When Scott came home at midnight, Shane took Amber home, coming straight back. He finally went into his room intent on sorting out how this new view of his past changed his perception of his sketches, but his thoughts kept drifting back to Eli.
Why did Eli at one moment intervene to prevent him from ruining his relationship with Amber, and the next minute seem to be picking a fight with him? Was he misinterpreting some or all of Eli’s actions? He thought he’d left to teach Kyle a lesson, but maybe his speculation to comfort Scott the other day was more accurate than he thought. Maybe Eli was afraid to stay and afraid to leave.
Shane knew the fear of getting too close and the loss that inevitably followed. Usually the only time he and Scott fought was when that monster reared its head. Of course, that might not be Eli’s problem. Maybe Shane was just pretending Eli was more like him than he really was, and he didn’t understand the kid at all. That was more likely.
Eli did not visit Saturday. Shane decided he better go see him and make sure everything was clear between them just in case he was the one holding Eli back.
After dinner Shane told Kyle and Scott he was going for a drive, claiming he needed some time to think. Scott offered to treat the three of them to dessert.
Shane gave a weak smile. “I’m fine, Scott. I just need to review my perceptions. Let Kyle tell you about that revelation I discovered last night.”
“Last night? Something happened, and you guys didn’t say anything all day!”
“I thought Shane told you,” Kyle scowled. “It’s his pictures. Eli’s grandparents sold four already.”
Scott smiled. “That’s great, Shane.” He shook his head as Shane headed for the door. “You still can’t believe it, can you?”
“Just need a little time,” he mumbled, sure Kyle would tell Scott the rest after he left.
Shane drove straight to the church. He almost thought Eli wasn’t there, until he spotted his bike hiding in the bushes behind the church. Shane parked away from the road, walking around the back of the building to briefly tap on the office window before going to the door.
Eli opened it as he reached it. “What happened?”
“Nothing. Just want to talk.”
“May I come in?”
Eli finally seemed to relax. “Sure. Come on down.”
Shane followed him in silence to the office. On the table lay beads, cord, metal clasps and jumpers, wire, and several completed items. Shane sat across from Eli and picked up a necklace to study. “You do good work.” He focused on Eli. “Thanks for yesterday. Maybe saved my engagement.”
Eli didn’t speak, staring at the wall beyond him.
“Are you mad at me?”
Eli shook his head.
He shook his head again. “Nothing. I’m okay. Get it over with.”
“Get what over with.”
“They sent you here to try to talk me into coming back, didn’t they?”
“They don’t even know I know where you’re at.”
“So, you don’t want me back?”
“Sure, I do. I thought you were just staying away to teach Kyle a lesson. I figure you’ll come back when you decide he’s learned it. Am I wrong?”
“You don’t need me there anymore. I’m one more person crowding out the girls. Might as well move now as later.”
“Eli, Kyle needs… when they come, he’ll be… oh, shit, Eli, you won’t be crowding the girls.”
“You’re going to tell me they want me there?”
“They don’t not want you there. Sure, Amber wants her own house someday, but she agrees this is the right thing to do.”
Eli shook his head. “Forget it, Shane. I don’t know what’s wrong. I want to go back, but I can’t.”
“I don’t know,” he whispered.
“I told Scott you needed time alone. He doesn’t understand that about us. He always needs people around. So, we’ll try to give you time.”
“I know. Scott told me.” He shook his head. “Can we talk about something else?”
“Sure.” Shane hesitated because the only other topic he could think of would be equally sensitive. But maybe Eli needed to talk about that also. He shook his head. He was starting to sound like Scott.
Eli watched him. “No?”
“Sorry. Just thinking about something else for a moment. I saw your uncle at the hospital the other day.”
It was barely perceptible, but he knew Eli stiffened. “So, they all know. I was afraid Kyle and I would run into him, afraid Kyle might know him, but it’s you. You tell them?”
“Did he say anything?”
“Yeah. Reminded me of my dad when he said I wasn’t his son.”
“I have proof. My birth certificate says Timothy and Christina White. It says… It’s not faked.” He reached for his back pocket but didn’t pull out his wallet.
“I believe you. His denying your relationship seems juvenile at best. The resemblance couldn’t be closer. He’d never win a court case against you as he threatened.”
