The next morning I escorted Lane to his classroom. As we walked down the
hallway, students literally stopped and stared at me. Lane put his arm around my
back, and I put my arm around his shoulder. I found it amusing because I think he
was instinctively trying to protect me.
Mrs. Chambers gasped when I entered the room with Lane. Donnie came running
up and exclaimed, “Wow! Look at that shiner!”
She told them to go to their seats as she followed me out into the hall. “Casey,”
she asked, “are you okay?” She looked worriedly at the bruises on my face. My eye
was still swollen, but I could see out of it. Students continued to stop and stare at
I laughed and responded, “I’ve been better.”
She asked, “Who did that to you?”
I looked at the clock on the wall and told her I had to get to my first period class.
She reached out to stop me, but I managed to turn and hurry away.
Instead of going to my classroom, I headed down the stairs to the guidance office.
Mrs. Moore was outside her office talking to another student. When she saw me,
she excused herself and approached me. “Oh, my God,” she muttered. “Mr.
Barrett, what happened to you?”
I ignored her question and asked, “Can I request a class change?”
She grabbed my arm and pulled me down the hall to her office. She sat at her desk
as I took a seat. “What is going on?” she asked worriedly.
“I’m not happy with two of my classes,” I said. “I want to change teachers.” I
watched as she pulled up my schedule on her computer. As she did, she glanced up
several times at my face.
She looked at me and asked, “What classes?”
“English and gym,” I stated adamantly.
“But those are Mr. Wentworth’s classes,” she replied. “He requested you to be in
I sat back and insisted angrily, “I don’t want to take his classes. Can I change
She asked worriedly, “But why? I need a reason to make a class change.”
I placed my hand to my face and asked, “Is this reason enough?”
Mrs. Moore excused herself and told me she would be right back. I sat and waited a
few minutes. When she returned, Mr. Snyder was with her.
She pointed to me and said, “See.”
He carefully examined my face and then asked, “Who did this to you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I insisted. “I just want my schedule changed.”
I didn’t think it would do any good if I told them Mike was responsible. If Mr.
Wentworth was willing to go to great lengths to cover for him, I was sure Mr.
Snyder would do the same. There is a student hierarchy at any school. He was at
the top. Being new to the school, I was at the bottom. They would have found
some reason to blame the fight on me. I just wanted to avoid all the bullshit and
get on with my life.
Mr. Snyder sat on the edge of Mrs. Moore’s desk and attempted to get me tell him
what had happened. “If this is a school incident, then I have to make a report. Mrs.
Moore said you wanted a class change because of what happened to you. You have
to tell me who did this to you.”
I stared at him and replied angrily. “I don’t have to tell you anything.” He bristled
at my response, and I could tell he wasn’t sure how he should respond. Before he
had a chance to, I looked at Mrs. Moore and asked, “Are you going to change my
She nervously looked over at Mr. Snyder. “I don’t know,” she replied. Mr. Snyder
asked me to wait while he and Mrs. Moore stepped out of the room for a minute. I
sat for about fifteen minutes before she returned.
When she did, she returned to her computer and started typing. I asked, “Are you
changing my classes?”
“Yes,” she replied as she glanced worriedly at me. “Mr. Snyder called your
father, and he consented to a schedule change.” It surprised me because my father
was upset with me the last time I saw him. I didn’t know what Wentworth told him
after our confrontation in my bedroom.
She looked up and said, “I’m placing you in Ms. Thrasher’s English class. It will be
the same period.” She studied her monitor for a minute. “Seventh period is more
difficult. Most of the classes are full.”
I asked, “Can’t I just go home after sixth?”
“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “If you were a senior, maybe. However, juniors can’t
have early dismissals.” She studied the screen again, and then looked over at me.
She informed me, “It appears your only options at this time are auto mechanics or
“That’s it?” I asked. “That’s not much of an option.”
She looked at the monitor again. “I’m sorry, Mr. Barrett. Our elective classes are
very popular, and most of them are filled right now. Perhaps, if a student
withdraws, I can place you in another class.” She frowned and said, “Right now it’s
either auto mechanics or drama.”
