Shane had managed to distract Scott from the failed dinner. He pushed all thoughts of his father aside so that Scott didn’t catch him thinking about it, because sometimes it seemed Scott could detect the pain of someone else a mile away. Besides he could do nothing about it. Thinking about it was useless.
But late at night he couldn’t help but hear the crushing words. “He’s not my kid, Ray. He’s not my kid.” He’d pray and pray until he fell asleep, focusing on the only Father he had.
Monday, it was almost a relief to go to work. He concentrated on the numbers and accounts on the computer screen, and no one looked into his eyes to see if he was in pain. Nobody really cared here.
At two she called. Shane barely had time to be surprised before Betsy put her through. “Hi, Shane.”
“I just wanted to apologize for the other night and invite you over for a less tense dinner.”
“Amber, I don’t think….”
“No one but my family. Is Friday good again?”
“Friday I’m heading for Cincinnati. Scott’s sister’s wedding.”
“Then Thursday? We could talk about whatever you wanted to ask me before.”
Shane almost agreed. “I’m sorry, Amber. Kyle wants us to restrict dates to Tuesday’s and Friday’s. He wants us all together the rest of the time.”
Amber laughed. “So then can we make a date for you to come over on the following Tuesday, or do you have another excuse? A girl could get the impression you aren’t interested at all.”
Shane almost dropped the phone. He didn’t know what to say.
“Tuesday’s good. Six?”
“Yes. Have a good time at the wedding.”
“Bye.” He hung up and then remembered Scott. He put the phone back to his ear. “Amber?” It was too late. He looked up the number and called back.
“Shane? What a surprise.” Amber said cheerfully.
“Just don’t tell Scott if you see him.”
“Don’t tell him? About your father?”
“About anything. He’s still too stressed to deal with the Dr. Thorton thing with no evidence, and if he knows I went to see you, he’ll make me tell him why.”
“Shane, I don’t think you should hide it from him.”
“You don’t understand.” Shane winced as soon as the words came out of his mouth. “I mean, Kyle just spouted off, and Scott didn’t sleep all night. He goes out with this Dr. Thorton, and he’s feeling sorry for him and all. I just know it’ll tear him up, and he’s got too many other things. Maybe after the wedding. I’ll let you know when I tell him.”
“What you really mean is you don’t want him to know you’ve pried into his business until you can prove your suspicions.”
Shane hesitated. “Yeah. That’s it, too.”
“So if he discovers you’ve come to my house, he’ll feel you lied to him.”
Shane cringed. She was right. Scott would be hurt, and the longer he put it off the more he’d be hurt. “I… I’ll figure out a way to tell him.”
“Before next Tuesday?”
“Thanks, Shane.” Amber hung up again.
How would he tell Scott? Then his thoughts went back to Amber. Why had she teased him about being interested? She must have been mocking him. She must be used to every man falling at her feet. Well, he was not going to be one of those, begging for a crumb of attention. Shane almost decided to call her back and cancel, but then realized he wasn’t in the begging position. She’d invited him. Shane would enjoy her company until she turned her attentions elsewhere and then just walk away. He prayed it wouldn’t hurt too much when the time came.
There didn’t seem to be a good time to talk to Scott about Amber though. Tuesday night he went out with Kayleigh. Wednesday they read as a group, and Thursday…
Thursday, Shane came home and there were no delicious smells coming from the kitchen. Eli had a final exam later. Scott had volunteered to cook, and he wasn’t home yet. Eli came from the bedroom he shared with Kyle, swinging his backpack unto his shoulder.
“Eli!” Kyle yelled, coming from the bedroom. “Eli! What about dinner. You can’t leave.”
Eli left without looking back as Kyle came into the living room.
“Dumb, stupid, idiot kid. Let him starve then.” He looked at Shane. “You’re cooking, right?”
“Scott is.” He grinned. “Probably why he’s running. Doesn’t want food poisoning.”
Kyle relaxed. “Yeah. That’s it.” He sat on the couch. “How’s life in the real world?”
“As opposed to the unreal world? It’s still slow, so I’ll get off early tomorrow with no trouble. What’d you do?”
“Therapy. Nothing exciting. Boring stuff.”
Scott came in, and they went to the kitchen to tease him as he attempted to make spaghetti from a jar. That would be edible. Kyle wanted to go down to the pool, so again Shane found no time to talk to Scott.