Eli looked a bit sick.
“Unless you’ve got more secrets. But I can’t think of any that would change the fact that you two are related. Maybe Kyle knows about some genetics tests that will prove it further.”
Eli shook his head, closing his eyes. Shane was afraid he’d see tears next, but Eli managed to keep them inside. “My dad didn’t tell them about me. It must be his wish that I stay away, and I was too stupid to realize it before I came.”
“You chose to go to school here because of your relatives.”
Eli nodded. A minute later he lifted his gaze to Shane’s again. “I would have left like he asked, but I’d already enrolled, had all the grants for EMU, sent my tuition for fall. I had only enough left for a cheap room. I… I didn’t really expect their help, but I guess I hoped to stay with them.” He shook his head. “Grandma told me I shouldn’t go, but she didn’t know why. I couldn’t tell them I just made a huge mistake. Besides they needed all their money for Grace to go to school. I’d have just been a burden.”
Shane let the silence continue. He didn’t have any words of comfort like Scott would be rattling off now. He knew how it hurt to be rejected like that.
He finally leaned forward and grabbed one of the beads to study. “You were pretty close to your parents though, right?” He didn’t know why he asked. Maybe to remind Eli they had loved him or maybe to satisfy his own curiosity.
“Yeah,” came Eli’s choked whisper. “I always thought so.”
“Are you positive he never told them? Maybe your Uncle just doesn’t want to share any inheritance. Is he the only child of your grandparents now?”
“Yes. I think my grandmother is still alive. I know my dad’s father was killed not too long before I was born. But….” He shook his head. “I think my dad never told them. He never took me with them when they came. He wrote to them all the time, but… but I don’t think he ever mentioned me.”
“Are you sure?”
Eli shrugged, looking more miserable. Shane regretted his questions. This obviously hurt him. He didn’t have to go far to know how much.
But then Eli grabbed the necklace in front of him and the needle-nose pliers. He added a latch to the end of the chain. As he tightened the second end, he began speaking. “One time I found a just hatched iguana and brought it home. Dad had told me how he and his brother, Pete, had an iguana growing up, so I asked him if we could keep him. I named him Azul because he had little blue spots. He turned all green as he grew up though. Had him until I had to move to New York. Real hassle to bring an animal into the country.”
He set the necklace aside and grabbed a large heart. He began adding jumpers and beads to either side. “Anyway, the next day Dad was writing to his brother. I asked if he’d tell him about how I found Azul in that tree, but… but he didn’t. I kind of figured maybe he just had too much to do to write all that then. I… I didn’t question.”
“Why would you?”
Eli kept working, not looking at him. “I don’t really want to talk about my uncle. The fewer people who know… I don’t want trouble.”
“Is that why you don’t want to go places?”
Eli looked up then. “No. I was a little nervous going up to the hospital with Kyle at first, but….” He shrugged again. “It’s my job, and I have every right to be there, too. Besides I think he works for the hospital in Ypsi.” He focused on the beads again. “I’m just not good at social stuff.”
Shane gave a soft chuckle. “Felt that way a lot, but I usually fake it. Ever thought about getting another lizard? My mom never let me have any pets. She hates reptiles.”
Eli smiled. “So does Kyle. Besides doesn’t the lease specify no pets?”
“We can have caged pets. We just never thought about it much. Except fish. Kyle kept saying that he wanted to get a saltwater aquarium when he got an office. He was going to set up one when we moved into this apartment a few years back, but all the stuff he’d had at home in the basement had been sold at a garage sale.”
“Yeah. He told me about that. We’ve been into the store a few times, looking at fish.” He grinned. “Iguanas, too. At least I look. Iguanas are really great pets. Kyle thinks lizards are like snakes with legs. He thought it was stupid. Wants that aquarium.”
“The set-up Kyle likes costs quite a bit, but Scott and I planned to buy it for him when he graduated from med school, but then they had the accident before we could do it.”
“He didn’t mention that.”
“Doubt he knows.” Shane leaned forward. “Bet I know how to get you back home.”
Eli looked wary for a moment, but then the edges of his mouth curved. “As soon as Pastor Joe comes back, I’ll be forced back. Scott threatened to go to him to work out our problems. I don’t have any really good reason to give Joe for staying away.”
