The house was eerily quiet when I arrived. It was a little past seven, but everyone seemed to be in their bedrooms. Normally, I could hear music blaring from Curtis’s Bose speakers, but the hall was silent. I tiptoed down the hall and peeked into Lane’s room. He was sitting at his computer playing a video game. He looked up and motioned me to come over and sit beside him.
I asked, “What’s going on? It’s so quiet.”
He whispered, “Mommy told us to go to our rooms and not come out.”
“Where is she?”
“I think she’s in the family room with Curtis and Randy,” he replied. “She is really mad.”
I laughed and said, “Yeah, I kind of figured that out.” I grabbed a remote and asked Lane if he wanted to play a game. I didn’t want to go downstairs if they were talking to Curtis. I knew one thing, I was glad it was him and not me.
About a half hour later, we heard Curtis walking down the hallway. He slammed his bedroom door shut. Lane and I tried to hear what he was telling Rodney, but their voices were too muted. I laughed when Lane stood on his bed and pressed his ear to the wall. He turned and shook his head and mouthed, “I can’t hear anything.”
I decided it was probably safe to return to my room. When I went downstairs, my father and Karen were talking. Dad looked up and asked me if I would sit down for a minute.
I hesitantly walked over and sat on the sofa beside Karen. She attempted a smile, but it was obvious she was still pissed. Dad picked up a cell phone sitting on the table beside him and handed it to me.
I asked, “What’s this?”
“What’s it look like?”
“A cell phone?”
He started to make a wise crack, but he didn’t after glancing over at Karen. He stated, “Karen and I think you should have a phone. I realized today when I tried to call you at school, I couldn’t get in touch with you.”
I examined it and said, “Thanks.”
Karen touched my arm and said, “I’ll tell you what I tell Rodney and Curtis. You have limited calling, but unlimited texting. If you run over your minutes, you’ll be responsible for them.”
I replied, “Yes, Ma’am. I don’t plan to use it very much.”
She smiled and said, “I’m sure you’ll be talking to Shade quite a bit.” My face reddened as I looked away.
I started to get up, but my father stopped me. “There is one other thing,” he said. I started to get excited because I thought he was going to hand me the keys to a car. Instead, he sat back and said, “You can refuse if you want, but you would be doing Karen and me a big favor if you would agree.”
I gave him a puzzled look and asked, “Agree to what?”
Karen gripped my hand and squeezed it. “We want you to tutor Curtis.”
“What? Tutor Curtis?”
“Yes,” she replied as she squeezed my hand tighter. “He’s failing four subjects. You both have some of the same classes and teachers. If he fails, he’s going to have to repeat his junior year.”
I didn’t know how to respond. I really didn’t feel like helping him. Even though he had opened up to me, and we were becoming closer, I still didn’t trust him. “Can’t he get help at school?”
“We asked him that,” she said, “But he’s the one who suggested that you could help him.”
I shook my head. “I don’t know if I have the time right now,” I explained. “The play is in a couple of weeks, and I’ll be spending all my time at school.”
She looked over at my father. “We considered that. We know you’re going to be very busy, so we suggested that perhaps Curtis can meet you in the theater after school. He can do his homework while you do whatever it is you do.”
I announced proudly, “I’m Shade’s assistant stage manager.”
“Really?” She replied as she patted my hand. “That is a big responsibility.”
“ Yes, Ma’am. So as you can see, I won’t have time,” I apologized as I tried to avoid helping Curtis with his assignments.
“It won’t take much of your time,” she responded. “I just want to make sure he’s doing his assignments. You can keep an eye on him.”
I replied sarcastically, “So, you want me to snitch on him if he isn’t doing what he’s supposed to be doing.”
A surprised look appeared on her face as she glanced over at my father. “Oh, my goodness,” she exclaimed. “It does seem like you’d be doing that.” She gripped my hand. “This was all Curtis’s suggestion. He really doesn’t want us to hire a tutor. He’s promised us he’ll get his grades up. We told him if he doesn’t, then we would place him in a program after school.”
“I don’t know,” I replied worriedly. I had a feeling Curtis was using me to get out of something he didn’t want to do.
She frowned and said, “I’ll tell him you don’t have the time.”
I sighed after seeing the disappointed look on her face. She had done so much for me since I arrived. I felt like I was letting her down. “Okay,” I said. “We’ll give it a week. If he doesn’t do what he’s supposed to do, then I’ll let you know.”
“Oh, thank you, Casey.” She leaned over and gave me a hug. “Curtis isn’t a bad boy. He’s just gotten off on the wrong track. I’m afraid if I push him too hard, it might make things even worse.”
