Rowan wished she had a cigarette right now, badly. Not knowing what her dad and Luka were talking about was eating a hole into the lining of her stomach. At least her dad had beer though. She opened a can and took a seat at the table and tried to keep her mind off what was going on in the living room.
Get a hold of yourself Rowan. She told herself. If you cant get through this youre arent going to make through when Joan comes by. Rowan took another long swig of beer from the can and thought of polite way to break the conversation that was going on. She got up from the table and stood by the entry to the kitchen.
Anybody want a beer? She yelled from the kitchen.
No were fine, Rowan. Joe yelled back.
Ya, youre fine. She said under her breath while returning to her seat at the table.
So what part of Croatia did you live in? Joe asked Luka.
Well originally I was in Zagreb, the capital, but I moved to Vukovar with my family when the war broke out. Luka said. He knew full well that he mentioned that he had a family, but if Joe wanted to get to know him, his family was a part of him.
Family? Joe asked, a little shocked by the revelation.
Yes I was married with two children during the war.
But youre not married now?
No, no Im not.
May I ask what happened to your family? Joe asked.
Luka gave a little cough before answering Mr. Murphy. They died, during the war.
Oh, Im sorry. My condolences. Joe politely said.
Thank you, but it was a long time ago. Luka said
Luka, I lost my wife fifteen years ago and it still affects me. Time never matters when it comes to losing the ones you love. Joe told him.
It was comfortable for Luka talking to Rowans father. They both had that one thing in common that gave them a bit of a connection.
When were you married, you seem pretty young to me right now? Joe asked Luka.
I was twenty, my wife was nineteen.
My God! You werent even a med. student yet! But I guess you were in love. Joe commented.
My wife made me wait to marry her after she graduated from college. She was good at making me do anything she wanted. Joe said.
She must have been a very amazing woman. Luka said.
Oh, you dont know the half of it. Sometimes she would say things that would drive me crazy. When she was studying she would give me a call and tell me how much she wanted to be there with her and how much she missed me and then I would tell her Im on my way and shed say No, no I have to study. You stay where you are! Used to make me insane, but I loved her all the more for it. Rowan has a bit of that in her too.
Yes she does. Luka said.
Luka didnt know that he had fallen into Joes trap. He had unwittingly admitted his feelings about Rowan by commenting on Joes statement. Only the person you love drives you crazy, anyone else you would avoid like the plague. He didnt mind that Luka felt that way about his daughter, he seemed like a good man, but he didnt want him to attach himself to his daughter without her having any feelings for him, or if she wasnt sure how she felt about him. Why is it women never noticed a good thing when it presented itself to them. There were tons of good men out there, but women seemed to always go for the guy that would break their heart.
Back in the kitchen Rowan had just finished her beer and was checking the meatloaf in the oven. The meat was done along with the rest of the food, which gave a reason she was dying for to break up the conversation that was going on behind her. She threw away her empty can and headed over to the living room.
Hey guys, dinner is ready. Dad, shouldnt Joan be here? Rowan asked.
She said shed call. I better call her and see if shes heading over here. Joe said as he got up from the couch and headed over to the phone in the kitchen.
Rowan took a seat in the chair beside where Luka was sitting and leaned over closely to him so that her father wouldnt hear what she was saying.
So, what did you two talk about? Rowan asked.
We talked about things.
What kind of things? Rowan asked.
Family, the past, you. Luka said.
Me! What about me? Rowan asked.
Like how much youre like your mother.
You were talking about my mother! What did he say? Was he sad or depressed? Rowan asked him.
He was reminiscent. Dont worry, nothing bad was said about you.
Rowan made a groaning sound and collapsed farther back into the couch.
You really shouldnt have come here, Luka. If my father gets a hold of my sister and gets her to come over here its going to be one messy evening. Rowan said.
Luka could see Rowans hand resting on the armrest of the couch. He watched it lay there all by itself almost representing how Rowan felt at that moment. He placed his hand over hers and gave her a squeeze. He could feel the instant tug Rowan gave when he touched her, but then she relaxed in his grip an instant later. As happy as he was that Rowan had relaxed to his touch, the tug that came before hurt him a bit. It seemed that no matter what he did she still recoiled from him. What was it going to take for her to be comfortable with his presence?
Joe Murphy came back into the living room and took his old seat from before. Rowan quickly pulled away from Lukas grip when he came back. Joe had an agitated look on his face. Obviously his conversation with Joan had not been a smooth one.
Well, shes coming, after much leg and arm pulling. Joe said. Shes going to a handful tonight, I can tell you that, so whatever she says tonight Rowan just try and take it with a grain of salt.