As he lay in bed that night, Shane knew he was putting it off. If he really needed to talk to him, he knew Scott was always willing. But Shane wished there would be a perfect moment leading into it.
Friday Shane arrived home early. Fifteen minutes later, Scott arrived with Kayleigh. Shane had wondered if she’d actually come. “All ready to go?” Scott asked Eli and Kyle.
Eli picked up Kyle’s overnight bag and his backpack, and followed Kyle to Scott’s Jeep Grand Cherokee. He put Kyle’s bag in the back, and then waited by the front passenger door with it open. Kyle, Scott, and Kayleigh climbed into the back seat of the SUV. Shane got into the driver’s seat to drive the first half of the trip down.
“Shane?” Eli asked.
Shane looked over.
Eli wasn’t getting in. “I can’t go. See you Sunday.” He closed the door and walked toward the bike rack.
“What?” Scott asked.
Shane started the engine and pulled out of the parking spot.
“Wait!” Scott protested.
“Do you trust me?” Shane asked.
“Wait!” Kyle cried. “Wait for Eli.”
“You know Eli’s not coming, Kyle.”
“Wait! He has to come. Scott!”
“Shane, why isn’t Eli coming? Turn around and let me talk to him.” Scott turned in his seat, trying to look back toward the bike rack.
Shane turned onto the highway. “Kyle, why don’t you tell Scott why Eli isn’t coming?”
“He’s coming! He has to come! Turn around. Shane!”
“Shane, please. We can’t let Eli hide.”
“Eli’s not hiding. If Kyle doesn’t tell you, I guess I’ll have to.”
Shane’s head was cuffed from behind.
“Kyle!” Scott said. “He’s driving.”
“I don’t care. I’m not going anywhere without Eli. Go back and get him.”
“You made that choice, Kyle, when you treated him like an idiot.”
“You don’t know anything about it. Take me back.”
Shane turned onto the entrance ramp of the freeway. “He’s not your slave, Kyle.”
“I never said he was. You’re a damn idiot. You don’t know anything about it. Turn around, you stupid fool. Go back!”
“And nobody should be treated with the disrespect you use. Even if you thought people were idiots before, you never used to berate them and mock them, especially in front of other people. If I were him, I wouldn’t want to take a vacation with you either.”
Shane glanced in the rearview mirror. Scott’s face was contorted, as if in pain. Shane studied the road and then glanced back again. Kayleigh leaned against Scott, and he put his arm around her. Shane looked back to see what Kyle was doing. He was turned toward the window away from Scott and Kayleigh, but from the front, Shane could see a line of wetness down the side of his face as he rocked slightly.
Shane tried to concentrate on the road. He wished he hadn’t had to discipline him. He wished Kyle was the one passing out admonishment still. He didn’t stop until they were halfway to Scott’s parents. Right off I-75 he pulled into a pizzeria’s parking lot and stopped.
“Ready to eat?”
Kyle got out first and walked ahead of them to the restaurant. Scott grabbed Shane. “Why’d we leave Eli? Kyle’s making him miserable, and now we’re excluding him.”
“Scott….” Shane glanced toward the restaurant. “I promised Eli I’d stay close to Kyle.” He started walking toward the building. Scott and Kayleigh followed.
“Why didn’t Eli come to me about this? What’d you say to him? You’re always trying to push him out.”
Shane stopped at the door. “I don’t need a lecture. You’re the one who said I needed to tell him like it is. I did.”
“But Eli doesn’t need to suffer.”
“He’d be suffering if he was with us. You see how Kyle treats him. Eli is just teaching Kyle a lesson.”
“He shouldn’t be alone.”
“Then stop harassing me, and I’ll check on him.”
“Eli shouldn’t be alone,” Scott said.
“The kid can handle it. You don’t even trust me.” Shane started for the restaurant.
Scott grabbed Shane’s arm. “Today is the anniversary of his parents’ death.”
Shane studied Scott’s face. He was hurting for Eli. If Shane allowed himself to think about Eli alone now, he knew he would, too. But he couldn’t do anything about it, so he pushed the emotions away. “He asked me to leave him home, Scott. It was his decision.” He opened the door of the restaurant.
