When we entered Wentworth’s class, I immediately noticed Curtis and Rodney huddled together. Rodney
glanced over at me, so I assumed that Curtis had told him about our exchange in the hallway.
I realized that there was no way I was going to be able to get along with the two brothers. I had been in
their house two days, and neither had ever attempted to talk to me. Since we were about the same age, it
would be reasonable to expect us to bond. However, they viewed me more as a nuisance in their home
than a potential friend. Judging by the number of friends they had, I guess they didn’t need one more-
especially someone who also made no attempt to speak.
Mike pointed to a desk and told me to sit down. He then crossed the room to talk to a few other guys. In
fact, looking around, there were no girls in the classroom. Since Wentworth hadn’t shown yet, the room
was rather raucous.
When he stepped through the door, everyone scattered to his seat. An instant hush filled the room. He
stood and looked around until his eyes met mine. A smile appeared on his face.
“Mr. Barnett,” he announced cheerfully. “Glad to see you here.” I couldn’t respond because I was too
embarrassed. Everyone in the class had turned to look at me, except Curtis and Rodney.
Mr. Wentworth passed out paperback copies of Wuthering Heights. We assigned to read three chapters by
the end of the period; however, no one did. Instead, he went around the room talking to the guys. From
what I could tell, this was the way he normally conducted the class. When I asked Mike about it, he said,
“Who cares if we don’t read that stupid book. Everyone will get an ‘A’ anyway, whether we read it or not.”
Wentworth came over to me, pulled up a chair and straddled it. “Good to have you here in class, Casey,”
he said. “I put in a special request.” Mike pulled his seat around so we were in a small group.
Mike looked at me and said, “We gotta talk him into playing ball, Coach. I’ve already mentioned it.”
Mr. Wentworth reached out and gripped my arm. My natural instinct was to pull away, but I didn’t. Since
he was doing it in a room filled with other guys, I figured he didn’t mean anything by it.
“Nice,” he said as he pressed on my upper arm. He looked over at Mike and said, “I think he would make a
Mike exclaimed excitedly, “I was thinking the same thing.”
I pulled my arm away and rubbed it. “One thing, Mr. Wentworth...”
“What is this Mr. Wentworth shit,” he admonished me with a laugh. “Call me Coach like all the other boys.”
“Okay, Coach,” I said. “I really have no desire to play baseball. If I watch it on television, I fall asleep.”
“Playing and watching are very different.” He looked at Mike and smiled. “We have had a championship
team for the past three years, and we’re going to have another this year.” Mike nodded in agreement and
high-fived the coach.
Mike looked over and pleaded, “We need a relief pitcher really bad.” He looked over at Curtis. “Crawford
wears out after about five innings. We need someone who can relieve him.”
I glanced over at Curtis who was sitting in the middle of a group of guys. Everyone seemed focused on
whatever he was saying. I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “I don’t think this is a great idea.” I looked
over at Mike and added, “Look what just happened in the hall.”
Coach gave Mike a puzzled look. “What happened?”
Mike laughed nervously. “It’s Monica,” he said. “Curtis saw her talking to Casey, and now he thinks Casey
is moving in on her.”
Coach looked at Curtis and asked, “I thought they broke up last week?”
“They did,” replied Mike, “but he still doesn’t want her dating anyone other guys. He’s calls her at night and
“I don’t think you have to worry, Coach,” I replied. “I’m not interested in Monica.”
The coach looked over at Mike and laughed. “I bet you’re not,” he said jokingly. There seemed to be a
knowing look exchanged between the coach and Mike. I was beginning to wonder if Mike was gay, and his
coach knew about it. Mike had made a few comments since we met that seemed flirtatious. Now, though,
I wasn’t sure if I was willing to play along. I hadn’t been out at my other school, and I didn’t intend to out
myself here. Besides, Curtis and Rodney didn’t seem like the kind of guys who would want to live with a
gay boy in their midst. I looked over at them as Rodney was animatedly talking about something. The
other guys laughed when he put his hands on his chest and imitated a girl with large breasts.
‘No,’ I thought to myself. ‘Coming out could be dangerous.’
When the bell rang, Mike told me that we could eat lunch together in the cafeteria. Several other guys
joined us from our fourth period class. Mike introduced me to them as we walked down the hall.
