When Shane went upstairs, Eli was straightening the apartment. He disappeared into the kitchen, and Shane followed. “Where’s Scott?”
“Taking Kayleigh home.”
Eli shrugged. “Sleeping.”
“Are you upset with me, too?”
Eli whirled from the sink. “Why would I be upset with you?”
“Same reason Kyle and Scott are.”
“Kyle and Scott have different reasons.”
Shane’s fear was confirmed. They were both upset. He sat at the table. “I had to.”
Eli nodded and slid into the chair across from him. “Scott isn’t mad at you. Kyle is, but he should understand everything soon. Are we going to paint tomorrow? I’ve already poured quite a few ceramic hearts and circles with the moulds we bought, so we can either paint right away or use the clay to design some.”
Shane hesitated and then realized Eli was right. The other subject was finished and like Amber said, Eli wasn’t going to waste a lot of words on it. They made plans until Scott came home, but he went straight to his room and closed the door.
“He’s not upset?” Shane whispered to Eli.
Eli shrugged. “I think he just needs a little time.” He stood. “We should probably turn in, too.” He switched off the light as they left the kitchen.
The next morning Shane made the effort to prepare breakfast for everyone. The bacon turned out fairly well, he thought. The toast was fine. The eggs… he could rarely cook them without breaking the yolks or getting them too hard. Shane tried not to look away from the stove as Scott and Kyle came in. Eli served the coffee.
“Trying to poison me now?” Kyle asked bitterly. “Might as well finish the job.”
Shane carefully lifted the eggs from the pan to plates, giving Kyle his first. “You’re welcome to make your own if these won’t do.”
“Me? I can’t do anything. I’m an invalid, remember?”
Shane reached for the other plates. “Don’t remember you being such a whiner.”
Scott continued staring at the table when Shane set his plate before him. Eli thanked him. Shane sat. No one moved. Shane bowed. “Lord, thanks for the food. Sorry I couldn’t make your gifts more appetizing. Amen.”
“Your prayers need work,” Kyle said. “So does your cooking.” Then Kyle stood and tossed the plate toward Shane. “I’m not eating this slop, and I’m not eating with scum.” He left the room.
Eli stood and quietly cleaned up the spilled food. Then he sat down and continued eating.
Shane couldn’t eat. When Scott had lifted his head to look after Kyle, his eyes were red rimmed and puffy. He hadn’t slept at all. And he still didn’t look at him, eating mechanically.
“Scott,” Shane ventured softly.
Scott looked up at him with those red eyes, his face set in grim lines, so unlike his usual cheerful self.
“I… let me help.”
“I don’t know. Tell me what to do.”
“You don’t need to do anything.”
“Don’t do anything! I’ll take care of it.”
“Take care of what….”
Scott stood and left the room.
“Scott!” Shane leaned back, closing his eyes and tensing his jaw to keep his anger, his confusion, in check.
“Where’s my medicine?” Kyle demanded, standing in the doorway.
“You already took it this morning.” Eli didn’t look up from his coffee.
Kyle came and grabbed Eli, jerking him to his feet. “Where is it?”
Eli stared into Kyle’s face. “Shane, Friday will be my last day here. Please find someone else.” He pulled away from Kyle and left the kitchen. A moment later the front door slammed shut.
“No! Eli!” Kyle ran into the other room. “Eli, wait.” The door opened and slammed again.
Shane sighed and followed. He found Kyle outside at the bike rack, shaking Eli’s bike. Eli wasn’t around.
“If you break it your first paycheck will go to buy him another.”
Kyle swung around, and Shane moved just in time to avoid the back of his fist. “I don’t have any job thanks to you, and now Eli’s gone.”
“You’ve got a job, and it’s your own fault Eli left.”
Kyle swung again.
Shane caught his arm. “You punch me, and I’ll punch you back. You’re no invalid, and I’m not gonna treat you like one.”
“Liar. You’re just a big liar. You lost me that job on purpose. You hate it that I’m better. You’re just like Ian.” Kyle hit Shane in the chest.
Shane punched him in the stomach, sending Kyle reeling back. “Knock it off. You’re better than this, Kyle.”
Kyle regained his breath and charged at Shane.
