Kayleigh said little as they drove to work. Scott didn’t feel like fighting. So far the morning was good, and he wished he’d never started pursing this relationship with Kayleigh so that it wouldn’t matter if she didn’t speak to him. But it did. They remained formal all morning. At eleven he had some time, and he called up his E-mail. Bert Thorton had written.
“Scott, Friday at seven at Carboni’s. We’ll meet you there. Thanks for suggesting it. I hadn’t realized how long it’d been since Carol and I have been out with friends. Carol remembered though – listed it down to the day. This back has made it hard to get out other than to the hospital for over a year and a half now, but since the surgery, I rarely need any pain medicine, and then only for sleeping. Carol is looking forward to meeting you and your fiancée. See you then, Bert.”
Scott couldn’t let him and his wife down. He picked up the phone and buzzed Kayleigh’s desk. “Kayleigh, come back here for a minute.”
Scott winced, but waited. He had her close the door and then motioned her to read the letter on the monitor.
She read and then faced him. “What do you need?”
Scott sighed and indicated she sit. “Are you my fiancée?”
“Did you accept my ring?”
She looked at the ring on her hand. “Do you want it back?”
“I want you to at least pretend to like me! Kayleigh, you say you go to church, you pray, but do you have any idea what a normal marriage is like?”
She stiffened. “No. Of course I don’t. I’m an idiot from the slums.”
“Kayleigh, you won’t go with me, will you?”
“Is it the dress? I’ll buy you one tomorrow at lunch if it’ll make you feel more comfortable.”
“Why is this so important to you?”
“Didn’t you read the letter? Bert’s having marriage trouble. This is good for him.”
“So it’s an act of charity.”
“I thought you had some compassion. I guess I was knocked a little harder than I thought last month.” Scott grabbed some of the papers on his desk, pretending interest, hoping she’d leave. What had he picked up anyway? Upside down. He straightened it. She was still watching. Apparently she was having trouble with universal dismissal techniques, and he didn’t have the voice to make her leave.
What was this anyway? He wished the papers would stop jiggling. She wasn’t leaving. He had to. He threw the papers down and left, walking as quickly as he could. He went outside and took a brisk walk around the whole complex. The heat drove him back inside. Sweat dripped down his forehead, and his shirt under his suit jacket clung to his back. He washed off in the rest room.
Then he took lunch alone in the cafeteria. He said grace. When he lifted his head Kayleigh stood before him with her tray. She slid into the booth across from him. Silently she began eating. Scott concentrated on his own meal, wishing he could go back to the month before when all they had between them were prayers.
He was half way through his casserole when she finally spoke. “I’m scared, Scott.”
“Of what?” he asked as softly as he could. If she was ready to talk, he didn’t want to scare her.
“Of being rejected. By you or by your friends when they or you know everything.”
“They wouldn’t be my friends if they rejected my wife. Shane isn’t too happy with you because he knows this uncertainty is tearing me up, but he’ll come around when we work things out.”
“It is?” She shook her head. “Why do you put up with me? You could have anyone.”
“I don’t know. I haven’t really wanted anyone on a permanent basis before.”
“You said that, but surely you’ve dated.”
“Yeah. Occasionally. Never more than once or twice with the same girl. Except once in high school, I dated a girl for three months.” He shrugged. “Until she dumped me for a football player. Shane doesn’t think I’ve ever been dumped. He thinks I can charm anyone … till you came along.”
“So… I’m a challenge.”
Scott shook his head. “If it was that, I’d have given up. I’ve hit my head enough times in the last month.”
“But Scott, I’m not…. You aren’t a virgin, are you?”
“Does it make a difference?”
“I didn’t think you were. Not with you running in fear.”
Kayleigh refocused on her food, taking a small bite of the square little cafeteria cheesecake. “But why me?” she finally asked, looking up into his face.
“Because somewhere in all those bad experiences, Kayleigh, you learned about God, and you learned compassion. You’ve been trying to hide it from me, but I saw it in the emergency room, and I’ve seen it since. I know you care, but you’ve been so hurt that when you think you’ll be hurt again, you can’t think of anyone but yourself.”
Kayleigh looked at the tray again and then pushed it away.
“Kayleigh, you know you have to grow beyond this fear to be all God has for you to be. You can’t keep hiding.”
Her eyes widened. “That’s … that’s what my pastor said. But I didn’t know what she meant then.”
“She?” Scott decided not to pursue that. “We can work through this together, Kayleigh. Trust me. I won’t let my friends taunt or harass you.”
“Scott… There’s things that happened.” She glanced around the cafeteria. “I’m really not a good person.”
“We just read a book that talked about ‘good’ people. Maybe you’ll join us when we start reading again. Good stuff.”
“You don’t understand,” she mumbled.
“Hey, none of that, okay? Explain it to me if I don’t understand. You make it sound like I’m mentally incapable of rational thought.”
