I tried to avoid Lane after school. I thought I could head home before school let out, but the bell rang just as I was leaving the gym. I hurried down the sidewalk, but about two blocks away I heard him shout my name.
I walked faster, hoping he would tire, but he didn’t. A block later, he ran up beside me and grabbed my arm. “Didn’t you...” He took one look at my face and started crying. He grabbed me around the waist and held me as he asked me what had happened.
“I’m alright,” I assured him as I pulled away and started down the sidewalk. He ran up, took my hand and held it tightly.
He looked up at my swollen face. By now, my eye had closed shut. I laughed and replied, “I walked into a door.”
“No, you didn’t,” he said as tears once again filled his eyes. “Who did you get into a fight with?” He crossed his heart and said, “I promise I won’t tell Randy.”
I squeezed his hand and replied, “Mike and I kind of had a little disagreement in gym.”
He asked worriedly, “It wasn’t because he called me a runt?”
“No,” I assured him. “He got a little too rough in gym, that’s all.”
“But,” replied Lane. “I thought you guys were friends?”
“Sometimes friends have disagreements,” I responded.
Lane giggled and looked up into my face. “I bet Mike looks worse than you, huh?”
“Not really,” I said. “He got me while I was on the ground.”
Lane replied angrily, “Bastard.”
I stopped and put my hands on his shoulders. Bending down so he could better see me, I said, “I don’t want to hear you cuss anymore. Got it?” He looked away and nodded his head. “Good,” I said. “You’re too nice a kid to be cussing.”
He giggled when I muttered, “Bastard,” as we walked away.
When we got home, I went straight to my room. Lane disappeared for a few minutes, and then entered my room. He was carrying a plastic bag. He walked over, sat on the side of bed with me, and pressed it to my swollen eye.
I didn’t move away because the cold felt good. “What is that?” I asked as he held it to my face.
He grinned and replied, “A pork chop. When I sprung my wrist last year, Mommy put something cold from the freezer on it.”
“It feels good,” I murmured as I took it from his hand and lay back on the bed with it still pressed to my face.
Lane looked worriedly at me. For a second, I expected him to start crying again. He gently placed his hand on my chest and asked, “You want me to get anything else?”
“I’m okay, Little Man,” I assured him. “I’m just going to lay here for a while and try to sleep.” He smiled when I reached up and patted his cheek. “Thanks for the cold pack. My eye feels better already. Now, why don’t you leave me alone and let me get some sleep.”
I thought he was going to leave when he rose from the bed and turned out the overhead light. Instead, he walked back over, sat down and toed off his shoes. He then lay beside me and put his arm around my chest. Soon, both of us were sound asleep.
We slept for about two hours until someone knocked softly on the door. Lane mumbled something and then nestled his body into mine. The door opened, and the overhead light blinded me.
“Are you boys...” It was Karen. Suddenly, she let out a shriek. “My God, Casey! What happened to you?”
Lane sat up and wiped the sleep from his eyes as Karen approached the bed. She asked worriedly again as she looked down at my face, “Were you in a fight?” She sighed and mumbled softly, “I hope it wasn’t Curtis.”
“It wasn’t, Mommy,” said Lane. “He got in a fight with Mike.”
Lane scooted closer to me to give his mother room to sit on the bed. “Mike McConnell? Why on earth would you get in a fight with Mike? He’s such a nice boy.”
“He ain’t either,” replied Lane scornfully. “He called me a runt, so Casey got in a fight with him.”
I attempted to correct him, “I did not get in a fight because he called you a runt, although I probably should have.”
Karen took the melted bag from me and handed it to Lane. “Honey,” she said softly, “Why don’t you go get another frozen pork chop for Casey’s eye.” Lane jumped from the bed, grabbed the plastic bag and hurried from the room.
Karen asked, “You want to tell me why you were in a fight? Is it because he called Lane a runt?”
“No, Ma’am,” I replied as I swung around on the bed and sat up. “I don’t mean to be rude, but it’s kind of a personal thing between Mike and I?”