He didn’t see Kyle in any of the booths. He went to the restroom and found him looking into the mirror by the sinks. “Hey, Kyle.”
“Take me home.”
Shane leaned against the wall. “Sorry. I can’t do that, but I’ll be here for you.”
“Lot of good that’ll do,” Kyle said without looking at him. “You hate me.”
“No, Kyle,” Shane said quietly. “If I hated you, I wouldn’t care if you turned into an unfeeling jerk.” He placed his hand on Kyle’s shoulder. “I hope I never have to go through what you are now. I don’t know what it’s like. All I know is what you taught me. Circumstances and hard times aren’t an excuse to treat people rotten.”
“I don’t treat him rotten.” Kyle faced him. “I don’t. You don’t understand.”
“No, Kyle. I don’t. You never called me a damn idiot or a stupid fool before no matter how much we disagreed.”
Kyle turned away from him. “You shouldn’t have left Eli.”
Shane sighed. “Let’s go order some pizza.”
Kyle left the bathroom and Shane followed. After they ate Scott, drove and Kayleigh sat beside him. Shane and Kyle sat in the back. They made it to Scott’s parents by eleven.
Scott’s middle sister, Shar, was getting married to Dennis. At the wedding and at the reception the next day, Kyle stayed near Shane as Scott visited with all his relatives and introduced Kayleigh to them.
Scott’s youngest sister, Anna, came up to Kyle and Shane during the dancing. The burgundy bridesmaid dress did little to hide her perfect figure. “Come on, you two. Don’t just sit here. Both of you were out dancing during Sandy’s wedding.”
“Didn’t see you with any lack of partners,” Shane said.
“But I want to dance with you two.”
“One at a time,” Shane said. “I’m not dancing with Kyle.” He gave Kyle a tap punch on the arm.
“He’d step on my feet,” Kyle said. He stood and took Anna’s hand. “I think I’m recovered enough to handle this ballad.”
Shane watched them walk over to the dancers. Anna wrapped her arms around Kyle’s neck and leaned her body against him.
Last month Anna had shown Shane just about everything there was to show in that bikini she’d worn. If he were a freshman again, and if she weren’t Scott’s sister, he’d have taken her up on the offer she had made. But something had changed that first year he’d lived with Scott and Kyle. Whether it was their example and friendship, or the theology books he’d poured over, trying to refute Kyle, he wasn’t sure. But the last time he’d had sex, the guilt and shame he felt outweighed the pleasure. He’d come close since, but he’d always been able to resist. Anna had tried to get him alone after the firework display last month, but he’d been able to avoid her.
“You’ve been quiet.”
Shane looked up as Scott’s father, Jim, sat in the seat Kyle had used. He shrugged. “Not much to say.”
“Do you like her?” Jim nodded toward the dance floor.
Shane tensed. Scott hadn’t been teasing last month. “She’s like a little sister,” he said as nonchalantly as he could.
“She’s a woman now.”
“I noticed.” Shoot. Wrong thing to say.
“She needs someone like you.”
Shane laughed nervously. “What she needs and what she wants are two different things.” What was wrong with him? He was talking to her father after all. “I mean… that….”
“I know what you mean,” Jim said, keeping his gaze on the dancers. “But you could change her mind if you tried.”
Shane was at a loss. He couldn’t tell Jim that he’d dated enough shallow and immature women. He wanted something more, something he’d never get, and settling for less wasn’t worth it anymore. If Anna ever grew up… He saw Shar and her new husband. “Shar will be a good wife.”
“Yeah. About Anna, though. Why don’t you start writing to her or calling her?”
“My girlfriend would probably take that the wrong way,” Shane lied.
“You have someone steady?”
Shane shrugged. “Had dinner with her parents. Going back Tuesday.”
Jim sighed. “Too bad. You’re good with Anna. If it doesn’t work out….” He stood. “Let me know.” He walked away.
The music changed, and Shane looked out on the dance floor. Oh, Shit. Kyle and Anna were standing at the edge of the dancers, kissing more passionately than Shane had ever done in public.
Shane went to them and tapped Kyle’s shoulder. “Hey, my turn.”
Kyle broke away from her. He looked at Anna and then Shane. “She changed her mind.”
Anna took Shane’s hand. “Sure. See you later, Kyle.”
Kyle looked stunned.
Shane pulled Anna away to the other side of the dance floor. “Don’t mess with him.”
