As the young people did the hard work of comforting one another a plump, smiling nurse in cranberry colored scrubs approached the group.
“Mr. and Mrs. Sheridan, I’m Miranda. I can take you back to see your son now. I understand there are some sisters and brother here as well.” Mary Beth and Emily stepped forward eagerly. She addressed the rest of the group. “Let me take the family back first and then I can take a few of you at a time to see him. The room’s not big enough to accommodate all of you.”
Dixie’s family and the boys stepped back. Linda and Harry followed the nurse with Mary Beth and Emily trailing behind. A sullen Fletcher had come out of the corner, wiping his sleeve across his eyes. He followed last, head down. Dixie’s throat constricted watching the little brother lagging behind. Harry stopped. Looked behind him and waited for Fletcher to catch up, putting his arm around his shoulder when he did.
Time seemed to stall for the five left out in the waiting area. At moments they talked about Bo, and then the conversation dropped to pensive silence. By dinner time nurse Miranda came back for another wave of visitors. Mary Beth and Emily had gone down to the cafeteria to eat. “All right two or three of you can come back to see him. Who wants to go first?”
Dixie knew she should let Reid and Skeet go. They needed to see their buddy and know he was okay. Before she could say anything Reid spoke up, “Go ahead. I know you want to see him.”
Richard responded. “Thanks son. We won’t stay long. We need to get Dixie home before long. She has school tomorrow.”
Dixie had forgotten school, but tomorrow was Monday and she had responsibilities. Richard nodded to the two boys and ushered his wife and daughter to follow Miranda down the hall. When they got to the room Linda and Harry stepped outside into the hall to talk to Richard and Sharon. Dixie followed the nurse into the hospital room full of beeping and clicking equipment.
“He can hear ya hon. Go ahead and talk to him if you want.” Miranda studied Bo for a minute, adjusted some tubing, pushed a button on a machine monitoring him, and left.
Dixie stepped closer. Bo’s head was turned slightly toward her, the dark shadow of his eyelashes fanned out across his pallid cheek. His lower lip was busted. It will probably cause a scar he’ll be proud of, thought Dixie involuntarily. The thought made her smile. It reminded her of the time in school when a baseball had hit him in the mouth, chipping a tooth. Bo had been pleased with the tough effect it had produced, and wasn’t happy when his mom had insisted they have it fixed.
Dixie reached out her slender hand and touched his arm. “Oh Bo boy, why’d you have to go and bust yourself up?. There are easier ways to get attention.”
His eyelids flitted and he worked on focusing on her face. A tear slipped down her cheek and painted her smile with tenderness. A warm smile slipped across Bo’s features. “Hey Dix,” he croaked. “What’re you doin’ here?”
“You silly boy! I’m here to see you. What were you thinking playing Evel Knievel?” She scolded gently. He offered a small chuckle and closed his eyes again. At that moment their parents came quietly into the room. A semicircle of faces formed around his bed. Hands reached out, transmitting love, feeling the solid proof of his presence. He opened his eyes once more and offered the gift of one of his dazzling smiles. “Hey, can a fella get a roast beef sandwich in here?”
Everyone chuckled. “Only if you behave yourself,” Linda teased him. He smiled and slipped back into sleep. The Lees didn’t stay long. Hugs, a squeezed hand, an offer of prayer and practical help, and they stepped out of the room. On the way back to the elevator they stopped to tell Reid and Skeet goodbye.
The ride home was quiet as they glided through the twilight of night’s velvet edge. Stars studded the purple blanket of sky tossed over hazy fields. Each family member kept their own council, mulling over the day’s events.
Dixie felt fragile. It was an emotional state she was unaccustomed to. Anger bumped up against sadness, fear blurred into compassion. The emotions constricted her heart and made her eyes sting. How could she quiet the spinning of her mind? The afternoon had been more intense than the morning. She didn’t know where to focus her thoughts; on Kenny, on the conversation with her mother, on Bo in his hospital bed? It was overwhelming.
