddenly want Christmas off?" Kerry inquired.

  "I just got a letter from Rozalija Lukovic and she invited me to spend the holiday in St. Louis," Luka explained.

  "I see. Well, I think I can do a little rearranging. You have worked a lot of extra shifts this past year. My suspension, Carter's attack and drug rehab, Mark's father...I can let you work from 6:00am to 6:00pm Christmas eve day, be off all day Christmas, and be back for the night shift on the 26th. That's the best I can do, Luka," Kerry told him.

  "That'll be okay, Kerry. It will give me time to spend Christmas with Roza and the children. Thank you very much," Luka said.

  "You're welcome, Luka," Kerry said. She hung up the phone and mentally began rearranging the schedule to give Luka the time off she'd promised. Well, Malucci would just have to work Christmas day after all.

  Roza had included a phone number at the bottom of her letter. After talking to Kerry, Luka fed and watered Katica and fixed himself a mug of herbal tea. He hoped to be a long time talking with Roza if she'd let him.

  Katica was staring up at him and meowing loudly. *Well, it took you long enough.*
  "I'll be making a phone call, Katica, so please do not bother me because I'll just ignore you," Luka told the kitten.

  She stared up at him and meowed. *We'll see about that.*

  Luka made himself comfortable on the couch, took a sip of tea and dialed the St. Louis phone number. He listened to the rings and wondered if someone would pick up or he'd just get an answering machine. Finally he heard a woman's voice say, "Hello? This is Marjorie Ellis."

  "Ms. Ellis, is Rozalija Lukovic there?" Luka asked.

  "She's busy right now. Who may I ask is calling?" Marjorie inquired.

  "My name is Luka Kovac and I'm calling from Chicago," he answered.

  "Oh, yes. You're the friend that Rozalija had me call to tell about the baby."

  "That's right. I'm calling to tell Roza that I will be able to accept her invitation to spend Christmas," Luka said.

  "I know that Rozalija will be happy to have you visit. She speaks of you often. I have plenty of room for you to stay so don't worry about that," Marjorie assured him.

  "I'm looking forward to the visit, Ms. Ellis," Luka said.

  "Here comes Rozalija so I'll leave you two to talk," Marjorie said and handed the phone to her friend. "It's that doctor from Chicago."

  "Luka?" Roza asked as she took the phone.

  "Yes. And he will be able to come here for Christmas," Marjorie added.

  "Luka, it's wonderful to hear from you," Roza told him.

  "You too, Roza," he replied, suddenly feeling shy. Now that he'd waited so long to talk to her, he couldn't think of a thing to say!

  "Marjorie told me that you're going to be able to come visit for Christmas," Roza continued.

  "That's right. But I can't stay that long. I get off at 6:00pm--or whenever I can get away on the 24th. I have off all day Christmas and expected back at County by 7:00pm the 26th," Luka told her.

  "That will give us time to visit anyway. The children will be asleep but I'll be waiting up when you get here. Little Luka keeps me up most of the night sometimes. Then after the children go to school, I nap and Marjorie looks after the baby," Roza said.

  "It maybe late when I get there. Hopefully the weather will be good," Luka said.
  "I'll mail you the instructions on how to get here. I cannot wait to see you again, Luka," Roza told him.

  "And I cannot wait until I see you and the children," Luka replied.

  "Then Christmas cannot come soon enough for us, huh? I know it cannot for the children. I've got the presents under lock and key. Otherwise the twins would be into theirs by now," Roza said and laughed.

  "I remember how I had to hide everything from Jasna. Marco was too little to really go looking. He would get into the presents if Jasna brought him his," Luka recalled.

  "Oh, how I'd get up early Christmas morning, sometimes too early for my parents who were still tired from midnight Mass. A special breakfast, open the presents, and then Mass again. Later Mirjana and I would gather at her home or mine to compare presents and exchange what we had for each other," Roza said.

