August 12th, 1998
Shane parked as close to the three-story office building as he could. Lightning flashed again, and the thunder pounded almost immediately. It had hit somewhere close. The downpour was not letting up, but he couldn’t wait. He didn’t want to miss Mr. Hammond.
He dashed through the rain and slipped into the building as another crash of thunder echoed into his bones. Standing in the dark foyer, he shook the water from him and ran both hands through his hair, smoothing it into a semi-neat flatness. He removed his steamed-up wire glasses, wishing he’d worn his contacts. After wiping them dry with his handkerchief, he replaced them and looked around the foyer toward the only light — a window. He stopped, surprised he’d been watched.
She stood silhouetted in the eerie glow of the parting thunderstorm. A beam of sunlight broke through the clouds temporarily highlighting her in gold from her long, honey gold hair to her gold silk blouse, her tan-gold skirt, and tan pumps. The only part that wasn’t gold was her grey blue eyes — the color of the storm clouds, but they held no storm, only a slight smile which was reflected on her perfect lips.
“I love storms.” Her smile widened to include him before turning to look back outside. “From the window that is.”
From a window is about as close as he’d ever get to a woman like that, Shane thought ruefully. Just trying to chat with her would turn that wondrous smile into a cloudy little pout, and he’d run late.
“Leon Hammond’s office?”
She pointed down the hall to the right. “One eighteen. It’ll be pretty dark down there until they get the power back on.”
Shane gave her a nod of thanks and went in the direction she’d indicated. The dark hallway lay bathed in shadows, lit only by intermittent security lights.
Shane found the office and went inside. The same type of generator-powered security lights offered scant assistance. A dark, petite woman greeted him from behind a glassed off counter. She slid open the window, and the aroma of baked pastries wafted toward him.
“I’m here to see Leon Hammond.”
“Oh? You don’t have an appointment, do you?” She held a schedule book toward the dim light, squinting at it.
“No, but I called a few days ago about a case he was on, and he said to stop in any time.”
The woman smiled and set down the book. “Oh, then Amber can help you.”
“Amber? I’d rather talk to Mr. Hammond directly.”
“He’s gone for the day. Amber Greystrom, our paralegal, is the only one here. She is usually the one Mr. Hammond directs questions to anyway.”
Shane knew he was defeated if the man was already gone, but maybe the paralegal could help. “Okay. I’ll see Ms. Greystrom.”
“You just said….”
“But she should be back any moment, Mr.?”
“Lewis. Shane Lewis.”
“Mr. Lewis. Just take a seat. I’m sure it won’t be long.”
The lights flickered and then came on. Shane picked one of the empty chairs on the other side of the room and sat down, glancing at the magazines on the table beside him.
The door opened, and Shane lifted his head to see the gold woman from the window enter. She went to the secretary, and they murmured together. Then she turned and held out her hand. “Hello, Mr. Lewis. Would you like to come back to my office?”
Shane stood, accepting her hand briefly and following her back to a brightly lit office. A vine sat on one corner of the desk, and a large bushy plant was at the end of a bookshelf lined wall. A computer was on one side of the “L” of her desk. He sat in the chair she motioned to.
“May I bring you some coffee?”
She pulled up a chair beside him. “What brings you out in this weather, Mr. Lewis?”
“My friend was in an automobile accident in May. The police never caught the driver who hit him, but I think I know who did it.”
“Have you gone to the police?”
That was the frustrating part. He’d tried for almost two months to prove his suspicions, but he couldn’t. “No. I have no evidence. I can’t even find the Mercedes, but I know he used to drive one until the month of the accident.”
“Are you a detective, Mr. Lewis?”
She was mocking him. “No. I’m an accountant, but I know how to ask questions. Look, Kyle is permanently injured, but Scott, the driver, has this ‘let’s-all-be-friends’ attitude with the world. He’s going out to dinner with this guy and everything.”
“Have you told him your suspicions?”
“Not yet. I don’t think he’ll believe me without proof, and….” No, he wouldn’t get into Scott’s depression, which had seemed somewhat better lately. Shane didn’t want to add to his misery. He wished he could help him, but he really couldn’t do anything for the two people who meant more to him than anyone else. “I need to know the legal angle,” he told her. “Scott and Kyle should sue this guy, right? He destroyed their lives.”
