They were supposed to leave right after church, but Scott spent over an hour shut in his father’s study, talking with him. Kayleigh and Scott’s mother chatted in the kitchen. Shane and Kyle waited on the patio. Kyle said little, but when Anna walked past them and headed for the woods, Kyle followed. Shane sighed and went after them.
“Anna, wait!” Kyle called.
Shane lagged behind. Maybe Kyle needed time to set things right between them, but Shane wouldn’t make the mistake of assuming Kyle was safe with her.
Anna glanced back. “Kyle, you should go back to the house.”
“But we need to talk.”
Shane could see them through the trees when they stopped on the path.
Kyle took her hands in his. “I’m sorry about last night, Anna. The medicine just needs a little adjusting. Eventually I won’t have the seizures at all.”
Anna pulled away from him. “Go back to the house.”
Kyle caught her again. “Anna, I love you.”
Anna laughed and twisted away. “You don’t know anything about love. You just want a nurse.”
“I don’t need a nurse. Anna, I love you.”
She looked at Kyle with contempt and pity. It made Shane cringe. He knew it killed Kyle. “I don’t love you,” she said.
“But last night… you don’t do that with just anyone.”
“You’re naive, Kyle. You didn’t used to be so dense. I didn’t hear either one of us proposing marriage or commitments.”
Shane wanted to run over and throttle her, but he had to let Kyle fight his own rejections.
Kyle’s voice was neutral then. “So, I’m not worth marrying anymore. I’m too stupid to be your husband.”
She laughed nervously. “Don’t take it all so personal. Get back to the house.” She left him then, sprinting into the woods.
Kyle leaned against an elm tree and then sunk to the ground. Shane stayed where he was. He knew Kyle wouldn’t want him to know what had happened, but he didn’t want Kyle alone if he had another seizure. So, he waited and watched.
Kyle took a pill bottle out of his pocket. Then he shook a couple pills into his hand. He swallowed them. He shook out a couple more and swallowed those. Again, he dumped pills into his hand.
Shane ran through the bushes and knocked the pills and bottle from his hands. “What the hell are you doing? That shit isn’t candy.”
“I can’t live like this.”
“Like what? She’s a whore, Kyle. She came on to me last month. It had nothing to do with you. She’s trash.”
Kyle grabbed and hugged him.
Shane’s first impulse was to pull away, but Kyle seemed so desperate, so broken. His sobs racked through him. Tentatively Shane put his hand on the back of Kyle’s head to comfort him. “It’s okay, Kyle. It’ll be okay. You’ll always have me and Scott and… and Eli.”
“Eli hates me. You hate me.”
“No, we don’t. We’re just trying to help you see through your pain to others. I know it’s hard. But we’ll never quit caring, just like you and Scott never gave up on me.” He pulled away from Kyle, uncomfortable with the closeness and confessions. If Kyle hadn’t just tried to commit suicide Shane wouldn’t have dared speak so openly.
“I’ll never have a wife.”
“Isn’t it too early to say that? I thought your plan was to finish your training first.”
“I’ll never finish.”
“Don’t give up yet.”
Kyle didn’t meet Shane’s eyes. Instead he picked up the pills, capped the bottle, and slipped it back into his pocket. He rubbed his face, and then began walking back toward the house.
“What’d you take? What’s it going to do?”
“Just Mysoline. I only took a couple.”
“Be straight with me, Kyle.”
“I don’t need a babysitter.”
“No, but I don’t have many friends, and I don’t want to lose either of them. Now what’s gonna happen?”
“I planned to take more and go down to the pond. I’ll probably just sleep it off.” They came out of the woods, and Kyle stared at the pond.
Kyle looked his way.
“Please don’t ever think about it again. If my feelings don’t mean much, think about Scott. It’d kill him. You let me call the poison center, and we won’t worry Scott about this.”
Kyle took a deep breath. Then he handed the pills to Shane. “Better get back before they kick in.”
Shane left Kyle on the bed and went to the phone in the basement, hoping no one would pick up the extension. He learned what he had to watch for, and he needed to make sure Kyle’s doctor knew tomorrow. When he went back upstairs, Scott and Kayleigh were ready to start home.