  "Christmas is so much different here in the United States. So much the Santa Claus and the gift giving. But not so much the spiritual side. I loved the presents but I always knew the true meaning," Luka said.

  "I know. But the twins want to see Santa Claus and I will take them. It's something they've done every year. THe older ones are more into the meaning of Christmas although they do love the presents. It's too bad that their school cannot show very much about the true meaning," Roza continued.

  "I know. Last Christmas Eve we had a church youth choir come and sing Christmas carols in various wards. They even sang a couple in the ER. Last year I was working a double shift on Christmas Eve so someone with a family wouldn't have to work," Luka replied.

  "Luka, call me when you get off work on the 24th. Then I'll know you're on your way. I'll try and talk to you before then," Roza said.

  "I'll call," he promised.

  "I need to see to the children. Goodbye, Luka. It was nice talking with you," she said slowly.

  "It's been nice talking to you, Roza. Goodbye," he said and hung up the phone. He took a sip of his now cold tea and looked thoughtful.

  The next day at County, Luka sought Kerry out to talk to her for a few minutes before she headed home. "I wanted to tell you that I'm really looking forward to getting to St. Louis for Christmas," he said quietly.

  "I'm glad, Luka. You deserve the time off," Kerry replied.

  Since Luka was going to start working the nightshift for the next week, he decided that he'd better get some shopping done. It had been so long since he'd shopped for children's' gifts, that he really didn't know what to buy. He knew that the twins liked Pokemon but didn't know what all they had. So he decided not to get any of that. After some thought, he decided to go back to the shop where he'd bought Jasaminka's teddy bear.

  The young woman was still working there and she immediately recognized him. "So how did the little girl like her teddy bear?" she asked.

  "She loved it. I'm a doctor and she named it after me," Luka answered.

  "Looking for Christmas gifts?" the young woman asked.

  "Yes. I'm not sure just what to buy for children," Luka replied.

  "I know. What is popular changes so often. What did you have in mind?"

  "I don't really know," Luka admitted as he looked around the shelves.

  "How old are the children?" she asked.

  "Well, there are the five-year-old twins, a girl ten-years-old and a boy twelve," Luka told her.

  "How about twin teddy bears? I have a pair of boy and girl bears in matching outfits," the young woman suggested.

  "Sounds like a good suggestion," he agreed.

  "You know, for the older girl, you might get a nice locket or necklace. GIrls that age always like jewelry."

  "Thank you for the suggestions. I think that I will buy the teddy bears and a couple of puzzles," Luka said.

  "An excellent choice," she told him.

  After paying for his purchases, Luka carried them out to his car and then went looking for another store to shop in. He wanted to get Roza something  very special. Remembering that he often passed a jewelry store not far from the hospital, he headed there.

  Inside the jewelry store, Luka headed for a display of necklaces and pendants. A delicate topaz cross caught his attention. He knew that was her birthstone. And on a fine gold gold chain, it would look beautiful around her neck. The cross was within his price range and he couldn't think of a better gift. "Can I please have this gift wrapped?" he asked the clerk.
  "Of course, Sir. A Christmas present?" she asked.

  "Yeah. And do you have any inexpensive jewelry suitable for a young girl?" Luka asked.
  "We have smaller crosses and also some heart lockets," she replied.

  "Well, I don't really recall the girl's birthday," Luka began.

  "If you're getting gifts for a mother and daughter, they could match, you know," she told him. "I'll show you where they are."

  The crosses were a little smaller than the one Luka had picked out for Roza.They were almost half the price so he picked out a small topaz one for Zelika. Carrying it back to the counter, he said, "could you also gift wrap this? And do you have any tags to put on the boxes so I can tell them apart?"

  She nodded and reached under the counter to remove two holly trimmed gift tags. She handed them to Luka along with a pen filled with dark red ink.

  Luka quickly took one and wrote on it: 'To Rozalija--From Luka'. "This goes on the package with the first cross," he explained.

