Kyle asked about the job almost every day, and Scott kept putting him off. Shane wished he hadn’t placed Scott in that position. He could tell he wasn’t sleeping well again, and Shane hoped it was lack of sleep and not resentment which made Scott seem so short with him. Kyle was again after Eli to quit his grocery job, and Eli quietly refused.
Thursday, they sat at the dinner table, and Kyle again asked Scott about the job.
“Just wait, will you? I told you there are things that have to be straightened out first.”
“Well, when can I meet him? It won’t hurt for me to meet him.”
“Yeah, Scott. Invite him over,” Shane suggested.
Scott glared at Shane.
“I’ll cook,” Eli volunteered.
“And bring Kayleigh if you don’t want to miss a date.” Kyle suggested. “Have him bring his wife. Make it social. Eli’s a great cook.”
“And of course, you’ll invite Amber,” Scott said with rare sarcasm.
Shane was silent. Everyone was silent.
Kyle spoke. “She dumped him.”
“But… but why? Amber didn’t seem like that type.”
“What type, Scott? I just don’t have time to date.”
“It’s my fault, isn’t it?” Kyle asked.
“No. Not your fault. Not anyone’s fault.” He shrugged and studied his pork chops. “We’re still friends. Who knows? We might stop out for dinner some night, but I’m not ready for commitments.”
“You liar,” Scott said, and Shane had the feeling he’d been longing to say that all week. “Man, you lie. You want a commitment.”
Shane pushed back the chair and stood. He couldn’t stay unattached any longer. “I don’t need anyone, Scott. I’m not begging anyone to love me. I don’t need a girlfriend or a wife, or even a stupid father. And if you think I’m just a damn liar, I don’t need you either.”
Shane went to his room. He wasn’t even sure why he exploded. He tried to relax and think logically. He wished Scott wasn’t right. He was a liar, and Scott was paying for it. He shouldn’t have yelled at him. He shouldn’t have mentioned his father, either. He would miss his twenty-sixth birthday, just like he’d missed his ninth and every one after. It didn’t matter to him. It didn’t. God, why is this stabbing me now? Why? It doesn’t matter. None of it matters.
A soft tap on his door stopped him. He sat up, and Scott came in. “I’m sorry, Shane.”
“Not your fault. I shouldn’t have gotten upset. I’m sorry I lied to Kyle.”
“I know why you did it.” Scott sat on the edge of the bed. “I just don’t want to burden Bert. It’s not easy taking in a new employee, especially when you don’t need one.” Scott studied Shane. “She wouldn’t dump you because Kyle needed you, would she? She knows what’s been going on here.”
“It was because I broke the date, was late, brought Kyle, the whole thing. She apologized, but….” Shane looked beyond Scott to the door before he whispered, “I can’t make any commitments when Kyle might need me any time.”
“You shouldn’t be hurt. I should have stayed home.”
“Why? So we can both be dumped?”
Scott winced. “She won’t dump me. She’s scared of a lot of things, but she won’t leave me.”
Shane had a feeling Scott was right, but he had to tease him. “Because you’re Mr. Charm, right?”
Scott smiled. “Something like that. Why’d you mention your father? You used to lump your mom and dad together when you got mad.”
He should have known Scott would catch that. He shrugged as if it weren’t important. “I realized you and Kyle were right about Mom. She was there when I needed her. Just because she moved across the country as soon as I went to college doesn’t mean anything.”
“And your dad is now the sole scapegoat.” Scott said it with a slight jest, but he watched Shane. “Did Amber’s father withdraw his offer for tax work?”
“No. Nothing like that. Amber’s stepfather is great, actually. He let us stay as long as we needed, and he even called me yesterday just to see how Kyle and I were doing.” Shane laughed a little. “In fact, he told me if I asked Amber out again, she’d probably accept.”
“Really? You have her dad’s approval. That’s cool. So will you?”
Shane shook his head. “Can’t guarantee I’ll never have another emergency.” He wasn’t going to let her rip him apart. It was harder getting rejected by someone that beautiful and together than it was to be rejected by the other women he had dated. He’d never expected much from them. He’d always hoped, but not really expected anything.
“You’re scared,” Scott said, reading right through him. “Don’t give up too soon.”
Shane grinned. “Guess I could invite her for the big dinner with Dr. Thorton.”
