Birds Don't Sing Before a Storm

Chapter 1

God! If school gets any more boring, I’m going to stand up in class, strip off my clothes and run naked through the hallways. I’d love to see the look on Old Man Armstrong’s face. He’s the principal here at Lakeshore Academy. 

 I jumped when I heard Mrs. Walker shout my name from the front of the room. “Mr. Barrett,” she hollered angrily. “Maybe you’d like to tell everyone why you’re smiling and not paying attention in class.”

My heart jumped into my throat, and I had to swallow hard to breathe. I didn’t realize that the thought of running naked through the halls had made me seem so amused. I quickly glanced at the board to see if she had writtn anything. I could try and wing it and pretend I had been listening. But the board had been wiped clean. I looked around at the other students who were staring at me with amused looks upon their faces. “I wasn’t thinking about nothing,” I responded timidly.

She strolled down the aisle and stood before my desk. “I wasn’t thinking about nothing,” she said mockingly. “You’ve sat in my English class for a year, and it’s obvious you’ve learned absolutely nothing. She turned to address the rest of the class, who were by now giggling at her as if she were a stand-up comedian. “Can anyone tell me what is wrong with Mr. Barrett’s response?” She looked down and said with a wry smile, “I wasn’t thinking about nothing.” Several hands shot up into the air.

Tears of embarrassment formed in my eyes as I looked up and asked,

“Why are you picking on me?”

“Why Mr. Barrett,” she replied sarcastically. “I’m not picking on you. This is an English class and I’m merely using your statement as a learning experience.” I heard several students around me giggle.

She turned and pointed to Kim Lawton, who still had her hand raised. “Miss Lawton,” she asked. “Can you tell Mr. Barrett what is wrong with his comment, ‘I wasn’t thinking about nothing.’”

“Certainly, Mrs. Walker,” she replied amusingly. “Casey should have said he wasn’t thinking about anything. To say he was thinking about nothing would indicate he wasn’t thinking.”

Mrs. Walker clapped her hands together. “Excellent response, Miss Lawton.” I glanced over angrily at her. She returned a deceitful smile.

Mrs. Walker stood over me once again and said, “Now would you like to rephrase your answer to my question, Mr. Barrett.”

I folded my arms defiantly and replied, “No.”

She glared down at me for a few seconds. She turned and started walking back toward the front of the room. “Very well,” she said as she turned toward me. “Then you will write five hundred times, I wasn’t thinking about anything.” Twenty-five students in the room burst into laughter. 

“You’re kidding, right?” I shouted. “They write sentences in the second grade.”

“Well,” she huffed, “You’re acting like a child, so I’ll treat you like a child." 

Before I could stop the words from exiting my mouth, I muttered, “And you’re acting like a bitch.”

I don’t think there is a shade of red on a color chart that would describe the angry look on her face. Several girls in the room let out a gasp when it finally sunk in that I had actually called Mrs. Walker a bitch. Well, actually I hadn’t. I said she was acting like one. But I guess there really isn’t a fine line when it comes to this sort of thing

She raised a hand, pointed angrily at the door and shouted, “Get out!”

Emily Hayes rose from her desk and volunteered, “You want me to go get Mr. Armstrong?” Mrs. Walker ignored her and approached me. I glanced over at the door as Emily ran out.

She towered over me and shouted loudly, “Get out of my classroom!”

I looked around the room as everyone had turned to stare at me. I rose and stood defiantly before Mrs. Walker. “I don’t know why I have to leave.” I then leaned toward her and said mockingly, “I didn’t do nothing.” I made sure to emphasis the word nothing.

I couldn’t jump fast enough to avoid her hand to the side of my face. When I rubbed the side of my face, she stepped back with an astonished look and glanced at her outstretched hand.

She folded her hand and glared at me. “See what you made me do?”

I smiled bemusedly and replied, “I didn’t make you do nothing.” Again, I stressed the word nothing.

Suddenly, Mr. Armstrong shouted out my name as he entered the room. “Casey Barrett! My office. Now!” As I walked away, I made sure I gently brushed against Mrs. Walker. I wanted to intimidate her, but I didn’t want it to appear like an assault. As I left the room, I could hear the chatter of students as they discussed what they had just witnessed.

“I don’t care,” I muttered to myself as I stormed down the hallway toward the office. I turned to see if Mr. Armstrong was following me. He wasn’t, so I assumed he had remained in the room to get Mrs. Walker’s explanation of what had occurred.

I considered leaving the building, but I knew if I did, Mr. Armstrong would call the police and have me arrested. This was my third infraction this year. He had already suspended me twice before. I was pretty sure I was looking at a possible expulsion this time.

