Kayleigh Edwards came into his office, and Scott lifted his gaze from the report he was preparing. Moving just a little brought his attention to the stiffness throughout his back. At least he remembered not to move too quickly. That still caused a bit of vertigo.
“I finished typing this. Is there any priority before I leave in a half hour?”
Kayleigh hesitated. “It was in the application. I have a class that meets at two-thirty on Monday and Wednesday, and I have one that meets at four-thirty Tuesday and Thursdays.”
Scott realized he’d cut a few steps in the interview process, but the information wouldn’t have stopped him from coming to the same decision. Kayleigh was a unique woman, and he wanted whatever time she could give him. “Can you come at eight each morning?”
Scott nodded and shut his eyes.
“Maybe it’d help to take a walk over to see your friend,” she suggested in that soft, quiet voice she’d used Friday night.
Scott had been up there at lunch. Nothing had changed, but his whole body ached from sitting in this chair. He’d never found it less than comfortable before. He stood and winced with the stretching of his muscles. “You’re right.” He stopped at the door and looked back at her. No one else was coming or going right now, and Elaine was gone. They could be direct. “Will you pray with me again?”
She set the papers on her desk and then stood before him, holding out her hands. He grasped them and bowed his head, praying for Kyle. Again she prayed for Kyle, for Scott, and for Shane. She didn’t know them, and yet she cared. He decided he owed her an explanation.
“All three of us met in our freshman year of college and shared an apartment ever since. It’s been seven and a half years. Our apartment hasn’t been just a place to sleep either. It’s our home. We’re like brothers now. Family.”
“Closer than most real brothers, I think. I envy that.” She went to her desk and set a paper in her copy holder to type.
He wanted to ask about her family, but now she seemed closed to him, concentrating on her work. “I’ll try to be back before you leave. If not I’ll see you in the morning.”
Scott made his way to the third floor of the main hospital. Kyle’s parents weren’t in the waiting room. They weren’t with him either. “They just went to lunch,” the nurse told him. “The doctor will be in at three.”
Scott went to Kyle’s side and took his hand. He seemed unchanged, the respirator still forcing air into his lungs. But the machine registered that Kyle took most of the breaths on his own. That was an improvement. “Hey, Kyle. It’s me, Scott, again.”
Kyle’s eyes moved under his lids, and his hand contracted briefly.
“Kyle?” He raised his voice. “Kyle, you can hear me, can’t you?”
Kyle squeezed his hand again and opened his eyes a slit.
“Thank you, Jesus, Lord. We’ve been scared sick about you.”
Kyle turned his head away from Scott.
“Kyle, I know this is hard, but Shane and I talked about it. We’ll do everything we can to help you get better and back to work. You’re going to be all right.”
Kyle didn’t acknowledge him. Maybe he thought Scott should be in that bed instead of him. He couldn’t stand the thought that Kyle might hate him for the accident. Kyle had never been one to complain or blame, but Scott knew how natural it would be to think the accident was his fault. Whenever he had a brief moment his mind would automatically go back over the accident, trying to determine if he could have done anything differently.
“I’m so sorry, Kyle. I should have known that guy was drunk. I shouldn’t have tried to pass him. I should be in that bed. I know I can never make it up to you, but I’ll do everything I can. I promise.”
Kyle’s head turned toward him, his clear brown eyes wide open now. He squeezed his hand and focused briefly on Scott’s face before his eyes closed. Kyle squeezed his hand again, but then relaxed. Maybe he was asleep already.
“I’ll be back after work.” Scott gently released his hand and laid it on the bed. “Shane will, too. Your family should be back from lunch soon.” Scott hesitated. Then he grabbed Kyle’s hand again. “We’re your family, Kyle. Me and Shane. Just as much as they are. Like brothers.”
Kyle’s hand contracted briefly before it slipped from his grip back to the bed.
Scott let him rest, going back to his office. He had to tell Kayleigh that their prayers were being answered.
When he walked into the main office, Elaine looked up expectantly. Kayleigh’s computer was off. He was too late. She was already gone. Scott started for his office to call Shane.