Shane wanted to shake her, but he didn’t. He’d never want a vain, fickle woman like this for anything more than a night of fun. “Unless you plan to give up your tramping days and become his and his alone, then don’t….”
She slapped him and walked away.
Shane didn’t wait. He went back to Kyle still standing where Shane had left him, watching them.
“Why’d she slap you? What happened?”
Shane led Kyle back to the chairs. “I told her she was a tramp.”
“She’s not. She’s Scott’s sister.”
“Yeah, that’s Scott’s sister you were exchanging tongues with. What happened to your vow?”
Kyle blushed and looked down at his left hand. He used to have a ring on his smallest finger. He’d told Shane that he’d gotten the ring after attending a Christian youth camp at fourteen, and it represented a vow to Christ not to have sex before marriage. But the ring had been cut off in the emergency room.
“I wasn’t going to have sex with her.”
“You weren’t planning on kissing her like that in public either.”
“Yeah. I know. But there’s nothing wrong with her, and there’s nothing wrong with falling in love with Scott’s sister.”
Shane’s heart wanted to burst. “No. Not if you marry her. But Anna isn’t going to marry you.”
“Oh, thanks, Shane! No one would ever want to marry me now. Is that what you think?”
“You’re just jealous. That’s all it is.” Kyle glanced around at the people who had begun watching them. “You’re a jerk, Shane,” Kyle scowled and walked away.
Shane debated on following immediately. He’d promised Eli he’d stay close.
“What was that?” Scott asked, coming from behind him. “What happened?”
“He’s falling in….” Shane stopped. It was Scott’s trampy sister. “I’m just taking Eli’s place as his whipping boy, and I don’t sit down and take it.”
“Don’t get him upset! Do you want him to have a seizure right here at the reception? Aren’t you thinking?” Scott asked in a low accusing voice.
“Hold it, Scott. I’m not Kyle’s stupid fool, and I do think. If the two of you are gonna start throwing around insults, I can get my own place.” Shane left before he said more. He didn’t want his own place. He wanted his best friends back the way they’d been. He wanted to help them return to that comfortable place, but he couldn’t. They’d never be that way again.
Shane found Kyle outside leaning against the Jeep. He leaned against it also.
“Why are you here?” Kyle asked sullenly.
Shane knew he couldn’t tell him he was keeping an eye on him because that would make him feel like a baby. “Sorry about Anna.”
“She’s not a tramp. She’s always loved me.”
Shane hesitated. How could he explain to him that Anna had responded to his injury by rebelling, urged on my Kyle’s brother Ian? If Shane really believed Anna would care for Kyle, he wouldn’t interfere. But Anna’s actions spoke louder. She was testing and using everyone. Kyle would be hurt. He wasn’t ready for her mind games. “Just… just remember your vow.”
“God took the ring from me.”
“Ah, damn, Kyle. You know better than that. You’re doing the same thing I used to do. Making excuses.”
“Did you just come out here to tell me how stupid I am?”
“No. You’re not stupid. Or is that what you thought I was every time I fell for the wrong girl?”
“She’s not wrong. She’s Scott’s sister. You act like this is the same as those girls you picked up at the grill and pretended were marriage material.”
“She came on to me last month.”
“What? Getting your face slapped is her coming on to you? Man, Shane, you’re warped.”
“Yeah. And I don’t think. I’m a dumb idiot and a stupid fool. Just make sure she doesn’t make you one.” He wanted to walk away, but he didn’t. He had to stand up to Kyle.
“Here comes Scott. Guess it’s time to go back inside.”
Shane looked back. “Guess you’re right.” They went back inside with Scott.
It was late when the reception broke up, and they went back to Scott’s parents’ home. Everyone headed for bed. Shane used a second twin bed in Scott’s old room, while Kyle had insisted on being alone in the guest room. Kayleigh was in Shar’s room.
Scott didn’t speak to Shane as he readied himself for bed, and the silence seemed unnatural after the light was turned off. “Scott?”
“Are you upset?”
“Huh? Not really. You aren’t mad I wasn’t with you and Kyle more, are you?”
“No. I knew you had to be with your family.”
Scott was quiet for a few minutes. “I keep trying to remember if you were ever as sensitive as Kayleigh. Maybe I’m just too frazzled to deal with it.” He was quiet then.
