Dixie sat on the low hanging live oak branch. She and Bo had been taking a walk on the Sheridan’s property. Even though Thanksgiving was just around the corner the weather was mild. Typical of Mississippi, 70 degrees this week and 40 next. It had been almost two weeks since Bo had come home and he was getting stronger every day.
“It was good to see Fletcher smiling and up to his old mischief again,” said Dixie.
“Yeah. He had a time of it, poor fella. Mom said he was a mess after the accident.”
“He was.” Dixie nodded. “At the hospital, at least those first few days, I was worried about him.”
“I can’t imagine it was an easy thing to witness. The wreck I mean. My ole’ car’s a tore up heap.”
“No, I can imagine it wasn’t easy. And he loves you.”
He grinned, a slow, easy charm spreading across his face and reaching to his eyes. “Yeah, he does.”
She smiled back. Everybody loved Bo. She sure did. He stood with his boot propped on the branch beside her. The breeze tossed her hair like tongues of fire in the air. She shouldn’t break the mood, but she had to ask about the transplant.
“How are you feeling lately?” She wasn’t sure that was the right way to get the conversation started but it was what she had.
“I get tired kind of easily, and the doctor won’t let me fix or pick up anything for another two weeks, or more. But I feel pretty good. I sure can’t complain.”
“Do you... I mean have you ever thought about... or wondered, where the kidney came from?”
He looked at her funny. His gray eyes took on the color of a storm and his brow furled over them, casting dark shadows in their depths. He looked away from her and out across the brown fields bordered by trees. His answer was soft. “Of course I have. I’ve wondered whose death gave me a chance at life.” He looked at her again, this time his eyes were shining, bright blue flecks sparkling and washed with tears. “It’s a strange feeling to know someone else’s life is a part of your own now.”
Tears sprang to her own eyes. “Do you want me to tell you who it was?” she asked.
“Do you know?” He sat down next to her.
“I do know.” She rested her hand on his forearm.
He clasped callused, strong hands in front of him and looked down to the ground. “Oh man, don’t tell me it was Kenny.” He shook his head and ran his fingers through his hair.
“Yes, it was Kenny.”
He stood up and paced a few feet, then came back to stand in front of her. His draw clenched and unclenched. “Why?”
She stood up quickly and covered the couple yards between them. Her hand reached up and brushed his dark swath of hair to the side. “Why not?”
“I mean. Nobody liked him. You fought for him, for his right to be among us. I don’t deserve to be alive because of his death.”
“So you’re not bothered that you have a gay man’s kidney?”
“Gah! No Dixie. That would be stupid, like burning a thousand dollars because a Democrat gave it to me.”
She laughed. A musical laugh that squished her eyes closed and wrinkled her freckled nose. He thought it sounded like sunshine, or daffodils.
“Then why not you?”she asked. “You didn’t cause his death. He would have been glad, I’m absolutely positive.”
“You’re certain of so many things. What aren’t you certain of?”
She felt bold. Reckless. Like someone who had weathered a hurricane and lived to tell about it. “Whether you love me or not.”
He looked surprised for an instant, then let out a low chuckle. “Girl, you beat all.”
“I know I do. But seriously. Kenny would have wanted you to be well, and happy. I know it made him glad that you spoke to him kindly that last Sunday.”
“I wasn’t really kind. Not as kind as I could have been. Not as kind as you were. You’re a hero.”
A new sense of humility had dawned on Dixie since Kenny’s death. She shook her head. “I had thought I was the hero of this story. But there aren’t any heroes. Just a bunch of flawed people looking to belong. If there is a hero it’s Kenny. He never pretended to be anything other than exactly who he is. He was honest in his need, in his questions, in what he wanted. The rest of us pretended to be something better than we are.” Her green eyes blazed with conviction. “Even so. The only real hero is Jesus. He’s loved us in our mess. He ’s taken his perfect, beautiful life and holds it out as a substitute for our own. And we get to be clothed with his love, if we want to be. He’s the only hero.”
He pulled her close to him. “Maybe so, but you’re my hero.” And he gave her the kiss she’d been waiting for. “Now are you certain I love you? ’Cause I do.”
“I don’t know, I might need more convincing,” she said, and tilted her head back with a grin.
He laughed and obliged with another kiss.
When they walked back to the house hand in hand, Linda cast them a happy, knowing smile . Dixie knew she was dying to ask them everything, but she would behave for now and plaster Bo with questions after Dixie left.
