Monday morning Eli arrived at the apartment at seven. He knocked once and then used the key to enter. “Need this back?” he asked, setting the key on the kitchen table.
“No. You are always welcome here,” Scott said.
“Yeah. That bed is yours. Bought it just for you,” Kyle added.
“We’ve missed you,” Shane said, because he knew Scott and Kyle expected him to add his desire for Eli’s return.
Eli slid into a chair. “Anything I need to know before you two leave for work? Anything you need done?”
“Eli….” Scott’s voice cracked. “Come on. Whatever’s wrong, we’ll fix it. Don’t throw out four months of friendship and pretend we’re strangers.”
“I’ll have dinner ready when you get home.” Eli took the dirty breakfast dishes to the sink and began running the water.
Kyle started to get up in Eli’s direction. Shane touched his arm and shook his head, motioning him toward the front door. When Kyle and Scott followed, Shane said, “Remember, it’s the control and the insults. Gotta be careful. Can’t order him back. That won’t work. He’s too stubborn.”
“You used to be stubborn.”
Shane grinned. “Yeah. And ordering me around never worked real well either, did it? You used to find some creative way to challenge me into doing what was best. Bet you can find what matters to Eli and challenge him, too.”
“But I’m not like I used to be.”
Shane gripped his shoulder. “Try it. Maybe you’ll surprise yourself. Try it or lose him.” He shrugged. “Gotta go.” He grabbed his coat.
Scott followed him outside. At their vehicles, he stopped him. “Wait a minute. Since when are you Mr. Make-up?”
Shane leaned against the Corsica and grinned. “Afraid I’m taking your job?”
“Me and Kyle are torn up over this, and it’s just a game to you.”
Shane sobered at the accusation. “No, Scott. It’s not a game. It’s a lesson. Eli had to stand up for himself sometime. You’ve seen them together, haven’t you? How can you doubt Eli cares about him enough to teach him that he needs to treat everyone with respect, including him — at great discomfort to himself?”
“So, you think this is all an object lesson for Kyle. He told you that.”
“No. Eli told me nothing.”
“Then you’re wrong. Eli’s hurting.”
“Yeah. I didn’t say he wasn’t hurting. He doesn’t want to be controlled, treated like an idiot or a baby. That one line he said was for you….” Shane caught himself, “…me and you. The one about deciding when he should go out with friends or when he should stay home. Makes me think he saw our efforts to include him as control. We’ve got to back off a little, too.”
“But he needs to get out more.”
“Yeah. He heard you the first time, and he made his choice. You’ve got to let him make his choice.”
Scott stalked around the Cherokee to the driver’s door.
Shane caught him. “Don’t be taking any responsibility for this little fiasco. I know you. It’s not your fault. He would have been able to brush off our little words as caring if he didn’t need to teach Kyle this lesson.”
“That’s what he told you when you first discovered he’d quit, didn’t he? That’s why you didn’t say anything.”
“You could have told me!”
“It was the night you were spazzing out from lack of sleep.”
“You could have told me later.”
“I asked him when he’d reveal his secret. He said soon.”
Scott was still glaring.
“You keep confidences, don’t you? I wanted him to trust me. You and Kyle always assume I’m working to push him out. I’m not. Did you want me to break his trust and tell his secret? Have you told me every secret anyone told you? Maybe things Kyle or even Eli told you? Things I told you?”
Scott sagged and jerked open his door. “No. Can’t tell confidences. He’s trusted me with a few things, too. Just thought he trusted me with everything.” Scott got in the truck.
“Think about this then, Scott. Maybe he’s testing both of us to see how good a friend we really are to him. I think he’s completely capable of that. Take it as a challenge from a bright kid afraid to get too close to a new family yet.”
Scott gave a small smile. “Sounds like another good friend of mine. I guess you understand him more than me.”
