Megan pulled on my arm and said, “I’ll give you a tour of the theater.” Shade walked beside me as she led me up onto the stage.
I looked at the students around the room. “Isn’t there a classroom where we have to do work?” Megan and Shade started to laugh.
“The performing arts isn’t a class,” she stated, and then added, “It’s a whole different world.”
I gave her a puzzled look, “Then how do we get a grade?”
“We don’t,” she said.
My eyes widened as I said excitedly, “What?”
She smiled and gripped my arm tighter. “Don’t worry. We get credit for the class. We just don’t receive a grade.”
“I don’t get it,” I replied.
She led me behind the stage. There was a big room that looked like a warehouse. There were numerous shelves filled with boxes, and large props were hanging on the wall. Several students were removing boxes off the shelves.
“Everyone has a different job,” she informed me. “You can’t grade a scene designer against a sound engineer or a performer. Every aspect is individual and important to the final production.”
“Final production?” I asked.
She began to giggle. “It is a theater department. Do you think we just sit around doing nothing?”
“Well, no,” I replied.
“We perform two productions each year,” she informed me. “You missed the fall production. We did Guys and Dolls.” I nodded my head and looked over at Shade. He was listening attentively to Megan. “We’re casting now for our spring show. We’re performing The Sound of Music.”
“The Sound of Music?”
“Yes,” she said proudly. “I’m directing the production.”
Shade quickly added, “No one can direct like Megan. You’ll see,” he said with a smile. “She’s awesome.”
I looked at him and asked, “What do you do?”
Megan released my arm and grabbed Shade’s. “He won’t admit it, but he’s one of the best set designers around. When he gets through, they can rival any college stage.” I laughed when his face reddened.
I laughed and replied, “I thought he would act since he looks like...”
“Stop!” Shade hollered as he cupped his hands over his ears. Megan gripped his arm and roared with laughter.
“He hates it when people says he looks like Harry Potter,” she said.
Before I realized what I was saying, “I think he’s cuter than Harry Potter,” slipped out of my mouth.
Megan quickly glanced at Shade. “See,” she said. “I told you.”
I asked, “Told him what?”
“Nothing,” she replied as she wrapped her arm around mine and the three of us continued to walk away.
She and Shade gave me a tour of the theater. I hated to admit it, but I was becoming interested in the program. Since it was obvious that I couldn’t sing, then the fear that I’d have to perform onstage dissipated. In fact, it looked like more work went on backstage than onstage. I’m sure there was something I would be capable of doing. If nothing else, I could usher people to their seats before a performance. Maybe that could earn me the class credit.
As we left backstage and entered the stage, Max approached us. “Well, Casey,” he said with a smile as he put his hand on my back and patted it. “What do you think?”
“I’m impressed, Sir,” I replied.
He laughed and asked, “Please call me Max like everyone else does.” He looked at Shade and smiled. “I’m going to assign you to work with Shade in designing the set for The Sound of Music. It’s going to be one of the biggest productions we’ve ever attempted, and he’s going to need a lot of help.”
I looked at him nervously. “I don’t know anything about set design.”
He winked at Shade and responded, “He’s the best. I’m quite sure he’ll teach you.” He walked over and put his arm around Megan. “Megan will be directing the show, so she will keep everyone quite busy.”
Max looked at his watch. “Well, class is almost over.” He reached out and shook my hand. “Welcome aboard, Casey. I’m glad to have you as a member of our motley crew. You’ll be a fine addition.”
He turned and walked away. I looked at Shade and Megan. Both were grinning at me.
* * * * * *
When the bell rang, I had to hurry across the campus to meet Lane. He was waiting with Donnie outside the entrance. “It’s about time,” he scoffed. “Me and Donnie have been out here waiting for you.” I explained to him about changing my last period, and he might have to wait longer each afternoon.
He asked, “Why did you change your class? Didn’t you like it?” I explained it was a gym class, and I had already had it in my freshman year. I know he didn’t quite understand, but he didn’t question me anymore about it.
I looked down and noticed Donnie peering up at me. “Hi, Donnie.” His face reddened as he waved timidly at me.
Lane said excitedly, “Donnie wants to walk home with us. We’re going to play some games.”