Shane stepped aside, letting Kyle’s momentum send him sprawling on the ground. Shane knelt beside him. “Stop it, Kyle. You know this isn’t right. Remember how you yelled at me that time? I know you know this.”
Kyle curled up on his side. “Just let me die,” he cried. “I can’t stand this anymore.”
Shane rubbed his shoulder. “It’s going to be okay, Kyle. I promise.”
“Let me die, please. I can’t work anyway. You know it.”
“I know you can. Come on, Kyle. Give it more time. You’re improving every week.” He watched his face and couldn’t help reaching over to brush away the hair that had fallen into his eyes. Scott needed to give him a haircut soon. “You’re doing good, Kyle.”
Kyle’s body trembled with silent sobs. He shook his head. “Can’t do anything. Not without Eli. Get Eli.”
“I can’t. Only you can make him stay.
“Can’t. Need pills. I… I’ll find another way.”
Shane leaned forward and awkwardly put an arm around Kyle’s shoulders. “Please don’t. I’d miss you. I’d have no one to fight without you. No one to keep me in line. No one to challenge me.”
“I can’t anymore,” he said weakly.
A shadow fell over them, but Shane tried to ignore it and focus on Kyle. “Yes, you can. You have. Come on. Let’s go back inside. The neighbors are getting curious.” He glanced up. As he suspected it was the downstairs neighbor. “Everything’s fine,” he told the kid. Beyond him, Shane saw Eli standing near the corner of the building, and Scott was watching from beside the door.
“Is he hurt?”
“No. Just tripped.”
“Maybe he broke something.”
Shane shrugged. “He won’t die. I’ll drive him over for x-rays if we have problems. Aren’t you late for something?”
“No. I’ve got nothing to do. Let me help.”
“Don’t need no help,” Kyle grumbled. He rolled and rose to his knees and then his feet. He stumbled to Scott and the building.
“Legs seem to be okay.”
“Told you he was fine.” Shane went past him.
“Just trying to help,” the kid said defensively.
Shane looked back and tried to smile. “Yeah. Thanks.”
He followed Kyle and Scott upstairs. He glanced back at the sound of someone on the steps. He waited at the door as Eli caught up. He didn’t really believe Eli would leave. This was just another time when they had to discipline Kyle to keep him from taking advantage of his weakness. If it had been Scott, some words would have been spoken, but Eli said nothing, and they entered the living room together.
Scott was in the living room, looking toward Kyle’s bedroom.
“I’ll check on him,” Shane said, going past him.
Kyle lay on his bed. His eyes were closed. Shane sat on the edge and put a hand on his shoulder.
“What do you want?”
“I want to apologize for last night. I had no intention of hurting you.”
“You think I did. I didn’t. I had a reason for what I said. Bert Thorton will explain it to you. I’m sure you can still work for him if you want to.”
“You’re saying I’m too stupid to know what I heard.”
“I’m saying you’re too self-centered right now to catch that my talk with Bert Thorton had nothing and everything to do with your job.”
“Shane.” Scott said from the doorway.
“Bert will talk to him. Leave it be.”
Kyle sat. “Talk to me about what? He doesn’t want me now, does he?”
“This has nothing to do with your job,” Scott said. “Why can’t you just relax for a couple months?”
“See!” Kyle stood. “See! That means he doesn’t think I can do it! He doesn’t want me.”
“It means that Shane lied the first time, and Bert’s still arranging things. He never needed help.”
“Then what am I? A burden on both of you? Forget that.” Kyle started for the door.
Shane grabbed him and pushed him against the door. “Quit your sanctimonious rhetoric. It’s not anything but fear for your stupid pride. You got off easy in that accident, you know. You could have been paralyzed, and then I wouldn’t be worried about you killing yourself, having to come up with lies to save your damn pride. To hell with your pride, damn it, Kyle. Stop looking back. You think I was a whiner? You never would have made it this far if you hadn’t had mama and daddy helping you out. I’m not a whiner. You’re a damn wimp.” He let go of Kyle and sat on Eli’s bed.
“I hate you.” Kyle stomped out of the bedroom.
“Great! Go kill yourself. See if it makes you a winner.” He leaned back and closed his eyes, exhausted. He had no more options. He heard the front door.
