Birds Don't Sing Before a Storm

Chapter 15

Lane and I rode in my father’s car. Karen rode with Rodney and Curtis. I had an idea she wasn’t finished reading Curtis the riot act. Lane jumped into the front seat, but my father politely asked him to sit in the backseat so I could sit in the front. Surprisingly, Lane didn’t object.

My father attempted to engage in small talk with me. He seemed to steer clear of the problems I was facing, and instead, talked about my classes, in particular, my drama class.

“This may just be a new beginning for you,” he said. “You seem to get excited when you talk about the class.” I turned and looked into the backseat when Lane started singing the do-re-mi song.

“Oh, God,” I moaned as I turned back toward the front and grabbed my ears. Lane giggled and started singing louder. After he had sung it a couple of times, my father joined in. They laughed when I started howling like a barnyard beagle. I soon found myself joining in.

We pulled up to a light, and an elderly woman looked over, listened for a second and then shouted out the window, “Don’t give up your day jobs.” I laughed and gave her a thumb’s up as the light changed and she pulled off.

Lane began jumping up and down in the backseat when my father approached a restaurant named Angelo’s Italiano Restauranto. “Yippee!” he squealed. “I’m getting spaghetti!” My father pulled into the parking lot and parked beside Rodney’s blue Acura. They were already standing outside the car. While Karen and Rodney smiled when they saw us, Curtis had an angry scowl on his face.

I was now beyond the point of caring what Curtis’s problem was with me. I had given him no reason to be so hateful. To me, he was a guy like Mike, who was used to getting all the attention. I’m sure most of the conversations in the house before I arrived involved his and Rodney’s athletic activities. The first conversations I remember my father having were about how great Rodney and Curtis performed in football. He then went on to brag how gifted they were in basketball and baseball.

Now, some of his attention was now focused on me. Karen and Lane immediately embraced my arrival. It only took a few days for Rodney to begin to accept my appearance in the house. Now, my father and I were starting to slowly mend fences since he opened up to me about his relationship with my mother and his reason for leaving. I better understood why he left, and I was coming to accept the fact he didn’t abandon me.

Curtis was an immature and spoiled child. Lane developed physically and mentally slower because of handicaps outside his control. Curtis choose instead to be childish in his behavior. Lane’s problems I could deal with. I could not justify Curtis’s antics. It also appeared that he had now pushed Karen and Rodney to the limits. Looking at the pained look on his face as he stood beside Rodney as I got out of the car, I wanted to feel sorry for him. However, there was no way that I could feel an ounce of remorse for him.

When we went inside, we were led to a reserved table toward the back of the restaurant. I looked around at all the elegant furnishings and paintings. There were four huge crystal chandeliers hanging overhead. I thought that this dinner was going to cost my father a fortune.

We were seated at a large table, and we must have appeared like knights of the round table. Naturally, Lane sat on my right, and Rodney was to my left. Curtis was beside him, so I really didn’t have to deal with him during dinner. Karen and my father sat opposite me. When the waiter handed us the menus, my father exclaimed, “Order what you want, Casey.” He looked over at Lane and smiled, “I know what Skip... er, I mean Lane wants.”

Lane giggled and said loudly, “Spaghetti!”

When the server took our order, I told her I would have the spaghetti also. Rodney and Karen ordered lasagna, Curtis had the veal parmesan and my father asked for some kind of a shrimp dish. When they brought it to the table, it didn’t look very appetizing.

After ordering, my father looked around the table and then asked, “I guess you’re wondering why we’re dining out tonight?”

Lane asked excitedly, “Is it someone’s birthday?”

“No, Lane,” smiled Karen. “We’re celebrating a very special occasion.”

He asked, “What?” I was as curious as he was.

“It appears,” she said, “that someone here at the table has a reason to celebrate.”

Lane asked with a puzzled look, “Who?” He looked over at Rodney and Curtis and mumbled, “Did they win another trophy?”

“No, they did not win another trophy,” smiled Karen. “Tonight we’re celebrating for you.”

“Me?” squealed Lane. “What did I do?” I began to laugh because of his excitement. He could hardly stay seated in his chair.

Karen smiled again and replied, “You’re going to be in a big play.”

Lane looked at me and asked, “I am?”

I put my arm around his shoulder and asked, “Remember our little talk yesterday?” He nodded his head. “You’re going to sing the do-re-mi song for Megan?

“She’s pretty,” he said quickly.

