Dixie retreated from Angela’s home as quickly as she could. Sliding behind the wheel of her truck, she rested her head on the steering wheel, blinking back hot tears and breathing past the lump in her throat.
Her perception of life, people, and church was unraveling. How many years had it been since she’d first met Angela? In all that time she had never questioned what it felt like to walk in her shoes.
She heard a soft tap on her window and looked up. There stood Mrs. Murphy. Compassion crinkled the edges of her eyes. Dixie rolled down the window. Mrs. Murphy reached her hand in and rested it on Dixie’s arm.
“Don’t you fret baby girl. Open minded people don’t have an agenda. Goodness knows I’ve met precious few of those in my life. But it’s hard to be different from what you know.” She must have overheard Dixie’s conversation with Angela. Not that Dixie minded. “Just keep your mind, heart, and ears open, and you’ll be okay.”
An agenda? Did she have an agenda for Kenny? Did the church have an agenda to attract or repel certain people? She didn’t have the answers to those questions. But a sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach told her she needed to ask them.
“Yes ma’am. Thank you,” Dixie said. Mrs. Murphy squeezed her arm, smiled, and turned to go in.
Rolling up the window, Dixie started the old truck. Heaving a sigh, she backed from her friend’s driveway. Now she had more questions than she’d started with, and she didn’t feel any better at all. The thought flickered through her mind, “What must God think of these things?” She didn’t know. Not really.
She did not call Kenny or see him again that weekend. And yet he was the shadow that stalked her, never far from her mind. On Sunday she sat in the second pew on the left, beside her mother. She greeted the same smiling ladies, older gentlemen, freckled children she did every Sunday. On this day, her eyes were different. She felt as though she were looking through someone else’s eyes. Everyone was so very… white, and clean, and well dressed. She had never noticed before how much alike they all were.
Where did everyone else in town go to church? Or did they?
She was quiet at lunch. Her mother chattered about the upcoming ladies tea, hosting Glenda Sue’s baby shower, and a variety of other niceties. Her father nodded and responded when appropriate. Dixie’s brother Daniel and his wife Muriel were polite and attentive. But Dixie was distracted, lost in her own musings as the conversation swirled around her.
“You aren’t still stewing about that boy are you, Dixie?” Dixie’s eyes snapped to her mother’s face. She hadn’t realized she was being spoken to. “We won’t speak any more of the incident. There is no need to fret about it, dear.” Her mother was trying to reassure her.
“What boy?” her brother asked. He cast a curious look between them.
Oh, great, Dixie thought to herself. That’s just what she needed, a family discussion at the dinner table about her “indiscretion.” Daniel was the golden boy. Four years her senior, a young lawyer with a new baby and lovely wife. He was heady on the good things of life. Despite his glowing reputation and paternal attitude, he and Dixie had a pleasant relationship. Lately though, he was beginning to annoy her with his self assured, successful posture.
“Dixie brought home a hitchhiker to dinner the other night. A young gay man, of all things.”
“Seriously, Dixie?” She could hear the surprise and derision in Daniel’s tone.
Her father cleared his throat. “I’m not sure it was as sordid as all that,” he interjected. “I understand Dixie thought she was approaching a young woman on the road when she stopped, and found herself caught up in an unusual situation. It was just kindness she was trying to show.”
Dixie’s eyes met her dad’s and softened. A knowing, warm look passed between them. She was thankful for his confidence in her.
Her mother refused to let go. “Perhaps so, Richard, but I hardly think it was necessary to bring him home to dinner.” She turned to her daughter. “And ever since, you’ve been quite sullen, Dixie. I hope you aren’t fretting over the matter, that’s all, dear.”
“I wasn’t thinking about Kenny just now, Mother. I was thinking about other things. At the moment I was wondering why no black people attend our church.” Her words dripped acid.
The room fell silent. Sweet Muriel cleared her throat. “I need to check on baby Jackson.”
Her dark hair swung across her face as she bent to get up from the table. As her slim figure disappeared from the dining room, Dixie felt a pang of guilt. She could imagine how uncomfortable Muriel must feel.
“What on earth…” Her mother began to probe, but her father stopped her.
“I think that’s quite enough, Sharon. Let’s save this conversation for another time.”
“No, I think…” her mother began again, but this time Dixie put an end to the discussion.
