Mercy Sings at Midnight

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Chapter 14

The air kissed Dixie’s skin with an astringent nip as she opened the door of her truck and stepped onto her driveway. She took a deep breath and looked up to lustrous stars set in the silken dome of sky. Rolling her shoulders up she pushed the air out of her lungs, as if she could purge her emotions with the expelled breath. Leaning against the door of her pickup, a slight breeze ruffling her hair, she marveled at the extent of the universe. If only it would whisper its secrets to her. She could use the wisdom that comes from living whole centuries many times over.

A startling sound cut through the darkness, making Dixie jump. High up in a maple tree somewhere over her head, a mockingbird sang, urgently, passionately. It was a strange, sweet sound in the dark. Who was he singing to at midnight? He repeated his music over again. It sounded like hope, like mercy, while everything else lay silent. How often had she slept through his song before? She listened for a while to his serenade, staring at the expanse above her. She marveled at the contrast of galaxies swirling overhead, and a little bird singing in the night.

Turning away from the vast sky Dixie started up the driveway with an uncharacteristically slow step. What had been intended as a pleasant evening, a diversion, had turned into more trouble. Was it the red hair? Did it just attract drama? Or did the red hair create it? If she had a dollar for every time her red hair had been referenced in relation to her personality she would be a rich girl.

The house was quiet. The lights dim. Good. Hopefully she wouldn’t encounter anyone and could slip off to bed. Unlocking the back door she let herself in without making a sound. She could hear the TV in her dad’s den. Passing through the hallway she saw him in his easy chair, feet propped up, head leaned back, snoring. She smiled, he’d probably had a busy day.

At the top of the stairs her mother’s voice tightened her spine. “Dixie, is that you?” Following the summons into her parent’s bedroom, where her pretty mother sat stiffly in her rose print arm chair, she offered her mother a wan smile.

“How was your evening, dear?” Her mother’s perfectly groomed eyebrows hovered like a question above her steady eyes.

“It was nice. I sat with the Sheridans. Bo came in second. We had dinner at Moe’s and I drove him home after.” Best to give her mother what she was after and make her getaway.

“I’m glad you had a nice evening with Bo. Though I did hear there was a bit of unpleasantness in the stands.”

Dixie’s heart sank. How in the world had her mother already gotten wind about the fuss over Kenny? “I don’t recall a scuffle. No one was fighting or anything.”

“Young lady, you know exactly what I mean. I thought you were going to spend time with your friends. Why did you entangle yourself with that young man? It’s one thing to bring him to church but to practically fight in the stands. It’s unladylike and shameful.” Her words punctured the air. Her previously steely eyes had taken on fire. Not unlike the fire in her daughter’s eyes as she had spoken to Bo at the restaurant.

Dixie just stood looking at her mother. A dozen emotions and thoughts wrestled for control. It was too much, she couldn’t make sense of it. Sadness took over. The emotion surprised her. She shrugged her shoulders, shook her head and turned to go, a deep weariness settling across her back. “I don’t know Mother,” she almost whispered. “It seems out of my control and beyond your understanding. Why are you so cold? I don’t understand you, anymore than you understand me. How are you capable of being so unfeeling towards people?” She paused and measured her words. “Sometimes I wonder if you even love me.”

She saw the words make their mark. She hadn’t intended to hurt her mother but it was obvious she had. He mother’s shoulders flinched as if she’d been hit and her eyes watered. She could see the wound clearly on her mother’s face for an instant. The moment surprised both women. Just as quickly the wall raised again and her mother brushed the words away. There was ice in her tone.

“I’m sorry to hear you say so Dixie. I only want what’s best for my children.”

“I’m sure you do,” Dixie mumbled, too weary to fight. There had been too much confrontation tonight already. “Goodnight, Mother.” She made a quick exit to her room, closing the door behind her. She flung her purse onto her bed, her jacket onto a chair in the corner of her room, and sat down on her bed to pull off her boots. What a night.

