The next day Shane took his lunch early and went to talk to Pastor Joe Prescott. When he came to the name of the man who hit Kyle and Scott, he stopped.
“What is it?” Joe asked.
Shane didn’t know. Why did he still feel it necessary to keep Dr. Thorton’s name from the world? Perhaps if Kyle decided not to sue, he would need his reputation intact. Shane shook his head. “Dr. Who then began visiting Kyle in the hospital….”
Shane briefly registered the surprise on Joe’s face, but he didn’t mention it. He left the office later, realizing he needed to find out a few more things.
That evening he walked downstairs with Scott, as Scott left for his date with Kayleigh. Scott stopped at the truck. “Something bothering you?”
“Is Bert a Christian?”
“Should it matter?”
“Well, Pastor Joe said if he is, we should settle this through the church.”
“No. He’s not. Yet. So, since he’s not you automatically sue?”
“No. He didn’t say one way or the other about that.” Shane hesitated.
“But he did say something. I can see you holding back.”
Shane shrugged. “He broke the law and abused his medical license. It’s a criminal matter. Especially when other people can be hurt.”
“He’s not taking it except before bed now.”
“And what if he’s on-call? What if he was called to sew someone’s face back together after an accident? Would you want him operating on you?”
Scott stiffened and closed his eyes. “He wouldn’t….”
Shane placed his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Hey. I haven’t made any decisions. I’m just letting you know how the matter stands. Would you rather I hadn’t answered you?”
“No. Please don’t hide anything anymore.”
Shane briefly gripped Scott’s shoulder before dropping his hand. “I won’t. You’re going to be late.” Shane turned and jogged back upstairs.
Shane brought out his ceramic supplies to make more Christmas ornaments.
Kyle watched him as he set up at the table. “Aren’t we reading?”
“Sure. I thought you were reading, and I was painting.”
Kyle grabbed the book and slipped into the chair adjacent to him. But he didn’t open it. Instead he continued watching Shane.
Shane finally met his gaze. “What’s up?”
“What did you decide? You agree with Scott?”
“I haven’t decided anything yet. Want to go with me to Amber’s tomorrow? Her dad’s an elder. I planned to ask him what he thought.”
“So, whatever he says? He decides my life?”
Shane focused on the round, flat ceramic ornament. “What do you think? A midnight blue background, then a white snow scene? Maybe a church?”
“I’m going to sue him.”
“Yeah. I’ll make a church on this one.” He opened the midnight glaze.
“You don’t care.”
Shane finally focused on Kyle. “No. I’d love it if you took this responsibility out of my hands. Then you can’t blame me later if you start feeling guilty.”
“I’m not going to feel guilty. He deserves to be wiped out.”
Shane dipped the brush into the glaze. “Yep.”
“He took advantage of his position. He abused prescription drugs.”
“Sure did. Can’t believe anyone could take more medicine than they should. They could kill someone–maybe even themselves. You think someone can overdose on morphine?” He didn’t look at Kyle.
Kyle knocked over the glazes. He smashed the ornament Shane was painting and then systematically smashed the other three unfinished ornaments on the table. Then he glared at Shane.
Shane looked up at him. “You feel better?”
“You think I’m the same as he is! You think I’m a selfish bastard. You think….” He pulled Shane to his feet.
Shane broke his grip. “Don’t even try it, Kyle. I won’t let you pound on me.”
“He owes me.”
“And if you hit me, you’re gonna owe me. At least until I punch you back. I never said you shouldn’t sue. I never said anything. I’m just letting you know this isn’t easy. I want to pound the hell out of him, too. But you asked what God wanted, and I’m still trying to figure that out.” He looked down at the spilled, blue glaze. “Are you going to clean up your mess?” Shane walked past him to his room.
He waited, but Kyle didn’t retreat to his room. Shane relaxed when he heard him cleaning up. He grabbed his sketch pad and leaned back against the headboard of his bed to work out the scene he’d thought of painting on the ornament.
He’d sketched over a half hour when Kyle came into his room. He set the box with Shane’s ceramic supplies beside the dresser. “Why don’t you do that in the living room? We can read.”
“Sure.” Shane followed him out to the living room and listened to Kyle read, but his mind wandered. He almost had it worked out. Bert Thorton promised as much restitution as they wanted. The only catch was if he was still endangering other people. That’s what he needed to know.