  Leaving the jewelry store with the two crosses, Luka headed for the nearby

discount/grocery store. He had to get necessities like kitten food and cat litter, as well as some food for himself. In the electronics department, he saw a fancy remote controlled truck and decided to get it for Little Viktor. As he was passing the pet department, he spotted a cat's Christmas stocking and decided to get it for Katica.

  In making all of his plans to get to St. Louis, Luka had completely forgotten about the kitten. Taking her with him was not an option since he planned to leave directly from the ER. He could either board her for a few days or have a neighbor or co-worker come in and look after her.

  The 24th finally arrived! Luka had made arrangements with a neighbor to come in twice a day to feed, water, and play with Katica. As well as changing her litter box. He told the kitten, "I'll be back in a couple of days. Mind Jessica and don't tear up the place while I'm gone. Okay?"

  She looked up at him with pleading eyes and softly meowed. *You're going to leave me here ALL alone? I'll be so lonely. Please stay.*

  Luka scooped her up to give her a hug and a pet. "You'll be okay, Katica. Jessica will make sure you get plenty of kitten treats and you'll have your Christmas stocking. Now be a good girl. I even left my bedroom door open so you can sleep on the bed," he told her.
  She licked his ear and he laughed before setting her down. He'd already given his neighbor the spare key the night before. Picking up his suitcase and the bags full of presents, he headed out to his car.

  At 6:00am the ER was already getting busy. It was a Sunday so the weekend partying had been going on for quite awhile. Now victims from drunk driving accidents were being brought in. Luka barely had time to grab his lab coat and stethoscope before being put to work. Carter had worked the nightshift and was ready for a break. "Glad you're here, Dr. Kovac," he said as Luka joined him in Trauma One with a critical MVA victim.
  "Busy night, huh?" Luka asked as he quickly accessed the patient.

  "You said it!" Carter replied, preparing to intubate.

  "Did you call for a surgical consult?" Luka asked.

  "Yes. They said that they'd send down someone as soon as possible," Carter answered.
  "What have we got?" Benton asked as he strode into the room.

  "Fourteen-year-old girl in MVA--abdominal tenderness and head trauma," Carter replied.
  "She's next for the OR," Benton decided, as he examined the girl.

  As soon as the patient was being wheeled to Surgery, Luka took a minute to leave his 'Secret Santa' gift with the rest. He had drawn Abby's name and bought her an old medical book he'd found in an antique store, as well as a small flower pin.

  Right after Carter got off shift, he brought Luka a package. "Here's your gift since you won't be here tomorrow," he explained.

   "Thank you, Carter," Luka said as he took the package.

  "Well, 'Merry Christmas' and I'm off until tomorrow," Carter said and headed for the lounge.

  "Merry Christmas," Luka replied. He looked at the tag, noting that it was from Abby. Curious as to what she had gotten him, he tore it open. Inside was a pine green shirt and a tie with candy canes on it. *At least I can wear this shirt in public* he thought as he read her brief note. 'Saw this and couldn't help thinking how you'd look in Christmas colors'
  He carefully folded up the shirt and tie and put them away in his locker.  Then he headed off to check the board.

  It turned out to be a busy day and by the time 6:00pm arrived, Luka was already feeling tired. Kerry arrived to take over the ER and he ran the board for her. "Ready for your time off?" she asked.

  "Yeah. Thanks again, Kerry, for giving me the time off," Luka replied as he headed for the lounge.

  Abby had come in early and was in the lounge taking off her coat. She turned to Luka and asked, "Did you get your 'Secret Santa' gift yet?"

  "I did. Thank you, Abby. I will definitely wear THIS shirt," Luka answered. He opened his locker to put away his lab coat and stethoscope.

  "Well, we did get a little carried away with your birthday present. So I thought something a little less colorful for Christmas," she said.

  Luka pulled on his jacket and grabbed his present. "Well, thanks again.  I'll see you on the 26th. Have a Merry Christmas," he said and headed out the door.