“So why are you?”
He shrugged. “Partly for Kyle, but I can’t really explain to Joe our discipline methods.”
“And partly because?” Shane pushed. “Is it me? Sometimes Scott and Kyle think we don’t get along.”
Eli focused on his jewelry. “We get along. I told them that.”
Shane was tempted to leave it at that. It was enough for him. But it wasn’t enough for Scott or Kyle. “Eli, is the other part me? I’m not Scott. If I’m messing up, I need to know.”
Eli didn’t say anything.
“You know I didn’t mean to imply your grandparents were doing anything wrong with the sketches, don’t you? I thought they gave me too much.”
“It’s not that.” Eli finished another necklace and started piecing together the chains of the last large heart he had ready.
“What is it?”
Eli shrugged, not looking up. “Just easier when… when we didn’t get along that well.”
Shane was stunned. What could he mean? “Am I prying? Shit, I’m turning into Scott. I’m sorry. Scott’s great, but one’s enough, right?” He stood. “Guess I better get back. He’s thinking I’m depressed over last night.” Shane pulled on his jacket as he walked upstairs and outside.
Shane whirled and looked back. “Yes?”
Eli stood in the doorway. “I….” He seemed embarrassed now, glancing back into the building. “You’re not messing up. I’ll see you tomorrow at church.”
“Yeah, sure. See you.”
Eli disappeared, closing the door after him.
Shane walked to his car. It was easier when we didn’t get along that well. The words repeated themselves. What was easier? Was he prying into Eli’s life and making him miserable? Is that really what he meant? He had no other interpretation and vowed not to make that mistake again. Scott was the mother hen. Kyle hadn’t been, except now that he was scared. Shane had never thought he’d be. He would make sure it didn’t happen again.
He came home, briefly said hi to Scott and Kyle and shut himself into his room.
At church the next morning, Eli agreed to go with them to the Pearsons for lunch on one condition — that someone take him back to the church for his bike by four. He had homework to finish up, he claimed.
Shane stayed with Amber and avoided Eli. He wasn’t sure what he should say to him. He didn’t want to push him further away for Kyle’s sake. For Scott’s also. He really liked the kid.
As he walked through the living room with Amber, he noticed Eli sitting in a corner by Kyle as Kyle spoke with Ray Pearson. He was right. He was still alone. Their eyes met, and a brief smile flickered over Eli’s face, but then Shane was at the front door and couldn’t see him anymore.
Shane and Amber went outside and walked down the drive, and then along the street. “Are you upset about Friday night?” Amber asked.
“You’ve just been so quiet.”
“I’m not Scott.”
Amber squeezed his hand. “No. Definitely not. You’re a thinker. What’s keeping you thinking today?”
Shane stopped and kissed her until they both needed to regain control. He held her and slowly became aware that they were still on the sidewalk, in plain view of everyone on a Sunday afternoon. He started them walking again.
“Should I ask?”
He glanced at Amber to see her slight grin. “Ask what?”
“Will you kiss me like that again if I repeat the question?”
Amber laughed. “Avoiding it.”
“Don’t remember it.”
“What are you thinking?”
“Oh.” He walked another half block as he tried to sort it out. “Just Eli, I guess.”
“What finally got him home?”
“Nothing. I’m surprised he came. One of us has to take him back at four. Made us promise.”
“The church… to get his bike.” He shrugged. “How do you feel about lizards?”
“Lizards? As in live ones? Like chameleons?”
“As in live ones, like iguanas.”
Amber laughed. “Haven’t given them much thought. Do I need to?”
“Only if I decide to interfere and try to get Eli back.”
“Eli has an iguana?”
“Eli wants one.”
Amber shook her head. “You mean we live with Eli and an iguana or no Eli and no iguana. Are you trying to make this a hard decision?”
“Forget it. Just a stupid little plan to make Kyle and Scott happy. The kid will come back eventually. He has nowhere else to go.”
Amber rested her hand on his arm. “I’ll talk to Kayleigh tonight and see how she feels about reptiles. Maybe James will let her hold one of his chameleons,” she said, referring to her younger brother.
“He has chameleons? Where?”
