Chapter 14
I asked Karen, “Do you think it would be all right to go tell Lane about the play?”

She smiled and patted my hand. “He’s going to be so excited,” she said happily.
She looked at my father and said, “I can’t wait to see him on the stage.”

It surprised me when my father remarked, “It might be more fun than attending a
baseball game.”

I stood and left the room. I felt like skipping down the hallway to Lane’s room. He
was lying on his bed playing a video game. He stopped and sat up when I entered.

He pouted and asked, “What was so important that I had to leave the room?”

I sat beside him and replied, “We had something to discuss, and it involved you.”

“Me?”

He giggled when I touched his nose and said, “Yes, you.”

“What did I do?” he asked.

“Do you remember Shade and Megan who ate lunch with us today?” He nodded his
head. “They are in my seventh period drama class.” He gave me a puzzled look
and nodded.

He then asked, “What does that have to do with me?”

“Okay,” I replied, “You can tell me no if you want to...”

“Yes!” he shouted. “I don’t know what you’re going to ask me, but whatever it is,
  
I’ll do it.”

“You haven’t even heard it yet,” I laughed.

“I like Megan,” he said as his face reddened. “She’s pretty.”

I took him by his shoulders and made sure he would understand what I was about
to say. “Megan is going to direct a play in a couple of months.” Lane nodded his
head. “It’s called the Sound of Music.” He nodded his head again.

“Do you remember the song we sang on the way home?”

“You mean Old McDonald had a farm?”

“No,” I replied. “The other one.”

“You mean the one about the deer and tea?”

I smiled and said, “Yes, that song?” He grinned and nodded his head. He then
began to sing it.

“See,” he beamed proudly. “I remembered it.”

“Very good,” I said as I patted his hand. “Now listen carefully to me.”

He gigged, grabbed his ears and said, “I’m all ears.”

“Okay,” I laughed. “Megan and I want you to sing that song in a play.” He broke
out into a wide grin. “Do you think you can do that?”

“Yes,” he said as he jumped up and started skipping around the room singing the
song. Karen and my father came to the door and started laughing.

“I see you told him,” she remarked. Lane skipped over and hugged her. He then
skipped over to me, sat down in my lap and gave me a kiss on the cheek. When I
looked over at Karen, she was proudly smiling.

                                                * * * * * *

Lane was almost uncontrollable the next morning. All during breakfast he kept
asking me when the play would be. He also asked me if I would be with him when
he sang, and I assured him I’d be watching from backstage. I wasn’t sure if he
even understood what was involved in a theatrical production. Then again, he
might have known more than me since I was clueless as to what was involved.

On the way to school, he skipped beside me and sang the do-re-mi song. By the
time we arrived, I was hoping I would never have to hear it again. I took him to
his classroom, and he immediately began to tell his teacher, Mrs. Chambers, what
he was going to do. When I left, about five more students said they wanted to sing
in the play. If Megan needed more children, I knew where she could find them.

When I arrived at my locker, I noticed that the lock had been cut off. When I
opened the door, everything had been trashed. My books were ripped apart, and a
jacket I had inside had been slit several times. The student in the locker beside me
looked over and exclaimed, “Damn, Dude. Someone is out after your ass.” He
closed his locker and walked away.

I slammed my locker shut and stood looking at it. I didn’t know what to do. I
needed my books for my classes. If I didn’t have them, then I wouldn’t be able to
do the assignments.

“Shit,” I muttered as I turned and rested against my locker. I looked around the
hall, and I wondered who might have done the vandalism. I didn’t have to think
long...it had to have been Mike. He warned me when he left my bedroom that he
would pay me back. And he did. When the warning bell to my first period rang, I
headed slowly to my class.

I managed to get by until my English class.  Mrs. Hayes assigned us to read a short
story from the book, and then we were to complete an answer sheet. After handing
out the assignment, she walked around the room observing us. I attempted to fool
her by reading my Spanish book, but she quickly noticed I had the wrong book.

She bent down and asked me softly, “Where is your book, Casey?”

I closed my Spanish book and responded, “I left it in my bedroom this morning.
Sorry.”

“No, Casey,” she replied with a tone of anger in her voice. “I’m sorry, but  you’re
new to the class. It is my class policy that if you don’t bring your book to class,
then you must come in after school to complete it.”