I knew absolutely nothing about a car. I knew where to put in the gasoline, and
that was about it. New cars today are computerized, so it didn’t seem important to
learn how to work on them since most repairs had be done by experts.
I had no idea what a drama class might involve. “What do I have to do if I take
She smiled and said, “The drama class performs plays. They already had their fall
presentation. I believe they are now casting for their spring performance.”
I asked excitedly, “You mean I have to get up on stage and act? I can’t do that!”
She laughed and replied, “No, Mr. Barrett. There are many aspects to theater. You
can direct, do set design or costumes.”
I shook my head and responded, “I can’t do any of those.” I leaned forward and
pleaded, “Don’t you have any other class I can take?”
“I’m afraid not,” she replied as she turned toward the computer. “Should I assign
you auto mechanics?”
“No,” I replied sadly. “Give me drama.”
She printed out my new schedule and handed it to me. When she noticed me frown
as I scanned the paper, she laughed and said, “It won’t be that bad. Maybe you’ll
“Yeah, right,” I replied sarcastically. As I walked out of her office, I was already
considering how I could cut seventh period in the afternoon.
There was only about fifteen minutes left when I entered my first period physics
class. Mr. Snowden was conducting an experiment, but he stopped and stared at
me when I walked over and handed him my late pass.
Everyone watched silently as I walked to the back of the room and sat down in an
empty seat. Monica and her three friends turned to look at me. I wasn’t sure if my
incident with Mike had hit the rumor mill yet. I’m sure the other baseball players
were aware of what happened. By now, the rest of the school should know. When
Mr. Snowden started talking again, I put my elbows on the desk and rested my
When the bell rang, everyone stopped to stare at me as I stood and pulled my
book bag over my shoulder. You would think they had never seen anyone with a
bruised face before. As I started to leave, Monica wrapped her arm around mine.
“I heard what happened, Casey,” she said softly. She seemed almost concerned
about me. “Mike’s an asshole for doing what he did.” As we walked out the door, I
noticed Curtis standing across the hall talking to a few friends. He glared at me as
we passed by.
As I tried to pull away, I told Monica, “I gotta get to class.”
She gripped my arm tightly. “We have the same class,” she said. “I’ll walk with
you.” Surprisingly, one of her other friends took hold of my other arm.
I gave Monica a puzzled look. “Why are you doing this?”
She smiled and replied, “Honestly?” I nodded my head. “This will piss Mike and
Curtis off, and I’ll do anything to upset them.”
I laughed and said, “You’re really bad.” I knew I was only inviting more trouble,
but there wasn’t much more they could do to me. Next time, however, I would be
better prepared to defend myself.
She gripped my arm tighter, laughed and said, “I’m one bad bitch.” Her friends
responded with a chorus of ‘Amen.’
Like earlier, students stared at me as we paraded down the hall. Monica seemed to
relish the attention. I would simply look away.
I received the same reaction in my classes all morning. My teachers would seem
surprised, and the other students seemed mildly bemused. By the end of third
period, I had assumed they had heard about my fight with Mike. Well, actually it
wasn’t a fight. I lay stunned and in pain on the ground while he pulverized my face.
Unfortunately, I had lunch at the same time. Because of the number of students,
there are three separate lunch periods. I was hoping that Mrs. Thrasher’s class ate
a different period. When I entered the cafeteria, students nearest the door stopped
talking and stared at me. As I crossed the room, it was like Moses parting the Red
Sea. After I passed, I could hear them talking about me.
I went through the food line, and I received a concerned look from the cashier. I
know she wanted to ask me what happened, but she didn’t. When I left and
entered back into the cafeteria, I decided I would take my hamburger and fries
outside to eat.
As I walked across the room, Lane jumped from his table and came rushing over to
me. “Eat with us,” he pleaded as he took me by my arm and pulled me to where
his friends were sitting. Reluctantly, I followed him.