Scott winced and rose from the bed. “Now I have to invite him. But you really should ask Amber out before that. It might be a few weeks to a month.”
Shane grinned and followed him from the room. “I’m in no hurry. Unlike you who kept saying that and were engaged within two months.” He’d kept Scott from talking about his father. He wasn’t sure if he was relieved or disappointed Scott hadn’t pursued it.
Scott and Eli left for classes, Scott for a two-week training class that his boss wanted him to take and Eli to Eastern Michigan University for another prerequisite. Eli had classes each night of the week now, except Friday.
Tuesday came as every other workday. Scott greeted him with a hearty, “Happy Birthday,” but other than that, nothing was different. He hated this day. Usually on someone’s birthday the three of them would celebrate, but they’d just celebrated Labor Day, and Scott and Eli had class.
At one point during the day Shane stared at his computer and wondered what his father was doing. It made him angry. His father wouldn’t come, even though he knew where he lived now.
His phone rang. “A gentleman to talk to you,” Betsy said. “He said it was personal.”
Shane tensed. “Thanks.” He pressed the button, expecting his father’s voice.
“Hi, Shane,” Ray Pearson said. “A little mouse told me it was your birthday.”
“Not that anyone notices.”
Ray chuckled. “So, I’m the first to wish you a happy birthday?”
Shane smiled. “Actually, Scott was. What can I help you with, Ray?”
“Nothing important. Just wanted to see how you were doing.”
“He’s doing better now that he has worked things out with his parents. I don’t think he’s had a seizure since.”
“Good. By the way, think you could get away next Tuesday evening? Rick Chancellor and I are meeting for coffee about seven. Think you can make it?”
“I’d like to, but both Eli and Scott have class on Tuesdays, and although Kyle’s better, I’d rather not leave him alone yet.” If it weren’t for Kyle’s suicide attempts, he would have left without hesitation, but no one knew when Ian or someone else would call and upset him. Shane didn’t want to take the chance or explain that to Ray.
“Would it be a problem if we came to your place?”
“No,” Shane said, surprised they would make the effort. “That would work out great. Tuesday at seven.”
“See you then, Shane. Have a happy birthday.”
The phone call changed his mood. It didn’t matter that his father didn’t care. He had friends.
When he arrived home a little after five, Scott was already there. Eli had baked a cake and made one of the best beef roasts he remembered having. They teased him and made him feel special. Then Scott promised that he’d pick Eli up after class, and they’d all go out for ice cream sundaes later.
Shane and Kyle relaxed in the living room after they left. Kyle grabbed a book off the table. “Want to read this one together when those guys are at school? Eli says it’s a great one.”
“John Piper? Sure.” Shane reached for it.
Kyle pulled it back. “I’ll read first. Why don’t you get your sketch pad or something?”
Shane smiled and agreed. Kyle hadn’t read out loud in his hearing since the accident. And as he suspected, Kyle had no problems. He wouldn’t have volunteered before he felt comfortable.
Kyle paused at a new subsection.
“It’s so good to hear you read again, Kyle.”
Kyle laughed. “You’re starting to sound like Scott. Don’t get sentimental. Tell me what you think about this. You always disagree with me, so spit it out first. Is this guy off his rocker or right on?”
“I think he’s right on. I want to hear the rest.”
Kyle smiled slightly. “For once I agree with you. Not that I couldn’t argue, you know. But you’ve learned a few things in the past eight years.”
Shane laughed. “Just a few.”
Kyle read until the phone rang. Shane set down the sketch pad and reached for it. “Hello.”
“Happy Birthday, Honey.”
“Hi, Mom. How are things in Arizona?”
Kyle shook his head and set down the book.
His mother didn’t call often, but when she did Shane found out everything she and her new husband had done, and what they’d done with his half-sister and her husband. At first Shane had been extremely jealous, but Scott told him he was taking it wrong and to share what he’d been doing with them. She probably just wanted to talk to him. Scott seemed to be right. When Shane told of his adventures after that, she listened intently. When he went to Arizona the Christmas after he’d graduated, she’d seemed genuinely proud when she introduced him to friends, and they’d all known a lot about him.
They’d been speaking for about ten minutes when there was a knocking on the door. Shane kept half his attention on the phone call as he watched Kyle answer it. He didn’t trust Ian or Anna to stay where they belonged.
