At five Scott and Kayleigh went out to his Cherokee. “I’ll pick you up at six thirty.”
Kayleigh stood just outside the truck, not climbing in. “Maybe I should just take this in and change here.”
“Here? Don’t you need to… to do something else? Shower or… not that you look like you need to….”
Kayleigh gave a quick smile before becoming serious. She looked at the seat in front of her instead of up at him as she spoke. “I… I can’t explain having this much extra money.”
“What extra money?”
“Can you keep them at your place? These dresses?”
“Get in the truck.”
Kayleigh climbed in.
“Don’t you need anything from home?”
“I can do without.”
“I didn’t ask that. So you don’t want to tell your mother that your fiancé is buying you clothing. You don’t want to tell her you have a fiancé. Am I right?”
“Don’t be mad, please.”
Scott sighed. “I’m not mad.” Then he grinned. “You can get ready at my place and meet my brothers. Want me to run by your place for anything?”
Kayleigh didn’t speak until he pulled up in front of her home. “Yeah. Guess I’ll grab some clean nylons and stuff. Shampoo….” She left the truck, running up the stairs. Five minutes later she rushed back down with a plastic grocery sack.
Scott took her to his apartment. Shane’s car was already in the lot. They were all home. He grabbed the dresses by the hangers and carried them for her, leading her inside. “Welcome to my home.”
Kyle and Shane were in the chairs by the sliding glass doors, looking their way.
Kayleigh glanced around nervously. “This place is big.”
“We felt that way, too, when we first moved in.” He led her over to Kyle and Shane. “Where’s Eli?”
“Hey, Eli,” Kyle called.
Eli came from the kitchen. “Yes?”
Scott motioned him over. “I’d like you all to meet my fiancée, Kayleigh Marie Edwards. You’ve met Shane. This is Kyle, and my brand new brother, Eli.”
Kyle stood and made his way to Kayleigh. “Thanks for all your prayers on my behalf. I look forward to having my first sister.”
“When’s the wedding?” Shane asked, not leaving his seat.
“We haven’t discussed that yet.”
“Didn’t think so.”
Eli gave a nervous hello. “I didn’t plan… I’ll add more.” He headed for the kitchen.
He had disappeared before Scott realized what he meant. He took a few quick steps to the kitchen. “Hey, Eli. We’re not staying for dinner. We’re still going out like I said.”
Eli acknowledged him with a slight nod and then concentrated on something on the stove top. Scott smelled… “Chicken? In the oven? What’s that?” Scott looked into the pot. “Rice. And baby carrots, and….” Scott looked beyond the stove to the counter. “Cheesecake? You baked a cheesecake? Eli!”
He looked back at Eli. His face was deep pink, and he stared at the rice he kept stirring.
“You’re not embarrassed?” Scott asked in a low voice. “I’m not trying to harass you. I’m just upset I’m missing it.”
Eli glanced up. “Kyle wanted chicken.”
“Your other roommates were idiots if they didn’t appreciate this,” Scott said, reading the story in his eyes. “How’d you ever get in with those other guys?”
“Only place available when I came to Ypsi last year.”
“But surely something….”
“Scott.” Shane touched his shoulder. “You’re ignoring your fiancée. And guess what? She’s not talking to us either.”
“Save me a piece of cheesecake, Eli.” Scott went back to the living room. “You weren’t kidding, were you, Kyle,” he said in a low voice. “He can cook.”
Kyle smiled. “Beats my cooking. And yours and Shane’s.”
“Can you cook?” Shane asked Kayleigh.
“Scott’s sister is a great cook.”
“Sandy is.” Scott agreed, slightly irritated with Shane for bringing it up. He didn’t want Kayleigh feeling any more reluctant to marry him than she already was. “We’ve got to get ready.” Scott held out the dresses toward Kayleigh. “Which one for tonight?”
“I think you’d look lovely in the powder blue, Scott.”
Scott cuffed Shane’s arm. “That’s only because you’d like to wear the rose-beige, but I’m afraid neither of these will fit you.” Scott held out the dresses again.
Kayleigh picked the beige. “Shane’s right. Powder blue is your color. Where’s the bathroom?”