He playfully hit a tall boy in the ribs whose face was covered with acne. “Pizza Face here is our first
baseman. You can’t miss him if you throw the ball to him.” I looked up at the guy as his face reddened. It
highlighted his blemishes even more. I felt sorry for him, because he would be attractive if not for the
unsightly acne on his face.
He introduced me to another boy who was extremely short. He couldn’t have been much more than 5’4”.
He looked impish with blond hair and an upturned nose. “This is Pip,” he laughed. “Short for pipsqueak.”
After shaking his hand, I laughed and asked, “Don’t any of you guys have normal names?” I looked over at
Mike and asked, “What’s yours?”
The two other boys said in unison, “Ass bandit!”
They laughed uproariously when I asked, “What’s that mean?”
Pip looked around, and then leaned into me and whispered so no one around us could hear, “Don’t drop the
soap and bend over to pick it up in the shower, or you’ll find out what it means.”
My eyes widened as I looked over at Mike. He shrugged his shoulders and laughingly said, “What can I
say?” The tall boy poked him in the side and laughed.
When we walked through the cafeteria, several students looked up at us and stared. Mike stopped at
almost every table and gave them a friendly, “How’s it going?” He introduced me to many of the students.
He always added that I was going to be on the baseball team.
We went through the food line, and I purchased a hamburger and fries. My father had given me money for
lunch that morning. I still had several dollars left over. It was enough to buy some snacks after school to
eat on the walk home.
As I was following Mike and the others to a table across the cafeteria, Lane jumped up from a nearby table
and came running over. He grabbed my arm and insisted that I come eat with him and his friends.
“Not today,” I said dismissively. “I’m eating with some of the guys I just met.”
A saddened expression appeared on his face. “Okay,” he mumbled as his shoulders slumped and he walked
I ate at a table full of baseball players. While basketball and football dominate most school sports, baseball
appeared to be the most popular here. The table I was sitting at seemed to be occupied by most of the star
athletes, that is except for Curtis and Rodney. Several guys asked where they were, so I assumed they
normally sat with them. I guess they chose to sit elsewhere since I was sitting at their table.
I was instantly bombarded with questions. Everyone wanted to know why I had come to North Carolina in
the middle of the school year. I attempted to evade their questions with vague answers, but I think Mike
was beginning to understand. He knew it wasn’t because of a divorce, but I don’t think he had figured out
yet it was because my mother was a homophobic bitch.
They also seemed surprised that Mike and Coach Wentworth were trying so hard to recruit me as a
baseball player when I told them I didn’t even like baseball. Mike kept assuring him he had an eye for
talent. The more we talked, I was becoming certain he had an eye on more than just my talent. Even a
few of the guys made a few crude gay jokes directed at him, and he would just laugh them off. It was
becoming more evident that he was out, and that his teammates didn’t seem to care. Their attitude made
me feel more comfortable around them. In my old school, a gay student would have been bullied and
ridiculed. I didn’t feel that would happen here.
Fifth and sixth periods were typical boring classes. I always hated Spanish, and I could never understand
why counselors were so adamant about students learning a foreign language. One told me once that we
were becoming a more diverse nation. They couldn’t give me an answer when I asked them why I should
learn their language. I argued that they should learn ours instead.
Law class seemed interesting, but the teacher made it boring. She talked to us as if we were a bunch of
first graders. We had already had American History, so we were familiar with the Constitution and our
rights. She made everything she said sound like it was a new and innovation thought. I was going to raise
my hand and tell her she didn’t have to be so condescending, but I figured I would probably be sent to the
principal’s office. Look what happened the last time I challenged a teacher.
I almost did end up in the principal’s office during gym, if it hadn’t been for Coach Wentworth. The class
was very unstructured. After arriving, he assigned me a gym uniform. All the other guys had already
dressed by the time I did.
When I entered the gym, there were two separate half-court basketball games going on. When he saw me
emerge from the metal doors, Mike instantly called me over and told me I would be on his team. The other
teammates I had met at lunch.
However, Curtis and Rodney were on the opposing team. Each time the ball was thrown to me, Curtis
would intentionally foul me with a harsh elbow to the ribs or back. Since there were no referees, and Coach
Wentworth was nowhere to be seen, no one called the fouls. After about ten harsh blows, I had finally had
As I was going for a lay-up, Curtis elbowed me in my chest. I fell to the ground and gasped for air. Mike
and several others rushed over to see how I was. When I’d caught my breath, I jumped up and rushed
towards Curtis. I pushed him so hard he fell to the floor.
