Chapter 1
If school gets any more boring, I’m going to stand up in class, strip off my     
clothes and run naked through the hallways. I’d love to see the look on Old Man  
Armstrong’s face. He’s the principal here at Lakeshore Academy.  

I jumped when I heard Mrs. Walker shouted out my name from the front of the
room. “Mr. Barrett,” she hollered angrily. “Maybe you would like to tell everyone
why you’re smiling and not paying attention in class.”

My heart jumped into my throat, and I had to swallow hard to breathe. I didn’t
realize that the thought of running naked through the halls had made me seem so
amused. I quickly glanced at the board to see if  she had written anything. I could
try to wing it and pretend I had been listening, but she had erased what she had
been on the board. I looked around at the other students who were staring at me
with amused looks upon their faces.

“I wasn’t thinking about nothing,” I responded timidly.

She strolled down the aisle and stood before my desk. “I wasn’t thinking about
nothing,” she said mockingly. “You’ve sat in my English class for a year, and it’s
obvious you’ve learned absolutely nothing. She turned to address the rest of the
class, who were by now giggling at her as if she were a stand-up comedian. “Can
anyone tell me what is wrong with Mr. Barrett’s response?” She looked down and
said with a wry smile, “I wasn’t thinking about nothing.” Several hands shot up into
the air.

Tears of embarrassment formed in my eyes as I looked up and asked,
“Why are you picking on me?”

“Why Mr. Barrett,” she replied sarcastically. “I’m not picking on you. This is an
English class and I’m merely using your statement as a learning experience.” I
heard several students around me giggle.

She turned and pointed to Kim Lawton, who still had her hand raised. “Miss
Lawton,” she asked. “Can you tell Mr. Barrett what is wrong with his comment,     
‘I wasn’t thinking about nothing?’”

“Certainly, Mrs. Walker,” she replied with a giggle. “Casey should have said he
wasn’t thinking about anything. To say he was thinking about nothing would
indicate he wasn’t thinking.”

Mrs. Walker clapped her hands together. “Excellent response, Miss Lawton.” I
glanced over angrily at her, and she returned a deceitful smile.

Mrs. Walker stood over me once again and said, “Now would you like to rephrase
your answer to my question, Mr. Barrett.”

I folded my arms defiantly and replied, “No.”

She glared down at me for a few seconds. She then started walking back toward
the front of the room. “Very well,” she said as she turned toward me. “Then you
will write five hundred times, I wasn’t thinking about anything.” Twenty-five
students in the room burst into laughter.

“You’re kidding, right?” I shouted. “They write sentences in the second grade.”

“Well,” she huffed, “You’re acting like a child, so I’ll treat you like a child.”

Before I could stop the words from exiting my mouth, I muttered, “And you’re
acting like a bitch.”

I don’t think there is a shade of red on a color chart that would describe the angry
look on her face.  Several girls in the room let out a gasp when it finally sunk in
that I had actually called Mrs. Walker a bitch. Well, actually I hadn’t. I said she was
acting like one, but I guess there really isn’t a fine line when it comes to this sort of
thing.

She raised a hand, pointed angrily at the door and shouted, “Get out!”

Emily Hayes rose from her desk and volunteered, “You want me to go get Mr.
Armstrong?” Mrs. Walker ignored her and approached me. I glanced over at the
door as Emily ran out.

She towered over me and shouted loudly, “Get out of my classroom!”

I looked around the room as everyone turned to stare at me. I rose and stood
defiantly before Mrs. Walker. “I don’t know why I have to leave.” I then leaned
toward her and said mockingly, “I didn’t do nothing.” I made sure to emphasis the
word nothing.

I jumped when she raised her hand to slap me. She drew it back before she did.
She folded her hand, glared at me and said, “See what you almost made me do?”

I smiled bemusedly and replied, “I didn’t make you do nothing.” Again, I stressed
the word nothing.

