Chapter 17
Coach Wentworth and I joked about me playing baseball. He still thought I was
athletic, but I told him I usually fall asleep watching sports on ESPN. As we
drove, I asked him, “What is wrong with Curtis?”

He gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What do you mean?”

“I don’t know,” I replied. “It’s like he has hated me since I came here.”

Coach thought a minute and then said, “I’m not sure he hates you as much as
he’s threatened by you.”

“Threatened by me?”

“You see, Casey,” he replied. “Curtis is an alpha male.”

“Alpha male?”

Coach laughed and said, “He wants to be the top dog. When you came along,
he felt threatened.”

“Why would he be threatened by me?”

Coach glanced over and laughed. “Are you serious? Have you looked in a mirror
lately?”

“Yeah, why?”

When we came to a light, he turned to me and said, “You’re everything Curtis
wants to be.”

“I don’t get it,” I replied. “He’s a star athlete. Guys admire him.”

“And that’s his problem,” explained Coach. “Guys admire him.” He laughed and
added, “Girls think he’s rude and boorish. He usually dates a girl long enough
for her to find out what he’s really like.”

“But what’s that got to do with me?”

“He saw how Melissa and the other girls flocked around you as soon as you
walked into the school,” he explained. “I’ve talked to Rodney about you. He
thinks you’re a great guy. He says his little brother worships the ground you
walk on.”

“I still don’t get why this means anything to Curtis,” I replied.

The car behind us blew his horn when Coach didn’t move when the light
changed. After we drove off, he proceeded to talk. “Curtis has followed in his
brother’s footsteps all his life. He thinks he has to prove he’s just as good or
better than Rodney. Now you enter the picture, and he thinks he has another
challenge.”

“I’m no one special,” I replied.

He quickly glanced over at me. “I know you came here with low esteem.” I
started to object, but I realized he was probably right.

“But under that cold exterior is a really great guy. Members of the baseball team
were eager to have you play. When that thing with Mike blew up, most sided
with you, and they’ve known Mike all their lives. They grew up together.”

I asked, “So Curtis hates me because he thinks I’m better than him?”

“No,” replied the coach. “He thinks you’re a better man than him.”

“I don’t get it. It sounds the same to me.”

“Think about it,” he replied. “You’ll understand it when Curtis never would.”  I
gave him a puzzled look, but I said nothing. Soon, we were pulling into the
driveway of my home.

Shade’s car was still parked outside. “I guess he waited for you,” remarked
Coach as he looked over and smiled.

“Looks like it,” I replied as I got out of the car.

“Casey?”

“Yeah, Coach?” I asked as I leaned down and looked at him.

He smiled and said, “Good luck.” I shut the door and he pulled away.

When I entered the house, I heard laughter coming from Lane’s room. I peeked
in, and he and Shade were playing a video game. Suddenly, Lane jumped up
triumphantly and exclaimed, “I won!”

“I’ll get you the next time,” remarked Shade. He looked over and smiled when he
saw me in the doorway. Lane noticed me, ran over and hugged me.

He said excitedly, “I beat him, Casey.”

He giggled when I leaned down and pinched his cheek. “Good for you, Little
Brother.”

Shade stood and stretched. When he did, his belly was exposed. I stared at the
happy trail that led to his belly button. He noticed me looking, and he quickly
pulled his shirt down.

He announced, “I’ve got to be going. I waited around until you got home.” I
nodded when he asked me if everything was all right.

Lane rushed over and gripped his hand. “I don’t want you to go.”

I asked him, “Do you have to work tonight?”

Shade shook his head. “No. It’s one of my night’s off.”

“Why don’t you stay for dinner?”

Lane said excitedly, “Yeah, stay. You can help me and Casey fix dinner.”

Shade teased him by asking, “I get a night off, and you want to put me to
work?”

“No,” replied Lane apologetically. “Me and Casey have fun when we make dinner.
You can stay and have fun with us.”

Shade looked at me to see my reaction. When I nodded, he smiled and told
Lane, “Okay, but just don’t make me work too hard.”

