The whole next week seemed to be involved with Kayleigh and her situation. Amber told Shane she wanted to be a sister to her since they were now living together and would also be together once they married, but Kayleigh seemed very closed. She wondered how she’d ever opened up enough to get engaged in the first place. Shane just smiled, remembering the way Scott had worn away at all his defenses with his insistent friendliness.
Scott spent more time at Amber’s home than Shane did, although Friday night the Pearsons invited all four of them over for homemade pizza and games. Scott came home Friday evening and rushed into his room to change. When he emerged he headed for the door. “Let’s go!”
Kyle stood from the couch and looked over at the table where Eli stared intently into a textbook. “Come on, Eli.”
“I’ve got homework,” he said without looking up.
“You can do it later.”
“I’m not coming.”
Scott grabbed the door. “I don’t have time for this. I told Kayleigh six. It’s quarter to. We’re already late.”
Amber had told Shane dinner was at seven, and no other time was mentioned. He wondered if she expected him earlier also.
“Come on, Eli,” Kyle said again.
Scott looked from Kyle to Eli, then back at Kyle. “Are you coming, Kyle? You go see her before she was hurt, but not a word since.”
Kyle stiffened at the jab. “I barely know her.” He glared at Eli. “But I will come. I know she needs all the friends she has.” He left the apartment and headed down the stairs.
Shane followed Scott into the hall and closed the door. Scott started down the steps, but Shane hesitated. He should call Amber if she expected him earlier than seven. “Scott?”
Scott glanced back in irritation.
“Aah… I’ll follow in my car.”
Scott hesitated and then bounded back up the steps. “Great idea,” he whispered. “Thanks. It’s just that Kayleigh’s been so sensitive lately, and… well, Eli’s just nervous in groups. He feels like an outsider. But he’s never going to get over it by hiding out.” He gripped Shane’s shoulder again. “Thanks.” Then he ran down the steps and was gone.
Great. Scott expected him to take his place as Mr. Make-up-and-let’s-get-along. Shane walked into the apartment.
Eli was not at the table. His book was gone also. Then he came from the hall, carrying his box of ceramic supplies. He saw Shane, and the box slipped from his arms with a crash as he jumped back against the wall, startled.
“Sounds like you broke most of them. Looks like that homework took less time than you expected. I just have to make a phone call, and we can be on our way.” Shane grabbed the phone and pushed in Amber’s number.
“Hi Ray. This is Shane. May I speak with Amber a minute?”
“You’re not backing out, are you?”
“No. I plan to be there. But I thought Amber said seven. Scott says six.”
“We’re eating at seven. I’ll get Amber.”
A minute later Amber spoke. “Yeah, I said seven. Don’t worry.” He could tell she was grinning by her voice.
“Good. Scott scared me for a minute. He and Kyle are on their way.”
“Not you and Eli?”
“Eli had to finish some homework, but we’ll catch up.”
“Okay. See you in a few.” The connection closed.
Shane turned to Eli.
“I’m not going.”
“Have to. I just told Amber you would, and she doesn’t know what rotten liars we both are yet.”
The corner of Eli’s mouth twitched before he turned and walked over to the couch. He sat down. “She won’t miss me, I’m sure.”
Shane sat in the chair. “If I don’t bring you Scott’s gonna be disappointed with me.”
Eli studied him a moment. “I don’t need your charity or your sympathy.”
Shane gave a low chuckle. “Hey, I’ve heard these lines before.”
Eli stood and went to his room. Shane followed. Eli grabbed his backpack and started to push past Shane.
“Whoa, wait a minute. Truce.”
Eli kept walking.
“Come on. At least tell me why you’re mad at me. I’m not good at the social stuff like Scott. You have to tell me.”
He turned around to face Shane. “The only reason you even want an answer is because Scott asked you to bring me, and the only reason Scott cares one way or the other is because he thinks it’s good for me. It’s not like he’s going to miss my company. He’ll be completely busy with Kayleigh and Ray and everyone.”
Shane didn’t have any answer, so he fell back to a different argument. “The invitation was for all of us.”
“Out of politeness. They don’t know me.”
“And out of politeness you should go.”
“Or maybe I should politely decline to get them out of a social obligation they didn’t want.”