I sat up straight and stared into her face. “That’s not fair,” I said rather loudly.
Several students nearby stopped reading and looked over at me. I was becoming
worried that Lane would have to walk home alone. “Just because I forget my book,
you’re going to assign me detention?”

“It’s not detention,” she stated adamantly. “I just want to give you the opportunity
to complete the assignment.”

“Sounds like detention to me. I’ll do it when I get home,” I said angrily.

She stood erect and stared down at me, “You’ll do it after school.” By now,
everyone in the room was staring at us. It was deja vu all over again. I didn’t care,
though. It wasn’t fair that I was being punished because someone had trashed my
locker.

I rose from my seat and stared defiantly into her face. “I said I would do it when I
get home.” I thought she’d back away, but she stood her ground. I could tell she
wasn’t intimidated by me.

She turned and said, “You’ll step out into the hall with me.” She headed to the front
of the room and waited for me at the door. I looked around at the classroom. They
were waiting for my reaction. I walked to the front of the room and quietly left the
room. I stood outside and waited for Mrs. Hayes. I could hear here telling the class
to continue reading quietly.

She came out and closed the door. She looked into my face, but she didn’t appear
angry. “Casey,” she asked, “Would you like to tell me what is going on?” Since she
didn’t seem to want a confrontation, I let down my guard.

“I’m sorry, Mrs. Hayes,” I apologized, “But I don’t have my book. I’ll do it when I
get home. Please don’t make me stay after school.”

“And why should I do that?

I explained to her why I couldn’t stay. I told her how I walked Lane home each
afternoon. Rodney had been in her class the year before, and Curtis was now in her
first period, so she was familiar with the Crawford family. However, she admitted
she had never met Lane.

She sighed, “You’ve placed me in a dilemma, Casey. Over a dozen students have
come in after school to complete an assignment because they didn’t have their
book. If I let you slide, then the others will expect the same treatment next time. I
understand your reasoning for not wanting to come in after school, but it’s just not
a good enough reason to excuse you from doing it.”

I decided that it was unfair that I should be punished for something I didn’t do, so I
spoke up. “What if I have a better excuse?”

She shook her head, “Casey, I don’t want to stand out here and play games all
day. I have a class to get back to.”

I took a deep breath and said, “Someone trashed my locker. They destroyed
everything. Your English book is in my locker ripped to pieces.” I looked at her
surprised expression. “Is that a good enough reason?”

“Oh, my!” she exclaimed. “Have you reported the damage to one of the school
security officers?”

I laughed and said, “What good will that do?”

“For one,” she stated, “It will excuse you from coming in after school. I’ll also be
able to assign you another book.” She reached out and lightly touched my arm.
“Please report the damage.”

“I’ll think about it,” I replied. “Do I still have to report after school?”

“No, on one condition.”

“What?”

“You’ll agree to let me notify the proper authorities so they can investigate the
break-in of your locker,” she insisted.

I considered her proposal. I figured I had nothing to lose. There was no way they
could prove that Mike or anyone else had broken into the locker. They would
merely examine the evidence, and I could then have all my books replaced.

“All right,” I finally agreed.

Mrs. Hayes patted my arm and said, “Very well. I’ll notify security, and you can
talk to them. In the meantime, I’ll issue you another book.” I followed her back
into the room and to her small storage area. She took out a new book and handed
it to me. I returned to my seat with everyone carefully watching me.

I was in my sixth period law class watching a documentary on violence in America.
We were taking notes for our daily assignment. Someone knocked at the door, and
Mr. Snyder rose from his desk. A minute later, he approached and informed me
that someone wanted to see me outside in the hall.

When I went out of the room, the principal, Mr. Snyder, and a female school
security officer were waiting for me. “Casey,” said Mr. Snyder, “This is Officer
Talley.“ I looked at her, and then back at Mr. Snyder when he began to speak
again, “Mrs. Hayes informed me about what happened to your locker. Would you
escort us to it so we can see the damage?”

I nodded and headed toward my locker on the second floor with Snyder and the
officer following about six feet behind me. When I arrived, I pointed at the busted
lock and said, “There it is.” The officer removed the lock and looked inside. She
then stepped back for Mr. Snyder to see the damage.

He asked, “Do you have any idea who might have done this?”

