Birds Don't Sing Before a Storm

Chapter 2

I didn’t get a lot of sleep. The storm raged on all night. It’s a little after six, and it’s still raining. The lightning and thunder ended about an hour ago.

I’m a light sleeper anyway. Most teens my age can sleep all day. If I get five hours, then I consider it a good night. My mother said I’ve been like that all my life. Even when I was a baby, I would only sleep a few hours before I was up and playing again. She said it wasn’t unusual for her to get up at five in the morning to find me playing quietly in my room with my toys.

Since I was up, I decided to make breakfast for my mother before left for school. I wasn’t doing it out of guilt for getting in trouble. I just like to cook. In fact, I cook most of the meals around here. If I had to depend on Mom, then I’d probably weigh about twenty pounds lighter than my 160 pounds.

French toast is my favorite breakfast. Mom isn’t really fond of it, so I guess that’s why I make it about four times a week. She doesn’t complain because it’s better than having to get up and fix something herself before she heads off to school. I always make sure I smother it in syrup. I love watching her trying to scrape it off the top of the toast. She complained last year, and I quit making breakfast for about two months. Since then, she eats what I put on the table without saying anything.

I didn’t turn when I heard her enter the kitchen, walk over to the coffee maker and pour a cup of coffee. When she sat down, I poured extra syrup on her French toast and placed it before her. She stared at it but didn’t say anything. I laughed to myself as I watched her take a spoon and try to scrape off the remaining syrup that hadn’t soaked the toast.

I stood and ate at the counter. We rarely ever sit down and eat a meal together. The only time we do is if we go to a restaurant for dinner. It is always somewhere she wants to eat. She rarely asks me where I want to go except on my birthday. I always suggest a Mexican restaurant because I know it is her least favorite place to dine. She complains that the food is too bland, and she hates the beans that are served with every meal.

“I’ve been giving it some thought,” she spoke breaking the eerie silence. As usual, I didn’t speak. She was going to say what was on her mind whether I wanted to listen or not. I took a final bite of my toast and began to wash my plate.

She asked harshly, “Are you listening to me, Casey?” She grumbled when I threw up my left hand and waved.

She took a deep breath, and then said the words that would change my life. “This just isn’t working out.”

I continued to wash dishes as I asked, “What isn’t working out?”

“Me and you,” she replied. “I just don’t know what to do with you anymore.”

I shut off the faucet and looked down at her. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

She took a sip of coffee and replied, “I called your father last night.”

I bristled at the mention of his name. She knew I hated him for leaving me without a warning. I couldn’t understand why she was talking about him now.

I looked at her skeptically and asked, “And?”

She looked up sadly and replied, “I’m sending you to live with him.”

I wanted to remain calm because I knew she was doing this to pay me back for what I’d done at school. A mere suspension from school wouldn’t mean anything to me. She must have spent most of the evening deciding how she could win this battle. Shipping me off to my father would crown her the champion.

I lost my cool and hollered, “You can’t do this to me!”

She rose and stood before me. Since I was about a half foot taller than her, she had to look up. “Stop yelling at me like some brat,” she admonished me angrily. “I’m your mother, and you’ll do what I tell you to do.”

“Well,” I hollered. “I won’t do it! I’ll run away before I go live with him!”

“It’s already done,” she informed me. “We talked for about two hours last night. You’ll be leaving next week.”

I towered over her and said threateningly, “And if I don’t?” She didn’t move. She wasn’t afraid of me, and I knew it. She’d battled many students much larger than me- and won.

“You will,” she said authoritatively. She then sat down and took a sip of coffee. “You’re only sixteen. When you turn eighteen, then you can make your own decisions. Until then, you’ll do as I say.”

I looked down at her and glared. “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

She lifted her head and looked sadly at me. “No, Casey, I’m not.” Tears formed in her eyes. “This is the third time this year you’ve been suspended from school.” She took a napkin from the table and daubed at her eyes. “I can’t get through to you anymore.”

“Fuck you,” I spat. “You never tried to get through to me.”

She rose and faced me. Her sympathetic look had changed to one of anger. “Don’t you use that kind of language in front of me.”

I started to laugh. “You think you’ve won, don’t you?”

“What do you mean?”

I replied, “You’ve hated me for two years. I wondered how long it would take you to finally do something.”

