Chapter 9
“You do know Mike's gay, don’t you?”

The words echoed in my head long after Rodney left the room. I was puzzled
what he meant by them. He stated it as a matter of fact. There was no derision
or animosity in his voice.

Thinking back, it seemed like most of his teammates were aware of his sexuality.
At lunch, they had made several jokes that hinted that he might be gay. Even
Wentworth had warned me that Mike was a player. Why would he have warned
me unless he knew that I might be Mike’s next target?

I was also beginning to worry that associating with Mike at school might make
others suspect that I was also gay. Perhaps, that is why Curtis had called me a
faggot. Earlier on Friday morning he was angry because he thought I was
interested in his former girlfriend, Monica. After seeing me with Mike, he no
longer acted as if I was a serious threat.

Rodney didn’t strike me as someone who was homophobic. While we had
worked out, he didn’t seem worried that I might make a move on him. I’m not
even sure he would have even reacted angrily if I had. However, one thing I was
sure of- he was completely straight. A gay guy can instantly sense that in
another guy.

However, I wasn’t sure about Curtis. His anger towards me made no sense. I
had given him no reason to react like he does when I’m around. Naturally, he
didn’t like me moving in unexpectedly. However, Karen, Lane and Rodney
seemed to quickly adjust to my presence.

Curtis has to resent me because he assumes I’m gay. Maybe my father told
everyone about the incident with Rollie. I’m sure my mother told my father
about it. However, neither Karen nor Rodney said anything. Lane certainly
wouldn’t have been told because he wouldn’t understand.

So he probably suspects I’m gay because of Mike. Mike seemed to instantly
know that I am gay. He began flirting with me as soon as he stepped up and
pulled me away from his sister. It was as if he instinctively knew I needed to be
rescued from her.

Curtis could be a serious threat. He had provoked two fights with me. It was as
if he was challenging me. However, he learned quickly that I was not one to back
down from a fight. I stood my ground.

I went to the bathroom to take a shower after my workout with Rodney. When I
finished, I reached for my towel, and someone handed it to me. I pulled back the
shower curtain, and as I expected, Lane was grinning at me.

He asked hopefully, “Did I scare you?”

“Nope, Little Brother,” I replied. He gave me a toothy grin.

“I like it when you call me Little Brother,” he smiled as I stepped out of the tub
and dried myself. Lane sat on the toilet seat and watched.

I asked him, “Don’t you have anything better to do? It is Saturday.”

He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Not really. Me and Mom got back from
the mall, so now I’m bored.”

I laughed and corrected him, “Mom and I got back from the mall.”

He giggled, “You didn’t go with Mom, I did, Silly.” He giggled louder when I rolled
my eyes. When I went back to my room, he followed.

“Wanna go look for frogs at the pond?” Lane asked as I got dressed.

“Frogs at the pond?”

“Yeah,” he replied excitedly. “There’s a pond behind the McConnell house, and
there’s a whole lot of frogs.”

“The McConnell house?” I wondered if it was the same house where Mike and
Monica might live. “Does Mike live there?”

“Yeah,” he replied. “So. Do you want to go with me to look for frogs? Mom won’
t let me go by myself.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me from the room.

I waited in the foyer while Lane asked Karen if he could go to the pond with me.
I knew her answer when he came skipping down the hallway towards me. “She
said yes,” he announced cheerfully. He grabbed my hand and pulled me out of
the house.

The McConnell home was two blocks away, located at the end of a cul de sac.
The house was like my father’s and all the others, except it had a dense field
beside it. The backyard had a privacy fence, and I could see a pool between the
slates.

I followed Lane as he skipped down a narrow path into the field. We walked
about an eighth of a mile until we came to an opening. Just as Lane had said,
there was a small pond with lily pads floating along the bank. Lane let out a
shriek, “There’s one!” He ran to catch a large frog, but it hopped away and
jumped into the lake. I stood back and laughed as he ran along the bank looking
for more frogs.

Suddenly, I saw one to his right and yelled, “There, Lane!” He looked to where I
was pointing and ran toward it. When he did, he lost his footing on the wet
ground and tumbled into the lake. I roared with laughter at his antics.

He got up and gave me an angry look. “It’s not funny, Casey,” he pouted. “Now
I’m all wet.” I laughed louder as he walked toward me. His shorts, shoes and
socks were soaked. The back of his plaid shorts were covered in mud.