He sat and then stood. “The idiot. I better follow him.” Scott watched him leave.
Shane found Kyle outside, staring into the pool, half-drained for winter. He hoped Kyle wasn’t upset enough to jump in. If he dived, he’d paralyze himself for sure. But then Kyle turned and walked toward the picnic area. He sat at a table, facing the golf course.
Shane sat on the ground next to the building. The dampness of the grass seeped into the back of his jeans as he waited over an hour for Kyle to do something.
Then Eli came and sat at the table across from Kyle, facing Shane. “Should I ask Pastor Joe if there’s someone else he knows, or would you rather have your room to yourself again?”
“I’m sorry, Eli,” Kyle said weakly. “I don’t know why I did that. Please don’t leave.”
“I warned you before about grabbing me or hitting me. This is serious, Kyle.”
“I know! I don’t know what’s wrong with me. Just let me have the medicine. Maybe you won’t be bothered any longer.”
Eli’s voice was so low Shane almost didn’t hear him. “I want to be bothered, Kyle. I want to help you through this, but you have to trust me. Let’s talk to the doctor. Maybe there’s something that can help you.”
“No. Please. I won’t be able to go back if… if they think I’m crazy, too.”
“They won’t think you’re crazy.”
“You don’t know them!”
“I don’t think you do either.”
“I do so!”
Eli stood. “You mention the mood swings and suicide attempts to the doctor Tuesday, or Friday I leave. I know you don’t need me, but I’d like to stay if you quit beating on me. Then again, I have the grocery job, and I can get more hours. One of the stock boys probably needs another roommate. Especially one who knows how to cook and clean. I better go call.” Eli left the table.
Kyle rushed after him. “Wait. Don’t call. Don’t. Eli please, I can’t live without you.”
Eli turned back. “Don’t threaten me with your life. No excuses. No threats, remember?”
Kyle stood, looking at Eli’s feet like a chastened child. “Stay with me. I’ll try harder. I promise.”
Eli sighed, and they continued walking together. “We talk to the doctor Tuesday.”
Shane stood after, they’d disappeared around the building. He followed slowly. When he went back into the apartment, he heard Kyle, “Let’s all go somewhere.” His mood was up again. “It’s a nice day.”
“Maybe later,” Scott said. “
Eli brought his ceramic supplies from the bedroom. “Shane and I are painting today.”
“Why don’t you work on the puzzle?” Eli suggested.
“I want to go someplace.” Kyle looked at Scott. “What are you doing? Want to go?”
Kyle shrugged. “I’ll drive myself.”
Scott caught up with him at the door. “I can drive, if you don’t mind it. Great day for a drive.” Scott and Kyle left.
Shane closed his eyes, and slowly he relaxed. He heard Eli rearranging their glazes and brushes, but he didn’t open his eyes until he had taken several deep breaths to release the tension.
“Do you still want to paint?” Eli asked. He sat across from him, watching him, unmoving.
“Sure, Eli. Let’s paint.” He reached for one of the smooth sided hearts. The only way he’d stop thinking about Kyle was by concentrating on something else.
They worked all afternoon. Shane began to wonder where Scott and Kyle had gone. He tried not to think about the accident. Things like that didn’t happen twice, did they?
The phone rang a little after four. Shane knocked a glaze jar, but quickly set it right before he turned down the stereo and grabbed the phone.
“Hello,” answered a woman’s voice. “I’m calling for Elijah. Is he home?”
“Just a moment,” Shane said, feeling a momentary relief. He handed the phone to Eli, but then immediately began wondering where Kyle and Scott were again.
“Hi, Grandma,” Eli said. He tucked the phone between his shoulder and ear and continued painting.
Shane tried to tune him out now that his curiosity was satisfied. He founded it harder to paint though.
“Shane, what’s your full name? Do you just use Shane Lewis, or do you add a middle name or initial?”
Shane looked up at Eli. “Why? You plan on painting it on that ornament?”
Eli barely smiled. “Grandma needs it for accounting so she can send you a check for your pictures.”
“They won’t sell.”
“One already has. She’s matting them, but suggests you do that before we send them next time. She has to take that from your share, you know.”