I squeezed his shoulder tighter. “Well,” I said as I looked over at Karen and my father. “We’re very proud of you.”

Lane looked like he could hardly contain his excitement. I had a feeling it was the first time they had ever had a dinner celebration for him other than his birthday. “You are?” he asked as he looked at his mother and my father.

She smiled and replied, “Of course we are.”

When Rodney asked, “What are you guys talking about,” I explained about the theater class and the play we were going to perform. Lane gushed with pride when Rodney patted him on his back and wished him good luck.

The only question Curtis asked was, “Who is Megan?” Lane and I ignored him.

Dinner would have been enjoyable if Karen had let Curtis remain at home like he wanted to do. He acted like he would have rather been anywhere but at dinner with the rest of us. He avoided eye contact with me all evening. While Rodney and I talked quite a bit, he spent most of the time when he wasn’t eating playing a game on his phone. I thought it was extremely rude, and I was surprised Karen didn’t admonish him. However, I think she didn’t want to create another scene in the restaurant like they had at the house earlier.

Lane, however, was a ball of energy. He talked with excitement about singing in the play. It was obvious that he knew very little what was going to be expected of him. I was afraid that he might freak out the first time he stood on the stage and looked out onto the auditorium. I don’t think he realized yet that four hundred people would be looking back at him.

My fears were unwarranted, though. The next day, after arriving at the theater, Megan grabbed my arm and asked if I would take her to Lane’s classroom.

“Why?” I asked.

She said excitedly, “I have got to find some more Von Trapp kids.” Just then, Shade approached and laughed at her nervousness.

“Relax, Megan,” he said soothingly as he put his arm around her waist. She leaned over and rested her head on his shoulder. Even though they said they were no more than friends, I still thought they shared a closeness that was abnormal for just friends. “It’s going to be all right,” he assured her.

“You know how I am,” she whined. “I want everything to be just perfect.” She looked up at him and pouted. “I’ve just got to find more children.”

She stepped away from him and grabbed my hand. “Come on, Casey,” she insisted. “We’ve got to find some Von Trapp kids.”

As I headed out the exit with them, I asked, “Don’t we need hall passes or something?”

Shade assured me that all the administrators knew who they were. “We are pretty much free to go wherever we need.”

I smiled and asked, “How about me taking off for home early then?” Megan laughed and slapped my arm.

When we entered Mrs. Chamber’s class, I was surprised to see all the children sitting quietly as they worked on what appeared to be a social studies assignment. Lane had a huge map of the United States before him, and he and Donnie were busy writing in the names of the states on it.

He squealed and jumped up when he saw us. “Casey!” He ran over and hugged me. He then hugged Megan.

He giggled when Shade frowned and asked, “Where’s my hug?” He didn’t hesitate to wrap his arms around Shade and hug him tightly.

While Lane explained what he and Donnie were doing, Megan pulled Mrs. Chambers aside and talked quietly to her. A minute later, she walked over and looked out over the students. She then called three of them to the front. Tommy was one. I watched as Megan knelt down and briefly explained she wanted them to go to the theater with us. As they lined up at the door, I asked Mrs. Chambers if Lane could join us. She agreed that he could, so I motioned for him. He skipped over and grabbed my hand. We then led four very excited students to the theater.

Megan had them sit in the front row of the theater. As I studied them, I could see why they had been selected. Even though they appeared to be about the same age, their appearances were quite different. Two of the girls were taller than the rest, and Donnie looked like he could easily pass for a ten-year-old.

Megan left and returned a few minutes later with Lorenzo. He stood before the students, put his hand on his cheek and stared down at them. “Hmm,” he said. “If they can sing, it will be perfect. I won’t have to meet with them at night. We can rehearse right here during school hours.”

They giggled when he had them stand according to height. They looked like stair steps. “Okay,” he said as he clapped his hands together. “We’re going to sing 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.'” They enthusiastically raised their hands when he asked, “Who knows the song?”

Max walked over and watched as Lorenzo had them sing the song. Donnie began by singing too loudly, but Lorenzo leaned down, put his finger to his lips and asked Donnie to sing more softly. Soon, other students began to gather around and listen. When Lorenzo had them stop, everyone applauded. Lane’s face was filled with pride. I had never seen him smile so happily. When he saw me smiling back, he walked over and held my hand.

“Good job, Little Brother,” I whispered in his ear. He squeezed my hand tighter.

Max, Lorenzo and Megan walked about ten feet away and huddled together. Shade stepped up beside me and said, “I think Megan has found her children.”

