Shar came home at four thirty, and by five thirty their father had arrived and they were dressed for dinner at the large dining room table. His father said grace — always the same words.
Scott wondered if his father took his mother’s cooking for granted the same as Mason took Sandy’s. “This is wonderful, Mom,” he said, lifting another bite of veal parmigiana to his mouth.
“Great,” Shane echoed. “I look forward to your cooking more than anything else.”
Barb laughed. “Oh, you boys. It’s always nice to cook for you. I know it’s effort well spent.”
“It is,” Shane agreed.
“You need a good wife, Shane.”
“Yeah. I know. Hard to find one, though.”
Scott’s father cleared his throat. “What do your parents do, Elijah?”
Eli glanced at Scott. He seemed resigned. “They’re dead. Almost four years now.”
“What did your father do?”
“He was a missionary to Venezuela. Both he and Mom. They assisted the translation team in developing teaching material.”
“A missionary. Really?” Barb asked.
“Did you go with them or did you stay with relatives here?” his father asked.
“I was born there. But they thought I should stay in New York for high school.”
“Wow,” Shar said. “Missionaries. Maybe you could speak at our church some time.”
“Is this Sunday too soon, Elijah? I can call Helen.”
“It’s probably too soon, Mom,” Anna said. “You didn’t bring any Venezuelan things, did you?”
“When would be good for you, Eli? You boys will be back next month for the wedding. Maybe that Sunday?”
“But I’d miss it, Mom,” Shar protested.
Eli stared at them, his eyes wide, his fork hovering above his plate.
“What do you usually talk about, Eli?” Barb asked. “I’ll have to tell Helen so we can plan. And you’ll have flyers for your organization.”
Eli stood. “Excuse me.” Then he walked quickly from the room.
“What’s wrong?” Barb asked.
Shane spoke first. “He is not a missionary. He’s just a kid. Bet he’s never spoken in front of a group in his life.”
Scott leaned forward. “Yeah. Mellow out. He’s still grieving.”
“Four years,” Shane said skeptically.
“Let it be.”
“Go talk to him, Scott,” Kyle asked. “Go… Make sure….”
Scott touched Kyle shoulder as he left them. “Sure. I’ll straighten it out. Relax.”
Scott found Eli in the bedroom he and Kyle shared, lying face down on the bed. Scott sat on the edge. “They didn’t mean anything.”
“It wasn’t funny,” he said, his voice muffled by the pillow.
“They weren’t trying to be funny.”
Eli rolled on his side. “I’m not with any organization. My parents were. I told you it wouldn’t work.”
“I’m not raising support for anything. Why would I speak?”
“Where have you been, Eli…. Skip that question. But haven’t you ever heard anyone speaking just to make people aware of the situation in other countries? You know, let them know what to pray about and how things work. You don’t have to be representing anyone. It’s just that you’ve been there and worked with them.”
Eli sat up cross-legged on the bed and studied his hands.
“I’m surprised Pastor Prescott didn’t ask you to speak during our Missionary Awareness Weekend.”
Eli’s eyes opened wider, and then he shook his head. “No. Not in Ann Arbor. No. Don’t even think about that. I told you these things never work. I should have stayed at home. Every time I think I’ve got it down, something else goes wrong.”
“Hey. Just tell them you can’t do it if you don’t want to. Don’t make an issue of it. They weren’t trying to harass you. Honest.”
Eli closed his eyes. He was so young. He needed to learn to speak though no matter what major he finally chose.
“It’s a nice, friendly church to try out public speaking,” Scott suggested. “A Sunday School spot. Maybe fifty people tops would stay. And you’d get to talk about what you know. It wouldn’t be a bad way to get past a fear of public speaking. You’ll have to stand up before groups all your life, no matter which major you choose. Didn’t you go with your parents when they spoke?”
Eli stared up at him. He shook his head. “No,” he said meekly. “I stayed with my grandparents. I… I was never part of… of that.” He stared unblinking at the bedspread.
