Scott was up most of the night fighting his recurring nightmares and thoughts again. It was all Shane’s fault. Sunday night, he’d suggested at ten that they all go and get ice cream. Everyone had agreed and wanted to ride in Scott’s truck. When Scott protested, they had kept at him until he gave in. And Kyle sat beside him. It was the same lighting and time as the accident. He knew what they were doing — making him face his fears and overcome them, but it didn’t seem to be working. He forced himself out of bed and walked into the kitchen.
Shane stood to leave, teasing him about getting up late. But then he focused on Scott and swore softly. “You didn’t sleep at all, did you?”
“Yeah. Happy? Leave me alone, will you? Can’t take anymore of this homemade therapy.”
Shane’s face became neutral. “Sorry.” He whirled from him and left the apartment.
Scott took a drink of his coffee. Then his foggy mind realized he’d hurt Shane. He rushed out the door. He paused at the top of the steps, took a deep breath, and then ran down them as he used to before he’d fallen. He had to catch Shane.
He was just pulling out. Scott ran in front of his car, and Shane skidded to a stop. He shifted to park and jumped out of the car. “You idiot! You almost got yourself killed. You want to go to the hospital in an ambu….”
Scott gripped his arms. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it.”
Shane pulled away from him. “I believe you.” He studied Scott and shook his head. He reached into his car for his keys. Then he took Scott’s arm. “Come on. Let’s go back upstairs. You can call in sick.”
“I’m not sick. I’m just a little tired. I didn’t mean to snap at you.”
“Okay. I forgive you. Get dressed, and I’ll take you to work, since you’re tired.”
Scott glanced down at his pajama shorts and bare chest and gave Shane a self-conscious grin. “I’m okay. Really. Just regretted snapping at you.”
Shane gave a nervous laugh. “I believe you.” He became serious. “Really, Scott. If you’re tired, I can drive you. I never meant to keep you up all night.”
“Thought you had deadlines and a boss looking at the clock.”
Shane shrugged. “Some things are more important.”
“Thanks. But I won’t keep you. See you at dinner. Your turn.” Scott ran inside before Shane could contradict him. It was Scott’s turn, but maybe Shane would feel sorry enough for him to do it instead.
Scott was an hour late to work. Elaine looked up from her calendar as he entered the department. “There you are. Are you sick?” She looked over at Kayleigh at her computer. “Doesn’t he look haggard?”
“Just a late night.”
“A date?” Kayleigh asked.
“No. Nightmares.” He chided himself for revealing so much in front of Elaine.
“Nightmares?” Elaine asked quickly. “Scott, what’s happening? You’re even losing weight.”
“Nothing’s happening. Are there any messages, Kayleigh?”
She silently handed him two sheets of pink message paper.
“You are sick, aren’t you? What do you have?” Elaine insisted, obviously looking for a juicy piece of gossip. Scott ignored Elaine and went back to his office.
Kayleigh came back a half hour later, bringing him the work she’d completed. “I… Summer term starts today. Both my classes are on Tuesday and Thursday.”
“Then you’ll be here all day today?”
“It’s all right, isn’t it?”
“Sure. Just let me know when to expect you.”
“Between one and four thirty on Tuesdays and Thursdays. Nine to five the rest of the time.”
He studied her, hoping his gaze didn’t make her self-conscious, but he’d missed her. He missed telling her what he was going through, and he missed praying with her. It seemed worse now that they weren’t talking.
“Are… are you sick, Scott?”
“Will you pray with me about it?”
Kayleigh hesitated and then sat in the chair beside his desk. “How’ve you been?”
He wanted to ask how she’d been, but decided to keep it safe. He told her about his nightmares, what the doctor had said, and how his friends were trying to help. Then he couldn’t help it. “I miss you.”
Kayleigh’s lower lip quivered before she bit it. She took a deep breath. “We… I’ll always be your friend, if… if you’ll let me.”
Scott tried to smile. It was a rejection, but he ignored that part and focused on the positive. “Of course, Kayleigh. And I’m here when you need me. Even if you don’t.”
Kayleigh nodded slightly and then bowed her head, beginning to pray immediately. She was hiding, but she couldn’t hide completely. Not in prayer. She prayed for him until her voice choked on her words. She drew a ragged breath, and then she ran from the room.
