Monday during his lunch hour Shane met Kyle and Eli at the ceramic store where Eli bought most of his supplies. Eli was more talkative than Shane ever remembered seeing him, as he explained what was needed, why they needed it, and what their other choices were. Shane had always thought Eli’s choice of teacher as a major was unnatural, but as he listened to him today, he realized he had the potential to be a good teacher. It appeared they wouldn’t get to work together on anything until Saturday though, because Eli had classes each night.
Shane kept thinking about Amber. He wondered if he should call. At lunch, the next day he walked down to the cafe and passed the florist. He went inside on the way back and ordered a dozen petite red roses, sending them to her office with a card. “Thinking of you. Lunch tomorrow? Love, Shane.”
At four thirty she called, thanking him for the flowers and confirming their lunch date.
As they ate lunch the next day Shane told her how he hoped to somehow make Dr. Thorton implicate himself at the dinner.
“But if he’s innocent, Shane….”
“Then nothing I say should faze him a bit.”
She smiled. “I see. The sneaky approach. What are you going to say?”
Shane shrugged and took another bite of his hamburger. “I’m open to suggestions.”
She had none for him but promised to call if she thought of anything.
In the parking lot, he stood enjoying her kisses until she insisted she had to get back to work. Even then she gave him another kiss before sitting down in her car, and another through her open window. He watched until she drove away, before he entered the building and went back to his computer.
Friday Amber was at the apartment before Shane arrived home. She greeted him with a kiss and a smile.
“I could get used to this,” Shane said.
Amber grinned. “Am I tempting you?”
Shane laughed. “Understatement of the year. It’s a good thing we have our chaperone, Kyle, with us.”
Kyle scowled. “Come on you two. This is my future boss, here. Don’t mess it up.”
Shane met Amber’s eyes, and she squeezed his hand. Hopefully, Kyle wouldn’t be too hurt when it came out. He’d probably still get his job. Shane was more concerned about Scott though. He trusted this guy as a friend. Broken trust and abused friendships hurt more than physical pain.
Shane changed his clothes, and soon Scott and Kayleigh were home. At six thirty Dr. Bert Thorton and his wife, Carol, arrived. Carol was a tall woman, taller than Amber, and slightly taller than her husband. Bert was balding with a hawkish nose. Scott introduced first Kyle, who shook his hand firmly, and then Shane and Amber. For his plan to work, Shane had to be friendly now. It was hard to hide his distaste for the man who’d caused his friends so much pain.
Eli came from the kitchen. Bert greeted him immediately, which Shane could tell surprised Eli. They sat around the table, and Scott said grace.
Carol talked with Kayleigh and Amber. Scott had reminded Kyle earlier that Bert didn’t want to talk business in front of his wife, confiding that Carol was rather impatient with talk of medicine. Kyle appeared alert and nervous, unlike the few times Shane had seen him with doctors at the hospital before the accident. He initiated small talk, asking about their vacations.
Carol turned from her talk with Amber. “Oh, we haven’t been anywhere this year. We usually go up north to the cabin, you know, but….” She shook her head. “I’m making plans for us to go on a cruise this winter.” She smiled. “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you and Scott could come, too,” she asked Kayleigh. “Maybe after you’re married, you’ll be able to take some nice vacations. What about you, Amber? When are you and Shane getting married?”
Amber smiled and glanced at Shane. “We haven’t really discussed marriage.”
“But if those turnovers she brought us for dessert taste as good as they smell, I may ask her tonight.”
“Thought you weren’t going to rush things,” Scott teased.
“You know Shane,” Kyle said. “Thinks through his stomach.”
Amber kept smiling. “I may need a few more roses before I agree.”
The meal stayed upbeat, and afterward they settled in the living room. The balcony glass door was open letting the September breeze into the room. Dusk had fallen, though, and Shane turned on the lamps before he sat on the love seat with Amber. Kayleigh and Scott took the couch with Kyle on the end, and the Thorton’s each took a chair. Eli hid in the kitchen, and Shane wondered if he was the only one to notice. But soon he was distracted, waiting for the perfect opening.
He leaned back, and during a lull in the conversation said, “I’m thinking about buying a new car.”
“Really?” Scott asked. “You never said anything before.”
“Sure,” he lied, not meeting Scott’s eyes. “Mine’s ten years old, and it’s small. I’m looking for something a little bigger. After your accident last spring, I’ve really been thinking about safety, you know.”
“Don’t talk about the accident,” Kyle muttered.
Shane ignored him. “Actually, I’m thinking about something like a Mercedes. Seems to take accidents pretty well if it can demolish one car and keep right on going. Ever drive one, Bert?”