Scott didn’t know what to do. Eli’s pain was obvious. Four years, but did anyone ever get over losing both parents like that? “Would you be more comfortable if I asked them not to mention it again?”
Eli looked into Scott’s face as if he wanted to talk about something — share a burden that was too great for him.
“What is it?” he asked as softly as he could.
Eli took a deep breath and scooted to the edge of the bed. “I’m all right. I’m sorry I bothered you.” He left the room.
Scott caught him in the hall. “Wait. I’ll respect your privacy, Eli, but don’t think you’re bothering me. I’m serious. I care about you like I care about Kyle and Shane. Whatever it is, grief, pain, fear, let me share it with you.”
Eli’s mouth tilted up on one side. “I… I’ll remember. Better finish eating. I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He went into the bathroom.
Scott returned to the dining room. Everyone else was almost finished eating. His mother met his gaze. “Scott?”
“Just missing his parents.” He began eating to avoid any other questions.
Eli slipped back into his seat as Barb brought out a cheesecake for dessert. “I… I’m sorry. I’ve never spoken to a group before. I… I’ll think about it, but… but not for a while. I… I… wasn’t a missionary. Just… just there.”
“But you helped your parents, didn’t you?” Shar asked.
Eli shrugged. “With whatever I could, but… but I… I was just a kid… not quite fourteen when I moved to New York. I….” He pushed his pasta with his fork.
“Let him eat, Shar,” Scott’s father said.
“Of course. I’m sorry, Eli. It’s just that every time missionaries came, I used to think that maybe I would go someday.” She blushed. “But then I guess that was a silly idea.”
Eli studied her. He seemed to relax. “No. Not silly.” He ate the rest of his veal and spaghetti as Barb passed the cheesecake.
The evening progressed well until Scott’s father went to change into his swimming trunks for his nightly swim. He came out to the pool. Barb ran after him, dressed in a conservative one piece swimsuit. “Jim, please. It’s not a big deal.”
Scott looked up from the edge of the pool. His father held the black strings. “Susanna Lynn. Is this yours?”
Anna climbed out of the pool near Scott. “You are cruel.” She went to her father. “Ah… Thanks.” She started to grab it.
“Anna! You aren’t wearing this. Your allowance is obviously too large if you can waste it on trash like this.”
“Dad! It’s just a swim suit.”
“Not just a swim suit. My children won’t be acting like tramps in heat.”
“Then you should get after Scott. He looked at me like he was in heat.”
“Anna, I’m very disappointed.”
That tone, especially right in front of everyone would have made Scott die of embarrassment and shame, running to hide somewhere to recover. But Anna looked at her father’s face. “So am I. Scott’s been rotten. I never expected it.” She snatched the suit out of her father’s hand and left the patio before he could protest.
Jim glanced around the patio quickly, before going inside after his daughter.
Shane dived into the water, breaking the tension.
Scott swam over to Shar. “What is Anna’s problem?”
Shar looked wary and then defeated. She lifted herself to the edge of the pool, and Scott sat beside her. “She’s always been rebellious, but saving herself for Kyle. Now… now she has this notion that… well, she’s not saving herself, and she thinks he won’t know the difference. Says Ian told her that.”
Shar looked away. “I’ve tried to talk to her.” Her voice cracked. “She won’t listen.” Shar leaned against Scott, and he wrapped an arm around her, letting her rest against him.
“Hey, what’s my favorite girl doing in the arms of someone else?” asked a teasing voice from behind them.
Shar jumped up and hugged her fiancé. Scott stood and shook Dennis’ hand. It was only the second time he’d met him.
Scott’s father returned, and they had a game of water volleyball. Kyle stayed on the shallow end and participated. Eli stayed close to him, even though he’d demonstrated that he was an excellent swimmer and would have been more than comfortable in the deep water. Kyle, Scott noticed, rarely hit the ball, even when it was close. His movements were too slow or off to one side or the other. But Eli would quickly send the ball back in play so that there wasn’t a lag. Scott positioned himself on the opposite side of Kyle, and after once stepping back so Kyle could get the ball, Kyle grabbed him. “Help me, Scott,” he whispered. “Or I’m getting out.” Scott helped all he could. Later Kyle sat out. “Enough physical therapy for today,” he mumbled.