Shane let Scott and Kayleigh take turns driving, and he stayed in the back with Kyle. Kyle’s tremors increased, but then he slept. He was groggy when they stopped for dinner, and he barely ate.
They dropped off Kayleigh and went home. Eli met them at the door. After Kyle was settled into bed, Eli came out. “What happened? What’s wrong with him?”
“He had a seizure last night. He’s still groggy,” Scott said. “Now why did you stay home? You are welcome no matter who says anything.”
Shane went to his room to get ready for bed. He lay in bed planning his excuse when he called in tomorrow to take the day off work. He was almost asleep when he heard the knock. “Yes?” Shane clicked on the small reading lamp by his bed.
The door opened, and Eli came in. “I need to know what happened to Kyle.”
Eli would make sure he got to the doctor. Shane motioned Eli to sit on the edge of the bed and then told him about the overdose. He left out the details of Kyle’s confrontation with Scott’s sister. “Has he tried this before?”
“No. I should have gone with him.”
“Hey, it would have happened whether you came or not. You’re right about him. We can’t give in or give up. How was it here?”
“Quiet. I got a lot of beads made,” he said, referring to the ceramic jewelry he made and sent to his grandparents in New York to sell. He stood. “Thanks for staying close.”
“He’s one of my best friends, Eli. I didn’t do it for you.”
Eli smiled briefly, but then left.
The next evening Shane knew he couldn’t put it off any longer. He’d promised Amber he’d talk to Scott by Tuesday. Now he had less than twenty-four hours. Kyle was up and around and wanting to read, apparently suffering no ill effects from his overdose. They all went to bed at ten, and still Shane had not talked to Scott. He got up and redressed. Then he went to Scott’s room. “Hey, Scott,” he whispered. “Can we go out?”
Scott’s light came on. “What’s up, Shane?”
“Dessert? My treat?”
“Meet you at your car.”
Shane went down to his car to wait. A few minutes later Scott got into the passenger seat, and Shane drove to Elias Brothers. They were seated and had ordered before Scott finally asked, “What’s bothering you?”
“I’m having dinner with Amber Greystrom’s family tomorrow.”
“Amber Greystrom? The paralegal? How’d you meet her?” Scott shook his head.
“I just had some questions….”
“Just wondered if I was messing up.”
“No, Scott. Man, you’re sensitive. Mellow out. This is why I didn’t say anything. You’re still a walking bruise. I didn’t want to add any more pain.”
“So you go behind my back. What were you checking anyway? If I’d done all I could? If I’d turned in all the right papers?”
The waitress set their brownie ice cream pie pieces in front of them and silently left.
Scott automatically said a short thanks, and then glared at Shane. “So I about kill him, and now I bungle my legal affairs.”
“No. I heard a rumor about a man with a Mercedes. I can’t prove anything, so I didn’t want to upset you. I didn’t expect Amber to invite me over. Man, she’s gorgeous. And bake? That girl could put this restaurant out of business.” He took a bite of his pie, hoping he’d placated Scott with enough of the truth. He watched as Scott’s face slowly lost its anger and eased into the familiar humorous lines it normally held.
“Amber, huh? So you went two weeks ago?”
“Almost. Yeah. I still can’t prove anything though.”
“But you lied about the lost relative.”
Shane stiffened and closed his eyes. He’s not my kid. “Didn’t lie. That was the excuse she used to invite me over.” He opened his eyes. “Her stepfather is an accountant. I’m not sure if tomorrow’s invite is to see him or her or what. I think she’s toying with me. Man, she’s beautiful. If she actually went out with me alone, I think I’d die of shock. Nearly did when she called me up and invited me over.”
Scott relaxed completely. “Amber?” He grinned. “You two make a good couple. When Dad said you had someone steady, I assumed you said that because you didn’t want to date Anna.”
“I did. Wish I could help you with her, but I’m not into self-abuse. I’ve had enough of it. The minute Amber tries any trash with me, I’m not going back. I’m sorry, Scott.”
“I’m sorry. I never expected she’d act like that. And what scares me is that Kyle — conviction filled, self-righteous, Kyle — would be tempted. Sometimes I’m scared he’ll never recover.” Scott studied his pie as he scooped up another bite.
Shane was afraid of the same thing, but he couldn’t say it.
“His parents may force him home.”
