They were on the expressway by five. Shane drove first, almost apologetic that Scott would be driving at night. “But you know Cincinnati better than I do,” he told Scott.
It was something he couldn’t deny, although technically they wouldn’t be going through Cincinnati. Scott’s family lived north and east of the city in what used to be a fairly rural area in the foothills of the Appalachian mountains. His parents had built the first home on the road when he was eight. Slowly new houses were added, three since he’d left for college. His parents’ home was on ten wooded acres with a stocked pond over one and a half acres.
It was dark when they arrived at eleven. His mother greeted them at the door, hugging Scott. Then she hugged Shane and Kyle. Finally she gave Eli a hug. “It’s so good to meet you, Elijah. Scott tells us you’ve been a great comfort to them. I’m glad they found you.” She led them through the large room that comprised the living room in the front half and the dining area in the back half. “They’ve had such a trial finding decent roommates before.”
Anna and Shar came from the couch. His father set down his newspaper and stood also, welcoming them. “You’re looking well, Kyle. If there’s ever anything we can help you with, let us know.”
“I’m fine now. Thank you, Mr. Alexander.”
Scott grabbed Shar and Anna into a hug. “Hey, don’t hide. Where’s your fiancé — Dennis, the smooching menace?”
Shar cuffed his arm. “He’s at home since it’s almost midnight. He’ll be here tomorrow after he gets out of work.”
“Hey,” Scott said. “Let us put our stuff away.”
Eli took Kyle’s overnight bag.
“It’s about time we all went to bed anyway,” his father said.
Anna turned and disappeared down the hall toward the bedrooms.
“You boys know where to go,” Scott’s mother said. She touched Eli’s arm. “Make yourself at home. There’s lunch meat and soda in the refrigerator. Anything you’d like, just help yourself.” She motioned toward the kitchen on the far side of the living/dining room.
“Thank you,” Eli said in a low voice. He followed Kyle into the first bedroom on the right — the guest room.
Scott looked in. “All set?”
Kyle sat on the edge of the bed. “Yeah. We’re set. Tired.”
“Good. Bathroom is across the hall. I’m the other door down on this side, and the linen closet is at the end of the hall.”
“I’m telling Eli, Grouch. I’ll let you two get some sleep.” Scott went down to his room where Shane was getting ready for bed.
The next morning Scott and Shane went to the kitchen. His mother was making French toast. “Dad have to work?”
“Yes. He’ll be home at six.”
“Where’s Shar and Anna?”
“Shar went to work also. Anna should be back up here soon. She went downstairs to get some tomatoes from the pantry. Do all your friends like veal parmigiana and spaghetti?”
“Sounds good, Mom.”
“Everything you make is great,” Shane added. “Scott can’t cook anything but chili.”
Kyle and Eli came into the kitchen. Kyle came confidently; Eli followed a little behind.
“Sit down, all of you,” Scott’s mother admonished. “You can start eating.” She chased them to the table that was already set for them.
Scott said grace.
Eli silently cut two pieces of toast into small bits and poured syrup on then. Then he switched plates with Kyle.
Anna came in, setting the jars of tomatoes on the cupboard. She wore a short pair of pink shorts and a form fitting pink top. Leaning against the cupboard she watched them.
“Anna, pour the boys some juice.”
Anna did as she was told, pouring juice into Kyle’s glass last. “I’ve been practicing,” she said.
Kyle looked up at her. “Practicing what?”
“My chess game.”
“Oh.” Kyle shrugged. “Probably won’t have any time to play.”
He shrugged again, looking beyond them out the kitchen window. “Swimming. Yeah. I want to swim a lot. Haven’t been yet.”
Anna grinned. “I’ve got a new suit.”
Her mother turned from the stove. “You’re wearing the old one, Susanna Lynn. Don’t know what possessed you to buy that thing.”
Scott grinned. “Wanted to show off for your big brother? Hate to tell you this, but I helped change your diaper. Doesn’t faze me a bit.”
“Oh, Scott. Knock it off. I’m not a baby.”
“Sure you are.”
“Looks like a babe to me,” Shane said, stuffing another piece of French toast into his mouth.
“You’re as rotten as Scott. Ian told me you hit him.”
Scott and Shane froze, looking at Kyle. Kyle acted as if he hadn’t heard a word. He noticed their stares and stopped poking his fork into his toast. “What’s up?”
“Nothing,” Scott said.
“Why are you hiding it?” Anna asked.
“Hiding what?” Kyle asked.
“Didn’t Ian tell you about the fight?”
“My brother? He was in another fight?” Kyle shrugged. “Nothing new.” Then he glanced up. “When did you meet him?”
Anna stared at Kyle with her mouth half open. She shut her mouth and turned away. “Never mind.”
Kyle extended his hands, palms up in a silent shrug. “What?” he mouthed.
