I had trouble sleeping. I tossed and turned most of the night. Around three, I got up and walked on the treadmill for about fifteen minutes hoping that I could tire myself out enough to go to sleep.
However, it didn’t work. I kept thinking about everything my father told me. I think I knew it all along, but I wasn’t able to comprehend it- my mother was an evil bitch.
After my father left, we got along great for a while. She would tell me what a wonderful son I was. That is, until the day she saw me in bed with Rollie. After that, I wasn’t the perfect son. Like my father, God knows I tried to please her. For a year, I was the obedient son, but it didn’t matter to her. She had already let her love fester into hate. Soon, I began to share the same feelings.
One day, I just quit trying. I didn’t care anymore. No matter what I did, it wouldn’t matter. It was at that time I began to rebel. I purposefully caused trouble just to anger her. And with each day, we began to drift further and further apart.
I could understand how my father felt. He said everything I had been feeling for years. I always thought he left because he was a terrible man. That was what had been embedded in my mind for five years. I heard her call him bastard so many times, I began to think that was his name.
Something else bothered me, and I didn’t want to confront it. Perhaps, sending me to live with my father was the best thing my mother had ever done for me. She did it out of spite; but now, I realized that she may have inadvertently given me my freedom. Since arriving, I always thought that perhaps she would call one night, apologize and beg me to return.
I now realized that I no longer wanted to see her again. Like my father, I was no longer under the spell of the evil witch.
* * * * * * * * * *
At school the next day, things seemed to be returning to normal. Since my bruises were not as dark, most students weren’t stopping to stare at me. In fact, a few students actually spoke to me when I entered my first period class. Megan tried to get me to sit beside her, but I refused. She was only pretending to be my friend to anger Curtis and her brother. I certainly didn’t want another confrontation with either of them.
At lunch, I sat with Lane, Donnie and their friends. As usual, they were excited when I pulled up a chair and sat at their table. Lane instantly started telling me about Donnie getting into trouble because he pulled Susie’s hair.
“Mrs. Crawford,” Lane said, “made him apologize to everyone in the class.”
Donnie’s face reddened, and then he added, “Susie’s icky.” I laughed at their antics. It was so much different than the usual banter at other tables.
As I was taking a bite of my hamburger, I noticed Shade and Megan approaching our table. They stopped and Shade asked, “Got room for two more?”
“Sure,” squealed Lane as he shoved Donnie so he would move. Shade sat beside me as the other two girls moved to make room for Megan to sit down.
Lane looked at Shade and exclaimed excitedly, “Wow! You look like Harry Potter!”
Donnie giggled and agreed, “He does!”
Shade shook his head, extended his hand to Lane and said, “Hi. I’m Shade, not Harry Potter.” Lane’s smiled broadly as he shook Shade’s hand. He then shook Donnie’s hand. By their reaction, it appeared to be the first time anyone had ever introduced themselves in such a manner.
“Shade’s a funny name,” remarked Lane.
Shade responded, “It’s my last name.”
“Why don’t you go by your first name?” asked Donnie.
“I don’t like it,” replied Shade.
Lane by now was becoming very interested. “Why?” he asked.
Shade responded with a serious scowl, “Would you like it if your mother named you Alfalfa?”
The boys began to giggle. “Alfalfa!” squealed Lane. “That’s not your first name.” When Shade’s expression didn’t change, he asked, “Is it?”
Megan waved and said, “Hi. I’m Megan.” Lane and the others timidly waved back. Lane beamed proudly when I informed Shade and Megan that Lane was my little brother.
Lane looked up at me and asked, “Are they your friends?”
I looked at Shade and Megan, nodded and replied, “Yes, Lane. They are. I met them yesterday in my last period.”
“Cool!” replied Lane.
Megan smiled warmly at me and said, “Lane is adorable Casey. You’re lucky to have such a nice little brother.”
I looked at Lane, smiled and replied. “I am.” For a second, I was afraid Lane was going to start crying.
Naturally, Lane and Donnie had a million questions for Shade and Megan. Since they weren’t used to strangers walking up to the table and sitting down, they didn’t know how to act. At one point, Mrs. Chambers approached, smiled down at me and walked away.
