Chapter 13
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 anymore. Like my father, God knows I tried to please
her. For a year after that, I was the obedient son; however, 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 son of a bitch 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 might have inadvertently given me my
freedom. Since arriving, I always hoped that perhaps she would call one night,
apologize and beg me to return.

I now realized that I didn’t want 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. Melissa 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. Chambers,” Lane said excitedly, “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 from the usual banter at 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 two girls moved to make room for Megan.

Lane looked at Shade and said 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 smile broadened 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 laughed, waved at Lane and Donnie and said, “Hi. I’m Megan.” Lane and the
others timidly waved back. Lane beamed proudly when I informed Shade and
Megan that he 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
for seventh period class. 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 SO-MU.”

I gave her a puzzled looked and asked, “SO-MU?”

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 only have six weeks before opening
night. 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 to get
up and leave?”

“You have a point,” she replied with a smile. 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 asked, “Is she always this uptight?”

Shade laughed and said, “Get used to it. The closer we get to opening night, she
gets tighter than a virgin’s vagina.”

I let out a loud laugh and asked, “What?”

Shade’s face reddened and he 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 heard me laughing. She also noticed 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 sixteen.” She paced around a minute and
stopped. “I guess we could see if any of the students in class have 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 looked down at her binder. “Yes,” she stated. “It appears they do sing a
couple of songs.” She looked up 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 squeezed it. “I know what you’re going to say. I could
tell when we joined them for lunch 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 saw 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.”

I suggested, “You had better wait until I talk to his mother.” “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 too 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 he 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 with his elbow. “We’ll be
working together so much, you’ll think you’re married to me.”

I laughed nervously and 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 his
mother.

As we walked, I started 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 might just be perfect for the role of Kurt. I remembered watching the
movie a few years ago, and I could vaguely recall the lyrics to a song I knew Lane
would have to sing.

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.

Lane asked as soon as we entered the house, “Can we fix dinner tonight?”  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 cupboard to see if
there was anything we could prepare quickly. I found two boxes of Hamburger
Helper. Fortunately, there was two pounds of ground chuck in the freezer. I took it
out and set it on the counter. 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 by 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 lightly 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
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. He said angrily, “You’re going to regret this. With me, you
could have been somebody.”

I laughed and said, “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 with me because I wasn’t enamored by his
good looks and charm. I also had the audacity to sit with Lane and his friends
instead of with him and his teammates. It must have embarrassed him to explain
why I had chosen, instead, to sit with Lane, the retard, 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
Merriweather, but I did have to defend myself a few times in school. Except for
Mike, no one had ever gotten the better 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 refrigerator 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 at previous dinners. He asked me about
my classes and 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 I should
become involved in other things.

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. She then leaned over and hugged
me tightly.

She cried into my shoulder, “I just knew Lane’s world was going to change the first
time you walked through the door.”
                                         
                                                     * * * * * * *
                                        

                                        
   Chapter 14      Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
   Before a Storm