  "Merry Christmas, Luka," Abby called out after him.

  Suddenly remembering his promise to Roza, Luka turned and headed back to the lounge. "I just remembered that I need to make a phone call," he explained.

  "A private one?" Abby asked.

  "Not really. I promised a friend that I'd call her when I got off work," Luka replied. He reached in his pocket for Marjorie's telephone number. He quickly read over it and then dialed the number.

  "Hello?" said the cheerful voice at the other end of the line.

  "Ms. Ellis, may I speak to Rozalija?" Luka asked.

  "Oh, hello, Dr. Kovac. She's busy getting the children ready to go to the Christmas Eve service at my church. We have a beautiful candle lit service," Marjorie said.

  "Could you tell Roza that I'm starting on my way to St. Louis now?" Luka asked.
  "Of course. We'll say a prayer that you have a safe trip and we'll see you when you arrive," she answered.

  "Thank you. Goodbye, Ms. Ellis," Luka said and hung up the phone. He picked up his present and headed out the door again.

  Once Luka got on the interstate, he drove as fast as the speed limit would allow. About halfway to St. Louis, he pulled into a roadside convience store/gas station. Having left without getting anything to eat, he decided he'd better stop and get some hot coffee and a sandwich. Besides, he needed to fill up the gas tank. After filling the tank, he entered the store and wandered over to the case of microwaveable sandwiches. Grabbing a ham and cheese sandwich, he bought a travel mug to fill with coffee.The girl at the cash register said, "You're my last customer for the day. Good thing you got here when you did because I'm about to close up."

  "So, I guess I'm lucky," Luka commented as he paid for his purchases.

  "Have a Merry Christmas," she said.

  "You too," Luka replied and headed out the door. Once in his car, he turned on the heater and ate his sandwich while reading over the directions Roza had sent him. After a few minutes, he turned on the radio, found a station playing Christmas music and pulled back onto the interstate.

  It was after midnight when Luka finally located the old three story house where Roza and the children were staying. He pulled into the drive and got out. With presents and suitcase in hand, he headed for the door.

  Roza had been watching out the window for him. She quickly opened the door, saying, "Luka, come on in!"

  "Hello, Roza," he said as he stepped inside.

  A small silver haired woman had been sitting nearby but got to her feet to greet their guest.   "You must be very tired from all that driving," she said.

  "Ms. Ellis, a pleasure to meet you," Luka said. He took her hand and bowed slightly. "Thank you for inviting me to stay in your home."

  "You're welcome, Dr. Kovac," she said with a smile. "But I insist that you call me 'Marjorie'."

  "Then you must call me 'Luka'. It's a bit less formal than Dr. Kovac," he replied, smiling at her.

  "Let's go show you where to sleep," Roza told him. She looked at the two shopping bags. "Presents?"

  "Yes. I couldn't come empty handed, could I?" Luka asked with a smile.

  "That's good. Because we have presents for you," Roza replied.

  "I'm letting you stay in the basement. It's really quite nice with carpeting and a bathroom with a shower. I thought you might like a quiet place to get some sleep without the children disturbing you," Marjorie explained.

  "That's very thoughtful of you. Where do you want me to put the presents?" Luka asked.

  "Just leave the bags up here and I'll put everything under the tree," Marjorie answered. She led the way down to the basement. "I already have the couch made up for you."

  "Thank you very much," he said.

  At the bottom of the stairs, Marjorie flipped on the light. "Here you are."

  Luka looked around the basement, noticing the couch against one wall. It was folded out and covered by a quilt. Nearby was a standing lamp and an open door led to a small bathroom. "I'm sure I'll be very comfortable down here ," he told the women.

  "Well, I'm going to bed. I'll see you in the morning. Pleasant dreams, Luka," Marjorie said as she headed for the stairs.

  "Goodnight, Marjorie," Luka said.

  Once they were alone, Roza wrapped her arms around his waist and buried her face against his shoulder. "Oh, Luka, I've missed you so much," she said softly.

