They started for Michigan after church and lunch, and arrived home by nine. Eli had tried to sleep in the back seat, but Scott had the feeling it would be a long night for him at the store.
After Eli left for work and Kyle went to bed, Scott stopped Shane near the bathroom. “Just how did you know about Kayleigh’s parents?”
“I asked around.”
“Well the girl was jerking you around. I wanted to make sure she wasn’t stringing anyone else along.”
“And she hasn’t dated since high school as near as I can determine.”
“I should be mad at you.”
“Why? Because I don’t like seeing you getting your heart ripped out?”
Scott smiled. “I’ll forgive you this time.”
Shane started into the bathroom.
“By the way, Dad favors you for Anna’s suitor.”
Shane whirled around and bumped into the door frame. “What? You set him straight, didn’t you?”
“You don’t like her?”
“Scott! She’s like a little sister. I could never… I’d feel so….” He shuddered.
Scott laughed. “I love you, Shane.”
Shane shuddered again. “Your family. So emotional. Must be all those women.” He went into the bathroom and closed the door.
Scott laughed again and went to bed.
The next morning when Scott arrived at work, Kayleigh looked up nervously from her desk. “Good morning, Kayleigh. How was your weekend?”
“Pretty good. It would have been better with you there. Will you take lunch with me?”
“I… don’t you eat with Dr. Thorton?”
“We can go earlier, and I’ll still meet with him.”
“A boss’s prerogative.” He grinned. “How about it?”
“Did… did you… the letter?”
She shook her head. “Never mind. Two lunches won’t hurt you. You need to gain a little weight back.”
“Eleven thirty,” Scott confirmed as Elaine stepped in. He went back to his office. He briefly wondered about the letter, but decided he’d probably find out sooner or later.
He ate a light lunch with Kayleigh. Then he walked her back to her desk. Kayleigh glanced at Elaine’s empty desk and then sat at her own, facing the computer. Scott wondered where Elaine was. She wasn’t supposed to take her lunch until Kayleigh returned. Then he saw her emerge from his office down the hall. She paused when she saw him.
“Did you need anything?” Scott asked.
“Oh, no. Not really. I just… wanted to check. Darrin wanted the schedule.”
“Don’t you have it on your computer?”
“Lost it. Funny thing about computers.”
“Yeah, funny thing, Elaine.” He went to the employee bulletin board, removed a couple Dilbert cartoons, and unpinned the schedule. He handed it to her with the cartoons.
Scott went back to his office. He hated being lied to, and he hated feeling suspicious. Why would Elaine lie to him? He glanced over his desk. Nothing had been moved, but a small clipping had been added. Another Dilbert cartoon. He took it from his desk and locked his door as he left.
In the front he dropped the cartoon on Elaine’s desk. “Just post them to the bulletin board directly.”
“But I didn’t… I don’t read….”
Scott left for his lunch with Dr. Thorton.
His annoyance evaporated when Bert greeted him with a real smile — one of the few he’d seen that didn’t hold nervousness, fear, or a sad pain. Scott returned it. “Hey, things are looking up for you?”
“We had a good weekend. My daughter, Janelle, and her husband came over from Chicago. She’s pregnant.”
“Your first grandchild? Congratulations. That’s great.”
“It’s more than great. You see I never met her husband. It was a big thing. I couldn’t go to the wedding last year. I tried to explain, but since Carol didn’t take my back seriously no one else did. But since the surgery — well, now she knows.”
Scott shook his head. “How could they not believe you? You’re a doctor and all. Besides even if you weren’t, pain is pain.”
Bert smiled the sad smile he usually used. “How was your vacation? How did Kyle do?” He’d done it again — switched the subject because it was too personal.
“Kyle did well.” Scott told him about his visit, Kyle’s seizure, and then he decided to tell him about his father, and how he had thought he’d always disappointed him. “Tell your family how you feel about them, Bert. That’s what I learned. Don’t hide it.”