I shook my head and responded, “No, Sir.”

“You must have been singled out,” he said, “because we’ve had no other reports of
vandalism.” He peered at me and asked again, “Are you sure you   don’t know who
might have done this?”

“I told you I don’t know,” I replied rather angrily. “I haven’t even been here a
week, so how would I know?”

The officer removed the contents of the locker into a plastic bag. When she was
finished, Mr. Snyder told me to report to the office and wait.

I sat for ten minutes before he finally appeared. He spoke briefly with his
secretary. She typed something into the computer. She then wrote something on a
piece of paper and handed it to the principal. He walked over and handed it to me.
“Here’s your new locker assignment. I’ll inform all your teachers to assign you a
new book.”

Before walking away, he shook his head and stated, “It’s days like this that make
this job difficult.” He shook his head again and muttered, “Senseless vandalism.”

I was upset when I entered the theater. Megan noticed immediately the somber
look on my face. “What’s wrong, Casey?” she asked worriedly as she wrapped her
arm around mine.

“I haven’t been here a week,” I replied angrily, “and I already hate this school.”

She led me over to a theater seat and we sat down. “What happened now?” she
asked as she looked at my face. The bruising had faded, but it was obvious I had
been in a fight.

I told her about the incident with my locker. I also relayed how I had to deal with
Mr. Snyder and a security officer just a half hour earlier. She shook her head and
looked worriedly at me. She then asked, “Do you have any idea who might have
done it?”

“I have my suspicions,” I replied, “But they are only suspicions.”

Just then, Shade approached and saw us talking. He sat in the seat in front of
Megan and turned toward us. “Private conversation, or can I join in?”

Megan shook her head and then recounted the story to Shade. He kept looking
worriedly at me while she talked. When she finished, he asked, “Do you think
Curtis did it?”

“I doubt it,” I replied. “He’s a douche, but I don’t think he would do something like
this. Besides, if Rodney found out, he’d kick his ass.”

Shade asked, “Who else would do it? It doesn’t sound like it was a random act.”

“Don’t know,” I replied. I then tried to lighten the mood by telling Megan that Lane
had agreed to perform in the play. She laughed when I told her how I had
‘auditioned’ him by getting him to sing the do-re-mi song on the way home from
school the day before.

She leaned over and hugged me. “That is wonderful, Casey. Lane is absolutely
adorable. The audience will fall in love with him.”

I looked at Shade and laughed. “You’d better be careful, though. I think Lane has a
crush on Megan.”

Megan blushed and asked, “Why should Shade be worried?”

I laughed again and said, “He might try to take you away from Shade.”

Megan glanced quickly over at Shade, and then she sat back and laughed. When
she finished, she looked at Shade and then back at me. “You think Shade and I are
dating?”

“Well, yeah,” I replied. “Aren’t you?”

She laughed again and said, “Shade and I are many things to each other, but being
boyfriend and girlfriend are not one of them.” I looked at Shade and he was
blushing.

I said confusedly, “I don’t get it.” I glanced over as they looked at each other and
smiled.

Megan stood, reached for my hand and pulled me to my feet. “You will,” she
giggled as she pulled me down the aisle toward the stage. Shade followed closely
behind.

Megan left to talk to Max, and Shade spent most of the period showing me around
behind the stage. We really didn’t get a chance to talk privately because he was
usually surrounded by other students. It was obvious that they depended on his
expertise in developing the set. I thought it was amazing that he could juggle going
to school, working on the set design for the play, and then head off afterwards to
work for several hours at a low wage job.

However, he seemed to take everything in stride. Even when his battery died on
Saturday, he didn’t react like most people. I probably would have taken a bat and
shattered a window or two. He merely pushed the car out of the street and quietly
bemoaned losing his job as a result. However, he didn’t show any sign of giving up.
He immediately went to his old boss and got another job.

I wished that I possessed his calm attitude. Students were already beginning to
panic, and the play was only in the beginning stages of production. He spoke to
them calmly, assuring them that they didn’t need to worry. I could tell that they
believed what he was saying. Megan may be the director of the production, but
Shade was obviously the leader everyone turned to for direction.

My eyes focused on his face when he asked, “What?”

“What, what?” I replied.