Suddenly, Mr. Armstrong shouted out my name as he entered the room. “Casey
Barrett! My office. Now!” As I walked away, I made sure I gently brushed against
Mrs. Walker. I wanted to intimidate her, but I  didn’t want it to appear like an
assault. As I left the room, I could hear the chatter of students as they discussed
what they had just witnessed.

“I don’t care,” I muttered to myself as I stormed down the hallway toward the
office. I turned to see if Mr. Armstrong was following me. He wasn’t, so I assumed
he had remained in the room to get Mrs. Walker’s explanation of what had
occurred.

I considered leaving the building, but I knew if I did, Mr. Armstrong would call the
police and have me arrested. This was my third infraction this year. He had already
suspended me twice before. I was pretty sure I was looking at a possible expulsion
this time.

I’m not a bad kid, honestly. I really try to do the right things. But when I do, it
seems like something happens, like today, that gums up the works.

Today I was really trying to pay attention in class. But it is hard for me to pay
attention because I have this tendency to daydream. Maybe I did laugh a little
when I thought of running naked down the hall. Still, why did Mrs. Walker have to
pick that time to act like a real bitch? I really didn’t do nothing.

I was already struggling in class. I failed last quarter, and I was trying this quarter.
I had passed the last two tests- barely. At least I did study for them.

However, just like every other time, something happens. Two weeks ago, Mr.
Latham, the chemistry teacher, got on me because I wasn’t wearing goggles in the
lab. When he assigned me detention, I told him I wouldn’t serve it. He wrote me
up, and Mr. Armstrong suspended me for three days. Earlier in the year, I was
suspended for another three days because I skipped out on an assembly, and I
went outside and smoked a cigarette. Mr. Dudley, the football coach came around
the side of the building and saw me before I could get rid of it.

I mean, so I forgot to put on my goggles during lab. What’s the big deal? I have
seen other students forget, and Latham joked about it. But me, he assigns
detention.

And big deal, I didn’t want to go to some boring assembly about drug abuse. I don’t
use that stuff, so why should I care? Okay, I smoke, but that’s not really a drug.
Right?

I entered the office and plopped down in a chair beside the door to await
Armstrong. The secretary glanced up and rolled her eyes at me. She probably
realized she would have to write a letter of suspension soon. I gave her a snide
smile and brushed back the long, black hair from my forehead. She shook her head
and rolled her eyes again.

Ten minutes later, Armstrong entered the office. He glanced down without saying a
word. I rose and followed him back to his office. It was a trek I had made several
times before. I walked over and dropped into a chair against the wall. Armstrong
left and returned a few minutes later with a manila folder in his hand. Judging by  
its thickness, I assumed it was mine.

He thumbed through it, laid it down on his desk and looked over at me. He sighed
and said, “What am I going to do with you, Casey? Your poor mother is going to be
disappointed again.”

I sat rigidly and angrily replied, “My mother has nothing to do with this. Suspend
me if you have to, but leave her out of this.”

Armstrong rose from his chair, came around the desk and sat atop it. He looked
down and said, “Your mother is one of my top educators. She’s admired by
everyone.” He sighed and added, “But you...”

I stood, and at 6’2” I towered over him. He shrunk away from me. “But me, what?”

He nervously jumped from his desk, walked around to his chair, and sat down. He
fiddled with my folder, and then he said, “You’re so rebellious. I don’t know how
your mother handles you.”

He jumped when I slammed my hand down on his desk. “I told you to leave my
mother out of this!” I walked to the door and opened it. Turning, I asked, “Am I
suspended?”

He looked sadly at me and announced, “Yes.”

“Fine,” I replied. “See you then.” I slammed the door, headed down the hall and
left the school grounds. I noticed one of the school resource officers watching me
from the steps as I walked through the parking lot. I guess he was watching to see
if I would vandalize someone’s automobile. If I knew what kind of car Mrs. Walker
drove, I probably would have.

