Friday Scott and Kayleigh decided to join them for dinner, and Eli cooked chicken with rice. Amber came at six, bringing a large container of cookies she and her mother had baked that week. She promptly went to the kitchen, helping Eli finish. Shane hung around, watching with no idea what to do until Scott whispered near his ear. “Hey, you’re making Eli nervous.”
Shane followed him from the kitchen. “Me? I’m always here.”
“Yeah, but you’re not always studying his every move to make sure he doesn’t say anything inappropriate to your girlfriend.”
“Then don’t look it. Relax. You can trust him. And if you can’t trust Amber it’s better to know now, isn’t it?”
Shane hated that he’d seemed so callow, but he couldn’t help it. All his friends had more to offer her than he did. His gaze rested on Scott. Perfect looks every woman fell for, but he was engaged. Kyle… Dr. Kyle Sloan. Eventually he’d be able to complete his internship. This was just a temporary setback. Even his hair had grown back in, thick with a slight wave, covering his surgery scar from all but the most observant. Eli… The kid was young, but he could hear Anna’s comments, “cute and shy”, and later she’d teased, trying to make him jealous by talking about Eli’s “vivid violet eyes” that made her melt. That was the visit before she’d come on to Kyle. Yes, even Eli had looks that made Shane seem like a drab, unfinished door post.
Amber leaned against him and kissed his cheek. “What are you thinking about?” She smiled and touched the spot between his eyes. “Gives you wrinkles whatever it is.”
“Wrinkles? That confirms it. How come someone as beautiful as you is dating an old prune anyway?”
Amber laughed lightly. “Old? Hardly. Prune? Only occasionally. I like a man who thinks through things.”
“Then Kyle’s the genius. He knows twice as much as me or Scott. He said so the other day.”
She pulled away and looked into his face with surprise. Then she chuckled. “Oh, Shane, I can’t believe you.”
“Hey, Shane,” Kyle teased. “Are you two trying to stand on the same spot? Just caught Scott and Kayleigh trying it, too. What am I? Your chaperone? Get a grip.”
Shane gripped Amber. “That better?”
Kyle laughed. “Watch this guy, Amber. He’ll monopolize all your attention if you let him. But I know you want to help finish up in the kitchen, because he told us how great you cook.”
Amber laughed. “I think that’s a hint that Eli would like a little help.” She kissed his cheek again. “Save that grip. I’ll be back.” She twisted away and went into the kitchen.
“Man, she’s beautiful.”
“I think Scott’s right,” Kyle said under his breath. “This time you picked a good one.” He studied Shane’s face. “You’ll stay here too, won’t you?”
“After you marry. Like Scott. Internship doesn’t pay well, and Eli….”
Shane gripped Kyle’s arm. “Hey, Kyle. I’m not going anywhere. You and Scott helped me through. I’m here for you.”
Kyle shrugged. “We didn’t do much.” Then he met Shane’s eyes again. “Eli doesn’t have anyone but us.”
Shane smiled. Kyle was scared, but he pretended it was all concern for Eli. Shane wouldn’t let him down.
Eli and Amber brought in the food, and they all sat around the table. Shane studied them as they ate. It could work, he decided. Even Kayleigh seemed more relaxed than he’d ever seen her, and Amber…. His throat tightened. Amber. She was so beautiful, so perfect, and she seemed perfectly content next to him and with his “family”. Somehow Kyle’s plea didn’t seem so restricting. Not that being alone with Amber wouldn’t be nice.
Whoa. Slow down, he chastised himself as he felt his body react. Don’t even think about that yet. We barely know each other. Then he answered his own thought. But I do know her well enough to know that if she’d marry me today, I’d do it. Lord, look at her. She’s perfect. She doesn’t even act like it’s strange when I let it slip how I think about You.
Amber glanced over at Shane and then touched his arm. “Something wrong?”
Shane shook his head slightly and focused on his food. “Great chicken.”
Kyle laughed. “That’s Shane. Always thinking about his food.”
Amber smiled. “Really?” She put her hand on his shoulder. “Always? I bet there are exceptions.”