“Yeah. And take my word for it; your friendship and trust mean the world to him. Trust him.” He grinned. “Normally you’d be telling me all that, except you’ve got too many things to keep you worrying now. Good thing I listened to you so I can remind you.”
Scott’s smile widened as he turned on the engine of the truck. “Glad you listened. I need the reminders.”
“I’m gonna be late for work, so get out of here.” Shane closed the Cherokee door and waited for Scott to pull out before he got in his car and went to work.
It was the slow time of month again. He worked through his lunch and got out at three, losing only one hour which he planned to make up during the following day’s lunch.
He drove up to the hospital. The visitor parking garage was off the Taubman Center where Scott worked. Instead of walking through the center, he took the long way around through the Mott’s Children’s hospital before making it to U of M’s main teaching hospital. He preferred that Scott didn’t know about his visit.
He entered Bert Thorton’s office. Several patients waited in the outer office. Shane went directly to the glassed off receptionist and knocked on the window instead of signing in on the white paper.
The receptionist pulled her glasses from her nose and let them hang in front of her before sliding the glass several inches to the right. “Yes?”
“Could you tell Bert Thorton that Shane Lewis is here to see him?”
“You’ll have to make an appointment. The doctor is very busy.”
“Yeah, so am I. Just tell him I’m here. I know he wants to see me.”
“I’m sorry. You’ll have to….”
She started to slide the window closed, but Shane grabbed it. “Please tell him I’m here. Shane Lewis. I will wait my turn, but I will see him today.”
“I’m going to consult security if you don’t leave.”
“Better consult Bert Thorton first. He probably won’t like his friends being harassed.”
“You are not his friend, Mr. Lewis. A friend wouldn’t harass the doctor at the office.” The window slid shut with a bang.
Shane smiled and sat down in the first empty chair.
The man adjacent to him had bandages covering the left side of his head held by several that wrapped completely around it. He studied Shane with the one brown eye that was uncovered. “What’s such an emergency you need to see the doc for? You in pain?”
Shane returned the gaze. “Are you?”
“What does it look like?”
“Looks like you probably are. Are you?”
“More than you.”
“Probably. It’s my friend who was injured a while back. I’m just following up, but like I told the receptionist, I’ll wait my turn.”
The man nodded and was silent a while. Then he stared at Shane again. “What happened to him?”
Bert Thorton stepped into the waiting room. “Can this wait, Shane?”
“Yeah. You can see him first. Figured you would rather I come here than to your home. Your wife is kind of touchy about that, isn’t she?”
“Let’s get this over with now.”
“I promised him, he’d go first. Relax. You act like I’m going to sue you or something.”
Bert Thorton whirled and left the room without his patient.
“He didn’t seem that happy to see you. You got something on him?”
Shane glanced back at the man. His satisfaction at seeing Bert’s discomfort left. Bert needed his reputation intact.
“Sounded like you were blackmailing him for adultery.”
Shane’s discomfort level rose a notch. He hadn’t acted very Christlike, but man, he hated Bert Thorton for what he’d done. ‘Love your enemies.’ Please not now, Lord.
The receptionist called the bandaged man back.
As he rose, Shane stopped him. “It’s not what it seemed. Bert’s a friend. His wife just got upset at me for coming to the house late is all. I had to tease him.”
The man shrugged. “None of my concern.” He followed the receptionist back.
Shane leaned back in the chair and closed his eyes. Pray for your enemies. Lord, I can’t. I’m not like Scott. I can’t just forget he smashed Kyle apart. Lord, look at Kyle. He’s so scared. He’s never been scared like this. I can’t just pretend I’m his best friend. Well, maybe You didn’t quite ask that. But that neighbor as yourself stuff is pretty heavy. If I’d overdosed on pain killers, I hope I wouldn’t be stupid enough to drive. I hope…. Whatever You want for him, Lord. Whatever. I don’t know how to pray. Your will be done, that’s all.
“Mr. Lewis,” broke in the receptionist’s sharp voice.
Shane opened his eyes to see her staring down at him. “Yes?”