                                               * * * * * *

When I heard the front door slam, I knew Mom had arrived home. I was in my
bedroom playing a video game. School is out at 3:30, but she usually doesn’t get
home until an hour later. Either she works with students after school, or she has to
attend faculty meetings. When I was in grade school, she made me wait for her at
the elementary school I attended. Now, we lived about a mile and a half from
Lakeshore Academy, so I walk home. I enjoy the walks because it gives me time
to clear my head from all the bullshit I have endured during the day.

It’s not easy being a teacher’s son, especially when your mom teaches at the same
school you attend. It doesn’t help either, that she is a very popular teacher. You
would think it would make me popular, but it hasn’t. I’m just not one of those
people who want to be popular. In fact, I’m happier when people just leave me
alone. I guess I send out this vibe that other students can read quickly.

Girls used to come on to me all the time. I don’t want to sound egotistical or
anything, but I am graced with some good looks. Mom and Dad are both attractive,
so I guess I inherited some good genes. Mom looks like Winona Ryder. She thinks
it’s really cool when kids tell her that. Dad looks like an over-aged baseball player.
In fact, he did play baseball in high school and college. He tried to get me to play
little league when I was younger, but I found standing in a field waiting for some
skinny batter to hit me a ball boring. I tried for two weeks to like it, but I finally
told him I didn’t want to play anymore. He moped around the house for a few
days, and he refused to talk to me. But that was a long time ago, and he’s not even
around anymore.

“Casey!” I jumped when she hollered out my name at the bottom of the steps. “Get
down here now!”

It doesn’t bother me. I’m used to her little tirades by now. She’s always screaming
at me about something. I don’t think I’m a bad kid, it’s just that I can’t get into the
program she wants me to be in.

We have this barrier between us. She screams at me, and I just shut her off. She
hates that. I used to scream back, but then I realized she enjoyed the
confrontation. Being a teacher, she had a lot of experience at it. We weren’t on a
level playing field, and she would win all the arguments. If I sit and listen to her
and don’t respond, I can watch her go from angry to frustrated in about ten
minutes. She still thinks she has won, but I don’t give her the satisfaction of letting
her prove it.

I slowly walked into the den and plopped down in a Lazy Boy recliner. It was her
favorite chair, so it was my way of showing her that her little exhibition of power
wasn’t going to bother me. By now, I already knew the script.

She began immediately. “What is going on inside your thick head?” I silently
muttered the words before they left her mouth. “Don’t I do everything I can to
provide you a decent living?” Wait a minute. She changed the script. This usually
follows, “I work hard everyday.”

“I work hard everyday,” she continued to rant. Ah, yes. There it is.

I mumbled, “But you don’t appreciate anything I do.”

She walked over, stood before me and shouted angrily, “You smart ass! You think
this is cute, don’t you?”

I looked away and mumbled as innocently as possible, “No, Mother.”

“Well it isn’t!” she shouted. She continued to pace around the room and inform me
how rude and disrespectful a child I was. As usual, she compared me to every
student she’s ever had, or will probably ever have in the future.

Then came the rant, “You’re just like your father.” For the next fifteen minutes, I
had to listen to how he was the cause of their marriage going into the crapper. I
believe she was probably the cause if he had to endure hours of her endless raging
about his personality disorders.

Six years ago, when I was eleven, he left. I woke up one morning, and he was
simply gone. Vanished without even a goodbye. I get cards on my birthday and
Christmas. I don’t even bother to read what he writes. I just pull out the twenty-
dollar bills he stuffs inside them, and then I discard them into the wastebasket.
What do I care? He couldn’t even tell me he was leaving. In one of her rages at
me, she once mentioned that he was living with a new wife in North Carolina.    
That’s all I know, and even that is more than I care to know.

“Mrs. Walker is a dear friend of mine,” she exclaimed. I had to endure a lecture for
ten minutes about how my behavior had embarrassed her. “Mr. Armstrong called
me into his office after school.” Another ten minutes how her good friend, the
principal, was bending over backwards to keep me in school. Then it was another
ten minutes relating how other students were talking about how rude and
disrespectful my behavior was.

