“You know he’s gay, don’t you?”
The words echoed in my head long after Rodney left the room. I was puzzled what he meant by them. He stated it as a matter of fact. There was no derision or animosity in his voice.
Thinking back, it seemed like most of his teammates were aware of his sexuality. At lunch, they had made several jokes that hinted that he might be gay. Even Wentworth had warned me that Mike was a player. Why would he have warned me unless he knew that I might be Mike’s next target?
I was also beginning to worry that associating with Mike at school might make others suspect that I was also gay. Perhaps, that is why Curtis had called me a faggot. Earlier on Friday morning he was angry because he thought I was interested in his former girlfriend, Monica. After seeing me with Mike, he no longer acted like I was a threat.
Rodney didn’t strike me as someone who was homophobic. While we had worked out, he didn’t seem worried that I might make a move on him. I’m not even sure he would have even reacted angrily if I had. However, one thing I was sure of, he was completely straight. A gay guy can instantly sense that in another guy.
However, I wasn’t sure about Curtis. His anger towards me made no sense. I had given him no reason to react like he does when I’m around. Naturally, he didn’t like me moving in unexpectedly. However, Karen, Lane and Rodney seemed to quickly adjust to my presence.
Curtis had to resent me because he assumes that I am gay. Maybe my father told everyone about the incident with Rollie. I’m sure my mother told my father about it. However, neither Karen or Rodney said anything. Lane certainly wouldn’t have been told because he wouldn’t understand.
He probably suspects I’m gay because of Mike. Mike seemed to instantly know that I am gay. He began flirting with me as soon as he stepped up and pulled me away from his sister. It was as if he instinctively knew I needed to be saved from her.
Curtis could be a serious threat. He had provoked two fights with me. It was as if he was challenging me. However, he learned quickly that I was not one to back down from a fight. I stood my ground.
I went to the bathroom to take a shower after my workout with Rodney. When I finished, I reached for my towel, and someone handed it to me. I pulled back the shower curtain, and as I expected, Lane was grinning at me.
He asked hopefully, “Did I scare you?”
“Nope, Little Brother,” I replied. He gave me a toothy grin.
“I like it when you call me Little Brother,” he smiled as I stepped out of the tub and dried myself. Lane sat on the toilet seat and watched.
I asked him, “Don’t you have anything better to do? It is Saturday.”
He shrugged his shoulders and replied, “Not really. Me and Mom got back from the mall, so now I’m bored.”
I laughed and chided, “Mom and I got back from the mall.”
He giggled, “You didn’t go with Mom, I did, Silly.” He giggled louder when I rolled my eyes. When I went back to my room, he followed.
“Wanna go look for frogs at the pond?” Lane asked as I got dressed.
“Frogs at the pond?”
“Yeah,” he replied excitedly. “There’s a pond behind the McConnell house, and there’s a whole lot of frogs.”
“The McConnell house?” I was wondering if it was the same house where Mike and Monica might live. “Does Mike live there?”
“Yeah,” he replied. “So. Do you want to go with me to look for frogs? Mom won’t let me go by myself.” He grabbed my hand and pulled me from the room.
I waited in the foyer while Lane asked is mother if he could go to the pond with me. I knew her answer when he came skipping down the hallway towards me. “She said yes,” he said cheerfully. He grabbed my hand and pulled me out of the house.
The McConnell house was two blocks away, located at the end of a street. The home was like my father’s and all the others, except it had a dense field beside it. The backyard had a privacy fence, and I could see a pool between the slates.
I followed Lane as he skipped down a narrow path into the field. We walked about an eighth of a mile until we came to an opening. Just as Lane had said, there was a small pond with lily pads floating along the bank. Lane let out a shriek, “There’s one!” He ran to catch a large frog, but it hopped away and into the lake. I stood back and laughed as he ran along the bank looking for more frogs.
Suddenly, I saw one to his right and yelled, “There, Lane!” He looked to where I was pointing and ran toward it. He lost his footing on the wet ground and went tumbling into the lake. I roared with laughter at his antics.
He got up and gave me an angry look. “It’s not funny, Casey,” he pouted. “Now I’m all wet.” I laughed louder as he walked toward me. His shorts, shoes and socks were soaked. His plaid shorts also were covered in mud in the back.
I bent over and grabbed my stomach. “That’s the funniest thing I’ve ever seen!”