“So how do you two know each other?” Elaine asked. “You did know her from before, didn’t you?”
Scott turned back to see Elaine’s conspiratorial grin. The question confirmed the trust he’d placed in Kayleigh, and the suspicion he’d had about Elaine. Kayleigh hadn’t talked about Kyle or the accident at all. Elaine’s grin was the same one used by another gossip who had betrayed him, his old high school girlfriend. He tried not to let his distaste show. “She’s been at the U a while. If you get out of the office, you meet people.” Scott went to his office, closing the door before Elaine could ask any more questions.
He had ten minutes before his next meeting. He quickly called Shane. “He’s awake, Shane!”
“What’d he say?”
“He can’t say anything with those tubes in his mouth. But he looked at me and squeezed my hand. I told him you were coming up after work, and that we are going to see him through this. I know he understood me.”
“Great. What did the doctor say?”
“Haven’t seen him. Shane, you tell him what I did, too, okay? So he knows we’re both willing to help.”
Shane didn’t speak right away.
“Shane, I know you don’t have to….”
“Hey, knock it off. I want to help. Quit acting like I’m being dragged into this. I’ll tell Kyle what I want to talk to him about.”
“But he needs to know….”
“I’m not stupid, Scott. I’ll help him all I can, but you’re not seeing reality. The surgeon said there’s some brain damage. This isn’t just paying his rent until he gets back to work. He may never be able to work as a doctor at all. And we’re not going to be sharing an apartment forever. Eventually we’ll both get married. Then what? What if he needs 24 hour care? What if he can’t even feed himself? You’re not thinking this through. We have to do what’s best for him.”
“I don’t care what it takes. I owe him. I was driving.”
Shane was silent.
Scott tried to control his temper. He’d rarely had that problem before. “I’ve got a meeting. I’ll see you later.” He hung up the phone. Grabbing his reports, he rushed to Mott’s Children’s Hospital which completed the triangle of medical buildings.
At five-thirty Scott left his office, locking up. When he reached the ICU waiting room, Kyle’s parents and brother were sitting inside. “What’s happening with Kyle?” he asked, taking the closest chair to the couch his mother and father sat in.
“He’s awake! He’s getting better.” Fran Sloan leaned forward. “Shane is with him now. He wanted some time alone.”
“We need to go to billing together,” Jerry said. “Your car insurance should pick this up.”
“I know. I contacted them.”
“You have to talk to billing though.”
Scott nodded, adding it to his mental to-do list for the next day.
“You need to get a lawyer,” Ian said. “Sue their butts off.”
“Sue who, Ian? I don’t know if the police got him yet. I’ll check.”
Ian stood and paced, his longer hair swinging freely over his shaved sides. “I can’t believe he just drove away! You weren’t even hurt! Just Kyle. Everyone’s fine, and my brother is half dead in there.”
“Ian, please.” Fran’s face crumbled in misery. “We’ve been over this.”
“But it isn’t fair! He was right next to him. Why wasn’t he hurt? Why didn’t he find some way to avoid that guy? Why wasn’t he paying attention? Why isn’t he the one with brain damage?”
The voice was so much like Kyle’s, and in his heart it was Kyle accusing him. He could only leave the room. He had no answers. He heard Fran calling after him, but Scott didn’t want any false comfort right now. He wanted answers also, but there wasn’t any place to go for them.
He took a walk around the complex, through the U of M hospital and Mott’s Children’s hospital, silently asking God all the same questions Ian had asked. God was the only one who knew the answers, but He wasn’t telling Scott. Scott finally passed the clinics in the Taubman Center on his circuit through the buildings, but he didn’t stop at his office, instead returning to the hospital and up to ICU using the back hallway past the pulmonary/chest ICU section so he wouldn’t have to pass the waiting room Ian was in.