She stood before me and hollered down, “What made you think you could call a
teacher a bitch?”

I was going to say, “Because she is,” but I knew that would give her the opening to
continue another half hour rant. I just wanted it to end so I could go back to the
peace of my room.

She walked over to the window and peered out. She folded her arms and said
quietly, “I should have gotten you counseling after that incident with Rollie
Patterson.”

For the first time I spoke. “Leave him out of this! He has nothing to do with it!” She
turned, and I saw tears in her eyes.

“You’ve never been the same since that afternoon,” she cried softly.

I turned my head and looked into the kitchen. “You’ve never been the same,” I
replied bitterly.

It was a hot, summer afternoon three years ago. Rollie and I had been best  
friends since kindergarten. We were fourteen, and we had just returned from the
community swimming pool a few blocks away. We went to my bedroom to change
out of our swimming trunks. We had seen each other naked many times, so it   
didn’t bother me to pull off my trunks and stand naked in front of him. That day,
however, was different. As I grabbed for my underwear, Rollie grabbed my hand.

“Don’t get dressed yet.” His voice was heavy and quivered nervously.

“Why?” I asked, but I already knew. For months, we had been playing a flirtatious
game. What had started out as playful shoving and pushing when we were
together, had escalated into wild romps in our bedrooms where we would end up
wrestling with our bodies grinding sensuously into one another.

Rollie put his hands on my hips and pulled me towards him. I didn’t resist when his
lips touched mine. We both knew what we wanted, and it was time to end the
game. He led me over to my bed, and for an hour we kissed and caressed. We
lovingly explored every inch of each other’s body. It was more intense than I had
ever imagined it would be. That hot, summer afternoon I became aware of who I
was, and what I was. There was no shame or remorse. What we felt was pure and
innocent.

Until my mother walked into the bedroom.

She was supposed to have been attending a conference all day. That morning she
told me that she    wouldn’t be home until after seven, and that I should make
dinner for myself. However, one of the presenters didn’t show, so she left early.

She caught Rollie and I naked in bed. We were on our knees, and I was kissing his
neck as I penetrated him. Neither of us saw her enter until she shrieked. We pulled
away, and covered our nakedness with a sheet. Her eyes were wide, and they had
a wild look. I’d never seen that expression on her face before. Not even when she
was arguing with Dad.

She cleared her throat, and calmly told us to get dressed. We didn’t say anything
as we put on our  clothing. Our innocence had been replaced with fear. Before he
left my bedroom, I gave him a quick kiss, making sure that my mother was not
standing outside in the hallway.

As I opened the front door for him, my mother approached and said, “I’ve called
your father, Rollie. I thought he should know what you’ve done.”

I never saw him after that day. His parents barred him from seeing me ever again.
Before the start of school, they moved. To this day, I don’t know where he is. I
keep checking Facebook and My Space, hoping that he will appear, but he hasn’t. I
have an account, just in case he wants to contact me- but he hasn’t. I want us to
talk about what happened. It was special to me, and I feel there hasn’t been any
closure.

My mother and I have never really talked about what happened. I know she hates
me, but she won’t say it. I keep hoping that in one of her rages, she’ll yell it out.
Then I would know. But she hasn’t.

Occasionally, like tonight, she’ll bring it up. Usually, it’s because she feels guilty
because she didn’t get me counseling. But I don’t need the counseling- she does.    
I’m okay being gay. I regretted that she saw us, but I have never felt guilty about
what I did that day with Rollie. I learned things about myself. For several years, I
had felt this uneasiness and tension. I knew what caused it, but I held back, hoping
that maybe the feelings and thoughts would go away.