Score. Bert stared at Shane, and his skin seemed even whiter beneath the black ring of hair. “No.”
“Oh, Bert,” Carol said. “You’re not listening. He said Mercedes. You have one. He used to drive it all the time. Loved it, he said.”
“Really?” Shane leaned forward in interest, pretending he wasn’t noticing how Bert had stiffened and looked sick. “But you sold it?”
“No. Last spring he just took it up north one Friday and left it at the cabin, bringing back the Bronco. No warning at all. Now he drives that all the time.”
“So, he took the Mercedes up north last May?”
“Yeah.” Carol shook her head. “I don’t know. You tell him about it, Bert. Didn’t seem all that great of a car to me, but you men probably can relate better. You really think it’s a safer car, huh?”
“Sure. Has to be, right? If the driver got away without a scratch and Kyle was in the hospital for a month.”
“Shane, knock it off. I’m fine. Completely recovered.”
When Bert Thorton glanced at Kyle, Shane was afraid he believed it. He didn’t want him to have anything to use against Kyle in court when he sued. “You lost everything, Kyle. Your career.”
Kyle stood. “It’s just a few tremors. I don’t need to be a surgeon.”
“But that cost you maybe a hundred thousand dollars a year for life. Maybe more.”
Bert became even paler.
“Just shut up. Stay out of it.” He looked at Bert. “I can do anything you need done at the office. I’ve already completed med school. I can do it.”
“Oh, Bert, can’t you keep your work at the hospital?” Carol asked. She looked at Kyle. “Please, let’s just have fun. Apply at his office if you want a job.”
Kyle looked from Bert to Shane. Then he left the room, slamming his bedroom door. Eli emerged from the kitchen and followed him.
The silence was uncomfortable, but not even Scott broke it. Scott stared straight ahead, and Shane wondered if he’d figured it out. For a brief instant Scott’s eyes raised to his. Scott was upset. Was he mad at him also? Couldn’t he see Bert was the one? What else would convince him?
“So, Bert,” Shane began, desperately trying to think of another nail to drive the point home. “About the car.”
Bert looked over, his face pale. “Can… can we talk… a different time? At… alone.”
Scott stood abruptly and walked to the balcony door, sliding the screen just enough to get out. Then it closed.
“Why don’t I bring those turnovers in now? Coffee, tea, or lemonade?” Amber asked, moving toward the kitchen.
“Good idea, Amber. I’ll take lemonade. Bet Scott, Kyle, and Eli will, too.” He glanced at Bert. “Excuse me a minute.”
Shane went out on the balcony. Scott sat in the far corner in a chair facing away from the building toward the golf course. He was hunched over with his face in his hands and his elbows resting on his knees. Shane grabbed a chair and sat beside him, placing a hand on his back. “I’m sorry, Scott. Wish there’d been another way.”
Scott lifted his head but didn’t look at him. “How long have you known?”
“I never trusted him. You know that. Just couldn’t prove anything. Didn’t know what happened to the car.”
Shane shrugged. “He was your friend. I didn’t want to go to the police unless I was absolutely sure.”
“I’ll call if you rather I did it.”
“You’re going to?”
“No.” His voice shook with emotion.
“But Scott, he almost killed Kyle!”
The screen door slid open and then closed. Bert set the tray with lemonade and turnovers on the small table and sat in the chair nearest them. “I’m sorry, Scott,” he said in a low voice.
Scott didn’t reply.
“I… I know I can’t… can never make it up to Kyle.”
“I’ll do anything I can.”
“Of course, you will,” Shane said. “When Kyle sues you, you won’t have a choice.”
Bert closed his eyes. His hands moved together, flexing and relaxing in steady movements — controlled movements of a nervous man, not uncontrolled tremors like Kyle’s. “You’ll sue,” he stated.
“No,” Scott said. He stood and leaned against the railing, facing away from them still. “I cannot tell you what Kyle will decide to do. You’ve lied to me from the beginning, haven’t you?”
“I… I… only… there are no others. No. I… I’ll give you all I can. Anything. Just ask.”
Scott turned. “I never entered this friendship for your money. I don’t want your money. You owe Kyle, not me. But we won’t take advantage of that.” Scott looked at the yard again. “I hope he won’t. He’s not as stable as he was. He’s still recovering.” He leaned on the railing. “God, this is hard, Bert. Say something. Tell me all your excuses.”
“You know it all. I was high on morphine for my back. Abused prescription drugs. You could hurt my career, destroy my marriage, take about everything I have, maybe even put me in jail for a few months. I have no excuse but the back pain.” He paused. “You know I haven’t taken the morphine at all since the accident except at night before bed. I won’t do it again.”