“My share? I gave the worthless things to you.”
Eli took a deep breath and seemed to be listening. He focused on Shane again. “What about these ornaments? You said separate supplies for accounting.”
Even if they sold one, they probably wouldn’t sell more. It must have been the castle. He’d always liked that one best. They’d probably only sold it for a little over the cost of matting it. He was making a mound of paperwork for himself for nothing. Eli had to learn though. “Shane R. Lewis.”
After Eli set the phone down, Shane said, “I told you that you could sell them for spending money.”
Eli shrugged. “Now that we’re doing ornaments, I figured you could decide later what you wanted to do with it. My money goes into savings which I just use to help with tuition — whatever I can’t get grants for.”
“Grandparents send you any spending money?”
Eli didn’t answer.
“None of my business, right? But I’ll find out when I do your taxes.”
Eli seemed to be struggling with a decision. Then he asked, “How much do you charge? I’ve got self-employment deductions.”
“You, Scott, and Kyle are free. Always been that way, no matter how complicated. I can help you budget, too.”
“I know where my money goes.” He focused on his painting. “My grandparents are helping their daughter through school. They can’t do both. Don’t expect them to.”
“What about the life insurance from your parents?”
Eli’s brush stopped moving, but he didn’t look up. He took a deep breath, but then continued making the thin line around the outside of the circle ornament.
“I wasn’t a beneficiary.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“But a child is always….”
Eli looked up. “His mother was. I don’t want to talk about it.”
“Never met her. Drop it, Shane. It doesn’t apply.”
“You could sue.”
Eli stood. “Why? He didn’t want me to have it. Just let it go.” When Shane didn’t respond except to watch him, Eli sunk back into his seat and then shrugged. “My mom had minimal insurance. Helped a little with boarding school. My dad’s went to his mother. I don’t know them. She paid the funeral. I… I wasn’t even there. Happened before… before I was told.” Eli left the table and went to his room.
Shane stared at the small church he’d been painting on a heart but didn’t see it. Scott was right. Eli had no family. Even these grandparents that he spoke to were his mother’s foster parents, he’d said once.
Scott and Kyle came into the house with small bags. Kyle went to the stereo. “Should have known you’d be playing this junk.” He pulled out a new CD case and switched the CDs.
Eli came back into the room and slid into his chair as if he’d never left it.
Scott sat at the end of the table. “We found a new card game. Hey, these are neat.” Scott examined the finished ornaments.
Kyle came to the table, as the sound of violins filled the room. “Colors are strange.”
“The glazes will change color when they’re fired,” Shane said.
“I know that,” Kyle scowled. “I was joking. You guys are too sensitive. Let’s play this new game.”
They’d been working for hours, and Shane’s back was starting to kink up. He stood. Eli did also and began putting away their supplies. They ordered pizza and played games until they went to bed.
Sunday Kyle was still in an upbeat mood until bedtime. He took Scott’s arm as he got up to go to bed. “Find out about that job tomorrow. How bad did Shane mess me up?”
“Shane didn’t mess you up. I’ll talk to Bert.” Scott went to his room.
Shane waited a half hour but couldn’t sleep. Scott had barely spoken to him all day. If Scott wasn’t going to make the effort to resolve this, he was. He tapped on Scott’s door and then opened it. “Scott?”
Scott’s lamp came on as he sat up. “What do you want?”
Shane leaned against the dresser. “I want to talk to Mr. Make-Up-and-be-Friends.”
Scott leaned back, a slight smile on his face. “I’ve been here.”
“Let’s go for a drive. Get a Brownie Ice Cream Sundae or something.”
Shane tried not to let his disappointment show. He couldn’t remember Scott ever refusing before. But Scott did look tired. Shane didn’t think he’d slept much at all the last two nights since he’d found out about Bert Thorton’s betrayal. Maybe that was it, and Scott wasn’t upset with him.
“Sorry, I woke you. Just couldn’t sleep.” Shane turned to leave the room, expecting Scott to stop him. He didn’t. Shane tried to sleep but couldn’t. He ended up taking a drive alone. He didn’t stop for the dessert, though; he couldn’t eat.
Go to Chapter 14
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.