I bent over and grabbed my stomach. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”

He walked up and said sadly, “I can’t go home like this. Mommy will never let me
hunt for frogs again.” I stopped laughing when I saw how disappointed he was.

“Tell you what,” I said as I knelt down in front of him. “Take off your shoes,
socks and shorts, and we’ll lay them over that rock to dry.” He looked over at
the large boulder to our left. He quickly removed his clothing. He handed them
to me as he stood naked from the waist down. For the first time, I saw just how
underdeveloped he was. He looked more like a ten year old than a boy who was
entering puberty. When he saw me staring, he put his hands over his genitals.
“I told you I was kind of small.”

“It will get bigger,” I assured him as I took his clothes and laid them out on the
rock to dry in the sun. I sat down on the rock and watched as he ran around
the pond trying to catch frogs. He didn’t seem embarrassed to be running
naked in front of me. I was just glad no one was around to see him.

Thirty minutes later, his clothes had dried, so I told him to get dressed. He
whined and said he enjoyed ‘being free,’ but I insisted that he put his clothes
on. I was worried that someone might follow the path to where we were. I had
noticed bicycle tracks, so it was obvious that other people sometimes came here
to play.

When we cleared the field as we walked back home, I saw Mike mowing his lawn
on a riding lawn mower. He didn’t have a shirt on, and his body glistened with
sweat in the bright sun. He rode the mower over when he saw noticed us
exiting the path.

“Hey,” he said with a smile. He gave Lane a curious glance before looking back at
me. “What are you doing out here?”

“We was catching frogs,” announced Lane excitedly. “I fell in the water.”

“Cool,” replied Mike dismissively. It upset me because he acted as if he hadn’t
even heard what Lane had said.

He got off the mower and stood before me. He flexed his muscles and dared me
to look at his body. “It sure is hot,” he exclaimed as he adjusted himself
through this thin athletic shorts. It was obvious he had no underwear on
underneath. I watched as he slightly stroked his cock. “How about a swim in the
pool?”

“Yeah!” squealed Lane. He looked eagerly at me. “I want to go swimming. Can
we Casey?”

Mike glared angrily at him and said, “No one invited you, Runt.” Lane looked like
he was getting ready to cry.

I walked over, put my arm around Lane and replied angrily, “Then I guess I’m
not interested.”

“Come on, Casey,” Mike pleaded as he rubbed the front of his athletic shorts.
“Ditch the runt, and let’s go swimming.”

I was too angry to say anything. I knew if I did open my mouth, I’d say
something that I would later regret. Mike was the first real friend I had made at
school, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that. However, with his attitude toward
Lane, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be his friend.

“Come on,” I said to Lane as I put my arm on his back to lead him away.

Mike said sharply, “Your loss.”

I gave him a cold stare and replied, “Whatever.”

On the way home, Lane asked me why Mike had called him a runt. “Because he’s
an asshole,” I replied as I squeezed his shoulder. I was beginning to regret that
I hadn’t stood up for Lane more than I did.

“Yeah,” agreed Lane. “He’s a big poopie butt.”

“You can say that again.”

Lane giggled and said, “He’s a big poopie butt.”

                                             * * * * * * *

Mike was still upset with me on Monday when I got to school. I passed him in
the hall after escorting Lane to his class, and he ignored me. I know he saw me,
but he kept talking to some guy he was with and looked away.

One thing to my advantage, from what I’d experienced on Friday, was that my
classes seemed as if they would be easy. Three of my classes- history, English
and Spanish, were more like a review of what I’d already learned at my former
school. Physics and trig were about the same as what I had been learning. I had
never taken law, but thumbing through the book last night, most of it seemed
like it was just common sense. So I don’t think I have to worry about falling
behind. Besides, I was a fairly bright student. I guess I never really applied
myself before. Being on the honor roll would have pleased my mother too much,
so I intentionally failed a test or didn’t turn in a major assignment so it would
have a negative effect on my grade. Of course, my mother always heard about
it, and that normally led to an argument.

After leaving my first period class, I was surprised to see Shade walking toward
me. He was talking animatedly with a very pretty girl. When he saw me, he
grinned, grabbed her arm and led her over to me.

“Hey,” he said as his eyes shimmered brightly. “I was hoping I would run into
you when you told me Saturday you go here.”

I glanced at the pretty brunette and looked back at him. A wave of sadness
swept over me, but I was able to contain it from showing. After spending time
with Shade on Saturday, I was hoping that he might be gay. Now, though, it
seemed like he had a girlfriend. “Well,” I replied cheerfully, “Here I am.”

