Friday evening Shane picked up Amber and drove her to a seafood restaurant for dinner. Amber had been speaking about something her younger brothers had done the weekend before when the waitress brought their salad. After she left, Shane blessed the food and began eating.
“Have you bought the engagement ring yet?”
Shane bit his tongue, and then coughed a little to keep from choking when he drew in his breath against the pain. “Excuse me,” he said without looking at her, sure he’d misunderstood, or she was taunting him. Yet, she’d never taunted him before. He glanced up.
Amber smiled. “You said you wanted to marry me. Did you buy an engagement ring?”
Shane set down his fork. The salad no longer tempted him. “You said you wanted to wait.”
“I don’t recall saying one way or the other. I actually don’t recall a formal proposal either.” She took a cheese biscuit. “I really wish I had this recipe.”
Shane watched her break off a piece of the biscuit and put it in her mouth. He loved her mouth. He wished…. He shook his head. “So, if I propose with an engagement ring, you’ll marry me and move into the apartment?”
“Are you proposing or asking?”
“And you want to ruin the suspense?”
He grabbed her hand. “I’m serious about this, Amber. Don’t tease me.”
She reached across the table and touched his cheek. “I know,” she said softly. “I love you.”
“And?” he insisted.
“And I’ll marry you six months from the day you give me an engagement ring.”
Shane took her hand as it left his face so that he held both of them. “Six months?”
“I talked to Dad last night. He likes you, but we haven’t known each other long, and six months should be long enough to discover if you have a deep dark hidden secret.”
“You know my secret. My father hates me.”
Amber squeezed his hands. “I think Dad meant if you have a temper that might get out of control.”
Shane scowled. “You know I have a temper.”
“Yeah. A little one. But as far as I know you’ve never hit anyone.”
“Oh, yeah. Forgot about him.” Amber grinned. “Protecting Scott. I know I’m safe with you. You protect the people you love.”
The waitress brought their shrimp and crab legs and promised to refill their pop.
Shane broke open a crab leg. “So, you’ll marry me in April?”
“If you seal the engagement by the end of October.”
Shane smiled then, deciding to tease her. “Is a ring that important?”
“It shows me you are committed with more than just words.”
“Let’s go get it tonight then.”
Amber grinned. “Are you letting me have a choice?”
“Maybe a little. Besides I need your finger for the size.” Shane felt lighter than he had in a while. He was engaged or would be by the end of the night. But then as he finished the last of his food, he remembered the problem. “You won’t mind living with Kyle and Eli and Scott and Kayleigh?”
“I’ll admit, I’d rather have you to myself, and be able to use my own dishes in my own kitchen and all.” She sighed and pushed away the last of her food. “I’m full. And if I get pregnant right away it will be pretty cramped.”
Shane wished he hadn’t at that moment taken a sip of pop. It stuck in his throat, and he had a hard time swallowing. “I… ah… haven’t quite thought that far ahead, I guess.”
“I know. That’s another reason Dad said to wait six months. So we can talk all this out. But I admire you for helping your friends through this, and I know it’s the right thing to do. So… I guess that means we do it.”
He waited until they had left the restaurant. He took her hand, and when they reached the car, he drew her around and pinned her against it, kissing her. “I… love… you.” He said between kisses.
She returned his embraces and kisses until Shane wanted to throw her in the back seat of the car. Instead he held her tightly to him, letting their pounding hearts slow together.
He finally pulled away. “There. Think I can go into the store now.”
“Yeah. Me, too,” she said weakly.
They went to the jewelry store where Scott had bought his ring for Kayleigh. The attendant explained diamonds to them, and then asked how much they intended to spend. Shane told him.
“Oh, are you sure, Shane? Don’t go in debt just for me.”
Shane gave a nonchalant shrug. “I won’t be going into debt.”
Amber grinned. “Scott said you were good with money. I thought he just meant you were good at accounting.”
“Yeah, well, I think Scott picked you out for me months ago and just pumped you full of all the gloss he could think of. Better pick out a ring before you discover all my faults.”
Amber laughed. “A present for his best friend, huh? You guys are a riot.” She studied the rings.
