Tuesday Scott didn’t get home until he picked up Kayleigh from school and dropped her off at home. It was after seven. He wished Kyle’s relatives weren’t there, but he knew by Jerry’s car that they were.
He was surprised to find Shane sitting at the top of the steps. “What’s up?”
“It’s a mad house. They leave tomorrow afternoon. Kyle picked Eli.”
“Eli. Really? That’s great.”
“Knew you’d think so. Gonna cost us a fortune.”
“Dr. Thorton will get it. Don’t worry.”
“Dr. who? Thorton?”
“Dr. Who. He’ll disappear into a phone booth if you disturb him.”
“Yeah, right. The kid doesn’t have a bed. He’s got a sleeping bag though. Says the floor is fine. He’s brain dead. You gotta buy him a bed with Dr. Who’s money. Hope he’s got some deep pockets.”
Scott hoped he did, too, especially since he wasted most of his own money on Kayleigh’s ring. It wasn’t wasted, he reminded himself. It got through to her. Just not the way he’d expected.
Shane shifted and stood. “Want to go over to see Eli? Might as well take Kyle’s truck to him so he doesn’t try to move all his belongings with a ten speed.”
“Oh, yeah. Ian and Fran didn’t. Even Jerry wasn’t too sure. But Kyle… it was his idea. Boy, he has a temper now. I took the keys and got out while the getting was good.”
They went down to the parking lot, and then Scott followed Shane to Ypsilanti. He couldn’t help thinking about how far the kid had biked to make his appointments with them. Even church was further from his apartment than he’d first thought, yet he never seemed to miss a Sunday.
Unlike Kayleigh’s apartment in the back of an old house, Eli lived in an eight unit apartment building. Shane and Scott entered the dingy hall. Laughter echoed from the first apartment as they passed. A guy came from the next door and ran past them, nearly hitting them. It was the door with Eli’s apartment number. Rock music blasted from within. Shane met Scott’s eyes, and they smiled. It was not too different from the apartment house they’d first met in. Shane knocked. Waited, and then knocked harder. Cursing. The music stopped. Shane knocked again.
The door flew open. “Alright, already. I turned it off, okay?”
“Not here about your stereo.”
The kid, probably not any older than Eli, gave them a long look. “What’s with the suits? You must be lookin’ for the Barbie dolls upstairs.”
“Not quite. Is this where Eli White lives?”
“Lived. He’s moving.”
“But is he here now?”
The kid finally moved away from the door so they could enter. The apartment looked worse kept than the one Shane and Scott had shared with six other guys. Dirty dishes were stacked in the sink in the alcove off the main room. Beer and pop cans littered the end tables and floor.
A moment later Eli emerged from one of the two doorways in back of the main room. He saw Scott and Shane, and then glanced around the apartment. He took a deep breath and approached them. “Hi. Everything okay?”
“Everything’s good. Kyle wanted me to bring you these.” Shane held out a key ring.
Eli took it, and then smiled. “Thanks. When do you want me there?”
“How soon can you move?”
“Good enough. I gassed it up. That should last you and Kyle a week or two. Let me know. It’s an expense.”
“Gassed… His car is out there? He’s letting me use it now?”
Scott grinned at Eli’s shock. “Yeah. Not much of a hot rod. Just an old S-10 pickup — maroon. Thought it’d help you move.”
“Easier than… I just have a couple bags. Two trips by bike, but… Thanks. I’ll be right over.”
“No rush. We’ve still got to find a bunk for you. See you later.”
Shane and Scott went out to Scott’s truck, and Scott drove to the furniture store. “He has nothing,” Shane said quietly. “We had more.”
“Maybe he has more at a relative’s house in New York.”
“Yeah. Sure. Probably right.”
They bought a basic twin bed and mattress set. They put the seats down in the back of the Cherokee and slid in the bed.
“What’s a battery doing back here?”
“Let me guess. You stole her battery so she’d be forced to accept a ride to and from work with you.”
Scott laughed. “Something like that.” They managed to get the bed secured and drove home.
Eli was already there, and when they entered the apartment with the first part of the mattress, Eli helped take in the rest. He made the bed as Kyle’s family said goodbye for the night.