The next evening Eli said he had homework and would prefer to stay home instead of going with Shane and Kyle to Ray Pearson’s house. After another superb dinner prepared by Amber and her mother, Kyle and Shane went to Ray’s study with Amber and Ray to talk about the accident and Bert Thorton.
Ray agreed with Shane about the need to find out if Bert was still abusing drugs. He also said that if they accepted Bert’s offer for restitution without suing, that they should get any terms drawn up by Mr. Hammond and Bert’s attorney. Shane was glad he agreed they shouldn’t trust Bert blindly, no matter how eager to help he appeared.
Kyle seemed subdued most of the evening. Finally, he spoke. “Legal restitution is fine, but who decides how much? I thought that’s what suing did.”
“I think Amber would agree with me that sometimes suing doesn’t always bring the best results.”
Amber gave a small grimace. “Yeah. That’s true. I’ve seen settlements so huge that they could never be paid. All that happens is the person declares bankruptcy and usually gets out of most of it. Then I’ve seen settlements so small they don’t even cover the legal expenses. You’ve got a better chance at getting something because he is willing. I’ll tell you one thing; that’s rare. Most people will do anything to get out of paying what they owe.”
“You’re on his side,” Kyle accused, but didn’t say it with the vehemence he had the night before.
“No, Kyle,” Amber said softly. “I’m just telling you what I’ve seen.”
“Then who decides what restitution is fair?”
“You and Bert Thorton.”
“But… but I almost died!”
“Yes, you did,” she said, still speaking softly. “His crime hurt you very deeply. He needs to do all he can to help you.”
“Nothing will ever fix it.”
“No,” Amber agreed. “Most crimes are like that. The damage can’t be undone.”
Kyle closed his eyes and leaned back. “I’m not going to forgive him.”
“That’s between you and God,” Ray said. “It has no bearing on how you go about getting the restitution you deserve.”
Kyle leaned forward and focused on Ray with the sharp, alert gaze he used to use often. Shane’s heart leapt, hoping it meant he was recovering a little more. “So, you think I can get more without suing?”
“Perhaps. You still need to determine if he is a threat to anyone else. My first guess would be that a man guilt ridden enough to initiate restitution like he has, would make every effort not to repeat his error, but you should look into that, Shane.” He grinned then. “Amber tells me you’re a part-time detective.”
Shane was surprised for only a moment before he laughed, remembering their first meeting. “When it’s convenient. I’ll look into it.”
A little later he and Amber walked outside. The crescent moon barely lit the dark patches between the sparse street lamps of the subdivision. Shane slipped his hand in hers as soon as they were outside, but neither of them spoke until they had walked half a block.
“You were great with Kyle,” Shane said. “You’re good at your job.”
Amber smiled. “You didn’t think I was that great when we first met.”
“Yes, I did. Irritated the hell out of me that you were so good at keeping your client’s business safe from me.” He squeezed her hand. “Bet you’d do the same even if we were married.”
“So would your husband get any special treatment?”
“My husband or you?” she asked lightly.
“One and the same.”
She laughed. “Are you proposing?”
“Not yet. We haven’t dated long enough. I told Scott I wasn’t going to be as crazy as he was and jump to marriage in less than two months. I figure I got a couple more weeks before it’ll be safe to ask.”
Amber grinned. “What makes you think I’d agree?”
“Nothing. Don’t expect you to say yes the first time I ask. I have to wear you down with gifts and kisses.”
Amber pivoted to face him, stopping them both. “What kind of kisses?” she asked in a low, sexy voice.
He lowered his mouth to hers, tasting her lips, enjoying the soft sensations. His heart pounded. He wanted more than kisses. He pulled her closer, holding her and kissing her until he felt her hands pushing against him.
She didn’t meet his eyes as she turned to continue walking. “Yes. That might do it,” she said a little shakily.
Shane smiled. “If not, I can try harder.”
She gave a weak laugh. “Better than that? Give a girl a little chance to resist.”
“Never.” They walked another block in silence. Shane thought about the night Scott had told him he knew for certain he would marry Kayleigh someday. He still didn’t understand exactly what Scott had meant. Shane didn’t quite know if Amber would accept him, but he knew beyond a doubt, he wanted her for his wife. He’d never dated anyone like her. Not only did he find her beautiful, she was talented, compassionate, a great cook, and she seemed to desire him as much as he did her.