The screen door slid open. “What are you men hiding out here for?” Carol asked. “Oh, my, it’s a nice night.”
Amber and Kayleigh followed her out.
Bert and Scott exchanged a look. Scott pushed away from the rail. “Well, Bert, guess we’ll talk about this Monday at work and set up at time for you to talk to Kyle. Hey, those turnovers aren’t gone yet, are they?”
Shane reached over and snatched one. He’d been so intent on Scott he’d ignored them. Scott took one, but Bert declined until Carol chided him. He finally took one but was silent the rest of the evening. Even Scott said little. Amber and Carol managed to keep the conversation going until the Thortons left a half hour later.
Shane shook his head. “So, we’re hiding it from his wife? I assume it’s not Kayleigh or Amber we’re tiptoeing around. Amber’s known my suspicion for over a month now.”
Kayleigh sat on the arm of the living room chair. “Tiptoeing? You blew him away, Shane. How long can you keep something like that from your wife? You wouldn’t hide from me, would you, Scott?”
Scott put an arm around her shoulders and then drew her to him. “I want Bert to tell Kyle himself,” he whispered. “Let’s wait.”
“Wait? The guy has gotten off with nothing for over four months now.”
“Not nothing. He’s offered to make restitution right from the beginning. That has to count for something.”
Shane shook his head. “You’ve forgiven him? Just like that? He destroys Kyle, this whole family, and it’s okay, because he’s your friend now.” Shane hit the tabletop. “Face it, Scott. He’s used you from the beginning.”
“That’s not the way it is! He’s not like that.”
“What does it take to get through to you? Not everyone is a good guy if given half the chance. Look at Ian. He tried to kill you.”
“But Bert isn’t Ian. This is different.”
“Shut up! Just stop it. You made your point. I don’t want to hear it again!”
Shane backed away a step. Scott was mad, and it was directed at him, not the jerk who had almost killed both Scott and Kyle. Shane raised his hands. “Fine,” he said. “Fine.” He’d have gone to his room if Amber wasn’t watching him. Amber looked beyond him. Shane turned. Eli stood in the doorway. “Maybe we should tell Kyle now,” Shane suggested.
“Kyle had a seizure. If the doctor is repentant, then he should be the one to tell Kyle what he did. Don’t put it off and keep your voice down. He’s sleeping.” Eli disappeared into their room, reshutting the door.
Amber smiled. “I like his style. He doesn’t waste words.”
“Then marry him.” Shane went to the front door. The tension was too great. Scott hated him. Kyle was mad at him also, and now Amber liked Eli.
He was almost to his car when he heard her.
“Shane! Shane Robert Lewis, stop right there.”
Shane stopped. She’d almost sounded like his mother right then. He waited until Amber caught up. “What do you want?”
“I want to be with you,” she said simply.
“Me? But you said Eli….”
“Shane, I don’t understand you. Can’t someone appreciate anyone else? I don’t desire to date him or have children with him or anything. Why are you so paranoid?”
“I’m not paranoid,” he mumbled, knowing if he followed his instincts and ran, he’d probably lose her for good.
“Let’s take that walk around the complex you talked about last week.” She urged him to start walking, and since he didn’t have a better choice he followed. “Now, let’s talk about this paranoia.”
“I’m not paranoid.”
“Is it something that happened with an old girlfriend?” She looked up at him and grinned. “Guess I shouldn’t assume anything. Have you been married before?”
Shane gave a short laugh. “No. Never married. You?”
“Nope. I’ve dated a little. Serious twice. You?”
“I dated… a lot. Scott and Kyle say I always pick losers.”
“Losers? They said that?”
“Well, not now. They don’t think you’re a loser.”
“So, were you serious?”
“What do you mean by serious? I was never engaged.”
“But did you ever start thinking of marrying one of them?”
Shane walked silently beside her for a while.
“You’re not answering.”
“I’m not sure how much you want to know. It’s all past.”
“Tell me everything… well you can leave out details like names and what you did with whom.”
“Is this so you can decide to dump me?”
“Par-a-noid,” Amber taunted. She smiled. “I’m not ready to dump you. I’m usually the one who gets dumped.”
Shane stopped her and looked into her face. “You do not! No one could dump you.”
She smiled a little sadly. “First time I made the mistake of giving in. The second time it was because I didn’t. Dad says they weren’t any good if that was their reasons.”
He had imagined her pure, untouchable. He tried to adjust as they continued walking.
“I’ve disappointed you.”