I’m not a bad kid, honestly. I really try to do the right things, but when I do, it seems like something happens, like today, that gums up the works.

Today I was really trying to pay attention in class. But it is hard for me to pay attention because I have this tendency to daydream. Maybe I did laugh a little when I thought of running naked down the hall. But still, why did Mrs. Walker have to pick that time to act like a real bitch. I really didn’t do nothing.

I was already struggling in class. I failed last quarter, and I was trying this quarter. I had passed the last two tests- barely. At least I did study for them.

But just like every other time, something happens. Two weeks ago, Mr. Latham, the chemistry teacher, got on me because I wasn’t wearing goggles in lab. When he assigned me detention, I told him I wouldn’t serve it. He wrote me up, and Mr. Armstrong suspended me for three days. Earlier in the year, I got suspended for another three days because I skipped out on an assembly, and I went outside and smoked a cigarette. Mr. Dudley, the football coach came around the side of the building and saw me before I could get rid of it.

I mean, so I forgot to put on my goggles during lab. What’s the big deal? I’ve seen other students forget, and Latham joked about it. But me, he assigns detention.

And big deal, I didn’t want to go to some boring assembly about drug abuse. I don’t use that stuff, so why should I care? Okay, I smoke, but that’s not really a drug. Right?

I’m not sure how Old Man Armstrong is going to react to what happened today. But somewhere in the back of my head, I keep thinking, isn’t it worse for a teacher to hit a student than a student to call a teacher a bitch? But I’ll probably get ten days, and she’ll get a big fact paycheck on Friday.

I entered the office and plopped down in a chair beside the door to await Armstrong. The secretary glanced up and rolled her eyes at me. She probably realized she’d be having to write a letter of suspension soon. I gave her a snide smile and brushed back the long, black hair from my forehead. She shook her head and rolled her eyes again.

Ten minutes later, Mr. Armstrong entered the office. He glanced down without saying a word. I rose and followed him back to his office. It was a trek I had made several times before. I walked over and dropped into a chair against the wall. Mr. Armstrong left and returned a few minutes later with a manila folder in his hand. Judging by its thickness, I assumed it was mine.

He thumbed through it, laid it down on his desk and looked over at me. He sighed and said, “What am I going to do with you, Casey? Your poor mother is going to be disappointed again.”

I sat rigidly and angrily replied, “My mother has nothing to do with this. Suspend me if you have to, but leave her out of this.”

Mr. Armstrong rose from his chair, came around the desk and sat atop it. He looked down and said, “Your mother is one of my top educators. She’s admired by everyone.” He sighed and added, “But you...”

I stand at 6 foot 4 inches, and I towered over him. He shrunk away from me. “But me, what?”

He nervously jumped from his desk and walked around to his chair and sat down. He fiddled with my folder, and then he said, “You’re so rebellious. I don’t know how your mother handles you.”

He jumped when I slammed my hand down on his desk. “I told you to leave my mother out of this!” I walked to the door and opened it. Turning, I asked, “Am I suspended?”

He looked sadly at me and announced, “Yes.”

“Fine,” I replied. “See you then.” I slammed the door, headed down the hall and left the school grounds. I noticed one of the school resource officers watching me from the steps as I walked through the parking lot. I guess he was watching to see if I’d vandalize someone’s automobile. If I knew what kind of car Mrs. Walker drove, I probably would have.

 * * * * * *

When I heard the front door slam, I knew Mom had arrived home. I was in my bedroom playing a video game. School was out at 3:30, but she usually didn’t get home until an hour later. She either worked with students after school, or she had to attend faculty meetings. When I was in grade school, she made me wait for her at the elementary school I attended. Now, we lived about a mile and a half from Lakeshore Academy, so I would walk home. I enjoyed the walks because it gave me a time to clear my head from all the bullshit I had endured during the day.

It’s not easy being a teacher’s son, especially when your mom teaches at the school you attend. It doesn’t help either, that she’s a pretty popular teacher. You’d think it would make me popular, but it hasn’t. I’m just not one of those people who wants to be popular. In fact, I’m happier when people just leave me alone. I guess I send out this vibe that other students can read pretty quickly.

Girls used to come on to me all the time. I don’t want to sound egotistical or anything, but I was graced with some good looks. Mom and Dad are both attractive, so I guess I inherited some pretty good genes. Mom looks like Winona Ryder. She thinks it’s really cool when kids tell her that. Dad looks like an over-aged baseball player. In fact, he did play baseball in high school and college. He tried to get me to play little league when I was younger, but I found standing in a field waiting for some skinny batter to hit me a ball boring. I tried for two weeks to like it, but I finally told him I didn’t want to play anymore. He moped around the house for a few days, and he refused to talk to me. But that was a long time ago, and he’s not even around anymore.