“You knew that before. You don’t hide many feelings.”
Scott smiled and shrugged. “Too many people hide the positive feelings and just reveal the negative. I try to do the opposite. Like I’m glad we’re friends. That someone as established as yourself would choose me — a young, novice — as a friend, it means a lot.”
Bert closed his eyes and shook his head. “You did the choosing, and… and I’m grateful.” He opened his eyes. “I wish….” He took a deep breath, and then studied his empty plate. “Has Kayleigh reconsidered yet?” He looked up again. “She’s making a big mistake if she doesn’t. Carol’s anxious for us to go out again. Almost like we’re going out with Janelle and Gary, but we get along better. Hamlet opens a week from Friday. Carol bought four tickets.”
The confessions amid the social hiding made Scott’s heart ache. “I think she’s softening. I’ll ask her.”
“Good.” Bert stood and took his tray to the kitchen window. Scott followed.
Back at his office Scott had a chance to talk to Kayleigh when she brought some papers back for him to sign. “Hey, Kayleigh, do you like Shakespeare?”
Kayleigh gave a short laugh. “What I was forced to read in school was okay. Not something I’d try to relax with.”
“Have you ever seen Hamlet? Carol has four tickets.”
“Scott, please.” She glanced at the door. “You probably won’t even be talking to me tomorrow.”
“Sure I will.”
She looked back at him. “Please, Scott. Wait. Don’t commit to anything you’ll regret. You’ll understand when you read the letter.”
Scott went to her, blocking the door. “What letter, Kayleigh? What will I understand?”
“Please, Scott, wait. I wish it could be different, really. I wish….” She slipped under his arm and out the door.
He followed her out to her desk, but Elaine watched him. “What’s wrong?”
Kayleigh left the office with her purse.
Scott ignored Elaine, glancing at his watch. It was almost five. He went back to his office to see if Kayleigh would return, but by quarter after, he knew she’d gone home. Elaine had left, too. He locked up and went home.
When Scott walked in the door at home they all looked up from the dining room table. “What’s for dinner, Scott,” Shane teased.
“Did I get any mail?” Scott went to the computer where the mail was set. He grabbed the long padded envelope with Kayleigh’s return address. He ripped it open, and the ring fell out.
“Aww, Scott, how many times are you….”
“Shut up! It’s not your business!” He put the ring in his pocket and took the letter to the couch. He was only vaguely aware that the room was unnaturally silent.
“Dear Scott; I spoke with my pastor, and she says I must explain things to you and give you the option. You are such a special man, I’m sure God has a great wife for you somewhere. I wish I could be her, but I’m sure you won’t want me when I explain.
“It started when I was twelve. My father is abusive. At that time mom went in the hospital, and we were farmed out for a while. I met a guy — details aren’t important, I guess — but he seemed so sympathetic, and well, his sympathy ended after he got what he wanted.
“I was pretty messed up, Scott, and there were a lot of others. At sixteen I went to church with a friend. We both made commitments along with the guys we were seeing. But a couple months later that guy broke up with me. I kept going to the church though, because I didn’t know where else to go. I knew where I’d been wasn’t right, but I felt I didn’t belong here. I just clung to that story of Jesus forgiving the woman at the well.”
“About that time I discovered I had herpes. There’s no cure, Scott. Just please don’t yell and make a scene about it like… well I dated one other guy that I met at church. When I told him, he made an awful scene.
“You see, Scott, I can’t marry anyone. Not anyone decent like you. Maybe if you’d made mistakes and had it, too, but I know it’s too much to expect someone like you to give up. Love, Kayleigh.”
“Give up? Give up?” Scott stood and shook the letter. “The idiot.” Scott went to the door.
“Wait!” Shane caught him. “You can’t leave.”
Scott became aware of Shane and also of Eli and Kyle sitting at the table. “Oh, dinner.” He pulled out his wallet and handed Shane a twenty. “Get a pizza,” he mumbled, opening the door and slipping out.
