Part 9 By Poet

Luka had telephoned Marjorie to let her know when he planned on coming back to St. Louis.  "I want to surprise Roza when I show up at her door on Valentines' Day," he explained.

Marjorie laughed and said.  "Don't worry, I won't say a thing.  I love keeping secrets.  By the time you arrive, she'll be upstairs with her children.  I'll be sure and have 'your' room ready and be waiting up to let you in."

"Thank you, Marjorie.  I really want this to be a surprise," Luka replied.

"I'll see you on the 13th.  I'm going to pray that there's no sudden snow storms to keep you from coming," she told him.

"Oh, nothing would keep me from coming.  I just wouldn't get there so soon," Luka assured her.

"I hear footsteps on the stairs so I'd better hang up.  Be sure and let me know when you're on your way," Marjorie said and hung up the phone.

"I will," Luka quickly promised.

By the time Roza got downstairs, Marjorie was intently reading one of her 'Mrs. Murphy' mysteries.  She looked up to say, "Oh, hello,  Rozalija."

"Who were you talking to on the phone?" the younger woman asked.

"Oh, nobody--just reading aloud.  You ought to read one of these books sometime.  They're really quite entertaining,"  Marjorie answered.

"You know, I don't believe a word you've said.  But I know you won't tell me anything," Roza said.  She looked at Marjorie.  "Has the mail arrived?"

"On the hall table."

Roza picked it up and flipped through it, hoping to hear from Luka.

On the 13th, as soon as he finished his shift, Luka signed out.  He headed for the lounge to make a quick phone call before started on his way to St. Louis.

Marjorie was waiting near the telephone to be sure and answer it before Roza did.  She picked it up on the first ring and asked, "Hello?"

"Marjorie, it's Luka.  I'm just calling to tell you that I need to make one stop and I'll be on my way," he replied.

"All right.  I have 'your' room all ready.  I"ll be waiting to let you in when you get here.  Drive safely and don't be in TOO much of a hurry to get here," she admonished.

"Don't worry, Marjorie.  And thanks--for everything," Luka replied.  He hung up the phone and grabbed his jacket.

He stopped at a flower shop to pick up the roses he'd ordered:  A dozen red ones for Rozalija and half a dozen yellow ones for Marjorie.  She was making him feel 'at home' in her house and he wanted to show his appreciation. He'd already bought candy and gifts for the children.  And securely packed away in his suitcase was a small diamond ring.  He planned to give it to Roza when he took her out to eat on Valentines' Day.

Marjorie was waiting in the living room when she heard the car pull into the driveway.  She got to her feet and hurried to look out the window.  Seeing Luka heading up the walk with his hands full, she moved to open the door for him.  "Come on in--it's cold out," she said.

Luka set the two florist boxes down on the table and asked, "Is there a place I can put these so Roza can't find them?"

"I'll put them in the refrigerator.  Is that everything?" she replied.

"No.  I still have a bag and my suitcase in the car.  I'll go get them," Luka told her.

"When you do, come on in the kitchen and I'll have some homemade stew warming up for you," Marjorie said.

"That sounds great.  I haven't eaten since I left Chicago," he admitted.

"TOO much of a hurry to get here?" she asked with a smile.

"You might say that," Luka replied as he headed for the door.

Marjorie had the big bowl of her homemade beef and vegetable stew all warmed up when Luka entered the kitchen.  "Better eat before it gets cold," she instructed.

"In a minute," he said and and opened the refrigerator door.  Selecting the box that he wanted, he bowed slightly and handed it over.  "Happy Valentines' Day."

"For me?" she asked as she opened it.  "Luka, you shouldn't have."

"Humor me and keep them.  You've made me feel very welcome in your home," he told her.

"I told you that I make people part of my family and I decided to make you my 'son'.  I love yellow roses.  No one has given me any since my husband died.  Thank you very much, Luka," Marjorie said and went to locate a vase.

"You are very welcome," Luka replied as he sat down to eat.  "I also have something else for you but that can wait until tomorrow.  Flowers are meant to be enjoyed as soon as they are received."

"I agree," Marjorie said.  "I'll put the roses in my bedroom so I can enjoy them."

"You do that," Luka said and took a bite of the stew.  "It's very delicious."

"As soon as you finish eating, you'd better go to bed.  Just between you and me--when are you giving Rozalija her roses?"  Marjorie asked.

