Dixie and Richard stood by Joe’s bed. He had been moved to a regular room that morning. “How are you feeling Joe?” Richard thought the old fella’s color looked really good for the ordeal he’d been through.
“Ya know, I feel better than I have a right to. My side’s sore and I have a touch of a headache, but I can’t complain.”
Dixie squeezed the old man’s hand. “I’m so glad Joe. You had us worried.”
“I was a mite worried myself, Dixie girl.” His watery blue eyes smiled at the redhead he was so fond of. “I asked the nurse about Kenny but she wouldn’t tell me nothin’. How’s the boy doin’?”
Dixie looked up at her dad. They had talked about how to tell Joe the news on the way over. There was no easy way to go about it. Thankfully Joe was stable now and they weren’t worried the news would set back his recovery. But still, it would be a terrible blow.
Joe caught the look that passed between father and daughter. Concern flickered across his wrinkled features. “Joe, I’m sorry, the news isn’t good.” Richard said. “I’m afraid it was a hard night last night. Kenny passed away. They weren’t able to save him.”
“Oh, law.” A tear traced down his creased cheek. “I hate to hear that. I wish’t it had been me. That boy had his whole life ahead of him and mine’s mostly behind me.”
Richard hated to be the deliverer of such bad news. “There wasn’t anything that could be done, Joe.” He placed his hand on his shoulder. “You were a good friend to him, and I know you tried to protect him.”
“But it wasn’t enough was it? He’s gone and I’m here.” There wasn’t anything to say to that observation. It was true.
“Joe,” said Dixie, “you made a difference in his life, and I’m grateful. You took a risk. It ended painfully. But I hope you feel it was worth it. I do!”
Each eye was filled with tears, and spoke of its own sense of tragedy and loss. They had each played a role in a person’s life. Now he was gone. It was sobering.
Joe turned a tear-stained face to the crimson tempest standing beside him. “Dixie, I learned a long time ago loving someone is never a waste. You’re right girl, it was worth it. I’d do it again.”
She leaned over and kissed his forehead, dousing him in copper curls. “I love you, Joe,” she whispered.
“And I you, girl.”
A petite, blonde nurse came in and slipped past Dixie to check the IV pump. She adjusted some things, made notes on a white board, and came to stand at the foot of Joe’s bed. “How are you feeling Mr. McAllister?”
“Oh I feel pretty good, darlin’.”
She smiled and patted his foot. “Good. Is there anything I can get for you?”
“No thanks. I’m just fine right now.”
“How long do you think his recovery will take?” Dixie asked the nurse.
“He’ll probably be in the hospital the rest of the week. We need to get him up and moving first. He may go home by Friday. But he will need to rest and have someone help around the house for at least a couple of weeks.”
“Good. That won’t be a problem,” Dixie said. She was confident the church would pitch in to help.
The nurse left after promising to come check on him soon and reminding him to use his call button if he needed her.
“Well, Joe,” said Richard, “it looks like you’re in good hands, brother. We should be going and let you rest. Can I pray with you before we go?”
“I wish you would, pastor.”
“Gracious Father, we come to you with heavy hearts. We feel the loss of our friend deeply. I know Joe’s heart needs as much healing as his wounds do. We’re asking you to heal both. Thank you for caring for us and meeting us in our weakness. Bless our brother we pray. Give him the rest and healing his body needs. Amen.”
After they had told Joe goodbye Dixie and Richard headed down the hall to find out where to go next. They stopped at the nurses station to find out what floor the morgue was on.
“Dixie?” Hearing her name Dixie looked up to see Doris, from Fannie’s Café, coming round the corner.
“Hi Doris, are you here visiting someone?”
Doris’ expressive brown eyes searched Dixie’s. “I heard Kenny had been shot. I had to pick up an order for the café at the Wholesale Warehouse, and thought I’d stop by to check on him.”
Dixie furled her brow. “How in the world did you hear about that, it happened just last night?”
“Wayne’s buddy works at the police station and he told him about the shooting that happened at Mr. McAllister’s last night. When I heard the boy’s description I knew it was Kenny. I’d been worried ’bout him ever since he got beat up. That poor kid sure has had his share of bad luck.”
“Yeah, he sure has,” Dixie agreed.
“How is he?” Doris asked. “Have you seen him?”
“Doris, I’m sorry to say he died from the gunshot wound last night.” Dixie was surprised to hear a note of bitterness in her voice. She shouldn’t be she supposed. Kenny’s death was senseless. But she hadn’t really had time to process how she was feeling, other than shocked.
Doris clamped her hand over her usually smiley mouth, and tears sprang to her eyes. “Oh, no.” She shook her head. “That’s terrible! That poor boy!”
Dixie reached out and touched Doris’ arm. “I know. It is tragic. Thank you for caring enough about him to come visit.”
Doris took a tissue out of her big purse and dabbed her eyes. “Well, I just thought it seemed like he needed a break, he’d been mistreated pretty badly. I felt sorry for him.” She seemed a little flustered by the news and her emotions. “Will you let me know when his funeral is?”
“Of course I will. Thank you, Doris.” The two hugged and Doris made her way back down the hall sniffling and wiping her nose.