Scott entered ICU and stopped a short way beyond the nurse’s station. Shane was still with Kyle, standing next to his bed and staring straight ahead at the window at the back of the cubical to the clear blue sky. He wore his gold wire-rim glasses instead of his contacts which meant his eyes were sore — probably from lack of sleep like the rest of them. But what held Scott back was that Shane gripped Kyle’s hand. Shane was always embarrassed when Scott voiced his care for them, sometimes teasing him by declaring undying brotherhood. Shane though never shared any emotion that might be considered weakness, joking all Scott’s words off. Then again, he’d never held any man’s hand except when forced to in prayer, so if Shane wanted to voice his concern for Kyle now, Scott didn’t want to interfere.
Shane looked down into Kyle’s face. “You’re awake. Hey, we miss you.” He let go of his hand. “Kyle, the other night… I didn’t mean what I said. The girl turned out to be a jerk anyway. I should have listened to you. Thing is, I know she would have fallen for Scott the minute she saw him. You know how he is with the women. He smiles that flawless smile that put his orthodontist’s kids through school. Then he just looks into their eyes with his hazel eyes that they always call all kinds of weird names like honey drops…. remember that, Kyle? Way back in our sophomore year?” Shane gave a small laugh, and Kyle’s hand moved.
Scott hoped Shane had forgotten the nickname that one of Shane’s dates had given him. He hadn’t thought a lot about the incident other than he’d been stuck with a detestable nickname. But Shane’s date had come on to him and dumped Shane. Scott hadn’t been interested, especially when he had seen Shane trying to hide his disappointment.
Shane dated most often, but his dates were usually disasters. He had a hard time picking decent women. Scott suspected because deep down he desperately wanted a permanent relationship, and desperation caused mistakes. But he’d never accuse Shane of being desperate, because he wasn’t. He just didn’t have a lot of confidence in himself, and telling him bluntly what he thought the problem was wouldn’t work and would probably make it worse.
Scott dated once in a while, but he didn’t want to get too serious until he was ready to settle down. So far he hadn’t found anyone that tempted him to date them more than once or twice. He thought of Kayleigh, but his attention was drawn back to Shane and Kyle.
“Me and old Honey Drops want you to stay with us, Kyle. We want what’s best for you. You don’t have to move up north if you don’t want to. You can understand me, can’t you?” He paused. “Good. That’s a relief. You doctors never want to tell anyone the best, just the worst case scenario around here. When they take that tube out, you let us know what you want, and we’ll make sure things go that way.”
Shane glanced toward the ICU entrance and stepped back as he saw Scott only a few feet from him. “How long have you been here?”
“Not long,” Scott lied. “I ran late at work and then talked to Kyle’s parents. Took a walk.”
“They said you wanted time alone.” Scott moved to Kyle’s side and took his hand. “How’s my brother?” he asked, and then lowered his voice. “Wish I could take your place. Ian does, too. Kyle….” Why had he started this? “I’ll do anything, Kyle. I… I’ll even switch jobs and go up north if you need to leave, but I’m sure we can work it out here. The best doctors are here, right? That’s why you came here for school.”
Scott heard Ian first and glanced back to see him approaching with his parents. “There he is. He’s been in here.”
“Now, Ian, you remember what I said.” Jerry held Ian’s arm, stopping him, as Fran continued to them. “Remember.”
Ian’s eyes flashed toward Scott, and Scott couldn’t mistake the hostility. But Ian then looked at his father. “I remember.”
Fran hugged Scott. “We know you couldn’t have done anything else. Ian’s afraid of losing Kyle, just like we all are. Blaming’s the easy way out and never helped anyone.”
“He wasn’t even hurt,” Ian insisted.
“Yes he was,” Shane said. “Scott couldn’t even walk Friday night.”
Ian snickered. “He looks fine to me.”
Shane stepped closer to the bed. “They said he’d be hurting for weeks. He’s all bruised up. He just doesn’t talk about it much. Fact is, he’s looking a bit green right now, don’t you think?” Shane leaned closer to Kyle. “I gotta take Honey Drops home to rest. I don’t want to have to pick him up off the floor. We’ll be up in the morning, Kyle.” Shane grabbed Scott’s elbow.
Truth was, Shane was right. Scott was sore all over, and his stomach rebelled either against the hot dog he’d had at lunch or because it was dinner time and he hadn’t eaten.
