Shane met Amber for lunch Monday. He kissed her before settling into the booth across from her. “How’d it go with Kayleigh?”
Amber grinned a smile that Shane recognized now as teasing. “Kayleigh? Did you want me to talk to her about something?”
“Well, if she doesn’t like lizards, we can always buy him a boa constrictor. Heard they get over eight feet long.”
Amber laughed. “Please, no snakes.”
“Of course, full grown iguanas have been known to measure six feet from nose to tail.”
“Not the ones they sell around here?” she asked in alarm. “They don’t, do they? I can just see a lizard the size of a St. Bernard in my kitchen. Oh, please, Shane, say you’re teasing.”
“I think they’re mostly tail. The St. Bernard would be bigger,” he said to tease her.
He grinned. “Hey, I’ve never seen one that big. Just read about it.” He didn’t tell her that all iguanas grew that large with good nutrition. “So, what did Kayleigh say?”
She relaxed. “You can tease cruel, you know. I’ll have to remember that.” The waitress took their orders before she continued. “Kayleigh doesn’t mind as long as it stays out of her and Scott’s room and doesn’t run around the house. I think she’s thinking chameleon size. She was afraid of stepping on it — especially barefoot.”
Amber reached into her purse and pulled out a piece of notebook paper. “We made a list. It can’t hang out in the bathroom. When unattended it must be caged. All food is totally his responsibility, and if some food escapes, the closest male must quickly dispose of it. That includes you, Scott, and Kyle.”
Shane laughed. “I’ll do my best to protect you from the vegetables.”
“I mean crickets.”
“The latest info I’ve gotten says iguanas are complete herbivores. No crickets.”
“Really? That’s great.”
“Even downloaded a salad recipe you can fix for him… but you just said that’s Eli’s job.”
Amber grinned. “I may look at recipes.” She rattled the paper. “There are more rules.”
“I’m sure there are.” Shane took the paper and glanced through it. “Can I give this to Eli?”
“Make sure Scott and Kyle know also.”
“I will, when they come to the right decision. They don’t know what we’re getting him yet.”
Amber smiled. “You’re so sweet, waiting to make sure it wouldn’t bother us.”
“Actually, I’m just letting them throw out inferior guesses first, but I’ll take the brownie points.” He kissed her hand. “How many kisses did I earn?”
“Did you have to earn them?”
The lunch ended well. He decided to work an hour over each day to prepare for Thursday afternoon off.
Shane didn’t get home until after Eli left for school. He ate the warmed-up food, but the silence of Kyle and Scott finally unnerved him. “What’s up?”
“Eli seemed disappointed you weren’t home,” Scott began.
“Can’t you take those hours some other time?” Kyle asked.
“Eli didn’t miss me. Come on. This is for Thursday.”
“You gotta take some time Wednesday, too,” Kyle said.
Scott wouldn’t meet his gaze, so Shane refocused on Kyle.
“We’re meeting with Bert Thorton and his lawyer at Hammonds. One-thirty.”
“Amber didn’t say…. Of course, she wouldn’t,” he corrected quickly. “It’s not my case. She’s always been so careful about that.” Shane glanced at Scott. “You don’t want me there?”
“Didn’t figure you had time.”
Shane tried not to be irritated with Scott. “If you want me there, Kyle, I’ll make the time.”
“I want you there.”
“I want you there, too,” Scott said.
“Hey, you’re the money man, right? You run the numbers. We need you.” He gave a slight laugh as if to joke off the tension between them.
“But Bert doesn’t want me there.”
“Didn’t ask him,” Scott said.
“Then what is the problem.”
“No problem. Honest. Just thought you had trouble taking so much time off. This won’t be over in one meeting.”
“He can work evenings to make it up,” Kyle insisted. “He doesn’t have to babysit me.”
“But if he doesn’t want to, he shouldn’t be forced to,” Scott insisted. “His employer prefers….”
“Hold it. Scott, let me worry about my employer. Kyle, if I can’t make a meeting, you’ll have to understand. I’ll be there Wednesday. So, did you pick out a present?”
After a second Kyle let the subject change. “He says he doesn’t want anything.”
“Of course, he says that. But what can we get him?”
“Well if you got ideas, spit them out.” Kyle slouched in his chair. “See, you don’t know either.”
Shane ignored Kyle’s attitude. “Maybe it should be something that makes it hard for him to find another place to room.”
“What?” Scott asked. “You’re not making sense.”
But Kyle sat up. “You mean something not easily moved, right?”
“Something only we as his best friends would make room for.”
“I agree. Got any ideas?”