Scott led her to the bathroom and flicked on the light.
“Boy, this is nice. You guys must have a maid. I didn’t think men could keep things so clean.”
Scott took a closer look. It was neater than usual. He decided he better have a talk with Eli later. “No maid. We just all pitch in. Towels are in that closet.”
Scott left her and went to gather his own things together. He placed the other dress in his closet, wondering when he’d have to weed out his old clothes to add all of hers. He smiled and glanced around his room. He’d need a full sized bed. Maybe another dresser. He’d have to see if the computer could be moved into the main room, maybe next to the newer one.
He glanced at the clock on his night stand. It would be cutting it short to take a shower also, so he just changed into a fresh shirt. When he finished Shane, Kyle, and Eli were seated at the main table beginning their meal.
Shane saw him and grinned. “This is the best chicken I’ve tasted ever. Too bad you have to miss it, Scott. Mmmmm. Mmmm.”
“Rub it in.” Scott sat with them and joked until Kayleigh emerged, her hair combed out but wet.
“Oh, Scott. I forgot my hair dryer. You guys wouldn’t have one, would you?”
“Sure.” Scott led her to his room.
“Hey, Scott,” Shane called. “Remember the rules you helped make.”
“Well, where else should she blow dry her hair?”
“Out here.” Shane came and pulled the rolling chair away from the computer.
Scott motioned Kayleigh to it. She sat, and he went to get his hair dryer, plugging it in.
“But… There’s no mirror here. I wanted to try to put in this comb. Why don’t I just take it back to the bathroom?”
Scott took the hairbrush from her bag. “Let me.” He turned on the dryer and brushed her hair dry, taking the liberty of running his hands through her silky, dark brown hair. When he finished, he set the dryer aside and picked up the hair comb, brushing her hair back and together.
“You’ve done this before,” Kayleigh stated.
“Yeah. It was Sandy’s favorite game with Shar and Anna. I usually did Anna. Sandy’s a beautician now.”
“So why aren’t you?”
Scott gave a slight smile. “Anna suggested it when she was eight. Wanted to charge all her friends a dollar for me to braid their hair. Dad about had a heart attack right there.” He frowned, wondering why the memory stung a little. It wasn’t like he’d ever seriously considered a career in anything but business management, but his father’s scathing words still rang as clearly now as they had then. He’d never braided his sister’s friend’s hair again, and they’d all tiptoed and pretended Sandy did all the rest of the hair, including her own. He secured the comb and turned her to finish with the front.
“You’re saying you’ve never done hair for any of your girlfriends?”
Scott hesitated and remembered his girlfriend in high school.
“So this is your old, ‘let me give you a back rub’ line.”
Scott removed his hands from her and gave her the mirror. “What do you think, guys? Beautiful, isn’t she?” They’d known about his skill with hair since their first few months together. Sandy had let the secret out with her first visit, and he had cut Shane’s and Kyle’s hair ever since, which saved them enough to take one extra night out to eat a month. He’d forgotten about Eli, but Eli’s quiet gaze was neutral.
“Yes,” Kyle said.
“You have the touch,” Shane said, not giving any credit to Kayleigh’s natural beauty.
Eli nodded slightly, or he may just have been returning his gaze to his empty plate. He stood and began clearing away the dishes. No. Eli would not condemn his talent earned out of a longing to be with people. If he hadn’t gone along with his sisters’ games, many times he played alone.
“Do you cut also?”
“If we get married I’ll never have to go to a stylist again.”
Scott wondered why the word “if” sounded so loud. Did anyone else notice? He tried to pretend she’d said ‘when’. “No. You can always come to me, now. Except the hard stuff. Sandy will do that.” Scott turned to put the dryer away, but he wasn’t successful in avoiding Shane’s eyes. Why did he have that look? He should envy him getting a wife, not feel sorry for him.
He set her bag of clothes in his room. “See you all later. I’ve got a hot date.”
Shane laughed. “With Dr. Who. Your definition of hot needs a little work.”
“With Kayleigh. Maybe we’ll go to a movie later.”
“Or you can invite them here,” Shane suggested.