All was quiet when the door was finally shut on them. But it wouldn’t be just the three of them now. Eli was still in the bedroom.
“Be glad when they leave,” Kyle said. “I’m tired.”
“They wear you out, don’t they?”
Kyle did look extremely tired. He stood and made his way to the bedroom, weaving slightly and bumping the wall before he made it through the door.
Shane looked at Scott. “Gonna come home on time tomorrow?”
Scott considered his work schedule. “Sure. Then work late Thursday.”
“Scott… about Dr. Moneybags. Maybe we should just try to make it without him. You haven’t signed anything, have you?”
“No. Nothing’s written. Don’t worry so much. His group wants to help. Besides until that allowance kicks in, you know we can’t afford his car insurance and Eli’s spending money. I’ll write him tonight.”
“If he doesn’t come through, we’ll have to afford it. My own cooking and a roommate. What a wonderful combination.”
“Maybe he can cook.” Scott became serious. “We’ve always got my family. They already think I’m a failure….”
Scott ignored the protest. Shane didn’t know what it was like not to live up to a father’s expectation. His father had left before his ninth birthday. “But we agree. We don’t ever go to Kyle’s parents for help.”
“But they could still fork out what they did to help with school.”
“No! I told them we were doing this. I won’t ask for anything from them.”
“I thought Kyle had too much pride. You’re a mixed up basket case — asking some stranger….”
“I didn’t ask. He volunteered.” Scott’s voice had risen again, and he regretted it. “Sorry, Shane.”
“Yeah. Me, too. I don’t really want to ask Kyle’s parent’s for a dime, either. Ian would make sure we never heard the end, and it’d give Jerry an excuse to take him away.” He stood. “Might as well go to bed.”
Scott went to his room, checked his E-mail, and wrote to Dr. Thorton about the situation.
When Scott emerged from the shower the next morning he smelled the bacon cooking. During the week? Shane hated cooking.
Shane came from his room as Scott left the bathroom. “You’re cooking?” he asked.
Scott shook his head, and they went to the kitchen together. Eli stood near the stove already dressed in jeans and a pullover top. He cracked eggs into a bowl. “Eli?”
The egg in his hand smashed instead of cracked as he jumped. He glanced back, and then grabbed paper towel to clean up the egg before it dripped down the cupboard to the floor. “Do you like scrambled or fried?”
“You’re cooking for us?” Shane asked. He glanced at Scott.
“I have to cook for Kyle and me anyway. It’s just as easy to add a bit more.”
Shane relaxed. “Hey. Thanks.”
Scott wondered as Shane obviously had, if Eli had overheard their conversation last night. They’d have to be more careful, especially when talking about Dr. Thorton. “Yeah, thanks, Eli. We usually take turns at dinner, so that’d be only every third night — unless we eat out.” Their schedule was so messed up. “Whose turn is it tonight?”
“Yours,” Shane said automatically. “You haven’t cooked in ages, working late all the time.” He sat at the table.
Scott winced. “Yeah. Guess you’re right.” He opened the refrigerator, noting they hadn’t bought much in the way of practical items Sunday. He grabbed the last package of hamburger from the freezer. Then he looked under the counter and began pulling out cans of tomatoes, sauce, and kidney beans. “He likes my chili.” Scott set the items near the crock pot. “Wish I’d done this before I’d gotten dressed.” He removed his suit jacket, hoping he didn’t spatter his shirt and slacks.
Then he took the hamburger toward the stove and stopped. Eli was using both skillets. Scott looked at his watch. No time to wait. “I’ll have to finish this at noon. Oh, joy, I get to see Ian again.” He set the hamburger into the refrigerator.
Kyle stood in the doorway in his old tattered blue robe instead of the brown one his parents had bought for his hospital stay. He staggered a bit as he walked to the counter. His hand shook when he grabbed the coffee pot, and almost as much coffee spilled on the counter as made it into the cup. Kyle dropped the pot into the holder, sloshing more coffee. Then he went to the table and sunk into a chair, putting his head in his shaky hands, steadying both.
