Delta loam flashed as Dixie sped down the road toward Greenville. Wispy clouds streaked the distant sky with purple as the sun sank lower. The melancholy from earlier that afternoon had lifted and she felt effervescent. As far as Dixie was concerned one of the best things about her personality was the ability to bounce back.
The truck rattled as she sang away her cares. It would be nice to hang out with friends and forget about the tension from the previous couple of weeks. She would call Kenny and Gabriel tomorrow about accompanying her to church on Sunday. But tonight would be fast cars and laughter!
Almost an hour later Dixie veered into the parking lot of the speedway. Shoving her keys in her bag she flung both legs out the door and dropped to the pavement. Swinging strides took her to the gate of the speedway. Paying her $10 she joined the growing crowd. There was plenty of time until the race began. Rounding the corner of the grandstand she scanned the crowd for familiar faces.
Jenny Allen and her boyfriend were several rows up, not too far from Bo’s sisters and his mom, Linda. A handful of old high school acquaintances were scattered around, as well as a couple of families from church. Emily, Bo’s youngest sister, caught Dixie’s eye and waved her over. Dixie waved back and made her way up and over to where the Sheridans were sitting.
“Hey, Em! How’re you doin’ little bit?” Dixie hugged the younger girl.
“I’m good Dix. Glad it’s a nice night and those clouds stayed away for the race.”
Mary Beth and Linda’s greeting was warm.
“Mary Beth, did you get your hair cut? It looks darling!” Dixie admired her friend’s shoulder length bob.
Mary Beth, a college sophomore, was the older of the two sisters. The dark haired girls looked remarkably similar but Mary Beth’s classy flair set her apart from her more casual younger sibling.
Dixie assumed Bo’s brother and dad were with him getting ready for the race. Still she asked, “where are Fletcher and Mr. Sheridan?”
“Fletch and Harry are down with Bo getting registered for the race. Harry will park the truck and trailer in a bit. Maybe he’ll come join us. But Fletcher is eager to stay with the crew during the race tonight,” answered Linda.
A slight breeze played with the colorful pennants ringing the course. As the crowd grew, energy mounted. Dixie turned to say a quick hello to Jenny and her boyfriend, and then moved on to say hello to a few other acquaintances. Before long it was hard to carry on a conversation as engines revved, music played, and the crowd shouted to be heard. She sat with the Sheridans, a blanket of contentment warming her, and the occasional comment passing between them.
Every once in awhile Dixie’s eyes moved over the crowd, scanning for Sadie. She didn’t see her friend or her parents. About ten minutes before the race was to start she did see someone else though. Dixie caught sight of Kenny’s willowy build and side swept hair from the corner of her eye. She watched as he and a friend moved with care through the crowd in search of a seat. It must have been his friend Robbie with him. Scruffy, with a ball cap and t-shirt on Robbie looked like any other redneck there to watch the race. She wondered how that friendship had happened. The two moved along the ground level between the tall fence separating the track and the stands.
They were smiling and joking as they moved down to the next section of seats and up midway into the crowd. Kenny was dressed in jeans and blue sweater. Dixie found herself mentally evaluating the situation. He didn’t seem to stand out too much. Why did she care if he did or not? What was the underlying nag of worry? Why should she fuss like a mother over his appearance or situation?
The young men found a seat and settled themselves. Kenny hadn’t seen Dixie and it was too crowded now to attempt going over to greet them. She would try to speak to them afterward.
The air crackled with the friendly spark of competition. Bo’s sisters laughed, their spirits and energy high. Dixie could tell Linda was nervous, though she tried not to show it. She fidgeted with her camera and checked the time again.
A raffle was announced over the loudspeaker; tickets were being sold for a chance to win a rifle. The cars began their initial laps for placement. Each division going through their paces. It was about half an hour or so before they were ready to begin with the national anthem. Skeet McClure’s car, number 55, circled the track with an American flag while the anthem played. A prayer was offered up and it was time for the races to begin.
The cars were in the grid and everyone’s attention turned to the track. Green flag, and they were off to whoops and hollers. The drone of the engines, as they whined around the track, sang in the crowd’s ears.
After a couple laps Bo had nudged his way to third and was holding steady. Dixie’s eyes were glued to the race as number 27 tried to cut in front of Bo at each turn. He held his own and maneuvered in front every time. She was focused on the streaks of color when a scuffle grabbed her attention.
In the stands to her right Dixie’s eyes picked out the thin form of Kenny. Two young bucks in dirty jeans, and baseball caps, who were twice his size, were towering over him. Robbie was standing beside his friend but the agitation had begun to spill over to the spectators around them. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she didn’t need to to tell it was not nice. Kenny was red in the face. It appeared he didn’t want to fight, but how far is a person able to be pushed until the fury erupts, until they are too tired of being mistreated? A few other fans started taking jabs at Kenny. Things were getting ugly.
Dixie had had enough. She sprang to her feet and made a path through the stands to where Kenny was trying to sit back down with Robbie. By the time she got to him one of the big fellas was inches away from his face and screaming obscenities.
“You *@#% fagot! This is a man’s sport! Get your sorry, queer *@# out of here!”
Dixie flew between Kenny and the young man causing the trouble. “A man’s sport is it? Then I wonder what a nice young lady like me is doing here? Is my friend causing you a problem? Because if he’s not I suggest you sit yourself down and behave like a human being before I call the police and report you for harassment!”