Scott stared at the door for a few minutes. “Lord, please. Whatever is keeping her back, please help her through it. Let me help her. Let her know she can trust me with any scar she is bearing.”
She was already gone when Scott went through the outer office at twelve thirty for lunch with Dr. Thorton. Then he spent the afternoon in meetings.
Tuesday Scott came back from lunch to find a dozen fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies in a plastic bag on his desk. He opened it, and the aroma tempted him to eat two before he went out to Kayleigh’s desk. “You didn’t happen to see who left those delicious cookies in my office.”
“It was Kayleigh,” Elaine volunteered. “Wouldn’t share one.”
Scott grinned at Kayleigh. “Thanks. I think my appetite has just returned.”
Kayleigh blushed and turned back to her monitor.
“You can bake for me any time.”
Kayleigh still didn’t respond.
Scott decided not to push. He started for his office. At his door he remembered he’d forgotten to ask her if she’d finished the report he needed at three. He started back down the hall, but stopped cold at Elaine’s voice.
“You’re after him, aren’t you?”
“Ryan dumped you, and now you’re throwing yourself at him.”
“I’m not throwing myself at anyone,” Kayleigh said sharply.
Scott continued into the outer office as Elaine spoke again, not looking his way. “He dumped you, and you’re desperate.”
“Who dumped who?” Scott asked.
Elaine whirled around. “Aaah… Kayleigh’s fiancé. The cookies were originally for him.”
“Really?” Scott smiled, and Kayleigh glanced up. “Well, I’m sure he appreciates your baking as much as I do. Bet he really didn’t dump you, did he? You still have the ring.”
Kayleigh looked from Scott to Elaine. “Well… actually….”
“If he didn’t dump you, why aren’t you wearing the ring?”
Scott reached for Kayleigh’s left hand and looked at it. “Maybe burnt fingers,” he said quietly. “I need ten copies of the programmer’s anticipated changeover schedule by three for the meeting.”
Kayleigh withdrew her hand. “No problem. I’ll have it done in five minutes.”
“Thanks.” Scott went back to his desk.
Kayleigh brought the report as she said, but didn’t mention the earlier scene.
Wednesday when they were alone, he finally asked a personal question. “What are you doing for the holiday?”
“Studying. Working on a term paper while I have the time. Don’t ask.”
“Don’t ask you to come with me to my parent’s house in Ohio?”
Kayleigh laughed and shook her head. “Yeah. Don’t ask. You’re persistent. Thought it was just dinner, but you’re jumping straight for the over-nighters.”
“You would share with my sister Anna, while Kyle, Shane, Eli, and I split between my old room and Sandy’s. Or you’d be in with Shar — one of the two. Once I announce you’re my fiancée we’ll never have a moment alone. They’ll see it as their solemn duty to keep us apart.”
Kayleigh sighed. “They’d probably throw me out of the house.”
“No, they wouldn’t.”
She shook her head. “Give up, Scott.”
“Not until you marry someone else. But I’ll try not to harass you too much.”
Kayleigh turned to leave. Then at the door she looked back at him and grinned. “I’m marrying Ryan, haven’t you heard?”
“You should put his ring back on then.”
She left without answering.
Scott packed Wednesday evening. Eli had left for class, and Shane was in his own room, preparing. Kyle came to sit on Scott’s bed as he looked through his things. “Are you and Eli waiting until tomorrow to pack?” Scott asked.
“Eli says he’s not coming. Scott, talk to him. He won’t listen to me.”
“Not coming? Why?”
“Says he’s got to work.”
“He knew a week ago.” Scott saw Shane in the doorway.
Kyle stood and gripped Scott. “Go make sure he gets the time.”
“Why?” Shane asked. “If he doesn’t want to go….”
“I want him!”
“But we’ll be there with you. You don’t need him.”
“Don’t need anybody. I want him. He belongs, too.”
“No, he doesn’t.” Shane came into the room to stand before Kyle. “He’s just a kid helper, and if he doesn’t want to hang out with us, let him have a few days off.”