“You should take what you suspect to the police. They are better equipped to investigate and prosecute such things.”
“But if I take it to the police, the Mercedes driver would lose his medical license, right?”
“I don’t know.”
“I mean if he’s abusing prescription drugs, he would, right? Although he might just have been drunk, but I can’t confirm he has a drinking problem.”
“It could have been an error in judgment.”
“Even so, his error cost Kyle his career, and Scott….” Shane shook his head and leaned forward. “So about suing….”
“You can’t do that. Your friend would have to do that, or if he is injured to the point of mental impairment, his legal representative. Unless of course, you are his legal representative.”
“No. But Scott already hired you.”
“And he asked you to look into this?”
“I think you better talk to your friend and the police about your suspicions, Mr. Lewis.”
Shane stood. “Well, you’ve been very helpful.”
She stood also and surprisingly smiled. “I’m sorry, Mr. Lewis. I understand your frustration, but I think Mr. Alexander is capable of handling his own legal affairs. And if you feel he isn’t protecting Kyle Sloan’s interests then I suggest you take it up with Dr. Sloan or his parents.”
She’d guessed who his friends were by their first names. Of course, she’d remember Scott. What woman forgot him?
“You just don’t understand Scott. He’s friends with everyone, even his enemies. He’s going to be hurt.”
She looked sympathetic now. “Talk to Scott.”
“I can’t just accuse his friend. I need assurance that we’ll be able to nail him with no ambiguity. A drawn-out battle will hurt Scott and Kyle even more.”
“I could never guarantee that. A denial from him is all it will take to turn something like that into a lengthy investigation.”
“That would kill Scott.” Shane suppressed a sigh of exasperation. There was still nothing he could do to help his friends. “Thanks.”
She followed him. “Mr. Lewis?”
Shane stopped with his hand on the doorknob to the outer office and twisted to face her.
She handed him her card. “Talk to Scott, and call me if….”
“If what? You just said you can’t even answer my questions.”
She no longer smiled. “I know. Not on someone else’s case. But I could try to answer general law questions.”
“Why?” Shane shook his head. She’d probably already fallen for Scott’s perfect looks. “Scott’s engaged, and he won’t give up on the girl no matter how much she jerks him around, so you might as well give up.” He turned to leave again.
She rested her hand on his arm. “Mr. Lewis, I am not pining away for Scott Alexander. Please, don’t leave with that impression.” She hesitated. “Do you have relatives in Milan?”
She removed her hand. “Really? You remind me of someone with your same last name. It must be a coincidence.”
“Must be.” Shane managed to leave then. He stopped by the secretary, knowing he owed something for the useless consultation. “How much?”
The woman glanced over her shoulder at Amber Greystrom who shook her head. “No charge today, Mr. Lewis.”
“Really?” He noted a plate of pastries on the counter. “And how much for one of these?”
“Those are free, too.”
Shane took one and bit into the sweet, iced, cherry turnover. “Delicious. Which bakery did you get these from?”
“Amber made them.”
Shane looked across the secretary’s cubicle, but Amber had disappeared. “Ms. Greystrom?”
“Yes. She’s always bringing in samples for us. If I didn’t offer them to you and the other clients, I’d have gained ten pounds by now.”
“She does this often?”
“At least once a week.”
Shane snitched another pastry. “Thanks. If she ever opens a bakery, let me know.” He left the office. She was beautiful, and she could bake. She’d even spoken civilly to him in spite of his rudeness. The girl was perfect. Too perfect. He’d never stand a chance.
The rain had stopped, and Shane headed home to the apartment he shared with Scott, Kyle, and the new kid, Eli, who acted as Kyle’s helper while Scott and Shane worked. It was Eli’s turn to cook today; they’d eat decently. He was the only one of the four who could cook a real meal, which made having a stranger around slightly more bearable.
The table was set when Shane stepped in the door. Eli worked in the kitchen, and Kyle sat on the living room couch. The CD player was ending a composition by Tchaikovsky, a composer Shane had never heard of before he met Kyle. Kyle’s chestnut brown hair was growing back in, covering the surgery scar on the right side of his head. He’d gained his weight back since Eli had been cooking also, and he no longer looked skeletal. If not for the tremors when he lifted his hands, or the jerkiness when he became agitated, Shane could almost pretend the accident had never happened. Almost. And then Kyle would miss something and get that distracted look that indicated he was desperately trying to connect some abstract concept. But he’d recover quickly, pretending all was well, and Shane played along, pretending he didn’t see it.
