Scott worked late Friday, trying to catch up on details. He opened his desk drawer and downed a couple more ibuprofen without water to try to dull the aching in his head. Then he grabbed the stack of forms and took them to Kayleigh’s desk. Surprisingly she was still at her computer. “Staying late?”
“Just finishing up.” She glanced at him and then groaned. “Then again, maybe not.” She faced him, and then said in a more upbeat voice, “What do you have for me?”
“Nothing that won’t wait until Monday.”
“I have nothing better to do. Really. My homework is caught up.” She raised her right hand as if vowing an oath.
Scott set the papers down. “Friday night and nothing better to do. You’re as bad as I am. I told Shane I’d work late also. He worries, you know. Thinks I’m going to fall flat on the floor and knock my brains out. Doesn’t want to take care of two of us.” Scott shrugged and straightened. “Hungry? We could grab something to eat.”
“That sounds good.” Kayleigh turned back to the computer and saved her work. She grabbed her purse and stood. “Where did you have in mind?”
Scott hadn’t planned anything but the cafeteria. But he could see this was an opportunity to informally get to know her. She followed him from the office, and he locked the door. “Any preferences?”
“Nothing too fancy.”
Scott walked toward the parking garage. His thoughts raced through restaurants and then settled on one thought he couldn’t get past. She was going to ride with him. He hadn’t had a passenger since last Friday night, but he couldn’t ask to use her car without sounding wimpish. And the traffic would be horrendous on a Friday night. “Most restaurants will be packed.”
“We could always get something drive thru and take it to the park.” She grinned. “Not that we’re dressed to sit in the grass. Got a blanket in your car?”
“I don’t have anything in it. I just bought it, and I haven’t been to the police impound to get my things from the other.” They stepped out into the parking ramp. Scott caught her arm and faced her. “If you don’t feel safe riding with me, I’ll understand.”
She gazed up into his eyes. Then she reached for his hand, briefly squeezed it and let go, turning to scan the garage. “Where did you park?”
There was no fear. Just compassion. He led her to his Cherokee.
“Oh, this is nice, Scott.” She looked over at him, as he fastened his seat belt. “You don’t care if I call you Scott, do you?”
Scott grinned. “Much better than Mr. Alexander after all the prayers we’ve shared. We have a rather strange relationship. I hope I’m not breaking any rules.” He started the engine, and pulled from his spot.
“I think prayer between two consenting adults is considered okay, but the ACLU may sue us for doing it on public property.”
Scott laughed for the first time since the accident. He paid his parking fee and knew he’d have to get his parking permit from the wrecked car soon. “True. We’ll have to be careful. Would I be stepping over the line if I wanted to get to know you better?” He turned onto the street, still unsure where to take her.
Kayleigh shrugged. “People from the same office are always getting together for lunch or dinner break and to talk about life.” She hesitated and looked at him. “Aren’t they?”
“Yeah,” he agreed. He decided to leave it at that. It was safe that way. He made his way over the back roads, going north. “So, did you grow up around here?”
“My family lives near Cincinnati. I have three sisters, Sandy, Shar, and Anna. Mom likes S names.”
“So who named Anna?”
“It’s really Susanna. How about you?”
“Do I like S names?”
Scott smiled. “Do you?”
“Some of them. I never thought about names much. Where are we going?”
“There’s a small family restaurant out here. Hopefully they’ll have a spot left for us.”
The parking lot of Hawthorne’s Coney Island Family Restaurant looked full, but they were seated within a few moments. The waitress left them with menus and disappeared. They talked about food until the waitress returned for their order. Then Scott decided to ask again. “You never did tell me about your family.”
“Not much to tell. I live with my Mom still. I have two brothers. One moved to California before he graduated from high school, and my younger brother… well, let’s just say, he’s currently staying elsewhere.”
Kayleigh shrugged, and rearranged the condiment containers at the side of the table. “It’s just me and Mom at home now.”