  "I've missed you, Roza," he replied, stroking her back.

  She stepped away and said, "Well, I'll leave you to get some sleep. I doubt that I can keep the children away from the presents much later than 6:30. You're welcome to join us in the living room then."

  "I'll be happy to do that," he said.

  Roza lightly kissed his cheek and said, "Goodnight, Luka, and pleasant dreams."
  "Goodnight, Roza," he replied. He took off his jacket and hung it over a chair. Opening his suitcase, he removed the pair of sweat pants and shirt that he wore as pyjamas in the winter, and put them on. Climbing into bed, he was asleep within minutes.

  Luka was awakened by Roza gently shaking his shoulder. He rolled over and
opened his eyes, asking, "What time is it?"

  "It's a little after 6:00, Luka. We want you to come upstairs and join us in opening presents," Roza answered.

  "Okay," he said and sat up, kicking off the quilt. "Just let me get dressed."
  "What you're wearing is all right. I'm still in my night clothes and so will the children. Come on," she said.

  Luka slipped on his shoes and followed her to the living room. Jasaminka turned her attention from the presents to run to him. "Dr. Luka! I've missed you!" she said excitedly.

  "And I've missed you too, Little One," Luka said. He reached down to lift her up so she could hug him.

  Roza sat on the couch and reached into the baby carrier beside her. "Meet Little Luka," she said proudly.

  Luka took the baby in his arms, immediately recalling the correct way to hold an infant. He stared down at him with a joyful expression on his face. The baby waved tiny fists so he stuck out his index finger for Little Luka to grab hold of.

  Roza saw the expression on Luka's face and she thought. *Life isn't fair! It should be Viktor holding his own son and Luka should still have his own family. Not both of us here, trying to deal with our losses.*

  Marjorie appeared from the kitchen and announced, "Time for the fun!"

  Luka relunctantly placed Little Luka back in the carrier and turned to Roza. "Now what?" he asked.

  "Now, children, just one gift at a time," Marjorie said. She looked at the twins. "You shall be my little helpers. Now, I think that our guest should get the first present." She picked up a brightly wrapped package and handed it to Jasaminka. "Take it to Luka."
  Jasaminka proudly carried it over to Luka and handed it to him. "Here you are," she said.

  "Thank you," he replied and opened the package. Inside was a heavy navy blue knitted sweater. He looked at the gift tag. "Thank you, Roza."

  She smiled and said, "I know that winters get cold in Chicago."

  Roza's gift was next and Nikola brought her the package from Luka. She opened it up and held up the cross. "It's beautiful. Thank you."


  "I even remembered your birth month. Here, I'll put it on you," he said and took the cross. She held her hair up while he fastened it around her neck.

  The gift giving continued with the twins proudly distributing the presents. When the last package had been opened, Marjorie said, "Breakfast in five minutes," and went back to the kitchen.

  Luka turned to Roza and asked, "How did you happen to get aquainted with Marjorie?"

  Roza smiled and answered, "Viktor and I answered her ad in the paper when we first came here. We needed a place to stay and I was still pregnant with the twins. Marjorie took us in and didn't ask for any money until Viktor got a teaching job. So, when I decided to leave Chicago for a time, I just thought about coming here. I knew that she would help me with the children.

And my decision. She looked up at Luka. "I'm glad that she likes you and you like her."
  "She's hard not to like. I'm glad she let me stay here because otherwise I'd probably miss out on a lot of time with you and the children," Luka admitted.

  "I'll let Marjorie tell you a little bit about herself and then you'll realize why she opens her home to strangers," Roza said. She touched his arm. "Come on, let's eat."

  Inside the dining room, on the table, were plates of warm crepes as well as all kinds of fillings and toppings. Pitchers of egg nog and juice were also there. Marjorie said, "Before we eat, I'll ask the blessing on our food. Everybody bow your heads. 'Oh, Lord, as we celebrate this day of your birth, I thank you for this opportunity to get together with old friends and new. Help us to keep in mind what this day really means. In your name, we pray. Amen.'"