Anna did not join them. Scott found later that she had taken off, and she didn’t get home until two thirty.
Sandy and her husband Mason came before lunch the next morning. The holiday held perfect weather for their picnic. Dennis again joined the family. As they ate lunch Anna looked around the group. She studied Scott. “Have you told Mom and Dad about your girlfriend? The one you said hated bikinis?”
She was trying to get him back, but Scott decided he wouldn’t let her bother him. “They haven’t asked.”
“You have a girlfriend, Scott?” his mother asked. “Why didn’t you invite her down?”
“I did, but she wasn’t comfortable yet. Maybe for Shar’s wedding. We haven’t been dating long.”
“Is this Kayleigh?” Sandy asked.
“You know Scott’s girlfriend?” his mother asked.
“I met her when I went up, but they weren’t a couple yet.”
“Still aren’t,” Shane whispered.
“You should have said something, Scott,” his mother protested.
“Yes. You didn’t even tell me when you asked her out,” Sandy said. “You don’t mention her at all.”
Scott shrugged. “When she’s ready to make a commitment, I’ll let you know.”
“You asked her?”
Scott tried not to show them the tension the question brought. He was throwing it all on the line. If she never accepted him, they’d all know he’d been rejected. “Yeah. I asked her. When we know each other better, she’ll make her decision.”
“Marriage?” asked Jim.
“Yes. I found her. I’m just waiting.” And he waited for his father’s disapproval. But he was silent. Scott wondered if he’d shocked him.
“Oh my, Scott,” his mother said. “You must tell us all about her. What are her parents like?”
“I haven’t really met them yet. Her father isn’t around.”
“Isn’t around? He’s dead.”
“No,” Shane said. “He left, like mine did.”
“Oh. And what does her mother do?”
“Do?” Scott didn’t know. Maybe she stayed home like his did.
“She works in the deli at the supermarket,” Shane said.
How did he know that? But Scott couldn’t ask. Not without letting everyone know he didn’t know.
“And Kayleigh? Does she work?”
“She’s putting herself through college,” Scott said, glancing at Shane. “She’s….” He met his father’s eyes. “She’s a secretary on campus.”
Sandy grinned but didn’t give away his secret.
Anna went inside, and a few moments later she returned with the chess board. She placed it near Kyle and began setting up the pieces. “Black or White?”
“I’m tired. I’m going to rest.” Kyle went inside with Eli.
Anna watched Kyle and then the door he’d disappeared into until Shane sat across from her. “Is there really a mind inside that body?” he asked in a low, sarcastic voice.
Anna looked as if she wanted to slap him again, but couldn’t without drawing her father’s attention. “Yes, there is.”
“Prove it.” He took a knight and made the first move.
That will keep her busy for an hour, Scott thought, glad she wouldn’t be tempted to follow Kyle or Eli.
Eli emerged from the house dressed in jeans and walked toward the woods away from the group. Now would be a good time to talk to him. Scott slipped into the house, changed his clothes, and then went out through the basement. He followed the trail he’d last seen Eli on, until he found him sitting on a fallen log, staring into the treetops.
“Come on,” Scott said, motioning Eli to follow.
Eli sighed and stood. “I just like to get away from the crowd sometimes.”
“Well, I wasn’t planning to take you back. I wanted to show you something.”
Eli seemed to perk up. “What’s that?”
Scott led him back to the highest spot on his father’s property. A tall maple tree branched out with twin trunks. He stopped before it and pointed up. Then he began climbing. He looked down when he’d made it past the first two large V’s. Eli still stood on the ground.
“It’s like riding a bike, Eli. If driving’s good for me, climbing’s good for you.”
“But Scott, if you fall….”
“It’ll be my own fault. I’ve climbed this tree a hundred times.”
Eli studied the tree. Then he climbed into the V of the twin trunks and began making his way up. Scott led him up until the branches were only slightly thicker than his leg. He motioned Eli to the branch on the opposite side of the trunk.