When the bell rang, Lane giggled when Megan gave him a hug. His face was flushed when she pulled away. As he left, he grabbed my hand and whispered, “She’s pretty.”
Shade and Megan were waiting for me inside the small auditorium when I arrived. Surprisingly, I found myself smiling as I approached. Just a day earlier, I was considering changing my schedule to auto mechanics. Now, I think I would have put up a fight if Ms. Moore tried to change it.
Megan grabbed my hand and pulled me over to Shade. “We’ve got to get started on the auditions for SOMU.”
I gave her a puzzled looked and asked, “SOMU?”
Shade rolled his eyes and responded, “Sound of Music. Megan’s too lazy to say the whole thing, so she comes up with these crazy acronyms.”
Megan said excitedly, “I’m being serious. We’ve only got six weeks before we have to perform. So far, Max and I have only cast six singing parts.” She looked anxiously at me, “You wouldn’t want to play the role of Captain Von Trapp, would you?”
“Does he sing?” I asked.
“Of course,” replied Megan. “It’s a musical.”
I laughed, “You heard me sing yesterday. You sure you want the audience getting up and leaving?”
“You have a point,” she replied. She looked over at Shade. “Any ideas?”
Shade thought a minute, and then replied, “How about Walter Dickens? He did a pretty decent Stanley Kowalski last year.”
Megan shook her head. “I don’t know. He’s not even taking theater this year. Besides,” she asked, “Can he even sing?”
“Dunno,” shrugged Shade. “He’s in my third period. I’ll ask him tomorrow.”
“You’re a dear,” replied Megan as she kissed Shade lightly on the cheek. She then started pacing around. “We still need kids to play the role of the Von Trapp children.”
I asked, “How old do they have to be?”
“I don’t remember,” she replied. “Let me go get my notes.” She then turned and headed off toward the backstage.
I watched her leave and said, “Is she always this uptight?”
Shade laughed and said, “Get used to it. The closer we get to the performance, she gets tighter than a virgin’s vagina.”
I let out a loud laugh and asked, “What?”
Shade’s face reddened and she stammered nervously, “Not that I’d know how tight a virgin’s vagina is.” His eyes widened, and he added, “I don’t even know how tight any vagina is.”
“Really?” I asked surprisingly. I had assumed that he and Megan might be sexually involved.
He buried his head in his hands and moaned, “I’m not going to say anything more.”
I laughed and replied, “Maybe you better not.” For the first time since meeting him, I had a feeling that he just might be gay. His actions seemed to suggest that.
Megan approached and noticed me laughing, and Shade’s embarrassed face. “What are you guys talking about?”
When I started to tell her, Shade shouted, “Nothing!” He glanced over at me and said, “I was just kidding Casey about the way he sang yesterday.” Megan shrugged her shoulders, and then opened up a binder she was carrying. I couldn’t understand why Shade didn’t want to share our joke with her.
She thumbed through the binder, pointed her finger at a page and announced, “Here it is. Let me see.” She looked up and stated, “There appears to be six children. They range in age from five to fourteen.” She paced around a minute and stopped. “I guess we could see if any of the students in theater have any younger brothers or sisters.”
Suddenly, I had an idea. “How old are the Von Trapp boys?”
Megan looked down at her notes. “Kurt is twelve, and Fredrik is fourteen.”
I asked, “Are they singing roles?”
Megan studied her binder. “Yes,” she stated. “It appears they do sing a couple of songs.” She looked up at me and asked, “What do you have in mind?”
Shade stepped up beside me, looked into my eyes and said, “I think I know what you’re thinking.”
Megan closed her binder and asked, “Would someone tell me what is going on?”
“I think Casey wants Lane to be in the show,” replied Shade. I looked at him and smiled.
Megan responded excitedly, “I think that’s a wonderful idea! Lane is absolutely adorable! He would be perfect for the role of Kurt.”
“That’s what I was thinking,” I agreed. “But I don’t know if he can sing. I’ve never heard him sing before.”
“It really doesn’t matter,” replied Megan. “They are just children. No one will expect them to sing well.”
I said worriedly, “There’s only one problem.”
