Chapter 27
I was beat when I got home. Shade and I sat in the car and talked a few
minutes before I got out and went inside. He was becoming more stressed out
than Megan, and I didn’t think that was possible.

I offered for him to come inside, and I jokingly told him that Dr. Feel Good
would cure his stress. I almost did it in the car, but I was afraid someone would
see us. After a quick kiss, I went inside.

Curtis and Lane were alone in the family room. They were on the sofa, and Lane
was curled up with his head in Curtis’s lap. Curtis was gently running his hand
over his hair.

I carefully sat down so I wouldn’t awaken Lane. He moved slightly and stretched
out. I put his feet in my lap and gently rubbed them. I looked over when Curtis
said softly, “I forgot how nice this was.” He looked down at Lane as he
continued to sleep. “When he was real little, he would curl up and go to sleep
almost every night like this.” Lane nestled closer into his brother’s lap. “He loves
this,” he said softly as he ran his hand over Lane’s head.

I almost started to cry. I had never seen the soft side of Curtis. He was actually
being gentle with Lane. Normally, he ignored him and treated him
condescendingly. I continued to rub his feet and said, “He’s a great little guy.”

“He’s exhausted,” he replied. “He’s working so hard on the play. I watched him
on stage when I did my homework. He’s really good.”

“I was worried when I volunteered him for the part,” I confessed. “But I should
have known he would be able to handle it.”

“Yeah,” replied Curtis as he ran his hand over Lane’s head. Lane stirred and
almost seemed to purr. “He’s a great little guy.”

We silently watched Sports Center for a few minutes. Finally, I asked him, “Did
you want me to help you with your English assignment?”

“Naw,” he replied. “We can do it tomorrow after school. Okay?”

I nodded and replied, “Yeah, sure.” I grinned and jokingly said, “If you can keep
your eyes off the stage long enough.”

He laughed and said, “It’s interesting to watch. I always hated those shitty
songs they sing in musicals, but it’s not too bad once you get used to it.”

I teased him, “You sure it’s not some blonde you’re interested in?”

His face reddened as he tried to deny it. “No,” he insisted. “I mean Joshua is
cute and all, but...”

“But what?” I asked. “Is he too gay?”

He shook his head, “You’ll get mad if I say it.”

“No, I won’t,” I replied. “I know you’ve got a reputation to protect.” He didn’t
say anything, and we sat quietly watching television for about ten minutes.

I looked over when Curtis cleared his throat. His face reddened as he asked,
“So, do you think he would like me?”

“Who?”

“Joshua,” he replied nervously.

I laughed and asked, “Are you being serious?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I mean I’ve always been attracted to
smaller guys. That’s why I like Pip.” He looked down to make sure Lane was still
asleep. His face reddened again when he added, “It would be great to just sit
like this with someone.”

I suggested, “Then why don’t you ask him out?”

He shook his head. “I couldn’t do that, and you know it.”

“Your reputation?”

He frowned and said, “I know that makes me sound like a piece of shit, but it’s
not easy for guys like me. Theater guys, it’s easy. Everyone in school knows
you guys are gay.”

“What!” I started to get louder, but Lane stirred slightly. I whispered. “We’re
not all gay. A lot of the theater guys are straight. In fact, most of them are.”

Curtis acted surprised. “Really?”

I was getting a little irritated with his stereotypes. “So I guess all athletes are
straight?”

“Well, yeah,” he replied. Then he thought, “Well, maybe Mike is gay.”

“What about you and Pip?”

“We ain’t gay,” he insisted. “We’re...”

“Bi?” I interrupted. “But don’t that also make you gay? You’re sitting here now
talking about wanting to ask Joshua out, but you’re afraid how others might
react.”

He ran his hands over his head “You’re confusing me again. I don’t want to be
gay.”

“What’s so wrong with it?” I asked. “You just said you thought it would be nice
to sit here with a guy’s head in your lap.” I looked down as he ran his hand over
Lane’s head.