Amber chose a medium grade solitaire, because it was the right size and she wouldn’t have to wait for it to be sized.
It was almost nine, and the store was closing when they left. “Let’s go up to the apartment for a minute.”
Amber glanced over at him. “Are your friends home?”
“It wouldn’t be a good idea to take you there unless they were,” Shane admitted. “You’re too sexy.” He knew that embarrassed her, and he grinned as she looked out the side window.
He relented and told her the real reason. “Kyle thought he was holding me and Scott back from marriage. It will make him feel better to know we’re getting married, and you’re willing to move in with us.” He hesitated. “Don’t let him know it’s not your first choice.”
Amber took his hand. “Actually, I talked to Kyle today.”
“Yes. He and Eli came into the office unexpectedly.”
“About Bert Thorton?” Shane pulled into the apartment complex lot and parked.
“No. He wasn’t mentioned. Kyle just assured me he’d be easy to live with, and he’d try not to bother me.” She turned to face Shane. “He was so… so humble, pleading that I wouldn’t let him ruin your life. I assured him that my decision whether to marry you wasn’t based on your obligation to him, although I was aware it existed.” She took a deep breath and then exhaled.
“What did Eli say?”
“Nothing. Barely said hi.”
“So, you decided to marry me because Kyle came and pleaded my case. Scott and Kyle.”
“Scott? Oh, the gloss. No. I decided last night after I talked to my dad and prayed about it.”
“Did you tell Kyle?”
“That I was definitely marrying you? I thought you should be the first to know.”
Shane reached over and kissed her, but only lightly, so that he didn’t rouse his desires any more than they already were. “Let’s go up and tell him our good news then.”
When they were out of the car, he took her hand. Shane noted Scott’s Cherokee in its spot. He was home already.
Upstairs Eli and Kyle sat at the table working a jigsaw puzzle. They glanced up as Shane and Amber came in.
Shane looked around. Scott’s bedroom door was closed. Momentarily his mood was dampened. Scott must have had a bad night.
Amber approached the table. “Hi, guys. Mind if I join in? I love puzzles.” She slid into the chair across from Eli.
Shane kissed Amber’s cheek. “I’ll be back in a minute.” He tapped softly on Scott’s door. Then he turned the doorknob and went into the dark room. “You sleeping?” he whispered.
He closed the door softly behind him and stood a moment, looking down at the bed in the dark. He could barely make out Scott’s form, fully clothed, lying across the covers. His breathing was uneven. Shane sat on the edge of the bed and turned the lamp on Scott’s nightstand to the lowest setting.
“Thought you went back out.” Scott didn’t move, keeping his face in his pillow.
“Not when my best friend is hurting. Besides I need a favor.”
“Not tonight, Shane,” came Scott’s muffled voice.
“No, don’t have to do anything tonight. But about April ninth, or as close a weekend that comes to that, think you’d be up to being my best man.”
Scott sat up and stared at Shane, his face damp. “April? For sure? You’ll move in here?”
“Yes to all three.” Shane placed his hand on Scott’s shoulder. “Want to share the burden with your best man?” Immediately he hoped that wasn’t the wrong thing to say. He hoped Kayleigh hadn’t dumped him.
“Kayleigh’s… she’s… in the hospital.”
Shane’s grip tightened on Scott’s shoulder. “What happened? Is it serious?”
“Her brother threw her out of her apartment, over the railing, and she tumbled off the lower roof to the ground. He was drunk, high, I don’t know. He’s in jail now. I made sure of that, although Kayleigh will have to file charges to keep him there. But… I don’t think she will.”
“You’re not saying she’s going to be as soft on him as you were with Ian.”
“She could have been killed! She didn’t have a chance against him. This is different.”
Shane hesitated. It wasn’t different in his mind, but he didn’t think anything he said would convince him. “How bad was she hurt, Scott?”
“Broken arm, cracked ribs, cracked skull. But they should let her go tomorrow.” Then Scott became angry. “Back to that hellhole she calls home.”
“What about her mom?”
“She was at work, but she begged for mercy for Terry.” Scott looked into Shane’s eyes. “I couldn’t help it. I yelled and told her next time Kayleigh could be dead. She was crying when I left, but I was too angry to care.” Scott looked into his lap now. “I’m really messed up. How could I yell and make her cry when she was already hurting?”
