At home Shane took his sketch pad and his new Bible into his room. He looked through it. Tara had written on the presentation page his name and hers. A folded, pink piece of stationary slipped out.
He opened the sheet to find rows of loopy handwriting. “Dear Shane; I hope we can be friends. I’ve always wanted an older brother or sister. I promise I won’t spend all our time together trying to convert you. I just wanted you to have this, and I wanted you to know you’re welcome to come to our house or to church any time.” She then included her address and phone number. “I really hope we can be great friends. Love, Tara.”
He had no idea what to say to her, but he knew he had to say something. How come Scott was always right about these things? He tried to sleep but didn’t make any decisions until early the next morning.
The four of them sat around the kitchen table drinking coffee and eating cereal. “Well, Scott, think I should take Tara out to dinner Friday to make up for being rude, or is that too gushy to do with a sister?”
“That’s a great way to get to know her.”
“What’s everyone else doing Friday?” He hoped Eli would stay with Kyle.
“You and Scott are always going out for dinner. Why don’t we take off for dinner, Eli.” Then Kyle grimaced. “I’m almost broke. When’s that job going to start, Scott?”
“I’m not sure, but the insurance has approved enough that there’s extra for your personal expenses while you’re recovering. Think fifty dollars a week will help until it comes through?”
Kyle studied Scott. “I’m not a charity case. You don’t have to give me money.”
“It’s not his money. It’s for your recovery,” Shane said. “I’m keeping track of everything.”
“One of these days you guys are going to have to go over those records with me. But if I get fifty by Friday, I guess we can still go out, can’t we, Eli?”
Eli hesitated. “Yeah. Sure.”
Scott and Shane left for work, but not before Shane caught Scott slipping Eli an extra twenty. Eli tried to refuse, but Scott left the money anyway. Shane wanted to protest, but one glance at Scott’s determined look changed that. They’d talk about it when they balanced the spreadsheet again.
Shane waited until three thirty to call the number on the pink sheet of paper. He hoped it was after school but before his father would be home. A female voice answered, but she sounded older than Tara. “May I speak with Tara, please?”
“May I tell her who’s calling?”
“Does she have many guys calling her?” Shane asked to avoid the question.
The woman giggled. “I can’t tell you how much competition you have. Just remember she’s special.”
“Who is it, Mom?” Tara asked in the background. “It’s not for me, is it?”
“Remember to be polite to the mother of your girlfriends, young man. They have more control than you think.”
“Yes, Ma’am,” Shane said, not bothering to correct her.
“Hello?” asked Tara, her voice timid.
“Hi, Tara. I wondered if you were busy Friday night. We could get Mexican or Italian.”
“Who is this?”
“I don’t want to be discussed by your parents, and I don’t want to meet him again or the woman he left Mom for.”
“Oh, Shane, it’s you.”
“You just told your mom who I was.”
“Well, I can’t lie to them. But yeah, I’m not busy Friday. I don’t have any friends here yet, really.”
“But if you had something better to do….”
“I didn’t mean it like that. Honest. I just meant I hardly ever have prior plans right now. Shane….”
“It’s okay. Do you want to meet somewhere?”
“I’d rather you came and got me. I got lost yesterday.”
“I won’t go in.”
“I’ll pick you up at six thirty then. Bye.”
Shane cringed at the thought of a girl like Tara getting lost on a Friday night near any of the freshman hangouts.
Eli and Kyle were already gone Friday when Shane and Scott arrived home. Shane took the opportunity to ask Scott for updates in his money and expenditures both from insurance and from Dr. Thorton. He took the receipts and made entries in the spreadsheet.
“Well, I asked today,” Scott said, leaning back in the dining room chair, he’d pulled up by the computer.
“And of course he was shocked. I told him you’d confess you lied if he couldn’t do it, but he said he’d talk to Kyle’s occupational therapist and see if he could come up with something.”
