Birds Don't Sing
    Before a Storm
Chapter 4
I woke up when someone opened my door and walked in. I was going to get
upset until Lane drew back the sheet and grinned down at me. He announced
cheerfully, “Mom told me to come get you. You’re missing breakfast.”

I sat up and rubbed my eyes. “What time is it?”

“I don’t know,” he replied. “But if you want something to eat, you better get in
the kitchen before Rodney and Curtis eat everything.”

I told Lane, “I’m not hungry.” I had no sooner said the words when my stomach
let out a growl. Lane heard it and giggled.

“Liar,” he laughed. He grabbed my hand and attempted to pull me from the bed.
“Come on.”

I lifted off the bed and sat beside Lane. There was a noticeable bulge in my
underwear that didn’t go unnoticed. He giggled as he looked down. “Someone
has a woody,” he sang out.

“Like you don’t get them,” I laughed as I pulled the sheet over my lap.

“All the time,” he giggled. “I even get them in school.” He looked at me
worriedly. “Are you supposed to get woodies in school?”

I reached out and rustled his brown hair. “You’re what? Twelve? Thirteen?”

“Almost thirteen,” he announced proudly.

“At thirteen your pecker stays hard,” I laughed.

“Good,” he replied. “I thought something was wrong with it.” I laughed when he
reached down and pressed on his erection.

I stood and stretched. “I gotta take a shower,” I said as he stared at my crotch.

He looked up into my face. “You took a shower last night. What about
breakfast?”

“Maybe I’ll eat later when everyone has left,” I replied. He followed me out of the
room and I watched him skip across the family room and rush up the staircase.

I liked Lane. Even though he said everyone called him Skipper, I decided I was
going to call him by his real name. Skipper sounded more like something you’d
call your pet dog.

I also felt something might be wrong with him. Even though he said he was
almost thirteen, he acted more like a child. However, it was that childishness
that I enjoyed. He seemed so innocent, and it was as if he looked at the world
through a different set of lenses than the rest of us. I’d only gotten a glimpse
of his brothers, but I was sure they would be nothing like Lane. If first
impressions are right, then I was sure I wouldn’t like them at all.

After showering, I pulled back the shower curtain and Lane was sitting once
again on the toilet waiting for me. He had a tray of food in his lap. He grinned as
he stared at me. “I brought you something to eat,” he announced cheerfully as
he held up the tray. “There wasn’t too much left after Rodney and Curtis got
done eating.” There appeared to be a half portion of eggs, two thin slices of
bacon and a half slice of toast. It looked like Lane had smothered the toast in
grape jam.

I wrapped the towel around me and headed back to my room with Lane
following closely behind. When I sat on the edge of the bed, he put the tray in
my lap. He watched as I hungrily devoured the food.

He giggled, “I thought you weren’t hungry?”

“Thought I wasn’t,” I replied as I handed him back the tray. “Aren’t you
supposed to be in school or something?”

“Mom tells me when I gotta go,” he said, “and she hasn’t told me yet.” He
smiled and asked, “You wanna walk me to school?”

He seemed so hopeful, I didn’t have the courage to tell him no. “Sure,” I replied.
“Why   don’t you take that tray to the kitchen and then come get me when   
you’re ready to go.”

“Oh boy!” he squealed happily. He jumped up and almost dropped the tray. “I’ll
go tell Mom you’re going to walk me to school.” He hurried from the room, and
seconds later I chuckled when heard him calling out his mother’s name as he ran
up the stairs.

Minutes later, Karen appeared at the bedroom door and asked politely, “May I
come in?” She entered when I nodded my head.

She sat down on the edge of the bed beside me. “I know you’re here under very
difficult circumstances,” she began. “I understand that you why you may be
bitter at your father because you think he deserted you several years ago.”

“I don’t think that,” I responded sharply. “He did desert us.” She reached out to
pat my hand, but I quickly pulled it away.

“That’s for another day,” she said. “Your father is at work now, but he wants to
talk to you when he comes home tonight. He would have talked to you last
night, but you seemed understandably upset.” She waited for me to say
something, but I didn’t.

Her voice became a little more cheerful. “Skipper says you want to walk him to
school.”

“You mean Lane?” I responded as I attempted to correct her.

She smiled warmly. “He said you wanted to call him Lane. Perhaps it’s time we
dropped that dreaded nickname.”

“Perhaps,” I answered snidely. “It makes him sound like a puppy.”

“You’re right,” she agreed. She looked over worriedly at me. “There is
something you should also know about Skip... I mean Lane.”

“What?”