I asked, “Is it okay with your mother?”
“Yeah, sure,” replied Lane as he began skipping away. Donnie raced to keep up with him. “He’s come over after school lots of times.”
Walking home with two guys with a lot of energy was an experience. I was used to Lane skipping home, but Tommy added to the energy level. They picked up stones and tossed them. Then they had to run through people’s yards playing a game of tag. I laughed when they walked down the sidewalk avoiding cracks. After about the hundredth, ‘Step on a crack, you break your mother’s back,’ I was ready to pull my hair out.
When we arrived home, I told Lane to take Donnie to his room, and I would bring them milk and cookies. I found some chocolate syrup in the refrigerator so I made them chocolate milk. When I couldn’t find any cookies, I made them a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead.
As I approached Lane’s room, I could hear them giggling inside. Lane asked excitedly, “You sure you can do it?”
Donnie said softly, “I told you I can.”
When I entered the room, I couldn’t believe what I saw. Both boys were sitting on the bed with their pants down, and Donnie was furiously jerking himself off. Lane looked up and grinned when he saw me standing in the doorway watching.
“Donnie says he can make the white stuff come out,” he explained excitedly. “I bet him he can’t, so he’s showing me he can.” He frowned and said, “I can’t do it yet.”
Just then, Donnie leaned back, let out a gasp, and I stood stunned as I watched a small amount of cum ooze from his small, erect penis.
Lane leaned down and examined it closely. “Cool!” he shouted. “You did it!” Donnie pulled his underwear up and wiped himself with them before he pulled his shorts back up.
Lane said excitedly, “I’m going to try it now.” He started stroking his erection as Donnie watched.
I shouted, “No!” Both boys jumped when I yelled down at them. “Pull your pants up, Lane. You can’t be doing that in front of someone.”
Lane asked, “Why? You’ve both seen my willy before.”
I couldn’t’ think of anything reasonable to tell him. To him, it was as natural as eating ice cream. “What if your mom came home and saw you?”
He giggled and said, “Mommy sees my willy all the time.”
I then tried another tactic. I held the tray with the milk and sandwiches behind my back. “I’m not going to give you your snack until you do.” I laughed when he jumped from the bed and quickly pulled his underwear and shorts up. I took the tray and placed it between them on the bed.
“No more showing each other your willies,” I admonished them. “Okay?”
They responded in unison, “Okay.”
As I was walking out the door, I heard Lane whisper to Donnie, “I’ll do it after we eat.” I shook my head and headed down to my room.
By the time I went back upstairs to see what Lane and Donnie wanted for dinner, Donnie’s mother had already picked him up. Lane excitedly asked me if we could fix something like the last time. He skipped beside me into the kitchen to see what was in the pantry.
I pulled out a box of spaghetti and some sauce. “How’s spaghetti sound?”
“Ummm,” he replied. “I like spaghetti.” I had him fill a large pot with water as I set the temperature on the oven. After the water was boiling, I watched as Lane carefully poured the noodles into the boiling pot.
“Now,” I suggested, “Let’s make a salad.” I gave Lane the small tasks while I cut the lettuce and other vegetables. When I was through, I had him toss it. Some of it flew out onto the counter, and we laughed as he gathered the lettuce, tomatoes and onions in his hands and dropped them back into the bowl.
When we were done, we went down to the family room to watch television. I groaned when he grabbed the control and turned it to Sponge Bob Square Pants.
As we watched the show, I kept looking over at him. I was still concerned about what he and Donnie had done earlier in the bedroom. They didn’t see anything wrong with openly having sex in front of someone else. If they had done it in front of Curtis, he might have reacted with hostility.
“We gotta talk.” I put my arm around him and pulled him closer to me. He rested his head on my shoulder.
“You have to be really careful what you and Donnie are doing,” I said.
He answered innocently, “Like what?”
I took a deep breath and sighed. “You have to be careful when you and Donnie play your willy games.”
He looked up and giggled, “Willy games?”
I frowned and stated firmly, “Yes, your willy games. Some people might not understand what you’re doing.”
He looked puzzled and replied, “Why? Because they may think we’re queers?”