“Did your father die?”
Kayleigh shrugged again. “I don’t think so. He isn’t with us.” She looked up at him. “Your Dad and Mom are still together? Most aren’t.”
“I figured as much. It’s the boys who suffer the most.”
“I don’t know if that’s true,” he said, thinking she seemed to be hurting whether she acknowledged it or not.
“Sure. Boys can’t get past a bad father.”
Scott did disagree there. “I have a good friend whose father and mother divorced, and he’s doing well. I trust him with everything.”
“A good stepfather? His father visits?”
“No. Neither. His mother brought up him and his sister pretty much alone.”
“Don’t you think my mom tried? She did everything she could. It wasn’t enough.” Her hands rested on the table, and she glared at him.
“Hey, Kayleigh. I’m sorry about your brothers. I’m sure it’s not your mother’s fault. She raised you, didn’t she? Besides, I believe when a kid gets to fifteen or eighteen he makes his own choices, and he has no one to blame but himself for things. Not mom and dad, not society, not sunspots. Sure life handed them a bum-deal when your dad left, but you have to get on with life.”
She stared at him, and he could see her begin to relax. She took a deep breath. “Sorry. I just know how this hurts my mom.”
Scott placed his hand over hers. “We’ll pray for your brothers today also. God can still reach them.”
Kayleigh smiled then. “Thanks. I keep trying to believe that, but some days it gets hard. Maybe… pray for my mom, too. She still doesn’t know Christ.”
“Sure.” The waitress brought their food. After she left Scott reached for Kayleigh’s hands and prayed for her family. Kayleigh prayed for Kyle and his family, Scott and Shane.
They began eating. Kayleigh looked up. “Last week in ER I wasn’t sure if you and Shane were just emergency room Christians or real. But you’re real, aren’t you. You grew up in the church and never made any mistakes.”
Scott shook his head. “Everyone makes mistakes all the time. I’ve almost killed Kyle. I grew up in the church, but didn’t take it too seriously in high school. Knew all the right words and what I was supposed to believe and all, but it wasn’t until I met Kyle that he challenged us.”
“How did you three meet?” she asked and seemed sincerely interested.
“I met Shane when we shared a place with six other guys. I met Kyle in Philosophy 101. We were the token Christians so we teamed up. Shane and I had started hanging out together, and he joined our debates as we wrote our papers. Kyle knew his stuff, and he lived it. He challenged us. He helped us understand that it’s more than just agreeing that there is a God and Jesus is His son. It’s living like it’s true.”
“But didn’t your parents teach you that?”
Scott shrugged. “Mom maybe. I tried talking to my Dad a few years back when everything started making sense, but… I don’t know. He didn’t seem really interested. He’d rather talk about what I was learning in school and how it worked in the world. But he goes to church. I’m sure he must believe or he wouldn’t go.”
Scott didn’t say his most secret fear, that maybe church was like another Kiwanis Club to him. He’d had that heart to heart talk with Kyle and Shane, and they’d just agreed to pray for each other’s parents. Shane admitted he didn’t think his mother believed. His father, he didn’t know and didn’t care about. Kyle was the only one who was positive his parents were Christians, although he wasn’t sure if his little brother, Ian, fully understood the gospel.
“You look tired,” Kayleigh said. “How are you feeling? You never speak about it, but I know you must still be sore.”
“Yeah, I guess I am, but it’s getting better.”
“Do your parents know you’re still sore?”
Scott frowned. “Why? I… I haven’t had time to call them since the accident. They….” They’d met Kyle. At spring and Thanksgiving breaks and several times during the summer since their sophomore year. He had always invited both Kyle and Shane down to visit his family when he went home. “I should have called them. I guess I’ve been too busy trying to keep everything together between sleep.”
Kayleigh shook her head. “It must be a guy thing then. My brother in California never contacts us but maybe twice a year. He could be dead for all we know.”