I had no sooner sat down when Donnie remarked excitedly, “Wow! That’s a cool
shiner! Who did it?” I smiled when Lane punched him in his side, and he let out a
“I walked into a door,” I said as I took a bite of my hamburger. Donnie wanted to
say something, but Lane elbowed him again. As we ate, Lane’s friends continued to
stare at my face. It was as if they had never seen anyone with a black eye before.
Well, maybe they hadn’t seen one as dark and bruised as mine.
After gulping down my food, I told Lane I had to go to the library to do some work.
He whined and asked me to stay, but I was feeling uncomfortable from all the
stares I was receiving.
As I stood, I saw Rodney approaching our table. He took a seat, straddled it and
sat down across from me. He looked over at Lane, waved and said, “Hi, Skipper.”
Lane responded adamantly, “I’m not Skipper anymore.” His friends started
giggling. “My name is Lane.”
“Since when?” laughed Rodney. “We’ve called you Skipper since you were little.”
Lane looked up proudly at me and replied, “Casey wants me to be called Lane.
I’m too old to be Skipper.” I thought Rodney would get mad with Lane’s attitude,
but it didn’t appear to bother him.
“Okay, Lane,” he said. “If that’s who you want to be.”
“It is,” replied Lane as he looked up at me and smiled broadly.
Rodney turned back to me. He studied my face and asked, “Are you all right?”
Since Rodney and I had sort of bonded down in my room on the weekend, I didn’t
want to be rude to him. Besides, he seemed genuinely concerned.
I attempted to smile and replied, “I guess I’ve had better days.”
“I guess you probably have,” he said worriedly. He stood and said, “Let’s take a
Hesitantly, I walked with him through the crowded cafeteria. Students would stare
at me, but they would look down when Rodney glared at them. Once in the
hallway, he pointed toward an outside door. We went outside and sat on a bench.
Since it was chilly outside, not many students were around.
Rodney looked at me and shook his head. “This shit is so wrong,” he muttered. “If I
knew I wouldn’t get suspended, I’d kick Mike’s ass. He had no right attacking you
like he did.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I said nothing.
He then added, “And if Curtis doesn’t get his act together, I’m going to open up a
can of Whoop Ass on him too. I got no problem doing that. He’s needed a good ass
whooping for a while now.”
I smiled and said, “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me.”
“That’s just it, Casey,” he replied. “You don’t need to be having these battles. You
just got here. I don’t know what their problem is.” I had an idea, but I didn’t want
to share it with Rodney.
Suddenly, we heard the bell ring for fourth period. “Listen, Casey,” he said. “I just
want you to know I’m on your side. I’m going to talk to Curtis and Mike.” He balled
his fist, and hit his other palm. “If they don’t want to listen, then I’m going to open
up that can of Whoop Ass.”
He stood and started to walk away. He turned and nodded when I said, “Thanks.”
I liked my fourth period English teacher, Ms. Thrasher. She actually taught the
class, unlike Wentworth. However, it seemed like she might assign a lot of
homework. It really didn’t matter. I didn’t have anything to do when I went to my
room at night.
My fifth and sixth periods were like my morning classes- students stared and
gossiped. It was strange, but I didn’t see Mike once during the day. I kept looking
for him because I wanted to see how he would react when he saw me. If he came
up and challenged me, I was prepared this time to defend myself. I
didn’t care if I did get suspended, or even expelled.
I considered leaving school after sixth period. I really had no interest in attending
the drama class in which Mrs. Moore had scheduled me. I had never attended a
play in my life. My mother would occasionally watch one on the PBS channel, but I
would never stay in the family room with her when she did. I found them more
boring than a baseball game.
The theater department was at the end of a long hallway, isolated from other
rooms. I had trouble finding it, and a girl was generous enough to give me
directions without looking at me as if I was some sort of a freak. As I rushed down
the hallway to class, I was surprised to see Shade’s girlfriend, Megan, strolling
ahead of me.
I tried to walk past without her noticing me, but she reached out and grabbed my
arm. She seemed stunned when she looked up at my face. “Oh, my God, Casey,”
she shrieked. “What happened to you?” She wrapped her arm around mine as we
walked down the hallway.
