"Fire and Rain" by Carolina
This was a bad idea. A bad idea. He didn't want to be here. Chicago was not home. Croatia wasn't home either. Both places held bad memories; both had chewed him alive and spit him out west. He would always go back to Croatia to visit his family, but there was no reason to be in Chicago.
Everything looked the same, a new building here, a new mall there. But still the same streets, the same darkness that made the city lose all it's appeal. Darkness in Chicago to him was the symbol for bad things. But he tried to put that aside for now. Still, as he drove through places where he had driven before, memories kept popping up. The route he used to take on his morning walks, the bakery where he bought his bread, the El tracks, an unfortunate walk by the river.
He didn't need to look to the small map sitting on the passenger seat to know where he was going. Some things had changed, but everything looked exactly the way he left them almost 5 years ago. Strangely enough some things change on the outside, but in the inside they always remain the same. He tried to fool himself into thinking he was one of these things, but he knew well that even though Chicago was the same place, he wasn't the same person.
As he drove, he rubbed his shoulder, feeling the tension building on the nape of his neck. It had been a while since he had a good night sleep and just when things were beginning to seem a little comfortable, here he was again. His heart had been tugging at his chest as soon as he found out he would be coming back, it practically stopped beating as soon as he stepped out of the airport and it was still beating irregularly. It was painful. Being back here hurt, almost as much as going back to Croatia. Too many things made him want to crawl into a hole and die. In a weird way, he was still missing the people, his job. One thing stood out most than all, but all in all, being back here was a mistake, and he knew it, but a part of him he didn't know existed had dragged him back.
He pulled the rental car in front of the hotel and took his bag out of the trunk. Without a word, he nodded at the Valet guy and walked in. There was a new receptionist, not that he was expecting to see the old one, but she looked young despite her height, and she stood behind a computer as she chewed her gum, she was obviously shoveled into the job. He put his bag down and took the papers out of the inside pocket of his coat.
"Dr. Kovac?" a man called from behind.
Luka turned around to see the old manager still there, smiling as if he had just seen an old friend. Out of courtesy, he extended his hand and formed a small smile.
"What are you doing here? I thought you had moved."
"I did," Luka said. "I'm here on business."
The manager patted Luka's back, "Well, never mind reservations. Mindy, put Dr. Kovac here on the penthouse."
Luka shook his head with a small laugh, "That's not necessary."
"Nonsense. The best room for my best tenant," the manager quipped. "How long are you going to be in Chicago?
"Uh, a week," Luka said.
"Well it's settled. Do you think I was going to let you get one of those small rooms?"
"Well," Luka hesitated, "Thank you."
"And if you need anything, just ring me up and I'll send someone up in a second," the manager added.
"Here you go, sir," Mindy said as she handed him a set of keys.
Luka took them in his hand and played with them for a moment before he turned to the manager, "Thank you."
"Don't mention it. Come and find me one night, we'll have drinks. Welcome back," the manager said with another tap on Luka's back and walked off to greet other people.
Luka smiled as he watched him go and then turned to Mindy, who was happily blowing a bubble and staring at his behind as if it was a prime meat cut.
The penthouse was definitely better than that little room he had a while back. There was a huge bed in a separate room and a giant television stood in the small living room. The only thing missing was a kitchen, but he didn't intend on spending much time cooking anyway. There were frames hanging from the walls and fresh flowers in vases on the tables and even in the bathroom, which itself was built for royalty. It made him feel a little uncomfortable. He never did like living in big spaces. Big spaces always reminded him of ways it could be filled, by people it could be filled, people he didn't know.
He dropped his bag on the floor and sat on the bed, burying his head on his hands. He was tired. Of the trip, the drive, his life. Everything. In fact, he couldn't remember not being tired now. As he sat there he could feel the years pass by, but as he looked up, he realized it had just been seconds. He laid back on the bed, shoes and all, and picked up the phone. After dialing a few familiar numbers, he closed his eyes and waited.
"Tom?" he asked as he opened his eyes and looked down for a second.
"Luka, did you make it safely?" a man on the other end answered.
"Yes, yes, I'm in the hotel now," Luka said with little enthusiasm.
"Do you know where you have to go?"
Luka nodded, "Yes, I just wanted to let you know I made it here."
"Ok," Tom said. "Listen, thank you for doing this, we owe you big time."
"No problem," Luka said, even thought it indeed was a problem.
"We'll give you a couple of days off when you come back," Tom added to humor Luka, but it didn't work very well. So he cleared his throat. "Listen, we're a little busy here, so, call me back, ok?"
"Yeah, um, I'm going to bed," Luka said.
"Anything you want me to tell anyone," Tom asked.
Luka seemed to think about that for a moment and then let out a, "No."
"Ok man. See you when you get back," Tom said.
"Yeah, see you," Luka said and hung up immediately. He let out a sigh and looked up at the ceiling, realizing that even the ceilings were carefully painted as if this was the Sistine Chapel. He maneuvered to take off his shoes with just his feet, but realized he'd have to get off the bed to actually turn off the lights...
... "Don't turn off the lights, we're not done talking," Luka said furiously.
"There's nothing else to talk about."
"I think there is."
"Luka please, I don't wanna talk about this."
"I do," he insisted.
"Just leave me alone."
Another sigh came out of his system. He wished he would have said no. But no, that idiot Costas had to get sick just a day before the trip. That was awfully convenient. Now here he was, in no other city than Chicago. He carefully planned the different ways he could not be seen. Maybe just get up, go on his business and immediately come back here. He would have to eat from the hotel, drink from the hotel and once again, live on the hotel. Luka Kovac was not going to step out into the streets of Chicago, and he would not let the memories engulf his mind and slowly kill him as they have been for the past 5 years.