“You had to tell her. Maybe she’ll listen. Amber’s here. Want to ask her any legal questions?”
“Here? Will she mind? Some people hate….”
“This is Amber,” Shane said softly. “You haven’t even told Kyle and Eli, have you?” He stood. “Let me get you a cloth for your face, and then you come join us.” He slipped from the room, and quickly wet a cloth with hot water before returning to Scott.
Scott stood before his mirror, just staring.
Shane handed him the cloth. “We’ll be waiting at the table.”
Shane slipped back out. He went to the table but noticed there wouldn’t be a chair for Scott. He grabbed one from the side of the room, setting it next to Amber. He kissed her as he sat. “Scott will be joining us soon. I told him the good news.”
“What good news?” Kyle asked, glancing first at Eli and then Shane.
“I think he’s talking about the diamond Amber keeps flashing over the puzzle,” Eli said, concentrating on fitting another piece into place.
Kyle focused on Amber as if trying to read the truth in her face. “You won’t be sorry.”
“I think you’re right,” Amber agreed lightly. She focused on Eli. “We have six months to figure out how to share the kitchen.”
“Whatever you decide,” Eli said, not meeting her gaze. “I just work here.”
Kyle’s hand came up as if to cuff Eli’s shoulder, but he dropped it before it connected. He scowled instead. “Knock it off.”
It looked like Kyle was regaining a little control, but maybe he’d said the wrong thing to Eli earlier. Shane decided to take it all as teasing. “Yeah, Eli, knock it off. You want a lecture from Scott? Or maybe another like the one Kyle gave you when you first moved in?”
Eli glanced up in surprise. It took a moment, and then he smiled. “Still waiting for yours.”
“Really?” The kid knew how to get him back, that was sure. But Scott emerged from his room then, saving him from having to come up with a response.
Scott’s face was still red, and although his hair was a bit neater, it still wasn’t as smooth as he normally wore it. Shane glanced around the table. He could see Eli and Amber’s surprise.
Kyle had his back to him and didn’t notice until Scott sat in the empty chair. “Man, Scott, what happened? She said she wasn’t going to dump you. She said….”
Scott stared across the table. “You talked to Kayleigh? Today?”
Kyle looked… trapped. He glanced at Amber and then Eli. “I… it was… she said she wouldn’t dump you. She just wasn’t ready yet. She didn’t, did she? She promised.”
“When did you see her?”
Shane slid his arm around Amber, hoping to ease her tension.
“I didn’t do anything. Honest!” Kyle backed his chair away from the table.
“Wait, Kyle,” Shane said, stopping him. “He’s not angry at you. He knows you only went because you wanted to reassure her it’d be great living here.”
Kyle glanced from Scott to Shane, and then he focused on Eli. Eli nodded, and Kyle seemed to relax, pulling his chair back.
“What time,” Scott insisted.
Kyle glanced at Eli, the panic returning.
“Around three-thirty,” Eli said. “We remembered you said she worked half days on Fridays this term.”
“Was her brother there?”
Eli nodded. “Three guys there. Not sure which was her brother. She came down to the truck to talk to us.”
“Were they drunk?”
Kyle relaxed a little more. “We were barely inside for more than a minute. They were doing something at the kitchen table. Smelled different than weed. Think it was crack.”
“Crack? How would you….”
“A few overdoses came in when I took that clerkship in ER.” He shrugged. “Don’t know for sure. Didn’t get that close. Odors sometimes cause… set things off, so we didn’t stay inside.”
Scott focused on Amber. “I need help.” Then he told them what he’d told Shane. Eli’s eyes widened with surprise. Kyle’s tremors entered his neck and head again, revealing his agitation.
Amber’s face seemed to harden. “I’ll go up to the hospital tomorrow morning and talk to Kayleigh,” Amber said. “Maybe I can help her see the options open to her.”
“Like a quick marriage to Scott, and she can move in here,” Shane suggested, hoping somehow to diffuse the tension.
