Birds Don't Sing Before a Storm

Chapter 3

I sat still handcuffed in the back of the cruiser while the officer typed information into his computer. I asked nervously, “Why am I being arrested?” As far as I knew, I hadn’t done anything wrong.

“You’re not being arrested,” he stated. “I’m just detaining you for now.”

“Why?”

He looked in his rearview mirror at me. “Your mother filed a missing person’s report this morning.” He turned and stared into the backseat. “Right now we have you listed as a runaway.”

“I’m not running away,” I informed him.

“Yeah, sure, Kid,” he replied with a laugh. He then held up the bus ticket. “I guess you were buying this for a friend?”

He looked at me for a few seconds before asking, “Where did you get the money to buy this ticket?”

I responded sarcastically, “I save my money. Is that against the law?”

He turned and began typing again on his computer. “It is when you steal it from your mother’s purse.”

I didn’t know how to respond. I couldn’t believe my mother had called the police because I took money from her purse. He looked at me in the rearview mirror. “Theft is a misdemeanor,” he said. “It could put you in juvenile detention for a couple of months.”

I asked, “Is she going to press charges?”

“Naw, Kid,” he replied. “She just wants you returned to your home.”

I sat back, closed my eyes and said, “I’d rather go to juvie.”

He laughed and responded, “I bet you do, Kid. I bet you do.” He pulled off, and fifteen minutes later we were pulling up in front of my home.

While the officer talked to my mother, I headed up to my room. I didn’t even look over at her as I entered the door. I already knew the look that would be on her face. I’d seen it many times before.

When I entered my bedroom, my computer and all my video games had been removed. I guess she thought she was going to exert some parental control over me. If she wanted to play mind games, then I was equally prepared.

However, when I went to my closet to put away my backpack, most of my clothes had been removed. Except for a few shirts I hardly ever wore, everything else was gone.

I went to the window, and I waited until I saw the officer get into his cruiser and pull away. I then stormed downstairs to confront my mother.

I approached her and hollered, “Where the hell are my things?”

She looked at me with a cold stare. “Since you are so intent on leaving,” she replied, “I’m making it easy for you.”

“What do you mean?”

She walked over and took her car keys from the kitchen counter. “Go get in the car,” she ordered.

“Why?”

“I’m taking you to your father,” she adamantly replied.

“What?” I shouted. “You’re driving me to North Carolina?”

She stated, “I’m taking you halfway. Your father will drive you the rest of the way.”

I turned and headed for the front door. Before opening it, I said angrily, “I hate you.”

“I’m sure you do,” she replied. “Any son who would steal from his own mother...” I violently slammed the front door before she could finish.

We drove in silence for over four hours. Four hours! I didn’t say anything, and neither did she. I slept most of the time. When I was awake, all I wanted to do was grab the steering wheel and drive us head on into a semi. We stopped once to eat- at a McDonald’s. She went through the drive-thru, and she didn’t ask me what I wanted. Luckily, I like their Big Mac.

I woke up when we pulled into a truck stop just outside Nashville. It was almost ten o’clock. My mother cruised around until she saw a white Ford Explorer. When she pulled up beside it, my father jumped out.

I didn’t even recognize him. If I hadn’t known we were to meet him, I probably wouldn’t have known who he was. He had gained about fifty pounds since the last time I saw him. His hair was balding with touches of gray. When I got out of the car, he stood and stared at me. I guess I wasn’t the little runt he remembered, either.

His mouth curled into a nervous smile. “Hello, Son,” he said as he approached and extended his hand.

“I’m not your son,” I replied angrily. He glanced over at my mother. “You gave up that right when you walked out on us.” I opened up the back door and began removing my belongings from my mother’s car. They walked away about fifteen feet and talked while I loaded my bags into the rear of my father’s SUV. When I was done, I got into the passenger’s side and slammed the door. I reclined in the seat and closed my eyes.

This was all bullshit. I hadn’t done anything seriously wrong to deserve the punishment I was receiving. I knew what was going on- my mother no longer wanted me to live with her. She hadn’t for two years. She was just using this as an excuse to get rid of me.

And I hated my father. He was a stranger. I felt absolutely nothing when I first saw him. I thought that maybe there would be some connection from the past. Until he left, he had been a good father. He treated me like a son. But now, time had created an empty void. I felt no more of a connection to him than any man I’d pass in the mall on a Saturday afternoon. Any relationship we had died years ago. As far as I was concerned, my mother was sending me to live with a stranger.