Scott sat on one branch and leaned forward against another, his right arm hooked on the trunk. He could see his parents’ home, his family small figures in the distance. Beyond them were their neighbors’ homes, and at the bottom of the valley, the stream that emptied into the Ohio River. Looking straight ahead, the next foothill rose, a mini mountain with more houses than before. A hawk circled in the intervening sky.
“I missed this,” Eli said simply. “Thank you.”
They sat still for a long while, listening to the breeze rustle the leaves, the calling of the starlings, and the occasional pounding of a nearby woodpecker.
“Scott, my whole life is a lie.”
Scott didn’t speak. He didn’t know what to say. So he waited.
“My parents didn’t tell anyone they had a child — none of the churches they went to — not even the sending organization. I was listed as a visiting relative. I sometimes think my whole life must have been a dream, but yet I have my birth certificate and pictures. Not even Grandma and Grandpa know why it was a secret.” Eli looked at Scott. “Please don’t tell anyone my parents were ashamed of me.”
“I won’t say anything,” Scott vowed, though his throat would barely let him.
“I miss them so much.”
“They couldn’t have been ashamed.”
Eli raised his face to the sky, not looking his way. “What other explanation?”
“I don’t know.”
“I didn’t know how much they hid me until just last year. I was sheltered at the school. Grandma and Grandpa didn’t tell me all the trouble they had trying to contact my father’s relatives. It was as if they’d been killed all over again — my whole life was a lie. Pastor Prescott is the only one I’ve told here.” Eli looked at Scott. “And now you.”
“We’re brothers now, Eli, always.” He touched Eli’s shoulder briefly.
“I’ve never had a brother, and now I’ve got two.”
“Shane’s never said it.”
Scott looked out over the valley. “Give Shane time. He doesn’t trust easily, but when he does, it’ll be worth the wait.”
“Everything’s changed since I moved. You’re right, it’s like family. And… and you make me feel like I belong. Thanks.”
“You and Kyle seem to get along very well.”
“You can talk to me, Eli. We’re not going to kick you out if you have a bit of a problem. We’ve all argued between ourselves at one time or another.”
Eli glanced at him. “We don’t argue. It’s just a different relationship.”
“He seems very dependent on you.”
Eli nodded slightly. “Don’t ever say that to him though. In ways he shows he is, and in other ways he strives to prove he doesn’t really need me. He said something like that right before I decided not to risk coming here. Then he asks you to intervene.”
“Kyle has always been very independent. He’s kind of been like our leader. I think he likes to be looked up to.”
“I figured that out. And he says friend and brother because he wants me to stay, but then when he’s irritated or upset, I’m ‘the kid’ — too stupid to know anything. But I’ve tried not to let that bother me, ‘cause I know it’s just frustration talking.”
“You scared him to death the night you went to work without telling us.”
Eli smiled. “Yeah. I keep remembering that.” He studied the foothill in the distance. “But I don’t think we could talk like this. I… I don’t even talk as much to Pastor. You… you just make it easy.” His cheeks were pink in the sunlight that filtered through the leaves. “Kyle… I have to stay strong with him or… or I’ll be ‘the kid’ more than I’m ‘the brother’ or ‘the friend’.”
Scott thought about Eli’s words in the silence that followed. Kyle did have a lot of pride, and although he wanted to say Eli would be ‘the brother’ no matter what, Scott didn’t know how Kyle would react now that his intellectual headship of their group was threatened. He’d remembered the few times Eli had stood up to him, silently, not backing down. “You do great with him, Eli. I know he’ll always consider you a friend and brother though. He’ll always be there for you if you need him.”
“Looks like Kyle’s awake. I should go back.” Eli shifted and then started down the tree as if he’d climbed it as often as Scott had.
Scott looked toward his parent’s home and saw Kyle standing near the pool. The others were at the picnic tables by the pond. He followed Eli down. When he reached the ground they stood, facing each other. Eli shifted nervously and looked at the ground. Scott put his hand on Eli’s shoulder. “You will always be welcome wherever I am,” Scott reassured him.
