Scott was gone to work before Shane got out of the shower the next morning. Shane could think of only one person he could talk to about his disappointment. He called Amber and invited her to lunch.
Shane was able to relax and enjoy the feel of her hand in his, and later her lips against his when they parted. She didn’t believe Scott could be upset with him; he was just torn apart by the situation, and Shane needed to be content and be available for him as he had been.
Only one little thing bothered him. As she finished dinner Amber mentioned that his father’s family wasn’t in church. Amber had talked to Tara who told her that they’d gone to another church. Shane had shrugged as if the news meant nothing to him, but as he tried to concentrate on his work later, he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He could only conclude that they’d left because of him. His father didn’t want to be anywhere he might show up. He would never have come near Ann Arbor if he’d known he was here.
With his concentration so marred, Shane decided to go home an hour early. Maybe he’d see Eli for a few hours before he had class. He was the only one who didn’t seem to be avoiding him. And somehow Eli had been betrayed by his father also. His confession Saturday was proof. Shane wouldn’t push him for details. It was enough that Eli could relate.
Shane entered the apartment and stopped abruptly inside the door. Kyle, Eli, Scott, and Bert Thorton were seated around the dining room table. They’d left him out!
Scott stared at him, clearly surprised. “You’re home early. It’s only four.”
Shane tried to pretend nothing was wrong. He got one of the extra chairs from against the wall, setting it between Scott and Eli. “Yeah. You’re early, too. Slow day at work?” He hung his suit jacket on the back of the chair before sitting down. “So, what’s up?”
“This isn’t any of your business, Shane,” Kyle said. “Just leave us alone.”
Shane waited for Scott to say something — anything, but he didn’t.
Eli stood. “None of mine, either, I guess.”
Kyle grabbed his arm. “Sure, it is. You’re my driver. You have to know when to take me to work.”
“This isn’t work. It’s for family. I’m not family.” Eli pulled away.
“Wait, Eli,” Scott said. “You’re family. Let’s all just sit down.” He didn’t look at Shane but waited for Eli to return to the table. Then he focused on Bert Thorton.
Bert took a deep breath and studied his hands. “I’m sorry, Kyle. I never meant to hurt anyone.”
“Sorry? You don’t have a job for me? Because you don’t think I can handle it?”
Bert looked up quickly. “That’s not….” He glanced at Scott. “You can work for me. Whatever I can do to help you, I will. I promise. I never meant to hurt you. Never thought it’d hurt anyone… thought I still had control.”
Kyle frowned. He looked at Scott and then Shane. “Just a minute.” Kyle stood, and motioned Eli back toward their bedroom. Eli followed.
“What’s he doing?” Bert asked Scott.
“He’s probably asking Eli what the hell you’re talking about. Can’t be more ambiguous than you are. Remember, he’s still fixed on the job situation. He doesn’t have a clue you’re the jerk who almost killed him.”
“Knock it off, Shane,” Scott said quietly, still not looking his way.
Eli and Kyle came back and sat down. Kyle glanced at Eli, and Eli gave an encouraging nod.
Kyle leaned back in his chair. “So, you have a job for me? Hey, the wait isn’t hurting me. It’s not knowing what’s happening, you know.”
Eli’s hand rested on Kyle’s back.
Kyle glanced at him with a frown but then focused on Bert Thorton. “So, when would you like me to start coming in? If it’s really a hassle to rearrange things right now I can wait a month or so. After the holidays if necessary. Not really a big hurry. Just need to know.”
“Yes, after the holidays would be best,” Bert agreed. “And then you can stay with me until you start your internship. Give yourself this year to recover. Don’t rush it and make it harder than it has to be.”
“I’ve talked to everyone, Kyle. They’ve told you this, too.”
Kyle glanced at Scott and Shane. “But… but I’m recovering faster than….”
“That’s good,” Bert said. “But use this year to review, and work with me.”
Kyle stared and then nodded. “Yeah. At the hospital.”
Shane sighed in disgust. The guy was weaseling around the truth. “Aren’t….”
“Shut up, Shane,” Scott said, without looking his way.
Shane wanted to jump away from the table and leave them all. Leave Scott to his stupid jerk of a new friend. Let Scott and his jerky friend pay all the apartment expenses themselves.
As he rested his hands on the table to get up, Eli’s left hand briefly touched Shane’s leg. The touch unnerved him — distracted him.
“Dr. Thorton,” Eli said clearly. “Please tell Kyle why you are willing to help him.”
Kyle scowled. “Eli, don’t be stupid.”