“His parents can’t force him home. He isn’t that impaired. Even if he can’t go back into medicine, he can work somewhere else.”
Scott looked up. “Are we doing the right thing?”
“Yes! His parents would let him get away with that attitude. You saw how Fran tried to baby him. He would turn into Ian. Don’t give up, Scott, and don’t let any leftover false guilt keep you from standing up for what’s right.”
Scott looked down at the table.
“I know you hate conflict. Just don’t oppose me and Eli when we do what’s best for him.”
“I just wish everything would go back to the way it was.”
Shane nodded. “Yeah. Me, too. About fifty times a day.”
Shane drove back to the apartment.
As Scott unlocked the door he said, “You’ll let me know if you find out anything positive about that guy, won’t you?”
“Yeah. May just have to go ask and see his reaction. If I don’t like it, I’ll turn it over to the police. Don’t want to complicate his life if he’s innocent.”
Scott’s hand rested on Shane’s shoulder. “Thanks, Shane. I know you’ll do the right thing.”
Shane gave a slight laugh. “When you’re not all upset and hyper.”
Scott smiled. “I’ll be praying about your hot date tomorrow. You and Amber.”
“Only in my dreams so far.” Shane went to his room and did end up dreaming about Amber.
Shane came home from work the next day long enough to change his clothes before he went to Amber’s. Again, she greeted him at the door and left him with her father.
“I again want to apologize for last time,” Ray said. “Bob still insists he’d like to reconcile.”
Shane tried hard not to let any emotions show, especially his disappointment. This had nothing to do with Amber. He’d read far too much into her words. “And he actually asked you to talk me into what? Admitting I was wrong? Begging him to treat me like one of the kids he actually loves?”
“No, no, Shane. We gave him your address, and the rest is up to him. If you want his, I’ll give it to you. Other than being here for you if you need an ear, I’m no longer involved.”
“Then today is just to see if I’ll take his address. I could have taken it over the phone if I’d wanted it. I probably could have found it on the internet.”
“Today we invited you here for two reasons: to apologize, which so far hasn’t gone well, and to get to know you. We’ve dealt with a similar situation with Amber’s father. She knows what you’re feeling to some extent.”
“I’m not feeling anything. I quit feeling anything about Bob Lewis a long time ago.”
Ray gave a small smile, and Shane got the impression he didn’t believe him. But then Ray changed the subject, asking him if his company did taxes for individuals.
Shane paused a moment at the switch, but then went into accounting. “No. But we all have the opportunity to moonlight at tax only firms during the season. Most of us do.”
Ray told him about a couple friends that he did taxes with, inviting him to work with them next winter. Dinner was ready and they ate. The meal was just as good as last time, and completely relaxing.
Afterward Amber invited him to sit with her in the back yard. She brought a pitcher and two plastic glasses with her, and they settled under a tree in two of the five lawn chairs. She poured the lemonade and placed the pitcher on the small table between them.
Shane’s body relaxed. Even his nerves, which expected Amber to rip him apart at any time, began to mellow. The breeze rustled through the leaves of the trees, and the sun slid from the western sky. A row of daylilies made a thick border between their yard and the next.
“This is a nice yard.”
“Thanks. We enjoy keeping it up.”
They sat in silence for a while, and for once he didn’t feel any pressure to make conversation with a woman. She didn’t need him to speak.
“Did you ever find out anything else about the man who hit Scott?”
“No. But he’s giving Scott money, saying it’s from an anonymous group of doctors. All Scott has to do is give receipts. Scott has signed a couple. Could that hurt him?”
“He’s giving Scott money? And Scott doesn’t think that’s strange?”
“He trusts people. He believes there is really a group behind the money.”
“But you think it’s just one man’s guilty conscience.”
“Yeah. The only thing that stumps me is why he’s doing it at all. We never would have found him or suspected him if he’d just stayed away.”
“We suspected him?” She smiled.
“Okay. I suspect him. Can those receipts hurt Scott?”
“I can’t say for certain, but they would show intent for restitution. If he really wants to help, then Scott wouldn’t need to sue, would he?”
“You mean he’s covering his bases. Get on Scott’s good side, so if Scott ever finds out he won’t go for all he deserves.”