"In the morning.  I thought that I might pretend to be a delivery man and show up at her door while she's getting the children ready for school," Luka replied.  "She doesn't know that I'm here?"

"I didn't say a word but I think she's a little suspicious.  And she'd be VERY disappointed if she didn't hear from you tomorrow.  That woman is in love with you, Luka."

"And I'm in love with her," he admitted.  "I plan to take her out to a nice restaurant tomorrow night.  I have a very special surprise in mind."

"How romantic.  Well, I'd better get to bed.  Pleasant dreams, Luka.  Be sure and turn the lights off before you go downstairs," Marjorie said and picked up the vase of flowers.

"Don't worry, I will.  Goodnight, Marjorie," Luka said.  When he finished eating, he carried the bowl and spoon over to the sink and rinsed them out.  After the lights were switched off, he headed for the basement and quickly changed into sweat pants and shirt.  Making sure that the alarm was set for 6:45, he climbed into bed and was soon fast asleep.

Luka awakened with the alarm and he was soon dressed in a pair of jeans and a black turtleneck sweater.  He headed up to the kitchen to retrieve the florist box.  Then, with it and the bag of presents in hand, he started up the stairs.  Standing outside the apartment door, he knocked several times.

"Who is it?" Roza asked as she tried to get the twins ready for school.

"Special delivery for Rozalija Lukovic," Luka answered, deliberately mispronouncing her name and trying to speak with a phony accent.

"In a minute," Roza told him.  She put down the comb.  "Jasaminka, sit still."

"Hurry up!  I don't have all day.  I got lots of flowers to deliver," Luka said, doing his best to sound like an impatient deliveryman.

"I'm coming," Roza said and opened the door.  She stared at him.  "Luka?  What are you doing here?"

"I thought you might like some flowers and I decided to deliver them myself.  Happy Valentines' Day!" Luka announced as he handed her the florist box and a box of candy.  "A kiss comes with it."  He leaned down and softly kissed her lips.

"Come on in, Luka.  I was just getting the children ready for school."

"Anything I can do to help?" Luka asked.

"Could you please finish combing Jasaminka's hair while I go put these in water?" Roza asked.  She opened the box.  "Oh, Luka, they're beautiful."

"Dr. Luka!  Did you bring me anything?" Jasaminka asked as she ran to give him a hug.

"Of course I did, Little One.  Something very special.  But you must get your hair all nice and pretty for school," he told her.

"Okay," she said happily.

Roza put the roses in her prettiest vase and then went back to getting the children ready.  "How long do you get to stay this time?" she asked.

"I have to be back at the hospital by 7:00 Friday night," Luka replied and started combing Jasaminka's hair.

"My Valentines!" Nikola wailed.

"Don't worry, they're in your backpack," Roza soothed.

"Don't forget that you promised to bring cookies to my party," Zelika reminded her.

"I won't.  I'll visit your room," Roza promised.

Luka finished combing and said, "There you are."

"What did you bring me?" the little girl asked.

He reached into the bag and pulled out a stuffed white tiger and a small box of candy.  "Especially for you," he told her.

"Thank you, Dr. Luka," Jasaminka said and hugged her tiger.

"You're very welcome," Luka replied.

"I have something for you.  I'll go get it," Jasaminka said and hurried off to the bedroom.

"Hello," Nikola said shyly.

"Hello," Luka replied and reached in the bag to remove more candy and a stuffed tiger.

"Thank you," Nikola told him.

"You're very welcome," Luka said as Little Viktor and Zelika crowded around to see what thy were getting.

Jasaminka came hurrying out of the bedroom with a lopsided heart covered with a lace doily.  Proudly she held it out to Luka, saying, "I made this at school for you."

"Thank you.  It's very beautiful," he said as he took and looked it over.

"Luka, could get Little Luka's coat on him while I help the twins with theirs?" Roza asked.

"Do they take the bus or do you drive them to school?" Luka asked.

"The bus stop is almost two blocks away so I drive them.  That way we don't have to get ready so early," she replied.  "After I drop the children off at school, I need to take Little Luka to the clinic."

"What's wrong?" Luka asked as he went to get the baby's coat.

"I don't think it's anything serious.  He's running a slight fever and hasn't been eating much for the past few days," she replied.

"The other children are okay?"

"Looks that way," Roza answered as she started handing out backpacks.