“The doctor will see you now. Come with me.” As they left the waiting room, she added, “Next time make an appointment.”
Shane remained silent, following her to the end of a hall. She ushered him into a dark room and closed the door.
Shane’s eyes adjusted quickly to the dim light coming from between the cracks of the blinds covering the window. He briefly hoped it wouldn’t rain for Eli’s sake. The room was an office lined with bookshelves. A model of the human head sat on a corner of the desk. Bert sat in a leather chair behind it, and two chairs were in front of it. Shane eased into one.
Still Bert Thorton did not speak.
Shane took a deep breath. “Sorry about earlier. It’s just that they were hurt so much….” He shook his head.
“You’re sorry? I don’t understand. Why are you here?”
Shane gave a slight shrug. “I thought about all the ways to try to find out what I need to know, and this seemed like the best for everyone.”
“What do you need to know?” Bert spoke quietly.
Shane realized he better do the same. The walls were probably not that thick. “Does anyone know you have a problem with abusing morphine?”
“I don’t anymore.”
Bert looked quickly away but then focused on Shane. “No, I don’t.”
“Don’t lie to me. For Kyle’s sake we’ve decided that a private settlement worked out with our lawyers would be better than suing, but none of us will keep silent if anyone else is in danger, either on the road or on the operating table.”
“I give you my word….”
“Not good enough. Pain and addictions don’t mix. I want some kind of accountability. I want to know you can’t get as much morphine as you want, and I want another doctor to have the authority to make sure you’re completely alert when you operate. This is a criminal matter, isn’t it? If we let you off, we’ll be partially responsible for your next victim.”
Bert’s gaze darted toward the door and then the window. “I… I can’t just… everyone will… I can’t….”
“Your choice, Bert. I, personally thought you’d choose the minor professional humiliation than major public humiliation, a possible jail stay, and all, but….” Shane stood. “Guess I’ll see you in court.”
“No! No, please wait. I have to think.”
Shane stared at him. “This can’t be a difficult decision.”
“Sit down,” he snapped. “I’m trying to decide which of my colleagues to confess to. I suppose you want to be there also.”
Shane decided the offer was too good to refuse, even if he’d be late getting home. “Of course.”
“You don’t understand. I’m the head of the department. I worked hard to get where I am, and you are forcing me to give someone else total control over my career, someone who wants my position.”
“Choose your successor wisely then,” Shane quipped.
“Glad you’re enjoying this.”
“I must admit a certain perverse satisfaction after seeing all the hell Kyle and Scott have been through. I’m trying really hard to be forgiving, but I guess I have to work on that one a few more times.”
Bert shook his head and grabbed his Rolodex. He tapped it for a few moments. Then he stared at Shane. “You’re a Christian, like Scott.”
Shane’s conscience pricked him again, sharply. His tone was contrite. “Sorry. I really am working at forgiving you. It’s just hard.”
Bert stared at him, shaking his head again. “Sorry about what? Hating what I did? I hate what I did.” He flipped through his Rolodex. “I’ll talk to Dr. Rigel. She’s one of you guys. Maybe her compassion will extend beyond her patients.” He grabbed the telephone.
“One of us guys?”
“Yeah. Has pictures with scriptures under them in her waiting room. One of the other doctors complained, but after a review, none of them were offensive.”
Shane snickered. “Aah, nothing about Jesus. You couldn’t shoot her.”
Bert shot him a puzzled look, but then concentrated on the phone. “Yes, Andrea. This is Bert Thorton. Will you tell Gayle I need to speak with her before she leaves? Send her to my office.” He replaced the phone. “Shouldn’t be too long. Unless she had emergency surgery, she is probably about finished.”
Shane gave a slight nod of acknowledgement and glanced around the office again. “Getting darker. You ever turn on the lights.”
Bert rose stiffly and reached to switch on the lamp on the credenza by the window. He turned on the small stereo also. Tchaikovsky.
