Amber wasn’t able to meet Shane for lunch until Wednesday. She made it to the restaurant before he did, and he slid into the booth across from her. He reached for her hand and brought her fingers to his lips. “Mmmm. Love you.”
Amber smiled and put her hand back on the table. “I have turnovers in the car.”
“Great. Let’s skip lunch and go straight to the good stuff.”
“Oh, no. No dessert until you eat everything on your plate.”
Shane took her hand again to kiss her fingers, but the waitress interrupted him. He gave his order, and then refocused on Amber. “Where were we?”
Amber was no longer smiling. “Shane, about Friday… you were just teasing, right?”
Shane felt a lump in his chest like his heart had stopped. “Teasing about what?”
Shane hesitated. If she was about to dump him, he’d look stupid declaring himself so obviously. “I can wait,” he said with a slight shrug. “You probably don’t want to live with Scott and Kyle anyway, and I made a promise to them to stay for the next few years.”
“You are serious, aren’t you?” She seemed surprised.
“Thought you said you were into an exclusive relationship. Isn’t that the first step to marriage?”
She smiled then. “I love you, Shane.”
He relaxed. Apparently, he’d passed the test. “Great. We can get married tomorrow.” He pulled the box from his suit jacket and set it on the table near her. “Bought the wrong thing, though, Monday.”
Amber opened the box to reveal the small gold hearts. “Oh, Shane, they’re beautiful. You really are serious. I can’t believe it. Most guys don’t want the commitment, but you… you’re all commitment. You commit to your friends totally.” She took off the earrings she had on and replaced them with the gold hearts.
“That doesn’t bother you? That I’ve promised to help Kyle through this?”
“How can it bother me? It proves you’re as genuine a friend as Scott claims. I hope I’m not making a great leap to assume you’ll be as loyal to your family.”
“Well, I certainly don’t plan to follow my father’s great example if that’s what you’re thinking.”
“Of course, I’m not. I’ve just never dated anyone who was serious for longer than it took to get into the bedroom.”
The waitress brought their food. Shane ate in silence although, he wasn’t really hungry.
“Are you upset?” Amber asked quietly as they finished up.
Shane shook his head. “No.”
“What are you thinking?”
“Just wondering what you thought about moving in with Kyle, Scott, Eli, and maybe Kayleigh. It’d just be for a few years.”
She didn’t move or speak right away. Then she focused on the last few bites of her meal. “Lot of people in one apartment.”
Shane pushed away his plate. “Yeah. Figured you’d want to wait.”
Amber glanced up quickly. “You’d wait two years to get married?”
“If you don’t want to before, guess I have to, right?” He pulled out his wallet and threw down a couple dollars for the tip. Then he took the check to the cashier.
Amber followed him. Outside she stopped him. “You won’t want sex before if we wait two years?”
Shane gave a brief snicker. “I want you now, but God says we gotta wait.” He started for his car.
He stopped and looked back at her.
She came to stand before him. “You’re upset.”
Shane quickly analyzed his own feelings. Then he took a deep breath and released it, attempting to focus. He tried to smile but wasn’t sure he succeeded. “I’ve just got a lot on my mind. Just as well I don’t have to think about wedding plans and rearranging my room.” He kissed her cheek, hoping to prove he wasn’t upset.
She turned her face, bringing her lips to his, wrapping her arms around him and pressing her body against his. He couldn’t help the moan that came from sudden desire. She pulled away. “I almost forgot the turnovers. Don’t leave yet.” She sprinted away to her car before he could protest.
Shane took the last few steps to his car and leaned against it. She knew how to play him out. Part of his mind wanted to be angry, to resent the emotional up and down, desire and retreat she forced on him, but another part of him seemed to look on in detachment. You said you could wait. You prove you’re not like the rest. You show her you want her more than sex with her. The other part of him protested that he wanted sex more, but by the time she returned with the turnovers he had subdued it and regained control.
“Here they are.” She kissed his cheek. “I better go. Lots of appointments this afternoon.”
“Will I see you Friday?”
Shane hadn’t thought that far ahead, but he quickly agreed. As he drove back to the office, he remembered Kyle. He hoped Eli would stay with him. He’d seemed subdued and quiet since Monday night. He hoped he wasn’t depressed over his slip about marriage.