Shane met her eyes. Yes. She knew there was something else. She’d probably guessed he was desiring her. Didn’t every man? He was surprised to feel his cheeks become warm.
Amber looked across the table. “Do you like to bake, Kayleigh?”
“A little. I don’t have much time to play in the kitchen.”
Shane thought it was an insult, but Amber smiled. “It was harder for me, too, when I was in school, but it’s always been Mom’s hobby, so it helped not to have to do everything alone.” Kayleigh and Amber talked about baking for a while.
When they were finished eating, Eli began to clear the table. “Hey, let Kayleigh and me take care of that,” Scott said. “You and Amber worked before.”
Kayleigh glanced at Scott, and Shane wondered if Scott knew he’d surprised her. He wondered if Scott would “hear” about it later. But she helped him put the food away and clean up.
The rest of them stretched and stood around the living room, debating whether they should take a walk around the complex’s recreation area or relax in the chairs.
A knock sounded on the door. Eli looked out and then opened the door wider to admit Tara and another girl.
Shane tensed. “Does your Daddy know you’re here?”
“No.” Tara glanced at her friend and then back at him. “Shane, I’m really sorry about last Friday. I tried to explain, but… but they won’t listen. I thought… are you busy?” Her gaze went to Amber.
“You know Amber, don’t you?”
“Are you two dating?”
Amber smiled and looked up into Shane’s face. “I believe that’s correct, although so far it may be said that we’ve shared a series of meals.”
Tara rolled her eyes. “Why didn’t you just tell Dad you were dating Amber?”
“He never asked. I doubt he even cares.”
“Of course, he cares. You should have just explained things to him.”
“While he was yelling at me?” Shane shook his head, exasperated. “What do you want anyway?”
Tara hesitated. Her friend looked around the place as if she were casing it, studying the computer, the stereo, the furniture. Then her gaze went to Eli, who looked the other way, and finally to Kyle.
“Well?” Shane prompted.
“I… I just wanted… to be friends. Like we talked about before.”
“So, I can be accused of all kinds of disgusting things?”
Amber’s hand rested on his arm. “Who’s your friend, Tara?”
Tara glanced at her friend, whose gaze was now focused on Shane. “This is Jessie Turner from school.”
“I’m a senior,” Jessie said. She did look older than Tara. She was taller, her figure was full, and she wore her makeup so that it was obvious.
“Yeah, right,” Tara said with sarcasm.
“Am, too. I’m older than you.” Jessie looked at Kyle. “Really, we barely know each other, but I agreed to help her out and come over here.”
Tara rolled her eyes and shrugged.
“Don’t you have the car Daddy gave you?” Shane couldn’t help taunting.
“Yes, I have the car. I just needed an excuse to go out.”
Jessie sighed as if she had sacrificed a great deal to be an excuse for Tara. “As long as I’m here, would it hurt if I knew everyone’s name?”
Scott and Kayleigh came from the kitchen. “Hey, it’s Shane’s little sister.”
Kyle grinned. “Yeah. And she brought her little friend, Jessie, with her.”
Scott smiled. “It’s always great to meet my sister’s little friends.”
Tara glanced at Scott, her mouth halfway open.
Scott grinned and plopped on the couch, bringing Kayleigh down next to him. “Didn’t Shane tell you? We’re all like brothers here, so me, Kyle, and Eli are your brothers, too.”
Shane relaxed and sat with Amber on the love seat. Kyle motioned the girls to the two remaining stuffed chairs, while he grabbed two dining room chairs and brought them over. Eli had stood at the edge of the group near the bedrooms, as if ready to disappear, but at Kyle’s look he took a deep breath and sat in the chair near him.
“Yeah, Tara, this is my family.” He put his arm around Amber, and she obligingly moved closer to him.
“So, you two don’t have girlfriends right now?” Jessie asked Kyle and Eli.
“Don’t have time for girlfriends during internship,” Kyle said with a bit of condescendence. “I’ll look for a wife when I’m ready.”
“You don’t date?”
Kyle looked down at his hand and stared at the finger his ring used to be on. He seemed frozen.
Jessie glanced at Shane and then asked Kyle again, “Don’t you?”
Kyle looked up at her and seemed a bit dazed.