She met his eyes. “Will you really buy me a new dress tomorrow?”
“Will it make you comfortable enough to come?”
“I’ll come. No guarantees on how comfortable I’ll be.”
Scott took her hands. “Thank you.” He kissed the back of one hand and then the other.
“You’re being awful forward with your secretary.”
“Going to report me?”
“No, but someone else might.”
“It only matters if you hate it.”
“I don’t hate it.” She blushed and pulled her hands away. “I’ve got to get back to work. Do you need me to come back tonight? I’ve got a term paper that needs a lot of work. It’s due next week with the finals.”
“No problem. Want me to wait and pick you up at nine or ten?”
“If it’s a problem I can walk….”
“Not in your neighborhood. Hey, don’t get that look. I don’t care if you used to, you’re my fiancée now, right? And I want to keep you as safe as I can.”
Kayleigh’s exasperation became a smile. “You know you better watch it, Scott. Someone could take advantage of that kind heart of yours.”
“That’s what Shane always says. Think you’ll try it?”
“Me? I wouldn’t….”
Scott stood and took her hands as she joined him. Then he decided to risk it. He kissed her cheek. Lightly, and he didn’t linger, remembering her fear. “I love you, Kayleigh.”
She didn’t protest, and they walked back to the department together.
Scott dropped Kayleigh off at school at quarter to four and went home. Kyle and Eli were at the dining room table and they looked up guiltily when he came in.
“You’re early,” Kyle said.
Scott went to the table. “Yep. Decided not to work late. What are you doing?” He saw two peg boards and six cups of colored pegs. One board had an engaging geometric design and the other a partial copy.
“Nothing,” Kyle said. “Just playing games.” He shoved the boards toward Eli. Eli gathered the materials together in a box and took it to their room.
It was the occupational therapy he’d mentioned. Why hide it unless he didn’t want him to know he had to work at it outside of the therapy session – that he needed to work to make the designs. Scott decided to let it go, slipping into a chair. “Kayleigh’s talking to me again.”
Scott nodded and launched into his half rotten day. “I know this sounds really conceited or weird, Kyle, but sometimes I think I’m the only guy with the patience and compassion to get through to her. I think God put us together.”
“Of course, He did.”
“Then I’m right – that feeling?”
Kyle shrugged. “Feelings are just feelings. They don’t mean anything. Whatever reason you committed to her, doesn’t matter. You did, and you stay committed. You don’t give up on people, and you always give them the benefit of the doubt. Sounds like she needs that, and you know God gives us what we need….” Kyle took a deep breath. “At least that’s the way it went.”
“Don’t, Kyle,” Scott said in a choked whisper. “Don’t doubt. You’re doing far better than they ever expected.”
Kyle shook his head. “No. I fake it a lot.”
“You can’t fake what you just said! Kyle….”
“Then why? Why, Scott? Who can I help this way?”
“Me. You help me. You’ll help lots of people.”
“My father always said God is more interested in your spiritual well-being than anything you can do for Him,” Eli said quietly. Scott hadn’t even noticed him reenter the room. Eli sat at the table. “He’s not finished with you, Kyle.”
“I was doing fine before this! Why? What can I possible learn when I can’t even think right?”
Eli’s mouth curved only the tiniest fraction. “Humility, perhaps?”
Kyle stared at Eli with that old scorn that he gave someone who was particularly dense. Eli met his gaze and kept his slight smile. Slowly Kyle’s look changed until he was smiling also. He shook his head. “We’ll see, Kid. We’ll see. Maybe you’ll be the one learning humility.”
“Maybe. Wouldn’t be surprised.”
Scott smiled. Eli would keep Kyle in line, and he knew the Word far better than either Scott or Shane. They’d always been Kyle’s students in that area. “I’m glad you’re with us, Eli.”
Eli’s gaze changed from amusement to discomfort. “I wanted to thank you guys for… for letting me. This place is….” He looked around the room, taking in everything. “And you guys were right. No one much cared before as long as the rent was paid.”
Kyle leaned toward him. “Get used to it.” He grinned.
Eli smiled. “Trying to. I’d help here without pay. If you can’t, you know…..”
“Scott’s insurance covers that. Don’t worry about it. I’d rather you quit that store job.”
Eli glanced at Scott, but then focused on Kyle. “I’ve asked for less hours. I was up to thirty or forty hours a week – part time, no benefits. Now it’ll be only two or three nights a week.”
“Good. You might try the hospital. They’ve got jobs that pay pretty well.”
“Maybe.” Eli shrugged, and Scott got the impression he didn’t like the idea.
“You should switch to occupational therapy.”
Eli grinned. “Let me practice on you for a few more months so I can make an informed decision.”
Kyle laughed. “Yeah. But not because I need it, you know. Just helping you make your career choice.”
Shane came in. “Thought that was your Cherokee, Scott. You’re home early.”