Shane shook his head. He couldn’t fight him because he knew exactly how he felt. He’d had that feeling plenty of times, but he’d bluffed his way through, pretending he belonged — belonged in college, belonged in church, belonged in this group as Scott’s friend.
He leaned against the wall. “Some people might make invitations they hate fulfilling, but I really don’t think the Pearsons are like that. From the first time I went over there… well, they’re just different.”
“Just go, Shane. Don’t drag me along because you feel sorry for me. I’m just the guy hired to run Kyle’s errands, remember?” He let his backpack drop to the floor before he sat in a living room chair.
Shane sat on the edge of the couch. “Kyle been harassing you again?”
Eli glanced up a moment and then shook his head, staring at the carpeting ten feet before him. “Just the way it is.”
“Thought you knew by now that’s not the way it is. Kyle adopted you as a brother that first night. Scott, too.”
Eli’s mouth curved briefly, and he gave a slight shake to his head. “You’re going to be late if you keep arguing with me.”
Shane glanced at the clock. He was right. “Come on, Eli. Amber is really sensitive about time.” He stood and waited but Eli didn’t move.
Shane lifted his hands. “Fine. Spend the time vacuuming up all that ceramic dust you just made.” He whirled and left the apartment.
He fumed almost all the way to Amber’s. He knew Scott would be upset. Why did the kid have to be so stubborn? Why couldn’t he just go along with things? Make Kyle and Scott happy. Was that too much to ask? Instead he was going to sit alone all night making beads and pretending to have a good time.
Kyle met him at the door. “Where is he?”
“Too stubborn. Worse than you.”
“What did you say to him? Did you tell him how much you wanted him here?”
“I told him how much you and Scott want him here. He doesn’t care.”
Kyle scowled. “Man, Shane, loosen up. He thinks you don’t like him.”
“No, he doesn’t. I gave him all my pictures and paint those ornaments with him. What more does he want?”
“You’re an idiot. Always been an idiot.”
“Hey, you’re not talking about my fiancé that way, are you?” Amber asked, coming up behind Kyle.
Kyle whirled around and blushed. Then he tilted to the left, as if his earlier movement had reversed itself in only half his body. He grabbed at Shane’s arm to steady himself.
Amber appeared not to notice. “My dad never lets the boys call each other names in a derogatory way. Better not let him hear you, or you might get the lecture they do.” She kissed Shane’s cheek. “You’re looking very smart to me.”
Kyle didn’t meet her gaze, focusing on the floor. “Sorry,” he mumbled. “Shane and I don’t mean anything by it, but if it bothers you….”
Amber gave him a full, dazzling smile. “Thank you, Kyle. I really don’t mean to change your lifestyle too much.”
“She’ll make it up to you in turnovers,” Shane teased. “Those are worth watching your tongue for.”
Kyle’s grip finally loosened on his arm, and he walked away slowly without responding. He came to the first soft chair in the living room and sunk into it.
Shane glanced at Amber and then squatted by the chair. “Hey, are you feelin’ okay?” he asked Kyle quietly.
“Just moved too fast. I’ll be okay in a few minutes. Don’t make it noticeable.”
Shane stood. “Sure thing. Where’s the food, Amber?”
Amber led him back to the family room right beyond the dining room. Kayleigh sat in a corner chair, and even though Scott was beside her, she looked alone. Her good arm wrapped over the cast to hold both arms in front of her, and her legs were curled up under her. The bruises on her face were yellowing, and Shane didn’t think she’d tried to hide them with makeup at all.
“Why don’t you help me bring in the pizza,” Amber whispered.
One of Amber’s younger brothers rushed in. Shane thought it was the oldest, Mark. “Hey, Scott. I found a black walnut leaf for my collection. Did you get that Ginkgo?”
Shane followed Amber from the room. It was just like Scott to know everyone right away and know what their interests were.
The evening passed peaceably. Even Kayleigh laughed once at something Mark said. Kyle talked with the boys and Ray Pearson. Pam Pearson asked Shane about his mother. She wanted to meet her. Shane had to admit rather sheepishly that he hadn’t called Arizona yet to tell her he was engaged, but he promised to do so that weekend and give her the Pearson’s address and phone number.
At ten they all left, Shane following Scott and Kyle most of the way. When he got back to the apartment Kyle was yelling at Eli. Eli grabbed his backpack and jacket and pushed past Shane. He was down the steps and gone by the time Kyle tried to follow.
