I was beat when I got home. Shade and I sat in the car and talked a few minutes before I got out and went
inside. He was becoming more stressed out than Megan, and I didn’t think that was possible.
I offered for him to come inside, and I jokingly told him that Dr. Feel Good would cure his stress. I almost
did it in the car, but I was afraid someone would see us. After a quick kiss, I went inside.
Curtis and Lane were alone in the family room. They were on the sofa, and Lane was curled up with his
head in Curtis’s lap. Curtis was gently running his hand over his hair.
I carefully sat down so I wouldn’t awaken Lane. He moved slightly and stretched out. I put his feet in my
lap and gently rubbed them. I looked over when Curtis said softly, “I forgot how nice this was.” He looked
down at Lane as he continued to sleep. “When he was real little, he would curl up and go to sleep almost
every night like this.” Lane nestled closer into his brother’s lap. “He loves this,” he said softly as he ran his
hand over Lane’s head.
I almost started to cry. I had never seen the soft side of Curtis. He was actually being gentle with Lane.
Normally, he ignored him and treated him condescendingly. I continued to rub his feet and said, “He’s a
great little guy.”
“He’s exhausted,” he replied. “He’s working so hard on the play. I watched him on stage when I did my
homework. He’s really good.”
“I was worried when I volunteered him for the part,” I confessed. “But I should have known he would be
able to handle it.”
“Yeah,” replied Curtis as he ran his hand over Lane’s head. Lane stirred and almost seemed to purr. “He’s a
great little guy.”
We silently watched Sports Center for a few minutes. Finally, I asked him, “Did you want me to help you
with your English assignment?”
“Naw,” he replied. “We can do it tomorrow after school. Okay?”
I nodded and replied, “Yeah, sure.” I grinned and jokingly said, “If you can keep your eyes off the stage
He laughed and said, “It’s interesting to watch. I always hated those shitty songs they sing in musicals, but
it’s not too bad once you get used to it.”
I teased him, “You sure it’s not some blonde you’re interested in?”
His face reddened as he tried to deny it. “No,” he insisted. “I mean Joshua is cute and all, but...”
“But what?” I asked. “Is he too gay?”
He shook his head, “You’ll get mad if I say it.”
“No, I won’t,” I replied. “I know you’ve got a reputation to protect.” He didn’t say anything, and we sat
quietly watching television for about ten minutes.
I looked over when Curtis cleared his throat. His face reddened as he asked, “So, do you think he would
“Joshua,” he replied nervously.
I laughed and asked, “Are you being serious?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “I don’t know. I mean I’ve always been attracted to smaller guys. That’s why I
like Pip.” He looked down to make sure Lane was still asleep. His face reddened again when he added, “It
would be great to just sit like this with someone.”
I suggested, “Then why don’t you ask him out?”
He shook his head. “I couldn’t do that, and you know it.”
He frowned and said, “I know that makes me sound like a piece of shit, but it’s not easy for guys like me.
Theater guys, it’s easy. Everyone in school knows you guys are gay.”
“What!” I started to get louder, but Lane stirred slightly. I whispered. “We’re not all gay. A lot of the
theater guys are straight. In fact, most of them are.”
Curtis acted surprised. “Really?”
I was getting a little irritated with his stereotypes. “So I guess all athletes are straight?”
“Well, yeah,” he replied. Then he thought, “Well, maybe Mike is gay.”
“What about you and Pip?”
“We ain’t gay,” he insisted. “We’re...”
“Bi?” I interrupted. “But don’t that also make you gay? You’re sitting here now talking about wanting to ask
Joshua out, but you’re afraid how others might react.”
He ran his hands over his head “You’re confusing me again. I don’t want to be gay.”
“What’s so wrong with it?” I asked. “You just said you thought it would be nice to sit here with a guy’s head
in your lap.” I looked down as he ran his hand over Lane’s head.
“It would,” he admitted. He looked over at me. “So I’m sitting here like this with, say Joshua, and Mom
comes into the room. What do you think she would say?”
“She probably wouldn’t say anything.”
“What!” he responded excitedly. “You don’t think she’d get upset?”
I didn’t want to tell him that his mother already suspected he might be gay. I wasn’t sure how he would
handle that, so I had to be careful. “Look, Curtis. She’s your mother. Why would she be upset? She knows
I’m gay, and she’s cool with it.”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Because.”
I laughed. “That’s your only answer, because?”
“Okay,” he replied. “She might be disappointed if she knows.”
“Isn’t she already disappointed in you? Just yesterday you were ready to run away.”
Just then, Lane stirred and stretched. He mumbled, “I think you should.”
I glanced over at Curtis, and he looked like he had seen a ghost. He asked nervously, “Should what?”
Lane muttered sleepily, “Tell Mom you like boys.” Curtis glanced worriedly at me. Lane shifted on the sofa.