“It would,” he admitted. He looked over at me. “So I’m sitting here like this with,
say Joshua, and Mom comes into the room. What do you think she would say?”

“She probably wouldn’t say anything.”

“What!” he responded excitedly. “You don’t think she’d get upset?”

I didn’t want to tell him that his mother already suspected he might be gay. I
wasn’t sure how he would handle that, so I had to be careful. “Look, Curtis.  
She’s your mother. Why would she be upset? She knows I’m gay, and she’s
cool with it.”

He shrugged his shoulders. “Because.”

I laughed. “That’s your only answer, because?”

“Okay,” he replied. “She might be disappointed if she knows.”

“Isn’t she already disappointed in you? Just yesterday you were ready to run
away.”

Just then, Lane stirred and stretched. He mumbled, “I think you should.”

I glanced over at Curtis, and he looked like he had seen a ghost. He asked
nervously, “Should what?”

Lane muttered sleepily, “Tell Mom you like boys.” Curtis glanced worriedly at me.
Lane shifted on the sofa. “But don’t like Joshua. I don’t like him. He’s stuck on
stupid.” He giggled and closed his eyes.

“Shit,” hissed Curtis. “He heard what we were talking about. I thought he was
asleep. What if he tells Mom what he heard?”

Lane muttered softly, “Men don’t tell when they make the white stuff come out.”

Curtis gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What’s that mean?”

I laughed, gently rubbed Lane’s feet and replied, “It means he won’t say
anything.”

We sat quietly for about a half hour watching television. Curtis seemed too
nervous to speak. I think he was afraid Lane would out him to his mother.
However, I trusted Lane. Besides, I wasn’t sure how much he would remember
when he woke up. He may have thought he was dreaming. Looking at Curtis,
though, I wasn’t sure he felt as certain as I did.

When Curtis got off the couch and said he was going to his room, I gently
picked Lane up and carried him to his bed. He barely woke up when I undressed
him, put on his pajamas and tucked him into bed. As I was leaving, Karen came
in and asked if he was all right. I told her he was tired. She walked over and
kissed him on his forehead. After kissing me on my cheek, I went downstairs,
took a shower and climbed into bed. Within seconds of my head hitting the
pillow, I was fast asleep.

Curtis showed up again after school. He took a seat in the back row and I
managed to break away a few times to help him. I was surprised when I went
back to check on him to find Joshua sitting in the seat next to him. Their
shoulders were pressed together as Joshua leaned over to help him with a
physics problem. Curtis looked up and his face blushed a bright red.

He stammered nervously, “Joshua came back to help me. He takes physics,
too.” Joshua looked up and grinned.

“Well,” I said as I turned. “I’ll leave you two alone.” Joshua whispered something
to Curtis, and they both started to laugh.

When I went backstage, Rodney was following Megan around like a puppy. He
kept asking if there was anything he could do, but she was too busy to
respond. When he saw me, he walked over and threw his arm around my
shoulder. “We need to talk,” he said as he pulled me over to the side of the
stage.

I asked, “What’s up?”

He walked over to the curtain and pulled it back slightly. When I walked over, he
pointed out towards Curtis and Joshua. “What’s going on back there?”

I shrugged my shoulders and answered innocently, “I guess Joshua is helping
Curtis with his homework assignment.”

“I don’t know,” replied Rodney skeptically. “Looks kind of weird.” I looked out
and saw them laughing about something Curtis had said. “I mean, Joshua don’t
seem like Curtis’s kind of guy.”

I stared over at him. I wasn’t sure he meant what he was saying, so I had to be
careful what I said. “What’s that supposed to mean? A gay guy can’t help him
with his homework?”

“No,” he insisted as he looked out at them again. Joshua was pressed closely to
Curtis’s shoulder as he reached over and pointed to his lap. I wasn’t sure if they
were looking at a problem out of the book, or if Joshua was pointing to Curtis’s
crotch. “Curtis don’t usually like girly boys.”