Luka went to pick up the baby and laid a gentle hand on his forehead.  "When was the last time you checked his temperature?" he asked.

"Last night.  It was 100.6.  Is it higher?" Roza asked anxiously.

"I think so.  I'm going to check it right now.  Where's the thermometer?" Luka asked.

"Bathroom cabinet--middle shelf," she told him.

Luka went to get it, saying, "As soon as I check his temperature, I'll go grab my coat and come with you."  He got the thermometer and stuck it in Little Luka's ear.  "101.9"

"I'll get the rest of the children down to the van," Roza told him.

"Okay," Luka said and hurried downstairs to get his coat.

By the time Luka got back upstairs, Roza had Little Luka all wrapped up in a warm blanket and strapped in his carrier.  "The children are all ready.  Fortunately I only have to stop at one school," she said.

"I'll take Little Luka," he said and picked up the carrier and diaper bag to head downstairs.  Out in the van, he carefully strapped the carrier in place, making sure that the baby was all right.  Then he climbed in the passenger seat.

Roza got behind the wheel, telling the children to behave.  She looked over at Luka.  "When children are babies, you don't think about school activities and driving them from place to place."

"I know.  You don't want them to grow up TOO fast.  Mirjana and I were going to try to home school the children if the war was still going on and we were still in Vukovar," Luka said quietly.

"What's Vukovar?" Jasaminka asked.

"A VERY bad place, Little One.  And a VERY bad time for me," Luka told her.

Roza pulled to a stop in front of the Red Ridge Elementary School.  "Okay, everybody out.  I"ll see you all later.  Don't forget your backpacks," she reminded them.

"Dr. Luka, are you coming to my party?" Jasaminka asked.

"If it's okay with your mama," he told her.

"Please say "Yes", Mama," Jasaminka begged.

"All right.  Luka can come with me to your party," Roza said and laughed.

"Goody!  See you later, Dr. Luka!" Jasaminka said and scrambled out of the van.

"Do you think she'll ever just call me 'Luka'?" he wondered.

"I doubt it," Roza replied.  She waited until the children were safely inside before driving off.  "The doctor that I take the children to is really very nice."

"Not the best way to start Valentines' Day, is it?" Luka asked.

"Not really.  But I"m glad you're here, Luka," Roza answered.

"I was going to take you out to eat tonight but with Little Luka sick, we may not," he told her.

"Let's wait and see what Dr. Hollis has to say.  If it's just an ear infection and he's better, then Marjorie can baby-sit," she said.

"Yeah.  Little kids can get all sorts of things," Luka commented.

When they reached the clinic, Roza parked the van and asked, "Can you carry in Little Luka for me?"

"Of course I can," Luka answered.  He unfastened his seat belt and got out. Opening the side door, he removed the baby carrier and followed Roza toward the clinic.

Once inside, she walked to the desk and said, "I have a 9:15 appointment with Dr. Hollis."

"Name?" the receptionist asked.

"Rozalija Lukovic."

"Have a seat and someone will call you," the receptionist told her.

Thank you," Roza said and motioned for Luka to follow her to the waiting area.  She sat down in a rocking chair.  "Just set the carrier on the table."

"All right," Luka said and set it down.  He took a seat and peered into the carrier.  "The doctor will make you all better."

"I hope that Dr. Hollis doesn't have to give him a shot.  He absolutely hates needles," Roza said.

"I hated them too--when I was a kid.  Come to think of it, I don't like them that much now," Luka told her.

"And you a doctor--" she began.

"I'll tell you now, there is a BIG difference between giving the injection and getting it," Luka interrupted.

"I know," Roza agreed.

Little Luka suddenly began crying and Luka picked him up, whispering, "Hush now.  Is all this talk of needles scaring you, huh?"

"I think he might need his diaper changed.  Want to do it or I can?" Roza asked.

"I'll do it.  Is there a certain place to go?" he asked.

"There's a small changing room by the restroom," Roza said and handed him the diaper bag.

"Okay," Luka replied.  He slung the diaper bag over one arm carried the baby over to the changing room.

A young woman with a tiny girl were waiting in line for the changing room. She glanced at Luka and asked, "Is he your son?"

"He's not--his mother is a good friend of mine," Luka answered.

"Well, he has the same dark hair," she explained.

The door opened and a weary young mother stepped out.  She was holding a baby in one arm and had a hold of her two-year-old's hand.  The child was yelling, "I want candy!  NOW!"