“I’ve lost my appetite,” she said standing. “Excuse me. I’m really finished with this conversation.” Dixie stalked from the room. Her red hair flashing a warning sign to anyone who might attempt to follow.
Upstairs she sank to her bed. Sighing she slipped off her heels, and stretched out her legs. Tomorrow was the beginning of a fresh week. She was looking forward to getting back to school and working with the students. It would be a good distraction from the rising tension at home.
The next afternoon found Dixie perched on the edge of a picnic table under a sprawling oak, observing the antics of a couple dozen third graders during recess. Beside her, balanced on the bench, sat Gabriel. His hands rested on the tops of his crutches. Wide, blue eyes took in the movements of his peers. Dixie was keeping him company as he rested from the exertion of trying to keep up. She cast a sidelong glance at the little boy. His face was intent on the fun his classmates were having. His soft mouth curved with pleasure in his small, pale face.
“What are you thinking Gabriel?” Dixie heard herself ask.
He turned expressive eyes on her and blinked solemnly for a moment. “I was thinking I’m glad to see other people who are healthy. It makes me happy seeing kids enjoying running around in the sun.”
Dixie’s eyes widened in surprise. “You are? It doesn’t make you feel jealous to see other kids enjoying something you can’t?”
The little boy turned back for a moment and watched the motion and color of bodies speeding by. “No. Why should I resent something someone else is enjoying? If everyone else had a disability, it wouldn’t make me feel better and I would miss out on watching their fun.”
“Well, I must say, Gabriel, that’s a pretty mature attitude. A lot of adults could do with a dose of your wisdom. Where do thoughts like that come from?”
“I guess my parents. They started teaching me when I was little that God has a purpose for my life, and if I fought him because I thought it was unfair, I might miss it.” His eyes were sincere. “I wouldn’t want to miss something as important as that.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” she whispered. Tears stung the back of Dixie’s eyes. Gabriel may not have been her son but her heart burst with pride for the little fellow. She couldn’t imagine how proud his mother must be of him.
“Where does your family go to church, Gabriel?”
“We don’t go very often, mostly just at Christmas when my grandparents visit,” he answered.
“Oh, I’m surprised, I would have thought with that kind of faith you would attend church.” Her response felt lame.
“Well,” said Gabriel. “I’d like to. And I think my mom and dad would as well.” His answer was slow and thoughtful. “But it’s challenging for me to get around at most churches and I know by the end of the week my parents are already tired. They’ve had to bring me to school all week and take care of my little sister and brother, too. I remember one Sunday school I went to when I was six told my mom it would be best if I stayed with her in big church because they didn’t have enough space and helpers for me. I remember that upset my mom so much she didn’t want to go back to church for a long time.” His voice trailed off and his eyes wandered back to the children playing.
“Oh, Gabriel, I’m so sorry. That must have been very disappointing.” What could she say to such an injustice? She reflected on his answer as they sat watching the antics before them. Laura Parson’s yell startled them from their thoughts, as she tripped and fell, hitting her head. Dixie jumped up and ran to check on the little girl. After a bit of inspection and consoling, it was determined she would live. Laura was back up as fast as she’d gone down, and joined the fray.
Dixie ambled back to her spot beside Gabriel. She smiled and sat beside him again. She liked his easy companionship and sincerity.
“Miss Lee.” he turned his solemn eyes on her. “You shouldn’t feel too bad that my family doesn’t go to church. We worship Jesus every Sunday at home. I think he understands.” His blonde hair ruffled in the cool breeze. The green and gold jacket stuck out at angles on his frame. She studied him for a minute, thinking.
“Gabriel, I think He understands your heart completely. But I’m afraid He may not understand the churches’. When Jesus commanded His disciples in the book of Matthew to let the little children come to Him, I’m pretty sure He meant all children.” She paused. “Will you come to church with me this Sunday, Gabriel? I would be happy to pick you up and bring you. Your parents are welcome as well, of course. But either way I’d like to come get you and take you with me as my friend.”
His china eyes twinkled, spilling sunlight. “Miss Lee, it would be my pleasure,” He drawled with a smile.
Dixie threw back her head and laughed. Tousling his hair she smiled. “Well, I look forward to it. I’ll pick you up at 9:30. Now let’s get these hooligans rounded up and back into class.”