The next morning, I escorted Lane to his classroom. As we walked down the hallway, students literally stopped in the hall and stared at me. Lane put his arm around my back, and I put my arm around his shoulder. I found it amusing, because I think he was instinctively trying to protect me.
Mrs. Chambers gasped when I entered the room with Lane. Donnie came running up and exclaimed, “Wow! Look at that shiner!”
Their teacher told them to go to their seats as she followed me out into the hall. “Casey,” she asked, “are you okay?” She looked worriedly at the bruises on my face. My eye was still swollen, but I could see out of it. Students continued to stop and stare at me.
I laughed and responded, “I’ve been better.”
She asked, “Who did that to you?”
I looked at the clock on the wall and told her I had to get to my first period class. She reached out to stop me, but I managed to turn and hurry away.
Instead of going to my classroom, I headed down the stairs to the guidance office. Mrs. Moore was outside her office talking to another student. When she saw me, she excused herself and approached me. “Oh, my God,” she muttered. “Mr. Barrett, what happened to you?”
I ignored her question, and asked instead, “Can I request a class change?”
She grabbed my arm and pulled me down the hall to her office. She sat at her desk as I took a seat. “What is going on?” she asked worriedly.
“I’m not happy with two of my classes,” I said. “I want to change teachers.” I watched as she pulled up my schedule on her computer. As she did, she glanced up several times at my face.
She looked at me and asked, “What classes?”
“English and gym,” I stated adamantly.
“But those are Mr. Wentworth’s classes,” she replied. “He requested you to be in his classes.”
I sat back and said angrily, “I don’t want to take his classes. Can I change teachers?”
She asked worriedly, “But why? I need a reason to make a class change.”
I placed my hand to my face and asked, “Is this reason enough?”
Mrs. Moore excused herself and told me she would be right back. I sat and waited a few minutes. When she returned, Mr. Snyder was with her.
She pointed to me and told him, “See.”
He carefully examined my face, and then asked, “Who did this to you?”
“It doesn’t matter,” I insisted. “I just want my schedule changed.”
I didn’t think it would do any good if I told them Mike was responsible. If Mr. Wentworth was willing to go to great lengths to cover for him, I was sure Mr. Snyder would do the same. There’s a student hierarchy at any school. He was at the top. Being new to the school, I was at the bottom. They would have found some reason to blame the fight on me. I just wanted to avoid all the bullshit and get on with my life.
Mr. Snyder sat on the edge of Mrs. Moore’s desk and attempted to get me to tell him what had happened. “If this is a school incident, then I have to make a report. Mrs. Moore said you wanted a class change because of what happened to you. You have to tell me who did this to you.”
I stared at him and replied angrily. “I don’t have to tell you anything.” He bristled at my response, and I could tell he wasn’t sure how he should respond. Before he had a chance to, I then looked at Mrs. Moore and asked, “Are you going to change my classes?”
She nervously looked over at Mr. Snyder. “I don’t know,” she replied. Mr. Snyder asked me to wait while he and Mrs. Moore to step out of the room for a minute. I sat for about fifteen minutes before she returned.
When she did, she returned to her computer and started typing. I asked, “Are you changing my classes?”
“Yes,” she replied as she glanced worriedly at me. “Mr. Snyder called your father, and he consented to a schedule change.” It surprised me because my father was upset with me the last time I saw him. I didn’t know what Wentworth told him after our confrontation in my bedroom.
She looked up and said, “I’m placing you in Ms. Thrasher’s English class. It will be the same period.” She studied her monitor for a minute. “Seventh period is more difficult. Most of the classes are full.”
I asked, “Can’t I just go home after sixth?”
“Oh, no,” she exclaimed. “If you were a senior, maybe. However, juniors can’t have early dismissals.” She studied the screen again, and then looked over at me.
She informed me, “It appears your only options at this time are auto mechanics or drama.”
“That’s it?” I asked. “That’s not much of an option.”
She looked at the monitor again. “I’m sorry, Mr. Barrett. Our elective classes are very popular, and most of them are filled right now. Perhaps, if a student withdraws, I can place you in another class.” She frowned and said, “Right now it’s either auto mechanics or drama.”