Eli silently went to the counter with a cloth, wiping the cup before setting it in front of Kyle. Then he wiped the counter and rinsed the dish cloth before returning to his bacon.
Eli was a natural for this job. Pastor Prescott was right. William would have shot his mouth off and made Kyle more miserable. Now it was Scott’s turn to ease Kyle’s discomfort.
“I’m cooking tonight.”
Kyle lifted his head. “Hope it’s chili. You can’t cook anything else.”
Scott grinned. “I’ve been known to make decent French toast.”
“On a good day,” Shane added. “We won’t talk about the other days. Fried or scrambled, Kyle? Eli’s making us all breakfast. We’ll see if he can cook any better than we can.”
Kyle glanced over at Eli who was removing toast from the toaster and buttering it. “Fried. What do you have planned today?” He looked at Shane first. “What’s today? The seventeenth? Got all your mid-month reports out?”
Shane smiled. “Not yet.” He told Kyle what he planned to do that day. Then Kyle asked Scott. Eli served the meal as he spoke, and when he sat, Scott said the blessing.
Now, normally it would be Kyle’s turn to tell his plans. Should he ask? Kyle watched him, as if waiting. “So, what do you have planned?”
Kyle relaxed. Scott did also. He’d guessed right. “I get to listen to my family try to talk me into going to Marquette one more time, and then an appointment with Dr. Franklin at two, and the occupational therapist at three thirty.”
Shane glanced at Scott and then focused on Kyle. “What do you do with the therapist?”
“Exciting stuff. Last time we put colored pegs in a peg board. It helps with the hands.” Kyle held out his hands to show the slight tremor. “And guess it’s a bit of brain work, too. Gotta match color and pattern.” Kyle shrugged and studied his food. “Easy stuff.” He grabbed his fork again, working to cut through the egg and lift it.
Eli silently finished the last of his food. It was as if he weren’t there, and yet his physical presence couldn’t be denied. Scott longed to draw him in, make him feel at home, give him family again. “What have you got planned, Eli?”
Eli glanced up quickly at Scott and then Kyle. “I… Whatever Kyle wants to do. We might… might get groceries if….” He glanced at Kyle again.
“Good idea,” Scott said. He withdrew the checkbook from his suit jacket hanging on the back of the chair. He wrote Eli a check for his weekly pay and handed it to him.
“Sure.” After putting away the checkbook Scott pulled out his wallet and removed two twenties, setting them on the table. “What about it, Shane? Or do you want to do your own shopping?”
Shane hesitated. Then he took out his wallet also, handing two twenties to Kyle. “Sure. You know what we like, Kyle. You can do our shopping while you’re out running, right?”
Kyle took the money. “Yeah. Guess so.”
“If you don’t want to….” Scott said quickly.
Kyle looked up. “I can do it. I’m not an invalid.”
“Course you’re not,” Scott said quickly. “Just thought you might like a little more rest after your family leaves. Ian’s enough to make anyone tired.”
Kyle frowned. “He’s just a kid.”
“Right. An active one with a temper almost as big as yours.”
“I don’t have a temper,” Kyle scowled. He focused on his eggs. Eli stood, taking his dishes, Scott’s and Shane’s to the sink. He began running the dish water.
A knock signaled that Kyle’s parents were here, and it was time for Scott to go. Scott slipped on his suit jacket, and then placed a hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “It’s good to have you home,” he said. “I’ll see you later.”
Kyle smiled up at him and briefly touched his hand, but dropped it as Ian came into the room. Ian glared at Scott.
“Thanks for breakfast, Eli.” Scott left quickly.
Shane caught up with him in the parking lot. “You should let me do the money. You don’t pay up front. He knew that.”
“He might need something. You always need stuff when you move. He has nothing, remember?”
“But that’s the point. If you don’t operate out of logic when it comes to money, you’re going to be burned. Compassion is fine, but you’re setting a bad example. Don’t hand him everything. He just got a new bed, a truck to drive, a kitchen full of gadgets, and you were going to hand him the grocery money? Get a grip. He’ll probably steal us blind when he gets the chance. Don’t make it so easy.”