“I ran into a door,” I replied jokingly. She looked up and gave me a worried look. I
laughed and said, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
I thought she was going to cry when she said, “Shade is going to be so upset when
he sees you.”
Megan’s statement confused me. Why would Shade be more upset than any other
student? Other than helping him push his car out of the street and sharing a meal,
we hardly knew each other. I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Well, maybe he
won’t see me.”
“Not likely,” she replied as the bell rang and we picked up our pace. “He’s in the
drama class, too.”
“Shit,” I muttered to myself. If Megan and Shade were in my seventh period, then
my chances of cutting the class would be more difficult. I could tell that Megan was
the type of girl who likes to mother someone. She would never allow me to miss
the class without a good reason. As I entered the door, I was already planning to
see Mrs. Moore in the morning and have my seventh period changed to auto
The room we entered was a small auditorium. There was a stage and seating for
what seemed like about four hundred people. Students were milling about in
groups, some in the aisles and others on the stage. I scanned the room, but I
didn’t see Shade.
Megan pulled on my arm and said, “I’ll introduce you to Max. He’s the instructor.”
I was surprised she was calling a teacher by his first name. I had never met a
teacher who wasn’t properly addressed. She led me up the stairs and across the
stage to a man who appeared to be in his forties. He had a long ponytail, and he
was wearing a tie-dyed tee shirt, blue jeans and sandals.
‘This guy does not look like a teacher,’ I thought to myself. Megan introduced me
to Max as a new student. He stepped back and studied me for a minute. He was
the first person I had encountered all day who didn’t seem surprised by the injuries
on my face.
He took another step back and said, “Let me hear you sing.”
“What!” I asked with astonishment. “I can’t sing.”
“Of course you can,” he insisted. “Everyone can sing. Some just do it better than
others.” He made a gesture as if he were waving a baton. “Come on, Casey, sing
By now, several other students were starting to gather around. No one seemed to
be making fun of me; they really seemed interested in hearing me sing. I asked
nervously, “Like what?”
He laughed and responded, “I don’t care. Sing a few bars from your favorite song.”
I looked over to my left and noticed that Shade was standing among the other
students. He was looking very worried.
I responded, “I don’t have a favorite song.”
Max clapped his hands together and replied, “Then sing the birthday song.” Several
students, including Megan, began singing “Happy birthday to you.”
Nervously, I began to join them. Max listened for a few seconds, and then
motioned for everyone to stop singing. “Perhaps,” he laughed as he waved his
hands around. “You can do set design. You were right when you said you can’t
sing.” Everyone around me started laughing, but not in a mean way. They were
more amused by Max’s antics. He told me he was glad to have me in class, and
then he walked away talking animatedly to a few students.
Shade stepped forward, and Megan gripped my arm tightly. “What happened to
you?” He asked worriedly as he looked at my bruised face. For a minute, I thought
he was going to burst into tears.
“He ran into a door,” laughed Megan. She looked up at me, smiled and added,
“That’s his story and he’s going to stick with it.”
I was beginning to like Megan more and more. She seemed like one of the most
down to earth people I had ever met, and I had only known her for a few minutes.
I could understand why Shade was attracted to her. If I were straight, I would be
vying for her attention.
It surprised me when he gently put his hand on the side of my face. “It has to hurt
something awful,” he said as he looked at the bruise, and then stared into my eyes.
His eyes were a dull green. I hadn’t noticed that on Saturday; probably because of
the small-rimmed glasses he wore. He had the beginnings of a mustache, although
it wasn’t very thick. His chin also had a few stray hairs on it. Even though most
people wouldn’t consider him especially cute, I found myself instantly attracted to
him. I think Megan noticed because she tightened her grip on my arm and giggled
slightly. Shade cast her a warning glance, and then he rolled his eyes.
I was puzzled by their actions. I asked, “Is something going on I should know
“No,” giggled Megan. “You’re going to enjoy the drama class.” I noticed that she
looked at Shade and winked.
* * * * * * *
Chapter 12 Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
Before a Storm