“You want Shane? Little girl, I bet you’re only in junior high. Why don’t you go home to your parents?”
“I’m sixteen! And I want to see Shane. Is he home? Can I wait for him?”
“You want to wait in an apartment full of men who are all strangers to you? Listen, little girl….”
“I’m not a little girl!”
“Listen, little girl, you never go knocking on the doors of strangers alone, especially around here. Half these dorks away from home for the first time would have no self-control around a pretty little girl like you.”
“I’m not a little girl! When will Shane be home?”
“I know he didn’t date you. He’s not interested in little girls.”
Shane sat up. “Just a minute, Mom. Someone’s at the door.” He set down the phone and went to look out around Kyle’s shoulder.
The girl was indeed petite, especially standing next to six foot four Kyle. She wore bell-bottom jeans and a half shirt that exposed her belly in a retro-seventies fashion. Her hair hung almost as long as Amber’s and was tucked behind her ears. Unlike Amber’s it was mouse brown instead of gold. A small purse hung from a thin strap over her right shoulder, and she held a gift bag.
“Is there anything I can do for you… little girl?”
Kyle grinned at him. “You don’t know her, do you?”
“No. Never saw her before. What’s your name?”
“Tara Lewis. I’m your sister. Dad said your birthday was the eighth — today.” She held out the bag.
Shane stepped back from the door and the outstretched arm. “I… I….”
Kyle watched and then glanced toward the phone. “Are you still talking to your mom?”
That helped him focus. He went back to the phone as the girl stepped into the apartment. “Mom?”
“What’s happening, Shane?”
“I… I’ll call you back.” He hung up the phone and faced the girl. “Where’s Dad?”
“At home. He doesn’t know I’m here.” She sat on the edge of the chair.
“He’s missed every birthday since he ran off with your mother. He certainly wouldn’t want to break that record now.”
She looked down at the bag in her hands. Her lips trembled. “He… he said you didn’t want to be bothered.” She looked up into his eyes. “But I just had to meet you. It’s okay, isn’t it?”
Shane studied the girl. Kyle was right. She’d done a dangerous thing. He glanced at Kyle, watching silently from the other chair. “Little girl….”
Her chin went up. “My name is Tara. I’m sixteen. I’ve got my own car.”
It was a slap across his heart. “Okay, Tara with the car daddy gave you at sweet sixteen, you could have been raped. Kyle’s right. Don’t go knocking on strangers’ doors.”
“I didn’t think my brother would rape me. I’m not a total idiot.” Then she wavered and wrapped her arms around herself, covering her bare stomach. “That’s not why he said not to bother you, is it?” She glanced from Shane to Kyle. The bag dropped to the floor. “I… I just wanted to know you and… and give you this….” She stared at the bag a moment before she unwrapped one arm to pick it up and hold out to him.
She was a scared, little girl no matter what she claimed. And although he resented all she stood for, all she’d gotten that should have been his, he couldn’t hate her. She didn’t know any better and couldn’t help it that she was loved and he wasn’t. He could break her now with sarcasm and make her cry. He knew that instinctively. But he didn’t want tears. And he really didn’t want retribution. Not from this fragile little flower.
Shane took the bag. “Thank you.” He reached inside and withdrew a new, slim, NIV Bible. A Bible. She’d brought him a Bible. He stared at it.
Kyle laughed. “She’s trying to save you, Shane.”
Tara’s cheeks turned bright red.
Kyle’s attention went to her. “Don’t worry, Tara. It took me a while to get through his thick skull, but I think he’s finally got it down. He’s turned into a regular Calvinist though. He wasn’t satisfied with the basics. He had to know everything behind every single teaching.”
“You… you believe?”
“Yes. Didn’t Ray tell you that?”
“Ray? I found your address in… in Dad’s little address book when he was in the shower.” She shook her head. “Then why did Dad say you didn’t want to be bothered? Why did he imply that….” She glanced at Kyle and then blushed.
Shane’s anger returned, but he tried to master it. If he’d told his family what he’d said to him….
“He said you wouldn’t want to meet us.”
“Wait a minute,” Kyle said. “You’ve been holding out on us, Shane. When did you see your father?”
“The man I met told me I wasn’t his kid.”