Shane groaned. “That’s what you want, Kyle.”
“He likes them, too! We go into the pet stores sometimes and look.”
Shane stood and took his dishes into the kitchen. He rinsed them, loaded the dishwasher, and turned it on. When he returned to the dining room Scott and Kyle were discussing the size of the aquarium.
“We’re not buying him an aquarium,” Shane said firmly. “I’d buy one for you, before I’d buy one for him.”
“He would think, ‘Oh, Kyle’s buying something for himself, but saying it’s for me.’”
“Shane’s right,” Scott finally said. “My sisters would always do that to me – pick out things I’d heard them say they’d wanted. I always ended up giving it to them.”
“Well what else is there, then?”
“What else is hard to move with?” asked Scott.
“Fish are the most obvious,” Kyle said, shooting Shane a look of disgust.
“You could just say pets in general.”
“We can’t have pets.”
“Dogs and cats. We can’t have dogs and cats or ferrets uncaged.”
“What else is there?” Kyle asked.
Shane rolled his eyes. “Shall we go to the mall and look?” He hoped he sounded more helpful than patronizing.
Scott jumped up. “Great idea. We’re sure to find something there.”
They walked the corridors of the mall all evening, going into every promising store, but found nothing that would fit both criteria — something Eli might want and something that would be difficult to move.
They finally looked at furniture, but it somehow didn’t seem right. Eli’d never shown any interest in furniture or having a special chest for his belongings. “Besides,” Shane pointed out. “He may feel we’re segregating his stuff and saying it has to fit in the chest. It may have the opposite effect.”
They went home, defeated. Shane decided to give Kyle one more night to think about it before he gave in and told him.
He worked through lunch the next day and also stayed an hour late. Kyle was alone when Shane arrived home. “Eli was waiting for you.”
Shane hung up his coat. “No, he wasn’t.”
“Look, I don’t know why, but he is. You can pretend all you want, but I think he’s looking to see if you really care. He thinks you don’t want him back.”
“I’ve talked to him.”
“Then why does he hang on until I’m sure he’s going to be late? Scott finally offered him a ride, but he refused and rode his bike then. He’s waiting for something, and it’s not Christmas.”
“I have to work late if I’m going to be taking that time off.” Shane sat down to eat the cold roast Eli had left — his favorite when it was warm. So were the fresh clover rolls. Shane glanced at Kyle who watched him.
“He plans to make that chicken and rice you like tomorrow.”
Shane’s stomach knotted, but he forced down the food Eli had prepared for him. “I thought I’d go straight back to work after the meeting until nine or so. Maybe… Friday I could be home on time.” Thursday they’d planned to order in pizza for the party.
“You’re not going back tonight, are you?”
Shane hesitated. He should. “You need me here?”
“We need to get Eli’s present. Will you take me to look again?”
“Sure,” Shane agreed.
As they left the parking lot, Scott pulled in. Shane turned around and went back, waiting for Scott to hop in before pulling away. “Got out early?”
“Yeah. Where are we going?”
“Turn left on Washtenaw.”
Shane followed his directions. “You have something in mind?”
“Pets. It’s the only thing I can think of. I had him go to the pet store today, a couple of them.” Kyle had him make another turn. “You’re right, Shane. He’s not that excited about the fish. He’ll look with me, but I could just tell this time… guess I didn’t really notice before.”
“So why are we going to the pet store then?” Scott asked. “Did he see something else?”
Kyle pointed. “This shop. We’d never been here together, because I knew they didn’t have any marine fish, but Eli noticed it as we drove by, and by that time I figured it couldn’t hurt.”
Shane read the sign. “Jungle Jim’s” Then in black letters on their billboard it read, “Now in stock: Bengals. Ferrets. Iguanas.” He smiled. “So, Eli found something here he liked?”
“He didn’t say he did, but… there’s lots to choose from. Not fish, but he didn’t know that.”
Shane parked, and they walked inside. The first display they stopped at held a bin of baby rabbits and beside it hedgehogs.
Scott reached in a finger to run behind a bunny’s ears. “Don’t suppose he was too interested in these.”
Kyle glanced around, and then back at the rabbits. “Said he knew a good recipe. The clerk, I think, was a vegetarian. Went over real well.”
“Really?” Scott said. “Maybe he’ll go rabbit hunting with me next time we go home. We’ll have to play cook out with a campfire though. My Dad and I did that once with another guy and his son.”
Kyle looked up. “Yeah. He would probably do that with you. Shane and I will do the fishing.”
They walked slowly by the mice, hamsters, gerbils, and stopped by the guinea pigs. “Cuter than a rat,” Scott said, looking hopeful.