I hated her for what she was doing. We could have existed for two more years. Sure, I had been pushing all her buttons lately, but it wasn’t anything serious. It was working for us, or at least I thought it was. Only two more years and I would be eighteen. On my eighteenth birthday, I was planning to leave anyway. If I didn’t go to college, then I would have gotten a job and found my own place to live.

I didn’t open my eyes when my father opened the door and climbed into the SUV. “It’s good to see you again, Son.” He patted my hand, but I quickly pulled it away. He was silent a minute. I could tell he was staring at me, but I didn’t want to open my eyes to see.

He asked, “Are you hungry?” When I didn’t reply, he started the truck and pulled off.

We were on the road for about fifteen minutes before he started talking. “You’ve really grown,” he laughed nervously. “I wasn’t expecting you to be so tall.” He paused for me to say something, but I remained silent.

“I live just outside Asheville,” he said. “I think you’ll like it. I’ll go to school with you tomorrow and get you enrolled. What are you now? A junior?” When I grunted and rolled on my side toward the window, he stopped talking. I fell asleep and didn’t wake up until the truck came to a stop about four and a half hours later.

I sat up and looked out the window at what I assumed was his ‘new’ home. It was a tri-level house in what appeared to be a new development. Except for different landscaping, most of the home looked the same.

“Well, here it is,” my father said as he got out of the car. “Karen and the kids are waiting to meet you.”

I muttered softly, “Wonderful.” The front door opened, and a woman appeared on the porch. My father waved at her, and she waved back as she squinted her eyes to get a better look at me in the dark.

I walked to the back of the truck to retrieve my bags. When my father attempted to take one from me, I pulled away and threw it over my shoulder. He shook his head slightly and headed for the house.

I thought about turning and walking away. The whole idea of staying with total strangers, including my father, didn’t seem realistic. Just because I had called a teacher a bitch, and now my life was being uprooted. My father motioned for me to pick up my pace when he turned and noticed I wasn’t behind him.

He smiled at the woman on the porch and introduced us. “This is Karen.” She extended her hand, but I refused to shake it. She looked nothing like my mother. She was small and petite. I towered over her. She also looked like she could have been a few years older than my father. I always read that a man usually leaves his wife for a younger woman. However, when my father left, I don’t think there was another woman involved. At least, I never heard my parents arguing about anyone else. Most of their arguments dealt with petty things. I think they just made excuses to argue because they didn’t love each other anymore. One of their last arguments involved the color of the towels in the guest bathroom.

I pulled my bag tighter over my shoulder and asked, “Where am I going to sleep?” I brushed past Karen and entered the house. I first entered a foyer. The living room was on the right, and a large dining room was to the left. Past the dining room I could see steps leading down to what appeared to be a family room. At the back of the living room was a staircase that lead, I presumed, to a hallway where the bedrooms were located.

When I started to walk into the living room, my father grabbed my arm and stopped me. He pointed towards the family room. “There’s a bedroom downstairs that Karen made up for you.”

The house was meticulous, and it was furnished in what appeared new and expensive furniture. The dining room table was oval shaped with eight ornate chairs. A crystal chandelier hung overhead. I walked down the steps into the family room.

Unlike the rest of the house, it looked lived in. There were two leather sofas in the middle of the room, and a 52 inch big screen television was against the wall. Several recliners were also located against another wall. Everything faced the television, so I assumed they spent a lot of time watching it. A college football game was on the screen.

When we entered, two boys who were lying back watching the game, popped up. Both appeared to be in their teens, probably about my age. They stood and eyed me suspiciously. One appeared to be about my size, while the other was just a little younger. They had short blond hair and blue eyes. Under any other circumstance, I probably would have found them attractive.

“Boys,” my father took hold of my arm to introduce me. I immediately pulled away. “This is my son, Casey.” They nodded, but I stood and stared at them. My father attempted to smile. “You’re all about the same age, so I think you’ll get along just fine.”

I grunted, pulled my bag over my shoulder and asked, “Where am I going to sleep?” I intentionally didn’t ask where my room was because that would have given a sense of permanence to my appearance. I planned to leave the first chance I got. I still had about three hundred dollars in my pocket. That should buy me a bus ticket to Atlanta.