“Great. And did you ask about the dinner?”
“Yeah. Tentatively we can plan for next Friday, unless his wife has other plans. Then it would be the following week. You’re bringing Amber?”
“I’ll ask her when you finalize the date.”
“And when will you meet Tara?”
Shane glanced at his watch. “Soon.” He saved the spreadsheet on the computer. “Isn’t Kayleigh waiting for you?”
“I’m just leaving.” Scott moved the chair back and headed out the door.
Shane followed Scott downstairs.
As he drove toward Milan his stomach knotted. It became worse when he pulled into the drive of a home larger than Ray Pearson’s.
The door opened and a small woman came out, but it wasn’t Tara. She came to his side of the car. “Could you come inside for a few moments?” Her voice was even, and she frowned.
Shane didn’t want to get out of the car. He didn’t want to see Robert Lewis, especially when Robert Lewis didn’t want to see him.
She studied his face. “You do take after your father.”
“I do not. Where’s Tara?”
Her frown deepened into an expression he could not read. “Shane, you must speak with your father about this.” Her voice was neutral when she spoke, but it was a neutral that concealed emotions Shane could only guess at. He instinctively felt they mirrored his own. Distrust. Wariness. A thread of anger. She left the car and went back inside.
He wanted to drive away. He’d told Tara he wasn’t going to do this, and she was forcing him to. He didn’t need a little sister. He didn’t need any of them. But anger drove him to tell them that.
Shane turned off the car and slammed the door, stalking up to the house. He didn’t bother knocking on the screen, and the main door was open. After a short entry he was in a family room. Two boys around the age of Ray Pearson’s sons played video games on the television.
“This wasn’t my idea, Shane,” Tara said, rising from a chair. “I tried to tell him it wasn’t….”
“Sit down, Tara,” Bob Lewis commanded. He came to stand only a foot from Shane. “She’s your sister, you moron. You don’t date your sister. On top of that she’s nine years younger than you. Don’t you have any morals at all?”
“All I ever learned from you was adultery and desertion, so I guess not. If I was as wretched as you think I am, my friends and I would have raped her last Tuesday. It’s not like you were at my birthday to stop us.”
The two boys were no longer looking at the television.
“Get out of here and stay away from my family.”
“I never needed you. Never.” Shane shouted. He heard Tara sobbing, but ignored her as he whirled around and stalked to the front door. He slammed it shut because it felt good to slam something.
He drove home. He wanted to break out. Punch something. Shout. Yell. But he couldn’t. He went up to the apartment and into his room. He smashed his hand into the pillow, yelling in frustration, again and again until he was exhausted. He lay back as darkness enveloped the room, drifting in and out of sleep.
He heard the door open a while later. The living room lamp sent a sliver of light into his room. He saw Scott go into Kyle’s room, but then a moment later, he came into Shane’s room. “Shane? Are you okay?”
“Yeah,” he said, but he felt dead.
“What happened? Neighbors said they thought someone was getting beaten up here.”
“Just the pillow.”
Scott settled on the edge of the bed. “What happened?”
“He thought I wanted to date her.”
“Your sister? You set him straight, didn’t you?”
“I don’t know.” He hated how his voice cracked. “He thinks I’m a stupid moron with no morals.”
“He didn’t say that! He doesn’t even know you. You were just doing the right thing.” Scott stood. “Where is he? What’s the address? I’m going to set him straight.”
Shane wanted to laugh, but it came out wrong, sounding more like a sob. He turned his face into his mutilated pillow to stifle any more sounds he didn’t mean. He could hear Scott looking through his things.
“I’ll take this letter. This will prove your intent.”
“Don’t!” Shane forced himself up. “I’m okay, Scott. Don’t. I don’t need him.”
“But he can’t think that about you! You’re better than any of that. How can he keep assuming the worse?”