Shane sat in a chair near him. “How’d it go today?”
“Nothing exciting. We went grocery shopping. Stopped at the bookstore. Can’t wait to get back to work. But they’re making me retake my licensing exams before I can go back to internship, but with fall term starting up in a couple weeks, everyone is too busy to evaluate me right now.”
Shane suspected Kyle was bluffing again. “Yeah. Have to wait for now. Maybe you can ask for something to study on your own to prepare you.”
Kyle nodded. “Yeah. That’d work.”
“Where’s Scott? With Kayleigh again?”
“And his doctor friend,” Kyle said a little sourly. “He could have picked another manager. Why does he need a doctor for a mentor?”
Kyle’s mentor had never called, never contacted Kyle in any way other than coming to the critical care unit before Kyle was even conscious. All Shane could do now was pretend Scott’s friendship with Dr. Thorton meant nothing because he knew both of them were going to be hurt by it. “Dr. Thorton’s not his mentor. You know Scott. He’s friends with everyone. Accountants. Interns. Kids who might be teachers but haven’t decided a major.” The CD changer switched CDs.
Kyle’s frown deepened, and he became agitated. “Eli! I said Mozart. Eli!”
Eli came into the room, a slotted spoon in one hand. “It’s in there.”
“This is Mendelssohn,” Kyle said, as if any idiot should know that. He never used to be so quick tempered, and still he only directed the biting comments to Eli, never to Scott or Shane.
Eli looked around, found the remote, and tossed it onto the couch beside Kyle. Then he walked back to the kitchen.
“Hey, wait! Eli!” He glanced at Shane, and then shook his head. “Guess Mendelssohn’s okay. Dumb kid.”
Shane was afraid to ask why Kyle didn’t just use the remote and change it, and he didn’t want to imply Kyle couldn’t by offering to do so.
“Least he can cook. What’s he fixing?”
“Beef roast. Rice. Spinach. Dinner rolls. I helped him with those.”
“From scratch? Really? Wish he’d cook every night.”
“Tell him to.”
Shane laughed. “Right. That’d go over well. Of course, he may agree in self-defense, so he’s not poisoned by me and Scott.”
“No, really. You and Scott pay all the bills. It’s only fair Eli and I do all the work. I’ve been thinking about it a lot.”
Shane knew they had already taken over all the cleaning and laundry. Only cooking was left. “If Scott agrees….” It was so tempting. But that wouldn’t be fair. As Scott had pointed out before, Kyle may not be doing much. Eli probably carried the bulk of the housework in addition to Kyle’s errands.
Shane watched Eli set the spinach and rice on the table. “Looks good, Eli.”
Eli glanced up, acknowledging him briefly before returning to the kitchen, his violet eyes barely visible through his puffy dark lids.
Shane was stunned. He turned to Kyle. “Didn’t he get any sleep today?”
“Wasn’t time.” He raised his voice. “Eli, you didn’t burn the rice, did you?”
“No time? We could have ordered pizza.”
“No. He’s a part of the family, he does his share. Besides he needs to give up that night job.”
Eli said nothing, setting the roast down and then sitting.
Kyle bowed his head and said grace for them. Then Eli silently took Kyle’s plate and filled it, giving him meat that had already been cut in the kitchen. He set the plate in front of Kyle before serving himself.
“The rice is burnt. This is awful.” Kyle pushed the plate away.
Eli closed his eyes and breathed deeper.
“Hey, Eli. Don’t sleep here,” Kyle snapped.
Eli opened his eyes and focused on his food.
Shane felt he had to say something. Anything. He wished Scott was here. Scott knew how to break the tension and make everyone get along. But Shane didn’t know what to say, so he ate his food. Eli’s cooking never ceased to surprise him. The roast was tender and moist. “This is great, Eli.”
“He burnt the rice.”
“The roast though….”
“It’s okay,” Kyle conceded. “Would have been better if he hadn’t been falling asleep.”