“Don’t need no helper! Get Eli.” Kyle stared at Shane. Then his eyes blinked. He closed them. “Oh, God, not now. Get… get Eli!” The name came out as a scream. Kyle stiffened and fell on the bed.
It was only a moment before Scott realized it was up to him and Shane to keep Kyle on the bed, away from the wall and the headboard. Then after what seemed forever, but was barely a minute, it was over. Kyle was still. Then he took a long ragged breath. He rolled on his side away from them and the light.
“Leave me alone.”
“Sure. You can sleep here.” He turned down the light. “Let me know if you need anything.”
“Sure. I’ll make sure he comes with us.” Scott followed Shane from the room. When they were both in the living room, Scott faced Shane. “You want to stay here while I go talk to Eli’s boss? Or do you want to do it?”
Shane glanced toward the bedroom door. “This is stupid,” he whispered. “It’s not our place to interfere with his job. You did fine with him, and I can, too. We don’t need Eli.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not going to be the one to tell him no.” Scott went to the door.
“Wait! Why don’t you just call? I bet the scheduler isn’t even there in the evening. You’ll have to do it tomorrow, and we don’t have time to take off work like that.”
Scott hesitated and then went to the phone, pulling out the thick white pages. When he finished talking to the evening manager of the store Eli worked at, he returned to Shane. “I took care of it.” He didn’t tell Shane that Eli was scheduled that night and then not again until Sunday night when they’d be back. That was something he and Eli would discuss when he came home in the morning.
Scott went into his room. “Kyle,” he said softly. “I called. He’s coming with us.”
Kyle rolled on his back and took Scott’s hand. “Thanks. He’s not just a helper.”
“No. He’s another brother.”
“Four… four musketeers now,” Kyle teased.
“Yeah. Four of us now.”
Kyle sat up. “My room.”
“Sure.” Scott helped him to his room and then into bed.
Shane looked up from the armchair when Scott returned to the living room. “Guess the term brother doesn’t mean as much to you as I thought.”
Scott sat in the adjacent chair and tried to relax. He knew it was Shane’s fears talking. He’d always been that way. And after he’d snapped at him Monday morning they’d not been alone. “Shane… You’re my best friend — my favorite brother.”
Shane looked away and gave a small snicker.
Scott smiled at his embarrassment. “I don’t know how I’d have been making it through this without you.”
“Just grab the kid. Instant brother.”
“But not one who knows me like you. Yeah, I like Eli, but if he leaves tonight and never writes I don’t know him well enough to chase him any further than New York. Now you… Don’t even try losing touch with me. I’d have to quit my job and track you down, even if you left the country.”
Shane shook his head. “Words are words.”
“You sound like Kayleigh, you know.”
“Do not. She’s jerking you around again, isn’t she?”
“Not anymore than you did when we first met. Guess that’s where I got the patience from. Thought you finally knew we were family. Nothing separates us. Even if we all marry and move to different states, we’d have to get together several times a year.”
Scott laughed. “You’re afraid of another friend.”
“I’m not afraid of anything. I just think you jump into things….”
“Like you do with women.”
“Looks to me like you took over that one, too.”
“I’ll just have to remember that even after Kayleigh and I are married for seven or eight years, she’ll have doubts. Just like you.”
“You’re unreal. She’s jerking you around.”
Scott smiled, ignoring his protests, knowing how to really tease Shane now. “Yeah. That must be why I love her so much. She reminds me a lot of my beloved brother.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “Oh, please. You always were thick with the frosting, and now your head’s gotten a bit thick.”
“Comes from smashing it on the steps.” Scott leaned forward. He had to make this clear to Shane. “Look, no matter whether you want Eli or not, we have to take him.”
“This isn’t me. It’s Kyle. You saw how Anna treated him. If he’s hiding from us, you can bet he’s afraid to show them how he’s really doing. Eli has a way of covering for him, hiding it.”
“He’s too dependent on him.”
“Probably,” Scott agreed. “You heard him. He tried to make it seem like it was for Eli, but he’s terrified of being without him.”
“Well, he has to learn — face his fear….”
“Not yet! Shane, they apparently haven’t got the medicine straightened out if he’s getting seizures so often. Give him time. His concentration isn’t even that good yet. You’ve seen it. He’s scared; he wants Eli. I’ll do whatever I can to help him get what he wants.”
