“Thank you, Lord, for these brothers You’ve given me,” Scott prayed before he left his room Sunday morning. “I love all three of them.”
Saturday they had spent the day together, going to the park in Shane’s car and having a picnic for their evening meal. Shane and Scott threw the frisbee while Eli and Kyle sat in the grass under a tree and tossed a cloth ball back and forth with none of the competitive spirit Shane and Scott were displaying. Running, jumping, and diving for the frisbee helped work the kinks out of his muscles. His mind seemed clearer by the time they had gone home.
He tried not to think about Kayleigh. There was nothing he could do now but wait. If he did start thinking about her, the thoughts became repetitive. He’d work through a solution — a way to solve their difficulties or a decision to wait — only to rehash the same thing five minutes later. At least his brothers had kept him entertained until they all had to go to bed.
In the kitchen, now, Kyle stood before the stove with a spatula, turning pancakes. Sausage fried in the other skillet. Eli was setting the table and pouring juice.
“Eli,” Kyle said, concentrating on the spatula.
Eli went to his side and worked with Kyle to make the utensil do as he wanted.
“You do it,” Kyle finally said. “They’ll be in soon anyway.” He left the stove and noticed Scott. “I never was much of a cook. Always burnt the stuff anyway.”
“Not any worse than me,” Scott said, sitting at the table. Shane joined them a minute later.
Scott expected they would take Shane’s car to church, but they headed for his SUV. He protested.
“It’s your turn,” Shane said. “I drove yesterday.”
“But… I’m too tired to drive. I couldn’t sleep well last night.”
“Life’s rough,” Shane said. “It’s your turn.”
Scott appealed to Kyle. “I’m tired, Kyle. Don’t let Shane’s heartlessness risk everyone.”
“Shane’s car is cramped. I have more room to stretch out in the Cherokee,” Kyle said.
He was beaten. “Fine. But I’m not responsible for any of you people.”
“You never were,” Kyle said, standing beside the passenger door.
Scott unlocked the doors. Kyle started to get in and then pointed to the floor on Scott’s side. “What’s that? A ring?”
Shane leaned over from the back seat. “Yeah. Do you still have the receipt and box?”
Scott grabbed the ring and slipped it into his pocket.
“You don’t, do you? You’re not gonna get half what it’s worth.”
“I’m not getting anything for it. It’s Kayleigh’s.”
“Shane,” Kyle said. “Whatever happened to that girl you took out the night of the accident. What was her name? Jill?”
Shane hesitated. “I told… You were right about her.”
“Could’ve saved yourself some money on that one.”
“Maybe.” Shane said nothing more until they reached the church.
They were a little early, and Pastor Prescott came to them as soon as they entered the foyer. “Hey, Kyle, it’s good to see you here. Shane, Scott. Eli, how’s it working out?”
“Eli’s great,” Kyle said. “Should have had him move in with us when we first got the apartment.”
Eli smiled. “It’s good.”
“I’m glad. How are you doing, Kyle? Would you mind if the elders prayed for you during the service?”
Kyle hesitated. Then he said, “Sure. I’m hoping to be well enough to go back to work in a few months.” He leaned to one side, and then shifted. “Still having trouble with concentration and… some motor functions, balance… tremors.”
“Yeah, that, too,” Kyle said in a low voice. “Pray for… these guys, too. They have to put up with me.”
“Kyle, it’s great to see you,” said an older woman who usually sat in the pew behind them. More people greeted them.
“Eli,” Kyle said, his tremors more pronounced.
Eli held out his arm, and Kyle grabbed it. Then they made their way into the sanctuary to their seats.
“What is it about that kid?” Shane asked, as they watched from the rear of the sanctuary. “Less than a week, and Kyle is practically tied to him.”
“Dependent,” Scott whispered back. “He’s worse than he lets on. I don’t think he tells us half of it, but Eli knows ‘cause he’s with him all the time.” He looked at Shane. “Unless it’s just me he’s hiding from.”
“It’s not just you. He’s always wanted us to look up to him. He likes being the smartest, most together person. That’s what we fought about right before you left for the concert that night. He still wants us to see him that way.”
“Eli can keep up with him.”
“Now, maybe. The kid isn’t a genius.”