He took her hand again. Yes, it was time to step up his efforts to win her. More flowers, more gifts, and of course, more kisses.
They were now in front of her home. He stopped her in the driveway to kiss her again. “What…” “…can I…” “…do to make you…” “…melt and marry me?” he asked between kisses.
She laughed. “Think I’d tell you the secret?”
“Yeah, cause you want me, too.” He kissed her again until he felt her pull away.
She didn’t meet his eyes as she started for the front door.
He knew he’d gotten to her again. “I love you,” he whispered, when he caught her on the porch.
She gave a brief smile before opening the door. She was backing away for now. Shane decided he better slow down for tonight, or she’d suspect he was trying to get her into the bedroom. He better slow down or he might try. How he wanted her!
Shane and Kyle left for home a short time later.
Kyle was still subdued. “You agree with her? About suing?”
Shane’s thoughts jerked away from the memory of Amber’s kisses to the harsh reality of Kyle’s situation. He sighed. “I don’t know, Kyle. I hate what he’s done to you, to Scott, to the way we were, but is revenge going to help you in the long run?”
“I never hated anyone before. Now I hate him, and I even hate my own brother. It’s his fault.”
“You never blamed before either….”
“I know. I know. Man, I know.” He pulled into his parking spot and shut off the car engine. They sat a moment in silence before Shane opened the door to get out.
Kyle caught up with him at the apartment entrance. “What if I can never work at anything again? What if….”
Shane caught his arms. “You can do a lot. Just stop being so scared.”
“Easy for you to say.” Kyle shrugged off his hands and started up the stairs.
Shane reached him at the landing. “Yeah, Kyle. Damn easy for me. As easy for me as it was for you when I got scared and thought I’d never make it through school, when my loan had trouble going through, when I had no one but you and Scott, and you kept me on track. Was it easy? Was I as stubborn as you are?”
Kyle finally relaxed and smiled. “You were so stubborn I thought I was going to have to knock you out and drag you back to the bank to sign those stupid loan papers. You couldn’t believe Scott’s parents would co-sign for you. And you got all self-righteous, going to make it on your own, and….”
Kyle reached for the doorknob. “This is different. I don’t want to be a burden on you guys all my life.”
“Do I hear an echo? Man, I thought you never listened to a word I said back then, and you done gone and memorized every stupid line I said. Wake up, Kyle. It wasn’t permanent with me. It isn’t gonna be permanent with you.”
Kyle ignored him, sorting through his keys. “Dumb kid must be in there,” he mumbled. “Could let us in.”
“Do you remember this line? ‘Give it three or four years. Bet you’ll be out-earning all of us.’ Remember you said that? Remember?”
“I was right.” He unlocked the door.
Shane grabbed his shoulder. “Give it three or four years,” he whispered, squeezed his shoulder, and released him, before going into the apartment.
Kyle wanted to get away that weekend, so they all took Scott’s Jeep Grand Cherokee up north to Tawas Point state park. They’d gone a couple times this past summer with Eli. Every time they went, Eli became more relaxed. This time he didn’t even hesitate when the trip was suggested. Usually they would swim in the lake, but because of the cold, they just hiked on the paths in the woods.
Even though the temperature dropped down to forty-two that night, they camped out, crammed into their three-man tent with extra sleeping bags.
Shane awoke as Scott made his way from the tent. He waited, but Scott didn’t return. He finally went to look for him. Scott sat on a picnic table near the lake. Shane silently stepped onto the seat to sit beside him.
“Didn’t mean to wake you.”
“Take your medicine?”
“Yeah. You didn’t decide yet, did you?”
“Still working it out.”
Scott shook his head slightly. “Wish I didn’t have to go into work Monday. Can’t stand seeing Bert’s look.”
Shane almost told Scott that he’d decided they shouldn’t sue, but he wanted Bert Thorton to sweat. He wanted him to know some uncertainty. And he did want to make sure of those details first. “Look, Scott, please don’t let it eat at you. Tell him Kyle needs to get used to the idea of restitution versus revenge. We talked last night, but I can tell he needs more time to accept it.”
Scott turned to face Shane. “You’re recommending he doesn’t sue?”