She fished her phone out of her purse and sent a quick message to Sadie. It was a Friday night, most likely her friend was still up. She needed to get at least one relationship sorted.

Sade, I miss you. Want to spend time together tomorrow?

How about a picnic? D

She undressed and hopped in the shower while she waited for her friend to respond. It felt good to wash off the grime of the racetrack. The water soothed and eased her troubled thoughts. After wrapping her curls in a towel and dressing in her pajama pants and t-shirt she flopped down on her bed. Pumpkin stretched his lazy bones and nudged his human. Dixie scooped her fuzzy friend close to her chest. “You love me boy, don’t you? Yes, you do. You’re my buddy.”

Her phone vibrated. She grabbed it up to see what her friend had to say.

I have stuff in the afternoon. How about Fannie’s at 9?

I miss you too D-dog :)

Dixie smiled as she punched in her response. Maybe things would be fine with Sadie once she saw her. Hopefully they hadn’t seen much of each other lately because they were both busy, not because her friend was mad at her.

Plugging her phone into its charger she set the alarm. Rolling over she plumped her pillow and drew the covers around her and her kitty. A cool breeze ruffled the curtains and brushed her cheek. Dixie drifted off to sleep to the comforting melody of Pumpkin’s purr and night sounds coming through the screen.

Late in the night Dixie found herself awake. The moon made a puddle of silver on the floor. She felt disoriented. Why was she awake? As she rubbed her eyes and rolled over she heard a sound. Was it someone sobbing? She lifted her head and strained her ears. Who was it? The mournful cry came from a distance, traveling through ductwork and over old floor boards creating a wretched sound. Dixie shivered. She climbed out of bed and shut her window against the cold. Quickly she got back under the warm blankets.

The only other people in the house were her mom and dad. The voice, though unclear, didn’t sound like the deep rich tones of her daddy. But she had never known her mother to cry. Not like this. It sounded as if someone’s heart was breaking. If it was her mother she had no desire to approach her in such a state. She couldn’t imagine her mother would appreciate her privacy being interrupted or her grief witnessed by her daughter. Maybe Joe was right, maybe her mother was wounded. Maybe she did have fears Dixie didn’t understand. Had her words caused her mother pain tonight when they spoke? She had assumed her mother’s cool heart wasn’t affected by such words. Rarely had Dixie seen her mother express a great deal of any emotion.

She pulled the covers around her chin and put a pillow over her head. The muffled sound of grief chilled her to the bone. Dixie drifted off into a fitful sleep. Dreams swirled, in them she was looking for something. Looking, searching. What for?

8:15, her cell phone alarm jerked her out of sleep. The sunlight painted pictures on the wall as it filtered through branches and leaves outside her window. Pumpkin stretched his legs long against her side and yawned a wide cat yawn. The haunting grief she heard in the dark had evaporated. Had she imagined it? No, she didn’t think so. Dixie stretched and reached for her phone to check the weather. A high of 72 degrees and mostly sunny. Not uncommon for a deep south fall day.

Flinging her legs over the side of the bed she stretched once more, then hopped up. She was going to see Sadie this morning! She had missed her friend. After a quick wash of her face, brushing her teeth, and a little makeup, Dixie picked out a pair of slim cut jeans, black riding boots, and a white and blue checked button up shirt. She grabbed a canary yellow cardigan, in case there was a chill this morning.

The house was quiet and as usual she hoped she could get out the door without encountering her mother. Especially after last night. She wanted to avoid an unpleasant scene. She crept down the stairs and through the kitchen, breathing easier when she reached the driveway. Her blue baby roared to life and she swung out of the driveway into the glorious morning. It was just a few blocks to Fannie’s Café. The last time she had met Sadie there the conversation hadn’t gone so well. Hopefully today would be better. As for herself she had no intention of bringing up Kenny or the standoff at the race last night.