She stated adamantly, “You being queer has nothing to do with this.”

“Fine!” I shouted. I then took the edge of the table and turned it over. Her breakfast plate crashed to the ground. “I’ll be happy to get out of your fucking house!”

I turned and rushed from the room as she hollered out my name.

 * * * * * * *

I was in my room listening to my Ipod. I’m into alternative music mainly because my mother hates it. And rap- she hates it too. So those are the two genres I play on my stereo late at night.

It was late, and I didn’t make dinner. I wasn’t hungry, so why should I make her dinner? In fact, from now on, she’s making her own meals. I still don’t know if she was serious this morning about sending me off to my father. However, she’s not one to make idle threats. As a teacher, she usually says what she means. I’ve seen a lot of teachers eaten alive when they made threats they couldn’t enforce. When she says something, it would take the gods in heaven to change it.

If she does force me to go, then I’ve determined to make my father’s life so wretched, he’ll regret letting my mother send me to him. I still don’t know what I’ve done that would warrant this. Okay, so I’ve been suspended three times, but it’s not like I’ve committed some kind of crime.

I’m not a bad kid. I get in trouble at school, but what kid doesn’t from time to time? I just hate being pushed to my limit. I guess it is a reaction because I have had to deal with my mother’s attitude for the past few years. Like yesterday, Mrs. Walker didn’t have to berate me in front of the other students. I called her a bitch because she is one. She and my mother are like two peas in a pod.

I don’t even know where my old man lives. I don’t know anything about him since he left six years ago. Mom never talks about him. When he left, he was a salesman for a plastics company. The letters he sends to me have no return address, but they are postmarked from Asheville, North Carolina. I guess that’s where he lives now.

I googled the place, and it’s really beautiful. It’s rather mountainous, not like the flatlands around here. Beautiful or not, I still don’t want to go. All day I’ve been deciding if I really want to run away. Like my mother, I don’t make idle threats, either. I wonder if she’s afraid I just might take off and disappear. I doubt it. At this point, I don’t think she really cares what I do as long as she doesn’t have to look at my ‘queer’ face.

I still can’t believe she called me a queer. She might as well have taken a brick and smashed it in my face. That’s how bad it hurt. But I’ll never give her the satisfaction of knowing it did. She must have been harboring some deep hatred to come out with a statement like that. Queer? Who even uses that word anymore?  You being queer. That’s how she said it. Not gay. Queer. She said it like I’m some kind of a degenerate.

I don’t even want to stay here anymore. I’ve tolerated her for as long as I can. I thought I could make it for two more years, but now I know I can’t. The sight of her makes me sick. It’s probably how she’s looked at me for the past two years.

And I wonder if she has told Dad? I wonder if he knows all about his ‘queer’ son. Probably not. She probably is too afraid he won’t take me in if he knows his son is come kind of a degenerate. It doesn’t matter because I don’t plan to go to North Carolina anyway.

The only problem I have is that I have nowhere to go. I’ve got other family members, but they are scattered all over the country. After Mom and Dad got divorced, she cut off ties with his family. I would feel stupid showing up on their doorstep with a backpack. My grandparents, her mother and father, live like a thousand miles away. I’ve seen them once in the past five years, and that was only briefly as they were passing through. They have a cool motor home, and they spend a lot of time on the road. I’m sure they I wouldn’t want a teenager tagging along.

Besides, there is school. I couldn’t travel around the country in a motor home and not go to school. They would also never let me drop out to do that. I know they share Mom’s view of the importance of an education.

I guess I’m left with one option- just pack my backpack and hit the road. I’ve got a little money saved. I’m going to the Greyhound Bus station in a couple of days and just buy a ticket to the furthest place I have money for. I checked this afternoon, and I have enough money to buy a one-way ticket to San Francisco. I could probably walk Castro Street and meet some guy who may give me a place to stay. I’m not going to sell my body. I have too much dignity about myself to do that. But I could live temporarily with someone at least until I can get on my feet. I know I’ll have to do things I don’t particularly want to do, but at least it’s better than moving to North Carolina with a father who deserted me when I was a kid too young to understand.

I pulled out the earplugs to my Ipod when the door opened slightly. I thought it was my mother. I was going to get upset with her because she wasn’t respecting my privacy. We had an understanding that she would never enter my room without permission.