Her dad parked the Taurus in the driveway. They all sat still and quiet for a moment. Then slowly, as if their joints had frozen up, the three of them unfolded themselves from the car. Richard opened the back door and stood aside for his wife and daughter to enter the dark kitchen, before following them inside.
“I’ll put the kettle on for some tea and warm up the pot of chicken soup we have in the fridge. Why don’t you both sit down,” he said to Sharon and Dixie. They did as he suggested. Dixie wondered if her face looked as pale as her mother’s.
Sharon reached out a hand and laid it over Dixie’s own fair one resting on the table. “Dixie, I hope you’ll forgive me for keeping this secret for so long.” Emotion choked her voice and her eyes were red-rimmed from the fresh emotion of the past couple of days. “Seeing Linda standing beside her son’s hospital bed reminds me how short life is. I don’t want to waste time at odds with you. I felt so distant from my own parents for so long.” She looked down at their hands. The intense wall of reserve was cracking. Dixie had had no idea what was behind the wall. It broke her heart to see the depth of her mother’s pain.
Dixie felt the power of compassion melt her anger. As much as she didn’t want Kenny judged, it was easy to want to judge her mom, especially since her secret had affected the family. But how could she be mad at someone else’s pain? If she wanted her mother to understand Kenny, she had to be willing to understand where her mother was coming from.
“Mother, I had no idea. I forgive you. I want to forgive you. I’m sorry I haven’t been more sensitive.” There was so much more she wanted to say, but she wasn’t sure where to find words for years worth of feelings.
Her mother squeezed her hand. “In retrospect I’ve always felt guilty about giving Kyle up. If I hadn’t made selfish decisions in the first place he wouldn’t have had to live with the consequences of my mistakes.” The intensity of Sharon’s green eyes bored into Dixie. “Sometimes it must seem I’m too hard on you. But I only want to save you the pain of making mistakes, and having to live with the sorrow your whole life.”
Suddenly Dixie understood her mother’s controlling nature had more to do with love than hate. But Dixie rejected the sense of fear and dread her mother lived with.
“Mother, I appreciate your concern for me. But I don’t want to live with the fear of other people’s approval. I want to live in freedom. I am going to make mistakes. That’s why grace is so important. But I don’t want to live crippled in dread that I might get it wrong, or make someone mad, or even make God mad.” She paused to choose her next words. “I bet if you asked Kyle if he would rather have been born, or not, he would be glad of the chance to live.” She hoped that was true. “Of course he’s faced struggles, but hopefully he’s had a supportive adoptive family and has known love. I know you think my friendship with Kenny is a mistake. But I just can’t agree with you. He has experienced hurt and rejection. Just like you. And he deserves support. I know I’m treading in deep waters when it comes to homosexuality, but I’m going to trust God has grace to help us navigate that, and I’m going to focus on his humanity.”
“I suppose you’re right. Your father thinks you are.” Sharon glanced at her husband making cups of tea for them. “It’s going to take me some time to be comfortable with the idea of letting down my guard.”
“That’s all right, Mother. All I ask is that you try. All I ask is that you give Kenny a chance.”
Her dad brought cups of tea and some bowls of soup over and sat down at the table with them. The topic was changed to Bo. They could only swim in the boiling stew of painful emotions and spilled secrets for so long.
“Do you think Bo’s going to need a kidney transplant?” Dixie’s question was directed at either parent.
“I don’t know baby girl.” Her dad’s voice was gentle.
“If he does maybe we can find a donor in town so that he doesn’t have to go on a national registry and wait.”
“That’s a good idea, honey. I imagine they’ll start with the family, it’s most likely he’ll have a match from one of them.”
Dixie felt incredibly tired. Maybe it was all of the emotion she’d expended during the day. After finishing her soup she excused herself and sought the refuge of her bed. Lying in the darkness of her room the weight of the day rested heavy, like a rock on her heart. Hot tears slipped down her cheeks, mussing the pillow case. All she wanted in that moment was Sadie. She wanted to unburden her heart to her friend. How had this gulf come between them?