Havent I always? Rowan said.
Well why dont we take the food out now. Joan said she was bringing Daniel and Harry so she should take about twenty minutes or a week. Joe sarcastically commented before getting up from his seat.
Do you mind if I help? Luka asked, also rising from his seat.
No, no have a seat. Youre a guest you shouldnt do anything but eat. Well handle this, just sit down and make yourself comfortable. Rowan, come help me. Joe says.
Rowan gets up from her seat and leans over to tell Luka something. If you hear the sound of gloom and dread, that would be my sister. Be a dear and open the door for her. Rowan says before leaving for the kitchen. Luka gives a short chuckle at the joke and makes himself comfortable in his seat.
In the kitchen Joe is taking out the meatloaf and setting it on top of the counter to cool off while Rowan begins to set the dinner table. She also takes the chance to tell her father what a bad idea it was to invite Luka over to dinner tonight.
You shouldnt have invited him, dad. You really shouldnt have. Joan is going to make a scene and hes just going to be sitting there like he was watching a car wreck. This is bad!
Well we cant just tell him to go home. Were going to have to stick it through. Joe said.
There are Greek tragedies that have started off better than this! Rowan said as she stirred butter into the mashed potatoes.
Luka heard a knock at the door and got up from his seat to see who it was. He saw in the peephole that it was Joan Cowley along with her son Daniel, whose arm was still in a cast. There was another gentleman standing right behind them, obviously her husband. Luka unlocked the door and greeted the trio at the door.
Mom, its the doctor from the hospital. Daniel said.
Joan looked surprised to see Dr. Kovac again, especially at her fathers house. Still she greeted him kindly with the sound of her surprise evident in her voice.
Dr. Kovac, what a pleasure it is to see you again. Joan said as she stepped inside followed by her son and her husband.
I hope its not a bother, your father invited me over.
Oh, no, no bother. Dad can do whatever he wants. It doesnt even matter how I feel about it. Joan said with a clearly evident tone of sarcasm.
When Joans husband came in Joan introduced him to Luka and told him that he was the doctor who fixed up Daniels arm. Harry stuck out his hand to give Luka a firm handshake and thank him.
It was nothing, I was just doing my job. Luka said modestly.
Ya, I know but she told me that Rowan was the first doctor there and that they had a bit of an argument. My wife can be a little irrational when it comes to her sister. But believe me she has her reason. Harry said.
I understand. Luka said.
Just then Rowan came out of the kitchen and after seeing Joan headed right over to Luka as quickly as possible and tugged on his arm gesturing him to follow her upstairs. Rowan went first with Luka following behind her. The lights were off upstairs but the lights from downstairs were enough to help them see.
Whats wrong? Luka asked Rowan.
Listen, I just wanted to warn you about anything that might happen tonight, ok. Rowan said.
Even though there wasnt much light Luka could clearly see the look of agitation and dread on her face. He lost himself in the moment for a second and placed his hand on her cheek to relax her. When he realized what he had done he expected Rowan to jerk her head away from his touch, but to his surprise he noticed that she was leaning into it, still he removed his hand just in case she became uncomfortable.
If you want me to I could leave right now. I could say I was beeped by the hospital. Luka said.
Rowan was torn. Yes, she knew it would be better if Luka left now and not be a witness to the little soap opera that was definitely going to be played out tonight. But on the other hand having him here might make her feel balanced; someone who she knew was on her side completely. She knew her father would stand up for her, but Luka would be there for her to lean on.
Its up to you if you want to leave Luka. Rowan said, leaving the choice entirely up to Luka.
Luka lifted his hand again, but this time resting it on her shoulder. He could see her breathing as he watched his hand rise slowly up and down on her shoulders. He leaned close into her ear and whispered his answer.
Then Ill stay. Luka said, rubbing her shoulder with that same hand.
Thank you. Rowan said. She placed her hand on top of his and gave it a grateful pat.
Rowan! Luka! Dinner is ready, come on down. Rowans father said.
Rowan made a low groan in her throat and closed her eyes. Fasten your seatbelts. Its going to a bumpy night.
The first few minutes at the table were spent in silence. The only sounds that were made were from the clinking of the plates being passed around the table back and forth. Daniel was the first person to brave speaking through the thick atmosphere of awkward silence.
Hey, mom, how come grandpas meatloaf isnt as salty as yours? Daniel asked.
Because, grandpa knows how to measure. Joe joked to his grandson.
I make good food. Joan defended.