It’d come to him as he’d drifted half out of sleep during his misery, and he knew it was true. “Because then he has a reason to keep me away. A reason why he stayed away. A reason that makes what he did all right, because I was rotten anyway.”
“Why aren’t you with Kayleigh?”
“I was. We had dinner, and then she needed to get home.”
“What time is it, anyway? Where’s Kyle and Eli?” Shane stood. “You don’t think they had problems, do you?”
“It’s just past nine. They’re probably fine. What did Tara say?”
“I didn’t talk to Tara. Just drop it, Scott. I don’t need anyone.” Shane tried to brush past him out of the bedroom.
Scott caught his upper arms. “You’ve got us. We’re your family. It’s all right to need us. I need you.”
Shane stared at Scott, unsure how much was just Scott’s sentimental way.
“I don’t think I’d have made it through the accident near as well without you, Shane. We’re family. We help each other over the rough parts. You let us help you.”
Shane took a deep breath and nodded. “Yeah, Scott. Need you, too. Need to think about something else. I wonder if Eli made anything today. I’m hungry.”
Eli and Kyle came home as they were searching the kitchen for something to snack on. They’d been at the Museum of Natural History, and they brought home a jigsaw puzzle from the gift shop that they claimed they were going to make next week.
The weekend went quickly, and Monday Shane was back at work. It was almost noon when he looked up from his desk to see Amber approaching with Betsy, the receptionist. “Here he is,” Betsy said and then left them.
Amber held up a clear plastic bag of pastries as she approached. “Peace?”
Shane smiled. “Sure. Anything for one of those turnovers.”
She sat in the chair near his desk. “Are you busy for lunch?”
“I think I can fit you in.” He took one of the turnovers, and bit into it, enjoying her skill. “This is so good, Amber. You really are in the wrong job.”
She laughed. “I’ve missed you, Shane.”
“I was planning to call you tomorrow or Wednesday, whenever Scott sets the date and time. We’re having the Thortons over. Scott’s bringing Kayleigh, and I thought you might like to come. See what you think of this guy. I can’t stand you up if you’re coming to our place, right?”
“Shane, I really am sorry about that.”
He shrugged. “Kyle talked suicide that night, and the next day he almost downed the whole bottle. I’m not leaving him alone. I can’t make any commitments, so I didn’t call.”
“I’m sorry I made you feel that way. I didn’t understand how serious it was. I promise not to jump to conclusions again.”
Shane put the rest of the turnovers in his bottom drawer, and then stood and took her hand. “Let’s get out of here before I get a phone call.”
They left the office building and walked two blocks to a small cafe. “When will this big event be with the Thortons?”
“Either this Friday or next for dinner. Are you free?”
“Do you need me to cook?” Her eyes gleamed, and he knew she was teasing.
“Only if you want to. Eli’s pretty good at it, and he volunteered.”
“Why don’t I bring dessert? How many people?”
Shane counted them up. “Eight.”
“What’s your favorite?”
“Anything you bake. I love it all.”
Amber smiled. “You really do love food, don’t you? You don’t look it… yet.”
Shane grinned. “If I hang out with you too much I will get fat.”
“We can take up tennis. Do you like to play?”
“Never had much opportunity, but I can learn. Sounds better than some of the alternatives. What about in the dead of winter?”
Shane laughed. “I’ve had practice at that game. You’re in trouble.” He rested his hand on hers, and she turned hers to hold his as they waited for their food.
They were halfway through the meal when Amber broke their light mood. “My father stopped by Saturday. We went for lunch. He wanted to borrow money. He always brags about his Corvette and boat, and he needed money.”
“What’d you do?”
Amber blushed. “I lied. I should have just said no. Instead I lied and made excuses. And then I was angry he put me in that position. But why doesn’t he just sell his stupid boat, or not buy his cigarettes.”
Shane squeezed her hand reassuringly. “Was he angry?”
“He pretended it didn’t matter, but I think he was disappointed in me.”