“Casey!” I jumped when she hollered out my name at the bottom of the steps. “Get down here now!”

It didn’t bother me none. I’m used to her little tirades by now. She’s always screaming at me about something. I don’t think I’m a bad kid, it’s just that I can’t get into the program she wants me to be in.

We have this barrier between us. She screams at me, and I just shut her off. She hates that. I used to scream back, but then I realized she enjoyed the confrontation. Being a teacher, she had a lot of experience at it. We weren’t on a level playing field, and she would win all the arguments. If I sit and listen to her and don’t respond, I can watch her go from angry to frustrated in about ten minutes. She still thinks she’s won, but I don’t give her the satisfaction of letting her prove it.

I slowly walked into the den and plopped down in a Lazy Boy recliner. It was her favorite chair, so it was my way of showing her that her little exhibition of power wasn’t going to bother me. By now, I already knew the script.

She began immediately. “What is going on inside your thick head?” I silently muttered the words before they left her mouth. “Don’t I do everything I can to provide you a decent living?” Wait a minute. She changed the script. This usually follows, “I work hard every day.”

“I work hard every day,” she continued to rant. Ah, yes. There it is.

I mumbled, “But you don’t appreciate anything I do.”

She walked over, stood before me and shouted angrily, “You smart ass! You think this is cute, don’t you?”

I looked away and mumbled as innocently as possible, “No, Mother.”

“Well it isn’t!” she shouted. She continued to then pace around the room and inform me how rude and disrespectful a child I was. As usual, she compared me to every student she’s ever had, or will probably have in the future.

Then came the rant, “You’re just like your father.” For the next fifteen minutes, I had to listen to how he was the cause of their marriage going into the crapper. I believed she was probably the cause if he had to endure hours of her endless raging about his personality disorders.

Six years ago, when I was eleven, he left. I woke up one morning, and he was simply gone. Vanished without even a goodbye. I get cards on my birthday and Christmas. I don’t even bother to read what he writes. I just pull out the twenty dollar bills he stuffs inside them, and then I discard them into the waste basket. What do I care? He couldn’t even tell me he was leaving. In one of her rages at me, she once mentioned that he was living with a new wife. That’s all I know, and even that is more than I care to know.

“Mrs. Walker is a dear friend of mine,” she exclaimed. Ten minutes of how my behavior had embarrassed her. “Mr. Armstrong called me into his office after school.” Another ten minutes how her good friend, the principal, was bending over backwards to keep me in school. Then it was another ten minutes relating how other students were talking out how rude I was to her friend.

She stood before me and hollered down, “What made you think you could call a teacher a bitch?” I was going to say, “Because she is,” but I knew that would give her the opening to continue another half hour rant. I just wanted it to end so I could go back to the peace of my room.

She walked over to the window and peered out. She folded her arms and said quietly, “I should have gotten you counseling after that incident with Rollie Patterson.”

For the first time I spoke. “Leave him out of this! He has nothing to do with it!” She turned, and I saw tears in her eyes.

“You’ve never been the same since that night,” she cried softly.

I turned my head and looked into the kitchen. “You’ve never been the same,” I replied bitterly.

It was a hot, summer afternoon three years ago. Rollie and I had been best friends since kindergarten. We were fourteen, and we had just returned from the community swimming pool a few blocks away. We went to my bedroom to change out of our swimming trunks. We’d seen each other naked many times, so it didn’t bother me to pull off my trunks and stand naked in front of him. That day, however, was different. As I grabbed for my underwear, Rollie grabbed my hand.

“Don’t get dressed yet.” His voice was heavy and quivered nervously.

“Why?” I asked, but I already knew. For months we had been playing a flirtatious game. What had started out as playful shoving and pushing when we were together, had escalated into wild romps in our bedrooms where we would end up wrestling with our bodies grinding sensuously into one another.

Rollie put his hands on my hips and pulled me towards him. I didn’t resist when his lips touched mine. We both knew what we wanted, and it was time to end the game. He led me over to my bed, and for an hour we kissed and caressed. We lovingly explored every inch of each other’s body. It was more intense than I had ever imagined it would be. That hot, summer afternoon I became aware of who I was, and what I was. There was no shame or remorse. What we felt was pure and innocent.

Until my mother walked into the bedroom.

She was supposed to have been attending a conference all day. That morning she told me that she wouldn’t be home until after seven, and that I should make dinner for myself. However, one of the presenters didn’t show, so she left early.

And she saw Rollie and me naked in bed. We were on our knees, and I was kissing his neck as I penetrated him. Neither of us saw here come in until she shrieked. We pulled away and covered our nakedness with a sheet. Her eyes were wide, and they had a wild look. I’d never seen that expression on her face before. Not even when she was arguing with Dad.