Thursday evening Scott asked Shane to come down to the car with him when he left to go back into work. “Can you ask Kyle?”
“Ask him what?” Shane leaned against the Cherokee as Scott unlocked it.
“What’s he going to do?”
“Let it rest, Scott. He’s too depressed right now. Has Eli said anything?”
Scott sunk against the door. “No. Hoped it was my imagination. Was it the ring, you think?”
“Probably the girls holding us back. I don’t think he believed us.”
“You mean Kayleigh, don’t you? Just say it, okay. I tried to tell her that yesterday, but she thought I was trying to manipulate her.”
“I meant both of them. Amber wants to wait, too.”
“You asked her?”
“We talked about it.”
Scott yanked open the truck door. “I’ll tell Kayleigh she was right.” He sat in the seat and then faced Shane. “So what do I tell Bert about Kyle?”
Shane was irritated it should matter, irritated that Bert was pressing Scott for resolution. “Tell him the truth. If he pushes, Kyle will sue him. Tell him to back off and leave you alone.”
“He’s not bothering me. I just feel like I owe him an answer.”
“You don’t owe him anything.”
Scott faced ahead to stare out the windshield. “He got some flak for prescribing me that medicine without consulting my doctor.”
Scott’s eyes closed.
Shane placed his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Hey,” he said softly. “Try not to let it eat at you. We can’t do anything, and Kyle needs time.” He didn’t mention that he still wanted to talk to Bert about his drug use. He knew it would upset Scott further.
Scott looked at him. “He didn’t mean to hurt us.”
“You better get to work. I’ve got to get upstairs with Kyle. Maybe he’ll talk to me tonight.” He closed Scott’s door and then went back upstairs.
But Kyle said little. He didn’t even read, asking Shane to read instead. Then he claimed tiredness and went to bed at eight. Shane wondered if he’d had a seizure earlier. He checked on him several times, but he just lay in bed. Shane didn’t think he slept, though. He wished it wasn’t Eli’s night to sleep at the church.
Scott got home a little after nine. He looked weary also. “Did he say anything?” Scott asked in a whisper.
“No.” Shane hesitated as an idea came to him.
“What is it?”
“I’d like to go for a drive. Can you check on Kyle every hour or so. I’ll try not to be too late.”
As Shane turned to leave, Scott caught his arm. “Wait. You’re not going to Bert’s house, are you?”
“Hadn’t planned on it. Just want to drive and do some thinking.”
“Hear from your dad?”
Shane was startled. He thought that was settled — over. “Why would I hear from him?”
“I just thought….”
Shane shook his head. “Sorry, Mr. Make-up. It’s not gonna happen. He had seventeen years to contact me, and the only reason he did now is because he couldn’t say no to Ray Pearson. His family dropped out of that church, so he won’t have any pressure to do so again.”
“I’m sorry,” Scott said, his voice cracking.
Shane gripped his arm a moment. “Don’t be. He’s not worth the trouble.” Then, so his own emotions couldn’t ambush him again, he quickly escaped out the door and down to his car.
He drove to the church. It was dark, and Kyle’s truck was not in the parking lot. Eli wasn’t in from school yet. Shane turned up the car stereo and reclined his seat, letting the rock rhythm beat into his body and relax him.
God, Lord, I don’t know if I have the strength to wait two years. Why did I meet her now if I can’t have her yet? You know how weak I am. I’m not like Scott or Kyle… like Kyle used to be. Lord, please help him. Let him know You still care about him — You still love him. Give him some measure of hope, something to work for that he knows he can succeed at… just something. You know what he needs better than I do. And Scott… Lord, please take that awful guilt from him. He knows it wasn’t his fault. What more can be done? Why does he take responsibility for everything? Isn’t there anything I can do to help? What can I do? Lord….
A sharp rap on the window jerked him from his prayer. He sat up, bringing up the seat back at the same time and turning down the stereo. Eli stood by his door. Shane grabbed his keys from the ignition and got out of the car.
“What’s wrong? What happened to Kyle?” Eli asked, searching Shane’s face as if trying to find the answer in it. “He asked me not to go. But school… I couldn’t….”
“Whoa. Hold it, Eli. He’s all right.”
“But something’s wrong.”