I knew absolutely nothing about a car. I knew where to put in the gasoline, and that was about it. New cars today are computerized, so it didn’t seem important to learn how to work on them since most repairs had be done by experts.
I had no idea what a drama class might involve. “What do I have to do if I take drama?”
She smiled and said, “The drama class performs plays. They already had their fall presentation. I believe they are now casting for their spring performance.”
I asked excitedly, “You mean I have to get up on stage and act? I can’t do that.”
She laughed and replied, “No, Mr. Barrett. There are many aspects to theater. You can direct, do set design or costumes.”
I shook my head and responded, “I can’t do any of those.” I leaned forward and pleaded, “Don’t you have any other classes I can take?”
“I’m afraid not,” she replied as she turned toward the computer. “Should I assign you auto mechanics?”
“No,” I said sadly. “Give me drama.”
She printed out my new schedule and handed it to me. When she noticed me frown as I scanned the paper, she laughed and said, “It won’t be that bad. Maybe you’ll like it.”
“Yeah, right,” I replied sarcastically. As I walked out of her office, I was already considering how I could cut seventh period in the afternoon.
There was only about fifteen minutes left of class when I entered my first period physics class. Mr. Snowden was conducting an experiment, but he stopped and stared at me when I walked over and handed him my late pass.
Everyone watched silently as I walked to the back of the room and sat down in an empty seat. Monica and her three friends turned to look at me. I wasn’t sure if my incident with Mike had hit the rumor mill yet. I’m sure the other baseball players were aware of what happened. By now, the rest of the school should know. When Mr. Snowden started talking again, I put my elbows on the desk and rested my head.
When the bell rang, everyone stopped to stare at me as I stood and pulled my book bag over my shoulder. You would think they had never seen anyone with a bruised face before. As I started to leave, Monica wrapped her arm around mine.
“I heard what happened, Casey,” she said softly. She seemed almost concerned about me. “Mike’s an asshole for doing what he did.” As we walked out the door, I noticed Curtis standing across the hall talking to a few friends. He glared at me as we passed by.
As I tried to pull away, I told Monica, “I gotta get to class.”
She gripped my arm tightly. “We have the same class,” she said. “I’ll walk with you.” Surprisingly, one of her other friends took hold of my other arm.
I gave Monica a puzzled look. “Why are you doing this?”
She smiled and replied, “Honestly?” I nodded my head. “This will piss Mike and Curtis off, and I’ll do anything to upset them.”
I laughed and said, “You’re really bad.” I knew I was only inviting more trouble, but there wasn’t much more they could do to me. Next time, however, I would be better prepared to defend myself.
She gripped my arm tighter, laughed and said, “I’m one bad bitch.” Her friends responded with a chorus of ‘Amen.’
Like earlier, students stared at me as we paraded down the hall. Monica seemed to relish the attention. I would simply look away.
I received the same reaction in my classes all morning. My teachers would seem surprised, and the other students seemed mildly bemused. By the end of third period, I had assumed they had heard about my fight with Mike. Well, actually it wasn’t a fight. I lay stunned and in pain on the ground while he pulverized my face.
Unlike Wentworth’s English class, I had lunch prior to the class, not afterwards. While Monica had escorted me to my other classes, she said she had biology fourth period, and I would have to go alone. It was awkward walking down the hallway by myself.
When I entered the cafeteria, students nearest the door stopped talking and stared at me. As I crossed the room, it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. After I passed, I could hear them talking about me.
I went through the food line, and I received a concerned look from the cashier. I know she wanted to ask me what happened, but she didn’t. When I left and entered back into the cafeteria, I decided I would take my hamburger and fries outside to eat.
As I walked across the room, Lane jumped from his table and came rushing over to me. “Eat with us,” he pleaded as he took me by my arm and pulled me to where his friends were sitting. Reluctantly, I followed him.
I had no sooner sat down when Donnie asked excitedly, “Wow! Look at that shiner! Who did that?” I smiled when Lane punched him in his side, and he let out a loud groan.