“He said they’re good in goat’s milk.”
“They’re native to Venezuela. He has quite a few ways to cook them.”
Shane couldn’t help laughing again. “Sorry. I can’t get him one. I’d have to ask what we were eating every time I sat at the table.”
“He claims they’re very good, but those need to be fattened up a bit. They’re too young.”
This time all three of them laughed until a clerk came. “Need to see one of those?”
Shane shook his head.
“No fresh guinea pigs for dinner tonight,” Kyle added, and they doubled over in laughter again.
The clerk walked away in disgust. Kyle watched him. “We just made another friend.” He walked toward the reptiles and stopped to stare into the large glassed off area that contained rows of reptiles in their own separate glass fronted cages. Kyle was sober now. “He spent the most time over here.” He shook a little, and Shane refocused on him. Had his tremors increased? Usually now it was just in his hands unless he was agitated. But Kyle stared straight ahead into the glass. “Chameleons might not be too bad.”
“An iguana,” Shane said quietly. “He used to have one.”
Kyle and Scott both stared at Shane. “He never said that,” Kyle said. “He didn’t say that.”
“Yeah. He did,” Shane said, not bothering to argue. He kept his voice even and watched the large window to the left side that held the baby iguanas, a little larger than full grown chameleons.
“When? He wouldn’t tell you and not me.”
Shane glanced up.
“He’s with me all the time,” Kyle insisted. “I would know if he had one. He wouldn’t tell you first.”
Shane couldn’t believe it. Kyle was hurt. Shane glanced at Scott. He’d noticed it, too. “We were just talking,” he said, trying to take any significance out of it.
“He doesn’t just talk.”
“It just came up.”
“You never even see him without me. How could it just come up?”
“Yeah, I do. I… we paint, you know. Got those ceramic supplies. Just came up. Not important.”
Kyle focused on an iguana in the cage above the babies. It was a least three feet long. “A snake with legs.” He shivered again. “He doesn’t want one of those.”
“You’re afraid of snakes.” All this time, Shane had never known that.
“Yeah, well if you’d been bitten by a massasauga rattlesnake, you wouldn’t think they were so amusing.”
“You were…?” Scott began.
“Ian. He was only three. Almost died. I was trying to catch it. Didn’t know it was poisonous — would bite him.” Kyle stared straight at the iguana, not shifting his eyes to the right where the snakes lay. “Eli didn’t have an iguana.”
“In Venezuela for about four years. He had to leave it behind when he moved back.” Shane looked at Scott for support. “I’m sure he would probably love to have another. Could see it, the way he talked about it. He and his father raised it.” That won Scott, Shane could tell.
“Iguana’s aren’t snakes. And even snakes aren’t that bad. As long as you watch out for them. Caught my share of garter snakes.”
Kyle stared at Scott. “He’s not getting a snake.”
“No. The girls would go hyper. In fact, they’d probably hate an iguana.” He sighed. “It was a good idea though.”
“The girls might be able to tolerate the iguana,” Shane said as they walked away. “In fact, I say they can. It’s the only thing we can think of that he really wants.”
Scott opened his mouth, but Shane gave him a sharp look and motioned him toward the parrot as Kyle headed over to look at the few freshwater fish.
Shane pulled out the sheet Amber had given him and handed it to Scott. “It’ll be better if Kyle makes the decision without thinking I pushed him, so don’t let him see this yet.”
Scott grinned. “You’re positive this is what he wants. He told you?”
“He doesn’t know our plans, and you know he never says what he wants. I could just tell.”
Scott looked over and watched Kyle. “What should we do?”
“Give him one more night to make his decision. It has to stay in his room, and we can’t torture him if he really hates it.”
“And if he gives in, Eli will probably know how great his sacrifice is.”
“I’ll make sure he does,” Shane vowed.
Scott smiled. “You are the best man, Shane.”
Shane scowled. “No theatrics. You’re the best man.”
Kyle came back to them. “Let’s go home,” he said without meeting their eyes. He sounded weary, and when they arrived home, he went straight to bed.
The next day Shane met Kyle, Eli, and Scott at Leon Hammond’s office. He gave Amber a brief smile but didn’t want to embarrass her at work. She led them to the conference room, and they stood around the oval conference table. “Bert Thorton’s lawyer is Jim Friess. They should be here any time.”
Mr. Hammond came into the room and shook Scott’s and Kyle’s hand. He nodded at Eli, and then looked at Shane and smiled. “Are you the young accountant who gave Amber the diamond she’s wearing?”