I looked over when my father said, “Thank you, Son.”
I held up the phone. “Thanks for the cell phone.”
“You’re welcome,” he said as I got up and went into my room. As soon as I closed the door, I called Shade to make sure he had my new number. He was delighted to know that we could now text each other and not have to wait each night for me to call from the land line in the family room.
I smiled when he texted me immediately after hanging up. “I luv u.”
I texted back, “I luv u more.”
A minute later, he wrote, “No way, Jose.” I took a shower, and then spent the rest of the night working on homework assignments. I thought Curtis might come down and join me, but he didn’t.
* * * * * *
It was a strange morning. Lane and I ate breakfast alone. As he usually does, he had two bowls of Fruit Loops sitting on the counter when I entered. I asked, “Where is everyone?”
“I dunno,” he replied. “Rodney and Curtis haven’t come out of their room yet.”
As we ate, we heard their bedroom door open. Seconds later, Rodney walked into the kitchen. He nodded his head at me, but he didn’t say anything. He took out a box of Cheerios and poured them into a bowl. After adding milk, he sat down beside me.
“How’s it going?” I asked.
“Same shit, another day,” he replied. Nothing else was said. When he finished eating, he told Lane and me that we should be going.
Lane looked down the hall and asked, “Where’s Curtis?”
“Fucker is still in bed,” replied Rodney. He put on his jacket and said, “Let’s ride.”
I pulled my coat off and tossed it on a counter chair. “Why don’t you go ahead,” I suggested to Rodney. “I’m going to go see if Curtis is okay.”
“He’s okay,” replied Rodney sarcastically. “He’s pouting because Mom ripped him a new one yesterday.” His comment sent Lane into a burst of uncontrollable giggling.
He laughed and told Rodney, “Maybe we should buy him some gauze.”
I didn’t find their joking too funny. I’d been in Curtis’s situation before, so I knew how he was feeling. “You guys go on,” I said. “I’ll walk to school.”
Rodney asked, “You sure?” I nodded, and he put his arm around Lane’s shoulder and led him out the door.
“Yippee!” exclaimed Lane. “I get to ride shotgun!”
“Only for a minute,” replied Rodney. “We’re picking up Megan.” He lightly smacked Lane on the back of the head. “Besides, she’s prettier than you.”
“Is not,” giggled Lane as he closed the door.
I wasn’t sure if I hadn’t made a mistake by not going to school. I know how I feel when I’m depressed. I just want people to leave me alone. When I lived with my mother, it wasn’t uncommon for me to go several weeks without speaking. My mother didn’t care. As long as we weren’t talking, then we weren’t arguing.
However, Curtis is more outgoing than I was. He has a family who cares for him, even if they are angry at the moment with him. He also has numerous friends. I had few in school. Terry was one of the few people I could call a friend, and that was stretching it a bit.
I started to head for the door, but decided that perhaps I should see if Curtis did want to talk. He did say he would come to me if he had a problem. When I knocked on his door, I didn’t get a reply. I knocked again, only harder. Still no answer.
Cautiously, I opened the door and peeked in. It appeared he was still in his bed. I walked over, turned on a light and stood before his bed. “Curtis?” I asked softly, “Are you alright?” He didn’t respond.
“Curtis?” I poked the bed, and was surprised that he wasn’t there. He had made the bed to make it appear that he was asleep.
“Shit,” I mumbled. I left the room, unsure what I should do. I considered calling Rodney and telling him that Curtis was gone. However, I decided against it, at least for the time being. He was already in enough trouble. If Karen found out that he was gone, it would only make matters worse.
I went downstairs to my room and called Shade. He was sitting in the cafeteria with Megan. They were drinking an orange juice before school began. I explained to him where I was. I asked him if Curtis was at school, but he said he didn’t see him sitting at the table with the other baseball players. He offered to come get me, but I told him not to come. There was no need for both of us to be late for class.
I was walking though the family room when I heard a closet door being opened in Lane’s room. I panicked at first thinking someone had broken into the house. I grabbed a metal figurine sitting on a table in the foyer and crept down the hall. When I peeked inside Lane’s room, Curtis was pulling out a duffle bag. He froze when he saw me.
I asked, “What are you doing?”
He brushed past me and replied angrily, “What does it look like I’m doing?”
“I dunno,” I said as I followed him into his bedroom. He opened a dresser drawer and started tossing underwear and socks inside. “What are you doing?” He was attempting to hold the bag with his right arm which had the cast, while he used his left hand to place the clothes inside.