As the door opened further, I could see Terry standing sheepishly in the hallway. He asked nervously, “Can I come in? If you’re busy, I can come back another time.”

I laid the Ipod aside and said, “Sure, come on in.” After he was in, I told him to, “Shut the door.” He gave me a puzzled look as he closed the door and walked over to the bed.

“Sit down,” I said as I patted the side of the bed.

He gave me another puzzled look. “You sure?”

We never sat together. Usually when he came to my room, the door remained opened, and he sat on the chair at my computer desk while I sat on the bed. He cautiously walked over and sat down.

I then said, “Kick off you shoes. Get comfortable.” He eyed me suspiciously as he toed off his shoes and sat back on the bed beside me.

I felt guilty because I knew what I was about to do. I was going to use Terry. If I was going to San Francisco to find someone to live with, then I needed experience. It had been four years since I did something with Rollie. We were both young and we didn’t know what we were doing. If I expected a guy to take care of me, then I needed to know how to take care of him.

We sat quietly for a few awkward minutes. Terry kept looking around the room, and I could hear him breathing heavily. I put my hand on his bare thigh and asked, “Do you want to mess around?”

He looked at my hand rubbing up and down his thigh, and then he looked into my face. He asked, “Are you serious?” He seemed much younger than he is. His smooth boyish face had only few traces of hair. He was much smaller than me, and I thought that this would probably be his first sexual experience.

“Very,” I replied as my hand moved to his crotch. He was already semi-hard. Cautiously, he let his hand touch my erection. He let out a slight gasp as he put his hand around it and squeezed it.

When he leaned in to kiss me, I pulled away. “No kissing,” I said. “You can do anything else, but no kissing.” He nodded his head as he reached into my sweatpants and wrapped his hand around my erection.

Later, after he left, I thought I’d feel bad, but I didn’t. He was a very willing partner, and we did things that Rollie and I never considered. I kept hoping my mother would come barging into my room again and finding us naked on the bed.

After he dressed and was standing at the door, I pushed his long brown hair off his forehead, and I leaned in and kissed him gently on his lips. “Thanks, Terry,” I said as he put his fingers to his lips and looked into my eyes.

“Okay,” he replied nervously as he fumbled for the door. “Maybe I’ll see you tomorrow,” he said as he left the room.

I watched Terry walk down the hall without telling him that there may not be a tomorrow for us.

 * * * * * *

I got out of bed before Mom and grabbed the backpack I had prepared the night before after Terry left. I didn’t want to take too much because I didn’t want to be burdened down with cumbersome baggage. I had packed enough clothes for three days. I could always wash them regularly at a laundromat. I decided I didn’t need to take my Ipod or laptop computer. I figured they would probably be stolen anyway within a few days.

I quietly crept downstairs. The second stair has a loose board, so I was careful to not step on it. One creak could ruin my whole plan. To say I was scared would be an understatement. I had only a vague plan of going to California. I knew nothing about San Francisco except what I’d read on a few sites on the internet.

However, I was resolved to follow through with leaving. My mother no longer wanted me at home, and I certainly didn’t want to go live with my father. Even though I was sixteen, my height made me appear older. I could easily pass for someone who was eighteen or nineteen.

The only real problem I had, other than a good plan, was the lack of money. I had $463 to my name. Ironically, most of it was money I’d save from the cards I received from my father the past few years on my birthday and Christmas. I wasn’t even sure it would cover the train fare to the west coast.

As I walked through the kitchen heading for the back door, I noticed my mother’s purse sitting on the counter. I’d never stolen anything in my life, but I was desperate. I opened it and counted out the money she had in a wallet. There was $168. I stuffed it in my pocket and left. As I walked down the sidewalk, the sun was beginning to rise in the east. I didn’t bother to look back at my former home.

We live in a residential area outside of the city. It’s like any other small suburban community. The homes are mainly three-bedroom ranch style. Except for the landscaping, most of the homes look alike. It took me a little under an hour to walk the two miles. Since it was early, I didn’t see much traffic.

