Chapter 27
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 long enough.”

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 like me?”

“Who?”

“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.”

“Your reputation?”

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 grinned.

“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 assignment.”

“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 gay.”

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 the shower.

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 down.

“I think Rodney knows,” he whispered as he looked around to make sure no one
was around.

“Knows what?”

“He knows I mess around,” he replied.

I looked him in his eyes and said, “You really can’t say it, can you?”

“Say what?”

“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 think.”

“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 Joshua.

When Joshua finished, I looked at Curtis and asked, “Besides, what will you tell
your mom when you start dating Joshua?”

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 eyes.

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 smiling proudly.

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 anything.

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 Shade.


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                                          Chapter 28       Return to TMJ
Birds Don't Sing
Before a Storm