He got up, stood before me and shouted, “What’s wrong with you Mother Fucker?”
I pushed him again and hollered angrily, “You’re my problem, Douchebag”
He charged me and tackled me around the waist. When we fell to the ground, he started pounding me in
my back. I managed to break free and straddle him. I hit him several times before Mike, Rodney and
several other guys pulled me off him.
Suddenly, I heard a whistle blow from across the gym. When I looked over, Coach Wentworth was running
across the floor. He looked at me and then at Curtis, who was still on the gym floor nursing his jaw. Coach
shouted, “What the hell is going on out here?”
Mike grabbed the coach’s arm and walked him away. “Nothing, Coach,” he insisted. “Just a little
misunderstanding is all. You know how Crawford is. He gets a little too rough with the elbows.”
The coach turned and looked back at the floor, and then at me. “Barrett,” he hollered as he pointed to the
gym door. “My office. Now!” He turned and stormed off.
I looked wildly over at Mike. The first day in school and I was already in trouble. “Don’t sweat it,” Mike
assured me. “His bark is worse than his bite.”
As I headed across the floor, several guys were helping Curtis to his feet. He looked over angrily and said
threateningly for the second time, “This ain’t over, Asshole.”
Coach Wentworth was sitting on the edge of his desk. A metal chair was in front of him. He pointed to it
and told me to sit down. He studied me for a minute before speaking. “Listen, Barrett. I know I’m young,
but I’ve been around the block a few times.” He stopped, and I wasn’t sure if he wanted me to say
anything, but I decided not to speak.
“I’m a pretty good judge of character,” he continued. “I can look at someone and know that there are
things bothering him.” He jumped from the side of his desk and walked behind me. “I don’t know yet
what’s bothering you, but eventually I’ll find out, or you’ll just tell me when you want me to know.”
I could feel tears welling up in my eyes, but I batted them away. The last thing I wanted was for Coach
Wentworth to see me crying. He put his hands on my shoulders. “Curtis is an asshole.” His comment
surprised me. I had the impression that Curtis was one of his favorite players. “He’ll always be an asshole.”
He squeezed my shoulders tighter. “You’re better than that, I can tell.”
He walked around and sat back down on the side of his desk. I looked down because I knew tears were still
in my eyes. “I want you on the baseball team because I have a feeling you’re one of those kids who think
the world has shit on him.” I reached up and wiped tears falling from my cheek.
“I don’t give a damn if you can catch a ball, or pitch like Roger Clemons. I just want you to feel that you’re
successful doing something.” He paused, and I could sense he was waiting for me to reply.
I stood and muttered quickly, “I think I should go.”
He said softly, “Sit down, Casey.” I sat back in my chair and hung my head once again. “I’m not trying to
upset you,” he assured me. “I just want you to know why I want you to play baseball for me. Besides,” he
added, “I still think you’ve got one hell of an arm, and I need a relief pitcher.”
I laughed slightly and said, “I’ve never thrown a ball before.”
“Then,” he remarked, “Let me teach you.” He held out his hand and said, “Deal?”
I hesitated a minute before shaking his hand. “Deal,” I replied.
“Good,” he said as he jumped from his desk. “Come by my office Monday after school. I’ll take you out to
the field and you can work with Jimmy Buckner, my starting pitcher. If he can’t teach you how to pitch,
then I don’t know anyone else who can.”
I rose and stood before Coach Wentworth. “Thanks,” I said softly.
“I mean it, Casey,” he replied. “If you ever need anything, my door is always open.” I nodded my head
and picked up my book bag off the floor.
As I was leaving, Coach stopped me. “Casey,” he said. “Just so you know, Mike is a player. Be careful.”
My face reddened as I nodded and responded, “Yes, Sir.”
I went back out to the gym, sat in the bleachers and watched the other guys play basketball. Mike kept
looking up at me. I know he wanted to talk to me about my conversation with Coach Wentworth. When
Coach stepped out and blew his whistle, Mike walked over and sat down beside me.
He asked worriedly, “You okay, Casey?” I told him that I was, and that Coach Wentworth had just talked to
me about my confrontation with Curtis.
“You can trust, Coach,” assured Mike. “He’s been there for me quite a few times.”