The city was fairly deserted. A couple of city trucks passed, and the drivers waved to me. I guess they were surprised to see someone walking the streets so early. I looked at my watch and it was 6:17. The streets were dirty, and there was a nauseating smell in the air. As I walked further, I noticed a Waffle House on a corner. I figured I’d get something to eat. Since I would be on a bus the rest of the day, I wasn’t sure when I might get a chance to eat again. I also thought it might be wise to buy some snacks to take with me on the bus.

As I read the menu covered in dry syrup, the waitress approached. “What will it be? You want some coffee?” I nodded, and she walked away. She soon returned and placed a hot mug of coffee in front of me.

She asked, “What’s someone so young doing out so early?”

I ignored her and ordered a waffle, city ham and two scrambled eggs. She wrote it on her pad and left. I watched as the cook prepared my meal. Soon, several more people entered. One group looked like construction workers. They were dressed in faded white tee shirts and dirty denim jeans. A young couple entered and sat in a booth in the back. They looked tired, as if they had been partying all night. They were probably getting something to eat before heading home to crash for the rest of the day.

The waitress brought my plate to the counter and placed it down in front of me. The waffle looked dry, and the ham appeared greasy. It didn’t taste any better than it looked. At least the eggs were more edible. When I was finished, the waitress handed me the tab. I handed her some of my mother’s money. She examined it, and then walked away in a huff. I figured she didn’t appreciate the measly tip I’d given her. Besides, what had she done for me? She didn’t prepare the meal. All she did was take the order and place the crap in front of me.

The bus station was eight blocks away. The sun was beginning to shine as I left the restaurant and headed down the sidewalk. I knew where it was because I’d seen it a few times as my mother drove around town running errands. It was located inside a shabby building on the west side of town. There was parking for about six buses next to the building. The large dog on the side of the bus always caught my eye as we drove past.

The lights inside were off, and the door was locked when I arrived. A sign on the door said that the ticket office wouldn’t open until nine. I still had over an hour and a half wait. I walked around a few blocks, but everything was closed. More cars were beginning to appear, and I wondered if any were students on their way to school.

My mother would be up by now. She probably wouldn’t even notice that I was gone. The last two times I was suspended, she didn’t speak to me before leaving for school. Once or twice I got up and made breakfast, but most of the time I’d sit in my room and wait for her to leave before going downstairs to watch television in the family room.

I went back to the bus terminal and sat down on a bench outside the building. I’d been sitting about fifteen minutes when a small, elderly woman approached and sat down beside me. She attempted to strike up a conversation, but she soon realized that I wasn’t in the mood to talk. Occasionally, she’d look over at me and shake her head.

The attendant arrived fifteen minutes late. She was a heavy-set woman and seemed rather rude. As she unlocked the door, she told us it would be at least ten minutes before the ticket office opened. She ignored me when I remarked that the sign said the office opens at nine.

I waited behind the elderly woman as she purchased a ticket. I had to listen to her tell the attendant that she was visiting her grandchildren for the weekend. The attendant seemed about as interested as I was. After a couple of sharp, “That’s nice,” the woman bought the ticket and sat down on a bench away from the window.

She asked without looking up, “Where are you going?”

“San Francisco,” I informed her. She thumbed through a travel schedule, and then looked over the top of her glasses at me.

“Next bus to San Francisco doesn’t leave for two days.”

“Two days?” I replied excitedly. “I can’t wait two days.”

“Well, you have to,” she said with an irritated voice. “You want the ticket or not?”

I thought for a minute. I really didn’t have many options. I had already decided I would go to California. I didn’t have an alternate choice. Finally, I said, “Yeah, sure. How much?”

She looked at the schedule again and said, “Two hundred and sixty-four dollars.” I took out my money from my pocket and purchased the ticket. It was Thursday morning, and the bus to San Francisco wouldn’t leave until 2:10 Saturday afternoon. The ticket also indicated I wouldn’t arrive until Tuesday morning at 8:28. Not only did I have to find somewhere to stay for two days, I’d also have to be on a bus for another two and a half days.

As I left the Greyhound station and started walking down the street, a patrol car came up behind me and stopped. The officer jumped from the car and rushed around the front of his car. He stood in front of me and put his hand on my arm.

He asked, “Are you Casey Barrett?”

I gave him a puzzled look and responded, “Yes.”

He gripped my arm tighter and pulled me to his car.  He ordered, “Place your hands on the hood.” After a quick pat down, he handcuffed me and put me in the back of the cruiser.