Richard had been finding out the information they needed about getting Kenny’s body released from the nurse on duty. This last thing Richard and Sadie had to do was the hardest. They headed down to the hospital mortuary to arrange for Kenny’s release to Mortimer Funeral home in Greeneville. It helped that Richard was clergy, not being the next of kin. He signed the necessary release forms and the two of them left, spent of all energy. When they got back into town Richard dropped Dixie off at home and went down to the police station to make a statement about last night’s events. As she got out of the car Dixie paused to ask, “Do you think Sheriff Walters will get in trouble for shooting Kenny’s dad?”
“It’s hard to say, honey. I’m not sure that I’d characterize it as self defense. I believe he was trying to save lives and knew he’d be the next target. I can only state what happened. But I’m not sure if it is what should have happened. I guess that’s a risk Pete took and he’ll have to see if it was worth it.”
“I hope he doesn’t get into trouble, but I’m sure he’ll take responsibility one way or the other. Will you ask him if I can go over to Joe’s house soon? I need to see how bad it is. We need to get it cleaned up before he comes home. And I suppose I should do something with Kenny’s things.” She didn’t want to go back and see the mess. Maybe they could hire a company to clean it up. The rug in the living room would have to be thrown out, she was sure.
After her dad pulled away Dixie hopped in her truck and drove forty-five minutes to Jackson to see Bo. He was still in intensive care. He was on strong pain medicine and resting. Dixie ached for a long talk with her friend, but she would just have to wait. He would be in the hospital another five to seven days, and then recovery at home for several weeks. She asked Linda if he knew it was Kenny’s kidney he had received.
“No, we haven’t talked to him about it yet. I think while he’ll be thankful, it will be hard news to hear.” She looked thoughtful for a moment. “Is that something you’d like to tell him, Dixie?”
“You know, I think I would. Do you mind?”
“Honey, I don’t mind at all. I think you have the right to tell him. I think he’d want to hear it from you. He’s quite fond of you, you know.”
Dixie blushed and tried to hide her embarrassment over her mutual fondness. Changing the subject she said, “You know if y’all need anything you can let us know. Mom’s going to get some meals lined up for when you get home.”
“That’s so kind of her, I appreciate it. I know she wasn’t comfortable with your friendship with Kenny, at least in the beginning. But whatever has been bugging the two of you seems,” she cocked her head and thought, “somehow better. You know Dixie, we mamas are only human too. I hope you know she loves you.”
Dixie smiled, southern women mothered everybody’s children. “I know she does. It’s forgiven. I understand better now why she was uncomfortable with Kenny, and it’s behind us.”
“Good!” She smiled at Dixie. “Come here, sugar,” she said, and reached out for a hug.
Dixie pulled into her driveway as the sun slanted its evening rays. The dogwood in the front yard had put on her red dress and was showing off. It seemed strange to Dixie that there was any beauty left in the world. What kind of place was this that fathers shot their children and mothers kept secrets? The thought startled Dixie. Was she still mad at her mom? No. She didn’t have the energy to be. And she had come to believe what Joe said was true; everyone has a story. It was best to remember our own story, she thought, and be compassionate when we encountered someone else’s.
The house was quiet when she went in. Dixie was glad, she needed time alone with her thoughts. She made a cup of tea and carried it into the den. A fire crackled in the wood stove. She set her tea down, opened the door of the little black stove, and shoved a couple of sticks of wood in. The little fire leapt up and crackled happily. Kicking off her boots she tucked her feet under her and settled down on the love seat across from her dad’s favorite arm chair. Pumpkin came looking for her. Ready to take advantage of an available snuggle, he jumped up beside her and nestled by her knee. She smiled and stroked the copper fur. Dixie took out her phone, texted Liz that she would be in school tomorrow, then texted Sadie that she was home and the hospital visits had gone well. Tossing her phone to the cushion next to her she reached out for the book on the table beside her. It was a collection of Longfellow’s poems. Her dad loved poetry and kept volumes of his favorite poets around the den. She pulled an afghan around her shoulders, sipped her tea and opened the small book. The pages fell open to a dog eared section. She read:
Tell me not, in mournful numbers,
Life is but an empty dream!
For the soul is dead that slumbers,
And things are not what they seem.
Life is real! Life is earnest!
And the grave is not its goal;
Dust thou art, to dust returnest,
Was not spoken of the soul.
Not enjoyment, and not sorrow,
Is our destined end or way;
But to act, that each to-morrow
Find us farther than to-day.
Art is long, and Time is fleeting,
And our hearts, though stout and brave,
Still, like muffled drums, are beating
Funeral marches to the grave.
In the world’s broad field of battle,
In the bivouac of Life,
Be not like dumb, driven cattle!
Be a hero in the strife!
Trust no Future, howe’er pleasant!
Let the dead Past bury its dead!
Act,— act in the living Present!
Heart within, and God o’erhead!
Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And, departing, leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time;
Footprints, that perhaps another,
Sailing o’er life’s solemn main,
A forlorn and shipwrecked brother,
Seeing, shall take heart again.
Let us, then, be up and doing,
With a heart for any fate;
Still achieving, still pursuing,
Learn to labor and to wait.