Amber’s mood didn’t lighten though. “That is an option,” she said evenly. “There are others. She needs to know them for both her sake and her mother’s. She needs to realize that allowing the behavior to continue will not help anyone, including her brother.”
“Thank you, Amber. I didn’t want to impose before….”
“Scott, this isn’t imposing. Things like this are never imposing.”
“Kayleigh didn’t want me talking about it.”
“Next time, don’t believe her,” Amber said firmly. “People die because others don’t want to be imposed on or think they’re doing favors not getting involved.”
Scott’s expression tore Shane’s heart. He reached over to grip his upper arm, but he didn’t know what to say.
Amber’s soft voice did. “You didn’t know, Scott. Most people don’t who’ve never been around it.”
“Have you?” Scott asked.
“Our law firm works with the women’s shelter in this area. It’s one of our community outreaches. I was as shocked at what goes on as you seem to be.” She sighed. “I was even more shocked that most of the victims refuse to take our advice and end up going back to the abuser.” She met Scott’s gaze again. “But I’ll talk to her, and so will you, and with God’s help, I pray Kayleigh will be able to break out of the cycle.”
“Will you pray with us now?” Scott asked. They joined hands around the table and prayed for Kayleigh and her mother.
When they were finished Amber indicated to Shane that she should get home. “I want to talk to my dad,” she whispered. Then she grinned. “And tell them I’m engaged.”
Shane kissed her. He led her down to the car and drove to Milan. It was late, and the front room window was dark at the Pearson home.
“I would invite you in, but perhaps tomorrow.” She leaned over to kiss him, and then quickly got out of the car and ran up to the door. Shane waited until she was inside before driving home.
The next morning, Shane could see Scott hadn’t slept much. He offered to drive him up to the hospital. “I promise I’ll stay out of the way.”
“Actually, please come. If he’s been released, I may end up starting a fight I can’t finish.”
“Sure. I’ll finish him off after you take the first swing.”
The corner of Scott’s mouth only rose a little. Shane went back to his room to put in his contacts. No use risking his glasses.
They drove to the Ypsilanti hospital, arriving a little after ten. Amber and Ray Pearson were already in the room, speaking softly with Kayleigh. Shane came up behind Amber and reached around to kiss her cheek. Amber took his hand.
Scott went around the bed and then leaned over to kiss Kayleigh’s forehead, the only part of her face that didn’t look bruised. Scott hadn’t said Terry had punched her a few times before throwing her over the railing.
Kayleigh gripped his hand with her right hand as it wasn’t restricted by the cast. “Mom’s gonna be mad,” she whispered. “I told the police he tried to kill me. That’s what he said he wanted to do.”
Scott’s eyes closed. “Thank you, Lord.”
“This is just the beginning,” Amber said quietly. “You’ll have to keep saying it all through the trial. It’ll take months.”
“When he gets out, he’ll come after me. I know he will,” Kayleigh said, but instead of fear, she seemed resigned. “Maybe they’ll put him away for good next time. Can’t stand it when he beats on Mom.”
“You don’t know what will happen next. Maybe he’ll get help while he’s in. Maybe he’ll leave the state,” Amber said softly. “You can’t live on maybes. You have to live by what you know is right.”
“Men who beat on women are most likely too wimpy to take on four guys. He won’t bother you when you’re with us,” Shane assured her.
“But who protects me from you guys?” Kayleigh asked, and Shane felt she was serious.
Amber smiled. “I will. If they get out of line, I’ll ambush the kitchen and make them eat rocks.” She’d made the comments into a joke, but then leaning forward, she addressed Kayleigh’s real fear. “You won’t be alone, Kayleigh. Remember what we told you.”
Pam Pearson came into the room, carrying a plastic sack. “Ah, my new son is here also.” She reached up to kiss Shane’s cheek.
Shane stood in shock, surprised at her warmth, and unsure how he was expected to respond.
Pam turned to Kayleigh, leaving Shane to his internal debate. “I’m afraid your mother has decided to stay at the apartment, and she wouldn’t release your clothing or school books to me.” She placed the sack on the end of the bed. “I picked these up at Kmart. Hope they fit okay.”
Kayleigh closed her eyes.