The tops of Dixie’s ears were as red as her hair and throbbing, but she tried to keep her words strong and steady. She turned to Kenny who looked at her with a mixture of relief and humiliation. “Kenny, you okay?” His only response was a sharp nod. “Come on buddy, let’s get out of here. I wouldn’t want you to have to sit near this ape any longer than necessary.”
Dixie, red head held high, shoulders squared, and chin set for war led the way back to her seat. Kenny and Robbie followed humbly behind her. When she got back to her place Linda, Emily, and Mary Beth slid down and made room for the newcomers. Their eyebrows were raised high in surprise at what they had just witnessed. No one questioned Dixie.
Dixie gestured to the young men and yelled a quick introduction to her friends, “Girls, this is Kenny and his friend Robbie; boys this is Mrs. Sheridan and her daughters Emily and Mary Beth. Her son Bo is in car number 03.” They nodded to each other, but seeing as the race roared on no one said much.
Dixie sat with Kenny on one side Mary Beth on the other. To anyone watching she appeared a composed, indomitable young woman. On the inside she was trembling, partially out of fury, partially afraid of what she had just done. In the stands were old school friends and church people, no doubt there were people who knew her that she hadn’t even noticed. A sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach betrayed the fear that her parents would know what she’d done before she even got home. Her mother would call her behavior a “spectacle.” Likely others would agree. Even Dixie herself, who was not opposed to the right kind of attention, didn’t care for the awkward attention she had already drawn to herself.
As the cars whirled in their bright oval Dixie’s heart raced, burning in her against the injustice. Hot tears pricked her eyelids. No, she would not cry here. But the anger threatened to spill. She might not like the attention or what people would say but she would not back down against such obvious abuse. She steeled herself against the fallout. Regardless of Kenny’s tendencies or uniqueness, bullies should always be stood against. Kenny’s lifestyle and his mistreatment were two separate issues. She didn’t have to agree with his choices in order to disagree with his abuse. But would others understand? Could they cut a line so fine? Dixie had no doubt she would be finding out, soon.
She was also nervous of the toughs that had threatened Kenny. Robbie was a big enough guy but against that crew he didn’t stand a chance. She had no doubt if they wanted to they could cause trouble. Dixie wondered if she should walk the boys out and send them on their way before things got worse. But she wanted to stay and see Bo. He was doing well in the race and they were supposed to meet up for a late supper. She also couldn’t swallow the idea of sneaking Robbie and Kenny out when they had as much right to watch the race as anyone.
Her mind processed these things in just moments. In the end she decided to stick it out and trust there would be no more trouble. She glanced at Kenny sitting beside her. He looked back and mouthed the words, “thank you.” Dixie smiled and reached over to squeeze his hand before she turned back to the track.
Before long the excitement of the race smoothed over the tension and everyone on Dixie’s row was focused on the cars, shouting their encouragement, or frustration. Tension released in Dixie’s shoulders as she got caught up in the excitement. The fumes from the cars burned her nose and her ears rang with the drone of the motors. At one precarious turn Bo came out in the lead and she and Mary Beth threw their hands in the air at the same time. Cheering they turned to each other and embraced in an enthusiastic hug.
The rest of the race was spent in high spirits. Even Kenny and Robbie lightened up and got in on the fun, laughing and cheering with everyone else. At the checkered flag, Wes Hall, number 12 came in first, Bo had slipped back down to second.
Linda and her daughters were thrilled at the outcome of the race. Dixie knew at dinner her friend would be in good spirits. He loved to win but he would be happy to have placed.
Several more classes of cars raced, and it was another hour or so before conversation was even possible beyond yelling.
She turned to Kenny and Robbie as the stands began to empty. “Will you boys be okay leaving?”
Robbie answered, “Sure we will. I’ll look after my friend. Don’t you worry none.”
Dixie wasn’t convinced. She turned to Linda and the girls who were heading down the bleachers to the field. “Ms. Sheridan, will you tell Bo I’ll be there in a minute? I’m going to walk with my friends to their car.” Linda nodded and waved.
“Come on boys, I’ll walk with you.”
“You don’t need to do that Dixie,” insisted Kenny.
“I know I don’t but I’ll feel better if I do. And I’m stubborn so you’ll have to put up with me.”
Dixie slipped her arm through Kenny’s and walked with him down the stands. Robbie followed close behind. “What’d y’all think of the race?” she asked them while they walked.
“It was a good ’un I thought. I like that Jay Pearson. His car is fast, but your friend Bo smoked him tonight,” Robbie answered goodnaturedly.
There wasn’t any trouble on the way to the parking lot. Dixie watched as the young men got into Robbie’s rusty Toyota pickup. She waved goodbye and headed back to the race track.
Bo, Fletcher, and Mr. Sheridan were loading the car onto the trailer when Dixie joined them on the track.
“Hey Dixie girl.” Bo threw up his gloved hand, his gray eyes smiled at her from under his ball cap. She smiled back. Their friendship had simmered and sparked for a long time. They had gone to prom together junior year of high school but friendship had characterized their relationship more than romance. Both were competitive and opinionated, and they’d been running too fast to slow down and discover what they could be together. College took them in different directions. But now they were home. Dixie couldn’t deny she liked Bo better than any other young man she’d met. She valued his opinion as well as his company. And he was handsome as heck.
The guys finished securing the car to the trailer. For the next half hour the family spoke to well wishers, friends, and admirers.
“You ready Dix?” Bo asked as the crowd thinned.
“Sure, whenever you are.”
“Mom, Dixie and I are going to grab a bite to eat. I’ll ride home with her.” Linda hugged her son and Dixie both.
“Have fun you two!” The family waved bye as the two headed to the parking lot.