“It must be a doctor thing.”
“Classical music. Kyle loves it also.”
“Really.” He didn’t sit, but instead rubbed his lower back with his hands and stretched.
“I should call home. Let them know I’ll be late for dinner.” Shane took the phone without waiting for approval. Kyle answered on the second ring.
“Hey, Kyle. How’s it going?”
“I don’t know. I don’t know anything,” he said so forlornly that Shane winced.
“Well, I’m just calling to let you know I’ve gotten a little tied up getting that information for you. I’ll probably be late for dinner.”
“So, is he still doing it?”
“I’m in his office now. I’ll give both you and Scott the details later.”
“Yeah, sure. See you then.”
As Shane hung up the phone Bert went to the door. “I’ll be back in a minute.” He went through it. “If you’re finished, Ellen, you may leave. I’ll see Mr. Lewis out later. We’re still catching up on things since I last saw him.”
Shane wandered around the room as he waited, glancing at the books, but the medical texts didn’t hold his interest. He looked out the window, which just opened to a small interior garden one hall width wide. Since they were on the fourth floor, he had to crane his neck to see the plants. All that was visible from the desk was the window of the office across the space. No wonder Bert kept the blinds shut.
He turned when Bert reentered the room followed by a medium built woman. Her shoulder length dark hair was styled away from her face, and she wore a navy skirt under her white jacket. She spoke as she walked in. “Is this about the man who came in Saturday night? I know he was your patient, but….” She stopped when she saw Shane. “Excuse me.”
“No need, Gayle. This is Shane Lewis. Shane, Dr. Gayle Rigel.”
Shane shook her hand. “Pleasure to meet you, Dr. Rigel.” He hesitated, but Bert did not offer the chairs. When the silence stretched on, he realized Bert was waiting for him. Shane motioned to the chairs.
After they were seated, Bert again hesitated, looking at Shane. Shane stared back, waiting. “Well?” Bert asked.
“You want me to tell her?” Shane shook his head in disbelief at Bert’s cowardice, but turned to focus on Dr. Rigel. “Last May the car my friend was driving was rammed by a driver who did not stop.”
Bert closed his eyes, and his jaw tightened.
“This man weaved from his lane into the side of Scott’s car. His passenger Kyle Sloan was in the hospital here for a month with a head injury.”
“Kyle? Last year’s valedictorian?” Dr. Rigel asked.
“Yes. We’ve been praying Kyle will be able to start his internship next year, but it looks like he’ll never be the surgeon he hoped to be. We’ve been told the tremors are permanent and probably the epilepsy also.”
“Oh, Kyle. No wonder I haven’t seen him around. I wish I’d known sooner.” She took a deep breath, the news apparently surprising her. Kyle had thought none of his instructors cared, but it appeared not all of them knew. “He was in one of my classes. Very bright.”
Bert gave a small moan, shaking his head.
“Sir?” Dr. Rigel asked.
Bert shook his head, not meeting her gaze. “The choice was made. Go on, Shane.”
A stab of an unfamiliar emotion hit Shane. He tried to define it. Only when he realized it was the same emotion he felt when he saw Kyle revert to the scared child, did he realize he felt sorry for Bert Thorton. Bert apparently hadn’t expected his confessor to know his victim personally.
Shane swallowed to clear the emotions from his throat before he refocused on Dr. Rigel. “For a long time we didn’t know who had rammed the car. The police gave up the search. If he hadn’t… hadn’t approached us and offered his help, we’d have never guessed. Our attorney says it’s quite rare for people to voluntarily offer restitution.”
Bert lifted his head and watched Shane, a look of disbelief again on his face.
“We’ve decided that we won’t go to the police if we can be sure that no one else will be a victim as Kyle was.” Shane paused.
Dr. Rigel glanced at Bert Thorton and then back at Shane. “How do you intend to do that?”
