Mercy Sings at Midnight

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Chapter 20

Dixie’s tires crunched down the Sheridan’s long drive. She parked to the side of the house, under a massive oak tree. Skirting the gracious, cedar shingle house she headed around the side to the barn. The double doors were open, and just as Dixie had predicted, loud country music spilled out.

Clad in navy coveralls, Bo was bent over the engine of his race car, intent on his task.

“Hey” Dixie yelled.

Bo looked back over his shoulder without straightening up. “Hey yourself! Come on in and pull up a seat.”

Dixie pulled a metal stool over near the side of the car. She sat down and leaned back against a shelf covered with tools that ran the length of the building. While she watched Bo work, she silently mulled over the conversations she’d just had.

Bo’s strong jaw was set, his gray eyes focused as he worked on the engine. Occasionally he would use a grimy hand to brush back a swatch of dark hair, leaving a smudge mark on his forehead. It soothed Dixie to watch him work as she sorted through her thoughts; no need for talking. Her heart ached over the conversation she’d had with her mother. She breathed thanks for Angela’s encouragement. But Sadie’s words hurt the most, thinking about them brought tears to her eyes.

A cool breeze swept in through the open barn doors, teasing her curls. The heady smell of freshly mown, sun-dried hay was on the wind’s breath. Dixie’s heart beat slowed. Sitting in a patch of sunlight she felt drowsy. For more than half an hour he sat quietly with her thoughts. A peaceful silence, filled only by country music, lay between the friends.

After a while Bo put down his tools, straightened, stretched his back, and turned down the radio. Propping against his car across from her he asked, “Dixie Lee, what’s your trouble?”

“Could it be that you are the only person in town who has not heard of my adventures this morning?” She replied to his question with dry sarcasm.

A slight smile tugged at the edge of his mouth. “I guess I could be. What kind of disturbance have you been creating, girl?”

“Apparently enough to get plenty of people mad. Mother is beside herself, Sadie needs some distance, and I’m sure most of Mother’s friends consider me a disappointment.”

“Aww, sounds like a normal day for you, Dix.”

She shot him a look.

“Seriously, what happened?” Bo’s gentle tone coaxed the story out of her.

“I stopped some guys from beating Kenny up on Broad Street.”

Bo’s eyebrows arched in surprise. “Really?”

“Well, I didn’t see what else I could do. There were three of them and they were all bigger than Kenny. It was humiliating; they called him awful names and knocked him to the ground and kicked him. I couldn’t let them do that.”

Bo stood up a little straighter. “Oh man, Dixie, I’m sorry. Is he okay?” Quickly he added,

“Are you okay?” There was real concern in Bo’s voice.

“I’m fine and he’ll be all right. He’s banged up pretty good but nothing serious that I can tell.”

“Did you take him to the hospital?”

“No, he didn’t want to go. He said he’d been beat up as badly by his dad. I didn’t want to fight with him about it. He got a bad crack on the head and I was worried about a concussion, but we had a conversation and he seemed clear-headed enough. I took him to Joe McAllister’s.”

Bo gave a low whistle, “Girl you weren’t kidding, you have had a busy morning.” He furled his brow. “So what’s the problem, why are people mad at you? Sounds like what you did was pretty brave.”

“Oh, it would have been brave if I’d protected the right person. But I didn’t, I got involved with the wrong one.”

Bo was thoughtful for a moment. He shook his head and replied, “I may not like the type of person Kenny is, but I wouldn’t want to see him beat up. Surely they can see you couldn’t let a person just get beaten?”

“Not everyone shares your sentiment.” It was Dixie’s turn to be thoughtfully quiet. “I guess maybe that’s the problem. I mean, what is Kenny anyway? You see a gay man. I see a person.” She flung her hands in the air, expressing her frustration. “Is it really so hard just to see a person?” Tears brimmed in her eyes. “I think Sadie and my Mother believe I should have let him get his tail whooped.” Why couldn’t people have compassion?

Bo gave her a kind look, but he didn’t look convinced. “I respect your sincerity and kindness Dixie. I really do. But I’m not sure. Maybe society keeps people on the fringe like that because they’re trouble.” Bo rubbed a hand across the back of his neck and looked at his boots. Dixie felt for him. He wasn’t generally inclined to theorizing. He lifted his gray eyes to hers and looked pointedly at her. “Maybe, some social pressure is necessary to get people to change, Dixie.”