“So tell me this. Do you really want to go shopping? And do you really think Kyle is up to walking around a supermarket two days out of the hospital, especially after walking around the hospital complex to those appointments of his? You know he won’t take a wheel chair like he should.”
Shane hesitated. “I didn’t think of that. But still, I’d rather do the shopping than give it to Eli. Next time we do it.”
“You do it, then. I’ve got too many hours right now.” Scott got into his truck. “See you tonight.”
Scott picked up Kayleigh. She still wore his ring. He decided to mention it. “What do your mom and brother say about your engagement? Don’t they want to meet me?”
Great. Another scene. “Never mind. I’m not up to any more fights.” He stopped to wait for the next light.
Kayleigh glanced at him. “I’m sorry,” she whispered. “Want to… talk about your morning?”
Scott sighed. “Nothing exciting. Eli moved in last night. Shane doesn’t like how I handle money. Kyle’s like a walking bomb, always afraid someone is thinking he can’t handle himself. Shane doesn’t like Eli. Eli’s perfect. Probably why Shane doesn’t like him. Figures he’s got to have some terrible hidden flaw. Shane’s like that. Suspicious of everyone.” He accelerated as the light changed. At home it would be her turn to speak. She wouldn’t.
“What’s Eli like?”
He was right. She wouldn’t. He gave up and talked about what little he knew of Eli until they reached work. He checked his E-mail when he had a free moment. Dr. Thorton wrote asking if they could meet that afternoon at three for coffee in the cafeteria. Scott agreed. At noon he left for home to start the chili.
The apartment was silent when he arrived although he’d seen Jerry’s car and Kyle’s truck in the parking lot. Eli’s ten speed had even been in the bike rack, not that Scott expected him to leave Kyle and use it much anymore. Scott removed his jacket, throwing it on the couch. He glanced out the sliding glass doors to the balcony. A closer look revealed that Kyle and his family were down at one of the two picnic tables in the complex’s recreation area. That was a relief. If he was quick enough he wouldn’t need to see Ian.
Scott went to the kitchen and flipped on the light. It was spotlessly clean. Fran or Eli? After the way Eli’s old apartment had looked he assumed it was Fran, although he knew one person had little control over a group who didn’t want the same thing. He withdrew the skillet, hamburger, and an onion. There were no green peppers, or he would have put in one of those.
Scott had just gotten all the ingredients in the crock pot and decided he better clean up, when he heard a noise.
Ian spoke as Scott turned to face him. “Bet Kyle would get to come home if you were hospitalized. Especially if you had a head injury just like Kyle’s.” The look in his eyes sent a chill through Scott. Shane was right! Ian really did want to hurt him.
“Just let it go, Ian, will you? You know the accident wasn’t my fault.”
“Feelin’ guilty?” Ian walked toward Scott.
Scott didn’t realize he’d backed away until he hit the sink. “I don’t have time for your games, Ian. I’ve got to get back to work.” He walked past Ian, deciding cleanliness could wait.
Ian tackled him, shoving him down against the refrigerator. Scott tried to fend him off. Ian gave him another shove into the floor and then stood. Scott attempted to get up, but Ian grabbed a kitchen chair, raising it over his head. Scott knew he couldn’t get away before Ian smashed it onto his head. Why God? The headaches were just getting easier to bear.
But the chair never came. Ian whirled around. “Stay out of this, babysitter.”
Eli gripped the chair and watched Ian until Ian, in one move, let go of the chair and punched Eli in the stomach, doubling him over clutching his stomach. The chair clattered to the floor. Ian grabbed it and tossed it back at Scott before stalking out.
The chair hit his right shoulder and arm, but not with the force it would have without Eli’s interference. The pain cut through his arm, and he stayed where he was to recover from the attack.
Eli straightened and placed the chair by the table. Then holding his stomach, he lowered himself to sit near Scott. “Okay?”
Scott straightened and sat up. “I’m fine. He got me with one of those stomach hits last week. I think the kid must lift weights when he’s not causing trouble.”
Eli leaned against the counter, taking deep breaths. “He’s just been this way since the accident?”
