Shane awoke the next morning to Kyle’s voice. “Eli! Dumb kid. Scott! Scott!”
“What is it?”
“Eli’s not home.”
“Where’d he go this early?”
“I think he’s been gone all night. He went to that job and didn’t tell me.”
Shane sat up. The kid had to be all right. He didn’t stay away all night because they’d had a fight, did he? Shane glanced at the clock. Quarter to eight.
“If he went to work, he should be home now,” Kyle insisted.
“Maybe he took his bike,” Scott suggested.
“Still he should be back! And he shouldn’t ride that bike. We’ve got to make him quit that stupid job.”
They knocked on his door, and Scott opened it. “Shane, did Eli tell you he was working?”
“That’s odd. He knows he needs to tell someone.” Scott looked down the hall through the living room to the door. “Good. He’s home. Relax, Kyle.”
“Relax,” Kyle grumbled and stalked past Scott. “Where have you been? Quit that stupid grocery job. You’re not supposed to leave without permission.”
Eli was silent, moving past them, barely glancing Shane’s way as he went into his room. He wore new jeans and shirt.
Kyle followed him. “Why didn’t you tell anyone? You have to quit that job.”
“I’ll quit this one. I’m not your slave.”
“You can’t quit. You live here.” Was it panic that made Kyle’s voice a little higher pitched and whining?
“I’ll find another place to sleep.” He tossed his backpack on his bed by shifting it off his shoulder. His hands didn’t touch it.
“You can’t. You… How would I get to the doctor? How… You can’t.”
“Eli,” Scott said. “Is this about last night? I thought you offered to cook. I never meant for you to feel obligated. If you don’t want to cook next Friday, just say so. We’ll make other arrangements. Of course, you’re not anyone’s slave. We’re all family.”
“You’re all family.” Eli went past them toward the bathroom.
Scott grabbed his upper arms. “Eli, you are, too. Come on. I know you and Kyle argue, but so do Shane and Kyle. We all bicker sometimes, but we still belong here.”
“I’m tired,” Eli said, pulling away and shutting the bathroom door after him. The lock clicked into place.
Scott turned to Kyle. “What’d you say to him last night? Can’t you treat anyone decently? He’s done more for you than anyone would ever expect, treated you as… as….” Scott shook his head.
“I didn’t do anything,” Kyle whined. “I didn’t! I was good.” He knocked on the bathroom door. “Eli, I was good last night. I was!”
Shane could see the anger leave Scott as his face became white. Maybe he’d never seen Kyle so weak, or maybe he thought, like Shane, that he was getting over it.
“Eli, please don’t leave me.” Kyle leaned against the door and slid to the floor to sit.
Eli opened the door and crouched down. “I’m not leaving,” he said softly. “Just don’t yell at me, okay? Talk to me like I’m smart, even if you don’t think I am.”
“You’re smart, Eli,” Kyle said, looking up. “I know you are.”
Eli sat next to Kyle. “Then treat me that way. Treat me like I’m a real person and not your dim-witted poor relation you have to tolerate.”
“I don’t,” Kyle protested.
Eli took a deep breath and stood. “Come on. Let’s get breakfast.”
Kyle stood, also, and they all followed Eli into the kitchen. Eli grabbed a skillet, but Scott took it from him. “You’re not a slave here. Let me cook.”
Eli gave a slight smile. “And poison us all?”
Scott didn’t respond to the teasing. “You don’t have to cook.”
“I know. It wasn’t the cooking, Scott. I’m okay.” He glanced at his hands. “But I’ll let you cook. Kind of took a little spill and messed up my hands. They should be better by Friday though.”
Scott looked at them. “If there’s stuff we have to work out, let’s work it out.”
Eli was silent. He didn’t look at Shane.
Shane knew Scott wouldn’t drop anything. The original Mr. Make-up-and-let’s-all-be-friends couldn’t stand any kind of strife in the family. “I was a grouch last night, Scott. I’m sorry, Eli. I left you a note in your drawer.”