I squeezed Lane’s hand and replied, “I think so too.”

Minutes later, Lorenzo and Megan walked back over and asked the young students to sit down. Shade and I stood together with our shoulders slightly touching as Lorenzo explained to Lane and the others that they wanted them to perform in the play. They each eagerly agreed to participate, and then he told them that he would have to get their parents’ permission. Mrs. Chambers would also have to agree to let them miss the last hour of class on some days. I knew that would be no problem because she was very supportive of Lane’s involvement.

When Megan, Shade and I escorted them back to class, we had to hush them when they began a rousing version of 'Mary Had a Little Lamb.' I believe they thought that was one of the songs Lorenzo would have them sing in the play.

On the way back to the theater, Megan stopped at the restroom, and Shade and I headed back to class. I laughed and asked him, “How’s your car running? Did the new battery help?”

He stopped and looked at me. “Yeah,” he said appreciatively. “Thanks. I owe you for what you did.”

“You don’t owe me anything,” I insisted. “I was glad to help.”

“But you gave a total stranger two hundred dollars,” he replied. “Not many people would do that.” He stared at me intently and asked, “Why did you do it anyway?”

I shrugged my shoulders. “I dunno,” I responded.

“Let me ask you,” he said. “And I want the truth. Were you running away that day?”

“The truth, huh?” He nodded his head. “I’m not sure,” I replied. “I wanted to get away, but I didn’t have anywhere to go. If I hadn’t run into you, I might be stranded somewhere in downtown Atlanta right now.” I smiled and added, “So I guess we’re even. We helped each other out that day.”

He put his hand on my back and patted it. “Thanks for telling me the truth. I’ve been wondering why you did it.” He left his hand on a little longer before finally removing it.

Before entering the room, he stopped again and asked, “Would you like me to give you a ride home after school? It’s the least I can do?”

“Don’t you have to go to work?”

“Yeah,” he replied, “but I don’t have to be there until six.”

I shook my head. “I walk home with Lane every day. I don’t want him to walk home alone.”

“He can ride with us,” replied Shade. “I have no problem with that.” He looked intently at me again. I was beginning to feel uncomfortable because it was as if he was reading me. “Lane means a lot to you, doesn’t he?”

I nodded my head and replied, “Yeah, he does. I love him to death.”

“I can tell,” said Shade as he opened the door and patted me once again on my back as I entered the theater. I found it strange when he added, “He’s a lucky guy.”

After class, Shade followed me to my locker to get the books I would need for homework. As I was rummaging around in it, he asked, “Have you found out who trashed your other locker?”

“Not yet,” I replied as I crammed a few books into my book bag. We then headed off to get Lane. He was waiting outside Mrs. Chambers’ room.

He waved to Shade, and then he looked at me. “Is Shade walking home with us?”

“No,” I replied. “He’s taking us home in his car.”

Lane giggled and exclaimed excitedly, “Yippee!” When we exited the building, I was surprised when he reached over, grabbed Shade’s hand and held it.

When we stopped in front of Shade’s old car, Lane asked, “This is yours?”

“Yep,” replied Shade. “All mine.”

Lane wrinkled up his nose and asked, “It’s kind of old, isn’t it?”

Shade opened the back door and Lane got in. “It’s paid for,” he laughed as he slammed the door shut.

As we drove out of the parking lot, Shade asked, “Are you guys in a hurry to get home?”

“No,” I replied, “Why?”

“I thought we might go get some apple pie and ice cream.”

Lane yelled from the back seat, “Yippee!”

We didn’t say much as he drove across town. Lane did most of the talking. He was still excited about performing in the play. Soon, Shade pulled into the parking lot of a small diner. It had a big sign in the window that read, “Luncheon specials for less than $5.”

When we entered, the diner was empty except for an elderly man sitting at the counter drinking a cup of coffee. It was small with about twelve booths along the window. The counter looked like it could seat another fifteen diners. The place reminded me of an old Waffle House.

We followed Shade to a booth and sat down. We had only been seated a minute when he looked over my shoulder and smiled.

“Hi, Sweetie,” I heard a female voice behind me. A small woman, who looked about forty, leaned down and kissed him on his cheek.

He attempted to rub the kiss off and responded, “Hi, Mom.”

She laughed and said, “Sorry, Baby, if I embarrassed you in front of your friends.”

“Mom,” he moaned. “Stop it.”

