Kayleigh came from the classroom building as soon as Scott stopped the truck. It was only a short way to her home, so he knew he had to speak up right away. “How does dinner sound, Friday night?”
“Friday? I guess that’d be okay. Right after work?”
“Actually I don’t have the exact time. We’d be going with Dr. Thorton and his wife Carol. He’s going to make reservations.”
“Scott, no! You didn’t promise I would.”
“Not exactly promise, but why not? It’s a good way to make new friends.”
“I don’t fit with your rich friends.”
“We’re just going to dinner.”
“With reservations. Not just dinner. And some doctor’s wife. You all will be dressed to the hilt, and I’ll be in rags.”
“You don’t wear rags to work. What about that blue skirt and flower print blouse you wore Monday?”
“Right. I bought that at a garage sale.”
“Maybe I bought it at her garage sale.”
Scott pulled up in front of the apartment house. “Kayleigh….”
“No. I’m not going. Go out with your rich friends.”
He grabbed her arm as she tried to leave. “Wait a minute, Kayleigh Marie. The money Dr. Thorton is giving me for Kyle is from a group of doctors. It doesn’t mean he’s necessarily rich. A couple thousand dollars doesn’t mean rich. Just knock the attitude and quit feeling sorry for yourself.”
Kayleigh yanked her arm free. “What do you know? You and your rich family.” She slammed the door and ran away.
Scott didn’t wait until she was inside like he usually did. He drove home, his temporary peace from Bert’s friendship shattered again. He stalked into the apartment and stopped.
The table was set. Kyle’s favorite composer, Mozart, played on the stereo, and the room smelled of chili and corn bread. His best friends looked up from their seats in the living room. “Hey, you’re home,” Shane said, standing. “We can eat now.”
Scott relaxed and smiled. “Yeah. It’ll just take me a minute to get out of this suit.”
He changed into jeans and came out to the dining room table. Eli ladled out his chili and sat down on the fourth side of the table that had always remained empty except for company. Scott grinned. “Have I told you guys I love you all? It’s perfect here.”
“Listen to him, Kyle,” Shane said. “He thinks flattery will get him out of the dishes tonight. Not a chance.”
“Didn’t work, huh?”
Kyle leaned closer to him.
At first Scott thought he was falling. “Kyle?”
“Your arm? The light or what?”
“Oh, that.” Scott glanced down. It looked a lot worse than it had right after the incident when he’d changed his suit. He’d been in too much of a hurry to inspect his arm in the bedroom. Both his upper and lower arm had large bruised areas where two of the chair’s legs had hit him in his fight with Ian.
Shane came around the table. “Man, Scott, what’d you do?”
“Just a little spill during my lunch break. Nothing broken or worth writing home about.”
“How…?” Shane sat back down, glancing at Kyle. “Got to get a safer job. Are you gonna pray, Kyle, or are we gonna starve tonight?”
“Yeah, as soon as you quit yappin’.” They bowed their heads, and Kyle said a short grace. Then they began eating. “How was work?” Kyle asked. “Looks like you had problems.”
“The arm wasn’t really a work problem. Work itself is going better. The two programmers are finally starting to treat me like a person. I think it’s one of the support people leaving the Dilbert cartoons. The bulletin board is full of them now.” He bit into the cornbread. “Wow, this is great. Who made this?”
“Eli,” Kyle said. “He can cook good. Worked in the kitchen at his old school.”
That’s right. It was in the application. “This is great, Eli.”
Eli mumbled a thanks without meeting their eyes, as if he hadn’t had many compliments recently.
“I cook tomorrow,” Shane said, “And then Eli will Friday. You plan on being home for either?”
Scott’s mood went down again. He wished it would stay on an even keel like it used to. He wanted to say yes. He wanted to be home. He stirred his chili. “I have to work tomorrow evening late. Then… I was invited to dinner Friday, but Kayleigh doesn’t want to go, so I don’t know if I’ll be out or not.”
“With who?” Kyle asked.
“Dr. Thorton and his wife. Remember him?” Scott asked Kyle.
Kyle shook his head. “No. Don’t know him. What’s his specialty?”
Kyle shook his head again. “No. Don’t know him.”
“He’s a friend of Dr. Ratini’s.”
Kyle gave another slight shake. “No. Maybe an acquaintance, but not someone he hung out with. I knew them all… used to be one.” Kyle shrugged and studied his chili, manipulating the spoon with slow deliberate moves. “Not in with them anymore. Guess he could have found new friends.”
“Dr. Ratini didn’t ditch you as a friend, Kyle. He really cares….”