“How do you know? His G.P.A. is good.”
“So he said on his resume. But you and I got decent grades, too. Means nothing. Bet Kyle gets along with him because he knows he can better him still, but he’s afraid we’ll think less of him.”
“Shane, that’s not right.”
“Come on, you know it’s right. He likes to be right all the time.”
“You love him.”
Shane glanced beyond them. “Sure I do,” he admitted in a whisper. “Has nothing to do with him being a know-it-all. He’s nice about it, but he still is one.”
Scott smiled. “We better get our seats.”
After the service Kyle stayed seated while others came to see him. They waited until the room cleared out before they started back.
“Oh, Eli,” Pastor Prescott called.
They stopped and waited.
“Since you’ve got a bit more room, will you be taking your things from the Sunday School closet downstairs? I don’t mind if you still want to work here.”
“Knew you must have more stuff,” Shane said.
“Go bring your stuff home, Eli,” Kyle said. “We’ll wait.”
“Need help?” Scott asked. He handed his keys to Shane and followed Eli downstairs.
They went to a closet at the back of the second room. Eli pulled out his keys and unlocked the door. Then he reached up on the top shelf and took down two boxes that had once held ten reams of paper each. He locked the door.
Scott grabbed one box, and Eli took the other.
“Used to come here to get away from the apartment.” Eli hesitated at the bottom of the steps. “Sometimes….” he looked into Scott’s eyes. “Sometimes I brought my sleeping bag — worked late on a piece.”
“You can work late at home now, right? What do you work on?” He pushed the outside door open and held it with his back until Eli was out.
Eli glanced at Scott. “Nothing important. Just ceramic jewelry. My grandparents sell it.”
“Really? I’d like to see it. Maybe I can do my Christmas shopping right at home this year.”
Eli shrugged. “It’s nothing great.”
Scott set the box in the back of the truck, and Eli placed the second in next to it.
“That it?” Shane asked.
“Rest of your stuff at your grandparents’ house?”
“Yeah.” They got into the SUV.
At home Scott asked to see the jewelry. Eli was uncomfortable at first. “I really don’t have anything finished. I sent a box home last week. Just some beads and hearts that need to be fired.”
He opened one box and brought out a few clay beads which were painted with intricate geometric designs. One heart had a lines and angles pattern and the other had a patch of flowers.”
“The kid’s an artist,” Shane said with a bit of surprise.
Scott wondered if he’d taken it as criticism. “Shane does great sketches with colored pencils. Most of the pictures around here are his.”
“Yeah, really,” Shane said. “Played with pastels some, and watercolor, but I like pencil the best for detail.”
“I… I’ve only painted on clay. It… it’s really nothing. I don’t draw except a little to plan out a piece. It’s nothing. Not like that lighthouse in the bathroom. Do you sell….”
Shane snickered. “Of course I don’t sell them. Who’d want my little sketches? Kyle and Scott just framed them up ‘cause we couldn’t afford any real art.”
“That isn’t why, Shane, or we would have replaced them.”
They rarely spoke about Shane’s art because he was so negative about it. Scott thought it might be because he’d never had anyone care one way or the other before. If there had ever been a bad experience, Shane hadn’t shared it, and it had been a major battle to get him to allow his pictures to be framed and hung.
Eli put his things away, but Scott guessed that come reading time, Shane would be sketching and Eli painting. Scott and Kyle would be the ones reading and playing solitaire. Scott wondered if Kyle could read or play solitaire yet.
Monday Scott placed Kayleigh’s ring and a note inside a box that had contained a tie pin. “Wear this when you’re ready. Love, Scott.” Then he put it inside the bag of clothes she’d left there. At work he set the bag under her desk where she’d find it.
She arrived at eight, and Scott could only assume her car was running properly. When she spoke to him it was as if they barely knew each other. Scott was acutely aware that if he tried to do anything he’d be harassing her unfairly. She couldn’t help that her boss loved her. So he restrained his urge to ask her to lunch and went to the cafeteria alone. He took little to eat. He wasn’t very hungry.
Bert joined him ten minutes later. Scott smiled. “Great to see you.”
“You, too. Carol is planning for Friday after next again.”
