It was just a short drive to Joe’s from their spot on the river. She pulled up in front of his simple frame house. Jumping out of the truck she called out, “Joe!” and went around to help Kenny out. By the time she was closing the passenger side door Joe was on the porch.
“Well, hey Dixie. Kenny.”
Kenny moved gingerly up the steps of the porch. “Oh, son, what happened to your eye?” Joe asked with concern. “Come in, come in.” He held the door open for the two of them to enter his simple home.
“Kenny was beat up by a handful of young men, Joe. One of ’em hit him in the head with a bottle, and another kicked him in the side. He may have a broken rib.”
“Sit down, Kenny. Let me get you some ice for that bruise and some medicine. You must be pretty sore.”
“Yes sir, I’m gettin’ there.” He sat in the chair Joe indicated.
“Come on Dixie girl, you can help me.”
Obediently Dixie followed Joe to the kitchen. “Why don’t you get him a glass of water while I get him some ice,” Joe suggested, shuffling to the freezer.
“Joe,” said Dixie, as she searched for a glass, “they beat him because he’s different. He doesn’t have anywhere to stay. His friend’s parents kicked him out this morning.”
“Well, then he can stay here. If he doesn’t object to the company of an old coot.”
Dixie reached out to the passing old man and grabbed him in a hug. “Joe, you’re wonderful! I was hoping you’d say that.”
Joe chuckled, pleased. “Dixie you know what I told you before, if it wasn’t for others helpin’ me I don’t know what I woulda done. Do you know who hurt him?”
“No, I don’t know them. Kenny’s had a run-in with them before but I don’t think he knows them either. I saw their faces though, I could identify them. We didn’t go to the police, because quite honestly, I’m not sure it would do any good.”
Joe nodded his head solemnly. “That may be true enough. Still, we don’t want ’em to keep bothering him. For now he’ll be safe here, but we’ll need to give the matter some thought.”
Joe grabbed the bottle of medicine and bag of ice, and headed back to the small front room. Dixie followed him with the glass of water.
“Here you go son, some ice for that knot on your head and Advil for your ribs. You’re sure to be sore. Are you peckish? I can fix you a sandwich.”
“Thank you, sir. I appreciate it. I am a little hungry.” Kenny took the glass and swallowed a couple of pills.
Joe headed back to the kitchen to fix something for Kenny to eat. Dixie sat down in the chair beside Kenny. “Joe said he was glad to have you stay here with him. He’s a good man. You can trust him. I know you probably don’t feel like you can trust many people right now, but I’m certain of Joe.”
Dixie winced as Kenny moved the ice pack to look at her. “I believe you, Dixie. I felt like I could trust him the first time I met him at your church. He’s kind.”
“He is kind. He’s also had his own hard times and knows what it’s like to need the help of friends. He won’t judge you.”
Kenny nodded, relief played across his battered features.
“It’s not much, Kenny, but it’ll take the edge off.” Joe offered him a plate with a ham sandwich and potato chips. Kenny took it with a thank you. Easing himself onto the worn couch, Joe sat opposite of them.
“Son, I’m sorry this happened to you. Dixie tells me you have nowhere to stay at present. You’re welcome to make my home your own as long as ya need to.”
Kenny choked back emotion. “Thank you, sir. I’m grateful. I won’t be no trouble. But I’m afraid I can’t pay ya no rent.”
Joe waved the comment away, “No need for that. You’re my guest.” Turning to Dixie he asked, “Would you mind helping me get the spare room ready. It’s clean and sparse enough, but the bed needs making.”
“Absolutely, point me to the linens.” Dixie rose to meet Joe’s request.
He told her where the linen closet was in the hallway, and what to look for. Making her way through the small passage to the closet she found the set of faded floral sheets. The spare room was simple. An old fashioned single bed on one wall and matching dresser on the other, with a small desk under the window, was all it held. A faded quilt covered the bed, and simple white curtains hung at the window. The only picture in the room was a hand-drawn picture of a shepherd holding a lamb. She took her time putting the sheets on the bed, hoping to give Joe and Kenny a moment to get to know each other. Dixie felt guilty leaving Kenny with a stranger, but she had little choice. It would be good for him to spend time with Joe, she was sure of that. And it was time for her to face what was ahead of her at home.
With forced cheerfulness she entered the front room where the odd pair sat talking. “Alright, your bed’s all ready. You probably could use a rest, Kenny. And I should get home.”
“Dixie, I was thinkin’. I left my bag at Robbie’s house, would you mind pickin’ it up for me?”
“Not at all. I’ll get it this afternoon and bring it to you.”
Kenny smiled his thanks. She patted his shoulder. “I’ll see you this afternoon, go take a nap.”
“All right Dixie. And thank you.”
“I’ll see you out Dixie,” said Joe as he pushed himself up from the couch.
He walked to the porch with her. “Don’t you worry, Dixie girl, I’ll take care of him.”
“I know you will, Joe. But I’m afraid I’ve got a good mess on my hands. At least a dozen people witnessed what happened. My Mother will be fit to be tied.” She shook her head. “I’m in over my head, but I can’t abandon him now. I’ve crossed that line.”
“No, we can’t abandon him. This is when he needs us most. You be brave, your Mother will come ’round in time.”
“I’m glad you think so,” Dixie turned up her freckled nose, “but I’m not so sure.”
Joe chuckled. “Things always are hardest right before they change.”
Dixie kissed the old man on the temple, hopped off the porch, and hurried to her truck. She threw up her hand as she pulled out of the driveway.