Dixie was still pondering her morning visit with Sadie as she crossed over Broad and walked the block to Jacob Wainwright’s music store, UpTempo. She needed to pick up some sheet music Jacob had ordered for her class on Monday.
The plate glass window showcased an array of instruments, arranged with care, on red velvet. Dixie remembered how she had saved her money as a kid to buy her first guitar from Jacob’s store. He was just a young man then, working for his father. The store belonged to him now and he took pride in being the only music store in town, as well as encouraging a love for music among its residents. UpTempo sponsored “Music in the Park” during the summer months. Jacob arranged for local bands and artists to showcase their talent every Friday night during June and July under the gazebo downtown. Dixie’s music had filled the air on a handful of those warm summer evenings.
“Hey Jacob,” Dixie greeted the slim middle aged man behind the old-fashioned counter. Blues music enveloped her as she made her way between music stands, and racks of CDs.
“Dixie, I got your music right here!” He pulled out a sheaf of papers from a manilla envelope on the counter.
Dixie looked through the stack; This Land Is Your Land, Michael Finnegan, Oh Susannah. She was excited to start working on these songs with her class.
She looked up from the stack, “Great Jacob, thanks for ordering these for me!”
“Happy to help, Dixie. How are you liking your new job?” He asked as he took her credit card and rang up her purchase.
Her response was enthusiastic. “I love it! The kids are great. It’s exciting to see them enjoy learning about different instruments and picking up the concept of tempo. I’m looking forward to actually starting on some songs with them.”
“Glad to hear it Dixie, glad to hear it!”
On her way out Dixie took a moment to look over the selection of guitars, lifting a few down to strum. The sun was climbing over the brick and stucco facades of downtown. It cast a golden glow on window panes as Dixie waved goodbye to Jacob and exited his store. She was revived after the friendly conversation and time spent in one of downtown’s familiar favorites.
Her heart felt lighter than it had in days. A soft smile played across her lips. The cool morning breeze ruffled tendrils of red curls and they danced, burnished by the sun’s kiss. Dixie turned down Broad, heading back to her pickup parked outside of Fannie’s.
She had reached her truck and was just getting in when her thoughts were disrupted by the sound of yelling. Dixie stopped with one foot in her truck and one foot on the pavement to look around. Her blood ran cold. A block down Broad, at the intersection of Monroe, three young toughs were yelling and shoving a slim figure. In an instant she knew who it was. That willowy frame and posture was unmistakable. She stood rooted to the spot, frozen in horror. The one in a dirty white T-shirt and blue ball cap lifted a beer bottle and smashed it into the side of Kenny’s head, dropping him to the ground. While the blond stocky one spit on him. Dixie screamed and took off running.
Her legs felt like logs as she ran, watching the scene unfold in slow motion. She screamed senselessly as her feet churned. The third redneck boy pulled back a heavy booted foot and slammed it into Kenny’s side.
“NO!” She yelled. “No you don’t! Get out of here!” She exploded between them straddling Kenny’s body. They jerked back, surprised. She glared into their faces. The one in the blue cap glared back at her. Their eyes locked, and she knew his contemptuous thoughts. For a split second he debated hitting her. Dixie squared her shoulders, rared back, tossed her flaming mane as a warning signal, and glowered at each of them in turn. Daring them to hit her in broad daylight. She didn’t know them, but no doubt, due to her father’s position in the community, they knew her. Hitting her would take things to another level. She was counting on it.
Through gritted teeth she hissed, “If you touch him again I will hunt you down like the dogs you are, and I will make you pay. I will kill you.” (She would regret those words later as foolish, but she meant every one of them at the moment.)
Blue cap spit on the ground at her feet and lifted the bottle. She didn’t flinch. His strong bicep flexed as he tossed it over her shoulder, smashing it against the brick wall of the building behind her.
“Come on boys,” he drawled. A sneer of hate was worn like a mask across his face.
A few people, drawn by the commotion, had poked their heads out of shop doors or ventured to the sidewalk. Doris, the waitress, ran down from Fannie’s Café. After Dixie was sure the boys had gone she knelt down by Kenny on the sidewalk. Gently she touched the purple goose egg growing above his right eye where the bottle had struck him. A trickle of blood ran down his face, across his nose. He groaned and moved.