“Amber recommended it. But Kyle is hurting. If we push him too quickly, he’ll snap and do what his pain tells him to do. It’s not me that makes the decision, Scott, and you know it. It’s Kyle. Tell Bert Thorton that. Tell him Kyle can’t be pushed either way right now. He has to work through the anger before he can do what’s best for himself.”
Scott nodded silently, staring at the water. Then he turned and grinned at Shane. “Thanks. It won’t be what he wants to hear, but at least you’ve given me something.”
“Come on back to the tent. It’s cold out here, and we need all four of us in there to keep it warm enough for any of us to sleep.”
Scott followed him back to the tent, and Shane hoped he was able to sleep now.
Monday morning Shane and Scott walked downstairs together. “You have lunch with Kayleigh?”
“Not today. She eats at EMU on Mondays and Wednesdays.”
“Why don’t we meet at the mall?”
Scott grinned. “We haven’t done that in ages. See you at noon.”
Shane was glad he’d thought of it. Scott had seemed tired again this morning, and although nothing had been said, Shane suspected he hadn’t slept well in anticipation of meeting up with Bert Thorton at work.
Shane was able to get away a few minutes early and made it to the food court in the mall by noon. Scott was already waiting. They ordered from one of the fast food restaurants and found a table.
After he said grace, Scott looked up at Shane. “Need to do some shopping?”
Shane grinned. “Kind of. I told Amber I was going to wear her down with gifts and kisses. Got the kisses taken care of. Now I need to find some gifts. What do you recommend, Man-with-a-thousand-sisters?”
“Variety, I think.”
“Cards, flowers, jewelry….”
“Not quite ready for the engagement ring yet.”
Scott laughed. “Aren’t you? You’re going to marry her.”
“Sure, I will. If she’ll have me. I’ve gotta hedge my advantage right now.”
“You’re trying too hard.” Scott took another bite of his burger and shrugged. “But then I don’t think there’s any harm in showering Amber with gifts now… until after you’re married.”
“Yeah. You’re setting a precedent.”
Shane frowned, wondering if he was missing something important that only a guy with three sisters would understand.
Scott laughed. “Hey, relax. You won’t take her for granted after the wedding, will you?”
Shane did relax. Now he knew where Scott’s thoughts had gone. “You think Sandy and Mason are having problems?”
Scott shrugged. “Not really problems. He just doesn’t show her how he cares much. Kind of like my dad. You let me know if I start taking Kayleigh for granted.” He pushed away the last of his fries. “Course, I don’t think she’d keep quiet about it like Sandy and Mom do.”
Shane wished he could help Scott. “She’s just scared.”
“She’ll mellow out.”
Scott gave him a quick smile. “Yeah. She will. Sometimes she’s so understanding, like today. We talked for over an hour in my office and prayed and… and she really cares about people, about me. I know she does. I should get her something, too.”
They stood, threw out their trash, and walked through the mall. They stopped in the first jewelry store they came to. “Might as well look at the rings while we’re here,” Shane reasoned.
“There’s always earrings.” Scott pointed to them.
“Yeah. That’d work for now.”
“I’m buying one of Eli’s sets for each of my sisters for Christmas. Already have two picked out — just Anna and Mom left. Maybe I’ll get my dad a tie pin. Hey, I bet Eli could make one of those, too.”
“Maybe.” Shane continued looking into the glass cases until he came to a section of men’s rings. An attendant came, and Shane asked to see the small gold band.
“When did you get into rings?”
Shane took the ring from the attendant and tried it on his small finger. It was a little too big. “Hey, it’s the right size. Well, he is a little thinner, but I think his fingers are the same size.”
“Yeah. Remember his ring? Meant a lot to him.”
“Great idea.” Scott took it. “Looks almost the same. I like that herringbone pattern. Let me go half.”
Shane hesitated. “It’s all right. I haven’t had many expenses lately.”
“It’s my stupid sister who’s messing with his mind. If this will help….”
Shane realized Scott was feeling guilty again. He wanted to pound Bert Thorton for that pain also. He shrugged as if it didn’t matter. “Sure. I’ll use the extra to get a set of earrings for Amber.” He glanced up at the attendant. “We’ll take this, and I need to see your gold earrings.” Gold was Amber’s color. He’d always remember the way she’d looked that first day in the eerie light from the thunderstorm.