“I walked into a door,” I said as I took a bite of my hamburger. Tommy wanted to say something, but Lane elbowed him again. As we ate, the Lane’s friends continued to stare at my face. It was as if they had never seen anyone with a black eye before. Well, maybe they hadn’t seen one as dark and bruised as mine.
After gulping down my food, I told Lane I had to go to the library to do some work. He whined and asked me to stay, but I was feeling uncomfortable from all the stares I was receiving.
As I stood, I saw Rodney approaching our table. He took a seat, straddled it and sat down across from me. He looked over at Lane, waved and said, “Hi, Skipper.”
Lane responded adamantly, “I’m not Skipper anymore.” His friends started giggling. “My name is Lane.”
“Since when?” laughed Rodney. “We’ve called you Skipper since you were little.”
Lane looked up proudly at me and replied, “Casey wants me to be called Lane. I’m too old to be Skipper.” I thought Rodney would get mad with Lane’s attitude, but it didn’t appear to bother him.
“Okay, Lane,” he said. “If that’s who you want to be.”
“It is,” replied Lane as he looked up at me and smiled broadly.
Rodney turned back to me. He studied my face and asked, “Are you alright? I heard what happened.” Since Rodney and I had sort of bonded down in my room on the weekend, I didn’t want to be rude to him. Besides, he seemed genuinely concerned.
I attempted to smile and replied, “I guess I’ve had better days.”
“I guess you probably have,” he said worriedly. He stood, looked down and said, “Let’s take a walk.”
Hesitantly, I stood and walked with him through the crowded cafeteria. Students would stare at me, but they would look down when Rodney glared at them. Once in the hallway, he pointed toward an outside door. We went outside and sat on a bench. Since it was chilly outside, not many students were around.
Rodney looked at me and shook his head. “This shit is so wrong,” he muttered. “If I knew I wouldn’t get suspended, I’d kick Mike’s ass. He had no right attacking you like he did.” I didn’t know how to respond, so I said nothing.
He then added, “And if Curtis doesn’t get his act together, I’m going to open up a can of Whoop Ass on him too. I got no problem doing that. He’s needed a good ass whooping for a while now.”
I smiled and said, “I don’t need you to fight my battles for me.”
“That’s just it, Casey,” he replied. “You don’t need to be having these battles. You just got here. I don’t know what their problem is.” I had an idea, but I didn’t want to share it with Rodney.
Suddenly, we heard the bell ring for fourth period inside. “Listen, Casey,” he said. “I cut Wentworth’s class today to talk to you. I just want you to know I’m on your side. I’m going to talk to Curtis and Mike.” He balled his fist, and hit his other palm. “If they don’t want to listen, then I’m going to open up that can of Whoop Ass.”
He stood and started to walk away. He turned and nodded when I said, “Thanks.”
I liked my fourth period English teacher, Ms. Hayes. She actually taught the class, unlike Wentworth. However, it seemed like she might assign a lot of homework. It really didn’t matter. I didn’t have anything to do when I went to my room at night.
My fifth and sixth periods were like my morning classes- students stared and gossiped. Although, it seemed like most students had now seen my injuries, and their conversations were becoming more routine.
It was strange, but I didn’t see Mike once during the day. I kept looking for him because I wanted to see how he would react when he saw me. If he came up and challenged me, I was prepared this time to defend myself. I didn’t care if I did get suspended, or even expelled.
I considered leaving school after sixth period. I really had no interest in attending the drama class in which Mrs. Moore had scheduled me. I had never attended a play in my life. My mother would occasionally watch one on the PBS channel, but I would never stay in the family room with her when she did. I found them more boring than a baseball game.
The theater department at the school was at the end of a long hallway, isolated from other rooms. I had trouble finding it, and a girl was generous enough to give me directions without looking at me like I was some sort of a freak. As I rushed down the hallway to class, I was surprised to see Shade’s girlfriend, Megan strolling ahead of me.