It surprised me when she asked, “Is it because he’s gay?” I sat and looked dumbfounded at her. I didn’t know how to answer her blunt question.
She laughed slightly, took my hand and squeezed it. “It’s okay, Casey. Mike’s mother and I are good friends. She told me three years ago when he came out to the family. By now, I think everyone in the school knows.”
My face reddened when I replied, “I don’t have a problem with him being gay.” Judging by her reaction, I was beginning to wonder if she really knew that I was gay. Perhaps, my mother hadn’t said anything to my father. If she did, he may not have shared it with Karen and the others.
“Then why did you fight him?” She reached up and gently touched my face. “It looks like it was a nasty fight. Does he look like this, too?”
“No,” I confessed. “I wasn’t able to get in a good punch.”
“Well,” she huffed. “You should learn to defend yourself.”
“I can defend myself,” I laughed. “He just had me pinned to the ground.”
It hurt my face as I started laughing when she muttered, “Bastard.”
Suddenly, we heard Lane bounding down the stairs. He handed his mother a small container of ice cream. “I couldn’t find any pork chop. Will this do?”
“I doubt it,” she laughed. “It might melt all over Casey.” She stood, took my hand and pulled me to my feet. “Let’s go upstairs to the medicine cabinet.”
She helped me up. When she released my hand, Lane grabbed it and held it as we went upstairs.
I hate to admit it, but it felt good to have Karen tend to my injuries. It was like my own mother did when I was younger. As I sat on the toilet seat in the main bath, I closed my eyes as she gingerly applied a sweet smelling salve to my face.
I opened my eyes when Lane started giggling. “You’re making him look like a clown, Mommy.” He held his stomach and roared with laughter.
“He does not,” smiled Karen. I rose and stood before the mirror. I started laughing as I looked at the white cream she had smeared all over my face.
“I do look like a clown,” I laughed.
“It will take the swelling down,” she said as she rubbed some more on my face. She then looked up at a clock on the wall. “I had better get dinner started.”
I asked, “Would you like me to help?”
“No, Dear,” she replied. “Why don’t you and Lane go down to the family room and watch television until I call you.”
“Okay, Mommy,” said Lane cheerfully. He grabbed my hand and said, “We can watch SpongeBob Square Pants.”
I looked at Karen and smiled, “Wonderful.” She playfully hit me on my butt as we exited the bathroom.
After an hour of SpongeBob Square Pants, I was ready to jump up from the sofa and start screaming. Lane, however, enjoyed it tremendously. He was having a good time as he sat on the sofa beside me. As I watched him, I realized just how neglected his life must have been before I arrived. Except for Karen, I doubt anyone else in the house paid any attention to him. He seemed to thrive on the brotherly bond we were forming.
The only problem for me, though, was if someday I decided to leave, it would be more difficult. I hated to admit it, but I needed Lane’s attention as much as he needed mine. He was the family I had been missing for the past five years.
“Mmmm,” said Lane as the smell of dinner began to waft downstairs. “Mommy’s fixing s’getti.”
“It does smell good,” I replied. Just then, we heard footsteps coming down the stairs into the family room. I turned when my father spoke harshly.
“Casey,” he said angrily. “I need to have a word with you.” He stepped in front of me and looked down at my face. “My God, Karen was right.” He looked over at Lane. “Skipper, go upstairs to your room until dinner.”
Lane rose and looked down sadly at me. He could tell by my father’s voice that something was wrong. He started to say something, but my father said adamantly, “Go now, Skipper.”
After he left the room, I watched as my father paced around the room in front of me. Finally, he stopped and said, “Your mother warned me something like this would happen.”
I jumped to my feet, stood defiantly before him and shouted, “You leave her out of this. I knew she had turned you against me.” I picked up a pillow on the sofa and threw it across the room. It hit a picture on the wall that crashed to the floor and shattered.
“You’re just like her,” I screamed. “You won’t even give me a chance to prove myself.”
“Prove what?” he asked sarcastically. “That you can get kicked out of school just like you did back home.”