“It’s your fault!” Kyle said. “You leave him alone, you selfish bastard. You don’t need anyone, so you just treat everyone like trash.”
“Knock it off, Kyle,” Shane said, biting back his initial retort. He tried to keep his temper in check and realize Kyle needed guidance more than a verbal war. “Think before you speak. You weren’t even there.”
“You’re saying I can’t think anymore? I don’t need you. Go marry Amber. Move to California. I don’t need your help. Don’t need anyone’s help. Just don’t mess with my friends.”
“Is this the way you talk to Eli? You’re starting to sound just like your wonderful brother, Ian. I won’t put up with it from him, and I won’t take it from you either.” Shane left the kitchen.
He put in a couple CDs and sat in one of the recliners in the living room. Closing his eyes, he tried to ignore the turmoil in his stomach and relax, as he focused on the rhythm in the rock music.
“Ready to eat?” he barely heard Scott ask a short time later.
Shane opened his eyes, reached for the remote, and turned down the music. “Maybe later.”
“He didn’t mean it,” Scott said. He’d guessed his stomach was upset because of the fight. He was the only one who had ever figured that out about him. Tension made it difficult to eat.
“It doesn’t matter. No wonder the kid’s so sensitive.”
“Shane, don’t call him the kid. His name is Eli.” He whispered it, so his voice wouldn’t travel back to the kitchen. “That makes him feel more left out than any of Kyle’s insults.”
“Is it? What if I started calling you ‘the CPA’ all the time, or just plain ‘the man’, instead of using your name? You’re putting distance between you that isn’t necessary.”
Shane rolled his eyes. “Look, Friends-with-the-world, he’s too sensitive. Do you get hyper when I say that? No. Cause you know it’s just a joke.”
“Yeah. It is a joke. You use it to make a point. What point are you making when you say ‘the kid.’ It’s an insult, implying he’s young and naïve. It’s not a personality trait that has any good overtones.”
“It’s just a fact.”
“Not a fact. He’s almost nineteen, and he’s not naïve. Remember when you were nineteen? You tease your little sister like that, but not a friend who’s your equal.”
Scott’s eyes conveyed a disappointment Shane had rarely seen.
“I mean, I’ve finished school….” That didn’t sound right, and the look on Scott’s face only got worse.
“I mean… damn, Scott, I don’t know what I mean. I’m not good at this stuff.”
“Are you better than the rest of us?”
“No. You know I’m not. I’m…. I’m the one you both felt sorry for.”
“That’s not true. That’s never been true. Don’t let this thing with your dad cloud your thinking.” He gave a weak smile. “I still need you strong, Shane. Strong and objective. I’m getting married into a family that’s more messed up than yours ever was.”
Shane couldn’t believe what Scott had just confided to him. He’d heard a few rumors when he was trying to find out if Kayleigh was stringing anyone else along – rumors he hadn’t tried to confirm or tell Scott about. One was about her brother. Juvenile home and jail before the age of eighteen. Another rumor came from a man who claimed to have been with Kayleigh nine years before, but that would have made her twelve, so Shane didn’t take it seriously. The man also claimed she had bruises that were given to her by her old man – her father. But her father wasn’t around now, and no one knew where he was.
Scott took a deep breath. “I know you, Shane. You really won’t think less of someone no matter what their position or background. Don’t let anyone think you would because of your careless use of words. Come eat. Maybe we’ll get some time to talk later.” He stood and went back to the kitchen.
Shane followed. The French toast was almost room temperature, but he forced down two slices with syrup.
Surprisingly, Eli came with them when they decided to take a drive North. Shane expected he’d claim tiredness and stay home, especially after the big fuss and no sleep last night. But they picked up Kayleigh, and then drove up to Frankenmuth. Scott and Kayleigh wanted to spend forever in the Christmas store, talking about decorating for Christmas.