“You’re right. I should have called. I just….” He shook his head. His reason was selfish. He didn’t want his father to know how badly he’d messed up. “Mom would want to know.”
“Not your father?”
“Everyone would want to know. They all like Kyle.” Especially his two younger sisters. Although Shar was engaged now, she would still be concerned.
They were finished, and Scott left the tip. He took the bill before Kayleigh could reach it. “Let me get it. I needed someone objective to talk to.”
“I’ll give in only if I treat next time.”
“An independent woman.”
“We aren’t dating, are we?”
“Not unless I want to get fired for a code of ethics violation.” He grinned. “And I don’t want your boyfriend to beat me up.”
“Or your girlfriend to scratch out my eyes,” Kayleigh teased back, following him to the counter.
Scott paid, and they went out to his SUV. “Well, no need to worry about my girlfriends. I haven’t found anyone I wanted to make a commitment to yet — ‘cept you,” he teased.
He opened her door and waited for her to enter before he closed it and went to the other side.
“I’ve sworn off men and dating. I’ve decided to become an old maid.”
Scott drove back toward the hospital. “Sounds like you’ve been burned a few times. I saw it happen to my older sister.”
“Oh? You’re a psychologist now.”
Scott laughed. “Not quite, but I will tell you she got over the jerk and is happily married with her first child on the way.”
“How do you know she’s happy?” Kayleigh said, her voice wavering between lightness and another heavier emotion. He could tell he was hitting a nerve, and she didn’t want him to know it.
“She tells her little brother everything.”
“But he doesn’t return the favor. Didn’t even let her know you were almost killed.”
“I haven’t answered any of my E-mail in over a week, but I will write tonight and tell her everything — even about the pretty girl who prays with me every day.”
Kayleigh laughed. “I’m nothing to write home about.”
“On the contrary, I’ve never had a female friend I could pray with like this. Just my sisters sometimes. I really do appreciate it.”
Kayleigh blushed. “I’ve never had a guy I prayed with either. It just… seemed like the right thing to do at the time.”
“And it was. Thank you.” They approached the hospital. “Where are you parked? I don’t think I’ll go back in. Kyle’s family is with him, and I have phone calls to make at home. I’ll see him tomorrow morning.”
“If you’re sure the work can wait…?”
“I’m sure. Go home and relax.”
Scott dropped her off near an old light blue Pontiac Sunbird and waited until she was safely in her car. He followed her out of the ramp. Then he turned toward home.
When he arrived home, he was the only one in the apartment, and it felt good to have a little privacy. Their apartment was large compared to the one the three of them had shared before he and Shane had gotten full time jobs, but with Kyle’s parents and Ian staying with them, he was starting to feel cramped. It had never worked out when they’d tried to get an extra roommate to share Kyle’s room to help him pay his third as he continued working through med school, so they had given up, Shane and Scott agreeing to make up the difference. Losing Kyle’s potential income to the budget didn’t hurt; losing Kyle’s insight and friendship did.
Scott took his medicine and then stretched out on the couch waiting for it to take affect and ease the aching in his muscles. He was too sore to sit at the computer and answer his mail yet, or he probably would have written his oldest sister, Sandy, right after the accident. He reached for the phone and called home.
His youngest sister, Anna, answered. “Hey Anna, how’s it going?”
“Rotten. I’m stuck home finishing this dumb paper and everyone else is out having fun. Tell me again why I’m taking classes spring term.”
“I don’t know, Anna, why are you?” he teased, knowing it had something to do with taking the same class as her friend. “Isn’t Jenny studying with you?”
“That traitor dropped out, and her family is in the Caribbean right now! And Dad says we don’t need to take a cruise. Not with Shar’s wedding and all. It’s so unfair.”
Scott usually laughed at his little sister’s dramatics but today they struck him. “Life isn’t supposed to be fair. If it were Kyle wouldn’t be half dead; I would.”
Anna didn’t speak for a moment. Then she said, “That’s not funny, Scott. What’s bothering you?”