“Sisters,” Scott said, with a negligible shoulder in Anna’s direction. “They never make sense.”
“Scott!” Anna whirled around.
He grinned. “Especially Anna. Apparently a new boyfriend. I get her boyfriends confused also.”
Anna punched his arm.
“Anna,” her mother said. “Scott. Some things never change. Kyle, the pool is all set. You boys are welcome to jump in any time.”
Anna rested her hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “We have time for a game of chess while you’re waiting for breakfast to settle.”
Kyle grabbed at Eli’s arm.
“Kyle was going to show me around,” Eli said. “So I don’t get lost.”
“Scott can do that….”
“We’ll all take a walk around the place,” Scott said. “Chill out, Anna. We’ll be here all weekend.”
When they had finished eating he led Kyle, Eli, and Shane around the house, downstairs past the ping-pong and pool tables in the family room walkout basement, and outside. Then walking back up the slope around the bedrooms, they came to the alcove off the dining room and kitchen that consisted of the large patio and swimming pool. They walked across the yard to the pond. A ten foot dock with a fishing rowboat was off to the side near a small barn that held the pool supplies, fishing tackle, and lawn maintenance equipment. “The rest is pretty much woods, Eli, up the side of the foothill. There are a few interesting trees, clearings, bogs, and stuff back there.”
“He’s not mentioning the rattlesnakes, poison ivy, oak, and what all, and various beasts — maybe even bears,” Shane added.
“I’m pretty sure the bears have been scared off for years. Probably just a few deer, possums, raccoons, skunks, lots of rabbits, that kind of thing. What are you thinking, Eli?”
Eli had a slight smile as he surveyed the sloped wooded hillside. “Almost reminds me of home. Different trees and the altitude is too low, but almost.”
“Home. New York? Has the same mountains,” Shane said with a shrug.
Eli’s smile left. “Venezuela was home.” They began walking toward the house.
“Do you plan to go back?” Shane asked.
Kyle leaned to one side and caught Eli’s arm for balance.
Eli touched the hand briefly. “Used to think about it. Not much in the last year. Guess I’m finally getting used to it in the States. It wouldn’t be home without Mom and Dad anyway.”
“You have family here now,” Kyle said. “You don’t have to go anywhere.” He walked ahead.
Eli watched him and then glanced at Scott. He gave a brief smile and then caught up to him. Scott and Shane followed.
They went to their room to change into their swim suits. Scott remembered Eli. He went down the hall, opened their door, and threw his spare swimsuit into Eli’s arms. “Thought I forgot, didn’t you? And you were just going to hide in the background.”
Scott reclosed the door, and then ran into Anna. The black thong bikini she wore must be the forbidden one. “Does Dad know you’ve wrapped his tie around your heinie? Oh, wait. A tie is larger. Must be a shoe string.”
Anna looked up into his face defiantly. “It’s none of your business.”
Scott hustled her back to her room.
“Scott! Stop it. Let go of me.”
Scott released her arm after he shut her door. “Dad hasn’t seen that, has he? I’m surprised Mom didn’t tell on you.”
“You better not.”
Scott gave a short laugh. “Anna, those are my friends you’re embarrassing yourself in front of. Yeah, I’m telling. And I’m not letting you out until you change.”
“You’re a chauvinist.”
“You don’t want to know what you look like in that suit. If you haven’t gotten yourself into trouble yet, you’re heading there.”
“Typical man, you….”
“Yeah. Typical man, and don’t forget it. I know what they’re going to think when they see you like this, and it isn’t, ‘There’s a compassionate woman who would make a great wife.’“
“You don’t know anything.”
“Anna, listen to me. If you’re trying to attract my friends, you won’t do it that way. They’re looking for good wives, not a one night stand — and that’s what you’re offering.”
“I am not! You don’t know anything. I bet they’ll look.”
Scott pushed her away to arms length and looked her over, turning her to see both sides. “Okay, great view. Now they’ll know your best asset is your heinie and not your mind.”
“How dare you treat me like a piece of meat! Dad’s gonna jump down your throat when he knows you looked at me like that.”
“Thought that’s what you wanted. Change your clothes.” He left the room and shut the door, surprised he needed to tell his twenty-one year old sister that. What was wrong with her? He stood outside the door to make sure she complied.
Anna tried to leave, still in the bikini. Scott barred the way. She hit his chest. Then she looked past him. Her face turned red, and she slammed her door shut.
Scott turned to see Shane in his swimming trunks leaning against the wall. “Problems?”
“I trust she got red because you looked at what she was offering.”
Shane shrugged. “You’re crude today. She does have a nice figure.”
“And no brain.”
“Nobody will care if she has a brain or not in that outfit.” He grinned. “If she’d dressed like that the first time I’d come….”
“She was thirteen then!”