Eli watched Bert Thorton. “I want to hear plainly from him. Scott said I was family; I want to know. Please, Dr. Thorton, explain it so Kyle’s idiot poor relation understands.”
“Knock it off, Eli. He doesn’t need to explain anything to you. You’re just my driver.”
“Then you’ll be hiring a new driver soon,” Eli said without moving.
“Eli!” Kyle grabbed Eli’s arm, and then glanced around the table quickly. He focused on Bert. “Look, Eli doesn’t mean any harm. He’s good at what he does. He just doesn’t understand how it is about mentors and all. He’s usually not so mouthy.” He glanced at Eli again. “Come on, Eli. Let it drop.”
Bert shifted in his seat. “Kyle, I will help you any way I can, as long as you let me. If you… if you decide to sue me, I may not be able to help get you back into the hospital.”
Shane shook his head. “Quit weaseling and threatening. He’ll get back into medicine with or without your help.”
“He’s not threatening,” Scott said. “Stay out of it.”
“Yeah, I’ll stay out of it. I’ll….”
Eli’s hand rested on and then squeezed his leg before leaving. Shane was so surprised at the touch that he stopped speaking and stared at him.
“I believe Dr. Thorton was about to tell Kyle why he had the option to sue him instead of work with him,” Eli said quietly.
Kyle glanced at Eli, then Shane. His gaze rested on Scott for a moment, and then went to Bert Thorton. “What’s going on here?” He looked at Eli. “Something’s going on, isn’t it? I missed something.”
“You didn’t miss it. He hasn’t said it,” Eli said quietly.
“But you know!”
“Yeah, we know,” Eli acknowledged.
“What?” He looked around the table again. “What is it?” His voice held a little panic. “When, Eli? Today?”
Eli touched Kyle’s back again. “It’s okay. Wasn’t today. You had a seizure last Friday and didn’t hear. We thought you needed to hear from Bert. It’s okay. You didn’t miss anything.”
Bert rested his head in his hands, not looking at them. “I rammed Scott’s car last May, Kyle. I was high on morphine. I’m sorry.”
Kyle stared at Bert, his mouth half open. Then he glanced at Scott and then Shane.
Shane nodded to confirm the words. “I think Kyle should take time to think about this now.” He stood, hoping to give Kyle the clue that he should retreat and think. “And then he should talk to his lawyer.”
Scott grabbed him. “Can’t you just forget suing? You don’t care who will be hurt, just as long as you get your revenge.”
Shane was too hurt to even lash out. He pulled away from Scott, grabbed his suit jacket and left. Scott’s accusations were as unfair as his father’s had been. It was just common sense to step back and review your options. It was just prudent to consult your lawyer. It was….
Scott hated him. Amber was wrong. Eli was wrong. Scott really hated him. He’d purposely avoided him and left him out of this family thing even though he insisted Eli be there. Then if that wasn’t clear enough his words had been, and they hurt worse than his father’s cruel words. He didn’t need him. He didn’t need anyone. He’d move out and then they’d see who needed… who needed….
Shane parked his car along the edge of a rural road. Leaving the car, he jumped over the ditch and entered the cornfield with six to seven foot, drying stalks. He wandered in to be away from the world. When he felt he was far enough from the road, he screamed his frustration and ripped away stalks. When he was tired, he sat on the ground, and then leaned back against the broken corn stalks.
God, why? Why? Why? Why? I thought Scott… I trusted him. Can’t trust anyone, can I? No one. No one. The thought left him so hollow. He shivered and sneezed, wrapping his arms around him, staying where he was long after the sun set. His limbs felt as numb as his mind, but he did decide one thing. He’d give Kyle and Scott the option. He’d promised Kyle he’d help him. He wouldn’t break his promises, even if everyone else did.
His muscles were stiff. He could barely move, but he knew he must. The chill had penetrated through his thin suit jacket and he shivered as he stood. He sneezed again and looked around, realizing he didn’t know which way to go. A detached part of him wondered if he’d freeze to death in the cornfield, wandering in circles. But it wasn’t a real threat. The temperature wasn’t that low, and the field couldn’t be more than forty acres, a half mile tops.
Shane noticed the rows of corn stalks were fairly straight. He followed one of the straight rows until it made a ninety degree turn. Then he watched the ground and went across rows until he came to the edge of the field. Now he was beside a drainage run off. Headlights passed to the left. He walked in that direction until he came to the road, and then back to his car. He was exhausted. His car stereo clock said it was twelve thirty. He made it home a little after one and stumbled upstairs.
The apartment was brightly lit when he entered, and he briefly closed his eyes against the glare.