“He doesn’t have time, he said,” Shane repeated quickly, realizing that Kyle had momentarily lost track of the conversation. He wondered if he’d been thinking about the loss of his ring and what it symbolized, or of Anna, or if he’d just has a small lapse of thought.
Jessie pretended to ignore Shane. “What about you?” she asked Eli.
“Don’t have time.” He didn’t look at her.
“Are you at U of M?”
“Did you draw that, Shane?” Tara stood and walked over to study the picture on the wall. Scott had matted and framed the colored pencil sketch of the covered bridge, as well as the rest of the sketches hung throughout the apartment. Tara glanced back at Shane. “You did, didn’t you? You draw as good as Dad does.”
Shane felt as if his heart stopped. “He doesn’t draw.”
“Sure, he does. He draws all kinds of buildings. I like your trees better though. Dad’s trees look all the same, like clip art from architect school or something.”
“Shane drew all these pictures,” Scott said.
“Really?” Amber left Shane’s side and studied the covered bridge picture with Tara. “This is great, Shane.”
Shane couldn’t respond. He was nothing like his father.
Amber went across the room to study the picture of an old barn over the computer. “Shane, you are so good.”
Tara followed. “Dad does really intricate office buildings and restaurants, houses, apartment complexes — all kinds of things.”
Intricate buildings. She meant his stuff was too simple to compete. He wasn’t even as good as that selfish jerk. His older sister was right. His doodles were a waste of time. Anyone who said different was just feeling sorry for him, encouraging him in pipe dreams and idleness. Why were the pictures even on the wall?
“And this church.” Amber said, going to the sketch over the stereo. “It’s beautiful. This is in Detroit, isn’t it? I’ve seen it.”
“I keep telling him, he’s got a lot of talent,” Scott said.
“He does,” Amber agreed. She came back to him and smiled. “I’m impressed.”
Shane didn’t meet her eyes. “So, when does your daddy expect you home, Tara?”
Tara stared at him. “It wasn’t my fault! You hate me, and I didn’t do anything.”
“I don’t hate you,” Shane said. “You’re a minor, and I don’t want any more trouble.” He made the mistake of glancing at her. She looked about to cry.
Amber placed her hand on Tara’s shoulder. “I’m sorry, Tara. He’s right, you know. If your father forbid you to come, you probably shouldn’t be here, but maybe we can get together sometime. What evenings do you have open next week?”
Tara looked from Shane to Amber. “I just don’t understand why you don’t want to work it out.”
“Me? I don’t want to work it out? I’m not the one who told him never to come to my home. I’m not the one who disappeared for seventeen years. I’m not the one who accused him of every immoral act I could think of.” Shane stalked to her and looked down into her startled expression. “Don’t even start accusing me of anything.” Her lips trembled, and he relented. “Maybe we can talk when you grow up a little.”
Her chin lifted. “I’m not a child.”
He smiled then. “No. Look me up when you’re eighteen. I promise I’ll buy you dinner then.”
She returned his smile. “February fourth, the year after next — two thousand. I’ll keep it open for you.” She motioned to Jessie. “We better go.”
Jessie sighed. “Kids,” she murmured to Eli. “Maybe I’ll see you around.”
Eli ignored her, and the girls left.
Amber leaned against Shane. “That was great, Shane. You are perfectly right sending her home, and so sweet to set that date.”
“She’ll forget all about me by then.”
“Oh, no, she won’t. You won’t stand her up, will you?” She pulled away to look into his face. “I just know she’ll be waiting.”
Shane shrugged. “I won’t,” he said, although he felt trapped now. Hopefully she would forget, but if he forgot Amber would be disappointed in him. Of course, Amber wouldn’t be around in another year and a half. She’d ditch him before too much longer.
Kyle stood and made his way from the room. Eli followed. Scott watched and then turned to Shane. Then he glanced at the girls. “Cards?”
They agreed and played for several hours. Neither Kyle nor Eli emerged from their room the rest of the evening. As they set the cards away, Amber frowned. “I’d hoped to find out what Eli was planning for next Friday. Maybe I could help.”
“Maybe he’s just studying,” Scott suggested. “Let me check.”