Scott closed his eyes against the pain.
“Kayleigh gave back the ring. I’m not sure if she’ll be wearing it again by then.”
“You’re going to ask her again?”
“She knows. I told her when she’s ready, but I can’t say anything else. It’d be harassment.”
Scott stared at his food. “She’s my secretary, Bert. But I love her.”
“I’m sorry.” Bert focused on his food until Scott lifted his gaze. “How’s Kyle?”
“Real good. Eli’s got a way of helping without making an issue of it. Just what Kyle needs.”
“Need more money?”
“Haven’t really had any expenses… Although….” Scott remembered the peg boards. He wondered if Kyle and Eli bought them or if it was on account to the insurance company. “Kyle and Eli have some therapy stuff they haven’t really talked about. I’m not sure who’s paying for that. I hope Eli isn’t. He offered to stay with Kyle for free — not that I’d let him. He’s an orphan putting himself through school. Great kid, but he’s working a night job, too. I’m not sure when he sleeps.”
“Kyle won’t tell you when he needs something?”
“He’s trying to hide how bad he really is from me. He admits he fakes it, but then he hides the therapy stuff. I don’t know. Shane’s probably right. It’s pride. Or maybe it’s just fear that he’ll disappoint us by not being able to go back to work and by struggling hard with his faith. He’s always been so strong. At least Eli seems to know what to say. Me, it scares me to see him this way cause I don’t know the answers like he does. Guess he knows it.”
“Have Eli tell you what’s going on if Kyle won’t. Ask him if he needs cash for any medical expenses. I can get you as much as you need.”
“Still don’t want me to tell him about your help?”
Bert shook his head. “I’d rather not.”
“You know Dr. Ratini, don’t you?”
“I know who he is. I understand he’s Kyle’s friend.”
“Kyle says he hasn’t visited at all since before he was out of ICU. He’s really hurt. If he’d just come and maybe give him some encouragement, that’d go a long way with him.”
“I don’t know what to tell you. Has he been on vacation?”
“Has he? Isn’t he in your group?”
Bert looked toward the cafeteria doors, as if planning an escape. “No. Not my group. Don’t really know him.” He stood. “Guess I better go.”
“Hey, Bert, wait. I’m sorry. If you can’t talk about the group, it’s not a problem. I guess I just assumed you might know why Dr. Ratini seems to have dumped Kyle. I’m just venting. You know I did what you said. He prescribed me something for Post Traumatic Stress. How’s your back? I know you were feeling pretty lousy by the end of the evening.”
“Why are you alone, Scott?”
“You should have plenty of friends.”
“I do. Just not here yet.”
Bert nodded. “Go find some good friends, Scott.” He started to walk off.
Scott jumped up and followed him, catching his arm. “Wait. I thought I did. What did I say, Bert? I’m sorry.”
Bert just looked at him, and there was a sadness or pain in his eyes. Scott could only think about his back pain. “Do you need to walk? We can walk.”
Bert gave a slight nod, and they left the cafeteria. They walked in silence until they made it to Bert’s office.
Bert studied him and then nodded. “Depression. It wasn’t you.”
“Wish I could, Scott. I wish I could.”
Scott had lunch with Dr. Thorton each day that week, although he didn’t eat much. Only Eli’s cooking would tempt him, and then he would fill up quickly. Kayleigh didn’t need a ride, she didn’t confide in him, and she didn’t ask about Kyle or anything else. Several times as he lunched with Dr. Thorton though, he’d look up and see Kayleigh looking their way from her place alone. She always looked away, but it was the quickness of her movement that told Scott he’d caught her watching him.
He spoke with Pastor Prescott and told him about Kayleigh as well as the accident.
“Just make sure you’re not reading more into Kayleigh’s behavior and excusing more because you haven’t forgiven yourself. Do you think you’d have dated Kayleigh before the accident if she’d acted the way you say she is now?”
Scott thought about it. Not until later when he remembered Kyle’s words about him last week did he relax and stop questioning his motives. He “didn’t give up on people”, Kyle had said. He wouldn’t give up on Kayleigh. She needed him, didn’t she? She’d been hurt.