“How clear do I have to be, Anna? We were in an accident. I’m at home, and Kyle can’t even talk yet, and who knows if he will ever make sense again. I ruined one of my best friend’s lives. Make sure Dad knows. I’ve got to….”
“Don’t hang up, Scott! You can’t just drop that and hang up.” Her voice raised and shook. “When did this happen? Kyle’s got to be okay.”
“Last Friday. He’s out of ICU….”
“Last Friday! Scott, you pig, why didn’t you call then?”
“Because I could barely think, and I still can’t move at the end of the day. Look, I’m sorry and tired. Just let everyone know I’m going to be fine; Kyle’s not. That’s all I know.” Scott hung up the phone and then stumbled to his room. The phone rang but he ignored it, falling onto his bed. The medicine kicked in, and he slept intermittently.
He heard the phone ring again, and then he heard Shane’s voice. “Yes, Mr. Alexander. He’s asleep. I just checked on him.” “Yeah. He was pretty banged up. He’s still hurting.” “I don’t know why he didn’t call. We’ve been so concerned about Kyle, half the time he ignores his own condition until he collapses.” “No. He’ll be okay. I’ll make sure he gets a recheck.” “Kyle has some brain damage, but they say it’s too early to know how far he’ll recover. It takes months, they tell us.” “No, Sir. A drunk driver hit them. Scott couldn’t have done anything differently. He hit Kyle’s side of the car, that’s why he got it worse.” “No, they didn’t catch him. Hit and run. But his auto insurance is picking up the hospital bills.” “Yes, Scott’s been looking into everything he can.” “There’s no one to sue if they can’t find the guy. A lawyer wouldn’t….” “If we have trouble with the insurance company, I’ll keep that….” “I’ll ask around and check the policy.”
Shane was sticking up for him. He’d known his father would think it was his fault. He didn’t think he was doing enough either. Just when he’d almost been proud of him for getting his MBA and this latest job promotion, he was back to being not quite good enough. No. He had gone beyond that. It wasn’t just “not quite good”, it was plain rotten now. He’d really messed up.
He heard a noise near his bed. Shane was looking down at him. “Thanks, Shane. I owe you.”
“Everything. I shouldn’t have taken that extra pain pill today. I had too much ibuprofen earlier.”
“Then you just sleep it off,” he said quietly. “You can see Kyle in the morning. Your parents plan to be here around one.”
“Great. We don’t have room.”
“I told them Kyle’s parents were here. They plan to get a hotel and go back Sunday afternoon. I should have called them last weekend, but I just didn’t think.”
“Not your problem.”
“You’re my friend, and I knew you were half out of it.”
“Shane, can you do me one favor?”
“Anything,” Shane agreed immediately.
“Go to the impound yard and get the stuff from my car — my parking permit, plates, and all.”
Shane hesitated but then agreed. “I’ll call down tomorrow. I’ll probably need a note from you or something, but you can write it up in the morning if they need it. Anything else?”
Scott floated and Shane wavered. Scott closed his eyes. “This medicine….”
“You sleep. We’ll go over things again in the morning.”
Scott slept late the next morning. He got up to write Shane the note, but then went back to bed, not really sleeping. He couldn’t stop thinking about how their lives were changing, what he could have done during the accident, what he could do now for Kyle. He finally forced himself from bed at noon and prepared himself for his parent’s visit.
His parents and two younger sisters arrived after one. Shar was the shortest of his sisters, and she wore her dishwater blonde hair shoulder length. Anna, the youngest, was almost twenty-one. The white shorts, pink blouse and heels accented her perfect figure. Scott’s mother, Barb Alexander, was the same height as Shar. She hugged him and then tilted her head back to look up the additional foot to his eyes. “I’m so glad you’re safe.”
Scott worked hard to greet her cheerfully, trying not to let her see the turmoil inside. She always wanted to see him happy, and he didn’t want to hear any platitudes right now. He squeezed into the back seat of the Buick Park Avenue with his sisters to go up to the hospital.