  Feeling very hungry, Luka reached for a plate and filled it up.

  When breakfast was over, and the children had went back to their toys. Marjorie took Luka aside and said. "Rozalija told me that you have no family, and that you'd be alone. I have no family. My husband I lost to cancer ten years ago. My children are all dead. My oldest son to a war that made no sense. My other son was to a drunk driver behild the wheel of a car. My only daughter I lost to a rapist/murderer when she was only seventeen."

  "I'm sorry," Luka said quietly.

  "No. Don't be. At my age I can make my own family. Rozalija is like a daughter to me. And her children are like my grandchildren. But I don't have a son. Perhaps when you come visit, you can be my 'son'," Marjorie continued.

  "I think I'd like that," Luka told her.

  "I know that Rozalija was missing you and I figured that you were missing her. So I decided that Christmas would be a good time for you to see each other again," Marjorie explained.

  "Thank you for letting me stay here," Luka said, and then without planning to, he yawned.

  "Why don't you go back downstairs and rest?" Marjorie suggested. "I won't be starting dinner for awhile yet and the children will be playing with their toys."

  He smiled and said, "I'm a doctor--I'm used to going without sleep."

  "All the more reason to sleep when you can," she pointed out.

  Luka discovered that there was no use arguing with the woman and gracefully gave in. "All right. Please tell Roza that I'm downstairs," he requested.

  "I will. She's probably ready to take a nap herself," Marjorie replied.

  Luka headed downstairs to the basement and sprawled out on the bed, soon falling fast asleep. He awakened several hours later feeling more rested. After a shower and a shave, he decided that he looked more presentable and got dressed.

  The smell of cooking told him that Marjorie had started the meal so he headed for the kitchen. She looked up from the pan she was stirring to say, "Oh, there you are. Have a nice nap?"

  "I did," Luka replied.

  "Good. You're just in time to help me. How good are you at chopping vegetables?"

  "Okay--I guess."

  "Then you can can chop up the celery, onions and mushrooms for the dressing," Marjorie instructed. She pointed him over to where everything was ready. "Don't cut your fingers."

  "I'll try not to," Luka said and set to work. He soon had the vegetables chopped and she added them to the pan of butter and herbs.

  "My own special dressing recipe. Now, when this is done, I mix it with seasoned bread cubes and chicken broth. And then I'm ready to stuff the turkey," she explained.

  "Really, you don't have to go to all this trouble to fix a meal," Luka began.

  "And, what you don't understand, Young Man, is that I like going "to all this trouble". I've done it for years and I'll keep on doing it," Marjorie pointed out as she mixed the dressing. "If you and Rozalija and the children weren't here--I'd be cooking for someone else. You're just who I have this year."

  "I see. It's just that I haven't spent a Christmas like this in a long time," Luka told her.
  "Not since your family was killed?" she asked quietly.

  Luka nodded and said, "Yeah," in an equally quiet tone of voice.

  "I'm all ready to start stuffing the turkey and I'm going to need your help," Marjorie said.

  "What do you want me to do?" he asked.

  "Just keep ahold of the turkey while I get it stuffed. Then we'll pop it in the oven and I'll work on the other stuff later."

  As soon as the turkey was in the oven, Luka asked, "Where's Roza at?"

  "Upstairs on the third floor. I have a litle apartment up there where they stay," Marjorie answered.

  "Thanks," Luka said and headed for the stairs.

  Upstairs in the apartment, Roza was sitting in a rocker holding the baby. She heard a knock on the door and said, "Come in. It's unlocked."

  Luka opened the door and headed over to where she sat. He leaned down to take the baby from her. Sitting down on a chair, he held Little Luka and whispered, "You are so tiny."

  "Yes. But babies get bigger. Remember?" Roza said and laughed.