The bell jangled as Dixie pushed open the door to the café. Coffee seduced her senses and prompted an involuntary inhale. After scanning the small space for Sadie she slid into her favorite booth to wait for her friend. She liked sitting in the red Naugahyde booths that lined the big front windows. You could see the comings and goings of all kinds of people on the town’s main drag. Fannie’s was a blend of retro and modern. Brown, mustard yellow, and touches of red gave it a classic feel. But the menu and coffee options available had a modern twist, as well as some of the art on the walls.

The cow bell on the door jangled. Dixie looked up to see her friend’s dark head come through the doorway. Sadie smiled and threw up her hand in greeting. Dixie jumped up and greeted her with an enthusiastic hug.

“Sade, I’ve missed you girl!”

Sadie returned her friend’s hug warmly. Then slid across from her in the booth. The morning sun backlit her glossy bobbed hair and played on her nose sprinkled with freckles. Was Dixie imagining it or was the reserve that had crept between them less intense? She hoped so. Friendship, it would seem, had to be reinvented over time. Dixie had assumed, incorrectly, that once in place friendship was like the mighty Mississippi, eternal. She was learning it was far more fragile and in need of tending, more along the lines of her mother’s roses. If neglected they failed to produce perfect blossoms, but when cared for they were exquisite.

Doris, a thirty-something waitress, with a ready smile and bubbly personality, came over for the girls’ order. Dixie, feeling famished, ordered a western omelet and coffee. Sadie stuck with her usual blueberry muffin and caffé latte.

“So, how are your parents?” Dixie asked, ready to hear all the news.

“Daddy and Mama are going to Biloxi for a conference next week.” Sadie’s father was a successful lawyer in the county. “I was thinking while they’re gone you could spend the week with me! I’ll be with the Truvy children all day, and of course you’ll be at school, but you could keep me company in the evening.” Sadie was an only child and didn’t like to stay at home in the family’s rambling Victorian all alone.

“I’d love to Sadie!” Hope flashed in Dixie’s heart, maybe it would be like old times. “How is it going watching the Truvy’s kids?” Dr. and Mrs. Truvy had four children, three boys of varying sizes and a little girl tacked on at the end. Dr. Truvy was one of three dentists in town and Jeanette Truvy was a designer who often had business in Vicksburg with her clients.

“Oh, they’re great. The boys can get wild, but little Mattie is sweet. They’ll beat the tar out of each other, but they dote on their baby sister. Mattie has another year before she starts school. By then I’ll be ready to move on to something else I imagine, but for now the Truvys are generous and the work is easy enough. Spending my days with Mattie makes me think I’d like to get married and have kids of my own soon.”

“Do you have someone in mind?” Dixie’s smile was mischievous.

“No,” Sadie jaunted the word with mock irritation. “But you know that’s what I’ve always wanted, to be married and have a family.”

It was true. Sadie had gotten her degree in English from Delta State University, with no plans to teach or write, merely because she loved books. She didn’t have ambitions beyond marriage and motherhood. Her daddy was rich enough to take care of her for as long as she needed him too. Being an only child had perks where Sadie was concerned. But she had always wanted siblings.

“I don’t know, Dix,” Sadie exhaled, gazing out the window onto Broad St. “I just wonder if I’ll find someone suitable to marry in this old town. I had kind of hoped to be engaged by now. I thought when we went to DSU I’d meet someone there.”

“Aw, Sadie, there are some nice young men in town. What about Brock Westmoreland? He’s helping his daddy at the Feed and Seed this summer. Maybe you could spend some time with him. He and Jill Preston broke up at least six months ago and I don’t think he’s seeing anyone else yet.”

Sadie wrinkled her nose. “He’s sweet enough, but I have a hard time seeing myself with someone who smells constantly of sweat and horse feed.”

Dixie laughed. “You’ve got a point Sadie, but I’m sure the right person will come along.”

“I hope so,” Sadie replied, “I’m feeling a little impatient.”