Eli came back into the room with Scott, and Amber made arrangements to come early to help prepare dinner. Then Scott left to take Kayleigh home.
Shane walked with Amber down to her car. He put his arm around her waist as they left the building. The night air had the nip of fall, and she held her arms together to keep warm. They reached her Saturn and stopped. “Thanks for coming.”
Amber smiled. “Thanks for inviting me.” Her smile left. “Shane, I didn’t mean to mislead your sister if you don’t quite see things the way I said.”
“I mean if you’re dating other girls and all. I think I’ve made a few assumptions. Perhaps….” She opened her car door. “I didn’t mean to….”
Shane stopped her from getting into the car. “Didn’t mean to what? To lead me on? Are you interested in an exclusive relationship or not?”
She studied his face. “That’s all I’m interested in,” she whispered. Then she looked down. “But if you’re not, I’ll still come next Friday to meet Dr. Thorton with you… as your friend. I won’t be so forward if….” She glanced up.
Shane leaned down and kissed her lips. “I’m only interested in you. I can’t share you.” He kissed her again.
She let her lips linger and brush against him when he released her. “I can’t share either.”
“I’ll never expect you to,” he promised. Shane kissed her once more before she got into her car. Then he watched until her car disappeared from sight.
Shane went back up to the apartment, content. Amber wanted an exclusive relationship with him! How could he be so fortunate? He opened the door, and the first thing his eyes went to was the picture of the covered bridge across the room. He tensed, and his thoughts left Amber and the light touch of her lips against his face. All he could see was the picture. The simplistic picture that wasn’t as good as Bob Lewis’s pictures.
And he saw another picture in his mind. A picture of the home he’d lived in, with its broken fence, peeling paint, and sagging porch. A picture with a second place ribbon from the middle school art fair. A picture that had been featured in the local paper with the other two winners. “How could you embarrass us like that, Shane?” his mother had chastised.
“The only reason you placed at all was because they felt sorry for you,” his older sister Jenny had sneered. “I can’t believe you would show that to everyone. I’m glad we don’t have the same last name. I’m so embarrassed.”
Shane wanted to snatch the bridge picture from the wall, all the pictures from the walls in the apartment, and throw them all away. But as he reached for it, he knew Scott wouldn’t let him. If the pictures were missing, he’d harass him forever about it, just as he’d harassed him until Shane had thrown them all in the trash. Scott had retrieved them and framed them, claiming they were all his now, since Shane had thrown them away.
Shane left the bridge on the wall and went to his room. He grabbed the picture on his wall, the drawing of a small castle at night reflected onto a river, and threw it against the opposite wall. The frame hadn’t broken when Ian had trashed his room, but this time the wood splintered, and the glass broke. He pulled out his sketch pads from between his dresser and the wall and threw them on the floor also. He grabbed the pictures under his bed, tossing them on the pile. He reached for the sketch of their church that hung over his dresser and stopped, unable to throw it with the rest.
A noise made him whirl around. Eli stood in the doorway.
“What do you want?”
Eli brought his gaze from the pile of paper and broken glass up to Shane’s face. “What are you doing?”
“Cleaning my room. Leave me alone.” Shane turned and rehung the picture of the church. It was small, and no one else saw it here.
When Shane turned, Eli still stood near the door. What was wrong with the kid? Didn’t he know when he wasn’t wanted? Shane brushed past him and went to the kitchen for a trash bag. When he returned, he began putting the pile from the floor into the bag. He stopped as he remembered Scott rescuing the other pictures from the trash. He opened the top sketch pad and ripped the sheets in two.
“Stop!” Eli kneeled beside him and snatched the ripped pieces from his hands. “How could you do that? Don’t!” he shouted again, as Shane reached for the next one. He snatched it.
“Leave me alone, Kid.” Shane pushed him away.
Eli fell back on the pile. “If you don’t want it, let me have it.”
“No! You’re probably as stupid as Scott, hanging the stupid things all over the wall.”
Eli stared at him. His face almost neutral. Almost. “Yeah. I’m stupid. That’s what Kyle tells me. Didn’t know you thought so low of Scott, also. I wasn’t going to hang them. Where would I hang anything? I would sell them.” He stood. “Need money for school.” He left the room and a moment later the bathroom door slammed shut.