“Kenny,” said Dixie, smoothing back his hair, “can you hear me buddy?”
His eyes flickered open. Doris huffed up just then and bent over. “Oh, law, those boys were jus’ about to beat the tarnation outta him,” she said to Dixie while looking at Kenny.
Dixie ignored her. “Buddy, are you okay, can you hear me?” She tried to keep the panic out of her voice.
Kenny groaned. He rolled his head to look up at her. “Yeah, Dixie, I’m okay,” he said. His voice was strained and tentative.
“You’re going to have a wallop of a headache. We should get you to the ER to make sure you don’t have a concussion or broken ribs.” She put her hand on his shoulder gently. “Do you think you can sit up?”
“Maybe I should call the amb’lance,” suggested Doris.
“No, I don’t know that that’s necessary.” Dixie looked up at the waitress ringing her hands. “But you could get a bag of ice for his head.”
Doris took off down the sidewalk again, relieved to have a mission to accomplish.
Dixie shifted to squat behind Kenny and hold his shoulders as he attempted to sit up. The sleeve of his blue knit shirt was torn. He put his left arm around his middle and held his head with his right hand as he sat still, assessing how he felt. Dixie sat beside him cross-legged with her arm around his shoulder to provide support.
“My side hurts,” Kenny said, his voice just above a whisper.
“They kicked you when you fell.” Dixie’s voice was gentle. Her words caught in her throat and she swallowed the anger and tears down.
Doris came panting with a zip-top bag of ice.
“Thanks, Doris.” Dixie took the bag from her and carefully put it on Kenny’s head. He winced. A couple walked by, staring at the three of them sprawled on the ground. Dixie ignored them. “Kenny, do you think you can stand up? I need to get you in my truck to take you to the ER.”
“Naw, Dixie, I don’t need a hospital. That wasn’t no worse than the beatings my dad give me.”
Dixie didn’t want to argue with him sitting there on the sidewalk, she just needed to get him off of Broad. She turned to Doris again. “Doris, will you sit here while I pull my truck up to the curb for Kenny? It’ll just be a minute.”
“Sure, honey. I’ll stay with him.” Doris looked nervously at Kenny’s purple knot and patted his hand, her eyes brimming with concern.
Dixie jumped up and ran down the sidewalk, barely noticing the few people she passed. When she reached her truck she saw the door had been left standing open. In her haste the packet of music and her purse had been dropped on the ground, but was unspoiled. She scooped them up and dumped them on the seat. Hopping in she slammed the door and started the engine. Glancing in the mirror, and up and down Broad, she whipped the truck into the road, and in a split second had pulled up in front of Kenny. Braking, she flung open the door. She ran around to the other side of the truck and opened the passenger side door before kneeling once again beside Kenny, breathing a prayer in the process that she could get him in the truck.
“Okay buddy, Doris and I are going to help you to your feet and get you in the truck. All right?” Kenny nodded. The women flanked him, gripping him under the arms. Together they lifted him off the sidewalk and supported him as he walked the few steps to the waiting truck. They helped him make the step up and slide himself across the seat. His breathing was heavy by the time they were finished and he let his head fall back against the seat, eyes closed. Dixie closed the door and hugged Doris.
“Thanks Doris for helping me, I appreciate it.”
“Oh honey, that poor boy. There wasn’t no call for them to do that. I hope he’s okay.” She knit her brows together and straightened her apron.
“He’ll be fine, I’m sure. Thanks again.” Dixie patted her shoulder and headed around the front of her pickup to the driver’s side. She glanced over at Kenny. His eyes were still closed.
“Kenny, I know you don’t want to go to hospital but I think we should make sure you don’t have a concussion or broken ribs.”
Kenny’s blue eyes opened, and he turned his head slowly to look her in the face. “Dixie, I’ve been knocked out cold by my dad before, and I know I have a broken rib. Please, take me to the river. I’ll be fine, I really will.”
Dixie hesitated, the adrenaline rush was wearing off and a huge, weary headache was settling in. Shouldn’t she report this to the police? Shouldn’t she take him to the hospital and make sure he got the care he needed? But she knew as well as he did the police wouldn’t do a thing.