  "Yeah. One day you can hold them in your arms and the next day they're running all over the place," Luka recalled.

  "Marjorie said that you were taking a nap. catching up on your rest?"

  "Yeah. I couldn't really stand there and argue with her. Then she had me helping her in the kitchen. That's why I haven't been up sooner," he replied.

  "Are you enjoying yourself?" Roza asked.

  "I'm enjoying it all--the gift opening, the breakfast. Even helping Marjorie," he assured her.

  "Good. Now do you remember how to change a diaper?" Roza asked.

  "I remember. I had a friend who has twin baby girls and I often helped with them," Luka replied.

  "Let's carry Little Luka to the bedroom to change him," Roza said. She led the way to a room just big enough for a full sized bed, a low dresser, a chair and a bassinet. "Just lay him on the dresser."

  Luka gently placed the baby on the plastic mat. He then took the clean diaper and baby wipes that Roza handed him. "What do I do with the diaper?" he asked.

"Just fold it up and put it in the wastebasket," Roza replied. She smiled slightly as she watched him expertly remove the dirty diaper and carefully clean up Little Luka. The baby was soon in a clean diaper and looking much happier.

  "Where can I wash up?" Luka asked.

  "I'll show you where the bathroom is," Roza said. She led the way past several doors and pointed to an open one. "The boys have a small room and so do the girls. We also have a tiny kitchen."

  "Isn't it a little cozy for six people?" he asked as he washed his hands.

  Roza stood holding the baby and replied, "Not any more than the apartments we had in Zagreb. Besides, in the summer, we're coming back to Chicago."

  Luka was sitting on the floor helping the twins with puzzles when Marjorie entered the apartment. "I thought I'd find everybody up here. Dinner's ready," she announced.

  "We'll be down in a few minutes," Roza told her.

  Besides the turkey and dressing, there was also corn, mashed potatoes and gravy, several kinds of salad, hot rolls and a red and green Christmas cake. Marjorie said the blessing and then carved the turkey, saying, "Eat up. I made plenty."

  "Everything looks delicious," Luka said as he filled his plate.

  The meal was over and everything put away, Litle Viktor got out the 'Life' game and spread it out on the dining rom table. Marjorie joined them in the game. Luka chose the green car again and this time was a teacher.

  "What do you teach?" Roza asked.

  "Medical students," he replied. He discover that again he had no talent for making any money but had a car full of kids. "I gues this is how I'm meant to be."

  Roza leaned over to whisper, "Maybe you will have a car full of children one day." She lightly kissed his cheek.

  *I could, couldn't I?* he thought as he looked at Roza.

  She turned to the twins and announced, "Time for bed."

  "Do we have to?" Jasaminka asked.

  "Yes, you do, Little One," Luka said and picked her up. "Go to bed like a good little girl and I'll read you a story."

  "Okay, Dr. Luka," she said happily.

  Roza picked up the baby carrier and they headed upstairs. "Goodnight, Marjorie," she told the older woman.

  "Goodnight, children, Rozalija. I'll see you tomorrow."

  Once Jasaminka was in her pyjamas and settled in bed, Luka picked up a book about a lonely kitten and began to read. "Once there lived a lonely little kitten named..."

  Roza got Little Luka settled in the bassinet and then peeked in on Luka and Jasiminka. He was reading in a quiet soothing tone of voice and the little girl was drifting off to sleep.

  Luka laid the book aside, placed a finger on his lips and tiptoed out of the room. "Sleeping like a little angel," he whispered.

  "Why don't you read to Nikola for a few minutes?" she suggested.

  "All right," he agreed.

  As soon as both twins were fast asleep, Luka led Roza into the kitchen and took her in his arms. "I have had the most wonderful time," he said softly.

  "Christmas has been very special having you here," she replied.

  "Too bad I have to go back to Chicago tomorrow," he sighed.

  "But you can always come back to St. Louis. And when you do, Luka, I'll be right here waiting."


to part 8

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