“I won’t,” Lane assured him. “You can slice the tomatoes.” He grabbed  Shade’s
hand and pulled him from the room.

We went into the kitchen and rooted around the shelves and refrigerator to see
what we could prepare. Shade’s eyes lit up when he noticed some soft taco
shells in the freezer. “Do you have any hamburger?”

I looked into the meat compartment, pulled out a pack of ground beef and
showed it to him. “Great,” he exclaimed. He looked at Lane and smiled, “How
about tacos for dinner?”

“Tacos!” squealed Lane. “I love tacos.”

I laughed and said, “I thought you love spaghetti?”

Shade and I laughed as he rubbed his stomach and said, “I love tacos, too.”

I stood back and watched as Shade explained to Lane how to make tacos. For a
brief second, I felt a little jealous because Lane seemed to forget that I was
even in the room. However, Lane was happy working with Shade, and that was
all that mattered.

Shade watched carefully as he had Lane dice the tomatoes. When he finished,
he smiled at me and said, “I did it, Casey.” When he then ran over and hugged
me tightly, my feelings of jealousy melted away.

Karen was excited when she came home, and I introduced her to Shade. She
told him she couldn’t wait to see Lane perform in the play. Lane stood and
smiled as he basked in the praise. “He’s going to be wonderful,” remarked
Shade as he put his arm around Lane and pulled him into a tight hug. “He’s
going to make a great Kurt.”

Lane looked up and asked, “Who’s Kurt?” I realized that no one had really
explained to Lane what he would actually be doing on stage. I led him over to
the sofa and sat beside him. Karen and Shade sat, and we spent the next few
minutes describing what his role in the play would be.

He smiled and responded, “Cool. I can do that.”

I ruffled his hair and said, “I know you can.”

He grinned and asked, “You want to hear me sing now?”

“I would love to hear you sing,” replied Karen. Soon, the four of us were belting
out a very spirited version of do-re-mi.

Rodney and Curtis arrived home before my father. They said that basketball
practice had been cancelled. I wondered if Mike’s suspension had anything to do
with it. Coach Wentworth had already suspended him from the baseball team. I
assumed that the basketball coach had also removed him.

When my father arrived, he changed clothes and then joined us in the dining
room. Karen went to Rodney and Curtis’s room and told them to join us, too. I
was surprised that Curtis didn’t object. They sat down while Shade, Lane and I
prepared plates for them. Since we couldn’t find anything suitable to serve with
the tacos, Shade had prepared fried rice. My father joked that it was the first
time he had eaten a Spanish and Asian meal before.

Most of the dinner conversation involved Lane’s participation in the play. As
usual, Curtis seemed disinterested except when we mentioned Megan. He kept
asking, “What does she look like?”

He seemed more interested when Lane told him, “She’s pretty.”

After dinner, everyone disappeared to their rooms, leaving Shade, Lane and me
to clean up. I cleaned off the table, handed the dishes to Lane to rinse off, and
he then handed them to Shade to put in the dishwasher. When we finished, we
went down to the family room.

Shade insisted that he should get home, but Lane whined that he wanted him
to stay. “Okay,” said Shade, “but only for a little while.”

We watched the movie, Happy Feet, on HBO. We were sitting on the sofa with
Lane in the middle. He continuously positioned himself so he could rest his head
on both our shoulders. Shade didn’t seem to object at all. In fact, a few times
he put his arm around Lane and held him. Again, I felt a bit of jealousy because
I wanted his arm around me.

Occasionally, we would glance at each other and smile. I knew that I was
developing strong feelings for Shade, but I didn’t know if he was feeling the
same way. Even though I was ninety-nine per cent sure he was gay, I was afraid
to make the first move. He still hadn’t said anything to assure me that he was.

When the movie ended, he stood and said he had to go home. Lane had fallen
asleep with his head on my shoulder, so he didn’t object. After giving us both a
hug, Lane headed wearily to his room to go to bed.

After Lane left, we stood and stared at each other. “I had fun,” he said with a
smile.

“I did too,” I replied nervously. I didn’t know if he expected me to give him a
hug as Lane had done.