Ian was alone with Kyle when they arrived. He glared at Scott as he came into the room, but his look changed when Anna, Shar, and then his parents followed him. Scott motioned to Ian. “This is Kyle’s brother, Ian.” Then he ignored him, going to stand beside Kyle.
Kyle’s eyes followed him, and he raised his hand to grasp Scott’s.
Scott took his hand. “Hey, Kyle. You’re looking a bit better. Bet you can’t wait to come home.”
Kyle looked toward Scott’s parents.
“Yeah. They all came up to see you.”
At a noise, Scott turned to see Anna rush from the room. Shar’s eyes were moist. Scott looked back at Kyle. He did look better, but his head was still bandaged with tufts of hair only on the left side. His face was gaunt and his movements jerky.
Scott’s mother came to Kyle, leaned over and hugged him. “We’re so sorry, Kyle. If we can help in any way….” She looked at her husband and he nodded. “Anything, Kyle. You let us know.”
“That’ll work,” Ian mumbled. “Can’t speak a coherent word.”
“Then, of course, you’ll let us know,” Shar said quickly.
“He’s moving back home with us. It’ll be too far for any of you.”
“He’s staying here to do his internship,” Scott said, facing Ian fully now. “He’s not giving up. He can do it.”
“I’m not leaving him here for you to finish off. Get out….”
“Ian!” chastised Jerry Sloan as he came through the door. “What did we talk about?”
Ian brushed past his father and left the room. Scott quickly introduced his parents to Kyle’s, trying to ease over the awkwardness. Scott’s father gave his apologies. It sounded as if he was apologizing for Scott’s error and not just giving condolences. Then he offered his help.
“Thanks. We’re hoping the insurance takes care of everything, but it’s too early to know anything,” Jerry said, with a sigh. “That’s the hardest part, not knowing. We don’t even know how long it’ll be before he’s released. They can’t tell us yet. I’m afraid I’ll have to go home and work, and leave Fran and Ian here.”
Please, take Ian home, Scott thought, but he couldn’t voice it. “I’ll go check on Anna.”
He left the room and walked down the hall. He glanced through the glass of the waiting room. She sat on the couch, and Ian sat beside her. Scott hesitated, not willing to face him again.
“It’s so awful,” he heard Anna say. “I know why you’re angry, Ian, but you have to forgive Scott.”
“If it were Scott lying in there….”
“I love Kyle! Don’t think it makes a difference. But Shane said it was a drunk driver. It wasn’t Scott.”
“Yeah, and Shane needs his rent money so he’s not going to tell him the truth.”
“Ian, don’t. Just tell me the truth. Will Kyle ever be like he was?”
“You saw him. What do you think?”
Anna began crying.
“Geesh, girl. You don’t know him that well, do you?” Ian put his arm around her shoulder.
Scott wanted to burst into the room and tell him to get his hands off his sister, but he couldn’t. He turned and walked away.
He kept walking for a long while, making his way through little used back corridors. He read the bulletin boards and name plates to take his mind from himself, but it didn’t work. He came to a list of doctors in the next section and read through them. A name caught his attention. Dr. Bernard Thorton, Plastic surgery. What was a plastic surgeon doing in ICU? Who was he, and how did he know so much about them?
Scott kept walking, puzzling over the mystery of who Dr. Thorton was. The obvious solution was that he was an instructor of Kyle’s, just not his major instructor. But only Kyle knew the answer to that question, and he wasn’t talking.
“There you are!” Shane stopped him before a large glass window and faced him. “Your family’s all worried about you.”
Shane looked him over. “You can talk to me, Scott.”
Scott attempted a grin. He’d always been able to talk to Shane, but Shane had never volunteered for the job before. He was trying so hard to help him. He felt his emotions inexplicably become overbearing. He turned to stare out the window to the courtyard in the center of the three buildings. “I just can’t face Ian.”