Kyle raised his head to look into Scott’s eyes. “He never came, Scott. He worked right there. He never came.”
“Sure he did.”
“Once! Once to write me off, before I was even aware enough to appreciate it. I’m useless now. He’s moved on. He’s got another protégé.”
Kyle stood, his chair falling backwards. He ignored it and made his way toward his room.
“I’m tired.” He stumbled into the wall, but kept going, closing the bedroom door after him.
The tension inside Scott wanted out. He closed his eyes, hoping he could contain it. He couldn’t stand to see Kyle in such pain. At a noise, Scott opened his eyes. Eli had righted the fallen chair and was taking his empty dish and glass into the kitchen. “Have more. There’s plenty.”
Eli whirled to face him. “I….” Then he gave a small smile. “I’ll remember. It was good, but I have class tonight and have to leave now.”
“Heat yourself some in the microwave later then. I’ll put the leftovers in the fridge.”
Shane took another helping, and so did Scott. They ate in silence until Eli left with his blue canvas backpack. “You’re having dinner Friday with Dr. Who?”
“We’d planned a foursome, but Kayleigh….” He put his face in his hands. “What if you’re right, Shane? What if I’m stupid?”
“I never said you were stupid,” Shane said. “Did you ever think I was?”
Scott looked up. “I thought… thought you tried too hard.”
Shane gave a soft laugh. “Can’t fight that one. I’ve tried so hard, and just when I think I’m giving up and gonna remain a bachelor here with you and Kyle, you up and announce you’re getting married.”
“Well, the jury is still out on that one. She hasn’t even told her mother.”
“And you can’t give up,” he said softly. He smiled, and Scott knew it was an attempt to cheer him up. “You’ll win her yet. You and that great charm you’ve got.” He sobered and glanced toward the bedrooms. “But you heard Kyle. He doesn’t know that doctor. Be careful, Scott.”
“What’s to be careful? He gave me another thousand today. He wants to help. And we’re friends now.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “You’re friends with everyone. That’s not a good judge of character. You’d be friends with Ian, and he wants to kill you. He did that to your arm today, didn’t he?”
“Yeah. Eli took a punch, or I would have had the thing cracked over my head.”
“He did? He won’t… well, guess he didn’t tell Kyle.”
“No. I asked him not to.”
“But about Dr. Who… He claimed to be friends with Dr. Ratini, and he says he knows Kyle. Both are lies.”
Scott shook his head. “No.”
“Kyle’s memory is good!”
“Yes, but Bert didn’t say he knew Dr. Ratini. I assumed that. And he was in Kyle’s room. He didn’t say anything, only that he represented a group of doctors who wanted to help Kyle. He didn’t name them. I assumed,” Scott repeated, reassuring himself at the same time. “Bert’s for real. I trust him. Besides what could he possibly gain by giving us money?”
“Is he really a doctor?”
“Yes. I’ve been in his office at the hospital. You don’t get a university office by just paying rent. He’s for real.”
Shane finished off the last of his chili, and Scott knew he was thinking. “Maybe you’re right, Scott. Maybe. Just be careful.” He stood. “Thorton, huh?”
“Yeah. Don’t go nosing around. He knows who you are. I invited him over, so maybe he’ll eventually loosen up enough to come.” Scott looked toward Kyle’s closed door. “Should I go talk to him?”
“No. He’s probably sleeping. They must have shopped for hours. Kyle had to have kicked in some money of his own because we’re stocked.”
In spite of Shane’s protest earlier, he helped Scott clean up after dinner. They played a few games of backgammon, and Scott confided to Shane his trouble with what Bert had termed depression. He wanted to hear if Shane thought the diagnosis was accurate.
Shane studied him. “He’s right, Scott. You’ve been under a lot of it, and I told you, you’ve been changing. Hoped you weren’t still feeling some misguided sense of guilt. It wasn’t your fault.”
“That’s what Bert said — what he’s said from the beginning. It’s like he really understands what I’m going through. Says he’s even taking an antidepressant now.”
He glanced at Shane, but Shane had an absent look on his face, as if he were deep in thought.
“Not your fault,” Shane repeated. He grabbed the dice and took his backgammon move. “Tried to be here for you to talk to.”
Scott gripped his arm. “You’ve been great.”
Shane nodded. “Gonna move? Or do you concede?”
“Are you serious? You don’t have a chance.” They played two more games, and then went to bed.