“He’s a normal boy in many respects,” she replied, “but he also has many
problems.”

She seemed on the verge of tears as I asked, “Like what?”

“There’s a lot of different words for it,” she stated, “but it basically comes down
to he has a learning disability.” I nodded my head and waited for her to explain.

“He develops more slowly than other boys his age,” she said. “In fact, his
teachers say his mental age is about six or seven.”

“I gathered that much,” I replied. “He says he’s in special classes at school.”

“Yes,” she said. “They work very hard with him, but he still has problems
learning. He understands things when you tell him, but his reading and writing
skills are low.” She let out a deep sigh, “In fact, they are almost non-existent.
He knows some simple sight words, but that’s about all.”

Attempting to lighten the mood, I said, “But he seems like a great kid.”

“Oh he is,” she said happily. “He’s a great boy.” Her smile quickly faded. “But he
has almost no friends. Boys his age won’t have anything to do with him, and   
he’s too old to play with the younger kids.”

I asked, “What about his brothers?”

She shook her head sadly. “They have very little to do with him. Both of them
are athletic and into sports. Lane goes to the same school as they do, and let’s
just say they find him...embarrassing.”

I could feel my anger beginning to surge. I hadn’t even met them, and I already
knew I wouldn’t like them. Lane was a great kid, and they had no reason to
shun him as their mother was implying.

Just then, we heard Lane jumping down the stairs. Karen reached out and
squeezed my hand. “Don’t tell Lane we had this little talk. He likes you, I can
tell.” I nodded my head just as he came bouncing into the room.

“Ready?” He asked as he tugged on the blue book bag with an image of
Spiderman on the front.

He grinned when I stood and said, “Sure, Little Man.” He grabbed my hand and
held it as we followed Karen through the family room and up the stairs.

She kissed Lane on the forehead, and then she thanked me for walking him to
school. I told her it was no problem, and we headed off down the sidewalk. It
was my first real chance to see where my father lived. It was a beautiful
residential area. Since it was early spring, I saw several people mowing their
yards. Lane waved to them, and they gave him a hearty good morning. I guess
they were used to seeing him trek to school each day.

Two blocks away, he pointed to a large ranch home. “That’s where Mr. Goodwin
lives,” he said with an angry tone. “He’s strange.”

I was surprised by Lane’s sudden change in attitude. It was the first time I’d
seen him get upset. I inquired suspiciously, “Why’s he strange?”

Lane responded angrily, “He tried to touch my willy last year?”

I pulled him off to the side behind a large tree. Grabbing his shoulders, I asked,
“What do you mean he tried to touch your willy?”

“I was coming home from school,” explained Lane, “and he invited me inside his
house for some lemonade.” His eyes lit up, and he said, “He’s got a lot of Star
Trek things in a bedroom.”

“Wait,” I said. I didn’t want him to lose his attention on what he’d been telling
me. “Tell me about Mr. Goodwin touching your willy.”

“Oh, yeah,” he replied. Again, his mood became somber. “I was holding
Chewbaka, and he tried to touch my willy.” Lane put his hands in front of his
pants and rubbed himself. “Like this,” he explained.

“What did you do?”

He stated proudly, “I told him he wasn’t being a very nice man, and I left.”

“Good for you,” I replied as I put my arm around his shoulder. “It’s wrong for
someone to try and touch your willy without your permission.” I squeezed him
tighter.  “You let me know if he tries it again.”

“I will,” he replied. I looked back at the house where Mr. Goodwin lived. Once I
was settled in, I planned to come back and have a nice little talk with him.

When we arrived outside his school, Lane insisted that I walk him to his class.
He was attending a high school- probably the same one I would attend. My
father hadn’t discussed it yet, but I was sure he would insist that I finish my
education. Besides, if I didn’t go to school, I would have to get a job, and I
wasn’t ready yet for that.

“Come on,” said Lane as he grabbed my hand and pulled me down the hall. “I
want you to meet Mrs. Chambers. She’s my teacher.” He led me to the second
floor. The halls were crowded, and many students stared at us. I guess they
were used to seeing Lane, but not me.

We went into a classroom, and Lane pulled me over to a young woman. She
was very pretty and dressed more stylish than the teachers I had in my old
school. She smiled when she saw Lane, and she leaned down and gave him a
hug. “There’s my Lane,” she said as she looked up at me. She stood and asked,
“And who are you?”

Lane immediately said cheerfully, “Casey is my new brother.”

Mrs. Chambers stepped back and eyed me suspiciously. “Your new brother?”

“Yes, Ma’am,” replied Lane. “Mom told me this morning Casey was going to be
my new big brother.”