“The Lewis Amber wanted you to meet. Man, Shane, why are you hiding things from us? Or is it just me? Bet you told Scott all about it, but I’m too stupid to handle it.” Kyle stood.
“Shit, Kyle, knock it off. I didn’t tell anyone. I never needed a damn father, so it wasn’t worth mentioning.”
“Don’t hide stuff from me. That’s what it is, you know. You guys hiding stuff, and then trying to make me think I forgot.”
“Cut the conspiracy crap.” He glanced at Tara who sat wide eyed with her arms wrapped around her. “Besides you’re scaring my little sister.”
Kyle stared at Tara, and slowly he seemed to untense. He laughed nervously. “He’s pig-headed, Tara, but he’s decent. I’m going to turn in.” Kyle disappeared into his bedroom.
Shane hesitated a moment and then followed silently to look into the dark room. Kyle kicked off his shoes and then lay on his bed. He didn’t reach for his pills, and after a moment Shane went back to the living room. He wished he could take those pills away from him without saying he was too stupid to handle them.
“Dad didn’t really say you weren’t his kid, did he? You look a lot like him. Especially when you’re mad.”
Shane leaned back against the couch. “Look, Tara, after you were conceived, he didn’t care at all what happened to me. It’s just the way it is.”
She shook her head. “But, how could he say that? When did he say it? A long time ago?”
“A couple weeks ago. He really didn’t want to meet me. I’m sure he just did it to placate Ray Pearson.”
“That’s not true. He wanted to meet you, but then when he came home, he said you didn’t want to be bothered. You were unreachable. But I think… I know God can reach anyone.”
Shane couldn’t help smiling at her simple faith. He’d heard the gospel by the time he was her age, but he doubted everything then. “God can reach anyone,” he assured her.
“Even Dad. We’ve been praying for him for a long time, and he finally started going to church. Well, he did for about a month. He’s made excuses for the last three Sundays.”
Shane fought the jumble of emotions until they were back in place. “I’m sorry, Tara. From what little I’ve seen of him, I don’t think he is, and I really don’t care.”
“Of course, you care. If you’re a Christian you care about anyone who’s lost, don’t you?”
Shane stood and looked out onto the dark balcony. “You’re daddy’s little girl, aren’t you? His favorite. It’s hard for you to accept he isn’t.”
She joined him at the window. “It’s hard for me to understand that you don’t care. If he becomes a Christian, then… then things will be better. You and Dad will….”
“Things are never that simple. He doesn’t love me, and why should he? He doesn’t even know me. He has no plans to see me. Not even when fatherhood would be cheap and easy, because I don’t need anything. I’ve already earned my own way through life.” He turned to look at her. “Why’d you guys move back to Michigan?”
“There was a job offer, and my mom’s relatives are here. About a year ago Mom started really harping on moving to Michigan when she hadn’t said a word about it before.”
Shane gave a short, sarcastic laugh. He slid open the sliding glass door and went on to the balcony to lean on the railing, looking out over the dark golf course so he wouldn’t have to face her.
Tara followed. “Why’d you laugh?”
“Dad would have been arrested if you’d moved back to Michigan any sooner. The statue of limitations ran out last year — seven years after I turned eighteen. Well, maybe seven years after I left home, that would have been a couple weeks ago. Back child support to my mom. For a while he owed it to the State, too, but Mom worked hard to keep us just above the eligibility level for aid. I also got a good portion of my tuition paid by the state. Not all. I’ve still got some student loans. Although none of my college stuff affects him.”
Tara said nothing and stared out over the dark picnic area and the golf course beyond.
They stood in silence until noise from the apartment drew their attention. Scott and Eli were home. “Hey, Kyle. Where’s Shane?” A moment later Scott came out on the balcony. “Shane? Hey, who’s this? I’m Scott Alexander.” He smiled his charmer smile as he greeted Tara.
“Let’s go inside. What time does your daddy expect you back, Tara?”
They went into the brighter apartment. Kyle sat in the chair he’d used before. Eli was on the couch next to him.
“At… at ten,” Tara said, her voice wavering.
“Tara is Shane’s sister,” Kyle told them. “Tara, these are Shane’s other roommates, Scott and Eli.”