He smiled and began to laugh. “You looked like you were a million miles away.” His
smile turned to a worried look. “Are you okay, Casey?”

“Yeah, sure,” I replied with a forced smile. “Why wouldn’t I be okay?”

He put his hand on my shoulder and led me away from the others. “You’ve been
through a lot,” he said. “When I met you, you were running away.”

I protested, “I wasn’t running away.”

He rubbed my back gently and said, “It doesn’t matter.” He stopped and looked at
the bruises on my face. “You got in a fight with Mike, and just today your locker got
trashed.” He looked around before adding, “I have an idea Mike might be
responsible for that, too.”

“It crossed my mind,” I responded.

“Anyway, Casey,” he said worriedly as he stared into my eyes. “If you ever need
someone to talk to, a shoulder to cry on, you can depend on me.”

“Thanks,” I replied as I blinked away tears.

He rubbed my back again. “I mean it,” he said again. Suddenly, he started
laughing. I gave him a puzzled look.

“I only charge two hundred dollars an hour,” he laughed. “and you’ve already paid.”

“Yeah, I guess I have,” I replied as I returned his smile.

                                                 * * * * * * *

When Lane and I arrived home from school, there was a note on the kitchen
counter from Karen telling us not to prepare dinner. I asked Lane, “I wonder what
that means?”

Lane cheered and said excitedly, “We are going to a restaurant tonight!”

“A restaurant?” I asked. “Do you guys eat out often?”

“Not a lot,” he replied. “Only on special occasions.” He scrunched up his face. “I
wonder if it’s someone’s birthday? It’s not mine. Is it yours?”

“No,” I responded. “My birthday is the day after New Year’s.”

“Well,” he replied as he grabbed my hand and pulled me toward the steps leading
to the family room. “It’s something special. I hope we go to that neat place that
serves spaghetti. I like spaghetti.”

“I got that,” I laughed. “You ate two plates of it the other night.”

I went to my room while Lane sat on the couch and watched cartoons. I dropped
onto my bed and fell asleep for about an hour before Lane came bounding into the
room and jumped on the bed. “Mommy says to get your butt up,” he giggled. “She
told me to tell you to wear something nice, too.”

Lane was already dressed to go out. He was wearing a green polo shirt and Docker
pants. It was the first time I hadn’t seen him wearing shorts or jeans. I opened my
luggage bag and rummaged through it until I found something suitable to wear. I
examined the clothes, and they were rather wrinkled.

I asked Lane, “Do you guys have an iron around here?”

“Yes, Silly,” he giggled. “Come on, I’ll show you where the laundry room is.” On
the way, Karen stopped me and attempted to take the clothes from me.

“I’ll do them,” she insisted. She was already dressed in a powder blue dress. It
wasn’t formal wear, but it wasn’t casual dress, either. She looked really stunning.

I pulled my clothes from her and said, “I got this. I’ve been doing my own clothes
since I was ten.”

“My goodness,” she smiled. “What a perfect gentleman. I wish all my boys would
take a lesson from you.” Lane started giggling behind me.

I was ironing my pants when Rodney and Curtis arrived home. I heard Karen tell
them to get dressed. Curtis started ranting that he had better things to do than go
out and eat. When Karen questioned him about it, he said he had to call some girl
for a date on Saturday night.

“That’s not that important to miss a dinner out with your family,” she insisted as
she told him to go get dressed.

He asked sarcastically, “Is what’s his name going?”

I’ve seen my mother get mad before. I was used to it. However, her worst
tantrum wouldn’t even begin to compare to the verbal assault Karen gave Curtis. It
began in the living room and continued in his bedroom where Karen slammed the
door so I couldn’t hear.

I had assumed all this time that Curtis and Rodney were pretty much free to do
what they wanted to do. However, I guess Karen had drawn lines that they weren’t
permitted to cross. Listening to her verbal assault on Curtis, I guess I was one of
those lines.

I was in the bathroom brushing my teeth when Karen appeared at the door. “Are
you ready, Casey?”

I muttered with a mouthful of toothpaste, “Give me a minute.”

I looked at her in the mirror when she said, “I’m sorry for Curtis’s rude behavior. It
won’t happen again.”

I didn’t have a chance to respond before she turned and walked away.

                                                    * * * * * * *

                                       
  Chapter 15      Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
   Before a Storm