Shane trapped him against the wall in the hall. “Hold on,” Shane said in a low voice. “I bet you can’t even see straight. Chill out. We’re here for you. If you want to be alone, we’ll leave for a while.”
Scott studied Shane, his mind temporarily leaving Kayleigh’s confession. He smiled. “Shane, you’re such a great brother. But I’ve got to talk to her.”
“Let me drive you.”
“Can’t. It’s too personal for her, but I guarantee she’ll be keeping my ring this time.”
Scott stopped him. “Don’t feel sorry for me. Not now. I finally know what’s holding her back.” He grabbed Shane into a hug. “Be praying for us.”
Shane pulled away. “Not the mush stuff again. Just be careful….” Shane shook his head. “Didn’t mean that. You’re always careful. Meant I just didn’t want… forget it.”
Scott smiled. “I know what you mean. No more hospital visits for a while if I can help it.”
“Yeah.” Shane looked down at the twenty still in his hands. Then he gave it back to Scott. “You can cook tomorrow.”
“No, please, buy the pizza,” Scott teased.
Shane grinned and slipped back into the apartment without taking Scott’s money.
Scott went out to his Cherokee. Halfway to Kayleigh’s house, he decided he better do some reading before he confronted her. She may spring some little known fact about the disease on him.
It was almost eight when Scott left the Taubman Medical Library with a stack of photocopies and printouts. The disease hadn’t held any surprises. Painful sores once in a while. Nothing that would shorten or drastically alter his life, just inconvenience him every so often. Women, it said, had an increased risk of cervical cancer though.
He stopped in front of the broken down apartment building. Lord, please let me heal this scar on her heart. I know You’ve forgiven her. Let me prove it to her.
Scott left the papers on the passenger seat and climbed up the outside steps to her back apartment. Shouting came from one of the downstairs apartments. He heard a television blaring as he reached the back landing. He stood before Kayleigh’s door.
“Why didn’t you buy any milk? You were right there,” a male voice demanded from inside the apartment.
“I wasn’t gonna carry it five blocks. I’ll shop tomorrow when Kayleigh can pick me up.”
“She can go now. Kayleigh!”
Scott knocked on the door as loudly as he could. He was about to knock again when the door swung open.
He looked into a thin face with scraggly dark hair hanging around it. “Yeah? We don’t want your church shit here.” He slammed the door.
Scott knocked again.
The door opened. “Look, don’t you people have someone else’s door to knock on, or do I need to shove you down those stairs.”
“I’m looking for Kayleigh Edwards. If this is the wrong apartment, I’m sorry.”
The man… boy, because now Scott realized this must be Kayleigh’s punk younger brother… looked Scott over. “What you want her for?”
“You’re Terry?” Scott held out his hand. “I’m Scott Alexander, Kayleigh’s fiancé.”
“Kayleigh’s not engaged. Wait. You gave her the cubic Z., didn’t you?” He stepped back so Scott could enter the small room. Kayleigh’s mother sat on the couch with her feet up and her eyes closed. The room had dingy brown, worn carpeting, yellowed walls, and frayed furniture.
Scott ignored the decor when he did not see Kayleigh. “Is Kayleigh here?”
“She’s whining about a headache. Kayleigh!” he shouted. “Your loverboy is here.” He shook his head. “What’s the suit for?”
Kayleigh’s mother stood and came over. “You… she said you were her boss.”
Kayleigh emerged in the doorway of a dim hall. Her face looked white and streaked with wetness. “Scott?”
He smiled and took both her hands. He kissed her cheek. “Missed you.”
Kayleigh pulled away, shaking her head. “Scott, wait, please.”
He retrieved the ring from his pocket and replaced it on her left hand.
Kayleigh stared at it. “You… you don’t understand.”
“I thought you explained it all.”
“But….” She looked past him.