The word sent shudders down my spine because I recalled the tone my mother used when she said it, but I ignored it. “I don’t think you and Donnie are gay,” I replied. “I just think you are having fun.” He grinned and nodded. “But some people might not like it if they saw you doing it.”
I nodded and replied, “Yes, like your mother. She might get mad if she saw you and Donnie doing what you did earlier.”
I sighed again. I felt I was getting nowhere. “Well,” I said. “When you were a little boy, it was okay for people to see you naked.” He grinned and nodded. “But as you get bigger, you should be more careful.” He grinned when I then said, “You’re becoming a man now, and you’re no longer a little boy. There are just things that a man should do in private where no one can watch him do it.”
“Like playing with my willy?”
“Yes,” I replied. “Like playing with your willy. That is something you should do when no one is around.”
He then asked, “Do you play with your willy when no one is around.”
My face turned several shades of red, but I knew I should answer him honestly. “Yes, Lane. When no one is around, I play with my willy.”
“Really? Can you make the white stuff come out like Donnie?”
“Yes,” I admitted. “I can make the white stuff come out.”
“I can’t yet,” he replied sadly. “It feel like it wants to, but nothing comes out.”
“It will,” I assure him. “Some willies just take a little longer.”
He asked hopefully, “You sure?”
“Yes,” I replied as I pulled him into my side. He rested his head on my shoulder and began watching the show on television. “I’m sure.”
Lane and I had prepared the table for six, as usual. Linda immediately came into the kitchen when she arrived home. “Mmmmm,” she said as she sniffed the air. “Something smells really good.”
Lane answered excitedly, “We made spaghetti!” He walked over, hugged his mother and added, “And salad, too.”
She kissed him on his forehead, and then she smiled warmly at me. “You’re becoming quite the little cook, aren’t you?”
Lane grinned widely and replied, “Yes, Mommy.” He approached me and hugged me. “Casey is teaching me how to cook.”
“Well,” she said. “Let me change into something more comfortable, and I’ll show you how to make garlic bread.” Lane skipped across the room and took the garlic from the pantry as Linda laughed and left the kitchen.
My father arrived home earlier than usual. He, too, came directly into the kitchen to see what Lane and I had prepared. I was still angry at him, so I didn’t bother to look at him as he spoke. Like Linda, he kidded Lane about becoming a chef. Lane was basking in the praise. It was obvious it was something he wasn’t use to.
When we sat down to eat, it surprised me when Rodney came into the dining room and sat down. Linda laughed and asked, “To what do we owe this occasion?”
Rodney lifted the bowl of spaghetti and placed a large portion on his plate. “This looks great,” he exclaimed as he took a mouthful and sucked several stray noodles into his mouth. Curtis came to the door and looked in. Linda invited him to sit, but he looked over at me and scowled, and then said he had a report in history that was due. Linda told him she would bring him a plate after we finished eating.
My father looked at me and asked, “How do you like your new classes?” Rodney quickly glanced at me. He probably wondered why I hadn’t showed up in our English and gym class.
“All right, I guess,” I replied as I reached for another bread stick. My father looked at me as if he was waiting for me to say more, but I didn’t. Why would he care anyway? He was more interested in talking to Rodney about basketball.
And he didn’t disappoint me. After I remained silent, he and Rodney began talking about the upcoming game on Friday. I cringed every time Rodney mentioned Wentworth’s name.
After dinner, Lane and I cleaned up. Linda volunteered to help, but I told her that we could handle it. After several meals, Lane and I had a system down. He would rinse the dishes while I put them into the dishwasher. He always insisted on turning on the machine. He said he liked to hear it when it started loading water. We would then clean the table and countertops.
When we finished, Lane skipped off to his room. He said he wanted to play a video game. I went to my room, removed my clothes and went into the bathroom to take a shower. I had discovered if I did it too late at night, there was often not enough hot water left because Curtis and Rodney usually showered after coming home from practice. I couldn’t understand why they just didn’t shower at school.
When I returned to my room, my father was sitting on my bed. He was thumbing through my history book.
“Oh, God!” he moaned. “This brings back bad memories. I hated history when I was in school.” I walked past him in the cramped room to my dresser. I pulled out a tee shirt and shorts and put them on.