I was still confused by what Rodney was trying to say. Perhaps, he was
suggesting that Curtis was homophobic and didn’t like gay boys. I said
innocently, “He does need tutoring. Maybe he doesn’t care who is helping him.”

“No,” responded Rodney as he pulled back the curtain again. “I think they have
a thing for each other. I just can’t see Curtis liking a feminine boy. Usually he
likes rugged athletes.”

It was becoming clearer that Rodney knew Curtis was gay. However, I still didn’t
want to out Curtis in case Rodney was talking about Curtis’s friendships. “What
are you talking about?”

Rodney turned to me. “Oh, come on, Casey. Can’t you see that Curtis is gay?”

“What?” I asked excitedly. “How do you know? He didn’t tell me he told you.”

Rodney gave me a surprised look. “So he’s told you? He hasn’t even told me
yet.”

I started to get worried because I thought I just outed Curtis. Seeing my
concern, Rodney grabbed my arm. “No, it’s okay,” he assured me. “I’ve known
for a few years. I was just waiting for him to tell me.”

“How do you know?”

He laughed. “You don’t sleep four feet away from someone and not know. I
knew when he was about thirteen him and Mike messed around. I’d go into the
bedroom, and they would be wrestling around on the bed. Both of them would
be hard as a brick.”

“You knew and you didn’t say anything? Why?”

“Wasn’t my business,” he replied. “Besides, a lot of guys play around like that
when they are young. I just thought he would outgrow it. But when he started
messing around with Pip, then I figured he was probably gay.”

I asked excitedly, “You know about Pip?”

He gave me a puzzled look. “You know about Pip? Did he tell you about him,
too?”

I shook my head and replied nervously, “No.” I didn’t want to tell him about
finding Pip and his brother in the shower.

Rodney shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t matter.” He pulled back the curtain
again. It appeared that Joshua might be playing with Curtis’s cock. He was
intently staring down at his lap, and his hand appeared to be moving slightly.
Curtis was looking around to make sure no one was noticing. He didn’t see us
peeking behind the curtain.

“Damn,” hissed Rodney. “I wish it was someone other than Joshua, though. He’
s such a douche. Megan can’t stand him.”

He put his arm around my shoulder and walked me away from the curtain. “Just
don’t say anything, okay?” he asked as we moved across the stage. “I want him
to tell me on his own terms.”

I laughed and said, “If they keep messing around in the back row like that, he
won’t have to tell you. Someone’s going to catch them.”

“Yeah,” he replied worriedly. He stopped and turned.

I asked, “Where you going?”

He grinned and replied, “I better go break them two love birds up. They’ll be
fucking in the back row if I don’t.” I laughed as he dashed off across the stage.

I went later to check to see if Curtis needed any help with his homework.
Rodney was again following Megan around, and Joshua was on stage rehearsing
his lines with Max. Curtis seemed nervous when I sat down.

“I think Rodney knows,” he whispered as he looked around to make sure no one
was around.

“Knows what?”

“He knows I mess around,” he replied.

I looked him in his eyes and said, “You really can’t say it, can you?”

“Say what?”

“That you’re gay.”

He shook his head. “Man, Casey,” he said sadly. “I just don’t want that label.
Someday I want to marry and have kids.

I asked, “And do what? Mess around with men behind her back?”

“No,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t do that. I’d be loyal.”

I shook my head and responded, “Okay, Curtis. If you say so.”

He grabbed my arm. “You don’t think I could do that?”

I shook my head again. “I don’t know,” I replied. “I don’t think I’ve ever met
anyone who is like that. All I know is what I read in the news. There’s a lot of
married guys who get busted all the time messing with other guys. It’s not
something you can keep secret forever.”

“But I can,” he insisted.

I laughed slightly. “You can’t even keep it a secret now. I know, and you just
said Rodney knows.” And before I could catch myself, I added, “And your
mother knows.”

