part 8 by Poet

It was New Year's Eve and the end of 2000. The first year of the new millennium hadn't been all that kind to Luka. So in a way, he was glad to see it end. He hoped the next year would turn out to be better.

Luka was working the night shift. Just before midnight, he had a free moment so he joined some of the ER staff around the TV. They were watching the countdown to 2001. Everybody was talking about New Year's resolutions. Luka had a secret one that he hoped to accomplish before the year was up. It was that he would marry Rozalija Lukovic. Without planning to, he had fallen in love with her and fervently hoped that she felt the same way about him.

Haleh started to sing 'Auld Lang Syne' and everybody slowly joined in. They thought of Lucy and her tragic death. Luka thought also of Viktor and the good times they'd shared.

The beeping of the radio signaled the return of 'business as usual'. Abby quickly answered it and announced, "Paramedics bringing in two GSWs. ETA about five minutes."

"All right. Everybody back to work," Luka said as he switched off the TV. "Carter, you take Trauma one and I'll take Trauma Two."

"Happy New Year, Dr. Kovac," Chuny said as they hurried to get the rooms ready.

It was the middle of January and Luka had managed to get back to St. Louis--this time for a weekend. He was again staying at Marjorie's house which made it easier to spend time with Roza and the children.

It was Saturday night and Luka had taken Roza out for their first 'date' together. They went to a nice restaurant where they spent a lot of time talking and enjoying each others' company. It was late when they returned to the house. They knew that Marjorie would probably be waiting up for them.

Luka tenderly kissed Roza and then whispered, "Why do I feel like I'm in trouble?"

Marjorie was sitting in the rocker holding Little Luka. She looked up to say, "It's nearly midnight."

"I'm sorry. Time just got away from us," Luka replied.

"I know what it's like to be young and in love. I just wanted to tell you that we attend church on Sunday mornings," Marjorie said.

"I haven't been to church in a long time," Luka began.

"Well, it's probably about time you did," she replied as though that settled everything.

He knew that he couldn't argue with her so he simply shrugged and asked, "What time do I need to be ready?"

"9:45," she answered.

Roza took the baby and asked Luka, "Do you want to help me put Little Luka to bed?"

"Yes," he replied and followed her into the bedroom.

Roza checked the baby's diaper and then laid him in the bassinet. She turned to Luka. "Marjorie's church isn't Catholic but it's a nice place to worship."

"I'm sure it will be fine," he said and took her in his arms to kiss her again.

When Roza finally stepped back from his embrace, she said, "I'd better see to the rest of the children. Good night, Luka. And pleasant dreams."

"Oh, they will be pleasant tonight, Roza. Good night. I will see you in the morning," he said and turned to leave.

The next morning Luka awakened early. He went upstairs to help Roza with the children before getting himself ready. He found her trying to get breakfast on the table. She looked up to say, "Why don't you help with Little Luka?"

"Okay," he said and picked up the baby. Cradling him in his arms, he headed for the bedroom, whispering in Croatian. "You've gotten so big."

Little Luka waved his arms and just looked content.

Luka gently laid him down on the dresser and removed the soiled diaper. He expertly got the baby all cleaned up and in a fresh diaper. "That's a good boy," he said as he picked Little Luka up again.

Roza stuck her head in the doorway and asked, "When you get Little Luka ready, could you please comb Jasaminka's hair?"

"Sure," Luka replied as he got the baby into a flannel shirt.

"As soon as you finish with Jasaminka, you'd better get ready," Roza told him.

"All right." He picked up the comb and went to fix the little girl's hair.

"Dr. Luka!" Jasaminka exclaimed and gave him a hug.

"Be a good girl and let me comb your hair, Little One," he said and sat down on the couch. "You want your hair to be nice and pretty when you go to church."

"Okay," she said and let him comb her dark curls.

"I used to comb my little girl's hair all the time," Luka told her.

"You had a little girl?" Jasaminka asked.

"Yes. And a little boy," he answered as he worked.

"What happened to them?" Jasaminka persisted.

"They died," Luka said quietly. He finished combing and turned her around to check his handiwork. "There. Pretty as a Princess."

"Dr. Luka, I'll be your little girl. And Nikola can be your little boy," Jasaminka spoke up.

"I'd like that very, very much," he replied.

"You'd better get ready, Luka," Roza told him as she stepped out of the bedroom.

"All right." He headed back down to the basement. He shaved and cleaned up. Then he got dressed in his suit, navy blue shirt and birthday tie.

Roza had all five children ready when he returned. She smiled and said, "You look very nice, Luka."

"Thank you," he replied and reached for the baby carrier. "I'll take Little Luka."

Marjorie was waiting for them downstairs. She looked up at Luka and said, "Nice of you to join us."

"Thank you for inviting me," Luka replied. He carried Little Luka out to the van and strapped him in place.

The children were settled in the back of the van with their seatbelts on. Roza sat beside the baby while Marjorie got in the front passenger seat. She looked at Luka, who was behind the wheel. "I'll give you directions to the church."

"Okay," he said.

Inside the church, Luka and Roza sat with the four older children between them. The baby carrier was between Roza and Marjorie. Although the worship service was not of his faith, Luka still found it to be very good, if not a little different. The sermon and the music had all spoke of God's love. There had been times in his life that Luka hadn't believed in that love.
Especially after his family died.