“Dumb kid. He’ll be back.”
But he wasn’t. Kyle woke Shane and Scott at one a.m. “He’s gone, Scott. He’s disappeared. I thought maybe he went to work, but they say he doesn’t work there.” Kyle grabbed Scott’s pajamas to bring him close. “What am I going to do if he leaves me? You’ve got to find him. Offer him more money, anything. He must have a better job somewhere else. Or what if he has another home?”
Scott broke away from him. “He’s not at the store?”
“They say he quit over a month ago.”
“Maybe he’s sleeping in the truck.”
“He took his bike.” Kyle looked at Shane then. “You called the store to find him a few weeks ago. You knew he quit.”
“Yeah, I knew.”
“You didn’t say anything!” Kyle came toward him.
“Whoa, wait, Kyle.” He grabbed Kyle’s fists as they came at him. “Knock it off. It’s your damn temper that has him hiding from you. Notice he ran off tonight after you yelled at him. Not me. Don’t blame me for your problems with him. If he wants to hide out away from your abuse, let him.”
Kyle’s fists went to his sides, but he didn’t unclench them. “Where is he? How’d you find him?”
“I found him in the parking lot of EMU.”
Kyle grabbed his arm. “Where is he now?”
Shane shook him loose. “How should I know? Treat him better, or he will leave. He has no obligation to put up with the trash you’ve been dishing out.” Shane could see a flicker of doubt in Kyle’s eyes, but then his rebellious look returned. Shane decided he better push it and drive the point home. “You know he could get a job ten times better than this. He’d have more money, less hassles, more free time. Heck, how much house work do you make him do? All of it?”
“How much can you do on your own, but you make him do it to have control?”
“How many bosses berate you and hit you when you don’t do things the minute they ask? How many? You know he’s smart. He can work anywhere. He doesn’t need your crap.” Shane could think of nothing else and stalked back to his room, slamming the door.
He listened but heard nothing for several minutes. He went back to his bed and turned off the lamp. A tap sounded on the door, and then it opened a crack. In the dim light from his window, he could see Scott gently close the door and move toward his bed. He sat in the chair on the other side of the small nightstand.
“Something on your mind, Scott?”
“Where is Eli?”
“I know you want to help, but I think we should stay out of it.”
“Didn’t sound like you stayed out of it just now.”
“Kyle needed to see the problem. Hopefully, he’ll spend the night thinking about it.”
“Is fine. Stubborn but fine.”
“Why didn’t he tell me? I thought… thought he trusted me.”
“Probably does. Don’t take it personal.”
“Where is he?”
“Probably wherever he usually goes when he says he’s working. Notice he didn’t stop to let me know on his way out. Besides, he’d probably tell you before he tells me.”
“He needs family, Shane.”
Shane sat up. “Geez, Scott. What do you want me to do? What can I do? I’m not the one calling him names and trying to control him.”
“Do you think he went to Pastor Prescott’s? I could call over there.”
“It’s one thirty in the morning. Don’t you think everyone is sleeping except us?”
Scott stood. “He’s hearing about it tomorrow.” He left the room. Shane lay back down and tried to sleep, but he kept thinking of Eli. Something was bothering him.
The next morning Shane sat at the kitchen table, nursing his first cup of coffee when he heard the front door. Eli was home. Shane heard him hang his jacket.
Eli came into the kitchen, glancing around quickly, before going to the coffee pot and pouring himself a cup. He sat across the table from Shane.
“Thought you didn’t like that stuff.”
“I don’t, but it’s getting cold out there.” He took another sip of his coffee. “Too cold to wait for hot chocolate.”
“Took your bike, huh?”
“Can’t afford a car,” he said defensively.
“Neither could I until I graduated. Scott and Kyle usually took pity on me during the winter though. My bike is still down there in the rack.”
“Yeah. You can borrow it if you need to.” He smiled. “Don’t loan my car out though, but I will give you a ride when I can. I know what it’s like to try to ride through snow and slush.”
Eli finally smiled back. “Thanks. I’ll keep that in mind.”
Kyle appeared in the doorway. Scott was behind him. “Where have you been?”
Eli stared at his coffee. “Had to work.”
“Liar,” Kyle accused, standing over him. “I called. You quit a month ago.”