“Well,” he muttered as he fidgeted nervously before me. “I guess I should go
home.”

“Yeah,” I replied nervously as well. “It’s been fun.”

“Yeah,” he said. He stared into my eyes for a few seconds. I could tell he felt as
awkward as I did. Finally, he sighed and said, “Well, I guess I better go.”

“Yeah,” I said disappointedly. I was mad at myself because I wanted to say
more, but the words wouldn’t come out.

I followed him to the front door. He turned and said, “I guess I’ll see you in
school tomorrow then.”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied. He sighed again, turned and headed to his car. I waited
until he started to pull away. I waved at him, but he didn’t look up.

I watched a little television in the family room with Rodney. Everyone else was in
their bedrooms. I should say he was watching a Miami Heat and Indiana Pacers
game. I think I feel asleep during the second quarter.

I was awakened when he asked, “Can you help me with a physics assignment?”

I opened my eyes. “I thought you were watching the game.”

“I can watch it while I work,” he replied. I interpreted that to mean that I would
do the assignment while he watched the game.

“Yeah, sure,” I said. “What do you need help with?”

“Hold on,” he said as he jumped from the sofa and went upstairs to his room. A
minute later, he returned with his book and a notebook binder. He sat beside
me and opened a class syllabus. “Here it is,” he said as he opened his book and
pointed to a page with questions on it.

I scanned it quickly. “I had the same homework assignment,” I said. After going
to my room and getting my notebook, I sat back down and handed it to him.

“Can I copy it?” he asked after seeing that I had completed the questions.

“Sure,” I replied, “Why not.”

It surprised me when he handed the notebook back. “Maybe you better show
me how you did it,” he said. “If I copy the assignment, it won’t do me any good
when we have a test over the material.

His comment surprised me. Anyone else would have just copied the assignment,
and then they would have found a way to cheat on the test. He scooted closer
to me, and we spent the next half hour going over the material. I could
immediately understand why he was having trouble in the class. He was
completely lost in understanding the material. I was afraid there was no way I
could possible make him understand.

Suddenly, he muttered, “Shit! This is hard. I’ll never get it.”

“You can’t expect to get it in one night,” I reminded him.

“Yeah,” he said, “but I’ve been in class all year, and I still don’t understand this
shit.”

“You’re not stupid,” I said.

“That’s not what Snowden said,” he replied. “I’m going to fail his class, and then
I won’t be eligible to play baseball.”

He gave me a puzzled look when I closed the book and asked, “Do you need
this class to graduate?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno,” he said. “Mrs. Moore signed me up for it,
so I guess I need it.”

I asked, “Are you going to college?”

“Yeah, sure,” he replied. “I already got a scholarship for next year to play
baseball.” He looked down at the book. “That’s why I gotta pass this class.”

“But do you need it to graduate?”

He asked, “What do you mean?”

I replied, “From what I understand, you don’t need some classes for graduation.
They just put you in them to fill your schedule.”

He picked up the book and tossed it back down on the sofa. “You mean I don’t
need to take this shit?”

“I’m not saying that,” I replied. “Talk to Mrs. Moore tomorrow. Maybe she can
change your schedule. She changed mine when I asked her to.”

Rodney’s eyes lit up. “Dude,” he said excitedly. “If she tells me I don’t have to
take physics, I’m going to give you a big wet kiss.” He laughed, reached over,
grabbed my shoulders and tried to plant a kiss on my cheek. I laughed loudly
and pushed him away.

“I’ll just take a thanks,” I replied with a smile.

Just then, Curtis came bounding down the stairs. He suddenly stopped when he
saw us sitting closely together on the couch.

He plopped down in my father’s recliner and muttered angrily, “What’s he doing,
turning you into a fag now?”

Rodney jumped from the sofa, grabbed Curtis’s football jersey and yanked him
to his feet. “I’ve had it with you, Mother Fucker,” he yelled angrily into his
brother’s face. “It’s time I whooped your sorry ass.” When he drew back his fist
to hit Curtis in the face, I ran over and grabbed his arm.