After returning to the house for a late lunch, Luka kissed Roza 'goodbye'. He then headed on his way back to Chicago. But he knew that as soon as he could, he'd be returning to St. Louis.

The first of February arrived and Luka made a quick overnight visit to St. Louis. Marjorie watched the children while Luka and Roza spent some time together in the basement. They just talked and held each other and shared a few kisses. Luka was beginning to think that he could very easily and happily spend the rest of his life with Roza and her children.

The weekend before Valentines Day arrived. Luka had made arrangements to be off for a couple of days, including Valentines. He had made up his mind that on his next visit to St. Louis, he would ask Roza to marry him. But he wished that there was a way to let Mirjana know that he wasn't trying to replace her and their children in his life.

Luka returned home after a busy day in the ER. He fed and watered Katica. Then he sat down on the couch and stared at his favorite picture of Mirjana.

After his family had died, Luka had talked to them almost daily. It was, as if doing so, he could keep them with him. But as time passed, he talked less and less. Now, the last time he had spoken to Mirjana was right after Viktor died.

"Mirjana, I want you to know that a day doesn't go by that I don't think about you and our children. About how much I love and miss you. Mirjana, I need to tell you that I plan on getting married again. I know that when you died I promised that I'd never fall in love nor marry again. So much time has passed, and forgive me, but I get lonely. I often long for someone to
share my bed and children to hold," he said softly.

After a few minutes, he continued, "Mirjana, I have fallen in love with Rozalija Lukovic. I never planned to do so. But after Viktor died, I started spending time with her and the children. I know she loves me in return. She makes me laugh, she makes me smile, she makes me happy. Almost as happy as when I was with you and our children. I want to marry her. But I don't want you to think that she and her children will ever replace you and our children in my heart. No one can ever take your place. You knew Roza so please be happy for us."

Luka got to his feet and slowly headed for the bedroom, making sure that Katica was on the other side of the door. He didn't want her waking him up TOO early.

Luka didn't know how long he'd been asleep when he felt his face being softly touched. Without opening his eyes, he muttered, "Darn that Katica. I thought I shut her out."

A VERY familiar voice laughed and said, "I'm not your kitten, my love. Do you wish that I were?"

This time Luka opened his eyes and stared into the beautiful face. "Mirjana...What?...How?" he managed to say.

She was dressed in the same clothes that she'd worn that day so long ago. The last time he'd seen her. She brushed the hair back from his forehead and softly replied, "I know that you are unsure if I can accept your marriage to Rozalija. I am here to put your mind at ease, my love."

"Mirjana, I love her so much. And I often feel guilty for loving her," Luka said softly.

"Oh, my love, I've known Rozalija ever since we were little girls playing with dolls and playing at 'wedding'. She will make a good wife for you," Mirjana replied. she reached to take his hand. "We hoped to have so many years together. Years to have more children and see them all grow up. To know our grandchildren. But for whatever reason God had, it was not meant to be."

"Are you really here, Mirjana? I hear your voice, I feel your touch. But am I only dreaming? Trying to come to a decision about my plans to remarry?" Luka asked.

"I am here, my love. But does it matter if I am a spirit, a ghost, or just your own imagination? I am here to give you the peace you need. Your children and I long for you to join us but we can wait. We don't want you to give up your chance at happiness," she said softly.

"I never wanted Viktor to die. I never wanted you to die," Luka continued, his eyes filling with tears.

"I know you didn't. Oh, my sweet Luka, you've lost so much," she whispered. She took him in her arms and held him, stroking his back.

"Please stay with me," he begged.

"I will. But only for a little while. I know you need to be at the hospital tomorrow so you must sleep," she said.

"I-I can tell them I'm sick--that I can't come in," Luka suggested.

"You can't do that. I can stay with you for only an hour. But we are watching over you. We see your loneliness and pain. If only we could take that away, we would," Mirjana whispered. She took his hands and leaned forward to softly kiss his lips.

"An hour is too short a time," he sighed.

"I know. But that is all I can give you," she said. "Now let me rub your shoulders like I used to do."

Luka removed his sweatshirt and rolled over onto his back. "You always knew what I liked to relax me," he murmured.

"Now you must tell Rozalija all the little things you like," Mirjana told him. She began to expertly knead the tense muscles while she whispered her private loving words.

"I've missed this so much," Luka murmured drowsily.

"And I've missed doing this. How you'd come home from a rough day at the hospital or at classes. We'd get together in the bedroom," she told him.

"I still have rough days," he sighed.

"I know. But now Rozalija can do this for you," Mirjana whispered. She kept kneading his shoulders until she knew he'd drifted off into a peaceful restful sleep. She gave him a feather soft kiss to the cheek. "Sleep well, my sweet Luka."

Luka awakened with the alarm clock and sat up surprised to find his sweatshirt off. He hated to wake up from such a wonderful dream. He thought he could feel gentle hands on his shoulders. And smell the long ago scent of shampoo and perfume. He'd finally realized that although Mirjana and their children would always be with him, they were his past. Rozalija,
her children, and whatever children they had together, they were to be his future.

His sweatshirt in his hands, Luka asked himself, "Was it a dream?"

to part 9

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