“Do I need to get a wheelchair?” Shane asked, more than loud enough for all to hear.
“I’ll make it.” He moved determinedly toward the door.
When they were almost to it, Shane whispered, “Take a dive now, and you may just gain Ian’s sympathy.”
“Don’t want sympathy. I want my bed.” He pushed through the ICU doors to the hall.
“Just as I suspected Honey Drops.”
“What you all Honey Droppin’ for now?” he asked in irritation, pretending he hadn’t heard Shane’s confession to Kyle. “People are going to start looking at us weird like they did back then.”
Shane laughed. “Think Ian will think we’re a couple now, Honey Drops?”
“Only if you keep hanging on my arm like that.”
“It’s easier than picking you up off the floor.” Shane led him out to the parking ramp. People walked to and fro, and car engines echoed through the concrete structure. Scott leaned against the Corsica as Shane walked around to unlock it.
“Hey, what happened to your car?” called a voice from the facing level of the ramp leading up to the third floor.
“Aw. Some idiot cut me off,” came a rough answer.
“Man, the whole front end is wasted. Good thing you weren’t hurt.”
“What do you think I’m here for? Gotta go.” A door slammed and an engine started.
Scott felt weak, but he ran to the wall, trying to see up into the next section of cars. All he saw were tires and the grey concrete wall. He couldn’t see the car with the smashed front end, but he just knew it was a Mercedes — the Mercedes. He ran to the end of the lane, hoping to see it, see the plates and the man driving it, but the car went in the other direction. Scott turned back. He’d missed him. He’d almost caught the drunk driver….
The concrete floor rushed toward him. Pain shot through his arm as his hands hit first. Then he was staring at the ceiling, and Shane was holding his head and back.
“You were supposed to do this in ICU.”
A woman stopped. “Oh, do you need help? I can get a wheelchair.”
“I’m fine,” Scott mumbled. He swallowed hard to keep from vomiting as the parking ramp moved.
“You sure?” Shane asked.
Scott gripped Shane’s arm and used it to pull himself to his feet. He hoped Shane didn’t notice how nauseous he felt. He didn’t want him to take him back inside. “Let’s go.”
“Thanks for offering,” Shane told the woman. “But we’re almost to my car.”
He held onto Scott’s arm until he opened the passenger door and helped him inside. Then he went around to his own side. He sat without turning the key. “Now what was that all about? Do I need to take you back into the hospital?”
“He had a wrecked front end! It was the drunk driver.”
“Don’t be an idiot. There are thousands of wrecked cars around here. It probably wasn’t even a Mercedes.”
Scott leaned back against the seat. Shane was right. It was too much of a coincidence to be the same guy. But still….
At home Scott didn’t go to his room until he called the police station to ask if they’d found the man who hit him. They hadn’t. Scott didn’t sleep well again. Vertigo and pain mixed with images of Kyle’s bloody face. He almost left his room to escape the nightmares, but the vertigo and the sound of Ian’s voice in the living room kept him where he was. He didn’t want to meet Ian’s accusing eyes.
They took the respirator from Kyle the next day, and he slowly improved, but he still didn’t speak. A minor surgery was performed to insert the feeding tube through Kyle’s abdomen instead of through his nose.
Scott kept Kayleigh informed when she’d come into his office for more work, and she continued to pray with him. He had never worked with anyone he felt he could turn to for prayer at any time. He longed to draw their relationship closer. To escape his nightmares, first Scott tried to focus on prayer, but that reminded him of Kayleigh, so he went over and over all he knew of her and all their conversations to avoid thoughts of Kyle.
Wednesday evening Scott bought a three-year-old burgundy Jeep Grand Cherokee. He felt safer sitting higher off the ground, and now Shane wouldn’t have to chauffeur him around all the time.
Thursday Kyle was moved from ICU to a private room. Scott didn’t have time to see him until after work. Kyle’s family was at dinner, and Scott was relieved to be alone with him. Kyle leaned against the raised head of the bed, watching television. Scott sat in the chair beside him. “Hey, you’re looking better.”