“How come you never said you were engaged?” Terry asked. “You bought her the dress, too. You’re gonna leave us for this bozo?”
Scott glanced back at Terry. “Right from the pages of ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People.’ Want to come outside and talk about our engagement, Kayleigh?”
“Want me to throw him out, Kayleigh? A cubic z. is an insult.”
Kayleigh looked at the ring. “It’s not a cubic z.,” she said softly. She looked up at Scott. “But you don’t understand. You’d get… you’d….” She grabbed his arm, and they went outside, down the steps and to the Cherokee, amid Terry’s protests.
They stood leaning against it for a few minutes. “There’s no cure, Scott.”
“You’d get it.”
“You don’t want a c-section? You having surgery bothers me, too, so I’m willing to adopt or spoil our nieces and nephews as we both feel comfortable. My father never has to know why we make the decisions we do.”
She stared at him. “You… you’d do that for me?” She shook her head. “You say that now….”
“Kayleigh, what more can I do to prove it to you. I love you.” He leaned down and kissed her lips. When she didn’t protest, he wrapped his arms around her. He kept waiting for her to push him away, but she didn’t, and finally he knew he had to pull away.
He looked into her eyes. “I love you. There’s nothing about that disease I probably didn’t read in that stack of papers.” He pointed into the SUV.
“Sssh. No more buts. Just like I had to forgive myself for that accident, you’ve got to forgive yourself for the past. Jesus forgave you for your part, now you have to.”
Kayleigh leaned against him, and she cried. Scott held her, soothing her, occasionally kissing the top of her head.
Scott opened the passenger door when her sobs subsided. “Want to go for a late dinner? My two lunches are wearing off.”
Kayleigh smiled and nodded.
Scott drove to a Mexican restaurant. After they gave their order and were eating nacho chips, Scott asked, “Are we officially engaged now? No more hiding and running?”
Kayleigh gave a timid smile. “Yeah.”
“And do you want a long or short engagement?”
Kayleigh frowned then. “Short, but my family… I can’t yet. Besides you have Kyle. You wouldn’t leave him.”
“No. You’d move in. My bedroom’s plenty big for both of us.”
“For how long?”
“Until he’s able to live on his own.”
Scott hesitated. “Maybe, but you know I promised to help Kyle as long as it takes him. Maybe a duplex would work later on after I save up some money.”
“I have to help my mom.”
“So you have no problem with that?”
“I won’t let your brother walk on us. I’ve had enough pounding for a while, but I understand your concerns.”
Kayleigh was quiet, and he knew she was searching for more excuses. The waiter brought their food. Scott said grace, and they began to eat.
“If we announce our engagement, I’ll probably have to switch jobs. I know I won’t get near as great a boss.”
Scott smiled. “And I’ll have to train a less than perfect replacement.”
Kayleigh ate her food. As they left the restaurant, she said, “Christmas. I want to be married the Saturday before Christmas. Then we’ll have the two weeks between terms to go away somewhere.” She looked up at him. “We can have a honeymoon, can’t we?”
“Yes. Where do you want to go? Niagara Falls?”
“In winter?” She laughed. “Let’s take a cruise.”
Scott agreed. “And let’s go tell the guys we’ve set a date.” He kissed her before he let her get into the truck. “I love you, Kayleigh Marie.”
“I love you, too, Scott.”
It was the first time she’d told him that, and it made him desire her even more. He kissed her again, forcing himself to pull away after a minute. Then he went around and got into the driver’s seat.
“Scott?” she asked as he pulled away from the curb.
“I think I’d like to have your children someday. Maybe a Cesarean won’t be so bad.”
Scott pulled to the curb and put the SUV in park. Then he reached over and kissed her again. She snuggled against him, all of her previous reluctance gone. Scott decided he could get used to the changes in their relationship quite easily.
End of Scott’s Struggle
Go to Contemporary Novels for more.
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.