“I’ll mention it.” Scott led Kayleigh out to the truck, and they climbed inside.
“You never asked about movies,” Kayleigh said.
“Asked what? You mean called to see what was on? I didn’t figure we’d get there anyway. Shane and I were just teasing each other.”
“Just so you know, I’m not going into a dark room with you.”
“Just a dark SUV.” Scott said.
“So, we’re all going back to your place?”
“I doubt it. Unless Bert wants to see for himself how Kyle is. Oh, and if I haven’t mentioned it — we do not say anything about him being a part of this group that’s helping Kyle. We don’t mention the group or the help at all. I don’t even know if he remembers I told you.”
“I love you, Kayleigh.”
Had he really expected a response? “I’m glad you’re coming.”
“Just don’t try to manipulate me.”
“Have I ever?”
“When?” Scott pulled into the restaurant parking lot and drove to the back, looking for a spot. “I’ve never tried to manipulate you.”
“The ring, the clothing, declarations of love, the old ‘let-me-touch-you-to-do-you-a-favor’ come on.”
Scott shut off the engine. He wanted to yell that she could just find some other fool. He was sick and tired of it all. But he couldn’t.
Bert Thorton walked from further back in the parking lot. Alone. Scott left the truck, going around to Kayleigh’s side, but she had let herself out. Bert saw them and waited.
“Inside. I let her off at the door.”
“Didn’t think of it, Kayleigh and I were so deep in conversation.”
Just inside the restaurant they met Carol Thorton. She was tall, slightly taller than Bert with her heels. She greeted Scott and Kayleigh with bubbling enthusiasm though. “It’s good to meet you. Bert says you two are engaged. I love weddings. I have to hear how you met.”
The maître d’ seated them then. Carol didn’t mention meeting again, instead asking about Scott’s work at the college. The conversation went smoothly throughout the evening with Scott and Carol maintaining most of it. Kayleigh spoke a little about her schooling toward becoming a kindergarten teacher.
As the meal finished, Carol exclaimed, “Oh, Bert, what are you waiting for?”
Bert shifted in his seat. Not leaning against the back of the chair, he kept himself upright. “Carol purchased tickets for us to go to the late symphony.”
Scott noticed a small strain on Bert’s face. “Then we won’t keep you.”
Carol laughed. “No, no. For all of us to go. You don’t hate it, do you?”
“No. My mother taught me to appreciate almost all types of music. But….” Scott met Bert’s eyes again. “How’s your back holding up?”
His eyes opened wider. “I….”
Carol let out a noise of exasperation, but then her features resumed their smiling facade. “The surgery has done wonders for him, right, Bert? No longer a problem at all.”
“Not a problem,” Bert mumbled.
“So, it’s settled. We’ll meet at the theater.” She withdrew the tickets from her purse and handed two to Scott. “You know where it is.”
Scott glanced at the tickets. “Yes. Thank you.”
The waiter came with their check. Scott pulled out his credit card. Bert stopped him. “No, Scott. Save your money.”
“But the tickets and all….”
“No,” he repeated, meeting Scott’s eyes.
“Oh, Bert, let it go,” Carol said.
Bert took the brown check folder from Scott and placed his credit card inside. “I will do this.”
“Oh, you men. Always trying to get one up on each other.”
Bert gave a slight shake of his head. “Scott’s just starting out. It’s not a competition, but what’s practical.”
Scott replaced his card. Truth be told, Scott had been a little jealous when Dr. Ratini had become Kyle’s mentor. He now wondered if Bert was as interested in his welfare as his whole group was of Kyle’s. It wasn’t quite a mentor situation, but Bert had listened to his frustration over the accident. Perhaps…. “Thanks, Bert. Your friendship means a lot to me.”
After the waiter brought back his card and he signed the slip, they went to the front of the restaurant. Scott and Bert walked back to the parking lot alone, letting the women rest in the foyer.
“Bert, if you’re in pain, we don’t have to go.”
He gave a strained smile. “I’ll make it.”
“Do you have any pain medicine?”
Bert looked up sharply at Scott. “I never bring it with me. Never. That way the temptation isn’t there.”
“You mean it makes you groggy? Couldn’t Carol drive?”