“Good thing, too. If she’d looked like that….” Shane lost his casual grin. “But not your sister, Scott. And I haven’t looked for that in years. You know. Come on. You know I was teasing.”
Anna came from the room in a one piece red suit with gold highlights. She glared at Scott and ignored Shane, walking between them down the hall to the living room.
Shane caught Scott’s arm. “We don’t know anything about the kid and his dating habits. Better keep him away from her. She’s still showing too much. Not that she can help it.”
“Keep your eyeballs in your head.” Scott went into Anna’s room and found the suit on her chair. He grabbed it and took it into his parent’s room, hanging it on his father’s tie rack inside the closet.
Shane stopped him in the hall. “You’re not mad at me, are you?”
Scott felt his anger drain away. He shook his head and leaned against the wall. “It was okay when it was just talk and games, but that’s not games.” He took Shane back to his room. “You and Kyle have known her for years. But what’s Eli going to think? My sister’s a tramp? She’s not. She’s just stupid.”
“Sure, Scott. Course we see her three or four times a year. We know all about her. Least we thought we did.”
“That’s not funny. She hasn’t changed that much.” Scott changed into his swim suit. “Bet it’s all Ian’s fault. They’ve obviously been talking on the phone or E-mailing.”
Shane laughed. “Yeah. It’s Ian’s fault. Now there’s a guy I wouldn’t leave alone with her for five minutes.”
When they reached the dining area, they stopped to open the sliding glass doors. Eli and Kyle were sitting on the edge of the pool with their feet in the water. Anna was on the other side of Kyle. Scott’s mother stopped them and looked outside. “At least she didn’t wear that other suit.”
“Mom, why didn’t you tell Dad? That thing….”
She put her hand to her mouth. “Oh, she did try it. I’d hoped she’d see reason herself.” She glanced back toward the pool. “She’s taken Kyle’s injury pretty hard, doing things that just aren’t like her. But he seems okay. He’s better, isn’t he?”
“Not better enough to play chess. It looks like I need to play interference.” Scott and Shane went outside and stood behind Kyle, Eli, and Anna.
“So you’re not going back to work until winter?” Anna asked. “Why don’t you move down here? There’s plenty of room. When Shar gets married next month we’ll have three empty bedrooms. Dad would let you stay to help make up for what Scott did. You can even get a job with one of the hospitals around here.”
“Scott didn’t do anything,” Kyle said with a bit of irritation in his voice.
Eli glanced back, but didn’t say anything when he saw them.
“Oh, you know what I mean. Aren’t you ever angry at him, thinking he should have done something — anything.”
“There was nothing that could be done,” Kyle said evenly. “I was there. I know. Nothing.”
Did he really remember the accident? They said he probably wouldn’t, but he said he did. And he said….
“But maybe he could have slowed down when the car tried to get over.”
“We were ahead of the car when it started to get over. If he’d slowed down the impact may have been worse.”
“How do you know?”
“I was there. And the police officer who investigated the accident said there was no doubt about the sequence of events and how things had gone. We both could have been killed if Scott had done anything differently.”
“You talked to the police officer?”
“My father did. Told my mom and brother that Scott’s an excellent driver. They didn’t have to worry about me getting to my appointments.”
Scott closed his eyes. Shane’s hand rested on his back.
“Ian says…,” Anna began again.
“Ian wasn’t there. And when did you meet him?”
“At the hospital. We write almost every night.”
Kyle shook his head. “I love Ian, but he’s got some problems. I guess you can’t get into too much trouble over E-mail, though.”
“He’s right. Scott has poisoned you against him.”
“No one poisons me, Girl. Now let me swim, will you?”
Kyle pushed himself off the edge of the pool into the water. Eli followed. Kyle turned and looked up, his shoulders and head above the water. “Hey, Scott. It’s about time you got out here.”
Anna stood and walked between them to the deep end of the pool. Then she dived in. Shane jumped into the water at the same time, keeping Eli and Kyle’s attention from Anna. Scott joined him. They ignored Anna until she got out and went back to the house.
They were lounging in the chairs on the patio when Anna came out again. She stood before Scott. “Where’s my bikini?”
“You have a bikini? I always thought you were too modest for one of those,” Scott teased.
“Scott! I want it back, now!”
“Do I look like I’d need a bikini?”
“You’ll probably give it to your girlfriend.”
“My girlfriend would smack me if I gave her something like that. She’s much too modest to show her body to the world.”
“Probably doesn’t have anything worth showing. Now give me the suit.”
Scott’s temper was on the rise again. He wished it would stay put. Why was she baiting him like this? She’d always been a bit sassy, but always in fun before.
“Kayleigh isn’t bad to look at,” Shane said, neutrally. “Of course I haven’t seen as much of her as you. Couldn’t see much more of you, unless….” Shane glanced at Scott and then shrugged. “Not that I’m looking.”
