Making her way back to the house Dixie passed medics pushing a stretcher with Joe strapped to it. Pausing as they passed she looked into Joe’s ashen face, partially covered by an oxygen mask. Then they were gone, whisking him into the ambulance, the doors shut behind them and they pulled out of the yard, siren blaring.
Dixie looked to her left and there was Sadie, still sitting in the truck. Their eyes locked. Poor Sadie, this had been so much more than she had bargained for.
“Dixie.” Her attention turned from Sadie to her dad who was coming across the front porch. She met him at the steps. He put out his arms to hug her and then stopped, looking down at his bloodstained shirt and hands. Instead he sat down. Dixie sat down beside him. Andy and the fireman with the concerned gray eyes stood nearby watching them, giving them a moment together.
Dixie leaned her head on her dad’s shoulder and put her hand on his back. “Oh, Daddy. What happened?”
He took a ragged breath and said, “I got here a couple minutes after Pete, Sheriff Walters. He was in the yard when I pulled up, but somehow Kenny’s dad had gotten inside. He had a handgun. I could tell Pete’s gun was pulled when I parked and he motioned for me to stay in the car. Before he could get inside we heard shots fired. When Pete got to the house, I wasn’t far behind him, Kenny’s dad turned the gun on him. Pete shot him.”
Sheriff Walters had come up behind them on the porch. “I knew if I didn’t take him out we wouldn’t have a chance to save Joe and the boy. They’d bleed to death while we negotiated. I’d seen ’im fire the gun from the doorway, but I couldn’t see the two he shot from where I stood. I know he done it.”
She grabbed her dad’s arm. “Are they alive? How bad is it?” Dixie was afraid to know.
“It’s bad,” answered the sheriff. “It’s real bad. But they’re both breathin’ at the moment.”
“Dixie. I don’t know if they’ll be breathing when they get to the hospital. I want you to know that.” Her dad turned anxious eyes on her. She couldn’t say anything. Tears pooled in her emerald eyes and spilled their agony down her face. How could she survive this pain in her chest? What if they died? Was it her fault?
As if reading her thoughts her dad kissed her forehead and said, “Baby, this is not your fault. You have done your best to help Kenny. And you did the right thing to call me tonight. There was nothing else you could have done to stop it. Kenny’s dad was an angry, drunk man bent on evil.”
She buried her face in his shoulder and sobbed as if her heart would tear apart.
The rescue crews packed up and left. Sheriff Walters moved off to give directions to his men. The area was being taped off as a crime scene. Sadie got out of truck and sat beside Dixie, putting her hand on her shoulder. “Dix, are you okay?”
Dixie looked up at her friend. “Yeah, Sadie.” She didn’t know if she was alright but she didn’t know what else to say. A tiredness had settled into her limbs that made them feel as if they were weighted down. Sheriff Walters was speaking to her dad. “I’ll have one of my men drive you home in your car. We can bring Dixie’s truck over later. I’ll need you to come down to the station tomorrow to give a statement. ‘Course I was here and know what happened, but I’m gonna need your statement for the record.” He wiped a hand, dirty with dried blood, across his forehead. “No doubt this is gonna be a tricky one. An investigation into my actions is bound to happen. I’ll finish up here and head over to the hospital to see how Joe and the kid are doin’. I’ll be in touch, buddy.”
As Richard, Dixie, and Sadie all stood to leave a car pulled up to the house. It was Daniel. He jumped out and ran to the three standing there. “Dad, what the heck happened! Are you okay?”
Richard reassured his son. “Dan, we’re okay. Kenny and Joe have been shot.” He held up his blood stained hands in front of him and shuddered at the sight. “I tried to help. What are you doing here?”
“Mom got worried and called me. You’ve been gone for almost two hours. She tried to call you but you didn’t answer your phone. When she heard a bunch of sirens heading out of town she was afraid of the worst.”
“I left my phone in the car. I didn’t realize it had been that long.” Turning to Sheriff Walters he called, “Hey Pete, I’m going to ride home with my son. We’ll come back and get the cars later.”
“Don’t worry about the cars. I’ll send a couple of guys over with them in a little bit. Leave me your keys.”
Sadie and Dixie climbed into the back seat of Daniel’s Ford. Her dad got in the car and Daniel shut the door for him. He sat with his hands in his lap trying not to touch anything. After a couple of questions from Daniel they rode in silence the rest of the way home. Sadie reached out and grabbed Dixie’s hand. It comforted Dixie to have her friend with her. She was thankful they had made up and she didn’t have to do this alone. As they got into town Sadie leaned over to Dixie and asked, “Can I come home with you? I don’t want to leave you.”
At the Lees’ house the girls woodenly climbed out of the backseat. Dixie realized she had left her purse in her truck, which meant her phone was in her truck too. The back door opened and light from the kitchen poured out and around the form of her mother, making a pool of amber on the back step.
“Richard!” The fear in Sharon’s voice made Dixie’s heart lurch.
“He’s okay, Mom.” She called out to her mother from the driveway.
Sharon ran past the girls to her husband, choking back a sob. “Richard, what happened? Are you hurt? I’ve been so worried!” Daniel ushered both of his parents into the house. In the bright light of the kitchen Dixie realized how horrible her dad looked. Everyone stood back from him as he stared down at his filthy shirt in the glare of the light.
Turning to Sharon, who was trying to regain her composure, he said, “I know you have lots of questions and you need to hear what happened, but I need to clean this off of me. I’m going to go take a quick shower.” He had begun stripping off his stained blue button up shirt, as well as the white t-shirt underneath. He pitched both of them into the trash can. His skin bore traces of rust colored blood. “I’ll be back in a minute. The girls can fill you in or you can wait for me, but I just really need to get this off.”