“Shane, where’ve you been?” Scott grabbed his arms and looked into his face. “What happened to you?” He reached up and pulled a piece of dried corn stalk from his hair, and then from his suit jacket. Then Scott wrapped his arms around him in a tight hug.
Shane tried to determine why Scott was hugging him when he saw Amber. “What are you doing here?” He pulled away from Scott. “Is my clock wrong?”
Amber smiled. “That’s what we wondered. It’s after one.” She reached up to kiss his cheek. “Are you hurt?”
“Hurt? I….” Kyle and Eli were both up also. “I thought Eli worked on Mondays.”
Kyle grabbed Shane’s jacket. “You’re supposed to tell people when you’re not going to be home. You don’t just take off and let everyone worry.”
“Who the hell worried? You all kept telling me to shut up and leave. I’ll start looking for a new place tomorrow. I don’t need anyone.” He started for his room, but his retreat was interrupted by a spell of sneezing. He grabbed the back of the couch until it stopped.
Kyle was in front of him again. “You promised me. You can’t leave me now.”
Was it panic? Shane’s weariness returned stronger than ever. “Yeah, Kyle. I keep my promises. I’ll stay as long as you need me.” Then he sneezed again.
Kyle looked into his eyes. “You need to change and shower. Looks like you’ve been rolling in a hay field.”
“I just need sleep.”
“Aren’t going to get it with hay fever. Shower first,” Kyle advised.
“It was corn,” Shane mumbled.
“Just as long as it wasn’t another woman,” Amber said.
Shane turned his head, wondering why she was there at one in the morning. She smiled, and he knew she was joking, but he was too tired to get it. “Just corn. Did we have a date?”
She kissed his cheek. “How about we plan for lunch tomorrow? I’ll meet you at your work.” She kissed him again and left.
Shane stared after her until he sneezed again.
“You need a shower. Don’t leave me like that again,” Kyle said, stalking past him to his room. “You could have been killed.”
Shane went into his room and sneezed again. Maybe Kyle was right. He needed a shower. He took a quick one, leaving his clothes on the floor and stumbling back into bed.
A knock sounded on his door, jarring him from a vivid dream. As the knock sounded again, he couldn’t quite remember what the dream was about. He sat up and flicked on the low light. “Yeah?” It barely came out.
The door opened. “Shane?” Scott said softly. “Are you going to work today?”
Shane glanced at the clock. It was after seven. He’d forgotten to set the alarm. “Shit. Thanks for getting me up.” He jumped out of bed and nearly fell, his muscles refusing to move right away. “Damn.” He sat on the bed and rubbed his legs.
“Just stiff.” He sneezed again. He had hoped Kyle had been right, but it wasn’t hay fever. He looked up at Scott. “You’re talking to me again.”
Scott winced. “Never stopped.” He glanced at his watch and shook his head. “No time today. Just… just don’t leave. I didn’t mean it like it sounded.”
“Yeah. Sure. I gotta get moving.” Shane grabbed his clean clothes and shut himself in the bathroom. He didn’t need to listen to Mr. Make-up’s excuses for peace. Dr. Face-lift meant more than Shane or even Kyle to him now.
When he was through in the shower, Scott was gone. Shane took a couple cold tablets and then examined his clothes from yesterday. Another suit ruined. Maybe he wasn’t cut out to wear suits. He’d ruined three in three months. He didn’t need to dress like a stinking, smooth-tongued manager anyway. Even though he was running late, he changed his clothes. He wanted to grab his jeans, but his company did have a dress code. He wore slacks, leaving the dress shirt and tie on. He didn’t take the suit jacket, instead using his fall leather jacket which was a little warmer.
He was able to forget Scott briefly as he worked, until Amber came at twelve thirty. He’d forgotten about her, but he grabbed his jacket and followed her down the street to the cafe. “Were you really at the apartment last night?”
Amber gave a light laugh. “You don’t remember?”
“I was pretty tired. Why?”
They sat in a booth and each grabbed a menu. “Why? Well, when Scott called at eleven thirty, he sounded like he thought you’d been in some terrible accident. So, I came to be close, just in case you needed me.”
“Scott’s an idiot.”
“He loves you.”
With his emotions still boiling over all he could hear were his father’s accusations. First him, then Scott and now Amber. Shane stood and walked from the cafe.
“Shane, wait. Shane! What is it?”
“I’m not gay.”
“I never said you were. Shane, slow down. Please, Shane, tell me what’s wrong.” Amber took his hand.
Shane finally stopped walking and turned to her. “I don’t need anyone.”