That afternoon with Rollie was a revelation. It was as if all my fears and
uncertainties vanished with his kiss. I miss him. I want him to know what we did
wasn’t wrong. I want him to feel free like me. However, it bothers me to think that
he may be somewhere lost in a world of uncertainty and guilt. I whispered that day
in his ear before my mother entered, “I love you.” I want him to know I meant it.

                                                       * * * * * *

I was sitting on the patio watching the sunset. I could see storm clouds off in the
distant, and occasionally I could hear a faint rumble of thunder. I didn’t turn when I
heard the patio door slide open. I figured it was my mother checking to make sure
I hadn’t left home.

It’s ironic that she grounds me when I get in trouble at school. I never go
anywhere, but I guess it satisfies her parental authority. If she really wanted to
punish me, she would take away my video games. She tried it once, so I spent the
entire two weeks sitting across from her in the den glaring at her. She squirmed in
her Lazy Boy chair, and she would occasionally ask me if I had anything better to
do. I would say, “Nope. You took my games away, remember?” Since then, she’s
never removed them from my room.

I looked over when someone sat down and said, “Hey, Casey. You okay?” It was
Terry Moller. Terry is probably the closest person I can call a friend. He lives next
door. He is a sophomore at my school, and occasionally we walk home from school
together. He usually talks, and I pretend to listen.

He is also gay. I know he has had a crush on me since they moved in two years
ago. I have never told him I am, because I only tell people on a need to know
basis. So I have told no one, not even Terry. He’s cute, but I have no interest in
having a boyfriend right now.

I don’t encourage him to come over, but I also don’t discourage him. I know it
makes Mom nervous when he does appear at the door. She knows he’s gay, the
whole school does. I get amused watching her parade past my bedroom every ten
minutes. She pretends not to look, but I can see her peek in the room as she goes
by. I guess she’s seeing if I’m having mad, passionate sex with Terry. I would close
the door and make her really worried, but I’m afraid Terry would take it as an
invitation.

I hurt his feelings last year when he looked into my eyes and said lovingly, “You
have the bluest eyes. I just want to swim in them every time I look into your face.”
I know he was testing me to see how I would react. He didn’t appreciate it when I
fell back on the bed and laughed hysterically. He left the room in a huff, and he
wouldn’t speak to me for weeks. I felt so bad, I approached him in school and
apologized. Of course, now he thinks I’m interested in him, so his visits have
become more frequent.

A bolt of lightning lit up the sky in the distance, and seconds later a rumble of
thunder could be heard. Terry looked over and asked worriedly, “Did you get
suspended? I heard what happened at school?”

I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Dunno. Probably. Mom didn’t say.”

“She seemed pretty mad when I came to the door,” he said. “I didn’t think she was
going to let me in.”

“She’ll get over it,” I remarked. “She always does.”

He looked over and stared. “I just don’t get it, Casey,” he said. “Your mother is so
cool.” He looked into my eyes. “And you’re a cool guy. I don’t know why you can’t
get along.”

I laughed slightly and replied, “Life, I guess. It just happens.”

I reached for the cigarette pack, pulled a cigarette out, placed it in my lips and lit
it. I inhaled deeply, and then blew circles out through my pursed lips. Terry stared
at the rings as they floated out of my mouth.

“You really shouldn’t smoke,” he said. “It’s going to kill you some day.”

“Yeah, well,” I replied as I blew a few more smoke rings into the air. “You gotta die
someday.” Terry looked worriedly at me.

Just then, another bolt of lightning lit up the sky, followed soon by a rumble of
thunder. I looked over at Terry and asked, “Hear that?”

He listened a few seconds before replying, “I don’t hear anything.”

“That’s it,” I said. “Hear how quiet it is?”

Terry nodded and responded, “Yeah.”

“It’s like that,” I continued, “because birds don’t sing before a storm.”

“No,” he said, “but they’ll sing again when the storm is over.”

I shook my head and asked, “What if the storm never ends?” He looked up at the
darkening sky and didn’t answer.


                                               * * * * * * *


                                 
     Chapter 2          Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
 Before a Storm