While the others watched, my father put his hand on my back and attempted to lead me across the room. I stepped back and shouted, “Don’t ever put your hands on me again.” His eyes widened with surprise.

“Take it easy, Casey,” he said. He seemed embarrassed by my outburst. Karen the two boys watched our exchange.

I don’t know what he, or they, expected by my unexpected arrival. I’m sure that just two days earlier, they were a happy family. The house appeared comfortable, and the family room looked like a place they enjoyed together. Now a stranger had been brought into their home. I wasn’t even sure my father had even told them about me until my mother’s call. By the look on everyone’s faces, though, it appeared they weren’t ready to accept me.

Karen stepped forward and touched my father lightly on the arm. “Randy, perhaps I should show him his room.” My father moved aside, and I followed Karen across the room to a closed door. She opened it and turned on a light. “We fixed this room for you when we heard you were coming to live with us.” I stepped in and looked around. They had hastily turned an exercise room into a bedroom. A treadmill and weight set were pushed to one side. On the other side of the room was a single bed and dresser. A poster of a skateboarder was pinned above the bed.

“All the comforts of home,” I muttered nastily as I dropped my bags to the floor.

Karen smiled and said, “There’s a bathroom next door.” She looked at her watch. “It’s late, and I’m sure you want to clean up before going to bed. I’ll bring you something to snack on before you go to sleep.” She then quietly closed the door.

I toed off my shoes and lay across the bed, staring up at the ceiling. I kept asking myself, “Why am I here?” I could tell my father wasn’t pleased with the situation. I would loved to have heard the conversation between him and my mother when she called and told him she was ‘dumping’ me on him.

For two days, my anger had festered into hate for her. Since the incident with ....., she hadn’t even attempted to get along with me. Even though I was only fourteen, I still understood how hurt and disappointed she was to find her only son in bed with another boy. However, that was two years ago. She should have moved on by now. I did everything I could to make her accept me, but she refused. After a while, I stopped trying. Each day we grew further and further apart. She had achieved what she always wanted- to be free of me.

I closed my eyes and soon fell asleep. I really wasn’t sleepy since I’d been sleeping all day in the car. However, there was nothing else to do but sleep. I could hear the television on in the outer room, and occasionally one of the boys would let out a yell. I guess they were still watching the football game. I had no idea what time it was. I had left my cell phone at home when I left, and I didn’t have a watch. There was also no clock in the room. I suspected it had to be rather late.

I was awakened a little later by a rapping on my door. I didn’t answer it, so a few seconds later, the door opened and Karen peeked inside. She whispered, “Are you asleep?”

“I was,” I replied sarcastically. She entered carrying a tray. “I brought you something to eat. I figured you might be hungry.” She laughed and added, “I have three boys in the house.” Three boys? I only noticed two when I arrived. She placed the tray on the bed beside me, smiled nervously and left.

I wanted to refuse the food, but I was starved. I hadn’t eaten since my mother bought lunch at McDonald’s. Dad had offered to buy me dinner, but I pretended to be asleep when he asked.

The food was good. She had made me a tuna salad sandwich on a hoagie bun. It was loaded with mayonnaise- just the way I like it. She had also included a big bag of barbequed potato chips and a bowl of chocolate pudding. It tasted like it was homemade, not store bought. Ten minutes later I was placing the empty tray outside the door.

I walked out and looked around. Everyone had gone to bed, and the room was dimly lit by a nightlight. Remembering what Karen had told me when I arrived, I went into the bathroom to wash up. A large cotton towel and an unopened bar of soap was sitting atop the counter. I turned on the shower and waited for the water to get hot. I then removed my clothing and jumped inside.

The warmth cascading down my body felt refreshing. My body still ached from lying on my side and facing the car window all day. I must have showered for fifteen minutes before turning off the water. Since it was late, I figured no one else would need to shower.

I slightly opened the shower curtain to reach for my towel. As I felt around for it, someone placed it in my hand.

I shouted, “Who the hell!” I pulled back the curtain just enough to peek out. Sitting on the toilet with the seat down was a small boy. He appeared to be about ten or eleven. He had the widest grin on his face.