“Didn’t really see much of him before the accident. Man, Eli, if I could take Kyle’s place, I’d do it in a minute. I can’t do anything else.” He rubbed his arm. It was bruised, but mobile. At least he hadn’t cracked his head again, although the headache that never really left was intensifying again. He stood and glanced around the room. “I’ll clean this place up later. I’ve got to change and get out before Ian comes back.” He hesitated, meeting Eli’s quiet, steady gaze. “Thanks, Eli.”
Eli shrugged and turned from the room. “Guess I’ll catch a little more sleep.”
He faced Scott.
“This will just upset Kyle. Fran asked me not to mention it, and she’s probably right. Ian needs his brother.”
Eli nodded. He went back to the room he and Kyle shared.
Scott took a couple Motrin and then quickly changed his clothes, leaving the apartment before Ian could return. The apprehension didn’t dissipate until he was almost to the hospital. Lord, I know Ian needs Kyle. But this is really best for Kyle, isn’t it? Scott remembered Ian referring to Eli as ‘babysitter’. Kyle didn’t need a babysitter, just a driver and a little help. This was best, Scott thought with new conviction. Kyle wasn’t an invalid.
Scott went back to work, forgetting lunch. He took Kayleigh to school at two.
“Did you usually eat lunch at home before the accident?” she asked.
“Sometimes. Not often.”
“But now… you’re going to check on Kyle?”
“I had to start dinner. I didn’t have time this morning.”
“Oh.” She was silent.
He decided to tease her. “Missing lunch with me?”
Scott almost ran the red light. “You are? I thought…. We’ll go out tomorrow.”
Kayleigh smiled, but it seemed a sad smile. “That sounds good.” She didn’t speak again until he pulled up in the parking lot of EMU. She didn’t open the door. “Scott, I lied.”
“Lied? About lunch.”
“Oh, no. Not that. To my mom. I… I said I bought a cubic zirconium to keep away men.”
“Really? What’d she say?”
“Just wondered where I got the extra money, and thought it was a waste.”
Scott wanted to hold her, but he didn’t dare make a move toward her. “Is that why you accepted it? To keep others away?”
She shook her head. Then she met his eyes. “If you’re real… please… I have to go.” Kayleigh got out and walked away.
Please what? He watched until she entered the building. Then he left the parking lot. Please be patient. That’s what he hoped she’d been going to say. He decided that he had to act as if that was what she had said. Please be patient. Then his mind embellished it even more. Please be patient. I love you. But his thoughts wouldn’t let it go, and he kept returning to the words.
Scott met with one of the two programmers when he returned. At three he went to the cafeteria, looking around when he entered. Dr. Thorton was in the back in a corner booth. Scott walked over and slipped into the other side. Then he remembered. “Shoot. I forgot those receipts. I have the checkbook though.” He pulled it from his pocket and gave it to Dr. Thorton. The only new entry since his letter last night was Eli’s pay.
Dr. Thorton glanced through it and handed it back. He slid the white envelope next to his plate to Scott.
“I don’t know how we’d do everything without your help. I really appreciate it,” Scott said. “Kyle is getting better. He’s remembering things. Old things and new things. Like he knew when his appointments were for today. He knows where he has to be.”
Dr. Thorton’s mouth turned up a little at the corner. “Good.”
“How’s your back?”
Dr. Thorton seemed startled as if he hadn’t expected the question.
“Is it better?” Scott insisted. “The same? Does it interfere with your work?” He was tired of one way conversations, and he didn’t want Shane to be right about Dr. Thorton also. You could be friends with most everyone if you tried.
Dr. Thorton remained silent.
Scott shook his head. “What is this? Do I talk too much? I know I was knocked around, but did I forget how to hold a two way conversation?” He didn’t bother directing the comments to Dr. Thorton, because he was just as uncommunicative as Kayleigh. He didn’t expect answers. He expected he’d get up and walk away as he had before. “Am I suddenly repulsive? Is it written on my forehead? ‘Nearly killed best friend — don’t get close.’” Scott looked at the white envelope of money sitting on the table. He wanted to leave it… he did. “I won’t bother you again. I’ll take a second job.” Scott left the booth and stalked away.