Eli gave a slight smile, and Scott knew he didn’t believe him. Like Shane, it would take Eli time to trust again.
Scott started walking back. He decided to change the subject. “I wonder if my dad will say anything about Kayleigh. I’m not sure what he expects, but I’m sure I missed the mark again.”
“You don’t get along with your father?”
Scott shrugged. “We always get along. I’m just not quite good enough. He never says that, but… I’ll probably get another talk before I leave. Maybe two. One on Kayleigh, one on Kyle.”
“My fault, you know. I’ve got to do everything I can, as if I’d do otherwise for my friend.” Scott realized he sounded bitter. “Sorry, Eli. Maybe I’m looking for trouble. Sometimes I think I’m going to get a lecture and I don’t. Sandy says it’s just the way he relates, and we have to ignore our feelings. He doesn’t mean we’re inept and unworthy.”
“I’m sure he doesn’t,” Eli agreed.
When they left the woods, Shane waved and pointed them out to Kyle. They sat at one of the three picnic tables on the home side of the pond with Anna, Shar, Dennis, Sandy, and Mason. They all looked their way. Scott and Eli walked around the pond, and Eli went to Kyle’s side.
“Where were you?” Kyle demanded of Eli.
“I went for a walk.”
“You didn’t tell me.”
“Hey, Kyle,” Shane said. “Yell at Scott. He was gone, too.”
Kyle scowled and fell silent.
“So, Scott,” Shane teased. “Where were you hiding? Worrying us half to death.”
“I was in sight most of the time. You just didn’t look in the right spot.” He sat at the table with Sandy and Mason. “Are you in labor yet, Sandy. Getting nervous, Daddy?”
Sandy laughed. “I’ve got two more weeks.”
They grilled steaks and chicken for dinner. And then as dusk turned to night, Mason and Dennis brought out the fireworks. Shane had purchased some also, and he joined them by the pond as the others stayed on the patio near the pool to watch.
The first Roman candle went off. Then another. Less than five minutes into the display, Kyle and Eli headed inside. Anna stopped them.
“Scott!” Eli, said, and the tone of his voice conveyed urgency.
Scott ran to intercept Anna and delay her following Kyle into the house. But Kyle didn’t make it to the bedroom.
“What’s happening? Scott, why did he scream?” Anna tried to push past him.
“Stay out here!”
Scott’s father went past him into the house. “Dad!”
“Does he need help?”
“Eli can handle it,” Scott whispered. “Kyle will be too embarrassed with everyone. Please.”
Anna again tried to push past them. Jim caught her. “How long, Scott?”
“Five minutes, and he’ll be sound asleep in his room.” They went back outside, staying away from the group and close to the house.
“I want to know what it’s like!” Anna said. “I have to know.”
“Why, Anna? For him or for you? Don’t be selfish.”
“Ian says you’re the selfish one.”
Shane came up behind Anna. “You’d do well to avoid Ian.”
Anna whirled around. “Coming from the guy who tried to beat him up.”
“Do you want to know why I hit him, Anna?”
Scott could see the surprise in his father’s face. He’d heard nothing of the fights.
“You want Kyle’s insurance money.”
Shane gave a low laugh. “Not even close. Ian had just worked Kyle into a fit, and then he punched Scott in the stomach with no warning. I’d been willing to pass off the steps as an accident, but not anymore. Ian pushed Scott, and now he’s trying to hurt him by what he says to you. Don’t fall for it, Anna. I know you have a mind. Use it. He’s seeking revenge for Kyle’s injury.”
“You’re lying! You are. Ian isn’t like that. He’s coming….” Anna glanced back at her father. “He loves me.”
“He tried to kill Scott,” Shane insisted, grabbing her arms and looking into her eyes. “He put him in the hospital.”
“Scott is your brother. He’s never hurt anyone. You heard what Kyle said. If Scott hadn’t been such a good driver, they’d both be dead, you and Ian would have met at a funeral, and you both wouldn’t have paid any attention to each other because you’re too smart to get hooked up with a temper like his.”