“Shane,” Amber said softly. “Please.” She touched the side of his face. “I love you.”
Shane pulled her close to him and kissed her. Then he squeezed her tightly to him. He didn’t want to let her go. He didn’t want to think about how long her love would last before she left him.
“Do you want to eat in your car?” Her voice was muffled against his shoulder. She pulled away a little. “Or I can drive if you’d rather. My car’s right over there.”
Shane looked into her eyes and couldn’t help kissing her again before he allowed her to lead him to her car. He sat beside her and leaned back, closing his eyes as she drove. After they ordered burgers, she drove them out of the city to a small county park. They ate in silence.
Shane finally relaxed. “You know this is the first I’ve eaten since I had lunch with you yesterday.”
“No breakfast? If I’d thought I would have brought you a dessert.”
Shane shrugged. “I’m full already.”
“Ready to talk to me.”
“Didn’t you talk to Scott last night?”
“No. I went to bed.”
“And this morning?”
“Amber, what’s the big deal? I don’t need Scott.”
“Scott needs you.”
“No, he doesn’t. You’re wrong about him. As wrong as you can get. He told me right in front of everyone yesterday. They didn’t want me around. He thinks I’m a jerk stuck on vengeance.” Shane shifted to face her, needing to get his point across. “All I said was Kyle should take some time to think through his options and talk to his lawyer. That’s all I said! Isn’t that what he should do? Isn’t it?”
“Shane, calm down.”
“Well, am I right?”
“Yes, now please relax.”
Shane sat back and took a few deep breaths. She was right. He didn’t need to take it out on her.
“You know Scott’s a walking basket case. That’s why you waited to tell him.”
“Amber, he cared more about Dr. Face-lift than… than Kyle.”
Amber shook her head. “Please, Shane. I was there over an hour last night, and he seemed really broken about you. And I did talk with Kyle last night, and he’s made an appointment to see Mr. Hammond Thursday afternoon. He is getting legal counsel.”
“He is? Didn’t Scott protest?”
“Not last night, and Eli called me about ten to make the appointment.”
“Eli. He’s got his head on straight.”
“Just what I said,” Amber said softly. She started the car. “Remember, Scott is all messed up right now. Don’t give up on your best friend when he needs you most.”
“You do love him.”
Amber sighed. “Shane, I know you’re hurting right now, so I’m going to ignore that statement. I said, I love you, and I don’t play games with love.”
Shane knew he had upset her, so he didn’t say anything else.
She pulled to a stop in front of the office building. “Lunch again tomorrow?”
Shane gave her a brief smile. “Yeah. Hopefully I’ll be better company.” He leaned over to kiss her. “Thanks for listening.”
Shane worked a bit later that night, reluctant to go home. Then he remembered Kyle’s fear, so he called to let him know he’d be late. Eli answered. “Scott’s got a date, and I’ve got class at six. I need to leave in five minutes.”
“Sorry, Eli. I forgot. I’ll be right home. He’ll be all right for a few minutes, won’t he?”
“How’s he taking this about Bert Thorton?”
“We’re just finishing dinner right now, but I’ll save a plate out for you.”
“Can’t talk. Thanks, Eli. I’ll leave now.” Shane hung up and then saved his work on the computer.
Kyle was waiting in the living room when Shane came in. “Good. You’re home.” Kyle followed him to the table. “Eli left you this. Still warm, but you can nuke it if you want.”
Shane sat down and said a silent blessing before he started eating.
“Shane, why didn’t you just tell me that about Bert Thorton?”
Shane set down his fork and looked into Kyle’s face. “Because I wasn’t sure it was true. I was testing him Friday. Why couldn’t you just trust me? After all these years, neither you nor Scott trust me. You both think I’d hurt people without thinking. You think I’m just a selfish bastard.” Shane stood. His voice had risen, and he regretted it. “I’m tired.”
Kyle grabbed his arm, stopping him. “Please, Shane, I… I told them I’m not… I have mood swings. I got a new medicine, and they changed a different one. I didn’t mean it.”
Shane nodded because his throat was too tight to speak. He hadn’t really blamed Kyle. He knew Kyle was working through a lot of hard things.
Kyle looked at the ground. “Sometimes, Shane, I… I get scared.”
Shane went back to his dinner. “I know.” He pushed the casserole around on the plate. It was passable, but it wasn’t as tempting as Eli’s roasts or chicken dinners.