Kyle looked toward him, and then glanced around the room as if he weren’t sure where Scott was. Scott had that sinking feeling he got often now. He never knew how Kyle would be when he saw him. Sometimes he slept, sometimes he appeared disoriented, confirming their fears. Rarely did he seem to understand them. The nurse had explained that it takes time after a head injury for the memory and concentration to come back, and that it was still very early in his recovery.
Scott decided to plunge ahead and began telling Kyle about his work day, the latest Dilbert cartoon, and then about Kayleigh. “She’s been praying with me for you every day, Kyle. I’m tempted to ask her out, even though she’s my secretary.”
Kyle tried to say something, but it made no sense. “Wa….”
Kyle shook his head and tried again, motioning with his arms.
Scott could see his frustration, but he didn’t know what he wanted. He couldn’t come up with a word to match Kyle’s sound to fit with anything he had just said.
Kyle knocked the tray beside his bed. He’d never had much of a temper before.
Scott wasn’t sure how to respond. “If I knew, I’d….”
“Waaa. Waaaa.” Kyle said again, pointing to his mouth.
Kyle nodded and leaned back.
“Sure.” Scott went to the bathroom, but couldn’t find a cup. “Just a minute, Kyle. I’ll find a cup somewhere.” He looked for a nurse in the hall, but they all seemed busy. In the waiting room he found a Styrofoam cup and came back, filling it with water in the rest room.
He held it for Kyle. Kyle sipped and then coughed.
Ian ran into the room. “Hey, what are you doing, you idiot!” He knocked the water cup from his hand, spilling it all over Kyle, Scott, and the floor. “Are you trying to finish the job you started? He could choke to death on water. They don’t know if he can swallow yet.”
“No one told me! I’m not a doctor. Kyle knows all that. If he says….”
Ian grabbed Scott and shoved him against the wall. “You made sure that was all knocked out. He’ll never be a doctor. Now just leave him alone before you kill him.” Ian released him and turned to Kyle as he coughed and choked on the water he’d swallowed. Ian grabbed the curved tray to hold under Kyle’s chin, as he vomited the small amount of water.
How come no one had told him? Why couldn’t he do anything to help? Would he keep bungling until he killed him like Ian said? Scott left the room and walked the halls of the hospital. When he felt weak he stopped in the cafeteria to eat, but could only choke down a few bites of Salisbury steak. Afterward he checked Kyle’s room again, but the Sloans were all there. Shane was also. He and Ian were joking about something. Scott didn’t go in. He found an empty waiting room on the sixth floor. Then he leaned back on the couch, stretched out his legs to the footrest and closed his eyes.
It was after ten when noises in the hall roused him. Scott stretched and winced at the aches throughout his back. Then he went down to see Kyle. The room sounded quiet and when he approached it. A dim light came from within.
Scott entered and stopped. Dr. Thorton stood beside the bed. He studied Kyle’s chart. A doctor. That was who he needed to see.
Dr. Thorton raised his head, noticed Scott approaching and backed against the wall.
“May I talk to you, Doctor, in the waiting room down the hall?” No use letting Kyle hear his frustration if his prognosis was bad.
The doctor’s eyes widened, but then he took a deep breath and nodded.
He must not be used to crazed friends of patients ordering him down the hall. It didn’t matter. Scott needed answers. He led Dr. Thorton down the hall and switched on the light of the waiting room. Scott sat in a chair and motioned the doctor into the other, aware as he did it that he was bordering on rudeness.
But Dr. Thorton said nothing, sitting forward in the chair with his back straight, his eyes closed, and his head slightly bowed.
Scott wondered if he was tired but decided he’d never have another chance to ask these questions. He leaned forward. “I’ve got to know how to help. How long is it going to take for him to get back to normal? What are the rules? I almost killed him again with water. How do I know these things? Is there something I can read, a class I can take?” Scott ran his hands through his hair. “Doc, you gotta help me. It’s my fault he’s in there.”
Dr. Thorton continued to stare at him. Then he said evenly, “It’s not your fault.”