He shouted, “What!” He quickly looked around the auditorium to see if anyone
had heard him. He lowered his voice and asked, “How do you know Mom knows?”

I didn’t know what to say. I had spoken before I thought. However, there was
no use in trying to make up a lie, so I figured honesty would be the best route.
“We kinda had a talk.”

“And?” he asked nervously.

“She didn’t exactly say you was gay,” I replied, “But she kinda wondered if you
might be.”

He ran his hand over his head. “Oh, Man,” he moaned. “Mom thinks I’m gay?”

I reached out and grabbed his arm. “Why don’t you talk to her? She might
understand more than you think.”

“I don’t know, Casey,” he said. “What would I tell her?”

Just then, Joshua stepped onto the stage and began singing one of his songs
from the play. Curtis stopped talking and listened to him sing. I could tell from
the expression his Curtis’s face that he was interested in Joshua.

When Joshua finished, I looked at Curtis and asked, “Besides, what will you tell
your mom when you start dating Joshua?”

He slid down in his seat and muttered, “I’m fucked.” I patted his arm, rose from
my seat and headed backstage to find Shade.

Shade and I were leaving school around eight. Rehearsals were over, and Curtis
and Lane left with Rodney and Megan. We were heading to Shade’s car when my
cell phone rang. It was Dad.

He asked, “Where are you?” I told him we were on our way home.

“Can you stop by the diner?”

I glanced over and gave Shade a puzzled look. “I guess. Why?”

He didn’t give me a reason. “Good,” he said. “See you in a few minutes.”

When I told Shade we were to stop by the diner, he couldn’t understand why
my father would be there. As far as I knew, he had never met Shade’s mother.
Also, the diner didn’t seem like the place Dad would take clients to dinner.

When we arrived, only my father’s car was in the parking lot. All the lights were
out except the ones that glowed from the kitchen. I thought the door would be
locked, but it wasn’t.

After entering, I jumped when Shade hollered out, “Daddy!” He ran across the
diner and jumped into the arms of a large man standing beside my father.
Shade’s mother came out from behind the counter. Shade, his father and
mother stood in the aisle, hugging each other and crying loudly.

“Daddy!” cried Shade as he buried his head into his father’s chest. I was
overcome with emotion, and tears started to fall down my cheeks. My father
approached and put his arm around me. He, too, had tears in his eyes.

Shade and his father hugged and cried for several minutes. They hardly spoke
as they clutched tightly to each other. Shade looked over at me and motioned
for me to approach. He took my hand and pulled me toward his father. “Daddy,”
said Shade. “This is Casey.”

He held out his arms and embraced me. “Casey,” he whispered softly into my
ear. “I’m so glad to finally meet you.” He hugged me again as Shade squeezed
my hand. I looked over at my father, and he was smiling proudly.

After another few minutes of hugs, I asked my father, “How did you do it?” He
pointed to a table and told me to have a seat. Shade sat next to me and
gripped my hand. Mr. Shade noticed, but he didn’t say anything.

My father explained as he looked at Shade’s father and smiled, “I’m going to try
and make this brief.” I nodded my head and he continued. “After you told me
about Arlen’s incarceration,” he looked at Mr. Shade and smiled, “I had my team
of attorney’s investigate to see if there was anything that could be done.” Mrs.
Shade leaned over and gently kissed her husband.

“They set up an appointment with the DA,” he went on to explain. “He’s not the
same one that dealt with the original case. Anyway, he was most cooperative
and opened up the file case to my guys.”

I asked, “What happened then?”

He looked over at Shade’s father. “His case was mishandled from the
beginning,” said my father angrily. “The DA wanted a murder conviction from the
beginning. He was considering running for state attorney general, and there was
too much publicity with the case. He didn’t want an opponent to accuse him of
being too soft on crime.” He looked over at Shade and shook his head. “He
threatened that he would drag you into court and make you testify what
happened that night.”