He walked up and said sadly, “I can’t go home like this. Mom will never let me hunt for frogs again.” I stopped laughing when I saw how disappointed he was.
“Tell you what,” I said as I leaned down in front of him. “Take off your shoes, socks and shorts and we’ll lay them over on that rock to dry.” He looked over at the large boulder to our left. He quickly removed his clothing, even his underwear. He handed them to me as he stood naked from the waist down. For the first time, I saw just how underdeveloped he was. He looked more like a seven-year old than a boy who was entering puberty. When he saw me staring, he put his hand over his genitals. “I told you I was kind of small.”
“It will get bigger,” I assured him as I took his clothes and lay them out on the rock to dry in the sun. I sat down on the rock and watched as he ran around the pond trying to catch frogs. He didn’t seem embarrassed to be running naked in front of me. I was just glad no one was around to see him.
Thirty minutes later, his clothes had dried, so I told him to get dressed. He whined and said he enjoyed ‘being free,’ but I insisted that he put his clothes on. I was still worried that someone might follow the path to where we were. I had noticed bicycle tracks, so it was obvious that other people sometimes came here to play.
When we cleared the field as we walked back home, I saw Mike mowing his lawn on a riding lawn mower. He didn’t have a shirt on, and his body glistened with sweat in the bright sun. He rode the mower over when he saw us on the path.
“Hey,” he said with a smile. He gave Lane a curious glance before looking back at me. “What are you doing out here?”
“We was catching frogs,” said Lane excitedly. “I fell in the water.”
“Cool,” replied Mike dismissively. It upset me because he acted as if he hadn’t even heard what Lane had said.
He got off the mower and stood before me. He flexed his muscles and dared me to look at his body. “It sure is hot,” he exclaimed as he adjusted himself through his thin athletic shorts. It was obvious he had no underwear on underneath. I watched as he slightly stroked his cock. “How about a swim in the pool?”
“Yeah!” squealed Lane. He looked eagerly at me. “I want to go swimming, Casey.”
Mike glared angrily at him and said, “No one invited you, Runt.” Lane looked like he was getting ready to cry.
I walked over, put my arm around Lane and replied angrily, “Then I guess I’m not interested.”
“Come on, Casey,” Mike pleaded as he rubbed the front of his athletic shorts. “Ditch the runt, and let’s go swimming.”
I was too angry to say anything. I knew if I did open my mouth, I’d say something that I would later regret. Mike was the first real friend I had made at school, and I didn’t want to jeopardize that. However, with his attitude toward Lane, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be his friend.
“Come on,” I said to Lane as I put my arm on his back to lead him away.
Mike said sharply, “Your loss.”
I gave him a cold stare and replied, “Whatever.”
On the way home, Lane asked me why Mike had called him a runt. “Because he’s an asshole,” I replied as I squeezed his shoulder. I was beginning to regret that I hadn’t stood up for Lane more than I did.
“Yep,” agreed Lane. “He’s a big poopie butt.”
“You can say that again.”
Lane giggled and said, “He’s a big poopie butt.”
* * * * * * *
Mike was still upset with me on Monday when I got to school. I passed him in the hall after escorting Lane to his class, and he ignored me. I know he saw me, but he kept talking to some guy he was with and looked away.
One thing to my advantage, from what I’d experienced on Friday, my classes seemed as if they would be easy. Three of my classes, history, English and Spanish were more like a review of what I’d already learned at my former school. Physics and trig were about the same as what I’d been learning. I had never taken law, but thumbing through the book last night, most of it seemed like it was just common sense. I don’t think I have to worry about falling behind. Besides, I was a fairly bright student. I guess I never really applied myself before. Being on the honor roll would have pleased my mother too much, so I intentionally failed a test or turn in a major assignment so it would affect my grade negatively. Of course, my mother always heard about it, and that would lead to an argument.
After leaving my first period class, I was surprised to see Shade walking toward me. He was talking animatedly with a very pretty girl. When he saw me, he grinned, grabbed her arm and led her over to me.
“Hey,” he said as his eyes shimmered brightly. “I was hoping I’d run into you when you told me Saturday you go here.”
I glanced at the pretty brunette and looked back at him. A wave of sadness swept over me, but I was able to contain it from showing. After spending time with Shade, I was hoping that he might be gay. Now, though, it seemed like he had a girlfriend. “Well,” I replied cheerfully, “Here I am.”