“Well, I don’t think God approves much of any of our behavior. If he did I wonder if Jesus would have been necessary.” She wanted to get fiery, but the truth was her heart felt more like a cold sad smolder instead of a flame. She knew she didn’t have all the answers, but she sure wasn’t impressed with anyone else’s at the moment. “Personally, I don’t think a one of us has behavior good enough to call out another person. Conviction is God’s business. Homosexuality may not be God’s best plan for people, but neither’s violence.” She tossed her curls in spite of herself. “I’m going to stick with compassion and worry about my own sin and not somebody else’s.”

A slow smile spread across Bo’s face, he shook his head appreciatively and let out a low whistle. “You’ve got a point, Dix. Not much I can argue with in that. I don’t spect we should be using violence, or shame for that matter, to get people in line.”

“Nope. I don’t think we should.”

“So what’s Kenny going to do now?”

“That’s a great question. I have no idea. Rest for a while I guess.” Dixie paused. “We’ll figure out something.”

“No doubt about it Dixie girl, no doubt about it.” He chuckled softly. This girl was somethin’.

Dixie left her time with Bo feeling refreshed. He might still have some reservations about Kenny, and confusion about what he thought of his lifestyle, but she could see he was coming around to respecting him as a person. What was her goal with people in regards to Kenny anyway? She had to ask that question. What was she expecting?

Her truck bumped down the driveway at the edge of twilight, the whir of cricket cadence in her ears. The soft evening air was mild and fragrant. She nudged her old blue baby onto the road and headed towards Joe’s house. As she drove she pondered her own question. What did she hope to accomplish in people’s minds regarding Kenny?

Ultimately, whether the gay lifestyle was something her community would embrace, or if they held to the conviction that God had put restrictions on human sexuality, she hoped people could see Kenny as a person. That was her goal; for Kenny’s personhood to be valued first and foremost. If other humans were so quick to censor people, doling out their worth based on some finite set of qualifications, were there other people in town who were disenfranchised and treated without dignity? Maybe this whole question had far more to do with people in general than just being gay.

Her thoughts floated to Gabriel. He was another person society didn’t know what to do with. Being polite and treating someone with value were two different things. Gabriel’s bright smile flashed in her memory. Dixie saw how much the little boy had to offer. His sincerity, quick mind, and character could enhance the lives of anyone willing to get to know him. But that was just it, they had to be willing.

She pulled up to Joe’s house as twilight fell, wrapping the land in purple. Light poured out of the front room and puddled on the porch as she made her way to the door. She knocked softly on the weathered wood.

Joe looked through the window to see who was there. The metallic sound of a chain lock sliding back reached her through the old wood. She was glad Joe was being careful.

“Dixie girl, come in.” Joe welcomed her, his voice quiet. “Our friend is sleeping.”

Dixie stepped into the front room and set Kenny’s bag down on the couch. “I’m glad he’s resting. How is he feeling?”

“Mostly tuckered out. We had a nice visit this afternoon. I didn’t want him to fall asleep ’til we saw how his noggin was. I reckon it’s just a good bump.”

“Good, hopefully a night’s rest will refresh him. I let Robbie know that Kenny’s here with you in case he wanted to see him. So, don’t be alarmed if a tall young man with dirty blonde hair shows up asking for Kenny.”

“He’ll be welcome. Come in and sit for a spell yourself.”

Dixie hesitated. She wasn’t eager to get home, but it had been a long day and she was feeling the need to rest.

“Thanks, but I don’t think I will Joe. I’m tired myself. Think I’ll head home.”

“I understand, you go get some rest. By the way, how did it go with your mama?”

Dixie shook her head. “Not great. She’s upset. Thinks I behaved in an unladylike manner. She just doesn’t understand why I would expose myself to public criticism for the likes of Kenny.” Dixie rubbed a hand across her tense neck. “I don’t know, Joe. Something else is definitely going on there. I’m just not sure what. I know you said she has a story but I’m not sure I want to know what it is.”

Joe chuckled. “Ah, girl. It’s not easy to see another person’s pain. Especially when they are our parents. God will give you strength.” He patted her shoulder.

She nodded and turned toward the door. Then paused. “Are you planning on taking Kenny to church with you tomorrow?”

“I suppose that’s up to him, Dixie. I sure will encourage him to come, but I’ll let him decide.”

Dixie smiled, reached over to hug the old man, and slipped out the door.

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