He had it worked out in his mind until he woke up in the middle of the night, his heart pounding, and the image of Kyle’s bloody face in the moonlight still vivid. Then as he tried to forget the accident he began questioning his reasoning and sanity again. His doctor had said it would take two or three weeks to see any results from the medicine. He wished he’d known to go sooner. Maybe he’d be over the nightmares…. Maybe… Maybe his doctor’s other recommendation… but he’d seemed content when he mentioned his pastor’s counseling. It was almost dawn before he fell back to sleep.
Saturday morning Scott slept in. He just didn’t feel like doing anything. When he finally dragged himself out, Kyle said that Shane had gone into work. He rarely had to work on Saturday, but it was near the end of the month, his busiest time, and they wanted to go to Scott’s parent’s house in Cincinnati for the Fourth of July weekend.
“So what do you two have planned then?” Scott asked.
“Us two?” Kyle asked. “What about you? You’ve got plans, too? I thought we were going someplace.”
“That’s next weekend. Starting Thursday night.”
“I’m not stupid, Scott. I didn’t think it was time to leave for your parents. Just treat me like an idiot. Don’t let me know anything. No one does. I hate that.”
“Knock it off, Kyle. No one’s treating you like an idiot.”
“What? Am I stupid? You, Kayleigh, everyone’s telling me I’m doing stuff I’m not. Just knock it off. You’re the one who’s hiding stuff.”
“I’m not hiding anything.”
“How can the insurance pick it up if you don’t even give me receipts?”
Kyle looked at Eli. He hit his arm. “You weren’t supposed to talk.”
“I… I didn’t.” No. Eli hadn’t. He wouldn’t say anything when Scott had tried to talk to him. His silence condemned him because at least he didn’t lie to him.
“He didn’t tell me anything. I saw the pegs. And that ball you were tossing last week. I’m not stupid. Someone pays for it. Give me the receipts to turn in so you can get reimbursed. Bet there’s even more stuff you’re hiding from me.”
“You’re not my babysitter. Not my boss. Not… Leave me alone.” Kyle turned toward his room, but then emitted a shriek which chilled Scott sober from his anger. Kyle’s back stiffened.
Eli caught him as he fell, placing himself between Kyle and the desk when his convulsions took him too close to it.
Scott could only stare, frozen as Eli continued placing himself between Kyle and danger. One part of his mind realized Eli must be taking a few bruises, as Kyle hit him, but another part of his mind couldn’t think at all.
Then Kyle lay still on his side. Eli kneeled before him and examined his face. “Hey, Kyle. Hear me?”
Kyle took a deep, ragged breath.
Eli ran his hand over Kyle’s arm as if to comfort him. “As soon as you’re ready, we’ll go to our room.”
Kyle’s breathing evened out, and then he struggled to move. Eli helped him up, and they slowly made their way to the bedroom.
Scott went into his room and fell on his bed. He’d almost killed him again! Why’d he get so upset? He knew better. When his throat loosened enough for speech he cried out. “God, Lord, why? Why didn’t You take me? Why are You letting him suffer so much? It should have been me. I should be the one.”
Someone sat on the bed. Scott rolled over and sat up, facing Eli.
“God made a mistake?”
It was a simple question, and the simple answer caused Scott to blush. Of course God hadn’t made a mistake. But… “I should be the one to suffer.”
Scott turned away from Eli’s steady gaze. “Not like Kyle.”
“No. God’s plan for your life is different. Who are we to question?” He paused. “I questioned — a lot. My father said it’s only mercy that we all don’t suffer more because we all deserve hell.”
Scott studied the kid. He’d known pain. But… “You weren’t responsible for your parents’ death.”
“You aren’t responsible for Kyle’s condition.”
“But maybe I could have done something different. You don’t understand.”
“I do understand. A beautiful woman walks with a permanent limp because of a mistake I made when we were ten.”
At first the reference caught him off guard. Eli had changed the subject, but he hadn’t. “What could you do at ten?”
Eli studied his hands. “We were home on furlough. Grace and I went out to play, and a neighbor boy came by. Challenged me to climb this tree. We were showing off for Grace. I was. I had to prove myself, I thought. Besides I climbed trees all the time back home in Venezuela. I loved being high up in the air. But Grace wanted to climb, too, and she couldn’t get up with those little girl shoes on. I….” He met Scott’s eyes. “I helped her up. She followed me. I… I felt a branch crack and just moved on. I… I didn’t warn her. Didn’t think about it at all.”