They made their purchases and realized they’d spent too much time in the store. They needed to get back to work. “We give him the ring tonight at dinner.” Scott agreed.
That evening Shane and Scott got home just as Eli finished dinner. The table was set. When Kyle disappeared into the bathroom, Shane removed the small box from his pocket and set it near Kyle’s plate. Then he went to change his clothes.
It wasn’t until they’d prayed, passed the potatoes and meatloaf, and started eating that Kyle’s gaze rested on the small box. He set down his fork and picked it up. “This yours, Shane? Get your girl a present? Or did you get Kayleigh something, Scott?”
“Not mine,” Shane said.
“Didn’t get Kayleigh anything today, but I should.”
Kyle opened the box and then studied the ring. He took a deep breath. “You guys….” His voice trailed off, and he shook his head. He stood and walked toward his room, taking the box and the ring with him.
Shane’s throat was tight. He’d thought he’d seen moisture in Kyle’s eyes. He wished he was as good at hiding his feelings as he used to be.
“He was just looking at those last week,” Eli said quietly. “Wouldn’t tell me why.”
Scott glanced at Eli and then spoke just as quietly. “He had a ring before, but it was cut off in the Emergency Room after the accident and got lost somehow. He bought it when he was fourteen with allowance and odd job money he’d saved most of the summer. It represented a vow to Christ he’d made at youth camp that spring — a vow to wait until marriage.”
“You bought it for him?”
“We both did.”
Kyle stayed in his room throughout dinner. When Eli went in to get his school books, he reported that Kyle seemed to be okay. He thought he was praying. So Scott and Shane waited. Shane worked on his ornaments, and Scott worked on his computer researching something for his job.
Kyle emerged several hours later wearing the ring. None of them spoke about it though. Instead Kyle studied the ornaments Shane worked on. “Sorry about the other night,” he said.
“No problem. Not like my art is priceless or anything.”
Scott looked up. “Hey, that’s something I know Amber would like. One of your pictures. It’s a part of you–something only you could give her.”
“Give it up, Scott. I’m trying to win her, not terrify her.”
Kyle snickered. “Now who’s wimping out. Scott’s right. Give her a picture — maybe of her home or church or someplace she likes to go, you two’s favorite romantic spot.”
“Yeah, Shane. It’s perfect. She loved your cathedral.”
“That’s almost as tacky as giving her an eight by ten of myself.”
“Is not. Does this place look tacky? No.”
“I don’t want her to expect she has to decorate with my amateur doodles if she marries me.”
“They’re already on the walls,” Kyle pointed out. “She won’t be decorating.”
Shane shook his head. “Reason number 153 not to get married for five more years. I think Scott and I will both have the longest engagement on record.” As soon as he said it, he wanted to take it all back, start over from the beginning. “I mean….”
“You mean, I’m keeping you from getting married.”
“No!” Scott echoed. “Kayleigh’s afraid of marriage, that’s all. It’s not anything to do with you. And Shane hasn’t even asked yet. He’s afraid to.”
Shane wanted to protest, but he’d hurt Kyle enough, and if Scott’s lies helped he wouldn’t interfere.”
But Kyle looked at Shane, his gaze sharper, almost as it was before. “But you’re afraid she’ll say no if she doesn’t have her own home.”
“No,” Shane lied. “She’ll say no anyway. She’s too good for someone like me. You know I always get dumped. I’ll be here long after you and Scott get married and move away.”
“I won’t be getting married, and you know it,” Kyle said wearily. He stood and went to his room.
“Damn. I’m sorry.”
Scott sighed. “Amber isn’t Kayleigh. She won’t mind. In fact, I hoped that having another woman here would reassure her. Don’t use this as an excuse not to ask. Let her decide to wait or not.”
“Yeah. Sure. I’m not ready to ask yet.”
“Liar,” Scott whispered.
“You weren’t doing too bad yourself,” Shane said with a grin.
Scott smiled and then stood. “Will you check on him?”
“Sure. Then I better clean this up.”
Kyle lay on his bed, but ignored Shane, even though Shane was sure he knew he’d come in to check on him. Shane put away his ceramic supplies and then went to bed. He got up once during the night to check on him, because it was Eli’s night to sleep at the church and pretend to be working. Kyle’s breathing was even. Hopefully he’d be fine.
Go to Chapter 18
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.