He took out some sweatpants and crammed them inside the duffle bag. “I ain’t staying here no more,” he grumbled. “I feel like I”m in prison.”
I sat on the side of the bed and watched him. “It ain’t going to work,” I said.
He walked over and looked down at me. “What do you mean, it ain’t going to work?”
I laughed nervously, “Been there, done that. It ain’t going to work.”
He walked over to his closet, took out some shirts and shoved them angrily inside the bag. “I can’t stay here no more.” He turned and said, “Shit hit the fan, and I’m outta here.”
“Where you gonna go?”
He shrugged his shoulders. “Dunno. Maybe I can stay with one of my friends for a while. Then I can get a job and get my own place.”
He got angry when I lay back on the bed and started laughing. “What’s so fucking funny?” he snarled.
I rose and looked up at him. “I’ve tried this shit so many times,” I laughed. “In fact, when I first got here, I tried to leave.”
“Where did you go?”
“I was heading to Atlanta,” I replied.
“Atlanta? You know people in Atlanta?”
“Then why were you going to Atlanta?”
I nodded at his duffle bag. “Same reason you’re leaving now. I just wanted to get the fuck outta here.”
He sat down on the bed beside me. “So, you don’t feel that way now?”
“Nope,” I replied. “I’m happy now.”
He ran his hands over his head. “Man, what am I going to do?” he moaned. “Everyone is mad at me. Mom’s pissed, and Rodney keeps telling me he’s going to kick my ass.” He scowled when I started laughing. “What’s so fucking funny?”
“Curtis,” I smiled, “They’re only mad because they love you. My mother couldn’t give a shit what I did. If I had booked, she probably would have thrown a party.”
He asked, “No shit?”
“Yeah,” I said. “No shit.” I turned toward him. “You got support which I didn’t have until I came here. Your mom is pissed because she loves you. Curtis wants to kick your ass because he cares about you.” I shook my head and said, “Man, you don’t know how fucking lucky you are.”
He ran his hands over his head again. “Shit, Casey. You’re making too much sense.” He looked into my eyes. “What made you not run away to Atlanta?”
I smiled and replied softly, “Shade did. That’s the day we met.”
“You love that little fucker, don’t you?”
I nodded and said, “Yeah, I do.”
“He’s lucky,” he laughed. He looked into my eyes and then let his eyes wander down to my crotch. “Man, if you weren’t in love with him, I’d jump your bones right now.”
I laughed and said, “You’ve made that offer before.”
“I mean it, Casey,” he smiled. “You’re a special guy. If I could find someone like you, maybe I could be happy.”
“Who knows,” I said as I picked the duffle bag off the floor. “Maybe you’ll find Mr. Right,” I laughed and then added, “Or Mrs. Right sometime soon.”
“I wish,” he replied as he took the duffle bag and started emptying it and replacing his clothing back into the closet and dresser.
As he worked I told him, “I appreciate you protecting Shade yesterday.”
“It really wasn’t anything,” he replied as he put away his underwear. “Mike was just hassling us. He didn’t mean anything by it. I just wasn’t in the mood for his shit.”
“So you busted your hand for nothing?”
He held his hand and examined it. “I guess. Wasn’t the brightest thing I’ve ever did.”
“Guess not,” I replied as I shook my head.
When he finished, we made sure everything was back in place so no one would know what he had planned to do. On the walk to school, we talked about how I could help him with his classes. I told him I would be extremely busy for the next couple of weeks. He said we could do what Karen suggested. He would come to rehearsal and sit in the audience and do his assignments. I told him that Shade, Megan and others would also volunteer to help him.
He jokingly asked, “Any pretty girls?” Then he punched me in my shoulder and added, “Or guys?” I felt comfortable when he threw his arm around my shoulder as we continued walking toward school.
Curtis had slowly evolved into a friend.
Shade was waiting for me outside my fourth period. As we walked to lunch together, he asked me if everything was all right. “Yeah,” I replied. “Curtis needed someone to talk to, is all.”
Shade gave me a quick glance before looking away. “You and him seem to be getting kind of close, aren’t you?” When I started to laugh, he asked, “What’s so funny?”
I smiled and said, “You’re jealous.”
“No, I’m not,” he insisted.
We stopped in the hallway and faced each other. “Admit it,” I laughed. “You’re jealous.”
He huffed, “Well, you’re always talking about him. It’s Curtis this, and Curtis that.”
I looked around, but there were too many students in the hallway. I wanted to kiss him. For a minute, I considered doing it in front of everyone, but I chickened out. Besides, we could be suspended for showing affection in school. It was safe in the theater class because no one cared. However, if someone else saw us and complained, we could get into serious trouble.