Shane focused on his plate but wasn’t really hungry anymore. The cafe’s food was only passable and not worth savoring, especially when he thought about his own father.
He looked into her eyes.
“Do you want to talk about it?” she asked.
What did she know? Who had talked to her? What had they said?
She gripped his hand. “What happened, Shane?” she asked softly.
“You tell me. What happened? I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She sighed and shrugged. “All I know is that when Dad asked Rose Lewis where Bob was Sunday, she said he should apologize for ever introducing you to him. She wouldn’t elaborate, and said if he didn’t apologize, she’d switch churches.”
For a slight moment he felt the same slap he had Friday night when his father accused him of incest. “I told you he didn’t want to know me. Doesn’t that prove it? A formal apology, huh?” Shane stood and threw a couple dollars on the table. Then he took the bill to the cashier.
Amber rested her hand between his shoulder blades as he waited and paid for their lunch. She still had her hand on him, her arm half around him when he finished. They walked outside and then he stopped against the brick building, drawing her to him, just to hold on to her. She leaned against him, wrapping her arms around him and resting her head against his shoulder. He breathed deeply, taking in the clean scent of her hair and the soft feel of her body under his arms and against him.
Finally, he pulled away from her, and they kept walking. “Call Dad. He needs to know what happened, so he knows how to respond. If you don’t, he’ll have to call you.”
“Thanks for the warning,” Shane said dryly. “I’ll see him tomorrow evening anyway. Guess we’ll talk then. Unless he thinks I’m too depraved to associate with now.”
“Of course not, Shane. Why would he think that?”
“Tara asked to get to know me. She came to my apartment. I wasn’t trying to date her. I wouldn’t. Not my sister! I just thought we would go someplace neutral and talk. A restaurant. A place with a lot of people. Scott said I should get to know her. He said dinner was a great idea. He said Tara wasn’t Dad, and she gave me a birthday present — a Bible.” Shane took a deep breath to stop his rambling. His emotions were rising again, and they were not supposed to be there. None of this was supposed to matter at all. “I… don’t… need… any… family. I don’t need them. I don’t need a father, or a little sister, or anyone.”
Amber leaned against him, her arm going around him. Shane hugged her again. He didn’t need anyone, but oh how he wished he could hold her like this forever. They were in front of the building he worked in now, and he didn’t want to go back in.
Amber pulled away. Her face was wet. “I’ll be at your place Friday at six.” She leaned forward, her face tilted upwards.
He kissed her. Gently at first, but when she didn’t pull away, he wrapped his arms around her again, barely resisting the urge to run his hands up and down her back.
When she pulled away, she walked quickly across the parking lot to her Saturn, not looking back.
At home over dinner he told them Amber would come Friday and bring dessert.
“This Friday? Bert said next Friday was better.” Scott looked at Kyle. “He’ll get to know you then, but he’d rather not discuss business when he’s with his wife.”
“So, it’ll be over two more weeks! Scott, I need to get back into the hospital.”
“Don’t rush things.”
“You don’t think I can do it!” Kyle stood. “You think I’m stupid, useless, and worthless. Even if I forgot as much as you know I’d still know twice as much as you.” Kyle stalked to his room.
Eli continued eating without looking up.
Shane tried not to smile.
Scott glared at him. “It’s not funny.”
“Sure, it is. I always knew he thought he was three times smarter than anyone else, and he just proved it. Relax, Scott. He’s just letting off steam. Eli’s not worried.”
If Eli had chased after him, it would have meant Eli thought he might try something stupid. But Eli didn’t, and he seemed to have a good handle on Kyle’s moods.
Scott studied Eli.
Eli shrugged. “He’s not mad at you. He wants me to quit the grocery. Can’t let him think he has control, and I’m a slave.” He smiled slightly. “Think I’ll make him happy tomorrow, though, and tell him we need to talk to my advisors about declaring a major. I’ve decided on occupational therapy.”