I laughed and tried to explain. “My father is Lane’s stepfather. I’m here visiting
for a little while.”

“I see,” she said. “Are you planning to enroll in school here?”

“I suppose,” I replied. “At least until I can return home.”

Lane looked up sadly at me. “You’re not going to be my new big brother?” For a
minute, I thought he might cry.

He giggled when I tousled his hair. “I’ll always be your big brother.” Mrs.
Chambers told Lane to take a seat while she escorted me to the door.

“Well, Casey,” she said as I started to leave. “I don’t know how much you know
about Lane, but he seems to be very attached to you already.”

“Yes, Ma’am,” I smiled as I looked at Lane. He was talking to a couple of
classmates. “He’s a special kind of guy.”

“Yes, he is,” she replied as she looked over at him. “Yes, he is.”

I left his room and wandered around the halls. The school was large, but I was
used to a big building. It was about the size of the one I had left. As I walked
past one room, a teacher was standing at the door. He was tall, and he
appeared rather young to be a teacher. He seemed popular because all the
students entering his room spoke cheerfully to him.

He smiled as I approached. “Good morning,” he said. I nodded and started to
walk away. He stepped over and put his hand on my shoulder. “Wait a minute.”
I started to bat his hand away, but his smile told me he was no threat.

He was about my size, and his hair was blond in a buzz cut. He had beautiful
blue eyes. I tried not to stare into his face because I was afraid he might notice
that I was enamored by his good looks. “I’ve never seen you around,” he said.
“Are you a new student?”

“No, Sir,” I replied as I took a step back so that he would remove his hand from
my shoulder.

He asked, “Then why are you in the building?”

“Oh,” I stammered. I didn’t want him to think that I was trespassing. “I probably
will be going to school here in a few days. I just haven’t registered yet.”

“I see,” he said with a smile. He thrust out his hand to me. “I’m Mr. Wentworth.
I teach junior English. Will you be registering as a junior?”

He smiled again when I replied, “Yes, Sir.”

“Good,” he said. “I’m also the baseball coach.” I became embarrassed when his
eyes scanned my body. “Did you play baseball at your former school?”

I shook my head and responded, “No, Sir.” I had never been interested in
playing sports. I enjoyed watching football and basketball on ESPN, but I never
considered participating in school. I had a basketball hoop on the garage at
home, but I rarely played. Baseball never interested me. I found it boring.

He grinned as he scanned my body again. “Maybe I can talk you into it. You’ve
got the physique of a player.” He took my hand and examined it. I wanted to
pull it away, but I   didn’t. I just watched as he held it and looked at it. “You’ve
got the hands of a pitcher.” He looked into my face and smiled. “We’re looking
for a pitcher. Our starting pitcher graduated last year.”

Just then, the bell rang. Several students went rushing past us. He laughed
when two boys scurried into his room. “What is your name?” he asked as he
turned to go into his room.

“Casey Barrett.”

“Casey Barrett,” he replied as if he was trying to remember my name. “I hope to
talk to you in a few days.” I stood and watched as he entered his room.” I
laughed when he shouted out, “Marshall and Sizemore, you were late to class.
Get on the ground and give me twenty five.”

After leaving school, I returned to my father’s house. No one was home, so I
decided to look around. So far, I had only really seen the family room. The living
room looked like it had never been used. Everything was neat and organized.
The centerpiece of the room was a large, stone fireplace. The gray stone
practically covered an entire wall. Two striped sofas and a circular coffee table
were situated in front of it. A couple of chairs were against the wall. Blue was
the predominate color, with a pale blue carpet and darker blue drapes. Most of
the accents were also blue. The room looked as if it came out of a designer
magazine.

The kitchen was surprisingly small compared to the rest of the house. It
appeared cluttered, yet organized. Since I loved to cook, it seemed like Karen
had arranged things so that they would be easily available. I loved the hanger
over the oven that contained her pots, pans and skillets. At home, I had to
bang around inside a cupboard until I found the utensil I needed.

Dirty dishes were still in the sink from breakfast. I ran hot water in the sink and
washed them. I was going to use the dishwasher, but it was filled with dishes
from a previous meal.  I had to search drawers and cupboards to replace the
dishes and silverware after drying them. I even replaced the items from the
dishwasher.

After finishing, I wandered down the hall to the other bedrooms. It appeared
that Rodney and Curtis shared a room. It was extremely cluttered, and it
smelled like a locker room. If I had looked closer, I was sure I’d find dirty socks
under the twin beds that had probably been tossed there months ago.