“It’s all good,” I assured him. “I’m a one guy guy, and you’re that guy.”
“I better be,” he pouted. He walked away when I started laughing again. I had to run to catch up with him.
Seventh period was becoming more hectic every day. As the performance day grew nearer, everything seemed more urgent. The set was slowly coming together. We were putting the finishing touches on the three different sets. The monastery and mountain scenery were nearly completed. However, since most of the acting took place at the mansion, it was more elaborate. The most difficult task was building a sweeping staircase. One of the student’s father was a professional carpenter, and he was helping in the evenings. I was becoming worried that it wouldn’t be finished in time. Shade told me that it was normal for things not to be ready until the dress rehearsal.
Curtis did show up after school. He took a seat in the back, and I sat beside him as he showed me an assignment that needed to be completed. It took longer than I expected, and Shade stepped out on stage and glared down at us several times. I still don’t think I had convinced him that Curtis wasn’t a threat to him.
As I was going over a history assignment, we suddenly stopped and looked up at the stage.
“Wow,” exclaimed Curtis. “He’s good.” Joshua had stepped onto the stage and was singing Edelweiss. I hated to admit it, but he did sound good. To be small, he had a rich baritone voice. Even from where we were sitting, he could easily be heard. “Who is he?”
“Some guy named Joshua,” I replied with a tone of derision.
Curtis laughed, “You sound like you don’t like him.”
“He’s a diva,” I replied. “He thinks the whole show is about him.”
“Well, he’s good,” said Curtis as we watched him perform for a few more minutes. When he finished, I told Curtis I had things to do, and I would be back later to check on him.
Shade was scurrying around backstage. He and several students were testing the scenery to make sure it would roll properly onto the stage. I stepped up beside him and asked, “What do you want me to do?” He told me to help three other students who were painting the façade of the mansion.
We had been working for over an hour when Curtis came backstage. He wandered around and watched as we worked. Finally, he stepped over to me. “I didn’t realize it took so much work.”
I stopped, stood back and admired the work we had completed. “I didn’t either,” I said as I wiped sweat from my brow.
“It looks great,” he said. When a prop fell, Shade rushed over to pick it up. I was surprised when Curtis went over and helped him. He struggled to lift it with one hand. When they finished, they both approached.
“You guys are doing a great job,” said Curtis admiringly. “This is the first time I’ve ever been in the theater.”
I thought Curtis would be insulted when Shade told him that the theater crew worked just as hard at athletes. Surprisingly, Curtis agreed with him.
Curtis then looked over at me. “I finished that history assignment,” he said as he held up his notebook. “Can you help me with my English later?”
“Yeah, sure,” I replied. “I probably won’t get home until after nine, though. I’ve got to help Shade with the scenery.”
He nodded and started to walk away. Just then, Joshua approached. He looked down at Curtis’s cast. “Oh, you poor dear,” he exclaimed as he gently touched the cast. “What happened to you?”
Curtis glanced at me before answering Joshua. “Me and a locker had a disagreement,” he laughed.
Joshua held Curtis’s arm. “It must hurt something awful.”
“Not really,” replied Curtis as he pulled his arm away. He then told Joshua, “Hey, I heard you sing. You’re really good.”
“Really?” cooed Joshua. “You liked it?” I glanced over at Shade and rolled my eyes. I couldn’t believe that Joshua was coming on to Curtis. Surprisingly though, Curtis didn’t seem offended.
“Of course,” responded Curtis. “It sounded good.”
Joshua smiled and said, “Thanks, Love.” Curtis glanced at me as his face reddened.
“Well,” said Curtis. “I better get over to the gym.”
“Oh,” exclaimed Joshua. “You play sports?” He grabbed Curtis’s arm. “There’s something sexy about a man in a uniform.” I don’t think Curtis’s face could have gotten any redder. He pulled away from Joshua, waved goodbye and hurried from the stage.
When he was gone, Joshua asked excitedly, “Who was that? He’s a dream?”
“Curtis Crawford,” said Shade. I gave Shade a warning glance. I didn’t like Joshua, and I certainly didn’t want him stalking Curtis. Curtis made it very clear he didn’t want to come out yet. Someone like Joshua would certainly blow his cover.
“Curtis Crawford,” cooed Joshua as he walked away.
When he left, I turned to Shade. “You did that on purpose, didn’t you?”
Shade asked innocently, “Do what?” His mouth curled into a big grin.
I looked around and then warned him, “I’m going to get you later.”
He smiled and said, “You better.”
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