I tried to walk past without her noticing me, but she reached out and grabbed my arm. She seemed stunned when she looked up at my face. “Oh, my God, Casey,” she shrieked. “What happened to you?” She wrapped her arm around mine as we walked down the hallway.
“I ran into a door,” I replied jokingly. She looked up and gave me a worried look. I laughed and said, “That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.”
I thought she was going to cry when she said, “Shade is going to be so upset when he sees you.”
Megan’s statement confused me. Why would Shade be any more upset than any other student? Other than helping him push his car out of the street and sharing a meal, we hardly knew each other. I gave her a puzzled look and asked, “Well, maybe he won’t see me.”
“Not likely,” she replied as the bell rang and we picked up our pace. “He’s in the drama class, too.”
“Shit,” I muttered to myself. If Megan and Shade were in my seventh period, then my chances to be able to cut the class would be more difficult. I could tell that Megan was the type of girl who likes to mother someone. She would never allow me to miss the class without a good reason. As I entered the door, I was already planning to see Mrs. Moore in the morning and have my seventh period changed to auto mechanics.
The room we entered was a small auditorium. There was a stage and seating for what seemed like about four hundred people. Students were milling about in groups, some in the aisles and others on the stage. I scanned the room, but I didn’t see Shade.
Megan pulled on my arm and said, “I’ll introduce you to Max. He’s the instructor.” I was surprised she was calling a teacher by his first name. I had never met a teacher who wasn’t addressed properly. She led me up the stairs and across the stage to a man who appeared to be in his forties. He had a long ponytail, and he was wearing a tie-dyed tee shirt, blue jeans and sandals.
‘This guy does not look like a teacher,’ I thought to myself. Megan introduced me to Max as a new student. He stepped back and studied me for a minute.
He took another step back and said, “Let me hear you sing.”
“What!” I asked with astonishment. “I can’t sing.”
“Of course you can,” he insisted. “Everyone can sing. Some just do it better.” He made a gesture as if he were waving a baton. “Come on, Casey, sing something.”
By now, several other students were starting to gather around. No one seemed to be making fun of me, they really seemed interested in hearing me sing. I asked nervously, “Like what?”
He laughed and responded, “I don’t care. Sing a few bars from your favorite song.” I looked over to my left and noticed that Shade was standing amid the other students. He nodded and smiled at me.
I responded, “I don’t have a favorite song.”
Max clapped his hands together and replied, “Then sing the birthday song.” Several students, including Shade and Megan, began singing “Happy birthday to you.”
Nervously, I began to join them. Max listened for a few seconds, and then motioned for everyone to stop singing. “Perhaps,” he laughed as he waved his hands around. “You can do set design. You were right when you said you can’t sing.” Everyone around me started laughing, but not in a mean way. They were more amused with Max’s antics. He told me he was glad to have me in class, and then he walked away talking animatedly to a few students.
Shade stepped forward, and Megan gripped my arm tightly. “What happened to you?” he asked worriedly as he looked at my bruised face. For a minute, I thought he was going to burst into tears.
“He ran into a door,” laughed Megan. She looked up at me, smiled and added, “That’s his story and he’s going to stick with it.”
I was instantly liking Megan more and more. She seemed like one of the most down to earth people I’d ever met, and I had only known her for a few minutes. I could understand why Shade was attracted to her. If I were straight, I would be vying for her attention.
It surprised me when he gently put his hand on the side of my face. “It has to hurt something awful,” he said as he looked at the bruise, and then stared into my eyes.
His eyes were a dull green. I hadn’t noticed that on Saturday; probably because of the small rimmed glasses he wore. He had the beginnings of a mustache, although it wasn’t very thick. His chin also had a few stray hairs on it. Even though most people wouldn’t consider him especially cute, I found myself instantly attracted to him. I think Megan noticed because she tightened her grip on my arm and giggled slightly. Shade cast her a warning glance, and then he rolled his eyes.
I was puzzled by their actions. I asked, “Is something going on I should know about?”
“No,” giggled Megan. “You’re going to enjoy the drama class.” I noticed that she looked at Shade and winked.