Eli glanced at Shane, but Shane didn’t know how to help or even what he wanted.
“Where are you working now?” Scott asked. “You should tell us. What if something happened?”
“Did anything happen?” Eli asked neutrally, staring straight ahead at Shane.
Shane gave a very slight shake of his head.
“You didn’t even tell us you had to work!” Kyle insisted. “I told you to let us know. We’re your family now.”
“Yeah, Eli,” Scott said. “Quit hiding from us. Kyle’s right. None of us can sleep when we think you could be lying dead on the road.”
“Where are you working?” Kyle added before Scott finished. “Quit that job and stay here. It’s not good for you to be out all night.”
“I think I’m old enough to decide what is good for me,” Eli said with a strangely neutral tone.
“As long as you live here, you’ll let me know where you are at all times,” Kyle said.
Eli stood. “I’ll move my things out as soon as I can.” He pushed past Scott.
“Wait.” Scott grabbed his arms. “You can’t leave.”
“I can do whatever I want. I can decide when I need time alone, and I can decide when to visit people and when to work and even when I want to do my homework. You all don’t own my entire life.” He pushed past Scott.
“I’ll be back Monday morning to stay with Kyle.” Then the door slammed.
Scott bolted after him. He came back a few minutes later.
“Where is he?” Kyle asked, his face white.
Scott dropped Kyle’s truck keys on the table as he slid into the chair. “Said he didn’t want these.”
“But… but I need him.”
“He said he’d still work. Just didn’t want to live here anymore.”
“But… but… he belongs here.”
Scott lifted his eyes to Shane. “What happened last night after we left?”
“It’s all your fault,” Kyle said, rounding on Shane. “You said something….”
“Hold it. I offered to take him. He refused to come. Sounded to me like he’s feeling a bit controlled.”
“Did you fight?”
“Me?” Shane stood and shook his head. “You guys figure it out. I’m not trying to control him.”
“But you never told him he was your brother.”
“And you think he just stormed out of here because I haven’t declared undying brotherhood? Get real. You guys treat him like a baby – that is when Kyle’s not beating on him.” Shane started out of the room.
“Wait! Where are you going?”
“To take a shower.” Shane took his shower. He kept reminding himself that Scott hated conflict and Kyle was over-dependent. They didn’t mean to accuse him.
Shane emerged from the shower and went to his room to read. He heard the shower run two more times as the others took their turn.
Then Scott came into his room and sat in the chair. “He has talked to you, hasn’t he?”
Shane set down the book. “Not much. He refused to come. Figures the invitation on all our parts was politeness and not that we’re gonna miss his company.” Shane shrugged. “Sounded this morning like he needs some time to himself once in a while. You gotta remember, not everyone needs people around like you do.”
“He’s mad I wanted him to go?”
“I don’t know, Scott. You heard him, too. Last night I just assumed Kyle had harassed him earlier.”
Scott was silent a full minute before he raised his gaze to meet Shane’s again. “But where’s he going to stay?”
“I’m sure he must have someplace.”
Scott stood. “I’m going to call Pastor Prescott.” He left the room.
Shane stood and stretched. He had a feeling they’d all be driving to the church after that phone call. He left his room and glanced into Kyle’s.
Kyle sat on the floor, pulling a plastic box out from under Eli’s bed. He opened the lid. On top of some papers, some clothing, and a few smaller boxes lay the drawing of the castle Shane used to have on his wall.
Shane kneeled beside Kyle. “He kept it. I can’t believe he kept it. Did he keep the others?” Shane quickly searched the rest of the box, but only found a page that had a rough sketch of their church before he’d made the picture he had on his dresser. “He kept them,” Shane repeated, placing the pictures back into the box. He glanced at Kyle. “What are you looking for?”
Kyle shook his head. “Nothing.” He shoved the box back under the bed. He closed his eyes but didn’t move. “I thought we were friends.”
“Me and Eli,” Kyle said without snapping. “I told him things… thought he….” He didn’t continue.
Shane placed his hand on Kyle’s back. “He is your friend. He said he’d be back Monday. Ask him then.”
“But he moved out!”
“Kyle, listen to him. Find out what really bothers him. You cared enough about me and Scott that you told the girls you’d do anything to make them stay. What about Eli? Are you willing to watch your tongue for him? Are you willing to let him do whatever he wants when you don’t need him? Think about it, Kyle. He’s been on duty to help you twenty-four hours a day. The only time he has a break is at school or at work. Then he takes a break, and you and Scott both jump on him.”