“Thought that was your honeymoon time,” Shane teased.
Kayleigh and Scott both seemed uncomfortable. Scott finally shrugged. “We’ve postponed things a little. June’s a better month for vacations anyway.”
“Sure,” Shane agreed, not knowing what else to say. He knew it wasn’t Scott’s idea to wait. He’d already bought a double bed for his room.
Eli studied the ornaments, especially the hand painted ones. Kyle noticed. “I bet you could make stuff better than this, Eli. Thinking of trying it?”
“Yeah. Just for fun.” He glanced up at Shane. “Will you?”
“Sure. We’ll ship the results to my grandparents, but we have to do it soon.”
Eli shrugged. “Just thought if you were bored.” He turned back to the ornaments and held one, not really looking at it, but focusing beyond it as if thinking.
Apparently, Eli had read the note and forgiven him. Or maybe offering to work together was a way to show Shane how much better he was.
Shane followed them around the huge store, and then they went to play mini-golf. They joked, but Kyle’s mood became darker as the game went on. He didn’t have the coordination he used to.
“It doesn’t matter,” Shane heard Eli say softly as he made his first tap on the ball at the fifteenth hold. “It’s all for fun.”
“Yeah. You’d be in last place if I wasn’t so tired. Don’t try to be so smug. You just did this so I’d look stupid.”
Scott came back to them. “Aren’t you two going to putt? What’s the problem?”
“I’m tired. I quit,” Kyle announced. “Take me back to the car.”
“We’ve just got three more holes,” Scott protested. Kayleigh came to stand beside him.
“You keep playing. Eli, take me back.”
Eli handed his putter and ball to Scott. Then he followed Kyle who’d left his things on the bench he’d been sitting on.
No wonder Eli was sensitive. Kyle had always been competitive. Shane had taken it as a challenge and felt a great victory whenever he’d bested him. At those times Kyle had made little remarks to try to blunt the defeat, but now those remarks were biting. He was no longer doing anything just for fun.
“What should we do?” Scott asked, staring after them. Scott seemed so torn. Kayleigh looked on the verge of anger.
Shane grabbed Kyle’s ball. “Guess we’ll have to play their balls as well as ours. You be Eli. Do you want to be Kyle, or should I, Kayleigh?”
“You do it. I wouldn’t be good enough.”
Scott grinned. “Sure. Let’s finish the game. Told you I needed a level head. Just wish I could do something for Eli. He never gets to do anything for fun without Kyle tearing him down.”
Scott was right. But there was one thing he’d mentioned doing for fun. Did it really matter if Eli was better at it than he was?
He waited until they were at the Bavarian Inn and had been served one of their famous chicken dinners. “What do we have to get to make ornaments?” Shane asked. “Can we get the supplies tonight yet? How were you thinking we should do it?”
“I’ve got about everything, but we can pick up more glazes Monday, and maybe some moulds. Have you worked with clay?”
“No.” When Eli hesitated, Shane assured him. “I’m sure you could teach me the basics. It’s just for fun, right? I’ll pay for my own supplies.” He grinned. “You know. For accounting purposes if we sell any.”
Eli smiled and began telling him about the type of ceramic ornaments he had in mind.
That night Scott motioned Shane out to the balcony after Kyle and Eli went to bed. “That was great, Shane.”
Shane shook his head and leaned out over the railing. “Nothing important. Gives me something to work on while Kyle’s reading.”
“What were you two fighting about last night?”
“You don’t want to know.”
“Wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t.”
“I don’t want your lecture. We solved it.”
“Man, Scott, give it up. It’s the stupid pictures again. Simplistic crud, Tara said.”
“She did not! I can’t believe you, Shane. I thought this was settled years ago. You are a fantastic artist.”
“One non-artistic opinion from someone known to frost things up so sweet people gag.”
“Kyle thinks so, too, and he doesn’t sweet-coat anything. Amber loved them.”