Shane glanced at Amber as she closed the space between them. “Yes, Sir.”
Amber reached up to kiss Shane’s cheek, catching him off guard with her open display of affection. He wasn’t sure how to respond. He placed his left hand lightly on her back.
Mr. Hammond shook his free hand. “It’s good to finally meet you.”
Before he could respond, the receptionist opened the door and ushered in a tall, broad man followed by Bert and Carol Thorton. “I don’t understand,” Carol was saying. “Why are we here? Scott?” She glanced from one to the other, finally settling her gaze on Amber. “Amber. How nice to see you again.”
“Hi, Carol. May I bring you some tea or coffee before we begin?”
The confusion was evident on Carol’s face, and Shane realized Bert had not told his wife, just as he’d not been able to tell Dr. Rigel.
They all sat in the comfortable chairs around the table. Then Mr. Hammond introduced Jim Friess and told him everyone’s name, except Eli’s. Shane met Eli’s gaze as they sat. Eli gave a tentative smile. Shane smiled back unsure what Eli meant by the smile, but he wanted to make him feel included.
Mr. Hammond started the meeting. “We are here to draw up terms for restitution. My client has a list of current needs and then we’ll discuss long term plans.”
“You are aware of the money my client has already provided.”
Mr. Hammond glanced at his paper. “Five Thousand, one hundred dollars.”
Jim Friess shrugged. “I only have five thousand.”
“Probably missed that hundred Bert gave me for prescriptions,” Shane added helpfully.
“Yeah,” Bert agreed without meeting his gaze.
“Wait a minute,” Carol said. “What is going on? You’re not suing him, Shane. What reason could you possibly have to sue? This isn’t right.”
“I am not suing,” Shane said.
Amber gave Bert a look that Shane hoped she never gave him. It appeared to be pity mixed with annoyance. Then Amber focused on Carol. “I’m sorry, Carol. We assumed your husband informed you why your presence was mandatory. As his wife any agreement made here affects you, so you do have the right to make suggestions.”
“Suggestions? About what? I don’t understand.”
“Do you remember the night you had dinner with us? Remember Shane speaking about the Mercedes driver who almost killed Kyle?” She waited until Carol nodded. She was catching on now, Shane could see, because her eyes darted around the room in fear. “Your husband was high on morphine for pain, Carol. This could be a manslaughter trial or a criminal trial. Kyle has agreed not to file formal charges if we can work out a mutually beneficial arrangement here.”
Carol brought her hand to her face. She shook her head, briefly glancing at her husband. Then she rushed from the room.
Bert closed his eyes and leaned forward to put his head in his hands.
“Why didn’t you tell her already?” Jim Friess asked. “We’re wasting time with this today. I’ve got to be in court at three.”
Mr. Hammond glanced at his watch. “Amber.”
Amber slipped from the room.
They all sat and waited. Kyle watched Bert Thorton. Scott watched Bert, but then focused on Kyle beside him. He reached over and gripped Kyle’s shoulder. Kyle gave him a brief smile.
Eli watched Kyle but remained still.
“Did Kyle tell you I’ll be working late tonight,” Shane asked Eli quietly.
He knew all eyes went to him, but he focused only on Eli.
Eli shook his head.
“Plan to be home early tomorrow though. Maybe we’ll have a chance to work on those ornaments before you head to class.”
Eli hesitated and then nodded. “What time?”
Shane smiled. “Don’t plan dinner. We’ll order pizza.”
Kyle scowled. “Not now.”
“Yeah. Guess I’m holding everything up here,” Shane said with a grin.
Mr. Hammond’s mouth barely lifted at the corners. “Feel free to converse until Amber returns with Mrs. Thorton.”
Scott studied Bert. “How’s your back?”
Bert raised his eyes. “Not too bad today. Had a block yesterday.”
“That’s why you weren’t around.”
“And Monday?” Bert asked.
“I had a meeting that ran through lunch.”
Scott glanced at Eli. “Let’s plan for Friday. I’m tied up tomorrow.”
“Wait a minute,” Jim Friess said. “I thought I advised you no contact except through me.”
Kyle smirked. Shane grinned.
“But it’s okay,” Scott said. “We’ve agreed not to talk about the accident or Kyle.”
“Well if we’re all just one big happy family here, we can get this over with now. My client is sorry. It’s a mistake he won’t repeat. I have a form here for your signature….” He began to hand it to Scott, but Mr. Hammond snatched it. Glancing over it, he passed it back to Jim Friess. “Neither Scott Alexander nor Kyle Sloan will sign that.”
“If all is forgiven and no harm is done….”