"Now, Leslie, you know that you have to see Dr. Hollis first," her mother reminded her.

Luka stood holding Little Luka and listened to the general chaos.  That chaos was so much a part of any pediatrician's waiting room.  The young woman finished changing her daughter and said, "Your turn now."

"Thank you," Luka replied.  He entered the room and closed the door with his foot.  Laying Little Luka on the table, he began to remove the soaked diaper.  "This won't hurt a bit now."

"Waaah!" Little Luka howled.

Luka finished changing the baby and disposing of the diaper.  He washed his hands at the small sink and then picked up Little Luka.  "Maybe your mama has a bottle ready for you," he said.

Roza was looking at a magazine when they returned.  She looked up to say, "We haven't been called yet."

"I think he's hungry," Luka said as he settled the baby in the carrier. "And he doesn't feel as hot as he was earlier."

"That's good to hear," Roza said.

A little while later, a young nurse came to the waiting room door and said, "Rozalija Lukovic?"

"You carry Little Luka," Roza told Luka while she gathered up the coats and the diaper bag.

"Okay," he said and picked up the baby carrier.

The nurse led the way to a small exam room with a baby scale.  "Well, let's see what a big boy he's getting to be," she said brightly.

Roza lifted up Little Luka and laid him on the scale. "That's a good boy," she said softly.

The nurse checked the weight and wrote it down.  "Good healthy size for his age," she commented.

Little Luka stared at her and began crying.

"Oh, poor baby, poor baby," Roza crooned as she picked up her son.

"Dr. Hollis will be with you in a few minutes," the nurse said and left the room.

Roza sat down on the exam table, holding Little Luka.  "Hush now," she whispered.

Luka took a seat in the chair and watched her gently soothing the baby.  He could see the love and tenderness on her face.  And he thought about how much he loved her.

A few minutes later the door opened and the pediatrician entered, chart in hand.  "Hello, Mrs. Lukovic.  What seems to be the problem today?"

"He's been running a slight fever and not eating very well.  But he seems to be better now," Roza answered.

"Well, let's just take a quick look anyway," Dr. Hollis said and picked up Little Luka.  "Are the other children okay?"

"They seem to be," Roza replied.

"If they don't eat TOO much Valentines' Day treats.  Later on I'll get the sick kids who had TOO much," Dr. Hollis said as she took the baby's temperature.  "101.1"

"I know what you mean.  I work in an ER in Chicago and we come to dread the 'Candy' days--Valentines', Easter, Halloween," Luka added.  He stood up to let Roza have the chair.

"Dr. Hollis, meet Dr. Luka Kovac.  Luka is an old friend of mine," Roza made introductions.

"A pleasure to meet you, Dr. Hollis," Luka said and gave her a slight bow.

"You too, Dr. Kovac," she replied and went back to examining the baby. "Does his ears hurt him?"

"Sometimes," Roza answered.

The doctor checked the inside of Little Luka's ears and then straightened up.  "He has a mild ear infection and those can make a baby feel pretty miserable.  I"ll give you a prescription for some antibiotics and that should make him feel much better.," she said.

"Thank you, Dr. Hollis," Roza said.

"Keep Little Luka away from drafts and inside for a couple of days.  If his fever gets worse or his ears hurt more, be sure to bring him in," she instructed and wrote out the prescription.  "You can get it filled at the pharmacy."

"I will," Roza said as she placed the baby in the carrier.

Luka put on his jacket and then picked up the baby carrier.  "We're getting you something to make you feel better," he whispered to the baby.

Once they outside in the van, Roza said, "I'll stop on the way to the school and pick up cookies for Zelika's party.  I really don't have the ingredients to bake with."

"I'm sure she won't mind," Luka commented.

As soon as the opened the door to the house, they could smell the scent of baking coming from the kitchen.  Once there, they found Marjorie decorating heart shaped cookies.  She looked up to say, "Zelika told me about needing cookies.  With the baby being sick, I thought you might not have time to bake."

"Oh, Marjorie, you are a darling.  I was afraid I was going to have to just buy some cookies at the bakery," Roza told her.

Luka, realizing that he was hungry, grabbed up a couple of cookies and stuck one in his mouth.

"No more cookies until you wash your hands," Marjorie scolded and pointed him toward the sink.

Luka nodded, his mouth full of cookie, and did what she told him.