Anna whirled on Shane. “You took it!”
Kyle laughed, which started them all laughing until Anna ran back into the house. Kyle sobered. “Aww. Scott. Go after her. I didn’t mean to make her cry. It was just so silly. You and Shane stealing bikinis.”
“I’m not going after her. Look, Kyle, be straight with her. Tell her you don’t like women to show everything. She’s trying to get your attention.”
“I’m not talking to her. I’m on vacation.” Kyle leaned back and closed his eyes. “Glad she’s not my sister. I’d be tempted to lock her in her room until she got married. When’s lunch?”
“I’ll start the grill. Shane, will you go get the hamburger.”
“Putting me to work.” He grinned and ran into the house.
They ate, and afterward Kyle went inside to take a nap. Eli stayed inside also. Scott went in for him, motioning him out of the room. “Come on out.”
Eli hesitated and looked back at Kyle lying on the bed.
Scott walked to the bed. “Hey, Kyle,” he said in a soft voice, hoping not to startle him. “Tell Eli you’ll be fine. He can come play, right?”
Kyle opened his eyes. “Get me up in an hour.”
“Come on, Eli.”
Eli hesitated a second before following Scott outside.
Anna was talking to Shane by the pool, stretching her legs out before him. Scott shook his head. “That girl is heading for trouble. I’ve never seen her so… so….” He shrugged.
Eli smiled. “So you and Shane stole her bikini.”
“Yeah. Hey, what can you do? We better rescue Shane.”
Anna seemed annoyed when Eli and Scott joined them, but then she turned her attention to Eli. “So what are you studying?”
“Prerequisites right now. I haven’t declared a major.”
“Aren’t you older than me? I’m twenty-one.”
“Just turned twenty-one,” Scott clarified.
“Old enough to know what I should wear. You and Dad are chauvinists.”
“You’ll be hit on by ten guys out for a good time who won’t care what happens to you the next day if you dress like that in public.”
“I wasn’t in public. I’m not stupid. Where’s Kyle?”
Anna started to get up.
Scott grabbed her arm. “Don’t bother him. He’s still recovering.”
Anna studied Scott and then settled back down. “How old are you, Eli?”
“Eighteen for another couple months.”
“Really? You look older.”
Shane met Scott’s eyes and grinned, apparently amused by Anna’s interest in Eli.
“Are you as chauvinistic as Scott?”
“What do you mean?” Eli asked warily.
“What do you look for in women?”
“Nothing. I’m not ready to get married.”
“But what about dating,” Anna insisted. “You must date.”
“You’ve never dated?”
Eli hesitated. “Once.” He shrugged. “When I finish college and have something to offer….” He stared into the water. Then he pushed himself off the concrete and dived in, swimming with smooth, even strokes to the other side. He kicked around and came back, doing several more laps.
“He’s cute,” Anna said. “Shy and cute.”
Scott looked at Eli expending his embarrassment and frustration in laps and had an odd feeling. He wanted to protect him from Anna — from his little sister who by all known logic should be the one needing protection. His uneasiness continued as he studied Anna, her eyes following Eli’s every movement. He didn’t know her anymore. She’d grown up and turned into a woman he barely recognized. Shane was right, three or four times a year with occasional phone calls hadn’t been enough.
Eli finally lifted himself from the water and sat beside them.
“Looks like you used to swim a lot,” Shane said.
“In high school — almost every day. Not at all since.”
Eli shrugged. “No. Never had time for the meets. Had to work.” He stood. “I’ll go check on Kyle.”
Anna watched until he disappeared inside. “Truth time, Scott. How bad is Kyle?”
Shane answered. “Permanently disabled. Never be able to have children… Did Ian tell you about that injury? And in five years he’ll be completely bed ridden. Told him he should find a wife now, so he’ll have someone to take care of him.”
Anna grinned. “Now Shane, you’re not just saying that so I’ll go out with you instead, are you?”
“No. I’ve already seen you nude. I’d rather have a bit of a challenge.”
Anna stood and slapped him. Then she took long strides into the house.
Shane rubbed his cheek. “You owe me, Scott. Man, she’s got a strong right arm.”
Scott laughed, realizing now that Shane had done what he’d asked Kyle to do, but in his own unique way. “I owe you.” He lifted himself from the concrete to sit on a lawn chair, leaning back. They were alone. “You heard Kyle, didn’t you, Shane?”
“Yeah. I heard him.”
“He wasn’t just lying for me, was he?”
“No. He wasn’t lying. Think we’d be riding with you if we really thought you were a danger to us? Still would have forgiven you, but risking my neck with you?” Shane smiled. “Will you forgive yourself now?”
Scott couldn’t speak. His eyes burned too much. He stood and dived into the pool. He stopped at the other side and got out, assured that the water running down his face would disguise his momentary lapse.
Go to Chapter 19
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.