A couple of peaceful days had passed since the previous Sunday’s altercation. School was going well, and Dixie felt at home among the staff and students. Teaching with Ms. Bushnell was a real pleasure. Dixie had found in the music teacher a kindred spirit. Life felt good.
On Wednesday the thick humidity broke, and the air held a delicious hint of fall. Summer had grown old and tattered. The trees were just beginning to surrender their leaves. After school Dixie hopped in her old truck and headed out to the river. She wanted to call Kenny, but didn’t want to risk being overheard at home. The fallout wasn’t something she felt like dealing with today. No doubt she would deal with it, but she would avoid it as long as possible.
Old Man River called her, and the fresh air was a balm. She pulled up to the sprawling oak on the river bank where she and Kenny had last spoken. Settling herself between the tree’s roots, she dialed the number Kenny had given her. Butterflies danced in her stomach.
One ring. Two rings. “Hello?” Kenny’s voice twanged in her ear.
“Hi Kenny. It’s me, Dixie,” she said. “I was just calling to check on you, to see if you were settling in okay at your friend’s house.”
His voice sounded pleased on the other end. “Thanks, Dixie. Yes, I’m doing fine. I still need to find a job, but I like living here. My dad hasn’t bothered me at all. He may not a’ been sober enough yet to notice I’m gone. But he’s left me alone either way. ”
“Good Kenny. I’m glad to hear it.”
Awkward silence filled the air.
“Are you feeling better than the last time we spoke?” Dixie ventured.
There was a long pause before Kenny softly responded. “Dixie, I’m still a gay kid whose Daddy doesn’t want him and whose Mamma is gone. Honestly, I’m a little depressed. I’m thankful my friend is lettin’ me stay here, but I’d rather have a family of my own.”
“I know Kenny, I’m sorry.” Dixie took a deep breath and collected her thoughts for a moment. “Kenny, would you like to come to church with me on Sunday?” Then, before she lost all nerve she added, “and why don’t you come have lunch with our family after?”
“I’d like that, Dixie. I enjoyed dinner at your house the other day. What time does church start?”
“It starts at 10:00. I’ll come pick you up by 9:45, okay?”
“That sounds good. Thank you for thinking of me, Dixie. You didn’t have to.”
“I’m glad to Kenny. See ya Sunday.”
Dixie sat with the cool breeze on her face, her heart pounding and mind spinning. What had she just done?
“The right thing,” her heart answered.
It was the right thing. But in the process she had defied her mother, and she would pay for it. Why was her mother so unfeeling to this sad young man? How could she help her see he wasn’t a threat but just someone needing to be cared for? Dixie hoped her Dad would understand and support her decision.
She sat by the river for a long while. Her untamed head rested on the enduring strength of the oak. The secrets of the river bubbled up in song and washed over her, through her. How many years had Old Man River sung his murky music? Mockingbirds scolded and copied in the branches overhead. A comical groundhog waddled along the bank. Her heart settled. Her mind stilled.
“God,” she whispered, “what do you think about all this?”
No lightning or voice answered. Just the ever moving river, always changing, always constant. That was life, wasn’t it? Changing and constant.
For better or worse Dixie would bring with her two very unique people to church on Sunday. She didn’t see how she could do otherwise. The religion of her youth was crumbling in the face of humanity’s very real need. Her heart insisted she choose compassion over expectation, or was it the Spirit. She knew her heart was fickle, but God’s was not.
Perhaps she should have warned her parents. Instead, Dixie slipped out Sunday morning while her mother was still in her bedroom. Her dad had already left for church. She headed for Gabriel’s house first. She had checked with his parents during the week to make sure it was okay to pick him up. They were pleased Dixie wanted to take him to church and spoke of a visit themselves in the future.
Dixie knocked on the dark green front door and waited. Lindsey, Gabriel’s petite mother, opened the door. Her blue eyes, so like her son’s, smiled up at Dixie. “Miss Dixie, come in. Gabriel is so excited to go with you this morning. Thank you for thinking of him.”
“It’s my pleasure. Gabriel is a special young man,” Dixie said, “as I’m sure you know!”
They walked together to the front room where Gabriel’s father, Paul, was helping him put on his jacket.
“Good morning, Miss Lee!” The little boy called cheerfully.
“Hey buddy! You ready?”
Gabriel’s soft blonde hair was combed neat as a pin. His little button-up shirt matched his eyes. His parents helped him up, and they started to the door. As his dad lifted and settled him into Dixie’s truck, his mother spoke to Dixie. “If the service isn’t long Gabriel shouldn’t need to use the restroom. But if he does, and there is no handicap stall, he will need assistance. I still take him to the ladies room if he needs help.” Her eyes held the worry of a mother reluctant to trust her son to new circumstances.
“No worries.” Dixie placed her hand on Lindsey’s shoulder. “We’ll be just fine.”
His mom had already gone over the basics with Dixie on the phone earlier that week. It wasn’t Gabriel Dixie was worried about.
By the time they had loaded Gabriel in, it was later than Dixie would have liked. Gabriel waved to his parents as they pulled away. She headed down the road to pick up Kenny. By the time she swung into the gravel drive it was past 9:50. It had taken longer to load up Gabriel than she expected.
Kenny was by the front door waiting for her. He waved and trotted briskly to the truck. He opened the door and paused as he saw Gabriel sitting in the front seat by Dixie.
“Kenny this is my friend Gabriel, he’s joining us this morning.”
Kenny stuck out his hand, which Gabriel shyly took. “Hey, it’s nice to meet you Gabriel.” Then he slid up on the seat and slammed the door.
Looking at Dixie, Kenny observed. “We’re an interesting crew aren’t we?”
She chuckled. “I suppose we are.”
Turning to Gabriel, Kenny asked, “How old are ya Gabriel?”
“So, how’d Dixie get you to go to church with her?”
“She asked me to go, and I wanted to. She’s nice.” replied the little boy, smiling.
“She is nice, buddy.”