Shane wished Eli would defend himself. He never did, though, and Shane didn’t want to interfere when he didn’t know if or what Eli had done to start the argument. Kyle had never been this abrasive before the accident. Occasionally he had irritated Shane with his self-assured, know-it-all attitude, but Kyle had always voiced his disagreements in good humor. Why couldn’t things go back to the way they were? Where was Kyle’s compassion that made his occasional arrogant expressions excusable?
The phone rang. Shane jumped up to answer it, relieved at the interruption. “Hello?”
“Hi. This is Margie at Westmart Foods. Is Eli White available?”
“Sure. Just a minute.” Shane handed the phone to Eli. “Margie from work.”
“You’re not going in,” Kyle said. “You haven’t slept in thirty-six hours, and we have appointments all day tomorrow.”
Eli stared across the table toward the bedrooms, ignoring Kyle, as he lifted the phone to his ear. “Yes?” “Yes. Eleven again?” “Okay.” “Bye.” He disconnected and set the phone on the table.
“You said you were going in? You idiot, you haven’t slept. Call them back and cancel.”
Eli ignored him, finishing the last of his meat.
“Call them back!”
Eli stood, took the phone, and then set it in front of Kyle. “You call.” Eli took his plate to the kitchen. Then he began clearing the table.
Kyle’s hands shook as he reached for the phone. His agitation made his palsy more pronounced. He tried to open the connection but hit the wrong button. Apparently frustrated, he threw the phone. It hit Eli’s shoulder and fell to the floor.
Eli stopped, motionless for an eternity.
“Kyle, maybe….” Shane began.
Eli turned and brought the dish back, clunking it down on the table near Kyle as he leaned over to glare into his eyes. “You don’t ever hit me. Next time it happens, I leave.” Eli whirled away and stalked to the bedroom.
Kyle stared after him. Shane almost smiled at the shock on his face. The kid had stood up to him. It was about time.
Then Eli came through with his backpack and headed for the door.
“Wait,” Kyle said.
Eli turned, his hand on the doorknob.
“You’re not driving my truck while you’re half asleep.”
Eli reached into his pocket and tossed the keys to the S-10 on the table. He turned to leave.
He stopped once more but didn’t face them.
“What about this mess?”
“Where are you going?” Kyle shouted, but there was no response. Eli was gone.
Shane decided it wouldn’t hurt him to clean up for Eli, so he picked up the dishes Eli had set down.
“Don’t do that. Leave it for the kid. You can’t let him get away with that.”
Shane hesitated. He tried to keep his voice even, because he didn’t want to challenge Kyle to a debate, when Kyle was incapable of defending himself. But his attitude was rotten. “Maybe you should clean up. You’re the one who hit him with the phone.”
Kyle’s gaze left Shane, going down to his hands resting on the table. “Didn’t mean to,” he mumbled. “He knows I didn’t mean to do that.”
“You didn’t apologize or anything, Kyle, and you’ve been raggin’ on him all night. What’s happening between you two? Has he done something we should know about?”
Kyle still didn’t meet his eyes. “He needs to quit that job and be home at night. It’s not good for him.”
“We can’t make that decision for him.”
Kyle looked up then. “Yes, I can. He can’t help me when he’s half asleep. That’s what the insurance pays him for, isn’t it? I want him home at night.” Kyle took the truck key and put it in his pocket. “He won’t get to that job tonight.” He stood and went to his bedroom.
Shane cleaned up the kitchen. Kyle was right about the rice; he’d probably burnt it when Kyle distracted him about the CD player. Shane let the pan soak after he’d finished putting away everything else. Then he changed the CDs from classical to Christian Contemporary rock, brought his sketch pad into the living room, and relaxed on the couch.
He found Amber Greystrom’s office appearing on the page. He rarely tried to sketch people, but there she was, standing before the bookshelves next to the bushy plant. A reasonable likeness, but faces had never formed easily for him. Buildings, objects, and landscapes were what gave him the most satisfaction. Looking at Amber’s likeness now, he realized it was one of his best.
Scott came in. If he saw the picture, he’d know Shane had attempted to see his lawyer. He quickly flipped to a page he’d done the week before. “How’d the date go?”