She laughed again and then looked down at me. “You must be Casey.” I was surprised she knew my name. She smiled warmly at me. I looked into her face and she appeared tired. She had dark circles under her eyes. It looked as if she hadn’t slept in days.

“Yes, Ma’am,” I replied. I looked over at Lane. “This is my little brother, Lane.” Lane waved timidly at her.

She smiled and said, “Well, both of you are very handsome boys.” She looked at me and added, “You’re better looking than Shade described you.”

“Mom!” yelled Shade. “Would you stop it!”

She stood erect, pulled a pad out of her apron, pressed a pen to it and asked coyly, “Very well, Sir. What will you have?”

I laughed when Shade moaned again, “Mom, you’re embarrassing me.”

“Mrs. Shade,” I said, “Shade said something about apple pie and ice cream.”

“Yes,” giggled Lane. “I want ice cream and apple pie.”

She leaned past me and gently pinched Lane’s cheek. He giggled as she said, “You’re just the cutest thing. You can have anything you want.”

As she turned, Lane hollered out, “I want two scoops of ice cream!”

I looked over at Shade and said, “I like your mother.”

“She’s okay,” he replied, “when she’s not trying to embarrass me.”

Lane said excitedly, “I hope she brings me two scoops of ice cream.”

“If I know Mom,” responded Shade, “she’ll bring you the entire tub of ice cream.”

“Really!” squealed Lane.

When she arrived carrying a large platter with our order, it did look like she had dished out the entire tub. Lane squealed again when she placed a plate in front of him. It looked like she had given him a third of an apple pie with about four scoops of ice cream. She had also included whipped cream with three cherries on top. Lane immediately picked up his spoon, cut off a large piece of pie and shoved it into his mouth.

Mrs. Shade laughed when he muttered, “Mmmmmm.”

Shade and my desserts weren’t quite as large, but they were still a large portion. She left and returned with three large sodas. For the next fifteen minutes, we devoured the pie and ice cream. I thought there was no way Lane could possibly eat everything, but he did. When he finished, he leaned back in his seat and let out a loud belch. It was a good thing only the elderly man was in the diner.

When we finished, I asked Shade how much we owed him. I was afraid I didn’t have enough money to cover our portion of the bill. “Nothing,” he replied.

“We have to owe you something,” I insisted.

Just then, his mother stepped up to the table and asked us if we had enough. She laughed when Lane leaned back and rubbed his swollen stomach. “Yes, Ma’am,” he moaned.

“Well, good,” she replied. “I like my boys full and happy.”

Shade stood and hugged his mother. “Thanks, Mom,” he said appreciatively.

She looked down at Lane and me and opened her arms. “You boys better give me a big hug.” I stood and wrapped my arms around her.

I said, “Thank you, Mrs. Shade.”

Lane jumped into her arms and squeezed her tightly. “Can I come back again?”

She kissed him on his forehead and replied, “Baby, you’re welcome here anytime.” Lane grinned and hugged her again.

After getting into the car, I told Shade that I felt guilty by not paying for our meal. He assured me that it was no problem. “She throws away more than that in the dumpster at the end of the night. The homeless rummage through it to find something to eat.”

“Ew,” replied Lane as he wriggled his nose. “Doesn’t the ice cream melt?”

Shade laughed and responded, “She doesn’t throw away ice cream. Just left over vegetable dishes and things like that.”

Lane replied, “That’s still gross.”

“It wouldn’t be if you’re hungry,” said Shade.

“I’d never get that hungry,” quipped Lane.

Shade muttered, “Don’t bet on it.”

I gave Shade directions to my father’s house. He slowed down and looked at the large homes in the neighborhood. I could tell by his reaction that he had never been in the area. He stopped at the bottom of the driveway and stared up at our house.

“Holy shit!” he exclaimed. “You guys live here?”

“Yeah,” replied Lane. “What’s wrong with it?”

Shade shook his head and said, “Nothing.” He slowly drove up the drive and let us out at the front. I invited him in, but he insisted he had to get home and go to his job.

Lane jumped out and ran into the house. I looked over at Shade and smiled. “Thanks for the pie and ice cream.” When he returned my smile, I had an urge to lean over and kiss him goodbye.

“Maybe we can do it again,” he assured me.

“It’s a date,” I smiled as I got out of the car. I waved goodbye as he pulled off and watched him until his car disappeared from sight.

I smiled and said to myself, “It’s a date.” I then turned and headed into the house.