“I gave him a choice. Confess he has a problem with morphine addiction. Make sure he has accountability both in his ability to obtain the drug as well as have someone make sure he’s not stoned during surgery. If not, we’ll be forced to turn him in. He chose accountability.”
Bert met Dr. Rigel’s gaze. “I’m sure the board will agree you’re the right choice to replace me. I just ask that perhaps you’ll allow me to remain on faculty, and if possible, keep me accountable privately. I can’t help Kyle if I lose everything.” He glanced at Shane, and his cheeks became red. “I mean….” He trailed off and stared at his desktop.
Dr. Rigel glanced at Shane.
“It’s your decision, Dr. Rigel. I don’t know any of the rules for this kind of thing. I just don’t want anyone else hurt or killed. I know he didn’t mean it, but when a person’s in pain and has access to all the pain killers he wants….” He shrugged. He could see that Dr. Rigel understood the situation completely now.
“I think I should sleep on this decision. Pray about it. May I have your phone number if I have more questions?”
Shane gave her both his home and office number. Then he decided to jot down the name of their attorney also in case she needed it. “Thanks, Dr. Rigel. I’ve been praying for over a month about this situation. It took me a while to decide restitution instead of revenge was best, and I’m still working on forgiveness.”
Dr. Rigel glanced at Bert, but then focused on Shane. “I think you’ve done quite well at forgiveness also,” she said softly. “I’ll try to take as much care as you have with whatever is in my power to do. I know I can’t keep things completely quiet. We must work within the system. You should know that I consider Dr. Thorton my mentor, and therefore am not totally impartial. But Kyle was one of the most promising students here. Graduated at the top of his class.” She sighed.
“I didn’t know that, Gayle. I chose you because… because… other reasons.”
“You excel in surgery and teaching. It would be a great loss if you were forced to stop either. We’ll work something out. You aren’t the only doctor on staff who has an addiction to prescription drugs. There are already programs in place. As long as Kyle doesn’t push for your dismissal, I think the board will simply place you on probation and restrictions.”
“But will that do what we want? Keep him from the extra morphine, and check him out before he operates?”
Dr. Rigel studied Bert. “I’ll make sure it does. I think he doesn’t want it to happen again any more than you do. We will work out ways of accountability if they are not already set up.”
Shane stood and so did the others. “Thanks, Dr. Rigel. You don’t mind if I check in with you once in a while, do you?”
“No. Go right ahead. I understand your concern, and I admire your decision.”
“Kyle’s and Scott’s, too. We made it together, but they asked me to speak for them since they felt too close to be impartial.”
“But they came to a decision? Were they afraid they’d change their mind?”
Shane gave a half-hearted grin. “Scott is friends with Bert. Kyle….” Shane sobered. “Kyle… Man, I wish….” He shook his head and headed for the door.
“Kyle, what?” Bert asked, stopping him. “You said he decided not to sue.”
Shane turned. “Yeah. He decided. But that doesn’t mean he isn’t looking for restitution. He’s scared to death he’ll never be able to do anything. You don’t know what it’s like watching his fear.” Shane shook his head, and then whirled to leave abruptly. He’d said too much.
Shane walked blindly through the building, back the way he’d come. He was into the children’s hospital before he realized he needed to go down two levels. He found the elevators and entered the first one that opened. After pressing the two button, he glanced at the other passenger.
Shane glanced back again, sure his eyes were playing tricks on him. It was an older version of Eli. Same straight black hair, shorter and flecked with grey, the same vivid violet eyes, the same long nose. Only the set of his lips was different. This man’s lips were thin and pressed tightly together as he waited. Shane glanced at his name tag — “Dr. Peter White”.
Dr. White turned his head only slightly to look at him. “Yes?”
Shane realized he’d spoken aloud, but quickly tried to hide his blunder. “You must be related to a friend of mine. Eli White.”