Shade looked over at the girl and said, “Casey, I want you to meet my best friend, Darla.”
She smiled demurely and waved, “Hi, Casey.”
Shade put his arm around her and pulled her into a tight hug. “Darla and I have grown up together,” he said as he looked at her and smiled. “We’re practically inseparable.”
Darla’s face blushed as she lightly elbowed Shade in the side. They made a really cute couple, I thought to myself. Darla was about an inch shorter than Shade. She had long auburn hair and big brown eyes. However, with her good looks, she didn’t seem to fit the mold of the cheerleader type. She struck me more like a free spirit, someone who would avoid the ‘in’ crowd. It made sense, since Shade had a similar personality.
“It’s nice meeting you, Casey,” she said. She looked over at Shade and added, “Shade told me so much about you.” When I looked over at him, he shrugged his shoulders slightly.
He grabbed Darla by the arm and started to pull her away. “The bell is getting ready to ring,” he said. “We’d better get to class.” They waved goodbye and hurried down the hall.
In second period, I tried to piece together the exchange in the hall. Darla seemed to be Shade’s girlfriend, but he introduced her as his best friend. However, he added that they were inseparable. That could only mean that they were dating.
I was also confused why Shade would have told Darla about me. The way she looked at him when she said it was as if they were sharing a secret. By the end of the period, I had convinced myself that Shade and Darla were committed to each other, and that Shade would probably be no more than just an acquaintance.
Lunch posed another problem. After going through the line to buy my lunch, I stood and looked around as to where I should sit. On Friday, Mike had accompanied me, but he left class hurriedly. Suddenly, I heard him call out my name. He was standing at a table with a few other baseball players. He called again and motioned for me to join them.
As I was walking toward the table, I passed by where Lane was sitting with his friends. He jumped up, ran over to me, grabbed my hand and attempted to pull me over to his table. “Sit with us, Casey.” Then he whispered softly, “You can meet Donnie. He’s sitting beside me.”
I quickly looked over at Mike. I had to make a decision- and fast. I looked down at Lane, and I remembered how hurt he was that I hadn’t sat with him on Friday. I looked over at Mike, and I remembered how rude he had been to Lane on Saturday. My decision was easy to make.
I let Lane pull me over to his table. There was a small boy about Lane’s size sitting with two girls. All of them seemed excited that I was sitting with them. I was also relieved that Donnie was small. He had a head full of bright red hair, and freckles dotted his face. When Lane told me about their playing around in the bathroom, I was concerned that Donnie might be a big boy who was bullying Lane and forcing him to engage in sex. However, Donnie seemed to pose no threat to Lane. In fact, he seemed like he could easily be intimidated and bullied himself.
“Hey, Guys!” I said cheerfully when I sat down. They all looked at each other and giggled. Lane introduced Donnie to me, and then the two girls. They were shy and giggled nervously when Lane told me their names.
The one with long brown hair was Cynthia. She spoke with a nervous stutter. It quickly disappeared when she became more comfortable with me. The other, a larger girl, was named Roberta. She was a black girl whose clothes seemed rather worn and threadbare. She said very little.
When I asked them how school was going, Lane and Donnie animatedly told me about a lizard that another boy had brought to school for show and tell. Lane excitedly related how the lizard had gotten loose, and it had raced across the room as students jumped on chairs and started screaming.
As I was laughing at their story, I looked over at Mike’s table. He was staring angrily at me. My first instinct was to flip him off, but I didn’t. Besides, several teachers were circulating around the cafeteria. I knew I would get in trouble if any of them saw me.
As we were cleaning our table, Mrs. Crawford approached. She smiled warmly at me. She looked at Lane and his friends and remarked, “I see you have a visitor today.”
Lane replied excitedly, “My big brother ate with us today. We told him all about the lizard.”
She laughed and said, “And did you tell Casey how you jumped on the table and screamed?” Lane’s face reddened, and I burst out laughing.
“He told me how the others screamed,” I laughed. “He didn’t tell me he did.”
“Yeah,” chimed in Donnie. “You screamed like a little girl.”
“Did not!” insisted Lane. Just then the bell rang.