“Don’t Rodney!” I shouted. I glanced at the terrified look on Curtis’s face. He
closed his eyes, cringed and waited for the blow.

Rodney dropped his fist and pushed Curtis back into the recliner. He looked
down at Curtis and shouted, “You sorry piece of shit. It’s time you grew up and
quit acting like an asshole.” He kicked Curtis in the shin before storming off to
his bedroom.

Curtis looked visibly shaken. I think it was the first time that Rodney had ever
threatened him. He jumped when he heard Rodney slam their bedroom door
upstairs. I returned to the sofa and sat down. I expected Curtis to get up and
leave, but he didn’t. Instead, he sat for about an hour watching the second half
of the basketball game on television. He remained quiet, but I noticed him stare
at me several times out of the corner of my eye.

He didn’t say anything when he got up to go upstairs. It sounded like he
stopped by the kitchen to get a snack before going to his room. I listened to
hear if he and Rodney would get into another confrontation, but it didn’t appear
as they did.

I got up, turned off the television and headed to my room. After taking a
shower, I lie down and fell fast asleep.

                                                 * * * * * *

At school the next day, I ate with Lane and his friends as I normally did. I kept
looking for Shade and Megan, but they didn’t come into the cafeteria.

When I entered the auditorium seventh period, I looked around for Shade, but I
didn’t see him. I searched behind the stage, but I couldn’t find him. I also didn’t
see Megan. I just assumed they hadn’t come to school.

I joined a few students who were building one of the backdrops. I mainly held
the plywood while Stephen, a young freshman, used a saw to cut out a
mountain. When he finished, another student, Charlotte, began to draw the
outlines for the mountain scenery. As she worked, I thought it looked like paint
by numbers that my mother used to do to relax on Saturday afternoons.

About half way through class, I was surprised to see Shade and Megan enter. I
stood to talk to Shade, but he brushed past me and began talking to Stephen.
When Megan walked over to me, she rolled her eyes.

I asked, “What was that for?”

She walked over to Shade’s drawings and started thumbing through them.
“Boys,” she muttered sarcastically. “I don’t know what God had in mind when he
created boys.”

I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “What are you talking about?”

She put her hands on her hips, started up at me and asked harshly, “Are you
deaf, blind or both?”

“What are you talking about?”

“Jesus, boys,” she muttered sarcastically again as she turned, took out a
drawing and examined it.

I took her gently by the shoulder and turned her so she was facing me. “What
is going on, Megan?” When she glanced over at Shade, I turned to look at him.
He was still engaged in a conversation with Stephen.

“You’re breaking his heart, Casey,” she replied as she looked into my eyes.

I asked, “Breaking whose heart?”

“Good God,” she moaned. “Deaf, blind and now dumb.”

I took her by the arm and led her out into the auditorium. When we reached the
back row, I sat down. She looked down, shook her head and sat beside me.

“Could you explain what is going on?”

She looked into my eyes and asked, “Do you like Shade?”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied. “He’s a great guy.” When Megan rolled her eyes, I asked,
“What?”

“Okay,” she said. “Let me ask this another way. Do you LIKE Shade?”

“I told you I...,” Suddenly, I understood what Megan was trying to tell me. She
smiled as she watched a light switch on in my head.

“So?” she asked again. “Do you LIKE Shade?”

Now I understood what was happening. Shade was avoiding me. That’s why he
didn’t join me at lunch, and it was also the reason for him brushing past me
earlier. He liked me. He had given me several clues the night before, but I was
too blind to notice them. Actually, I don’t know if I was blind, or just too afraid.
Other than Lane, I had pushed everyone else out of my life. I wasn’t even sure I
knew how to let someone back in.

My thoughts were interrupted when Megan asked abruptly, “Well, Casey?”

I smiled and replied, “Yes.”

She stood, grabbed my hand and pulled me to my feet. After patting me on my
butt, she gave me a slight push and said, “Then go tell him.”


                                              * * * * * * *

                                      
Chapter 18     Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
    Before a Storm
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