Megan gripped my arm and held it. “I know what you’re going to say. I could tell when we ate with them that Lane and his friends are special.” I smiled and nodded.
Shade added, “That’s really no problem. Lorenzo is our music director, and he has a little brother with Down’s Syndrome. If anyone can bring out the best in Lane, it will be him.”
I frowned and asked, “What if he doesn’t want to do it?”
“Are you kidding,” laughed Shade. “I noticed the way Lane looks at you. He would walk on hot coals if you asked him.”
“Yeah,” I smiled. “I guess he would.”
“This is great,” said Megan as she clapped her hands together. “At least one of my problems is solved.”
“You had better wait until I talk to his mother,” I suggested. “She might not want him to perform.” I couldn’t think of any good reason why Karen might object, but I didn’t want Megan to get to excited until I had talked to her.
Megan left to talk to Max and Lorenzo about her idea of Lane performing. I followed Shade backstage to a large desk. Actually, it was a few two by fours supported by a couple of saw horses. Shade pulled out a large portfolio and began showing me some drawings.
“Wow!” I said excitedly as I looked at a couple of the drawings. “You drew these?”
Shade replied, “They are just some sketches I had in mind for the set.”
I turned a few more pages. “These are great!”
“It’s nothing, really,” replied Shade as he took the portfolio and closed it. “It’s just something I like to do.”
I looked admiringly at the bespectacled boy beside me. “How do you find the time to do it? You told me you work two jobs.”
“One now,” frowned Shade. “I went into work late Sunday night, and the manager fired me.”
“Sorry,” I muttered.
“It’s okay,” responded Shade. “With the show coming up, I wouldn’t have the time anyway. You won’t believe how insane it gets around here.”
I looked into Shade’s eyes and said, “I’m looking forward to working with you.”
“You better be,” laughed Shade as he gently nudged me. “We’ll be working together so much, you’ll think you’re married to me.”
I laughed nervously as I looked deeply into Shade’s eyes.
* * * * * * * * *
On the way home from school, I decided to test Lane to see if he could sing. I didn’t want to mention performing in the play until I had a chance to talk to Karen.
So as we walked I start to whistle ‘Old McDonald had a farm.’ After a minute, Lane began to sing about a duck. “With a quack, quack, here. And a quack, quack there. E-I-E-I-O.” He then broke into a round about a cow. I laughed as I listened to him. He actually sounded good. His boyish voice didn’t crack like many boys his age. I thought he just might be perfect for the role of Kurt. I remembered watching the movie with my mother a few years ago, and the lyrics to a song I knew Lane would have to sing suddenly entered my mind.
So I started singing the lyrics of Do-Re-Mi. Lane listened to me sing the first stanza, and then he stopped me.
“What song is that?” he asked.
I smiled and replied, “A song my mother used to sing to me.” I sang it again as he listened carefully. When I sang it a third time, he joined in. We continued singing it all the way home.
“Can we fix dinner tonight?” Lane asked as soon as we entered the house. I really didn’t feel like it, but I knew he enjoyed learning to cook. I think I was the first person in the house who trusted him to do something.
I reluctantly agreed, “All right. Let’s go into the kitchen and see what we have.” He skipped beside me as we went through the house. I opened a cabinet to see if there was anything we could prepare quickly. I found two boxes of Hamburger Helper. Fortunately, there were two pounds of ground chuck in the freezer. I took it out and set it on the counter, and then I told Lane we could wait a couple of hours since it wouldn’t take long to prepare.
He asked excitedly, “Can I make a salad?” Since he had helped me twice prepare a tossed salad, I agreed to let him do it himself. I warned him not to cut the tomatoes until I was there to help. Once I was certain he would be all right, I went down to my room.
I was working on some homework when I heard the doorbell upstairs. A few minutes later, someone knocked on my door, and then opened it. It was Mike!
I jumped off the bed and positioned myself in case he wanted to fight me. I asked angrily, “What do you want?”
“Relax,” he said as he put up his hands. “I didn’t come here to hurt you. I just want us to talk.”
I turned and sat back on the bed. “I don’t think there’s anything to talk about.”