“Bet I scared you,” he laughed, “Didn’t I?” He had long, sandy brown hair. He wore thin rimmed glasses over a freckled nose. He appeared to be about 5’4” tall with a slight build. He probably didn’t weigh 80 pounds soaking wet fully clothed with his shoes on.

I asked, “Who are you?” I closed the curtain and started wiping myself dry.

From behind the curtain, he giggled and asked, “Who are you?”

When I didn’t answer, I could hear him get up from this perch. Seconds later, he pulled back the shower curtain. I stood naked before him.

“Do you mind?” I said angrily as I pulled the shower curtain closed. I continued to dry myself when he suddenly pulled it open again.

“I got two big brothers,” he said. “You ain’t got nothing I ain’t already seen before.”

“Have it your way,” I replied as I continued to dry myself off. He stood and watched me for a few seconds before returning to his seat on the toilet. He sat down and continued to stare at me.

He said, “You didn’t tell me who you are.”

I pulled on my underwear, looked down at him and replied, “You didn’t tell me who you are.”

He thrust out his hand for me to shake. “I’m Lane, but everyone calls me Skipper.”

“Why the call you Skipper?”

He giggled and responded, “You’ll see.” When I exited the bathroom and headed back to my room, the small boy skipped behind me.

I started to close my door, but he grabbed it and came inside. He stood and looked around. “Hey,” he exclaimed, “What happened to all the stuff in here?” He sat on the bed and bounced on it. “Is this your room now?”

I took a clean shirt out of my backpack and pulled it on over my head. “Listen,” I stopped. “What did you say your name is?”

He grinned broadly and announced, “Skipper.”

“No,” I replied. “Your real name? What is it again?”

“Lane,” he responded, “But everyone calls me Skipper. You can call me Skipper, too.”

“I’d rather call you Lane,” I said.

“Why?”

I quickly scanned his body. He grinned as he watched me. I asked, “How old are you? Ten or eleven?”

He started laughing. “No, silly,” he giggled. “I’m twelve, almost thirteen.”

He giggled louder when I said, “Really? You don’t look that old.”

“I hear that a lot,” he replied. He giggled again. “Mom says I’m a late bloomer.” He pulled down his pajama bottoms. “Look. I don’t even have any hair on my willy yet.”

I looked away and said, “I’ll just take your word for it.”

“It’s okay,” he said. “I saw your willy. I ain’t afraid to show you my willy.”

I looked down at him and laughed. He looked so sweet and innocent. “Boys shouldn’t be showing other boys their willy.”

“Why? We each got a willy. Some are just bigger than others.” He pulled his pajamas out again and looked inside. “Mine’s kind of little. Curtis said I look like a little girl.” He stood up before me. “Do I look like a little girl to you?”

I reached out and ruffle his hair. “No,” I laughed. “You don’t look like a little girl to me.”

“Good,” he replied. “I’m glad I don’t look like a little girl.” He got up and looked inside my backpack. “You got any candy in here?”

“No,” I replied as I pulled the bag from his hands. “You sure do ask a lot of questions.”

He shrugged his shoulders and sat back down beside me. “I guess so.” He looked up at me. “So. What are you doing here? You homeless or something?”

I looked around the room for a clock. “Shouldn’t you be in bed? Isn’t it kind of late?”

“Probably,” he replied as he got up and walked over to a stepper and began playing around on it. “I don’t sleep too good.”

I stood and walked over to him. “Why don’t you sleep well?”

He started stepping faster on the machine. “Mom says I’m a ball of energy.” He stopped stepping and gave me a sad look. “I gotta take pills for it.”

“What about school?” I asked. “What grade are you?”

He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I’m in special classes. I don’t think we got a grade.” He looked sadly at me again. “Curtis says I’m in the retarded classes.” He started stepping on the machine again. “I don’t even know what that means.”

He got off the machine and stood in front of me. “Do you know what that word means?”

I leaned down and kissed him on his forehead. “It means you’re a very special person.”

His eyes lit up. “Is that why I’m in special classes?”

I knelt down and looked into his face. “Yes,” I said. “Now, don’t you think you should go to bed?”

When I stood, he hugged me tightly. “I like you,” he said. “Can I sleep down here with you tonight?”

I took his hand and led him to the door. “I think you should sleep in your room. Okay?”

“Okay,” he replied cheerfully as he hugged me again. I smiled as I watched him skip across the family room and bound up the stairs.