Shane stopped her. “Not disappointed. Just different than I expected.” He kissed her until she pulled away.
“I want to wait until I’m married now.”
Shane smiled. “It’ll be hard. Been very hard for me.” They continued walking. “I guess you could say I wasn’t interested in a long-term commitment in high school or the first year or two of college. Then things changed. I saw Scott’s family and Kyle’s parents, and the people at church. I kept learning more… more about God’s holiness. I began wanting more, wanting that exclusiveness — that love that stays with you no matter what. But now that I know what I want, I can’t find it. Not for lack of trying, though.”
“And that’s where the losers came in.”
“And what about the paranoia? I don’t want Kyle even if he is the world’s brightest genius. I don’t want Scott even though you say every woman wants him. And I don’t want Eli no matter what style he uses or whatever else you think he has going for him. Yes. You’re paranoid. Your friends haven’t ever tried to take your girlfriends, have they? I just can’t imagine them being so… so shallow.”
“No. They’re great. Scott just blew her off. Told her she wasn’t worthy of a great guy like me.” Shane laughed, knowing how it sounded. “He’s like that, you know. Laying it on thick.” Then he remembered Scott was mad at him. “I never meant to hurt him,” Shane whispered.
Amber brought her arm around his waist. “I know. Remember, I know. I think Scott knows, too. He’s just hurting right now. Try not to rub it in, though.”
“You did. Let him decide….”
“But Bert’s just going to keep using him to get off as easy as possible.”
“Shane, you can’t decide that.”
“So, you don’t think he should be sued either.”
“That’s not my decision.”
“I don’t care if it’s your decision. I want your opinion.”
Amber stopped. “My opinion,” she said softly. “Is that I hope I never have to make that decision. Restitution, justice, and forgiveness are not simple things that can be dispensed on a whim. Greater minds than mine have wrestled with them. I chose not to be a lawyer or a judge for a reason.” She shrugged. “Well, actually I haven’t chosen not to be a lawyer. I might go back to school, but these are some of the things I have to work through first.”
Shane studied her face. “I don’t want them hurt any more than possible. He’s gonna jerk them around as long as he can.”
Amber sighed and leaned against him. Shane hugged her. “It’s hard to trust, isn’t it?”
“You expect me to trust Bert Thorton?” He kept his voice even because he didn’t want to let go of her.
“No. You have to trust Scott and Kyle to make the decisions that are best for them.”
He pulled away from her and paced a few steps before turning back. “That’s the worst part about this whole thing. My best friends are suffering, and I can’t do a damn thing to help them. Whenever I try, I hurt them more.”
Amber reached up and placed her hand on the side of his face. “Don’t try so hard. Just do what you do. Be that rock Scott needs.” She kissed his lips and then smiled. “I was intrigued by you before I met you.” She kissed him again. “The perfect friend in a crisis. Reliable. Trustworthy. Strong.”
Shane pulled away and laughed. “Don’t believe everything Scott says. He always sees people better than they are. What was he talking about me for anyway?”
“He was suffering from a headache, trying to explain how Ian almost put him in the hospital again, which led to you defending him in a fist fight in the hospital. He needed an ear. It’s part of my job to listen.”
Shane put an arm around her waist, and they continued walking. “So, I can thank Scott for your first call.”
“Well there was that other coincidence, but maybe he piqued my interest enough to look past your gruff exterior.”
“My gruff exterior?”
Amber laughed. “Yes. I can see you as an old man. An old grouch with a heart of gold.”
“And that hasn’t scared you away?”
He wrapped his arms around her again. “Then I can plan on seeing you more often?”
“Quite,” she murmured between kisses. Then she pulled away. “But I better go, Shane.”
She didn’t meet his eyes. “It… it’s just better I do.”
Shane grinned. He couldn’t believe it, but now he knew she felt all the same physical sensations he’d been trying to ignore. “I want you, too.”
Amber glanced up and shook her head. “Really, Shane. You know we….”
“I know we won’t. Let me walk you to your car.”
She relaxed then. “You won’t try to push me?”
Shane’s first impulse was to hold her again. But he resisted, and they began walking toward the parking lot. “I’ll try not to. I’ve been able to resist temptations for a few years now. But….” He took her hands and studied her face. His throat tightened. “You’re so beautiful,” he whispered.
Amber gave a little smile and looked at the ground. “You’re pretty special, too.” She started toward the car again. “Lunch Wednesday again?”
“I’ll see you then.” She stretched to kiss him one last time before she slipped into her car.
Shane watched until she drove away before he went back upstairs.
Go to Chapter 13
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.