Shade looked over at the girl and said, “Casey, I want you to meet my best
friend, Megan.”

She smiled demurely and waved, “Hi, Casey.”

Shade put his arm around her and pulled her into a tight hug. “Megan and I
have grown up together,” he said as he looked at her and smiled. “We’re
practically inseparable.”

Megan’s face blushed as she lightly elbowed Shade in the side. I thought to
myself that they made a really cute couple. Megan was about an inch shorter
than Shade. She had long auburn hair and big brown eyes. However, with her
good looks, she didn’t seem to fit the mold of the cheerleader type. She struck
me more like a free spirit, someone who would avoid the ‘in’ crowd. It made
sense since Shade had a similar personality.

“It’s nice meeting you, Casey,” she said. She looked over at Shade and added,
“Shade has told me so much about you.” When I looked over at him, he
shrugged his shoulders slightly.

He grabbed Megan by the arm and started to pull her away. “The bell is getting
ready to ring,” he said. “We’d better get to class.” They waved goodbye and
hurried down the hall.

In second period, I tried to piece together the exchange in the hall. Megan
seemed to be Shade’s girlfriend, but he introduced her as his best friend.
However, he added that they were inseparable. That could only mean that they
were dating.

I was also confused why Shade would have told Megan about me. The way she
looked at him when she said it was as if they were sharing a secret. By the end
of the period, I had convince myself that Shade and Megan were committed to
each other, and that Shade would probably be no more than just an
acquaintance.

Lunch posed another problem. After going through the line to buy my lunch, I
stood and looked around as to where I should sit. On Friday, Mike had
accompanied me, but today he left class hurriedly. Suddenly, I heard him call out
my name. He was standing at a table with a few other baseball players. He called
again and motioned for me to join them.

As I walked toward the table, I passed by where Lane was sitting with his
friends. Lane jumped up, ran over to me, grabbed my hand and attempted to
pull me over to his table. “Sit with us, Casey.” Then he whispered softly, “You
can meet Donnie. He’s sitting beside me.”

I quickly looked over at Mike. I had to make a decision- and fast. I looked down
at Lane, and I remembered how hurt he was that I hadn’t sat with him on
Friday. I looked over at Mike, and I remembered how rude he had been to Lane
on Saturday. My decision was easy to make.

I let Lane pull me over to his table. There was a small boy about Lane’s size
sitting with two girls. All of them seemed excited that I was sitting with them. I
was also relieved that Donnie was small. He had a head full of bright red hair,
and freckles dotted his face. When Lane told me about their encounters in the
bathroom, I was concerned that Donnie might be a big boy who was bullying
Lane and forcing him to engage in sex. However, Donnie seemed to pose no
threat to Lane. In fact, he seemed like he could easily be intimidated and bullied
himself.

“Hey, Guys!” I said cheerfully when I sat down. They all looked at each other and
giggled. Lane introduced Donnie to me, and then the two girls. They were shy,
and they giggled nervously when Lane told me their names.

The one with long brown hair was Cynthia. She spoke with a nervous stutter. It
quickly disappeared when she became more comfortable with me. The other, a
larger girl, was named Roberta. She was a black girl whose clothes seemed
rather worn and threadbare. She spoke very little.

When I asked them how school was going, Lane and Donnie animatedly told me
about a lizard that another boy had brought to school for show and tell. Lane
excitedly related how the lizard had gotten loose, and it had raced across the
room as students jumped on chairs and started screaming.

As I was laughing at their story, I looked over at Mike’s table. He was staring
angrily at me. My first instinct was to flip him off, but I didn’t. Besides, several
teachers were circulating around the cafeteria. I knew I would get in trouble if
any of them saw me.

As we were cleaning our table, Mrs. Crawford approached. She smiled warmly at
me. She looked at Lane and his friends and remarked, “I see you have a visitor
today.”

Lane replied excitedly, “My big brother ate with us today. We told him all about
the lizard.”

She laughed and said, “And did you tell Casey how you jumped on the table and
screamed?” Lane’s face reddened, and I burst out laughing.

“He told me how the others screamed,” I laughed. “He didn’t tell me he did.”

“Yeah,” chimed in Donnie. “You screamed like a little girl.”

“Did not!” insisted Lane. Just then, the bell rang.

Mrs. Chambers had her students line up so she could escort them back to class.
Before leaving, she pulled me aside and whispered, “Thank you, Casey. I’ve seen
a big difference in Lane since you’ve come to live with his family. He seems more
confident.”