“Of course you do, dear. Take your time. I’ll make you some tea while you shower.” Sharon drew a shaky breath as her husband took the stairs two at a time, eager to get clean. She turned slowly to take in the girls, Dixie sat at the table with her head in her hands, Sadie stood unspeaking behind her. Backing toward the sink Sharon rested the small of her back against the counter. She would never have said she needed the support of something solid behind her, but she did. “What happened, Dixie?” Her voice was quiet, and, Dixie noticed, lacking its usual bite.
Dixie lifted her throbbing head out of her hands. She noticed her brother, arms folded, leaned against the refrigerator, waiting for her response. No doubt he was angry. She didn’t care.
“Joe called me as I was leaving the hospital and said Kenny’s dad was in the yard carrying on. He wanted to see Kenny, but he was drunk and Kenny didn’t want to see him. I told Joe to sit tight and I’d call dad. Dad called Sheriff Walters.”
“I know that much.” Her mother was impatient to get to the rest of the story.
“Sheriff Walters says that when he got there Mr. McNab had gotten into the house somehow. He could see through the door that he had a gun.”
“Who had a gun?”
“Kenny’s dad. Before Sheriff Walters could get to them Kenny’s dad shot Joe and Kenny. And then Sheriff Walters shot Kenny’s dad.” Dixie shuddered and held her head again. Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Mom, it was terrible. When I got there the paramedics were inside. I ran up to the door. There was blood everywhere. Kenny’s dad was dead by the kitchen. Dad and Sheriff Walters were each helping a paramedic with Joe and Kenny.” Raising her eyes to her mother’s face she asked, “Mom, what if they die? I should have protected Kenny better.”
Her brother spoke up from across the room. “No, you should have left him alone.”
Sharon crossed the kitchen to her daughter. She pulled out the seat beside Dixie and put her arm around her shoulder, Sadie knelt on the other side of her friend. Looking up at her son Sharon said, “That is not true Daniel. People shouldn’t be left alone in their misery. Dixie was right to help him.”
Sharon turned to look at her daughter. She searched Dixie’s tear stained face. “Self preservation isn’t the best way to live. Is it? Love is.” Dixie stared back at her mother, it appeared she had made a decision.
Lifting her eyes back to Daniel Sharon said with conviction. “You may not like Kenny. He may make us all uncomfortable. But no matter how you feel about him Dixie was right. Everyone deserves compassion, or else no one does. That’s the last I want to hear about it.” Her voice was calm and firm, the usual edge replaced by... what was it? Hope?
Dixie offered a tentative smile to her mother. “Do you really believe that mom? You know if dad had gotten there before Sheriff Walters and tried to talk to Mr. McNab, things could have...”
“I know dear. But he didn’t. And yes I do believe you were right all along.” She looked intently into her daughter’s eyes. “What if someone had been brave and done the same for me? Maybe things would have been different. I wish you had been my friend all those years ago.” For the first time in a long time the two embraced. A real embrace – the kind that feels like love, and home, and forever.
They heard Richard coming back down the stairs. Sharon had forgotten to make his tea. She stood up and moved to the stove to fill the tea kettle. Before he reached the bottom of the stairs his phone rang, everyone tensed as they heard him answer it. “Pete.” They could hear his side of the conversation as he stood at the foot of the stairs. “Critical condition?...mhm... I’m not surprised... glad to hear it... okay, keep us informed. Thanks Pete.”
Everyone turned expectant eyes on him as he came into the kitchen. “What did Pete say?” Sharon asked her husband.
Richard leaned against the doorjamb and rubbed a clean hand through his damp, copper hair. “Kenny’s in critical condition. The bullet entered his brain. He’s in emergency surgery but it doesn’t look good. Joe is in serious condition, but they have him stabilized. His wound is not as significant but his age is a factor. They’ll keep him in the ICU for the time being but expect to move him to a regular room by tomorrow. The information they’ve pieced together from the crime scene, and the little bit that Joe has been able to say, indicates that he was shot protecting Kenny.”
“I want to be there when Kenny gets out of surgery, Daddy.” Dixie was emphatic.
“I agree. I want to go see Joe, if we can, as well. I don’t know if they’re letting visitors in or not, but I feel like we should be there. Sadie do you want us to drop you off on the way?”
“I’d like to come too, if that’s all right.” She smiled at Dixie and squeezed her hand. “I know Dixie could use the support.” Richard nodded.
“Well, folks, I need to go home to Muriel. I hope Joe pulls through, I really do. And I’m glad you’re okay dad. But I hope you never pull a stunt like that again.”
The kitchen got quiet. “I’m not sure what you mean son. I didn’t plan to inconvenience you.” Dixie rarely heard sarcasm in her dad’s voice. “If you call trying to help someone in a dangerous situation a stunt then I really can’t promise anything, but I hope I never witness something so tragic again. I hope both Kenny and Joe make it, I’m praying that way. If Kenny dies I will grieve. I truly will. As a matter of fact,” he looked around the room, “let’s pray now. And then you can get home to Muriel and we’ll get over to the hospital.”
Daniel’s face looked serious, chastened, and just a little resentful. But they all circled together and held hands. Richard lifted up what was on their hearts. “Father in heaven, it’s your great mercy that we need. You know the tragedy that happened tonight. And you hold each man’s life in your hands. We’re asking you to heal. Give the doctors wisdom, and our hearts comfort we pray. Your will is what we’re looking for. We give you the praise, and we trust your goodness. Amen.”