“Yeah. Something is or you wouldn’t be panicking that something had.” Shane leaned against the car. “Want to talk out here, in there….” He gave a shrug toward the church. “Or do you want to go someplace else?”
Eli studied his face one more moment before turning and walking to the door of the church.
Shane followed. He thought about Eli’s reaction but then decided Eli must feel Kyle was the only family he had now. Well, with Scott laying it on thick, they were all Eli’s family, and except for those foster grandparents, all he had in the world. Perhaps he was afraid he’d lose this family like he’d lost his parents. If something happened to Kyle, he wouldn’t have his job with them. But….
Eli led him downstairs to the Sunday school office. He flicked on the light and then turned and stood with his back against the wall.
Shane watched him a moment, and then looked around the room. It held a desk, bookshelves and supply cabinets, and two chairs by a small work table. His gaze went back to Eli. He hadn’t moved. Shane sat in one of the chairs at the table. “Relax. I just wanted to talk to you about Kyle.”
Eli slid into the other chair, not taking his eyes from him. “What about Kyle?”
“Man, Eli, relax, will you?”
His eyes widened briefly. His jaw muscles tensed and untensed a few times before he spoke. “How can I relax when the boss comes to talk to me?”
“The boss?” Shane shook his head. “What are you talking about? It’s me. The guy who paints those ornaments with you. Is that it? You don’t know how to tell me they’re not good enough for your grandparent’s shop?”
Eli shook his head. “What? You came here to talk about ornaments?”
“Isn’t that what you wanted to say?”
“I didn’t want to say anything. You came here.”
“But you’re nervous. What is it?”
Eli stood and paced two steps away from the table before turning back. “That’s what I’d like to know. I thought you would only come here in an emergency. What’s going on? Did something happen with Kyle? Is Scott okay? My grandparents.” Eli leaned on the table close to Shane. “What’s wrong with my Grandparents? Is it Grandma? Grace?”
“Hold it!” Shane stood.
Eli straightened and stood inches from him. “It’s Grace, isn’t it?”
“Who the hell is Grace? Eli, I haven’t heard from anybody. Will you just relax? Nobody’s hurt.”
Eli stared at him, as if uncertain whether to believe him or not.
“I just noticed Kyle has seemed pretty quiet since Monday. Is he depressed? Different medicine? Scott and I are a little worried, that’s all.”
Eli glanced over his face once more before the stiffness left his body. He sagged back into his chair at the table, resting his elbows on the table and placing his face in his hands. “Sorry.” His voice was muffled. “I don’t handle the unexpected well.”
Shane said nothing. Eli certainly had gone off the deep end tonight, but yet he could handle Kyle’s unpredictability.
Eli lifted his head, and Shane noticed the weariness from his long day. “Didn’t you sleep well last night?”
Eli shrugged. “Kyle felt like talking.”
“Really? So, what’s the problem?”
Eli didn’t speak.
“He won’t want me to talk about it.”
“I won’t talk about it.” His face became firm, emphasizing the violet in his eyes.
Shane slowly nodded. He wasn’t going to get anywhere with direct inquiry. He’d have to go through the back door. “So, he’s depressed?”
Eli hesitated, and then gave in and nodded.
“Worse than normal?”
Eli hesitated again.
“We shouldn’t have bought it?”
“That’s not it. He didn’t talk too much about that, but I know it has some significance. Look, Shane, don’t. He’s just trying to find a solution to something that just needs time.”
Shane watched Eli.
Eli leaned back. “If it helps, he loves you guys as much as you love him, no matter what he says when he’s upset.”
Shane leaned forward. “It’s the thing with Kayleigh and Amber, isn’t it? He feels like he’s holding us back.”
By Eli’s startled look, Shane knew he’d guessed right.
“So, short of kidnapping them and forcing them to pretend they’re happy with the situation, what can we do to help Kyle?”
Eli’s mouth twitched into a slight smile, and he relaxed again. “He thought maybe a large old house would be big enough for the girls and affordable. He wondered if he was up to maintenance, but he was willing to try. We went to a realtor today just to look. Don’t let him know you know that.”
Shane leaned forward. “Next time it comes up, tell him to ask me about the budget.”