“But….” her protest was weaker now.
“You knew you and Kyle weren’t meant to be more than friends before. You used the excuse though to ward off unwanted suitors. But you’re a woman now. You don’t need a crutch.” He paused a second. “Just a big stick. Your right arm is plenty strong enough.”
Anna gave a small nervous laugh then. “Hurt you, did I?”
“Yeah. Want to light a few candles with me?” Shane met Scott’s eyes as he drew Anna away from them. Then he winked.
Scott relaxed. When they were out of hearing range, he said, “I owe him big time.”
“Is he interested in her?”
Scott glanced up at his father, surprised. “Not to date.”
“Too bad. He’d be good for her.” They walked over to the side of the house near the bedrooms and sat in a couple lawn chairs.
“You were not quite pleased with Shane when I first brought him home.”
“He’s matured a lot, and….” His father met his eyes. “You were right about him.”
Something had changed. He’d never admitted to being wrong before. Was it a sign of something more?
“The new boy is only eighteen Anna said.”
“His birthday is in October,” Scott clarified. By the way he took care of Kyle, Eli seemed older than eighteen.
“Yet, Kyle panics when he’s out of sight.”
“How is Kyle?”
Scott took a deep breath. “I really don’t know, Dad. He pretends he’s better than he is, but he’s still improving, I’m sure.”
“Glad it wasn’t you. Just kept thinking what his parents were going through.” He watched another display of light over the pond. “You understood that, didn’t you? You knew I didn’t blame you. You know that. You know I’m always proud of you. Men know that. Women need reassurance, I guess.” He didn’t look at Scott. “Remember that when you get married. Always need to tell her you need her, love her cooking, and her clothes. This girl is the one?”
“You’ll do right by her. You always do right. Don’t need to remind you. Your mom’s right about that. She doesn’t understand that’s just our way of talking.”
“Sure, Dad,” Scott said, because it seemed he needed reassurance. His father’s words left his throat too tight to say more. His mother was right. It was just his father’s way. He wasn’t disappointed in him. So many years he’d tried so hard to measure up and never felt he’d succeeded. Now he knew Kyle was right. Feelings didn’t really reflect life accurately. “I love you, Dad.”
His father faced him. “Love you, too.” He stood. “You better check on Kyle. I’ll go see what Anna’s up to.” He walked away.
Scott gave a soft chuckle. No wonder he loved Shane. His father had that same impenetrable front. But Scott had worn away Shane’s defenses, and it looked like he’d reached his father’s heart also. Always had, but he’d never shown it. Remember to show it, Scott reminded himself of the words his mother spoke often as he grew up. Let them know you care.
Even though he knew Eli would have come for him if Kyle needed anything, Scott went inside because his father had asked him to.
Kyle was asleep. Eli sat on the floor of the hall beside the bedroom door which was cracked open. He read a school textbook. “You’re hiding,” Scott whispered. “Why aren’t you out there with the fireworks?”
Eli placed a marker in his book. “I can’t hear him from out there.”
Scott motioned him into the dining room. “Trouble?”
“He doesn’t want me to talk about it.”
“I know that.”
“It’s okay now. It’s just….” His voice lowered. “The noise kept him agitated, he had some ear plugs and they helped.”
“The loud popping. It was the lights flashing that triggered it though or a combination. But he didn’t want anyone’s fun to be ruined.”
“But he wanted you to stay in.”
“Just in case.”
“Eli….” All his words seemed trite now. He wondered if it was how his father felt. Eli would miss everything to help his friend. Scott gripped his shoulder a moment. “Mind if I join you? We can play backgammon.”
He jogged downstairs and brought the game to the hall. When they began playing Scott confided some of his father’s words since he’d mentioned it before. He hoped Eli would apply his discovery about his father to his own parents. They couldn’t possibly have been ashamed of a son like Eli. There had to be a different explanation for their silence.
Go to Chapter 20
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.