“She’d rather not.” He stopped and faced Scott. “It is better than it used to be. I just need to get up and walk often.”
“We’ll make sure you sit closest to the aisle.”
Bert hesitated and then nodded. “Carol would rather I waited until intermission, but… if I need to move….”
“Better than sitting there in pain.”
Bert continued to his car, and Scott to his SUV. He liked Carol, but he didn’t care for the way she disregarded her husband’s obvious pain. How could she love him?
Kayleigh slipped into the truck when he pulled up. They were almost to the Michigan Theater when she spoke. “He’s in more pain that Carol says, isn’t he?”
“There’s not much real love in the world, is there?”
There she was! The compassionate woman he’d fallen in love with. He reached for her hand, and she didn’t pull away. “I’ve seen it in a few people. It’s what I want for us. A two-sided real love with compassion, friendship, and common goals.”
Kayleigh stared out the far window. “I thought I saw it a few times. But when you look closer, everyone cares about themselves more.” Pain. Loneliness.
“We can change that.”
She glanced at him. “How?”
“With God’s help. Isn’t that what Biblical love is all about? Learning to place others before ourselves. Learning to take up our cross and follow Christ?” He pulled into the lot and parked.
Kayleigh looked over at him. “Sometimes, Scott, I almost believe it’s possible. But I know my own heart too well. You’re fooling yourself if you think you’re better than everyone else.” She got out and started walking toward the front of the theater.
Scott easily caught up and walked beside her. “I don’t think I’m better. Has your pastor taught any about total depravity?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“It’s what you were just saying. We’re all affected by sin, and until God changes our heart we can’t not sin. It’s in the book of Romans.” Carol and Bert were almost to them. “Remind me when we have more time. Pastor Prescott had a Sunday School series once that went into essentials. Maybe there’s a tape or something.”
“So that will be your control angle.”
“We just have fifteen minutes,” Carol said as she reached them. “Let’s hurry.”
Scott followed, trying to suppress his frustration. He couldn’t say or do anything without an accusation anymore. He walked along beside Bert, as Carol spoke with Kayleigh up ahead.
Their seats were not on the aisle, the closest being five away from it. They were seated with the women in the middle, and then the concert began.
“Bert!” Carol said in a loud whisper twenty minutes later.
Scott saw Bert making his way past the other patrons to the aisle. His hands went behind him, rubbing his lower back as he walked to the rear of the theater. He didn’t return until intermission. Again a half hour in he left, and they met him by the rear door after it was over.
They didn’t stay together long. Carol hustled Bert off, and Scott could hear her begin to lecture before he reached his Cherokee. “Is our marriage going to be like that, Kayleigh?” Scott asked, when they were belted in and waiting to leave the lot.
“I’d rather not be married if it is.”
“Well, only you can stop accusing me of being like all the other jerks you’ve known.”
Kayleigh twisted in her seat belt to face him. “Oh? So you’re gonna jump down my throat now? Two seconds after you say you don’t want it. Not for me to do to you, but you can do it to me.”
“I’m not doing anything to you. I haven’t even kissed you because you’ll take it the wrong way.”
“And what’s the right way, wise and noble misunderstood one.”
“Forget it. Just forget it.”
“Fine.” She took off the ring and threw it at him.
Scott slammed on the brake, so distracted he hadn’t seen the car ahead of him slow down. “Great. Hopefully I’ll be killed next time, cause I can’t go through this again.”
“Through what again? You never really loved me anyway.”
“Just shut up.”
“Take me home.”
“Fine. Show Mama your new dress. Tell her you traded in the ring.”
“I hate you!” She pounded his arm.
“Kayleigh! I’m driving here. You want to end up like Kyle!”
“You love him more than you’d ever love me. You’d never do all that for me.”
“Yes, I would!”
“No. He’s more important. You said so yourself. You’ll marry me, but only if we stay there with Kyle. I give up my family; you stay with yours.”
He pulled up in front of her home, glad he could turn off the key.
She jumped out. “I want my battery.”
Scott got out and opened the back. “Take it.”
“You want me to ruin the dress?”