Scott smiled. “You’re good at it.”
Since Labor Day Eli worked Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday nights, arriving home just before Shane left the following morning. With four classes, Kyle’s running and demands, and the grocery job, Shane didn’t know when Eli slept, but he must because it’d been a few weeks since he’d caught him with those dark circles under slitted eyelids.
After Eli left for class that night, Kyle emerged from his room. Shane told him about Ray Pearson and his friend, Rick Chancellor coming to visit the next evening.
“So where should I go?” Kyle asked defensively.
“Hey, what’s got you going? You never used to worry about being welcome anywhere. You’ll visit, too.”
“I don’t know anything about accounting.”
“You don’t?” Shane teased. “I thought you knew twice as much as Scott or I did.”
Kyle scowled and then grinned. “I know. My job is to make you look good.”
Shane laughed. “And how do you plan to do that?”
“I’ll find a way. And why don’t you have Amber come here both Fridays. Eli will cook.” Eli wasn’t there to protest.
“Not afraid I’ll try to snitch her away, are you?” Kyle teased.
Shane sobered a little and studied Kyle. “No. You and Scott are great. I’ll ask her.”
Kyle’s mood shifted, too. “Eli won’t bother your girl either. I think he’s scared of ‘em or something. The kid’s got to learn to have a little confidence in himself.”
“Oh? He stands up to you pretty well.”
Kyle grimaced. “We’re friends. I mean like that grocery store thing. He won’t tell those people no. He won’t quit. They walk all over him. And he’s so quiet; he rarely speaks up.”
“Maybe because you’re talking too much?”
Kyle laughed, but then sobered. “No. Even at the beginning when talking was harder, he wouldn’t speak up. I’d have to struggle and say it when it was ten times easier for him.”
It was the first time Kyle had admitted to him how difficult it had been for him, and how far he’d come already. Shane wondered what other struggles he hid.
“Even now… well, sometimes he should just speak up. He knows the answers as well as me.” Kyle looked over at Scott sitting at the dining room table with his textbook. “Can’t read, or we’ll bother his concentration. How about… Kings in the Corner?” Kyle asked, suggesting a simple card game with little strategy.
Shane agreed and watched Kyle’s less than polished shuffling of the deck. He still had things to work on, but he was coming along great, and it was Eli who had made the difference. Kyle still didn’t see how Eli purposely stayed in the background, forcing him to perform everyday tasks so that they were again comfortable for him. There was more to that boy than Shane had first thought.
But for some reason since Kyle’s parent’s visit, Shane had the distinct impression that Eli avoided talking to him. Not in rudeness. He always responded around the dinner table. But… Shane chastised himself. He was getting like Scott. There was just nothing to talk about. Eli wasn’t a talker, and neither was Shane. That was all there was to it.
Ray called Shane at work the next day to confirm their visit. Then he asked about what happened Friday night. “I’ll try to work things out.”
“I have to, Shane. This isn’t just you. Rose’s comment made it a personal matter and a matter for the church. I didn’t do anything wrong, but if she pursues it, I’ll have to explain things.”
“All you did was introduce two people! How can that be a matter to be explained?”
“Exactly. But Rose really believes you tried to seduce Tara and wanted her to lie to her parents.”
Shane closed his eyes. “It’s all mixed up. I just want to forget he even exists.”
“I understand. Let me mediate and see if we can’t resolve this on a happier note.”
“I don’t like to see anyone use misunderstandings as an excuse to leave the church. Help me out here, Shane.”
Shane agreed and finally told him everything he could remember about Tara’s visit, his phone call, and then his drive out to their home.
“Thanks, Shane. I’ll work it out. Rick and I will be out about seven. Pam has promised to have some cookies for me to bring.”
After the phone call he remembered the changed Fridays and called Amber. She agreed to come both Fridays as Kyle had suggested.
Go to Chapter 10
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.