I didn’t know how to respond, so I simply said, “Thank you.” She patted my arm
and then walked away with Lane and the others trailing behind her. I watched as
Lane skipped beside Donnie as they left.

As I was walking to my fifth period class, Mike stepped up beside me and said
angrily, “I see you ate lunch with the dummy class.”

I turned, balled my fist and muttered angrily, “Shut the fuck up, Mike. You have
one more time to say something about Lane.”

He smirked, looked at my fist and asked smugly, “Or what?”

The last thing I wanted to do was start a fight in the hallway. I saw how my
mother reacted to me getting a ten-day suspension. I had no idea how my
father would react.

I took a step back. “Just ease up, Okay?” I turned and hurried to class. I sat
down at a desk on the other side of the room where I had on Friday. When Mike
entered, he looked around for me. He gave me an angry look as he headed back
to his desk just as the bell rang.

The rest of the afternoon was tense. I knew Mike was angry with me, but I
should be the one upset with his behavior. He was quickly becoming an asshole.
He was no better than Curtis.

Things escalated in gym class. After Wentworth took attendance, he told two
students to get some basketballs from a storage room. He then left us to play
basketball. Before leaving, he assigned Mike and Curtis to be captains. I was the
last one chosen. Unfortunately, I was on Curtis’s team.

There were eleven guys on a team, so I sat most of the period on the bench.
With five minutes remaining, we had a lead of ten points. Curtis decided to put
in the guys who  hadn’t played. Mike was determined to win, so he kept in his
starting lineup.

A boy named Drew passed me a ball from across the court. As I jumped to
catch it, Mike plowed into my side with his head down. I took a direct hit to the
kidneys, and I fell to the floor gasping for air. Drew and a couple of my
teammates rushed over and knelt down to see if I was all right. I looked over
one boy’s shoulder and saw Curtis high five Mike. Both looked down and
laughed at me.

Still gasping for air, I managed to pull myself up from the floor and stumble over
to Mike. When I got close enough, I attempted to throw a right hook, but the
pain in my side was excruciating.

He shouted “You fucker!” as he rushed at me. He grabbed me around the waist
and we both tumbled to the ground. He hit me several times in the face.  I was
defenseless to hit back because I was in so much pain. Just as he hit me again, I
heard Wentworth blowing his whistle from across the gymnasium. He ran over
and pulled Mike off me.

He shouted, “What the hell is going on?” Mike attempted to lurch forward to hit
me again, but Wentworth pushed him so hard he fell to the ground.

“McConnell!” he shouted. “Go hit the showers! When you’re dressed, I want to
see you in my office.”

Mike started to protest, “But, Coach!”

Wentworth’s face reddened as he angrily shouted, “Get your ass out of here!
Now!”

Curtis threw his arm around Mike, and they headed toward the dressing room.
A couple of my classmates wanted to stay to help me, but Wentworth told them
to go shower.

When the gym was empty, Wentworth helped me to my feet. My side was
aching from   Mike’s head bunt, and I could hardly see out of my left eye.
Wentworth examined my injuries and asked, “What the hell happened?” He put
his arm around my waist and helped me across the gym.

When I didn’t respond, he asked again, “What happened, Casey?”

“A little misunderstanding is all Coach,” I replied. Since Mike was a popular
athlete, and he seemed to be a favorite of Wentworth’s, then I figured it would
do no good to try to explain what happened. Besides, I was the first one to
throw a punch.

Wentworth helped me to his office, and he had me sit in a chair. He told me he’d
be right back, and he quickly disappeared from the room. I stood and looked at
myself in a mirror on a side wall. My face was red, and there was bruising around
my left eye. It was swollen and almost closed shut. I rubbed it gently and
thought, ‘That’s going to be a nice shiner.’

I was upset because Mike hadn’t given me a fair fight. If he had, his appearance
would be worse than mine. I had been in a few fights over the years, and I knew
how to defend myself. However, he attacked me as I gasped for air and couldn’t
swing at him as he hovered over me on the ground fighting to breathe.

I waited in Wentworth’s office for about fifteen minutes. The longer I sat, the
angrier I became. I was sure that he was asking the other guys what had
happened. I was also convinced that none of his teammates would testify that
Mike had instigated the fight by head bunting me.

I waited around five more minutes before leaving.


                                             * * * * * * *

                                
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Birds Don't Sing
    Before a Storm
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