The man’s face changed quickly. His brows drew closer together as he leaned forward and jabbed a finger at Shane’s chest. “You tell that rotten bastard if he ever claims to be my brother’s son again, he’ll be paying for it in legal fees so deep he’ll never be more than the dirt under the rock he came from.” The elevator door opened, and the doctor strode out. He turned back one last time. “If I ever see him again, he’s….”
The door closed, and Shane sagged against the wall. It was as if his father had been yelling at him again, accusing him. Eli, God, Lord, no wonder the kid is hurting. He said his father never told them he had a son, but Shane never expected the news to elicit such a violent response.
The elevator stopped and opened. A family got on. Shane focused on the numbers. How had he gotten to the sixth floor? He pushed in the two again as the elevator started down, staring at the door so no conversation could be started. He didn’t think he’d be able to speak if they did ask him anything.
Shane drove home. He thought about the confrontation. He could easily see this hurt Eli as much as his father’s accusations ate at him. He hadn’t told anyone. Shane wouldn’t drag it out in front of everyone. It was too personal and painful.
It was almost six when he arrived home.
He hung his coat as Scott came from the kitchen. “I could have talked to him.”
Shane tried to ignore his tone. His nerves were still jangled. “Thought you asked me to take care of this. Is Eli here?”
“Already left for school,” Kyle said from the table. “Said he wouldn’t be back until tomorrow.”
Shane slid into his seat before the only plate still on the table. He took a bite of his chicken. “Still good almost cold.”
“I don’t know what to do, Shane. He won’t come home.”
“Maybe he’s waiting to see if you can keep from yelling at him for a certain amount of time.”
Kyle groaned. “I don’t mean it! He knows I don’t mean it. How long?”
“How should I know? I’m just guessing. Maybe he already has a new apartment and roommates.”
Kyle looked sick.
Shane repented and quickly changed the subject. “Well, he did it.”
Kyle looked up with interest.
“Did what?” Scott asked, sliding into the chair across from him. “What did who do?”
“Bert is getting help for his addiction. He asked another doctor for accountability, Dr. Gayle Rigel.”
“I know her.”
“Yeah. She said she knew you. She didn’t know you’d been hurt. Anyway, I’m pretty sure she’ll see to it the safeguards are in place so that at least no one else will be hurt for the same reason. She seems pretty together.”
“Will he lose his career?” Scott asked.
Shane shrugged. “Up to the board, I guess, but it sounds like he’s not the first guy to abuse the privilege. He’ll probably be disciplined or something. She said we could call her if we had questions or to reassure ourselves things were taken care of.”
Scott finally leaned back in the chair. “So… then we aren’t prosecuting.”
Shane looked at Kyle.
Kyle gave a half shrug. “Guess it’s better if we don’t. Might get more money that way.”
“So, you went just to… to protect other people from what we went through, not to hurt him. Man, Shane….” Scott shook his head.
“Nothing. Nothing at all. I knew I could trust you.”
Shane gave a sarcastic laugh. “Yeah. Save it.” He focused on his food and ate in silence.
Kyle left the table to put in other CDs and then sat on the couch to read. Scott remained at the table, staring at him.
Shane finally finished, pushing away the last of his meal. He couldn’t eat with his stomach churning. “What is it?”
“I’m sorry. I guess it’s harder for me to delegate than I thought. Never had problems at work, because I didn’t want to do the things I delegated. Sometimes I wonder if I’m really cut out to be a manager.” He shook his head and focused on Shane again. “I mean… I’m sorry. You’re right. I trusted you, but not enough. Forgive me?”
Shane leaned back and shrugged. “Forgiving isn’t really my strong area, you know. I might have to harass you for a few weeks first, but oh, maybe about the beginning of April things will be back to normal.”
Scott smiled, got up, and cuffed Shane’s arm. “Thanks.” He took Shane’s dishes into the kitchen.
“Hey, you act like I just forgave you!” Shane teased. “Can’t let a person work up a good case of anger and bitterness around here at all, can you?”
Go to Chapter 22
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.