Scott dreamed of the accident again, only it was the part where the car was hit, and he couldn’t get it under control. It was a never ending spiral until he awoke with a start. He breathed deeply for a few minutes, trying to clear his head. Then he prayed silently to try to refocus on God. Finally he felt he could sleep again and drifted back to slumber.
He awoke fully at the sound of his door opening. At first he imagined Ian coming in to finish him off during the night, but he knew Ian had gone home to Marquette. Who was in his room? It couldn’t be Eli? Shane wasn’t right, was he? Why would Eli steal from him while he was in the room? That didn’t make sense either. If it weren’t for the dim moonlight coming through the window he’d have thought he’d imagined it. But he heard the breathing also.
Scott reached over to switch on the night stand light. “Kyle?”
Kyle stood unsteady in his pajamas, blinking from the light. He moved to the bed. “Scott, he’s not home yet.”
“Who’s not home?”
“Eli. It’s almost one. What if he’s been in an accident, and no one calls us?”
“Eli’s not home? You’re sure?”
“Unless he’s in Shane’s room,” Kyle said with a trace of irritation. “You’ve got to help me find him.”
Shane appeared in the doorway. “He took off with your truck?”
“I don’t care about the truck! I want Eli. What if he’s hurt?”
Scott got out of bed. “We’ll find him, Kyle.” He grabbed his jeans. Shane and Kyle left the room, and Scott finished dressing, wondering where he should possibly look first. Eli had gone to school. Maybe he was broken down somewhere along the way, but why hadn’t he phoned? What did the kid do? All they really knew about him was that he went to EMU, work, and church.
Scott left his room. Shane met him, now dressed. They went to Kyle’s room. “We’re going to retrace the way to school first. Did he say anything else, talk about anyone or any place?”
“I’m coming.” Kyle had his jeans on and was fumbling with the buttons on his shirt. They waited for him. Scott wanted to help him, but knew Kyle would not want the help. When he was dressed they went downstairs.
Outside they passed the bike rack and headed for the cars. “Let’s take Scott’s SUV. You haven’t seen it yet, have you, Kyle?”
Scott’s stomach churned. “You drive, Shane. My stomach….”
“It’s a great SUV, Kyle. A Jeep Grand Cherokee.”
“Shane!” Scott protested again.
“My truck.” Kyle veered away from them. “He has to be home.” They followed Kyle to his S-10. “This is exactly where we left it.” Kyle turned and squinted toward the bike rack. “He didn’t take his bike, did he? It’s almost ten miles to EMU. He’d be killed if someone….”
Scott jogged back to the rack and studied the bikes. Most of them were mountain bikes. He went back to Shane and Kyle. “His bike is gone.”
Kyle leaned against his truck. “Scott,” he said with a cry.
“You just met him,” Shane said.
“But Kyle’s adopted him. Told you he’d work well with us.”
“Then where is he?” asked Shane.
Scott noticed Kyle’s tremors becoming more pronounced. “Hey, we’ll find him. He’s probably still at school. All he ever did was school, church, and work.” School, church, and…. “I think I know where he is.” He started for Shane’s car.
“No,” Shane said, grabbing Scott by the arm.
“Oww. Hey, knock it off.”
Shane removed his hands. “Sorry. Forgot about your bruises. But you’ve got to drive. You know where we’re going.” He met Kyle’s eyes. “He has to drive, doesn’t he, Kyle? You want to see his new Cherokee, don’t you?”
“Kyle, don’t let him harass you. Tell him straight. You’re more comfortable with him driving.”
Kyle looked into Scott’s eyes. “You’re still scared.”
“Still! Man, you were almost killed! I’m still having nightmares. Even tonight. Come on. Let’s get in the car and check the grocery store.”
“We got groceries. He wouldn’t….”
“He works there. Maybe he didn’t quit. Third shift, he told me.” Scott started for Shane’s car.
When he turned, no one had followed him. Shane and Kyle were walking to the Cherokee. Scott watched as Kyle stopped beside the front passenger door and waited. His heart pounded. They weren’t going to let him off the hook. They were going to risk their lives. Why did Kyle have to sit in the same spot? Scott released the locks, and they all climbed inside.
“Nice,” Kyle said. “Comfortable seats.”
Scott glanced at Kyle. Same angle, same type of lighting. Why couldn’t they have done this during the day? He closed his eyes and faced forward, putting the key in the ignition. He couldn’t turn it.
He felt Shane’s hand on his shoulder, and he took a deep breath. Opening his eyes, he turned the key. He tried not to look toward Kyle as he pulled out of the parking space, but it was impossible not to see him sitting there beside him, hair mostly gone, eyes set too deeply. Would he ever regain his weight and not look like the skeleton of his nightmares?
