Dixie pulled her old blue baby onto Greenville’s main drag. It was getting late but a handful of restaurants were still open. “So what’s your pick, Bo?”
“What do you say to a burger at Moe’s?”
“Sounds good to me. I love their tamales and their burgers.”
The parking lot was thinning out when Dixie pulled up to the little white frame joint. She and Bo chose a red and white checked table in the corner of the half full restaurant. Banjo music mixed with the sounds of the kitchen and other diners’ conversation to create a convivial sound.
“How do you feel about the race tonight?” Dixie asked Bo as he leaned back in his ladder back chair.
“Well, of course I would’a liked to have won. But I’m happy with second. I ran a good time and there was stiff competition tonight.”
“It was a good race. I thought you were excellent.” As she spoke Bo noticed how Dixie’s red curls lit up her eyes, reflecting like a candle in their depths. The fire was warm, maybe a bit dangerous. Emotion flickered just under the surface.
A brassy haired waitress interrupted the moment. Pauline, her name tag said. Her long red nails held a pencil poised above her ticket pad. “What can I getcha?”
Bo ordered a cheeseburger all the way, fries, and sweet tea. Dixie deliberated between the cheeseburger and a local favorite, tamales. In the end the cheeseburger won out.
Pauline left to place their order. Dixie fingered the salt shaker as Bo turned his attention back to the conversation.
“How’s school going for you? You like being back at Manning?”
He marveled as the shade of emotion changed again in the depths of Dixie’s eyes, now to a happy twinkle. “I love it. I had no idea I would enjoy teaching so much. The kids are wonderful and I’m learning great stuff from Liz in the classroom.”
“She’s the music teacher I’m doing my student teaching under. She’s great with the kids and has excellent ideas to help them engage with her.”
“What about that little boy you brought to church the other day? Is he one of your students?”
Again the light softened, burning warm in her countenance. “Yes, he’s in my third grade music class.” She smiled. “He’s one of my favorites.”
“I can tell. What makes ’im so special to you?”
Dixie appreciated the thoughtful question. “He’s endured a lot in his young life, living with cerebral palsy. Instead of making him bitter though it’s made him compassionate, and wise. I’ve never met a child so wise. A lot of adults aren’t so understanding. He sees life differently, I suppose he has to.”
Pauline returned to the table with their burgers. Setting down the heavy white dishes loaded with food she asked, “You got everything you need?” Not that she sounded as if she cared, but at least she deserved credit for asking.
The two turned their attention to the greasy burgers. Dixie worked at being ladylike with her cheeseburger but gave it up several bites in and just tried to keep the grease from dripping to her elbows. Bo finished his burger first. He wiped his mouth with a thick napkin, leaned back and started working on his fries.
“So, I heard things got ugly at the race tonight with your friend,” Bo said nonchalantly, chasing the statement with a handful of fries.
Dixie’s eyes flashed to his as she paused mid-bite, hamburger juice dripping on her chin. He saw the fire flicker in her expression. He raised an eyebrow at her. Bo knew he was pushing it but he wasn’t one to back down from giving Dixie a run for her money.
Dixie finished her bite, wiped her face and fingers, and took a gulp of sweet tea before answering the challenge.
“It wasn’t anything I couldn’t handle.”
“Oh, I know it wasn’t. Apparently you went toe to toe with those rednecks.” Bo had to give her that much. She was fearless and he was duly impressed, maybe even a little afraid of her. “But what did you have to go and make a scene for?”
“A scene to whom? I wasn’t the one bullying a young man. As far as I see it those jack legs were the ones causing a scene pickin’ on Kenny!” Her voice had raised and her jaw was jutting. He didn’t know whether to smile and back down, or keep pushing. But his own ire was up over what he considered her reckless behavior.
“But what’s it to you. It’s not like he’s your best friend. Why do you care so much?” He pushed.
“Because I do!” She tossed that flaming mane. Nature had endowed few people with such appropriate clues to their nature as it had Dixie. “Because compassion matters. Because no one deserves to be treated unfairly.”