Eli closed his eyes. “She fell twenty feet, hitting branches. I thought she was dead. Then… then I was even stupider….”
“You were only ten!”
“I was stupider,” Eli continued. “I took her home. Messed her knee up. Can only be thankful she hadn’t had a back injury.” He met Scott’s eyes again. “I know, Scott,” he whispered. “At least your friends are making you drive. I never had any reason to climb again.”
“No, Kyle never blames me. He should. Ian does. Sounds just like Kyle. I still hear him in my sleep sometimes. They didn’t blame you, did they? You were only ten.”
“No… not really. Grace would get really frustrated sometimes. Said the truth. But she was ten, too. Grandma Bradford got after her for saying the truth. But I knew.”
“Do you ever see her?”
“Grace? Yeah. She drove me to the bus station last year. Grandma says the accident made Grace into a person after her name.” Eli shrugged. “I always liked her either way.”
“Is Grace your grandparents’ neighbor?”
“No. Their daughter.”
“No. Not my aunt. My mom was a foster child.” Eli shrugged. “She used to tease me like that when we were younger, but not since Mom died.”
They sat in silence until Scott wondered about the earlier scene. “Is Kyle okay? Where is he?”
“He’s sleeping. He’s okay.”
“I shouldn’t have yelled. I don’t know why I did. He must hate me.”
“Kyle doesn’t hate you.” Eli reached for the dresser and took some papers that Scott hadn’t placed there. He handed them to him. “For the insurance.”
Receipts. “Who paid them?”
“Kyle. His parents left him some money.”
“But he’s going to use it up if he’s not careful.”
“He ordered me not to talk about his health. I shouldn’t say anything.”
Scott sighed and scooted off the bed. “Why doesn’t he trust us?”
Eli followed him to the kitchen. “It’s not that.”
Scott took out a cola. “So… How do I pay for this stuff if he doesn’t want me to know?”
“He doesn’t think you should have to pay.” Eli began making sandwiches from sliced ham.
“It’s insurance, Eli.”
“He knows. He planned to give the receipts directly to the insurance company. We just haven’t gotten there yet.”
“I can get him the money now.” Scott sat at the table. Eli finished the sandwiches and pushed one across to Scott. He wasn’t hungry, but since Eli had made the effort, he’d try to eat. “What should I do, Eli?”
“I know you need to help. I’ll talk to him and let you know.” He bowed his head and prayed.
Shane came in as they were eating. Scott passed him the other half of his sandwich. He was subdued when he heard about the seizure. “His first one.” He glanced at Eli.
Scott knew by Eli’s silence it wasn’t.
Eli stood. “I’ve got to work tonight. I think I’ll get a little sleep.” He left them.
“He’s a natural, Shane. I stood there like an idiot. I would have killed him just like Ian said.”
“No, Scott.” Shane studied him. “You need to get out. Let’s go swimming. Come on. It’s a beautiful day. Let’s go get a little sun before we go south.”
Scott laughed. Shane always referred to Ohio as the South, but then he’d never been any further, except for the time they had driven into Kentucky and when he’d visited his mother in Arizona. “One of these days, Shane.”
“Yeah. You keep promising. I’ll never see the ocean or the Gulf at this rate.” They walked over to the apartment complex’s pool. Shane helped Scott stay upbeat all day.
They went back inside at seven. Kyle was just getting up. Eli came with him. Kyle didn’t mention their argument or the seizure. It was as if the morning had never happened. They decided to order pizza. Scott could only eat one piece.
“Scott, have you told the doctor about your appetite?”
“Which one,” he teased Shane.
Shane refused to lighten up. “I’m serious. I think you’ve lost weight.”
Kyle looked at Scott. “You have. Go back. Make sure it’s not from the accident.”
“It is the accident. Post Traumatic Stress. I got medicine. I’ll be fine. I can eat.” Scott took another piece of pizza to get them off the topic. When they began talking about Eli’s work hours, he discretely threw over half of it into the trash.
Go to Chapter 17
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.