No one said you didnt dear. Its just that if you have a heart condition it would be best to ease up on the extra portions. Joe said.
Rowan chuckled discreetly to herself.
So you dont like my cooking dad? Is that it? Joan said.
Jesus! Rowan thought to herself. Shes starting off early isnt she? Rowan scooped a morsel of meatloaf onto her fork and ate silently.
Well youve got Rowan here, I guess you dont need me to cook for you anymore. Joan snapped.
Joan! Mind your mouth. Joe ordered.
Joan immediately zipped up and continued to eat her food, although her temperament was evident by the way she stabbed her food onto her fork. Rowan felt a knot well in the middle of her throat, which made it hard for her to swallow her meal.
So Joe, Harry began. what did the doctors say about treating your cancer? He took a sip of beer from his can.
Oh, you know how doctors are, they give you this pill and that pill and say come and see me again six months from now if youre not dead. Uh, no offense to present company. Joe said to Rowan and Luka realizing his flub.
None taken. Luka said.
Well Joe, you got Rowan around now, maybe she can check up on you from time to time. Henry suggested. Joan hears her husbands comment and aggressively stabs a piece of broccoli on her plate.
Dont bog her down dad, she may not always be able to help you. We already have proof of that. Joan was taking advantage of the fact that Rowan was remaining uncharacteristically silent to take shots at her. It was annoyingly ticking on Rowans nerves, so she defended herself without having to speak to Joan directly.
You know dad if you ever need me I can get off work whenever, it wouldnt be a problem. Rowan said to her father.
I know you would, just like your sister. Joe said looking directly at Joan. He was trying his best to try and join what had been severed for fifteen years. Joe knew full well that it would take more than one dinner to fix things or make his two daughters civil towards each other, but something had to start somewhere.
Ya, its always better to start late than never, isnt it Rowan? Joan remarked.
And its always better to say something nice or nothing at all. Rowan shot back.
Luka watched the scene trying to be as quiet as he could but still remaining perceptive to what was going on around him. He looked at Rowans shoulders and could see the tension building up within them. He wanted to place his hands on her and rub away all the tension that was seeping into her. He continued to eat and watch the negative banter that continued all through dinner until right up until it was time to clear the table.
Luka helped Joe clear the table while Rowan and Joan were put together to wash the dishes. While Joe kept an eye towards the kitchen, Luka made decided to walk into the kitchen every few minutes to see if anything out of hand was going on between the two sisters. Sometimes he could hear whispered conversations going on but when he entered the kitchen it would abruptly stop.
I know what dad is trying to do Rowan and its not going to work. Im being nice but dont expect anything more than that. Joan whispered heatedly to Rowan.
Nice? Is that what you call that crap you pulled at dinner? Why didnt you just start throwing your food? It wouldve fit with your behavior. Rowan snapped back.
You of all people shouldnt be pointing fingers
Ill point any goddamn finger I want! Rowan snapped back almost raising her voice. She returned back to the heated whispered tone that she maintained before. Yes I know I rank number one in stupid regrettable mistakes, but Ive paid for it, believe me I have! So why dont you quit it with the dramatics and act like a grown up!
Dont you tell me how to act! Joan said, quickly taking a glimpse to see if her father was staring at them. When she could tell he wasnt, she went right back to Rowan. I know how to act. Ive been acting the right way ever since you decided not give a fuck anymore!
That was fifteen years ago Joan, dont you think Ive thought about the same things you wish I did? Rowan said.
I dont care! You dont deserve to be here! Joan said at a more raised tone. And why did you bring the doctor over? Is he one of your boyfriends?!
No, hes not. And for your information, dad invited him over. So get over yourself, all right!!
No, I will not. Its like Im the only one here who remembers anything anymore. Dad may have forgiven you, but there is no way in hell I will. You took my mother from me! Dads wife, and my sons grandmother. You think one dinner is going to help patch things up?! Joan said her voice now much higher than before.
Luka had heard Joans raised voice and walked candidly into the kitchen trying to look as if he hadnt walked in to see what was going on. He walked over to Rowan and asked her if he could have a beer and she opened the fridge and grabbed a can for him and handed it over. Things remained eerily silent while Luka remained in the room. He decided to make sure that things remained civil between Rowan and Joan so he took a seat at the kitchen table to drink his beer and watch them carefully. He watched the static tension that drifted between the two women like it was thick and visible. He saw it in the twitch of Rowans shoulders whenever she came to close to Joan, or how her back would tense up whenever she passed a dish to her to dry. It was like watching a subliminal boxing match.