“No, but it’s not like they beat him up. I just don’t understand why you’ve got to stick your neck out for a stinkin’ queer, Dix. It’s not like you’re cool with that, are you?” He couldn’t help it. It got under his skin and he didn’t understand her passion. The conversation had taken on a dangerous tone and he regretted it. He knew she could be set off and one day there would be no return.
“Don’t call him that.” The fire had died and ice filled her tone. It scared him more than the blaze. “Kenny is a person. He deserves respect and when you’re talking to me about him you will afford it to him.”
Bo shoved his hands in his pockets, pushed back from the table, and leaned his head back. “Gah, Dixie, I just asked you a freakin’ question. You don’t have to flip out on me. You know what you’re asking people to do don’t you? Dix, you’re asking a whole community to change. Change a lot. Break their own rules of what’s normal. That freaks them out - have a little compassion! Seriously girl take it down a notch.”
Dixie closed her eyes and took a shuddering breath. Bo studied her as she composed herself. Her green eyes snapped open and he was surprised to see them brimming with emotion. A tear escaped and splashed down her cheek, tracing a trail down her face. Her slim fingers brushed it away, angry at herself for the break in her guard. “I know,” she whispered. Then louder through gritted teeth, “I know! But it makes me so mad. I see a person. He’s a person. Why does everyone else see something less?”
He reached out his big hand and rested it on her delicate fingers clenched on the table. “Dix, I don’t get it. Honestly I don’t. But I’m on your side. We’re friends, let me be your friend. Give people some time. Don’t forget the Delta moves slow. The Mississippi sets the pace. Eventually she gets to the sea, but it’s not overnight.”
Dixie eyed him. Narrowing her gaze and squaring her shoulders she answered, “I can only do what I believe is right. I recognize I need to respect other people’s feelings but I can’t do that at the expense of another person’s dignity. I can’t protect the feelings of other people when they are wrong. The community may have to get over themselves and get around to changing sooner rather than later.”
“What does your dad say?”
Dixie sighed, dropping her guard just a touch. “He’s caught even more than I am, between my mom, my brother, the church, me. He’s compassionate to Kenny but I don’t think he’d touch him with a ten foot pole. He sent me to talk to Mr. McAlister about helping Kenny.”
“So your mom’s not in favor of you spending time with Kenny?”
“I don’t know Dixie, what if you do more damage to Kenny than good?”
“What do you mean? How can being a friend and supporting someone in need do damage? I don’t think he needs help knowing he’s different, pretty sure he already feels that.
“Maybe he should feel that way. Maybe it’s natural to feel guilt over his lifestyle. I mean, it’s not right. You know what I mean?”
“Guilt shouldn’t come from other people though. He should feel conviction from God if his choices are wrong. From us he should just feel kindness. I understand your question.” A surprising softness filled Dixie’s eyes. “I have no idea how to reconcile what I know the Bible and orthodox Christianity say about homosexuality, and friendship with a person living that lifestyle. I don’t think I’ve changed my view of what God says is best for people and their sexuality. I’ve just changed my view on what kindness to one another looks like. Conviction and kindness aren’t incompatible.”
“Gotta hand it to you Dix, you’re passionate.”
Pauline had brought the check while they were talking and cleared away their plates. The last few customers were trickling out and it was time to head home. Bo scraped back from the table. “Ready Dixie Lily Lee?”
No one else could get away with calling her that. “Yeah, Bo.”
He held the door open for her and in the parking lot put his arm around her waist. Before she got into the truck he squeezed her to his side and planted a kiss on the top of her head. “Girl, I don’t know what to do with you. But you sure do make life more interesting.”
Dixie smiled to herself. She didn’t like having her feathers ruffled. But she loved her friendship with Bo. Thankfully, the drive home was calm. There was no more conversation about Kenny. The two friends rode under the banner of peace, enjoying the velvet sky lit with diamonds and the warm breeze through the window. Bo teased Dixie and they laughed at his stories from the week. When she dropped him home she wished he’d kiss her, but he didn’t.
She pulled out of the Sheridans’ long driveway and headed home, suddenly tired.