I tried to hold back tears as I shouted, “I don’t have a goddamn home anymore.” He stared angrily at me, turned and began pacing around the room. As I watched him, anger boiled up inside me.
“Fuck this shit!” I spat. “I don’t need you or anyone else.”
When I turned to leave, he shouted, “Don’t you walk out on me! We’re not done here.”
I responded angrily, “Oh, yes we are!” I turned and stormed up the stairs. Karen attempted to stop me, but I brushed past her and left through the kitchen door. I hurried around the house and started down the sidewalk.
I turned when I heard the front door open. I assumed it was my father coming to confront me again. It was Lane. He was hurriedly putting on a light jacket as he ran up to me. He didn’t say a word. He simply grabbed my hand and held it as I walked down the sidewalk from my father’s house.
A block away, we passed Mr. Goodwin’s house. He was in the front yard trimming bushes. “Wait here,” I instructed Lane as I walked away and confronted the short, stout man who appeared to be in his 60’s.
He looked at me suspiciously, then he looked behind me at Lane. “What you want, Boy?”
“Listen, you sick, perverted bastard!” I shouted. He turned off his trimmer and took a few steps away from me.
I turned and pointed toward Lane. “If you ever put your fucking hands on him again,” I yelled, “I’ll take that trimmer and cut your nuts off!”
“I..I...don’t know what you’re talking about,” he stammered nervously.
“Fuck you!” I shouted. “You know goddamn well what I’m talking about!” I pointed my finger at him and waved it. “You lure young boys into your house and then you try to seduce them.”
Before he had a chance to respond, his wife opened the front door and peered outside. When she saw me standing angrily before her husband, she asked, “George, is everything all right?”
He looked pleadingly at me, and then he turned and said, “Yes, Dear. You go back inside. I’m okay.”
“You’re a sick, mother fucker!” I hissed. “You’re married and trying to mess with young boys.”
“You’ve got it wrong,” he tried to convince me. “Skipper must have lied to you.”
I grabbed him by the collar and looked angrily into his face. “He didn’t lie, you sick bastard.” I shoved him back and he stumbled and fell to the ground. “Touch him again and you’ll regret it!”
I turned and walked away. Lane was standing motionless on the sidewalk. I put my arm around his shoulder and pressed him into my body. “Come on, Little Brother.” He skipped beside me as we continued down the street.
We walked to a Dairy Queen I had noticed on our way to school earlier. Lane got excited when we headed toward it. “Oh, boy!” he squealed. “I want a Dilly Bar!”
Luckily, I still had a few dollars left over after giving Shade most of my money on Saturday. I walked up to the counter and ordered two Dilly Bars. Lane and I then walked out and sat at a table outside.
We sat quietly for a few minutes. I smiled as I watched Lane devour the ice cream bar. When he was done, he looked worriedly at me and asked, “Are you okay, Casey?”
“Why wouldn’t I be okay?”
“You got in a big fight with Randy, and then you wanted to hurt Mr. Goodwin because of what he did to me,” he replied. He looked at my swollen eye, “Is it because what Mike did to you?”
I didn’t know how to respond. Lane was making an effort to try to understand what was going on in my life. There was no way I could explain it to him, when I didn’t even know myself how I was feeling.
I smiled slightly and said, “Sometimes life gets a little complicated.” He nodded his head and I reached out and squeezed his arm. “I’ll be okay, though. I promise. Okay?”
Tears started to well up in his eyes. “You just don’t seem happy.” he wiped away a tear that fell down his cheek. “I want you to be happy, Casey.” He reached out and I held him in my arms.
“I’ll be happy,” I assured him as tears filled my eyes. “Someday I’ll hear the birds singing again.”
He leaned back, looked into my eyes and smiled. “I like hearing the birds sing.”
“I do too,” I replied as I kissed him on his forehead. “Let’s go home.” He held my hand and skipped beside me as we headed back down the sidewalk.
When we returned to my father’s house, there was a small Mazda parked in the driveway. Lane and I headed around the house to the back door. We walked through the kitchen and down the steps toward the family room. I was trying to get to my room before my father saw me.