“No harm!” Kyle stood and slammed his hand down on the table. “No harm! If that’s what you call permanent disability these days, I’ll sue you into the ground and make sure you’re kicked out of the hospital. I’ll… I’ll….” His jerking increased.
Eli stood, and reached out to steady Kyle. “Come,” he said quietly. “Shane will make sure they know. Come.” Kyle’s jerking only increased as Eli attempted to lead him from the room. But then they were through the door and gone.
Mr. Hammond’s gaze was stern. “I believe the report I sent over outlined my client’s permanent disability, the forced change in career focus, even the uncertainty of a future career. Let’s not play games. You do, and I will recommend my client sue.”
Bert looked sick.
Jim quickly dissembled. “He looked fine. I assumed that it was an outdated report. Recoveries happen. My client shouldn’t be forced for more if he’s recovered.”
Amber and Carol Thorton reentered the room. Carol sat beside her husband but didn’t look at him. Amber sat between her and Shane. Eli and Kyle reentered. Kyle seemed weaker now. Shane wondered if he’d had a full-blown seizure or just worn himself out with the anger.
“Are we ready to begin?” Mr. Hammond asked, glancing first to Carol Thorton, who nodded, and then to Kyle.
Kyle barely lifted his head. Eli kept a hand on his arm.
“What are the immediate demands?” Jim asked, subdued.
“Student loans repaid, a monthly living allowance, any medical expenses not met by insurance, any new retraining/educational expenses, and wages for a full time assistant.” He passed a paper to Jim.
Jim read it and passed it to Bert.
“What about a job?” Bert asked. “That’s one of the things we’ve already agreed on.”
“Dr. Rigel….” Kyle motioned a shaky hand to Eli.
“Dr. Rigel offered a position to help Kyle determine what options are still available to him in medicine.”
“Dr. Rigel? But that’s not her place. She can’t do that.”
“Why can’t she?” Mr. Hammond asked. “Is this doctor misrepresenting herself to my client?”
“Dr. Rigel?” Bert shook his head. “She shouldn’t take that risk.”
“Told her that,” Kyle said weakly.
Carol picked up the paper Bert had set down. She bit her lips, already red against her drawn, white face. “Can we postpone this for a few days? I… I need time to… go over my options.”
“I understand your shock, Mrs. Thorton. Your husband should have been up front with you. I assure you my clients have been very modest in their demands. They do not wish to harm you unnecessarily.”
Carol glanced at Amber and then to Kyle before focusing on the paper.
“We can meet again next week at this same time,” Mr. Hammond said in the same gentle voice.
After the Thortons and Jim Friess left, Mr. Hammond addressed them. “Don’t be surprised if we must reschedule next week’s meeting. Unless I miss my guess, Carol Thorton is planning divorce, hoping it will protect a share of his money. It won’t. It’s too late, but it will complicate things.”
Scott groaned. “He said she would. It’s what he was afraid of.”
Mr. Hammond’s eyebrows rose. “I would have more sympathy if he’d faced her like a man. Don’t let his problems cloud your first concern.” He nodded toward Kyle whose eyes were now closed.
“Did he have a seizure?” Scott asked quietly.
Kyle jerked and opened his eyes. “I’m okay,” he mumbled.
“Not quite. But he needs rest.”
Mr. Hammond nodded. “See you next week.”
Eli helped Kyle to his feet and let him grip his arm as they left the room. Scott followed them out.
Amber stopped Shane. “The party is tomorrow at noon?”
Shane adjusted his mood. “Yeah.”
“Get the lizard yet?”
“Not yet. Kyle’s afraid of them. Might not.”
“Afraid of them?” Amber started to laugh but stopped when Shane didn’t. “You’re serious? I thought all guys liked reptiles.”
“Traumatic experience as a kid, but I’m hoping he’s able to put in into perspective.”
“Kind of like a good friend of mine?” Amber asked. They were alone now, and she stepped closer so that her body touched the length of him.
“Kind of,” Shane said before accepting the invitation to kiss her beautiful lips. “Is this… how you comfort… most clients?”
She pinched his sides, tickling him.
He jumped back and grinned. “Love you, Ms. Paralegal.”
“Soon to be Mrs. Shane-the-accountant.”
He kissed her again before backing away. “We both better get back to work before I lock that door and find a creative use for that table.”
“I don’t call that very creative thinking on your part. Sounds very typically male to me.” She kissed his cheek and then opened the conference room door. “See you tomorrow with the cake.”
Go to Chapter 25
© 2014, 1999 by Deborah K. Lauro. You may make one copy for personal use. To share, please direct friends to this website.