Scott sat in a chair. “Well enough. Although Carol Thorton has no compassion. Bert had a long day; his back was killing him.” Scott shook his head. “Never mind. Just makes me grateful Kayleigh is compassionate.”
“Yes, she is,” Scott snapped.
“But something’s wrong,” Shane noted.
Scott shook his head and smiled. “Yeah, we had a little disagreement, but it’s just because she’s hurting. Sorry I snapped. Bet I missed a great dinner.”
Kyle came from his bedroom wearing his pajama shorts and top. “Isn’t Eli back?”
“But it’s after eleven. Didn’t he even ask for a ride?”
“Nope. Never came back.”
Kyle’s look changed. It almost seemed like fear. “Scott, find him. Something’s wrong. You’ve got to find him.”
“Mellow out, Kyle. He went to work, remember?”
“No. I have the keys. He didn’t… He couldn’t ride that ten speed. Not all the way to Ypsi. Not with no sleep. Scott, go find him. Go….”
“Sure. I’ll make sure he’s okay. Relax and go back to sleep.” Scott followed Kyle back to his room. In a few minutes he emerged. “What’s he all hyper about?” Scott whispered.
“They had a fight. Kyle hit him. Eli left.”
“Left? Kyle hit him?” Scott shook his head. “Bert Thorton was right. People do stuff they don’t mean to when they’re frustrated over the pain or the situation. Doesn’t make it right though. Kyle knows he was wrong, doesn’t he?”
“Yeah. But Scott… something else is going on. Those two… maybe we need to replace Eli.”
“No!” Kyle said from the hallway. “Eli stays here! Scott, bring Eli home.”
“He’s working,” Shane reminded him.
“Scott,” Kyle said. “Bring Eli home. Please.”
“I’ll go talk to him,” Scott said, giving in.
“Sure.” Scott left.
Kyle glanced at Shane and then turned back toward his bedroom. Shane caught up. “What’s this, Kyle?”
Kyle stopped and looked at him. “You won’t help me.”
“What? I will, too. I’ve been trying to help all I can. What more can I do? Just let me know.”
Kyle sat on his bed. “Get Eli back. Make him stay.”
“He’d stay if you didn’t treat him like your personal slave. I can’t change that.”
“Find out how much money he wants.”
“Is that what he said he wanted? More money? Is that why you guys were fighting?”
“I’m tired.” Kyle lay down.
Shane bit back sharp words. He went for his sketch pad, and then shut himself in his room.
Shane was almost asleep when he heard Scott come home. Then he heard Kyle right outside his door. “Where is he?”
“At work. He’ll be home in the morning.”
“But he didn’t get any sleep! He has to sleep. We have appointments tomorrow.”
Scott’s reply wasn’t immediate. “I’ll rearrange a few things. What time do you need me?”
“No! Eli’s driving me. Make him sleep now. Do you want us killed on the road?”
Shane swore silently. Why was Kyle reminding Scott of the accident? It had taken Scott months to quit balking and losing sleep every time he drove them somewhere. The last thing he needed was reminders.
“Let Eli sleep when he gets home. I’ll drive you.”
“It’s Eli’s job. He can’t work two jobs. You have to tell him that. Go back and tell him that. Bring him home.”
“Quit excusing him. The insurance is paying him to help me, not sleep all day. I want him home.”
“I will drive you.”
“No! You don’t need to drive me anywhere. Just get the kid home here.”
“I can’t,” Scott said, and his voice held a strange tone, a flatness, as if he were suppressing his emotions. “Here. Hire a taxi.”
“I don’t want your money!” Kyle’s door slammed. A few seconds later, Scott’s door shut also.
Shane wished he could do something – anything – to help bring things back to the way they’d been before the accident. But he couldn’t. He could just pretend on the days things went well that maybe all was normal again, but it never would be. “God, Lord, Father, I… Scott and Kyle, please help them. They both love You. And Scott bleeds over everyone’s pain and no one bleeds for him. Remind him of You… of Jesus….” The enormity of the cross of Christ struck him again, overwhelmed him. Jesus, God Himself, had bled for him, so he would never face His wrath. Shane could only end the prayer by thanking God with his feeble, inadequate words. Scott, Kyle, Eli, and even Amber Greystrom was forgotten, and his thoughts stayed heavenward until he slept.
Go to Chapter 2
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.