“But don’t like Joshua. I don’t like him. He’s stuck on stupid.” He giggled and closed his eyes.
“Shit,” hissed Curtis. “He heard what we were talking about. I thought he was asleep. What if he tells Mom
what he heard?”
Lane muttered softly, “Men don’t tell when they make the white stuff come out.”
Curtis gave me a puzzled look and asked, “What’s that mean?”
I laughed, gently rubbed Lane’s feet and replied, “It means he won’t say anything.”
We sat quietly for about a half hour watching television. Curtis seemed too nervous to speak. I think he
was afraid Lane would out him to his mother. However, I trusted Lane. Besides, I wasn’t sure how much he
would remember when he woke up. He may have thought he was dreaming. Looking at Curtis, though, I
wasn’t sure he felt as certain as I did.
When Curtis got off the couch and said he was going to his room, I gently picked Lane up and carried him
to his bed. He barely woke up when I undressed him, put on his pajamas and tucked him into bed. As I
was leaving, Karen came in and asked if he was all right. I told her he was tired. She walked over and
kissed him on his forehead. After kissing me on my cheek, I went downstairs, took a shower and climbed
into bed. Within seconds of my head hitting the pillow, I was fast asleep.
Curtis showed up again after school. He took a seat in the back row and I managed to break away a few
times to help him. I was surprised when I went back to check on him to find Joshua sitting in the seat next
to him. Their shoulders were pressed together as Joshua leaned over to help him with a physics problem.
Curtis looked up and his face blushed a bright red.
He stammered nervously, “Joshua came back to help me. He takes physics, too.” Joshua looked up and
“Well,” I said as I turned. “I’ll leave you two alone.” Joshua whispered something to Curtis, and they both
started to laugh.
When I went backstage, Rodney was following Megan around like a puppy. He kept asking if there was
anything he could do, but she was too busy to respond. When he saw me, he walked over and threw his
arm around my shoulder. “We need to talk,” he said as he pulled me over to the side of the stage.
I asked, “What’s up?”
He walked over to the curtain and pulled it back slightly. When I walked over, he pointed out towards
Curtis and Joshua. “What’s going on back there?”
I shrugged my shoulders and answered innocently, “I guess Joshua is helping Curtis with his homework
“I don’t know,” replied Rodney skeptically. “Looks kind of weird.” I looked out and saw them laughing
about something Curtis had said. “I mean, Joshua don’t seem like Curtis’s kind of guy.”
I stared over at him. I wasn’t sure he meant what he was saying, so I had to be careful what I said.
“What’s that supposed to mean? A gay guy can’t help him with his homework?”
“No,” he insisted as he looked out at them again. Joshua was pressed closely to Curtis’s shoulder as he
reached over and pointed to his lap. I wasn’t sure if they were looking at a problem out of the book, or if
Joshua was pointing to Curtis’s crotch. “Curtis don’t usually like girly boys.”
I was still confused by what Rodney was trying to say. Perhaps, he was suggesting that Curtis was
homophobic and didn’t like gay boys. I said innocently, “He does need tutoring. Maybe he doesn’t care who
is helping him.”
“No,” responded Rodney as he pulled back the curtain again. “I think they have a thing for each other. I
just can’t see Curtis liking a feminine boy. Usually he likes rugged athletes.”
It was becoming clearer that Rodney knew Curtis was gay. However, I still didn’t want to out Curtis in case
Rodney was talking about Curtis’s friendships. “What are you talking about?”
Rodney turned to me. “Oh, come on, Casey. Can’t you see that Curtis is gay?”
“What?” I asked excitedly. “How do you know? He didn’t tell me he told you.”
Rodney gave me a surprised look. “So he’s told you? He hasn’t even told me yet.”
I started to get worried because I thought I just outed Curtis. Seeing my concern, Rodney grabbed my
arm. “No, it’s okay,” he assured me. “I’ve known for a few years. I was just waiting for him to tell me.”
“How do you know?”
He laughed. “You don’t sleep four feet away from someone and not know. I knew when he was about
thirteen him and Mike messed around. I’d go into the bedroom, and they would be wrestling around on the
bed. Both of them would be hard as a brick.”
“You knew and you didn’t say anything? Why?”
“Wasn’t my business,” he replied. “Besides, a lot of guys play around like that when they are young. I just
thought he would outgrow it. But when he started messing around with Pip, then I figured he was probably
I asked excitedly, “You know about Pip?”
He gave me a puzzled look. “You know about Pip? Did he tell you about him, too?”
I shook my head and replied nervously, “No.” I didn’t want to tell him about finding Pip and his brother in
Rodney shrugged his shoulders. “Don’t matter.” He pulled back the curtain again. It appeared that Joshua
might be playing with Curtis’s cock. He was intently staring down at his lap, and his hand appeared to be
moving slightly. Curtis was looking around to make sure no one was noticing. He didn’t see us peeking
behind the curtain.