“Or my suit.” He grabbed the battery knowing he had the strength to keep the heavy, dirty thing away from his clothing more than she would. “Where would you like it, Madam?”
“Just set it on the steps, Jerk.”
He set it down. She tried to slip past him to go upstairs, but he grabbed her around the waist. “Wait a minute, Kayleigh Edwards. This isn’t finished.”
“Yes it is.”
“Listen to me for five minutes. The next move will be yours. Are you listening?”
She stilled in his arms.
“I’ll save the ring for whenever you’re ready to stop playing games and get serious about marriage. I won’t bother you about it again, but you know where to find me. I’ll be waiting.”
“Oh, right. With five other women no doubt.”
He couldn’t help it. He gave her a slight shake. “Just stop it. Grow up, will you? Maybe in a couple years you’ll be ready. I’ll still be here.” He lowered his mouth to hers then and kissed her. She responded at first and pressed against him, but then she pushed him away. He released her and walked to his truck without looking back.
Scott knew he shouldn’t drive. His nerves were all jumbled, and his vision blurred. But he couldn’t keep sitting there. He started the Cherokee.
Somehow he made it home, but he barely remembered the trip. All was quiet when he went in, everyone already asleep. He stumbled to his room and threw her bag from his bed to the corner. Then he lay down. Broken, he fell asleep.
Scott heard the apartment door open and close. It was a quiet sound, as if the person didn’t want to wake him. If he’d closed his bedroom door like he usually did, he wouldn’t have heard him. Then he heard the slight clinking of jars as the refrigerator door was opened. Eli was home from work.
Scott got up. Only the faintest dawn light came from the glass doors of the living room. He walked around the corner into the kitchen.
Eli took a juice glass from the cupboard. Scott silently grabbed one also before Eli shut it. The night light over the stove lit Eli’s features as he withdrew his food from the microwave. His eyes had that puffy, lack of sleep look, he’d noticed before.
“Like me to make you something?” Eli said softly.
“No, thanks.” They slid into chairs across from each other.
Scott remembered the medicine he should have taken yesterday. He pulled it from his jacket pocket and swallowed one with a sip of juice, setting the bottle on the table.
“You slept in your suit?”
Scott shrugged. “Tired, I guess. I just wanted to talk to you about something before I forget.”
Eli’s fork stilled over his TV dinner. “What’s that?”
“You’ve been cleaning everything, haven’t you?”
Eli seemed wary. “What did I miss?”
“Nothing. That’s just it. You don’t have to do everything. We usually all pitch in once a week. Things got off schedule with Kyle in the hospital and all, but relax a little.
Eli did seem to relax. “I wondered what you expected. I didn’t want you upset because Kyle’s been cleaning with me. I told him he didn’t have to, but he says it’s his contribution now.” Eli’s voice was almost a whisper. “He needs to feel useful, and….” Eli glanced at his food and then the door. “It’s good for coordination and stuff.”
Scott tried to smile, but his body felt like lead. “Then that’s good. Just didn’t want you thinking we expect you to be our maid. The money’s because we know you can’t work elsewhere and be available to Kyle when he needs you. In different circumstances we would have invited you as a regular roommate.”
Eli shook his head. “I can’t afford this.”
“We all put in equal at the old place, but we moved here after Shane and I got full time jobs. We put in by income now because we all wanted this place, and we all wanted to stay together. I’m serious, Eli. If we’d gotten to know you before, we’d have probably invited you without the strings, but we’d gotten complacent with ourselves and weren’t looking anymore.”
“Thanks.” Eli ate a little more.
Shane came in. “What’s for breakfast, Eli?”
Eli shifted to get up. “Eggs or pancakes?”
“Sit down and finish your dinner, Eli. Shane was teasing. He can fix his own breakfast.”
“Man, you’re a grouch. No coffee….” Shane looked back at Scott. He swore softly. “You were dumped last night.” He slid into a chair.
Scott couldn’t stand the empathy. His emotions were not even enough to tolerate it. “I’m just really tired. I’m going back to bed.” Scott stumbled to his room and didn’t emerge until almost noon. He showered and changed, trying hard to master his emotions before he went out to face them with a smile.
Go to Chapter 16
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.