“I know you’re not up to climbing those steps again. I’m sure she’ll change her mind about your things if your fiancé talks to her.” Pam looked up at Scott. “Bring Kayleigh’s clothes and books to our house later. She’ll be staying with us for a few months.”
The doctor came in. “Guess no one told you about the two visitors per patient rule. You can all step into the hall for a few minutes.” He closed off the area with a curtain after they filed out.
“Amber, Scott, and I will go talk to Kayleigh’s mother this afternoon,” Ray said. His gaze went to each of them and then back to Scott. “And Scott, I recommend you wait a few months for marriage. I know you’re tempted to come to her rescue immediately, but I think it will be good for both of you if she spends time in a home ruled by love and consideration instead of anger and fear. Right now, she thinks we’re all putting on our good, public front.” Ray hesitated. “I know you didn’t ask for my advice, but….”
“But I appreciate it, Mr. Pearson,” Scott said sincerely. “And thanks for taking her in. If there’s anything I can do, any way I can help….”
Ray’s hand touched Scott’s arm. “Sure. We’ll stay in close contact. And you can call me Ray.” He glanced at Shane and Amber. “Of course, your best friend can start calling me dad whenever he’s ready.”
Another hit to his throat. Shane couldn’t speak. Amber’s family had accepted him unconditionally and fully. They even knew his own father didn’t want him, but still he was good enough for their precious girl, and good enough to be called son. He felt Scott’s hand on his back. Scott knew. Even though he had his own pain, he knew what Ray’s words and Pam’s kiss had meant.
“Kayleigh’s pastor came while the police were here,” Ray was saying to Scott now. “I don’t think Kayleigh would have consented to prosecute or agree to come to our home without her encouragement. She doesn’t seem to trust any men at all.”
“I’ve noticed,” Scott said, his hand dropping from Shane’s back.
“If it helps, it seems she trusts you more than most.”
“But not quite enough for marriage.”
Ray tilted his head. “Actually, I think she would, but it’d be better for both of you that she work through her fears before marriage.” He studied Scott. “You are committed, aren’t you?”
“I’d have given up a long time ago if I didn’t love her.”
Ray nodded. “Yes. She needs that. It’s helping her make the right choices today.”
The doctor came out and turned to Ray. “Are you her father?”
Ray held out his hand. “No, Ray Pearson. My daughter, Amber, is marrying her fiancé’s best friend.”
The doctor shook his hand and gave the group a quick glance. “So, who is the fiancé of Kayleigh Edwards? Is he her closest relative?”
“I’m Scott Alexander. Her mother is at home.”
The doctor shook his hand, but then looked over the group again. “Are you the friends she said she’d be staying with?”
“We are,” Ray said, indicating himself and Pam. “Is she well enough to come home?”
“As long as she’s allowed to rest and recover. She’ll have pain for a few weeks.”
“Yes,” Pam said. “Rest and peace are what we hope to give her.”
“She’s worried about classes and work, but I told her that she should take two weeks off. I wrote her a note for her employer, but she didn’t seem to want it.”
“I will make sure she follows your recommendation,” Scott said. “I’ll talk to her instructors also if she won’t drop out for the term.”
Kayleigh stood in the doorway, dressed now in jeans and a loose fitting sweater that covered her cast. “I have to work, Scott. Mom needs the money to pay rent.”
“I’ll give you money if you need it. Shane will work it into the budget.”
“Scott!” She brought her right hand up to her forehead and winced.
Scott put his arm around her. “Hey, take it easy. Those headaches are rotten. Try not to move much.”
She gritted her teeth and then looked up at him. “I can work. I’ll transfer if you won’t let me work.”
“I think you should wait in bed until the aide comes with a wheelchair to take you to the door,” the doctor said.
She stared at the doctor, and Shane was sure she wanted to protest, but then she wavered. Scott caught her and helped her back to the bed.
The doctor watched her until she was lying down. Then he focused on Ray. “Bed rest is what she needs.”
“Thank you, Doctor. As far as she lets us, we will see that your orders are followed.”
Scott came back out of the room. “Yes. Thanks for your help.”
The aide came, and soon they were leaving the hospital.
Go to Chapter 20
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.