“Amber feels sorry for me.”
“What? Where in the world are you getting this from? No one feels sorry for you.”
Shane faced him. “I told you I didn’t want to get into this with you. I gave the things to Eli. Hopefully, he won’t embarrass himself too much trying to sell them. That should put an end to this once and for all. No one will pay for it. I don’t expect those ornaments to sell either. Eli’s will, but mine won’t. But hey, it’s not a competition. It’s just for fun.”
“Your sketches are just for fun. Who’ve you been competing with? Huh? Tell me who?”
“It’s not that.”
“Then what is it?”
“They don’t belong on the wall for people to see.”
“Because they’re not good enough.”
“According to who? Tell me who says they’re not good enough. Who has ever looked at any of those pictures and said anything close to that? Name names. I’m tired of this pansy I’m not good enough attitude, Shane. You dated loser after loser because of it, and the only way I got those pictures up on the wall was by stealing them from the trash. I thought you’d grown up some.”
Shane sat down in the lawn chair, stunned. Scott rarely lost his temper, and he rarely insulted anyone.
Scott took a deep breath and sunk into the chair beside him. He put his head in his hands. “Sorry, Shane. Every time I turn around now, I’ve got situations I can’t do a thing about. I don’t know how to convince you to do what you love to do without any guilt or hang-ups. I’ve tried everything I know.” He looked up at Shane. “How can I help you?”
“Don’t worry about me. I don’t need help.”
Scott gave a weak smile. “Can’t help it, Shane. I want to help cause you’re my best friend.”
“You’d say the same thing to Kyle, Eli, and Dr. Face-lift.”
“You’re doing it again. You’re thinking you can’t possibly be the one I’d pick for my best man, aren’t you?”
Shane shrugged. “Haven’t you changed your mind yet?”
“No. And I’m not going to.” He leaned back in his chair. “This art thing has something to do with your dad, doesn’t it? Did he say something back when you were little? You know your art has probably improved tons since he’s seen it. You’ve gotten better just since I’ve known you.”
“This has nothing to do with him.”
“Then why attack your art after Tara mentions it and him in the same sentence?”
“He does harder stuff.”
“She hadn’t even noticed the cathedral when she said that. And she said your trees were way better. Your trees are good. They look real.” Scott shook his head. “You are competing, and you haven’t seen his work in seventeen years, I bet.”
“Didn’t know he drew at all until last night. I’m not competing.”
“You told me he was an architect. What do you think he did? Have someone else draw up his ideas?”
“I don’t know what architects do, and I don’t care.”
Scott sighed. “I wish you wouldn’t hide things from me. Makes me think you don’t trust me, or you don’t value our friendship like I do.”
“You don’t tell me everything.”
“I don’t reveal other people’s confidences, but about me, you know it all. You’re my best friend.”
“Don’t you ever hold stuff back because… because you’re afraid of hurting someone else?”
Scott stared into the starlit sky for a few moments. “Opinions, sometimes, often. Facts, rarely. Comes from having three sisters, I guess.”
“That and you talk a lot. Have to have something to keep those jaws wagging.”
“I’ve never betrayed a trust.”
“It wasn’t an insult, Scott. I know you won’t. I just can’t put things into words as easy as you.” He stood. “I promise I’ll think about what you said, about art and all, but….” He shook his head. “What good is a bunch of pictures under my bed?”
Scott caught him by the door. “There’s something else you haven’t told me. You were looking into the guy who hit us. What you’d find out?”
“Did you tell the police?”
“If I’m wrong, you… it’ll be….”
“What aren’t you telling me?”
Shane looked into Scott’s face. He couldn’t lie. “Give me one more week. Ask me next Saturday, and then you make the decision if I’m making it up or we go to the police.”
They went to bed, but Shane couldn’t sleep. He had to come up with some way to make Bert Thorton implicate himself in the accident when he was here next Friday.
Go to Chapter 12
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.