He walked back to his office, but his heart ached. His bruised arm only reminded him of his failure to be a worthy friend. He’d almost been able to believe Shane that the accident wasn’t his fault, but he couldn’t completely. Maybe Kayleigh had really meant if he was real and loved her, he’d stay away from her to protect her. Maybe Ian was right all along. It was best for Kyle to stay away from fumble-brained Scott. Maybe that’s why he couldn’t get along with anyone anymore. And if he couldn’t manage people he’d lose his job also.
Scott went into the facilities department. “I don’t want to be disturbed,” he told Elaine. Then he went back, closed his door, and sat at his desk, putting his head in his arms.
He tried to pray, to get perspective, but in his mind he again saw Kyle’s face, tilted and laced with blood, eerily lit and darkened by passing headlights. He tried to think of Kyle now, but within a minute the image returned. He tried to think about Kayleigh’s past, but again the bloody image of Kyle returned.
The phone buzzed, but he ignored it, leaving his head down. He’d told her to leave him alone. Why couldn’t she listen? Nobody listened to him anymore. Again he saw Kyle. He shook his head. “Please stop. God, why do I keep seeing him that way? Why, God? Make it stop. Please.”
A hand touched his shoulder. “Scott?”
Scott jerked and sat up straight, staring into Dr. Thorton’s eyes.
He slowly sat in the chair beside Scott’s desk. “I’m sorry.”
“Sorry? I don’t….” Scott realized his face was damp. He brushed at it with his sleeve. “This isn’t you. It’s… it’s just… I can’t stop seeing him in the car that night. Over and over. I usually can stop it, but lately everything seems to bother me over and over. Not always Kyle… usually that’s just at night.”
“Have you talked to your doctor?”
“My doctor? I’m not hurt. It’s not anything physical.”
“Depression does that. A temporary medicine for three to six months might help break the cyclical nature of the thoughts. I’m on one.” Dr. Thorton studied his face. “It’s not your fault. Don’t let it eat at you, too. And let me help with the finances. I need… It’s one less stress for you, right?” He placed the white envelope on Scott’s desk.
Scott gave a half-hearted shrug. “Sorry about the little scene in the cafeteria. Shane calls me Mr. Friends-with-the-world. It wasn’t you. You just want to help Kyle, and I’m too… maybe it is depression… too depressed to handle a normal business arrangement.”
Dr. Thorton shook his head. “I’m not used to friends. I have a lot of acquaintances, but not many care about how my pain is. Usually people glaze up if I say anything.”
Scott thought the confession sounded lonely. “I’ll listen. As a friend, not because I can help. Don’t you tell anyone? Your wife, maybe?”
“My wife is so sick of hearing about my back. We… we don’t talk much lately.”
Scott remembered the incoherent mumblings Dr. Thorton had made after surgery. He’d been afraid of losing his wife. “Dr. Thorton… can I call you by your name? If that’s not too… You’re here because of friendship now, not Kyle, right?”
Dr. Thorton seemed to be considering his words. Then slowly he nodded. “My name is Bernard — Bert.”
Bert inclined his head and shrugged. “Started when I was a kid to distinguish from my cousin Bernie. It’s a family name.”
Scott smiled. Bert wouldn’t have mentioned his childhood if he wasn’t ready for friendship. “Maybe you could come over some time. Dinner or something. Or maybe we can make our fickle females join us for dinner somewhere.”
Bert’s smile was small, almost out of place with the rest of his face, as if he hadn’t smiled often. “You have one of those, too, do you? I didn’t realize you were serious about anyone. I know you’re not married.”
“No. Not married, but she took the engagement ring. Just isn’t quite ready for a relationship.”
Bert stayed in Scott’s office until four thirty when he said he had a late appointment to attend to. “I’ll see what Carol thinks of dinner. Friday night? I’ll make reservations.”
“I’ll tell Kayleigh.”
When he was alone, Scott made out a deposit slip for another thousand dollars. Then he called the doctor he had been told to contact right after the accident to make an appointment. Maybe it was time he had a follow up checkup from his two hospital visits. Maybe Dr. Thorton — Bert — was right, and he just needed an antidepressant.
Go to Chapter 13
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.