“Yeah. I kept thinking about your cheeseburgers all day.”
“Liar. Gonna cut up my onions, or will it hurt your little honeydrops?”
Scott grinned. “I’ll meet you in the kitchen.” Scott went into his room to change.
The evening was the most relaxing one since Kyle’s return. They started reading another of the books Pastor Prescott had recommended, Where is God when Life Hurts. Eli joined the discussion, and it wasn’t a fluke that afternoon. Eli’s father had taught him well. He’d be a worthy opponent for Kyle’s sharp mind, when Kyle could use it. Sometimes he seemed right on, but there were times when Scott knew Kyle would have said something but the thoughts eluded him. He’d shake his head and pretend he hadn’t been going to speak.
The next morning Scott was the first one in the kitchen. When Eli came out, the coffee was on, and the French toast batter was ready. “Need help?”
Scott peeked out of the kitchen toward the bedrooms. Kyle wasn’t near. “Eli, you overheard us talking about money the other day, didn’t you?”
Eli gave a slight nod.
“Kyle almost didn’t stay here because he has this thing about being a burden. Know what I mean?”
Scott smiled. “Yeah. But don’t worry about it, okay? The insurance will kick in. There’s just paperwork.”
“If you can’t, I understand.”
Scott placed a hand on Eli’s should. “Eli, you are so good for Kyle, I’d pay you twice as much if I had to.”
Eli turned to the counter and reached up to get a juice glass. Scott went back to his French toast. “Do you have any brothers or sisters?”
“I have three sisters. No brothers. Kyle’s the only one with a real brother. Shane has a sister, but she’s older, married, and lives in Arizona. Do you have any family at all? Uncles? Grandparents?”
Eli grabbed the orange juice from the refrigerator. “The closest is my mother’s foster parents in New York. They’re my Grandma and Grandpa. I wrote them about the move Tuesday night. Is it all right if I send the phone number?”
“Call them if you want. We all just pitch in our share when the bill comes. Shane keeps track. He’ll tell you when he needs it.”
“He doesn’t care?”
“No. Why should he? Call your grandparents. Bet they miss you?”
“That’s what they say. But I have to finish school before I go back. I’m not going to be a burden to them.”
Scott grinned. “Kyle’s right. Maybe you’ll learn humility, too.”
Eli smiled, and gave a slight laugh. He took his juice to the table.
Kyle came in and sat down. “Sounds like you’re happy. Does that mean I don’t have to worry about you taking off for a nicer apartment and a better roommate?”
Eli brought Kyle his coffee, and then he sat at the table also. “Guess you’re stuck with me.”
Shane arrived then, and they ate.
The work day went quickly. At lunch Scott and Kayleigh went to Kohl’s in Briarwood Mall. He was used to shopping with his sisters, so he knew the routine. She’d have to pick out ten to get one. Or he thought he knew.
Kayleigh surprised him. She bypassed many dresses he thought would look great on her. She was becoming agitated. She finally held up a plain striped dress and sighed. “What do you think?”
“You’ve passed up far better.” Scott grabbed the price tag. Just what he thought. It was the cheapest thing on the rack. “Kayleigh, we aren’t looking for a bargain. We’re looking for something you’ll be comfortable in.” Scott put the striped thing back on the rack and studied her. Shar’s size. He went to get three of the prettier dresses. “Try these.”
“Those are way too much.”
“I have three sisters. I knew the price when I suggested it. Now we’ve got to get back to work, so let’s see if I guessed your size right.”
Kayleigh grinned. “You have been undressing me.”
“No. I’m dressing you. I’ll save the undressing until after we’re married.”
“So he admits he’s a man.” Kayleigh slipped into the dressing room.
When Kayleigh stepped out of the dressing room, she seemed nervous. The rose-beige dress accented her waist and flowed in soft folds around her legs. “What do you think?”
“You’re beautiful, Kayleigh.” He wanted to touch her, to kiss her forehead, but he resisted. He’d been right about the dress. It was perfect on her. “Try on the other two.”
“But this is….”
“The cheapest. I know. And it looks great. But try them all.”
She did. Scott decided to buy two. The third didn’t quite measure up, its bodice puckering slightly instead of accenting as it should.
“Now you’ll be all set for our second date with them.”
“But what if I don’t like them? What if….”
“Relax. Give them a chance. You’re approaching this with the wrong attitude. Anticipate liking them.”
“But aren’t you disappointed a lot that way?”
“No. I usually like most people.”
They hung the dresses on the hook in the back of Scott’s Cherokee and started for the hospital.
Later Scott took a short break from his work to go to his appointment down the hall. His doctor said he was suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. He prescribed medicine and recommended Scott see a psychiatrist. Scott declined, saying he’d go for counseling with his pastor. Back at the office he made an appointment to see Pastor Prescott on Tuesday.
Go to Chapter 15
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.