“What do you want?” I asked. “You didn’t come here to talk about history.”
He responded with a sad tone in his voice. “In a way, I did, Casey.”
I looked down and asked, “What do you mean?”
He stood and walked over to the exercise equipment. He picked up a couple of weights that were scattered on the floor and stacked them neatly against the wall.
He then turned and asked, “Can we talk without you storming out of the room?”
I replied angrily, “That all depends on what you want to talk about?”
He sat on the weight bench and looked sadly at me. “I want to talk about history,” he replied as he pointed to the book on my bed, “but not the kind in that book.”
“I’m not following you,” I said.
He laughed nervously. “Of course not. I guess I’m not making much sense.” He took a deep sigh and said, “I want to explain why I left you. You deserve that much.”
I held my head down. I had to make a quick decision. I could stay and listen to his story, or I could stand and walk out. My first instinct was to leave. However, I had been wondering for years why my father would just abandon me one day without a reason. My mother never explained it to me. When she talked about my father, her statement usually began with the words, that no-good bastard.
So I sat quietly as he stood and paced around the small room. Finally, he stopped and stood before me. “I want you to know, I didn’t leave because of you.” I didn’t look up, but I could tell that he was becoming emotional. His voice quivered as he talked. “You were the only good thing that came of our marriage.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to stay and listen. I could feel my chest feel like it was tying into a knot. I wanted to walk out, but my legs wouldn’t let me stand.
“People make mistakes in life,” he continued. He then started laughing nervously. “Boy, did I make as mistake when I married your mother.” Ironically, I could understand what he meant. I had felt the same way for years about her.
“She wasn’t the easiest person to live with,” he said. “She made my life a living hell for twelve years.” He walked over, sat back down on the bench and buried his head in his hands. “And God knows I tried to make her happy.”
“Nothing I did was ever right,” he said. “She’d bitch about the littlest things.” I laughed when he said, “We even argued about whether the toilet paper roll goes over or under.” I couldn’t help it, but a smile appeared on my lips. She and I used to have the same arguments.
“I didn’t want to leave, Casey,” he muttered softly, “but I had to. She was driving me insane. If I had stayed, I probably would have killed her someday.”
I wanted to say that I understand that emotion. There were many times I felt the same way. Looking back, she had treated my father the same way she had been treating me the past four years.
“You have to believe me when I said I asked her several times if you could come here and live with me,” he said. “I wasn’t with Linda and the kids then. It would have just been you and me.”
I looked over at him and asked, “Why didn’t you?”
He shook his head sadly. “One time when we were arguing, I yelled at her and told her I was going to kill her. I didn’t mean it. I just yelled it out in anger.”
I laughed and said, “She had a way of pushing all the wrong buttons, didn’t she?”
“Yeah,” he smiled. “She did.” He paused a minute before continuing. “Anyway, when I left, she went to court and got a restraining order against me. She said she was afraid I would come back and harm her. She even told them that I was a threat to your safety, too.”
“Bitch,” I muttered.
“When she called a couple of weeks ago and told me she wanted you to come stay with me, I was ecstatic.” I rolled my eyes, but since my head was down he couldn’t see me.
“I mean it, Casey.”
I muttered, “You could have fooled me.”
He said sadly, “You haven’t exactly given me a chance to show you.” He then chuckled slightly. “For a while, I was worried she had turned you into a mini-me.” Then his voice became sullen again. “But I’ve watched you with Lane. Behind the cold façade, I see the gentle Casey I left behind five years ago.”
I was beginning to feel guilty. I really hadn’t given him a chance. Since arriving, I had carried a big chip on my shoulder. Lane was the only one I had trusted and let into my world.
I waited a few seconds before looking over at him. “So, how much do you know?”
He laughed nervously. “Probably more than you want me to know.” He walked over and stood before me.
“What’s past is past,” he said. “You and I have made some mistakes. Your mother tried to poison both of our minds.” He paused a minute and then said, “I’m willing to make a new start.”
He didn’t wait for me to reply. He turned and left the room. I sat on the side of the bed with a million thoughts running through my mind. Was I willing to make a new start?