Amber laughed. “Not quite the way I saw it. Isn’t it at all possible the man is truly repentant, but afraid of the legal ramifications — loss of driver’s license. You mentioned he was a doctor and possible consequences in that area.”
Shane shook his head. “You’re just like Scott. You’re giving this guy way too much. He almost killed Kyle. In fact, Kyle almost died this weekend.” And then before he knew it, he told her all about Kyle’s suicide attempt, Anna’s behavior, Kyle’s brother’s revenge, and how everyone’s life was completely turned upside down. “He did all that. It’s all his fault.”
“Yes, he was drunk or high. Yes, he almost killed Kyle and Scott. The rest? Everyone is responsible for how they deal with the consequences. It’s easy to be nice when life is going smoothly. Now they are all either being refined — growing through this tragedy — or storing up wrath.”
“You don’t think he should pay for what he did?”
Amber sighed. “Yes. I think he owes Kyle and Scott. But you said he’s giving Scott money whenever he needs it.”
“Kyle’s career is drastically altered. That will cost him millions over his lifetime.”
“Or he could have died the following week in a fire.”
“What? You don’t understand….”
“I understand what you’re saying, Shane. I just think you’re looking at it from only one perspective. Do you know if the guy is still driving under the influence? If he is, you better call the police so no one else is hurt. If he’s repented and is drug or alcohol free, then maybe a private arrangement would work better for Kyle in the long run. You destroy his career in retaliation, then the money is completely gone.”
Shane took a few minutes to think through her words. He longed for justice. Justice… the word echoed until it rested on his own life. Not now God, he tried to protest. I know You gave me mercy instead of justice, but this guy… this guy doesn’t deserve… If mercy was deserved, it wasn’t mercy.
He glanced over at her.
“What are you thinking?”
“Just… just arguing with God. I never win those.”
A slight smile appeared. “And what were you arguing about?”
“Mercy and justice.”
Her smile broadened. “Ah, yes. We’ve received mercy. Seems we spoke a little about this last time.”
“Last time? You mean forgiving my Dad? That’s nothing to do with this. He hasn’t asked to be forgiven. If he asks then….” Then he’d be forced to….
“Then… I haven’t a clue. I say, ‘you’re forgiven’ and go on with my life?”
“It’s hard. And it’s continual, at least in my case. My father still does things that get me upset.”
Amber shrugged. “Like saying he’ll be somewhere and then not doing it. Not showing up for my graduation. Being late on purpose. Running down my step-dad. As if he was better than Ray just because he has a sports car and a boat. Ray would rather invest in the lives of the people he loves. Oh, that gets me so mad.” She looked at him and then blushed. “Sorry. Still working on forgiveness.”
Shane reached across the small table and took her hand. She didn’t pull away. “Thanks. If he ever contacts me again, I’ll remember you.” But Shane knew he never would. He’s not my kid.
She turned her hand to grasp his. “Remember me whether he ever calls or not.”
“I will.” Shane refocused on Amber and let himself enjoy the feel of her hand resting in his. He settled back in the chair to watch the last bit of the sun between the trees, wondering how long it would be before she removed her hand.
It was over a half hour later when she stirred, rising from her seat. “Will you come again?”
Shane stood also, taking both her hands. “Will you go out with me? Dinner and a movie Friday?”
“Yes. I’d like that.”
They were so close. Just one step… He took the step and brushed her lips with his. “I’ll pick you up at six.” They took the lemonade back to the house, and he didn’t release her hand until he needed to open the door for her. He briefly said goodbye to her parents in the living room and then left.
He was home in no time, his mood still up.
Scott rose from the couch when he entered. “How’d it go?”
Shane grinned. “Friday night alone. Whatever you think, Scott, just let me pretend this is going to be the one until she dumps me. Don’t try to make me see reality.”
Scott smiled. “I don’t need to pretend. Why don’t you set up a date some time with me and Kayleigh? Or… maybe we can take the girls, Kyle and Eli to the mini golf and arcade some Saturday. Or you can go with me, Kayleigh, Bert, and Carol to the symphony.”
Shane laughed. “Yeah. I’ll see if she’s willing.”
It wasn’t until Shane was in bed that the other thoughts intruded. He was too happy right now. Something would happen. This beautiful, talented, intelligent woman couldn’t really be interested in him.
Go to Chapter 6
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.