Then Shane saw it — the dark spots on his carpeting and bright red staining the edges of some of the white paper. He’d pushed him into the broken glass. Eli, the kid who took care of Kyle so gently, was trying to take care of himself alone. Alone and in pain.
Shane didn’t bother knocking before he opened the bathroom door.
Eli’s head jerked up, as he leaned over with his hands in the sink.
“I’m sorry, Eli.”
Eli ignored him and focused on his hand, trying to pick out another piece of glass.
Shane reached and turned Eli’s right hand over. Blood oozed from it also. “Sit down and let me.”
Eli hesitated a moment and then sat on the closed toilet seat, holding out his hands over the stained knees of his jeans.
“Do you have glass in your knees?”
“I haven’t checked yet.”
Shane shook his head. “You’re the most reckless kid I’ve ever met.”
“I don’t need your help.” Eli withdrew his hands.
“What is your problem?”
Eli stood. “Right now, it’s glass in my hands. Can’t I even be alone in the bathroom?”
“Let me help.”
“Why? I get enough insults from Kyle. I don’t need yours.”
“I didn’t insult you! Man, you’re sensitive.”
“I’m a stupid, reckless, sensitive kid. I’ve got it. I’m also an idiot, and naive, but I’d make a great OT in spite of it all. Yeah, right.” Eli stalked out of the bathroom. Shane started to follow, but then Eli grabbed his backpack and walked out through the living room to the door.
“Wait! You can’t go anywhere with your hands a mess.”
Eli slammed the door.
Shane went to his room and slammed his door. Idiot. Let him bleed to death. Ah. Shit. Shane ran after him, but by the time he made it outside, there was no sign of Eli or his beat up ten-speed. He couldn’t ride like that. He just couldn’t.
He was tempted to go after him but remembered Kyle alone upstairs. He glanced around the parking area one more time. Seeing nothing, he went back upstairs.
As he reached his room, he heard Kyle. “Eli? Eli?”
Shane went to him. “Eli went for a bike ride. Do you need anything?”
“Eli! Come back. I was good today. I was.”
Shane winced. He hated this little boy side of Kyle. “Just relax, Kyle. He’ll be back. Go to sleep.”
Kyle’s eyes shut, and almost immediately he was asleep. Shane wondered if he’d really been awake.
Shane returned to his room and stared at the pile on the floor. Slowly he sorted through it, making sure the glass slivers were safely disposed of. He pulled out the pictures that weren’t ruined and set them in a pile, including several full sketch pads. He put the tablet he was currently using back beside the dresser. Then he finally reached the picture of the castle. It was the only picture, besides the church over the dresser, that he’d actually framed himself. He’d taken a drive last fall when Kyle was in school and Scott was working. It had been dark when he saw the small castle reflected on the water and framed by dark trees. He’d stopped for a few minutes and then went on, but he couldn’t forget the castle. The only problem was that he didn’t know where he’d seen it. Which small town somewhere north of Ann Arbor had he been in? He’d tried to find it once since but couldn’t. He sighed and placed it on the stack. Then he wrote a note.
“Eli, I just want to warn you that though Scott’s a great friend, he’s no judge of art. Don’t trust his opinion about these pictures. Hate to have you embarrassed trying to sell them, but if you want to try, go ahead. I doubt you’ll be able to get any money out of them, but I know what it’s like trying to make it through school. And, Eli, I’m sorry about anything I said that was insensitive. I’m not good at this friend thing, like Scott is. I’m just tired of being embarrassed by these stupid little doodles. You’re sending them to New York with your jewelry, right? I’ll never have to see them again. Thanks, Shane.”
He heard Scott come home. He waited until Scott closed himself into his bedroom before he put the pictures and the note on Eli’s bed. Then he decided that was too open. He didn’t want discussion from Kyle or Scott. He put the pictures under the bed, scribbled a p.s. on the note, and put the letter in Eli’s underwear drawer. He was awake half the night, but didn’t hear Eli come home.
Go to Chapter 11
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.