Thanksgiving had come and gone, and the Christmas season was well upon them. Dixie had just gotten home from school and checked the mail. The letter she’d been waiting for was tucked among Christmas cards and bills. She raced through the back door, tossed the mail on the kitchen table, and clattered up the stairs. Her mom called up after her, “Well hello, Dixie, how was your day?” When she didn’t get an answer she turned back to the sugar cookies she was decorating, and chuckled to herself. “That girl!”
In her room Dixie flung her bag on the floor, shed her jacket, and plunked down on her bed. Pumpkin, disturbed from his nap, stretched and yawned, curled around and lay back down beside her, purring happily that his girl was home. Dixie ripped into the envelope and held the letter in her trembling hands.
Dear Ms. Lee,
Your letter came as a surprise after all these years, though not an unwelcome one. My husband and I have talked your request over and feel the time is right for a meeting between Kyle and your family. I never knew the reason Kyle had been given up, other than his mother was not married. Thank you for filling in some of the story. I’m sorry to hear of the sorrow your mother has carried for 28 years.
We have loved Kyle and cared for him to the best of our ability. We’re very proud of all he’s accomplished. He knows he is adopted, but it isn’t something we’ve focused on. He is our son. And our other children, two older boys, and a younger girl, have always treated him as their own sibling. If it would bring peace to your mother to know he is happy and has a good life then we are glad for them to meet.
As a mother I hope you can understand the apprehension I originally felt. I only want what’s best for my children. I choose to trust that God has a plan and purpose involved. If I were in your mother’s shoes I would want to see my son and for his family to be understanding.
I will wait to hear from you to make arrangements.
Dixie read the letter again, letting its contents sink in. Her mother knew nothing about her contact with the Williams family. Dixie had debated about telling her in the beginning. But she was afraid if she brought it up before she contacted them her mother would just shut her plan down. When Dixie had written Mrs. Williams she had asked her not to tell Kyle, she didn’t want him to be disappointed in case her mom refused to meet him. But Dixie had a feeling once her mom had the letter in her hands, and was given a few days for the idea to sink in, she would want to meet the son she hadn’t seen in almost three decades. Dixie was pleased with the letter. It sounded like Kyle had been loved and well cared for. Tracking down the adoption information had been easy, now came the hard part, telling her mom.
Dixie had kicked off her boots upstairs, now she padded gingerly down the hall, her heart beating fast. At the kitchen door she cleared her throat. “Mom, I have something to show you.”
Sharon finished putting sprinkles on the cookie she was decorating and turned around. “What is it dear?”
Dixie sat at the kitchen table and waited for her mom to join her. Sharon wiped her hands off and sat across from her daughter.
Dixie handed her the letter and said, “I contacted Kyle’s parents and asked them what they thought about arranging a meeting.” Emotions Dixie didn’t know the names to flashed across Sharon’s face. Quickly she added, “I told them not to let Kyle know about it until I had talked to you. But I wanted to hear what they thought before I brought it up.”
Sharon’s hands trembled as she took the letter from Dixie. She watched her mother’s face cloud over and the emotion break as she read the words like a starving woman just handed bread. Sharon looked up with tears streaking her face. “She sounds like a kind woman. I’m so glad his mother is a kind woman.”
That was a good sign, thought Dixie, her mom wasn’t mad. “She does sound like a kind woman,” Dixie said, “and it sounds like Kyle is happy.”
“Yes, it does.” Sharon reached for a napkin in a basket at the end of the table and wiped her nose and eyes. “Maybe I shouldn’t disturb things if he’s so happy. Maybe we should just leave them alone.” She looked into her daughter’s eyes. “It means a lot just to know he has a family who loves him and that his life is good.” She reached for her daughter’s hand and squeezed it. “Thank you for that, Dixie.”
“You’re welcome, I’m glad you’re not mad.” The relief lifted Dixie’s heart and made her feel bold. “I felt like I needed to know for myself as well. I don’t think, though, if he is happy and loves his family, that meeting us would hurt, if anything it’s more people to love him. It’s worth thinking about. If you want I can give you Mrs. Williams address and you can write to her.”
“Your dad and I will talk about it. You know your brother hasn’t handled the news as well as you did. We may need to give him some time to come around.” Sharon had told Daniel her story not long after Kenny’s funeral. He had said very little in response, but had been brusque and distant since.