Marjorie leaned over to Roza and whispered, "Grown men are really just little boys who got taller."

"I think you're bringing the 'little boy' out in Luka," Roza whispered back.

"How is Little Luka?" Marjorie asked as she poured a glass of cold milk and set it by a plate of cookies.

"Just an ear infection.  Dr. Hollis gave him some antibiotics so he should feel better," Roza answered.

Marjorie handed Luka the cookies and milk, telling him, "You have to wait until after lunch to have any more."

"Thank you, Marjorie," Luka told her.

"I'll watch the little one while you go to the parties," Marjorie said.

After a delicious lunch--and a couple more cookies--Luka and Roza headed for the school.  Their first stop was Zelika's classroom to drop off the cookies.  "Marjorie baked them," Roza told her daughter.

"I'll be sure and thank her, Mama," Zelika said.

"Viktor said that his class wasn't having a party so we'll go to the twins' class," Roza told Luka.

When Jasaminka saw him, she ran to hug him.  "Come on in, Dr. Luka!  I want you to meet my teacher! she said excitedly.

A young woman approached them and said, "You must be the friend in Chicago she talks about.  I'm Emily Harris."

"Hello.  I"m Dr. Luka Kovac," he replied.  He gave her a slight bow as he took her hand.

"Would you like some punch and cookies?" Ms. Harris asked.

"Punch will be fine, thank you.  I think I've had enough cookies," Luka said, with a glance at Roza.

"We can't stay very long," Roza told the twins.

When they were on the way back to the house, Luka asked, "Do you still want to go out with me tonight?"

"Of course, I do.  I bet you have it already arranged with Marjorie for her to baby sit tonight.  Where are we going?" Roza asked.

"It's a surprise.  Just wear your prettiest dress," was all Luka would say.

That evening, Luka had on his best suit and was freshly shaved.  As he escorted Roza out to the car, he asked Marjorie, "Does she have a curfew?"

"Yes!  11:30--I don't want to sit up all night waiting for you two to get back," Marjorie replied.

"I'll have her safely home by 11:30," Luka promised.

"You better," Marjorie warned and laughed.

Luka had made reservations at the restraunt they'd had their first 'date' at.  He requested a quiet corner booth and when they were escortd to it, he said, "Roza, you look so beautiful."

"Why thank you, Luka," she said and blushed.

Their server said, "Can I get you anything to drink?"

"Yes, please.  I"ll have a glass of iced tea with lemon and suger," Luka told her.

"I'll have the same," Roza added.

The server wrote down the order and said, "Our Valentine special is broiled chicken, baked potato, a heart shaped pasta salad and mini heart shaped cheesecakes for desert."

"We'll think on that for a moment," Luka said.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," she said and hurried away.

The music in the background had begun playing 'I'll Be' by Reba McEntire. Luka listened to the song for a moment and the began to softly sing along. "...I'll be your shoulder when you need someone to lean on...Be your shelter, when you need someone to see you through...I'll be there to carry you, I'll be there..."

The server had returned by the time the song ended.  As she set their drinks down, she asked, "Are you ready to order now?"

"Yes.  We'll have two specials," Luka told her.  "That song that just ended--who sings it?"

"I believe it's by Reba McEntire," she replied as she wrote down their orders.

The meal was over and they were waiting for desert, Luka looked at Roza and said, "That song we heard--I'll promise to be all that--and  more to you.  If only you'll let me."

"Luka, what are you asking?"

He reached into a pocket and withdrew the ring.  Taking her hand, he slowly slowly slipped it on her finger as he asked, "Would you do me the honor of becoming my wife?  Rozalija Lukovic, will you marry me?"

"Oh, Luka!  Of course I will!" Roza exclaimed and wrapped her arms around him.

"Ready for dessert?" the server asked just then.

"Can we take it with us?" Luka asked.

"Sure," she replied.

When they returned to the house, Marjorie was sitting upstairs with the children.  She glanced up to say, "You're home early."

"We know," Luka told her.

Roza shyly withdrew her hand from her pocket and said, "Marjorie!  Luka asked me to marry him!"

"And you said yes," Marjorie commented as she admired the tiny diamond.  "Go on down stairs but be back up by 11:30.  Ther's champagne in the refrigerator--I thought there might be reason to celebrate tonight.  Don't drink TOO much--I want to toast the happy couple!"

"Thank you, Marjorie," Luka said as they headed for the stairs.

to part 10

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