“But… but I don’t make him work all that time. We’re together as friends.”
Shane gave a short laugh. “Yeah, right. You never got hyper when I said I had to work an extra night. If I refused to go somewhere because I had homework, you let it go, figuring I knew when I needed to study. Come on. He’s been on his own since he was fourteen, and he’s managed to get himself decent grades and into a state college. For a whole year he went to school full time and put in almost full time hours at that store, still getting good grades. He doesn’t need constant supervision and neither do you.”
Kyle had stared at Shane, as if surprised at the lecture, but at the end his eyes narrowed. “You don’t know that.”
“Yeah, I do. Not sure why you want it, but you don’t need it.”
“I might kill myself.”
“Yeah, right. If you really wanted to kill yourself, you’d have sent us all away ages ago and did it. You don’t keep him on a leash to protect yourself. You do it because you’re scared.”
“I’m not scared.
“You are scared. Scared of not remembering something you think you should know; scared someone’s going to see you stumble; scared you’ll have a petite mal, and no one will be there to cover for you. Isn’t that what happens when you space out for a minute? Mini seizures?”
Kyle stood and waited for Shane to get up. Then he got close to his face. “You know what I’m afraid of. I’m afraid I’m going to find myself plastered to the floor, and everyone will just stare at me. I’m afraid to close my eyes at night because sometimes I can’t seem to wake up.” He threw up his hands and paced away. “Medicine. They say it’s just a side effect. It’s perception, not real. A nightmare. I never know what side effect will strike next!” He stood before Shane again. “Scared? Yeah, I’m scared. I’m scared I’m going to be this way the rest of my life.” Kyle walked away to stare out the window near the foot of Eli’s bed.
Scott came into the room. Shane had a feeling he’d heard most of the conversation. He walked over to Kyle and placed his hand on his back. “Kyle, if you don’t want to be alone, let me and Shane help you, too. Tell us about these things. Please let us in. Let me help you. I need to help you,” Scott ended with a plea.
Kyle turned and grabbed Scott into a hug. He drew in a sharp intake of breath before shaking with silent sobs.
Shane left the room. Scott had been facing away from him, but he didn’t want to see his face when he turned. He had to find something to do, to think about…. He swiped at the moisture on his face, as he went into the kitchen. Wasn’t it close to lunch time? He could make something for lunch.
Scott and Kyle came into the kitchen as Shane ladled out the chicken noodle soup he’d made from a can and set a bowl beside each plate containing a grilled cheese sandwich which was almost white on one side and dark brown on the other.
They sat down silently. Shane said grace and they began eating.
“What did you decide, Shane?” Kyle asked as he finished off the soup.
“Bert Thorton? Did you do that checking? Do we turn him in?”
“Sorry. I’ll do it next week.”
“You’re going to sue?” Scott asked.
Kyle shrugged. “Probably not. Don’t tell him that though. He’ll find out through the attorney.” Kyle stared at Scott. “Come on. Don’t waver on me. Either you’re with me, or you’re with him. Someone has to have priority. You know what he did to me. Are you going to withdraw your offer to help if I sue? Can I really confide in you?”
Scott was silent for an eternity. Then he reached over and placed his hand over Kyle’s. “I’m with you.” He reached for Shane with his other hand. “Both of you. Three musketeers and all.”
“Four,” Kyle said. “Eli is coming back.”
“Yeah, four,” Scott said. He looked at Shane and waited.
Shane gripped Scott’s hand. “Yeah. We’ll find a way to get him back home.”
They saw Eli briefly Sunday morning at church, but he avoided them, slipping through the crowd and disappearing before they could reach him. Stubborn, Shane thought, but it was a stubbornness he admired.
Scott had not been able to get Pastor Prescott on the phone the day before, and now it appeared that he was on vacation. Eli had timed his retreat just right. Shane smiled at the thought. Yes. Eli’s retreat had been planned. He could see that now. Shane had expected he’d have the same jeans and pullover he’d left with Friday, but instead he wore clean slacks and shirt.
They went to the Pearsons after church to spend time with the girls. Kyle played cards with Amber’s brothers.
Go to Chapter 21
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.