“Damn,” hissed Rodney. “I wish it was someone other than Joshua, though. He’s such a douche. Megan
can’t stand him.”
He put his arm around my shoulder and walked me away from the curtain. “Just don’t say anything, okay?”
he asked as we moved across the stage. “I want him to tell me on his own terms.”
I laughed and said, “If they keep messing around in the back row like that, he won’t have to tell you.
Someone’s going to catch them.”
“Yeah,” he replied worriedly. He stopped and turned.
I asked, “Where you going?”
He grinned and replied, “I better go break them two love birds up. They’ll be fucking in the back row if I
don’t.” I laughed as he dashed off across the stage.
I went later to check to see if Curtis needed any help with his homework. Rodney was again following
Megan around, and Joshua was on stage rehearsing his lines with Max. Curtis seemed nervous when I sat
“I think Rodney knows,” he whispered as he looked around to make sure no one was around.
“He knows I mess around,” he replied.
I looked him in his eyes and said, “You really can’t say it, can you?”
“That you’re gay.”
He shook his head. “Man, Casey,” he said sadly. “I just don’t want that label. Someday I want to marry
and have kids.
I asked, “And do what? Mess around with men behind her back?”
“No,” he insisted. “I wouldn’t do that. I’d be loyal.”
I shook my head and responded, “Okay, Curtis. If you say so.”
He grabbed my arm. “You don’t think I could do that?”
I shook my head again. “I don’t know,” I replied. “I don’t think I’ve ever met anyone who is like that. All I
know is what I read in the news. There’s a lot of married guys who get busted all the time messing with
other guys. It’s not something you can keep secret forever.”
“But I can,” he insisted.
I laughed slightly. “You can’t even keep it a secret now. I know, and you just said Rodney knows.” And
before I could catch myself, I added, “And your mother knows.”
He shouted, “What!” He quickly looked around the auditorium to see if anyone had heard him. He lowered
his voice and asked, “How do you know Mom knows?”
I didn’t know what to say. I had spoken before I thought. However, there was no use in trying to make up
a lie, so I figured honesty would be the best route. “We kinda had a talk.”
“And?” he asked nervously.
“She didn’t exactly say you was gay,” I replied, “But she kinda wondered if you might be.”
He ran his hand over his head. “Oh, Man,” he moaned. “Mom thinks I’m gay?”
I reached out and grabbed his arm. “Why don’t you talk to her? She might understand more than you
“I don’t know, Casey,” he said. “What would I tell her?”
Just then, Joshua stepped onto the stage and began singing one of his songs from the play. Curtis stopped
talking and listened to him sing. I could tell from the expression his Curtis’s face that he was interested in
When Joshua finished, I looked at Curtis and asked, “Besides, what will you tell your mom when you start
He slid down in his seat and muttered, “I’m fucked.” I patted his arm, rose from my seat and headed
backstage to find Shade.
Shade and I were leaving school around eight. Rehearsals were over, and Curtis and Lane left with Rodney
and Megan. We were heading to Shade’s car when my cell phone rang. It was Dad.
He asked, “Where are you?” I told him we were on our way home.
“Can you stop by the diner?”
I glanced over and gave Shade a puzzled look. “I guess. Why?”
He didn’t give me a reason. “Good,” he said. “See you in a few minutes.”
When I told Shade we were to stop by the diner, he couldn’t understand why my father would be there. As
far as I knew, he had never met Shade’s mother. Also, the diner didn’t seem like the place Dad would take
clients to dinner.
When we arrived, only my father’s car was in the parking lot. All the lights were out except the ones that
glowed from the kitchen. I thought the door would be locked, but it wasn’t.
After entering, I jumped when Shade hollered out, “Daddy!” He ran across the diner and jumped into the
arms of a large man standing beside my father. Shade’s mother came out from behind the counter. Shade,
his father and mother stood in the aisle, hugging each other and crying loudly.
“Daddy!” cried Shade as he buried his head into his father’s chest. I was overcome with emotion, and tears
started to fall down my cheeks. My father approached and put his arm around me. He, too, had tears in his
Shade and his father hugged and cried for several minutes. They hardly spoke as they clutched tightly to
each other. Shade looked over at me and motioned for me to approach. He took my hand and pulled me
toward his father. “Daddy,” said Shade. “This is Casey.”