“So… so that brother stuff was for Kyle.”
Scott hesitated. “Shane, the kid’s an orphan. He needs us.”
“He has family — grandparents.”
Shane studied Scott. “You can’t take in every stray.”
Scott smiled. “I got one great friend that way.”
Shane winced, but then smiled. “But not everyone’s as great as I am. I hate to see you get hurt.”
Scott laughed. “I know. You’re great. I’ll be careful.” Scott stood. “I’ve got to finish packing. Are you done?”
“Sure, we’re just going for three days.” They went into Scott’s room so that Shane could tease Scott while he finished packing.
Scott set the alarm for six and had dressed and eaten by seven. He went downstairs to wait in the parking lot. Eli pulled in ten minutes later. He stopped ten feet from Scott. “What’s wrong? Is Kyle okay? Grandma?”
“Everything’s fine. I just need to talk to you before we leave.” He led Eli toward the picnic area behind the building. The kid must have a few fears also, Scott realized. He was always expecting bad news.
Scott sat at the picnic table and motioned Eli to sit on the other side. “Kyle did have another seizure last night, but he’s fine.”
“You want me to quit my job?”
“No. I wouldn’t ask that of you. Although I am wondering why you lied to Kyle.”
Eli shook his head. “I didn’t.”
“You said you couldn’t come with us because you had to work.”
Eli looked at his hands. “I have to work Thursday and Sunday.”
“You already worked your Thursday hours, and you’ll only have one hour on Sunday and the rest of that shift is Monday. We’ll be home by eleven p.m.”
Eli looked up, his face revealing his surprise.
“So obviously,” Scott continued, “there is some other reason you don’t want to come.”
Eli shrugged and looked up at the apartment building and then their balcony patio.
“Is it that I’ll have to drive part of the time?”
Eli’s gaze jerked back to Scott. “No. No, Scott. It’s not that at all.”
“No. Look, your family doesn’t even know me. I’m sure it’d be better if I stayed here.”
“Because you want to be alone.”
“I’ll be alone anyway.” He shifted in his seat to face the golf course beyond the fence. “At least I’m not in anyone’s way at home.”
Scott took in his words and thought through them. The kid really did need a family again. “You won’t be in the way.”
Eli shook his head. “I’ve tried it before — going home with friends for a weekend back in high school. Things always happened. They have a life, family… and your family and friends aren’t going to want to have to figure out how to make room and change plans for one more person.”
“Eli, they know you’re coming.”
Eli shook his head again but continued staring out at the golf course. “It just doesn’t work.”
“You’re not going to come for me, are you?” If Eli had a good reason, Scott would have let it go. But he was hiding here alone, and he was lonely. Scott could hear the pain in his voice. He decided to use the biggest argument he had.
“Then consider this. Kyle begged me to go get your work schedule changed. He’s terrified to be without you. He’s going to be facing my sisters, the youngest of which has claimed undying love, and yet she could barely face him in the hospital. Even though he’s never said anything about returning these feelings, you know he’s going to be very uncomfortable when she’s around — they both are. Will you please help him through this?”
Eli seemed to waver, glancing back at Scott.
Scott aimed his final blow. “I’ll give you an extra week’s pay.”
Direct hit. Eli stood and whirled around to face him. “It’s not the money. I told you before I’d help without pay.”
“He needs you for this,” Scott said, without letting up. “You know his limits better than either Shane or I do. Don’t you? He hides from us.”
Eli sunk down on the bench, defeated. “For Kyle. I’ll try to stay out of the way.”
“Thanks, Eli.” Scott smiled. “You won’t be in the way. Don’t forget your swimming trunks….”
“I don’t have any here.” He met Scott’s gaze. “I told you. I’ll just be a burden and in the way.”
“I have an extra pair,” Scott offered. “Hey, Eli. They’re making me drive; I’m making you face this. Try it again. It’ll be different this time.” Scott stood. “Well, I’ve got to get to work, and I guess you’ve got to sleep and pack. I’ll be home by four thirty, so be ready.” Scott left before Eli could protest further.
Go to Chapter 18
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.