“Listen, Casey,” he responded. “I don’t know how things like this blew up in the first place.” He walked over and looked down at my slightly bruised face. Most of the darkness had disappeared, but it was still obvious I had been in a fight. “I’m really sorry.”
I stood and walked over to the door. “I really think you should leave, Mike.”
He approached and gripped my arm. “I came here to make it up to you, Casey.” He tried to put his arms around my waist, and then he leaned in to kiss me.
I pushed him so hard he lost his balance and tripped over the treadmill. “You’re really something, aren’t you?” I shouted. “You beat the shit out of me, and you didn’t even give me a chance to fight back. Now you come parading in here and act like I should just forget about it.”
He stood and brushed himself off. “Come on, Casey. Give me another chance.”
I opened the door wider and shouted, “Get out!”
He approached and stood directly in front of me. I balled my fist in case he wanted to start more trouble. “You’re going to regret this,” he said angrily. “With me on your side, you could have been somebody.”
I laughed and hissed, “Fuck you, Mike!”
He glared at me for a second before turning. As he left, he warned, “You’ll be sorry.”
I was still upset when I went upstairs a half hour later to check on Lane. I couldn’t believe that Mike had the nerve to come to me and act as if nothing had happened. However, that was the way he was. He was used to having his way. He had automatically assumed that I would join the baseball team merely because he wanted me to join it. He was angry at me because I wasn’t enamored by his good looks and charm. I had also had the audacity to sit with Lane and his friends instead of him and his teammates. It must have embarrassed him to explain why I had chosen, instead, to sit with Lane, the runt, as he called him.
I wasn’t worried about his threats. The next time I would be prepared. He cared too much about his good looks to fight with me man to man. If it had been a fair fight in the gym, he would have left looking worse than me. I’m no Floyd Mayweather, but I did have to defend myself a few times in school. Except for Mike, no one had ever gotten the best of me.
When I entered the kitchen, a large salad was sitting on the counter. Lane had even taken the time to cover it with plastic wrap. It looked good. It appeared he had included every vegetable in the vegetable bin he could find. It contained lettuce, green and red peppers, olives, slivers of Swiss cheese sprinkled with poppy seeds. He had placed two tomatoes and a knife beside the bowl.
When I peeked into the dining room, he had set the table for six. I was sure Rodney and Curtis wouldn’t join us. With baseball practice beginning, they were coming home later at night.
I went down the hall to Lane’s room. The door was cracked, and I peered inside. He was curled up asleep on his bed. I stood in the doorway and just looked down and stared at him. He looked so peaceful and gentle. No one had ever stolen my heart like he had. In fact, I had never let anyone try. However, somehow over the past couple of weeks he had become an important part of my life. More and more each day, he was becoming my rock. As long as he was around, I knew everything would be okay. When he stirred slightly, I carefully closed the door and went down into the family room to watch television until Karen and my father came home.
Dinner was...interesting. It was just Lane, Karen, my father and me. As I suspected, Curtis and Rodney didn’t come home until late. I was surprised when they both went into the kitchen and finished off what remained of the hamburger helper.
My father was friendlier than he had been during previous dinners. He asked me about my classes, and if I liked the schedule changes. I told him I liked my new classes, and I told them a little about the theater program. Karen thought it would be wonderful if I auditioned for a role. I laughed and told her how Max had suggested that perhaps I should become involved in set design.
I also told them I had something important to discuss with them after dinner. Karen asked if anything was wrong, but I assured her there wasn’t a problem. She helped Lane and I clean up, and then I asked Lane if he would go to his room and shut the door. He whined and pouted because he didn’t understand why he had to leave. He finally agreed when I told him I would come to his room and talk to him later.
My father was in the family room watching the news when we went downstairs. He turned off the television and sat up in his recliner. “What is it you want to discuss?”
Karen sat beside me on the sofa. I took a deep breath and said, “It’s not about me, it’s about Lane.”
Karen became worried and asked if he had gotten into trouble. I laughed, and then I explained how Megan and I thought he would be perfect for the role of Kurt in the musical.
When I finished, Karen started crying and then leaned over and hugged me tightly. “I just knew Lane’s world was going to change the first time you walked through the door,” she cried into my shoulder.