“Wait!” Kyle said.
Scott’s heart stopped. Or at least it felt like it did. He braked immediately. “I understand.”
Kyle shifted, reaching into his pocket. “Shane. Take my truck. If Eli is okay, he’s driving it home, not that bike.”
Shane took the key and got out of the car, giving Scott’s shoulder one last encouraging grip. Then he was gone. Scott stared after him.
“Let’s go,” Kyle said.
“Let’s make sure that kid is okay so I can kill him.”
Scott glanced at him. “Runs in the family, I guess.”
“He had no right worrying us like that.”
“Remember that first time Shane did that to us?” Scott asked, trying to ease Kyle’s intensity. “Mooning over some girl. Never even occurred to him we’d care if he was dead or alive.”
“Well, he learned quick, and Eli’s going to learn, too.”
The grocery that Eli had listed in his application was in Ypsilanti between EMU and the apartment complex he had lived in. Kyle let out a small groan. “The dumb kid rode his bike all this way.”
They pulled into the parking lot and found a spot. Shane was right behind them, meeting them at the door.
Inside Scott stopped the first employee he met. “Is Elijah White working tonight?”
“Stock. Aisle Seven, I think.”
They walked in the direction the man had pointed, going as quickly as Kyle’s palsied movements would let him. His condition was more pronounced as they approached the boxes in aisle seven.
Eli looked up and froze. “What’s wrong?”
Shane and Scott stopped walking, but Kyle continued to Eli. “You don’t just take off and tell no one. If you’re gonna stay out all night have the decency to say so. Don’t care if… Can’t… can’t sleep at all thinking you’re dead somewhere. And the bike… Use the truck. It’s out there. Don’t forget to bring it home.” Kyle turned to leave. “Riding a stupid ten speed ten miles in the dead of night.”
He faced Eli again. “Don’t hide when you need sleep.” Kyle was only several inches from Eli now, who stood staring wide-eyed at Kyle’s tantrum. “You be honest, and… and so will I.” Kyle said so low that Scott almost didn’t hear.
Then Kyle turned and stalked off the way they’d come. “Idiot wants to kill himself before he turns nineteen.” Shane followed Kyle.
Scott waited. The poor kid looked like he’d been hit by… by Ian. His eyes met Scott’s with a question. “He was scared to death you’d been killed,” Scott said. “He worries about his friends. Just let us know your schedule next time.”
Eli nodded. Scott thought he saw a small quiver as he turned back to his work, stacking cans of soup into a shelf.
“Eli?” He waited until Eli looked up. “He’s right, you know. You have a family now. We’re all like brothers.”
The can slipped from Eli’s hand, and he quickly bent down to retrieve it. He didn’t look up, concentrating on the bottom shelf.
Scott took a step closer and gripped Eli’s shoulder in a brief reassuring way. “See you later, little brother.” Then he left because he knew Shane and Kyle were waiting, and he couldn’t put off the return trip any longer.
When he caught up to them Kyle was leaning against Shane. “Just a little further,” Shane said quietly. “Scott, bring the Jeep to the door.”
Kyle didn’t protest. In fact he looked ashen. Scott rushed to get the Jeep Grand Cherokee. Kyle had overextended himself. Shane helped Kyle into the passenger seat, and Scott completed the buckling of his seat belt. He reached up to touch his forehead, but it was cool.
“No fever,” Kyle said weakly. “Just vertigo. Need sleep.”
As he drove home Scott was so concerned about Kyle’s current condition, that he didn’t have time to think about anyone hitting them.
At home Shane and Scott stood on each side of Kyle and helped him up the stairs. Then they made sure he was undressed and in bed before they left him.
“Dumb kid,” Shane said. “Should’ve known better than to worry Kyle like that. He’s gonna hear about it….”
“Shane, he did hear about it.” Scott grinned, but then decided not to remind Shane about the time he had heard about it. “Get some sleep.” Scott looked towards Kyle’s room. “He’ll be all right, won’t he?” he whispered.
“I’ll leave my door open.”
Scott was relieved. Shane’s door was directly across from Kyle’s. He would hear anything. “Thanks.”
“Doing it for Kyle, not you.” Shane grinned. “And guess what? You didn’t kill us. Knew you wouldn’t.” Shane went into his room.
Scott shook his head. No, no one had died today.
He slept intermittently until his alarm went off at six thirty. Eli came home at quarter after seven. He started to make breakfast, but Scott sent him to bed. Kyle would probably sleep in. Eli might as well do the same.
Go to Chapter 14
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.