“This is my family, Tara,” Shane said, seeing if the information would have the effect it did on his father. “Scott’s getting married at Christmas, and then Kayleigh plans to join us also.”
“Sister? When’d you fly in? Boy, you look young for having two kids. Are your husband and kids here? Will we need to rearrange things? This couch folds out.”
Tara stared at Scott. Kyle laughed. “Well, guess I’m not the only one Shane lied to.”
“I didn’t lie! Kyle, knock it off. Tara’s a half-sister on my father’s side. Guess he’s living near Milan now.”
“Wait. You did lie. You said that Lewis was no relation.”
“I said we determined we weren’t family. He told me I wasn’t his kid. I didn’t lie.”
Scott’s annoyance left, and a sympathy replaced it. “You should have told me.”
“You’ve got enough. Are we going for those sundaes?”
“Will you join us, Tara?” Scott asked.
“She has to run home to Daddy,” Shane said, barely glancing her way.
Tara blushed. She snatched her purse and went to the door, slipping out.
Scott stared after her. “You’re going to let her leave like that?”
“That was rude.”
Shane rolled his eyes. Now Scott thought Tara was upset. “Relax. We talked things out.”
“And when will you see her again?” Scott insisted.
“See her again? I guess whenever she stops over.”
“I probably wouldn’t bother if I was dismissed like that,” Eli said quietly. “Didn’t sound like you wanted her around.”
“She’s sixteen! Shouldn’t even be out in Ann Arbor alone after dark.”
Kyle snorted a laugh. “You mean alone in Ann Arbor at all, especially at the beginning of fall term.”
They went down to Scott’s Cherokee, but Tara was gone. Scott didn’t speak again until he pulled into the traffic. “So, you don’t think you’d like to see her again.”
“Remember who you’re talking to, Scott,” Kyle said. “We had to drill family into his head a million times. Looks like he still doesn’t understand.”
“I understand my father doesn’t want anything to do with me. I’m not going to wend my way into his presence by hanging out with his favorite little baby girl.”
“His favorite little baby girl is a separate person.”
“I know that.” Then he let his frustration loose. “He gave her a car! He couldn’t even get me a stinking bike, and he bought her a car! Never even cared if I ate or starved. Never cared if I was even alive. And then he accuses me of being gay for having… having friends.” His eyes burned, and he turned to face the window, willing the tears not to fall.
They were silent. When Scott pulled into the restaurant parking lot, Shane knew he’d lost the battle with his eyes. He didn’t know how he’d disguise it. He wiped his cheek with the back of his hand.
“Eli, Kyle,” Scott said softly. “Get our sundaes to go. We’ll eat out here.”
Eli and Kyle left the truck. Then Scott’s hand rested on Shane’s shoulder.
“I know. Wish you hadn’t hid from us.”
“Not worth talking about. More important things to think about, like Kyle. He read tonight. Read good. Just like he used to.”
“Did he? That’s great. Wish I’d been home.”
“He claimed he agreed with me, so we didn’t need to debate the text. Says he could though. But you know he’d debate before whether he agreed or not, just to debate.”
“So, he doesn’t feel comfortable debating. Doesn’t feel quick enough, yet. But he’s recovering.”
“Yeah. He’s doing good.”
“Eli’s great for him.”
“Eli is.” Shane wiped his cheeks again. “Didn’t mean to snap at you guys.”
“Don’t lose any sleep over me. I’m okay.”
Scott gave a slight laugh. “I’m too busy thinking up ways to tell Bert that Kyle needs a job. No, I haven’t done it yet.”
“Quit worrying about his feelings. Think of Kyle.”
“Shane, Bert isn’t exactly doing well.”
“Well, Kyle can help him. Besides Bert doesn’t need your sympathy.”
“Good, Shane. Trash everyone. Bert isn’t your father. He’s a decent man, a good friend. Look at all he’s already done for Kyle. He even volunteered to give him a spending allowance when I told him that Kyle’s parents couldn’t send him any more money. I tried to mention a job then, but… we got off to another subject.”
Shane had thought maybe tonight was the night to get everything out, but it wasn’t. Scott wouldn’t believe him, and he had no proof. “Sorry, Scott. Maybe after I meet him.”
Scott smiled. “Yeah. You’re skeptical of the world, but I know why. Here they come.”
Go to Chapter 9
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.