As soon as they were done Joan quickly dried off her hands and made a quick sprint to her husband who was sitting in the living room talking to Joe. Rowan on the other hand took her time drying off and took a seat with Luka at the table.
God, I wish I had a cigarette! Rowan said taking a long sigh afterward. No, scratch that. Cyanide. I could really use some cyanide right now.
I think I can help you with the cigarette, but it will take me a while to get the cyanide. Luka joked.
Surprisingly, Rowan started to laugh at the joke. She placed her hand on her forehead and continued to chuckle for a few minutes before taking a long breath and letting out a sigh. Luka nudged his can of beer over to Rowan who gratefully took it and had a sip.
So, did you enjoy your free meal? Rowan began.
Oh, yes, very much. We have to do it again. Luka joked.
From the kitchen Luka and Rowan could hear the front door open and then a few good-byes being said before the door was quickly shut and locks were applied. Joe walked into the kitchen afterward and grabbed a beer from the refrigerator. As he opened his beer he took a seat along with Luka and Rowan at the table.
I apologize for this evening Luka. Joan has my genes so she has the tendency to be .. a word Id rather not use. Joe said.
You dont need to apologize, sir. It was a pleasant evening. Luka said.
I see they teach you Croatians to be polite till youre lying through your teeth. Joe commented.
Rowan doubled over in her seat letting out a long, boisterous cackle. It was the only pleasant sound heard all evening and it was a welcome one at that. Luka began to laugh himself after listening to Rowan. Joe amusingly watched them taking the occasional swig from his can.
For the rest of the evening Joe, Rowan and Luka chatted amicably about events and the past, eventually blotting out the early half of that night with laughter and jokes. It was the first time in a long time that Luka was able to have a conversation with a group of people that didnt involve anything medical. Watching Rowan and her father interact reminded him of those not so frequent father son talks he had with his father when he was younger. The memory made Luka wince a bit, as he tried to remember more favorable memories of his family back home.
12: 47 P.M.
Rowan looked down at her watch to see the time and let out a little woo! sound when she realized how late it was. Joe looked down at his watch too, to see what was the big deal. A surprised sound left his lips as well as he rose from his seat.
I didnt realize how late it was. Rowan said. We better be going, Luka, we got work tomorrow.
Luka got up from his seat and walked with Rowan to the door with Joe following behind them to lock up after they left.
You two drive carefully now. Its late so all the freaks will be out now. I take it Luka will be driving you home, Rowan? Joe asked.
Ya, remember, Joans husband drove us all from the hospital. I took the El to Mercy. Rowan said.
Oh, now I remember. All right then, well Luka, you remember to be careful out there. Joe told him.
I will sir. Luka said.
Joe stuck out his hand for Luka who took the gesture and the two shared a firm handshake. Rowan watched amused at the maleness of the gesture and how it looked being done by Luka and her father.
It was good meeting you, Mr. Kovac. Joe said.
You too Mr. Murphy. Luka replied back.
Then Joe went over to Rowan and gave her a tight hug and a farewell. And you, I expect to be seeing a lot more of you. You hear me? Joe said to his daughter.
Yes, sir. Rowan said smiling and hugging her father tightly.
Then I wont say good-bye, just see you later.
You will. Rowan said as she let go of her fathers embrace.
Luka, you make sure my daughter gets home safely. Or else youll have me to deal with. Joe said.
Ill make sure she gets home all right. Luka said as he opened the door to go outside.
Joe held the door open as he watched the two walk towards Lukas car up the block. When he couldnt see their forms anymore, Joe shut the door and returned to the inside of his empty house and went upstairs to get ready for bed.
I like your father. Luka said. He reminds me of a bear.
Ya, thats my dad, a big old bear.
When they made it to the car Rowan took a look back down the block o see if she could see her fathers house. When she thought she did, she looked up to where she thought she could see his bedroom light on and then turn off a few seconds later.
As Luka opened the car door for Rowan he could see a distracted look on her face and looked in the direction that she was facing trying to see what was it that held her attention.
Rowan, whats wrong? Luka asked her.
Hearing Lukas voice snapped her out of her trance and she tried to get her bearings straight and pass off the incident as if it were nothing.
Oh, nothing, just thinking. Come on lets get going. Rowan said as she entered the car.
Luka closed the door behind her still curious about that look that had been on her face just a few seconds ago. He walked around to the drivers side door and entered the car and shut the door beside him. He took a quick glance over at Rowan whose gaze was still focused down the block. Without asking her anymore questions Luka started the car and began to drive home, with Rowan still looking down that same path that she had before she entered the car.
to part 15
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