“You used to be able to blow that kind of attitude off.”
“Not when I can hear Kyle saying it. It’s Kyle’s voice, and Kyle has every right to hate me.” He said it as evenly as he could, trying to hide his raw emotions.
“Kyle’s not saying it. Kyle wouldn’t say it. It’s not true.” Shane grabbed his shoulders. “Don’t fall apart on me, Scott.”
Scott shook his shoulders free. “I’m not falling apart. I need to go home.”
“Your parents are ready to go back to the apartment also.”
“Great.” Scott followed Shane back to Kyle’s room.
The ride home started out quietly. Halfway there Shar leaned against him. Scott put his arm around her. “I’m glad you’re okay,” she said quietly.
Anna shifted and faced him. “Exactly how did it happen? What were you doing? When did you know he was going to hit you? What did you do?”
Scott tensed, his sore muscles aching worse. “Why do you want me to relive it again, Anna? So you can place blame?”
“Why are you worried about blame? You’re innocent so it shouldn’t matter.”
“It matters. What do you want to hear? How he looked all limp with blood running over his face? How the rescue crew tore apart the car to get him out?”
“Stop it! You know what I asked.”
“Yes, I know. I’m sick of hearing it from Ian, and I definitely don’t want to hear it from you. If I were you, I’d think twice about falling for someone who keeps harping on the same thing.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I saw you and Ian hugging each other.”
“That’s enough,” their father said, pulling into the apartment parking lot.
As soon as the car stopped Anna jumped out and ran between the apartment buildings to the picnic area behind them. Scott got out slowly. He trudged, head down to the fourth of the five buildings — the one they lived in. He just wanted to crawl back into bed and sleep until Kyle was better and this was over. If only he could sleep without seeing Kyle’s bloody face.
Shar came up behind him and placed her hand on his back. “Don’t be angry with her, Scott. She’s had a bad crush on Kyle for years.”
Scott unlocked the door and went into the hall, slowly making his way up the stairs.
“Scott, she thinks she loves him. She has ever since he came for spring break that first year you guys met.”
Scott stopped on the landing. “Look, Shar, if I could I’d take his place, but I can’t….”
“No, Scott, no. No one wants that.” Shar’s eyes overflowed to her cheeks. “Don’t even think it.”
“Ian wants it.”
Scott drew her into a hug and let her cry against his shoulder. “It’s okay. I’m okay, and Kyle’s going to be okay. Tell her that. It just takes time. If she really cares for Kyle, she’ll stick with him through this.” He moved up the rest of the steps to his apartment, unlocking the door and letting them in.
“She hasn’t seriously dated anyone because she said she loved him. Don’t tell her I told you that.”
“I won’t. Just let her know he’s going to be all right.”
“He has to be,” Scott said, sitting on the couch. “Where did Mom and Dad go?”
“I think to talk to Anna. I’m sure they suspect her feelings, especially after the fuss she made about wanting to go to school up here and move in with you guys.” Shar sat in the closest armchair.
“Move in with us?”
“Yeah. I think that’s why Dad put his foot down.”
Scott leaned back and smiled. He trusted his friends, and they wouldn’t use her or dump her, but why cause trouble for themselves. A girl in the house, especially a dramatic, excitable one like Anna, would have really turned their world upside down. “I’ll have to thank Dad.”
“You wouldn’t want her?”
“There are three bedrooms here, Shar. Where would she have slept? With me? I don’t think so. And back when she was first making college plans, we were still stuffed in that one bedroom. Dad was right on that one.”
Shar shrugged. “He usually is.” She paused. “Have you got a girlfriend yet?”
Shar grinned. “Yeah. So do you?”
“I’ve got my eye on someone, but nothing official. I just met her.” He teased Shar with scant details until his parents and Anna buzzed the doorbell to come up.
Go to Chapter 4
© 2014, 1998 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.