He held out his arms and embraced me. “Casey,” he whispered softly into my ear. “I’m so glad to finally
meet you.” He hugged me again as Shade squeezed my hand. I looked over at my father, and he was
After another few minutes of hugs, I asked my father, “How did you do it?” He pointed to a table and told
me to have a seat. Shade sat next to me and gripped my hand. Mr. Shade noticed, but he didn’t say
My father explained as he looked at Shade’s father and smiled, “I’m going to try and make this brief.” I
nodded my head and he continued. “After you told me about Arlen’s incarceration,” he looked at Mr. Shade
and smiled, “I had my team of attorney’s investigate to see if there was anything that could be done.” Mrs.
Shade leaned over and gently kissed her husband.
“They set up an appointment with the DA,” he went on to explain. “He’s not the same one that dealt with
the original case. Anyway, he was most cooperative and opened up the file case to my guys.”
I asked, “What happened then?”
He looked over at Shade’s father. “His case was mishandled from the beginning,” said my father angrily.
“The DA wanted a murder conviction from the beginning. He was considering running for state attorney
general, and there was too much publicity with the case. He didn’t want an opponent to accuse him of
being too soft on crime.” He looked over at Shade and shook his head. “He threatened that he would drag
you into court and make you testify what happened that night.”
My father gripped Mr. Shade’s arm. “Arlen was never given a fair trial. He was denied due process.” He
squeezed Mr. Shade’s arm again. “He wasn’t offered a lesser plea deal.” Dad looked at Shade and smiled.
“He was thinking about how much a trial would affect you. He had an inexperienced public defender that
the DA was able to control and get a murder two plea deal.” My father shook his head sadly. “The current
DA said this should never have been a murder two. At best, maybe a voluntary manslaughter.”
He smiled at Mr. Shade. “My lawyers discussed the case with a criminal defense attorney. He wrote an
appeal, and the DA presented it to a judge last week. The court agreed to reduce the conviction from
murder to manslaughter; and with time served, released Arlen just a few hours ago.” He smiled and said,
“I personally picked him up and brought him here. Even Penny didn’t know what was going on.”
She laughed, kissed Shade’s father on the cheek and said, “I almost pissed my panties when he walked
through the door.” Mr. Shade wrapped his arm around her and held her tightly.
“You’ll be coming out of them soon anyway,” he joked.
“Ew!” squealed Shade as he covered his eyes. “I don’t even want to think about that.” His parents laughed
at his embarrassment.
His dad laughed and added, “Just how do you think you got here?”
Shade gave him an innocent grin and replied, “Mom found me in a cabbage patch.” He looked over at her
and added, “That’s what she’s always told me.”
She patted his hand and said, “That’s right, Honey.” She rose from the table and returned a few minutes
later with mugs of hot coffee, plates and an apple pie. We spent the next half hour talking. Shade told his
father how he was doing in school and about the play we were working on.
At one point, my father asked Mr. Shade what his plans were. Dad told him that he could perhaps find work
for him in one of his offices.
“No,” insisted Penny as she gripped her husband’s hand. She looked around the diner and said, “Carl has
been wanting to sell this place for two or three years. With the money I’ve got saved up, I think we’ll buy it
and run it ourselves.” She looked over at her husband and asked, “What do you think?”
He kissed her and replied, “I think that’s a wonderful idea. I worked in the kitchen at the prison, so I
learned how to cook for a lot of people.”
Penny laughed and stated, “I don’t think we have to worry about a lot of people. We have a quite a few
regulars come in. All they want is a good sandwich and a hot cup of coffee.”
Mr. Shade smiled and said, “I think I can handle that, then.” He again kissed Penny on the cheek.
My father stretched and announced, “It’s been a long day.” He looked over at me and asked, “You ready to
go home, Casey?”
“Sure, Dad,” I replied.
Shade gripped my hand and looked over at my dad. “Can I stay with you tonight, Mr. Crawford?”
“Sure, Son,” he replied, “But why? Don’t you want to spend the night with your father?”
Shade’s face reddened as he said, “I think him and Mom plan to spend the night together.” He looked over
at them as his faced turned a redder shade. “Our walls are awfully thin, and I don’t want to hear them.”
His father sat back in his seat and roared with laughter. “Son,” he said as he hugged Penny tightly. “I’ve
been away from this pretty little woman for eleven years.” He kissed her on the cheek. “We have a lot of
making up to do.”
“Ew!” squealed Shade. “That’s too much information!”
We rose, and after several minutes of more hugs, Shade and I headed home. As he drove, I kept glancing
over at him. I had never seen Shade happier.
After arriving home, I asked Shade to go to my room while I talked to my father in the foyer. After he
descended the stairs, I hugged my father tightly. “Thanks, Dad,” I said softly in his ear. “That was a nice
thing you did.” I squeezed him tighter.
He pulled away and smiled. Both our eyes were filled with tears. “Thank you, Son.”
After another quick hug, I wiped the tears from my face and headed downstairs to spend the night with
* * * * * * *
Chapter 28 Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
Before a Storm
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