Posters of sports figures adorned the walls. One wall was filled with female
athletes, mostly dressed in skimpy attire. There was also a desk with a laptop
computer and numerous games. Most I had left at home.

Across the hall was Lane’s room. It looked more like a girl’s room because it was
filled with stuffed animals. A huge panda bear was sitting in one corner. There
were also smaller teddy bears, tigers and dogs. Lying on his unmade bed was
an old, tattered sock puppet. It appeared that he probably slept with it at night.

I didn’t look into my father and Karen’s bedroom. It just felt weird to imagine
him sleeping with someone other than my mother. However, at home, I never
thought about him and my mother sleeping together. I guess that is a thought
most children try to avoid.

It was almost noon when I went into the family room. I turned on the television
to a movie on HBO. I liked the big screen television. It was better to watch than
small television in the living room at home.

At home. That’s a term I’m going to have to stop using. Right now, I have no
home. Since my mother no longer wants me to live with her, then I guess I can
no longer consider it home.

I feel like a stranger here. I hardly recognized Dad. If I had passed him on the
street, I wouldn’t have known who he was. I’ve grown fond of Lane; but again,
he is like a stranger. Karen seems nice, but I don’t feel like becoming close to
her. Somehow I feel she should be an enemy, but she is too nice for me to
consider that. I’ve only gotten a glance at Rodney and Curtis. They seem like
most of the boys at school I tried to avoid.

I fell asleep for a while. When I awoke, it was one o’clock. I had been here only a
day, and I was already bored. I rose off the sofa, and I began picking up some
of the empty soda cans and bags of potato chips. I found a Kirby vacuum
cleaner inside a closet, and I vacuumed the carpet. A half hour later, the room
was spotless. I then went into the laundry room, and I sorted the clothes and
put a load in the washer. It was a chore I was used to doing when I lived at
home with my mother. She usually came home exhausted, and I felt guilty
having her do my laundry. I know she appreciated it, but she never said so.
After doing it several years, she just took it for granted.

I had no idea what time Lane got out of school, or I would have gone there and
walked him home. My old school was dismissed at 2:45, but I didn’t want to
walk there and have to wait. Instead, I went into the kitchen and looked in the
refrigerator. I found a three-pound package of ground beef. After searching the
cupboards, I discovered a box of lasagna noodles. Luckily, there were also a
couple of jars of spaghetti sauce, and parmesan cheese in the refrigerator. The
only thing missing was an onion.

I was frying the ground beef in a skillet when Lane came skipping into the
kitchen. He came up behind me, wrapped his arms around my waist and asked,
“Whatcha doing?”

“Making lasagna,” I replied.

“Yummy,” he said with a grin. “I like lasagna.”

I pulled open a drawer, removed an apron and put it on him. “You can help me,”
I said.

He broke out in a wide grin. “Okay,” he replied cheerfully. “What do you want me
to do?” I handed him the spatula and told him to keep an eye on the ground
beef, turning it occasionally. I watched him carefully to make sure he didn’t burn
himself. While he did that, I put the noodles in a pot to boil.

We worked well together. He listened carefully to what I told him. He watched as
I prepared the lasagna. Soon, I had him layering the pan. He kept looking up at
me and grinning. “This is fun,” he said happily after we had finished and placed it
in the oven. “What’s next?”

“We can set the dining room table,” I replied.

He gave me a surprised look. “We never eat at the table, except Thanksgiving,
and sometimes when it’s someone birthday.”

“Well,” I insisted, “We’re going to eat at the table tonight.” I started handing
him plates, and he took them into the dining room. Several minutes later, the
table was set for six people.

Three hours later, I discovered why they never ate dinner at the table. Karen
arrived home around six. She was surprised that Lane and I had made dinner.
She had brought home two boxes of chicken from KFC.

“I’m so sorry,” she apologized as she looked at the prepared table. “Lane should
have told you we seldom eat as a family.”

I put my hand on his shoulder when he hung his head. Karen excused herself
and disappeared into her bedroom. Lane and I ate dinner alone at the dining
room table. He prepared his mother a plate and took it to her room. She
returned later and praised us for preparing such a wonderful meal.

Curtis and Rodney came home around seven-thirty. They grabbed a box of
chicken from the refrigerator and went to their bedroom. I didn’t see them
anymore that night.

Dad arrived home a little after nine. Lane asked him if he wanted some lasagna,
but he said he had eaten dinner with a client. He went into his bedroom, and
never came out. Lane and I cleaned up the dining room and kitchen, and then
we watched television until it was time for him to go to bed.


                                               * * * * * * *

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