Where Dixie had tested the boundaries of southern expectations Sadie had embraced them. Not that she was fussy. Sadie could play hard, enjoy a good laugh, and loved nature. She was as comfortable in overalls on a four-wheeler as she was working the room of an elegant dinner party. But her family expected her to marry a nice southern gentleman from a good family, with a degree, and prospects.

The conversation wound on through the latest book Sadie was reading, her hopes for buying a new vehicle, and plans to spend next week together. The memory of happy girlhood days kindled and warmed their hearts. The morning had been pleasant. More pleasant than Dixie had hoped.

Sadie laid her napkin on her plate. Dixie was gathering her keys and purse. “I’ve got to go get Pumpkin some cat food and run a couple of errands. I enjoyed our morning, thanks for making time, Sadie.”

“Dixie, I heard about what happened at the race last night.”

Dixie’s heart pumped fast. Where did that come from? “What about the race? I went out with Bo afterward.”

“That’s not what I’m talking about Dixie. You know very well what I mean.” Sadie could be more blunt than Dixie sometimes expected. Her mild manner usually kept conflict at a minimum.

“I don’t know what you mean. Nothing happened at the race.” Dixie felt irritated. Her foot began tapping silently under the booth, she strained to keep her tone even.

“Dixie, you made a scene over that homosexual boy. My mama told me about it this morning. She’s concerned about your behavior lately. I had to talk her into letting you stay at our house while they’re gone.”

Dixie took a few deep breaths. “Sadie, I didn’t make a scene. A hand-full of redneck jerks made a scene. I tried to stop the scene. Kenny was watching the race, minding his business. He was bullied and could have gotten hurt. Believe me, I didn’t go looking to make an exhibition. But I wasn’t going to stand back while someone was mistreated. It was unjust. It really wasn’t a big deal. At least it doesn’t have to be.”

“If it wasn’t such a big deal why did you get involved? People are talking about you. It sure seems like a big deal. I don’t want my parents to keep you from staying at our house just because you keep people stirred up over this.”

Dixie fought to maintain control of her beating heart and escalating emotions. Sadie was her dearest friend. She had no desire to lose that friendship over this matter. But she was starting to get tired of being misunderstood. “Sadie, I love you, and I would appreciate your understanding and support. But, even if you can’t understand why I would care about the wellbeing of someone in trouble, I hope you can have faith in me.”

Sadie’s eyes flickered, uncertain. Dixie was her other half. But her parents had significant influence over her, as well as the expectations of nice society. Dixie had pushed her outside of her comfort zone before. Sadie had even learned to appreciate her friend’s ability to do so, but this was taking things too far. Her practical, steady nature was pitted head-on against Dixie’s impetuous, passionate tendencies. Yet all the shared memories and held confidences between the two was a force to be reckoned with.

“Dixie, you have a good heart, a lot of grit, and more passion than I could ever possess. But sometimes you’re reckless, and it scares me.”

Her father’s recent words came back to her, “You need to respect the feelings of your Mother and brother in this matter Dixie. Tread softly. I know you care about what happens to this young man, but you need to care about the feelings of your family as well.” She supposed that applied to Sadie as well.

“Sadie, I don’t mean to be reckless or inconsiderate of other people’s feelings. I just don’t see any other way to respond to Kenny. It doesn’t seem foolhardy to me, it seems kind. How about I try to respect your feelings and you try to respect mine, even if we don’t understand one another.”

Sadie gave her friend a wistful, gentle smile. Squeezing her hand she said, “Okay, Dix, we’ll give it a try.” Both girls knew the answer was unsatisfactory in the long run. But what else did they have?

Shaking off the strain of the conversation they tried to recapture their earlier good cheer, but it felt contrived. Crossing the big black and white tiles of the café they stood at the glass countertop, its decadent display of bagels and pastries lost on them. They were distracted by more substantial things.

After paying, the girls exited the toasty café. The door jangled behind them as they emerged into the crisp air and light bustle of downtown on a Saturday. Dixie headed down Broad St. one way, Sadie another. Both girls threw up their hand in salutation, warm smiles on their faces.

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