“In his room. Ask him about them. He’ll keep you in there forever, and even let you feed them crickets. That’s the worse part about chameleons. Those chirpy little crickets that jump at you.” She shivered. “I like the chameleons but hate the crickets. Do iguanas eat crickets?”
“I’m not sure. Guess I hadn’t thought about feeding it. Figured he’d just take care of it.”
They walked in silence the rest of the way back to her home. At the door she stopped and looked up into his eyes, smiling. “Bet you wanted one when you were little.”
Shane couldn’t resist smiling back and teasing her. “For a few years. But I didn’t care if it was a snake, a chameleon, an iguana, a monitor, or even a turtle. But Mom hates reptiles. Guess you could call that another hot spot if you want.”
She kissed his cheek and reached for the door.
Shane put his finger to his lips. “Don’t want Eli to know I said anything.”
She smiled again. “I love you, Shane.”
At four Scott, Shane, Kyle, and Eli left, taking Eli back to the church. Scott and Kyle tried to talk him into coming home. Shane remained quiet. He wasn’t going to push him.
Eli refused. When the Cherokee stopped in the church parking lot, Eli jumped out and took his bike from the rack. In a moment he was riding away.
“Let’s follow him,” Kyle suggested.
“Let him go,” Shane said. “You’ll just get him upset.”
“You didn’t even say you wanted him!” Kyle accused. “He’s waiting for you.”
“No, he isn’t.” Before Kyle or Scott could protest, Shane switched the subject. “Thursday is his birthday. What are we doing for him?”
“We could have a party after work,” Scott suggested.
“He has school,” Shane reminded him.
“Maybe this weekend….”
“It has to be Thursday,” Kyle insisted. “Bet he hasn’t had a birthday party in a while.”
“Maybe if I go back into work in the evening, I can get off at noon,” Shane said.
“So will I. Great idea, Shane. We can show him we care with a party. Who should we invite? The Pearsons, Pastor Joe, maybe some friends of his from school. Do you know any, Kyle?”
“No,” Shane said. “Just us and maybe Amber and Kayleigh if they’re able. He doesn’t like crowds.”
“Shane’s right, Scott. He just sat next to me most of the time. He disappeared for a little while, think he was with one of Amber’s brothers, the younger one.”
“James,” Scott said. “They were looking at the chameleons. Should we get him something? Think that might help show we want him back and care about him?”
“Yeah. Let’s get him something,” Kyle said. “I’ll pay you guys back for my share when I start working, okay?”
“Sure. What should we get him then?”
“If he was looking at chameleons….” Shane said, and shrugged.
Scott laughed. “No, seriously. What do you think he really wants? Has he mentioned anything, Kyle?” He pulled into the parking lot.
Upstairs Kyle shook off his jacket and hung it up. “What does he want? Who knows what he wants? He never says what he wants.”
“He’s never mentioned anything?” Shane insisted. “Never showed an interest in anything when you guys went to the mall or the store?”
Kyle stared across the room for a moment, then shrugged and shook his head. “Nothing.”
“Maybe you just don’t pay close enough attention to his desires, writing everything off as stupid the minute he says something,” Shane snapped. This would be harder than he thought.
Kyle whirled around, grabbing Shane’s shirt. “You’re the one who’s keeping him away. You don’t know what goes on when you’re gone.”
“Kyle! Shane!” Scott said, trying to step between them. “Come on. Can’t you two quit fighting for one day?”
Shane looked into Kyle’s eyes. “Either punch me or let go of my shirt.”
Kyle released him with a jerk and stomped off to his room.
Scott watched him go and then faced Shane. “Why?”
Shane went to the stereo. “Didn’t mean to snap, but he’s got to start thinking of other people once in a while. He’s with him practically twenty-four hours a day for months, and he doesn’t know him at all.”
“Eli isn’t that talkative,” Scott protested, following him to the armchairs to sit. “I don’t ever remember him saying anything he wanted either.”
Shane shook his head with a slight grin. “Well, then, Mr. Friends-with-the-World. Looks like you have some prying to do. Should we read?”
After Scott went to bed later, Shane stayed up and did a search for iguanas on the internet. He wanted to know exactly what they would be getting into. He printed the sheets to save. Eli might not need them, but it would help Scott and Kyle adjust to the little monster if they bought it.
Go to Chapter 24
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.