“I need to know what you think about this,” Kyle said. “Half the time I’m so mad I can’t think straight.” He studied Shane a minute. “Can’t think straight anyway, you know. And it’s all his fault!” He stood again. “Scott only sees one side. Sometimes I think he cares more about him than me.” Kyle had paced to the couch and then turned. “But then he yelled at him pretty good after you left yesterday.”
“He did? About what?”
“About it being his fault, you were hurt, too. Then he went on and on about everyone being hurt by the accident, you and Ian and Anna, my parents, his parents, until he collapsed at the table with his head in his arms. Bert just sat there, kind of rigid-like. Then of course, you know Scott apologized. But, man, Shane, he scared me. Never saw him so angry. But then he says it’s best for me not to sue. Bert’s always been making restitution. He’s been giving money all along and stuff. Has he?”
Shane gave a slight shrug. “Four thousand so far. Now that insurance has kicked in for Eli’s pay….”
“You guys have been lying to me.”
“Wouldn’t have to if you’d get your pride out of the damn way, and just concentrate on what’s important.”
“And what do you think is so important,” Kyle said in that sneering, condescending tone.
“Minimizing the long term effect of this accident on you by doing whatever it takes to get you the best help and keep you where you can explore the options open to you without being pigeonholed. You’ve got a lot of options, Kyle. Don’t let fear and pride make this any worse than it already is.”
Kyle stared. Shane had the feeling he’d surprised him. He concentrated on his casserole to give Kyle time to think through his responses.
Finally, Kyle looked at his hands, still now as they rested on the table. “You could have been a doctor. You’re smart.”
Shane grinned. “You think it’s easy to become a CPA? Besides I’m not good with people. You know that.”
“No, I don’t know that,” Kyle said quietly. “You don’t seem to do too badly. What should I do, Shane? Sue him? If I do, he can’t help me get back into the work. Scott says it’ll crush him. He might even go to jail.”
Kyle looked up then. “But you know, Shane, I don’t really care. Look at me!” He held out his hands which shook with tremors. “Look! I can’t even drive a car anymore. Oh, they say maybe years from now if I don’t have a seizure, but just when I think maybe this time the medicine’s right… maybe this time… it happens, and I’m plastered to the floor again. I hate him!”
He dropped his gaze to the table, and his hands which he rested against it. “That’s not forgiving, is it? I can see Scott thinking I’m wrong.” He looked at Shane. “But you know ten times what Scott knows about God. I know you do. Might even know more than me. You tell me. What do you think?”
Shane’s mouth was dry. He grabbed the milk and drank it, but still didn’t have the answer. He thought he had, but Kyle wasn’t asking what he thought exactly, he was asking what God thought. That was more responsibility than he wanted to have.
“I’m a rotten, hateful monster, just like Ian. That’s what you think, isn’t it?”
“No,” Shane said, because that much was just his opinion. “You have to watch, because you could be. Any of us could be. I could be. We just have to remember to care about other people enough not to be.”
“But I hate Ian, and I hate Bert Thorton even more. I want to destroy his career like he destroyed mine. Not only that, I want him to know what it’s like to have your body do things you can’t control. I want him to live with the fear that any time he could end up on the ground with people looking on in pity. I want him to beg God to die so he doesn’t have to find the best alternative and then pray no one discovers there isn’t even enough of him left to do that.” Kyle grabbed Shane’s shirt and stood, bringing Shane to his feet also. “Tell me I’m wrong. Tell me I’ve lost it all. There’s nothing good left in me. God took it all. Don’t even fool yourself. Tell me something.”
Shane couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound trite.
Kyle gave his shirt a jerk. “Tell me! Tell me Scott is right. We’ve got to forgive this jerk. Tell me!”
“Why? Will you forgive him if I say it?”
Kyle let go of him and turned away. “No. I can’t forgive him.”
Kyle looked back at Shane. “Then I’ll know. You tell me and I’ll know I’m wrong, and it won’t matter anymore that I’m wrong because that’s what I am now.” He said it so evenly, that Shane knew he truly believed it, and he was ready to live by it.
“That’s not what you are now. I can’t forgive him either. He destroyed our family. He’s tearing us apart. You and Scott are my best friends. I needed….” Shane looked at the carpet as the truth struck him. “I need you guys. I don’t have any other real family.”
Kyle came to stand before him. “So, you think I should sue him? Crush him into the ground?”
Shane couldn’t speak. He wanted him to sue him, but Kyle had asked about God’s view, and Shane still felt that burden. He didn’t know God’s view and guessing God’s will was too great.
The door opened, and Scott entered the apartment. He was off the hook. Surely Kyle wouldn’t expect the answer now.
Go to Chapter 15
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.