“I know,” I replied. Mike asked if I’d like to go to his house after school, but I told him I had promised Lane
I would walk home with him.
“Isn’t he Curtis and Rodney’s little retarded brother?”
I stood and glared at him. “Don’t ever call him retarded again,” I spat angrily. “Got it?”
“Geez, Casey,” remarked Mike when he noticed how upset I was. “Chill. I didn’t mean anything by it.”
“Well,” I replied, “Just don’t ever call him retarded.” I climbed off the bleachers and headed toward the
I went past Lane’s class after school looking for him. Mrs. Chambers said he left a few minutes earlier. I
hurried out the door and looked around for him. When I didn’t see him, I began walking home.
I didn’t know his routine. We were supposed to meet up and walk home together, but I didn’t know if he
left with someone else. I knew he didn’t ride home with Rodney and Curtis. They were probably at
I walked quickly down the sidewalk toward home. After about three blocks, I saw him trudging along with
his backpack slung over his shoulder. When I hollered out his name, he didn’t even turn.
I ran to catch up with him. When I approached, I could hear him mumbling to himself. I grabbed his
shoulder to stop him. “Didn’t you hear...?” I stopped when I noticed he was crying.
I knelt down before him and asked worriedly, “What’s wrong, Buddy?”
“I’m not your buddy,” he cried as he turned and hurried away. I ran and stopped him again.
I asked again, “What‘s wrong?”
He looked up, wiped tears from his eyes and replied sadly, “You’re like everyone else.” He wiped his eyes
again. “I thought you were going to be different.”
I was puzzled because I had no idea what was wrong. “What are you talking about, Lane?”
He started sobbing as he stood before me. “You think I’m stupid like everybody else,” he cried.
I reached out and pulled him into my arms. He rested his head on my chest. “I don’t think you’re stupid,”
I whispered softly into his ear.
He mumbled, “Then why wouldn’t you eat with me at lunch? I saved you a seat.” He started crying harder.
“You’re afraid to be seen with me just like Rodney and Curtis. They are always telling me I’m in the stupid
kids’ class.” I held him tightly as he sobbed into my chest.
“I don’t think you’re stupid,” I said as I tried to comfort him. By now, my eyes were filled with tears. For
the first time, I was beginning to realize the environment in which Lane was growing up. He had to hide in
his brothers’ shadows because they were embarrassed to have a brother who was not as athletic or
intelligent as they were.
I then thought back to all the comments I’d heard in school about the students who were in special classes.
I was even guilty of making a few myself. I used to tease Terry about riding the ‘short yellow bus’ when I
tried to insult him. We would laugh about it; however, I didn’t realize, until now, just how demeaning those
statements could be.
He looked up at me with a tear-stained face. “Then why wouldn’t you eat with me at lunch after I saved
you a seat. Donnie got mad because I wouldn’t let him sit beside me.”
I took him by his hand and led him over to a nearby ash tree. I looked to make sure no one would get
upset if we sat in their yard. I sat down, and then patted the ground beside me. Lane sat and scooted
toward me until we were closely touching.
“This was my first day at school,” I told him. He looked at me and nodded. “And it wasn’t very easy for me.
I made a friend and he wanted me to sit beside him.”
“But I saved you a seat,” he replied as he looked up and pouted.
“But you said you normally sit with your friend, Donnie, right?” He nodded his head. “And I need a friend to
sit with me.”
“You could have both sat with us,” he said.
“You’re right,” I replied. “We could have, and now thinking about it, we probably should have. You’re just
as much a friend as Mike is.” A smile started to form on his lips.
He hopefully asked, “I’m your friend?”
I put my arm around his shoulder and pulled him into me. He relaxed his head on my neck. “You’re my
best buddy,” I assured him.
“So you don’t think I’m stupid?”
“Of course not,” I responded as I pulled him tighter to my side. “There’s nothing stupid about my best
He pulled away and looked at me with a broad smile. His eyes were twinkling from his former tears. “I’m
your best friend?”
I replied with a smile, “The bestest friend a guy ever had.” I stood and extended my hand and pulled him
to his feet. “Let’s go home, Bestest Friend.”
He continued to hold my hand as he skipped beside me. “Okay, Bestest Friend,” he giggled.
* * * * * *
Chapter 7 Return to TMJ
|Copyright ©2013 by Ronyx
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Birds Don't Sing
Before a Storm