“He was afraid you’d think he was stupid unless he had everything worked out. Give him time, and… and find a way to… to…. if you and Scott don’t want to do it, find a way….” Eli trailed off and shrugged.
Shane smiled. “Sure, Eli. If it’s not feasible, I’ll let him know.”
“It’s just that you and he… you don’t usually… you don’t mean it, but he’s pretty sensitive right now….”
“You mean I’m not known for my tact.”
Eli gave a slight nod.
Shane sighed. “Thing is, Eli, I don’t know if the size of the place is really going to make a difference. Kayleigh’s afraid of men, and Amber… maybe she’s just not ready to get married yet. You can tell Kyle that. I will if it comes up again, but I think he’d believe you more than me.”
“That’s what happens when you tell a few lies. People don’t know what to believe.”
Shane almost became offended again but noticed Eli’s slight smile. Shane returned the smile and then stood. “I better get going. When do you think you can tell Kyle the truth about your job?”
Eli stood and walked with him up the stairs. “Not sure. Hopefully soon. That concrete floor isn’t getting any softer.”
Shane laughed and cuffed Eli’s arm. “Bet it’s getting colder, too.”
Eli smiled and opened the door for Shane. “See you in the morning.”
Shane drove home. The apartment was dark when he entered, but Scott called out to him as he reached his room. “Shane?”
Shane flipped on his light and waited for Scott to join him. “Everything okay here?”
“Yeah. You okay?”
“Just went for a drive. I’m fine.”
“You and Amber fight?”
Shane turned toward the closet, pulling off his shirt to change to his pajamas. “No. We just talked.”
“Shane… talk to me.”
“I’m not!” Shane faced Scott and studied his face.
Scott stared back a second and then whirled around and walked out.
Shane finished dressing, but couldn’t forget Scott’s look. It almost seemed like an entreaty. But for what? Shane didn’t want to add to Scott’s problems. He sat at his small desk to remove his contacts. As he closed the holding case and slipped it into the drawer he remembered a conversation he and Scott had years before.
“Why are you always so interested in everyone else’s problems? They aren’t any of your business,” Shane had asked in irritation one night.
“That’s right,” Scott had replied with a slight smile. “They’re not my problems. I can sympathize and forget whatever problems I really have for a while.”
“You don’t have any problems,” Shane had shot back, still irritated, although now he couldn’t remember why.
Scott’s face had lost its smile. “No. Probably don’t,” he said in an odd voice. “Just an overactive imagination.” He’d whispered the last line before pasting a smile back onto his face and asking Shane again about his date.
Shane stood and walked through the dark hall to Scott’s room. It was slightly darker than the living room which let in the glow of the security lights through the glass doors, but Shane didn’t bother with the light in Scott’s room. He sat on the edge of the bed and folded his legs Indian style. “Amber loved the earrings. Put them on right away. It was a good idea.”
Scott shifted to his side. “I should get Kayleigh a pair. I don’t think she ever had any nice jewelry until I gave her the engagement ring.”
“Things were pretty rough for her, I guess.”
“Yeah,” Shane agreed, feeling freer to speak about it in the dark. “She was scared of me the other night. Never really had a woman fear me before — not like that. Kind of unnerving. Didn’t you tell her how wonderful I was, just like you did Amber?”
Scott gave a low laugh. “Yeah. I told her. She’s like you, thinks I gloss up life.” He rolled to his back again, looking toward the dark ceiling. “I really hoped Amber would come and maybe make Kayleigh feel safer, not alone, you know.”
“I know.” Shane shrugged and grinned. “Who knows? Maybe I’ll wear her down with my gifts and kisses, and she won’t think this place is so crowded. Besides I’ve only known her two months.”
“But she’s the one. You know it.”
“Yeah. I know it.” He poked Scott’s side. “Bet you knew it before I met her. Said, ‘Here’s the perfect girl for my wonderful best friend.’”
Scott laughed, like Shane had hoped.
“Then you talked me up to her. Told her I was a god with a grouch problem and bided your time, knowing you’d have a chance to introduce us sooner or later.”
“‘Cept you beat me to it,” Scott said, joining the game. “Ruined months of planning.”
They joked for another hour before Shane went back to his room, assured he’d helped Scott refocus away from the problems haunting him that he could do nothing about.
Go to Chapter 19
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.