Mrs. Chambers had the students line up so she could escort them back to class. Before leaving, she pulled me aside and whispered, “Thank you, Casey. I’ve seen a big difference in Lane since you’ve come to live with his family. He seems more confident.”
I didn’t know how to respond, so I simply said, “Thank you.” She patted my arm and then walked away with Lane and the others trailing behind her. I watched as Lane skipped beside Donnie as they left.
As I was walking to my fifth period class, Mike stepped up beside me and said angrily, “I see you ate lunch with the dummy class.”
I turned, balled my fist and muttered angrily, “Shut the fuck up, Mike. You have one more time to say something about Lane.”
He smirked, looked at my fist and said, “Or what?”
The last thing I wanted to do was start a fight in the hallway. I saw how my mother reacted to me getting a ten-day suspension. I had no idea how my father would react.
I took a step back. “Just ease up, Okay?” I turned and hurried to class. I sat down at a desk on the other side of the room where I had on Friday. When Mike entered, he looked around for me. He gave me an angry look as he headed back to his desk just as the bell rang.
The rest of the afternoon was tense. I knew Mike was angry at me, but I should be the one upset with his behavior. He was quickly becoming a jerk in my opinion. He was no better than Curtis.
Things escalated in gym class. After Wentworth took attendance, he told two students to get some basketballs from a storage room. He then left us to play basketball, and he assigned Mike and Curtis to be captains. I was the last one chosen. Unfortunately, I was on Curtis’ team.
There were eleven guys on a team, so I sat most of the period on the bench. With five minutes remaining, we had a lead of ten points. Curtis decided to put in the guys who hadn’t played. Mike was determined to win, so he kept in his starting lineup.
A boy named Drew passed me a ball from across the court. As I jumped to catch it, Mike plowed into my side with his head down. I took a direct hit to the kidneys, and I fell to the floor gasping for air. Drew and a couple of my teammates rushed over and knelt to see if I was alright. I looked over one boy’s shoulder and saw Curtis high five Mike. Both looked down and laughed at me.
Still gasping for air, I managed to pull myself up from the floor and stumble over to Mike. When I got close enough, I threw a right hook into his jaw. He stumbled backwards as he grabbed the side of his face.
“You fucker!” he shouted as he stood upright and rushed at me. He grabbed me around the waist and we both tumbled to the ground. He hit me several times in the face. I was defenseless to hit back because I was in so much pain. Just as he hit me again, I heard Wentworth blowing his whistle from across the gymnasium. He ran over and pulled Mike off me.
He shouted, “What the hell is going on?” Mike attempted to lurch forward to hit me again, but Wentworth pushed him so hard he fell to the ground.
“McConnell!” he shouted. “Go hit the showers! When you’re dressed, I want to see you in my office.”
Mike started to protest, “But, Coach!”
Wentworth’s face reddened as he angrily shouted, “Get your ass out of here! Now!”
Curtis threw his arm around Mike and they headed toward the dressing room. A couple of my classmates wanted to stay to help me, but Wentworth told them to go shower.
When the gym was empty, Wentworth helped me to my feet. My sides were aching from Mike’s head bunt, and I could hardly see out of my left eye. Wentworth examined my injuries and asked, “What the hell happened?” He put his arm around my back and helped me across the gym.
When I didn’t respond, he asked again, “What happened, Casey?”
“A little misunderstanding is all Coach,” I replied. Since Mike was a popular athlete, and he seemed to be a favorite of Wentworth’s, then I figured it would do no good to try to explain what happened. Besides, if I did, then the other guys would look down on me.
Wentworth helped me to his office, and he had me sit in a chair. He told me he’d be right back, and he quickly disappeared from the room. I stood and looked at myself in a mirror on a side wall. My face was red, and there was bruising around my left eye. It was swollen, and almost closed shut. I rubbed it gently and thought, “That’s going to be a nice shiner.”
I was upset because Mike hadn’t given me a fair fight. If he had, his appearance would be worse than mine. I had been in a few fights over the years, and I knew how to defend myself. However, he attacked me as I gasped for air and couldn’t swing at him as he hovered over me on the ground fighting to breath.
I waited in Wentworth’s office for about fifteen minutes. The longer I sat, the angrier I became. I was sure that he was asking the other guys what had happened. I was also convinced that none of his teammates would testify that Mike had instigated the fight.
When Wentworth didn’t appear after five more minutes, I got up and left.
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