Dr. Thorton stood and paced. “Were you high on morphine? No! It wasn’t you. And there’s nothing that can be done! Don’t ruin your life also.” He leaned against the far wall, facing the dark window.
Scott went to him. “He’s my best friend. I’m helping him through this.”
Dr. Thorton turned to him. “You’re a business manager. How many classes have you had in first aid? None, I bet. Hire someone to help him who has a little experience.” He turned back toward the window. “At least you won’t be fighting each other when he refuses to work with you toward his recovery.”
“He would. You don’t know anything about medicine and the nature of sickness, do you? Sometimes the pain is so great you do things you know you shouldn’t just to get a little relief. He’s not going to want to do everything that’s best for him.”
“Like the water,” Scott said, suddenly comprehending. “It may not be that he didn’t know he wasn’t supposed to have it. Maybe he was just so thirsty that he didn’t care. He thought a little wouldn’t hurt.”
“Precisely.” Dr. Thorton closed his eyes.
Scott nodded. “So what do I do? His parents want to take him to Marquette. His dad’s an emergency room nurse, but Kyle has his internship here. His mentor is here. Tell me the truth. Am I being pig-headed to think he’ll be able to get back to where he was?”
Dr. Thorton kept staring out the window. “It’s too damn early to tell. Keep him here, though. The best doctors are here. Don’t let him give up.”
“There you are!” Shane said, coming into the room. “Where’ve you been? I was afraid you’d collapsed again and finally cracked your skull on the floor.” Shane stood before them and now looked Dr. Thorton over.
“You were hurt also?” Dr. Thorton asked. “Other than the back strain?”
Who’d been talking to this guy about him? He’d passed it off when Dr. Thorton mentioned his career, but now again he’d known more than a stranger should.
“Yeah, he’s been hurt,” Shane said. “He can hardly move in the morning, and he’s landed on the floor a few times.”
“Not since Monday!” No wonder everyone knew everything about him. “As long as I don’t move too quickly, I’m fine. It’s nothing. It’s Kyle we need to worry about. Dr. Thorton says we should keep him here, not in Marquette.”
“Yeah, well, Dr. Franklin says it’s too early to tell, so let’s hold off on the long term plans. They’re moving him upstairs tomorrow and starting him on occupational therapy. That will tell them more.”
Dr. Thorton was silent. Then he brushed past Shane and left the room.
Shane watched him. “Who is he, anyway?”
“He’s one of Kyle’s doctors.”
“I never saw him. Dr. Franklin is in charge of him.”
“Maybe he’s an off hours substitute. I’ve seen him twice with Kyle.”
Shane shrugged. “Maybe. Are you coming home tonight? You aren’t hiding out because Ian’s throwing a fit, are you?”
Scott grabbed Shane’s arms. “Is he right? Is it my fault? You think it, too, don’t you?”
“You do think it. You don’t even trust me. You think I’d steal your dumb girlfriends. You think….”
Shane broke Scott’s grip on him and grabbed his shoulders. “Stop it! Just knock it off. You’re not even thinking clearly anymore.”
Scott was trembling again. He tried to ignore it, turning away from Shane so he wouldn’t see.
Shane placed a hand on his back. “Let me take you home to rest, Scott. Don’t drive tonight.”
“Why? Cause I might kill someone else?”
“Yeah. But you didn’t kill or hurt anyone before. It wasn’t your fault. It was that drunk driver. You know that.”
Scott couldn’t face him.
“Scott, we’ve got to stay together on this. We don’t have a brother, like Kyle does. We’re it. Show me families stick together through these kind of things. Don’t turn on me.”
Scott faced him, his weariness causing his eyes to water. “You really don’t blame me?”
“I don’t blame you for anything.” Shane paused. “Not even for being so handsome the women fall all over you. You could have gotten yourself a nice scar, you know. Then maybe I’d have a chance. But it’s not your fault. You and Kyle are the best friends a guy could have.” Shane turned toward the door. “Come on. Let’s go. We’re getting too mushy, Honey Drops. We both need our sleep so we can help Kyle, right?”
Scott followed Shane through the building and let him drive him home.
Go to Chapter 3
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.