My father gripped Mr. Shade’s arm. “Arlen was never given a fair trial. He was
denied due process.” He squeezed Mr. Shade’s arm again. “He wasn’t offered a
lesser plea deal.” Dad looked at Shade and smiled. “He was thinking about how
much a trial would affect you. He had an inexperienced public defender that the
DA was able to control and get a murder two plea deal.” My father shook his
head sadly. “The current DA said this should never have been a murder two. At
best, maybe a voluntary manslaughter.”

He smiled at Mr. Shade. “My lawyers discussed the case with a criminal defense
attorney. He wrote an appeal, and the DA presented it to a judge last week. The
court agreed to reduce the conviction from murder to manslaughter; and with
time served, released Arlen just a few hours ago.” He smiled and said, “I
personally picked him up and brought him here. Even Penny didn’t know what
was going on.”

She laughed, kissed Shade’s father on the cheek and said, “I almost pissed my
panties when he walked through the door.” Mr. Shade wrapped his arm around
her and held her tightly.

“You’ll be coming out of them soon anyway,” he joked.

“Ew!” squealed Shade as he covered his eyes. “I don’t even want to think about
that.” His parents laughed at his embarrassment.

His dad laughed and added, “Just how do you think you got here?”

Shade gave him an innocent grin and replied, “Mom found me in a cabbage
patch.” He looked over at her and added, “That’s what she’s always told me.”

She patted his hand and said, “That’s right, Honey.” She rose from the table
and returned a few minutes later with mugs of hot coffee, plates and an apple
pie. We spent the next half hour talking. Shade told his father how he was
doing in school and about the play we were working on.

At one point, my father asked Mr. Shade what his plans were. Dad told him that
he could perhaps find work for him in one of his offices.

“No,” insisted Penny as she gripped her husband’s hand. She looked around the
diner and said, “Carl has been wanting to sell this place for two or three years.
With the money I’ve got saved up, I think we’ll buy it and run it ourselves.” She
looked over at her husband and asked, “What do you think?”

He kissed her and replied, “I think that’s a wonderful idea. I worked in the
kitchen at the prison, so I learned how to cook for a lot of people.”

Penny laughed and stated, “I don’t think we have to worry about a lot of people.
We have a quite a few regulars come in. All they want is a good sandwich and a
hot cup of coffee.”

Mr. Shade smiled and said, “I think I can handle that, then.” He again kissed
Penny on the cheek.

My father stretched and announced, “It’s been a long day.” He looked over at
me and asked, “You ready to go home, Casey?”

“Sure, Dad,” I replied.

Shade gripped my hand and looked over at my dad. “Can I stay with you
tonight, Mr. Crawford?”

“Sure, Son,” he replied, “But why? Don’t you want to spend the night with your
father?”

Shade’s face reddened as he said, “I think him and Mom plan to spend the night
together.” He looked over at them as his faced turned a redder shade. “Our
walls are awfully thin, and I don’t want to hear them.”

His father sat back in his seat and roared with laughter. “Son,” he said as he
hugged Penny tightly. “I’ve been away from this pretty little woman for eleven
years.” He kissed her on the cheek. “We have a lot of making up to do.”

“Ew!” squealed Shade. “That’s too much information!”

We rose, and after several minutes of more hugs, Shade and I headed home.
As he drove, I kept glancing over at him. I had never seen Shade happier.

After arriving home, I asked Shade to go to my room while I talked to my father
in the foyer. After he descended the stairs, I hugged my father tightly. “Thanks,
Dad,” I said softly in his ear. “That was a nice thing you did.” I squeezed him
tighter.

He pulled away and smiled. Both our eyes were filled with tears. “Thank you,
Son.”

After another quick hug, I wiped the tears from my face and headed downstairs
to spend the night with Shade.


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                                   Chapter 28       Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
 Before a Storm
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