She cleared her throat, and calmly told us to get dressed. We didn’t say anything as we put on our clothing. Our innocence had been replaced with fear. Before he left my bedroom, I gave him a quick kiss, making sure that my mother was not standing outside in the hallway.

As I opened the front door for him, my mother approached and said, “I’ve called your father, Rollie. I think he should know what you’ve done.”

I never saw him again after that day. His parents barred him from seeing me ever again. Before the start of school, they moved. To this day, I don’t know where he is. I keep checking Facebook and My Space, hoping that he’ll appear, but he hasn’t. I’ve got an account, just in case he wants to contact me- but he hasn’t. I want us to talk about what happened. It was special to me, and I feel there hasn’t been any closure.

My mother and I have never really talked about what happened. I know she hates me, but she won’t say it. I keep hoping that in one of her rages, she’ll yell it out. Then I would know. But she hasn’t.

Occasionally, like tonight, she’ll bring it up. Usually, it’s because she feels guilty because she didn’t get me counseling. But I don’t need the counseling- she does. I’m okay being gay. I regretted that she saw us, but I have never felt guilty about what I did that day with Rollie. I learned things about myself. For several years I had felt this uneasiness and tension. I knew what caused it, but I held back, hoping that maybe the feelings and thoughts would go away.

That afternoon with Rollie was a revelation. It was as if all my fears and uncertainties vanished with his kiss. I miss him. I want him to know what we did wasn’t wrong. I want him to feel free like me. However, it bothers me to think that he may be somewhere lost in a world of uncertainty and guilt. I whispered that day in his ear before my mother entered, “I love you.” I want him to know I meant it.

  * * * * * *

I was sitting on the patio watching the sunset. I could see storm clouds off in the distant, and occasionally, I could hear a faint rumble of thunder. I didn’t turn when I heard the patio door slide open. I figured it was my mother checking to make sure I hadn’t left home.

It’s ironic that she grounds me when I get in trouble at school. I never go anywhere, but I guess it satisfies her parental authority. If she really wanted to punish me, she would take away my video games. She tried it once, so I spent the entire two weeks sitting across from her in the den glaring at her. She squirmed in her Lazy Boy chair and would occasionally ask me if I had anything better to do. I would say, “Nope. You took my games away, remember?” Since then, she’s never removed them from my room.

I looked over when someone sat down and said, “Hey, Casey. You okay?” It was Terry Moller. Terry is probably the closest person I could call a friend. He lives next door. He’s a sophomore at my school, and occasionally we walk home from school together. He usually talks, and I pretend to listen.

He’s also gay. I know he’s had a crush on me since they moved in two years ago. I’ve never told him I am, because I only tell people on a need to know basis. So, I’ve told no one, not even Terry. He’s cute, but I have no interest in finding a boyfriend right now.

I don’t encourage him to come over, but I also don’t discourage him. I know it makes Mom nervous when he does appear at the door. She knows he’s gay, the whole school does. I get amused watching her parade past my bedroom about every ten minutes. She pretends not to look, but I can see her peek in the room as she goes by. I guess she’s seeing if I’m having mad, passionate sex with Terry. I would close the door and make her really worried, but I’m afraid Terry would take it as an invitation.

I hurt his feelings last year when he looked into my eyes and said lovingly, “You have the bluest eyes. I just want to swim in them every time I look into your face.” I know he was testing me to see how I would react. He didn’t appreciate it when I fell back on the bed and laughed hysterically. He left the room in a huff, and he wouldn’t speak to me for weeks. I felt so bad, I approached him in school and apologized. Of course, now he thinks I’m interested in him, so his visits are more frequent.

A bolt of lightning lit up the sky in the distance, and seconds later a rumble of thunder could be heard. Terry looked over and asked worriedly, “Did you get suspended? I heard what happened at school?”

I shrugged my shoulders and replied, “Dunno. Probably. Mom didn’t say.”

“She seemed pretty mad when I came to the door,” he said. “I didn’t think she was going to let me in.”

“She’ll get over it,” I remarked. “She always does.”

He looked over and stared. “I just don’t get it, Casey,” he said. “Your mother is so cool.” He looked into my eyes. “And you’re a cool guy. I don’t know why you can’t get along.”

I laughed slightly and replied, “Life, I guess. It just happens.”

Just then, another bolt of lightning lit up the sky, followed soon by a rumble of thunder. I looked over at Terry and asked, “Hear that?”

He listened a few seconds before replying, “I don’t hear anything.”

“That’s it,” I said. “Hear how quiet it is?”

Terry nodded and responded, “Yeah.”

“It’s like that,” I said, “because birds don’t sing before a storm.”