Scott didn’t even remember snapping at him. He’d been upset about Kayleigh. Shane felt relieved, but only for a few moments. His uneasiness returned. This time it wasn’t directed toward Scott. He could hear his even breathing and was glad his argument with Kayleigh hadn’t kept him from sleeping tonight.
A high scream sounded far away. Kyle? Shane sat up.
Scott didn’t move.
Shane went into the hall. Kyle’s door was open, but Kyle wasn’t in the room. Where could he be? Shane started down the steps to the basement, but then heard the dining room doors open. Anna ran past the stairwell, a towel wrapped around her body. Shane rushed up the steps and went outside.
She didn’t leave him out here! She couldn’t. He’d drown. Shane scanned the pool but saw nothing in the moonlight which looked like a person. A dull thudding sounded near the pond. Shane ran toward it. The thudding stopped. Where? Where, God? If he’s in the water, I’ll never find him.
His gaze settled on a dark shape on the picnic table. He went to it. Clothes? He looked underneath. Kyle lay unmoving with his feet over the opposite bench, wearing nothing but his underwear.
Shane crawled under the table. “Kyle? Shit, Kyle, breathe!” He pulled Kyle to lean against him.
Kyle took a deep, ragged breath.
Shane wanted to kill Anna. He wrapped his arms around Kyle, wishing he could protect him.
“Eli,” Kyle whispered. “Knew you’d come.”
Shane rested his face against Kyle’s hair. “Thank God you’re okay.”
“Shane?” Kyle asked in a weak voice. “Anna got you?”
“No. I heard you from the bedroom. I don’t know where Anna went.”
“I… we weren’t…. just swimming. We were going to go skinny dipping.”
“In the pond?” He’d have died in there. His arms tightened around Kyle, but then he realized what he was doing and removed them. “Skinny dipping is a prelude to sex. Don’t fool yourself.”
“You don’t understand,” he protested, still weak.
“I understand too well. I even fooled myself every time like you’re doing.”
“I… I need to go to bed.”
“Sure. Let’s get you out of here.” Shane helped him out from under the picnic table. His back was scraped and raw, and his left shin had a bloody bruise from jerking against the table top. He glanced up from Kyle as someone came toward them. Scott.
Scott helped Shane raise Kyle to his feet. Shane grabbed his clothes, and they made their way to Kyle’s room. Scott brought in a wet cloth and antiseptic, and they cleaned his wounds before they left him.
They sat in Scott’s room. “Anna got you?” Shane asked.
Scott crumbled, lying face down on his bed. “No. I heard a door shut.” Then Scott sat and left the bed. He stalked down the hall. Shane followed, waiting in the hall when Scott entered Anna’s room, flipping on her light.
She sat up, tears streaking her face.
“You almost killed him!” Scott said in a low yell. “You didn’t even get help. What’s wrong with you?”
“Is he… is he okay?”
“Don’t go near my friends again. I’m ashamed to say you’re my sister.”
Anna grabbed a ceramic music box from her bedside table and threw it. Scott dodged, and it smashed into the wall. He slipped from the room and shut the door. When they were back in his room, he fell on the bed.
Shane could only watch his anguish, wishing he had some way to comfort him. He turned out the light and lay down on the guest bed. He was almost asleep when Scott spoke.
“You won’t move out, will you, Shane? You weren’t serious, were you? You knew I didn’t mean to insult you.”
“I wasn’t serious. Kyle’s digs were still eating at me, but… Man, Scott, I thought he’d drowned. I was afraid we’d lost him. When I saw Anna in that towel, it scared me.”
“If Eli had come, he wouldn’t be alone. Why, Shane? I know you don’t like him, but….”
“I like him. Please, Scott. Trust me on this. Talk to Eli.”
Scott was silent.
Shane’s tension slowly dissipated, but the disappointment remained. The long day began to draw him toward sleep.
“I trust you,” Scott said finally. “Did she come on to you?”
“Yeah. Last month. I avoided her.”
“Do you think she did it to Eli?”
Shane thought a moment. “I think he was always with Kyle. I’m not sure when she’d have had the opportunity.”
“Maybe she’s why he didn’t come. I’m going to check on Kyle.” Scott left the room, and Shane finally fell asleep.
Go to Chapter 5
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.