However, as soon as we descended the stairs, I saw my father sitting on the sofa. He was talking quietly to Coach Wentworth. They stopped and turned when Lane and I entered the room.
“Skipper,” said my father. “Go upstairs to your room.”
I put my hand on Lane’s shoulder. “His name isn’t Skipper,” I said adamantly. “It’s Lane.”
I thought my father would blow up once again and start shouting, but he didn’t. Instead, he said with a very calm voice, “Lane. Go to your room, please.”
Lane looked up at me. I patted him on his back and nodded. He smiled, skipped across the room and bounded up the stairs. When he was gone, my father asked me politely if I would have a seat.
I crossed my arms defiantly and responded, “I’d rather not. I have nothing to say to you.”
Coach Wentworth rose off the sofa and approached me. He winced when he saw the bruising on my face and my swollen eye. “Casey, I came here tonight to talk about what happened in gym.”
“What’s to talk about?” I asked sarcastically. “I got the shit beat out of me,” I said angrily as I pointed towards my father. Tears started to well up in my eyes. “Does he give a damn what happened? He’s just like my mother. They always blame me without hearing my side of the story.”
I didn’t want to cry, but I couldn’t help it. They were tears of anger, more than tears of sadness. “You know what?” I cried as I wiped tears away from my eyes. “Fuck it.” I looked over at my father. “I don’t need you. I didn’t want to come here, but Mom gave me no change. She packed my bags and had them in the car before I even knew what was happening.”
I wiped more tears away and said sorrowfully, “You’re not my father anymore. I would say I hate you, but I don’t know you well enough to even say that.”
I turned and rushed into my room. I slammed the door and fell onto the bed and wept. It was the first time since I was about eight that I could remember crying. I had always been the tough kid, and I kept my emotions inside me. Occasionally, I would explode, like tonight. But I never let my emotions get the best of me. Tonight, however, I had lost.
A few minutes later, someone entered the room and sat down gently on the side of the bed. “It’s going to be alright, Casey,” said Wentworth.
I turned on my back, looked up at him and started laughing. “What are you? Some fucking psychic? You think just because you’re some successful baseball coach, you have all the answers.”
“That’s not fair, Casey,” he responded. “I just want to help you.”
“Yeah, right,” I replied sarcastically as I turned on my side away from him. “All you care about is winning ball games.”
He put his hand on my shoulder, but I jerked my shoulder to let him know I didn’t want him touching me. “I’ve helped a lot of boys like you.”
I rolled over, sat up and stared into his face. “And what’s in it for you? Huh? Do you get some pin at the end of the day for being a nice guy?”
He begged, “Please. Give me a chance, Casey.”
“I gave you a chance,” I replied angrily. I touched the side of my face. “Look what happened to me.”
“I’ve had a talk with Mike,” he said quickly. “He’s sorry about what happened.”
I started laughing. “You had a talk with him? Gee whiz. Thanks. He beats the fucking shit out of me, and you have a talk with him?”
“Mike has a lot of problems,” he started to explain.
I quickly interrupted. “Yeah, Coach. I’m sure he does.” I purposefully looked down at his crotch. “And I’m sure he helps you with your problems, too.”
His face reddened with angry as he stared at me. “What are you trying to say?”
I rose from the bed and stared down at him. “Oh, come off it, Coach. Mike beats the shit out of me, and you have a talk with him?”
He replied, “It’s complicated. I can’t have him suspended.”
I bent down and stared angrily into his face. “I bet you can’t. Are you afraid he’ll tell your dirty little secrets?”
He stood and balled his fist. “You fucker!”
I stepped back and started laughing. “Go ahead. Hit me. You might as well finish what Mike started.”
It was hard to read his expression. It was a mix of anger, embarrassment and confusion. We stood toe to toe, and eye to eye. He blinked first, turned and left the room.
I fell back on the bed and soon went to sleep. Sometime in the night, Lane came down and snuggled against me. I awoke in the morning with my arm around him.