The house was quiet when Dixie walked back in later that afternoon. She expected her mother to be ready and waiting to face her down, but she wasn’t. Her brother and dad were in the den. Daniel called to her as she headed to the stairs.
Standing as she walked into the room he met Dixie head-on. The siblings faced off, green eyes flashing.
“Dixie, what are you thinking, girl?” Hands on his hips, her older brother looked like a smaller version of their dad.
In an instant she bristled. “What are you talking about?” Her delicate chin jutted forward, lips drawn in a firm line. She loved her big brother but she wasn’t about to be parented by him.
“You know what I’m talking about. Why did you bring that, that queer to our house. You are a respectable young lady. Think of Mama and Daddy. Think of your reputation.”
“Kenny is my friend. If Mother and Daddy have a problem with him coming over they can speak to me about it, this isn’t your house.” Her response was childish and she knew it. She turned to face her father who had his hands folded in his lap, one leg crossed over the other, his head resting against the high back of his chair. His eyes were solemn, his brow furrowed.
“Dixie, what are you trying to accomplish, honey, by bringing that young man here?” Her father asked. “I understand your tender heart, but you’ve upset the whole family.”
“Are you upset, Daddy?” Dixie asked, feeling bold.
“Not upset, myself, no. But your Mother and Daniel certainly are.”
“But why?” She turned back to her brother. “Why be upset by someone coming to church and dinner? Just because he’s a stranger, a little different? It’s not like we haven’t ever seen a sinner before is it? That’s kinda the point of church from my understanding.” She shot the words out like she was firing a cannon aimed at their hearts.
“Dixie you don’t know what you’re getting into.” Her brother annoyed her with his overprotective tone.
“No, I don’t think you do. I’m not backing down.” Her chin jutted. “Kenny cared about what you all thought of him. Daddy,” she turned her eyes back on the man she adored, “he respects you. You could influence him in a positive way. He doesn’t have a dad.” She could see the lines around his green eyes soften in thought. She had struck a nerve. He loved encouraging people.
“Honey, truly, your compassion is commendable.” He came to stand beside her and rest a gentle hand on her shoulder. “But you may be asking too much of people all at once. They aren’t used to seeing a young man like Kenny in church.”
“More’s the pity, Daddy. They should be seeing people like Kenny sitting beside them. Mr. McAllister didn’t seem to have a problem with him.”
“Joe? No, I wouldn’t expect he did.”
“Why? Why would he not have a problem with Kenny?” Her heart quickened. Maybe this would be the answer.
“Dixie, you should go ask him that question yourself,” he said. His answer soft.
Daniel sighed. “Dad, are you not going to tell her to stay away from that boy? What will people think if she hangs around him?”
Her eyes flashed fire and she spit out, “Do I look like I care what people think, Daniel Lee?”
Her dad pulled her to him and hugged her tight. “Calm down darlin’ no need to bite your brother’s head off.” Looking at Daniel he said, “Our family is going to have to agree to disagree, there is no need to fight each other in this matter. We need to find a way to get along, not tear each other up.” And then to Dixie. “You need to respect the feelings of your Mother and brother in this matter, Dixie. Tread softly. I know you care about what happens to this young man, but you need to care about the feelings of your family as well.”
He had a point, Dixie conceded. Of course she wouldn’t admit that out loud. She was too mad. She felt like a runaway freight train on a collision course. There was no stopping, no turning back.
Daniel looked at her with a mixture of hurt and aggravation. “I’m going to see how Muriel’s doing with the baby. We need to get going.” Dixie watched as he stalked from the room.
Her father pulled her away and held her at arm’s length. “Dixie, go talk to Mr. McAllister this week. Joe has a kind heart and wisdom that may help you. Maybe he could invest in Kenny. And cut everyone else some slack. Your brother is just worried about you. He cares for you, regardless of what you may think.”
“So, you’re not telling me never to see Kenny again? That he can’t come to church?”
“I don’t think I could bring myself to say anyone is unwelcome at church. And I know you too well to forbid you from seeing Kenny. Besides, you’re an adult. I have to trust that your Mother and I raised you to understand what’s right and that you’ll act on it. I hope you’ll be cautious and think through your interaction with him. And I’d be glad to see you involve someone like Joe McAllister in befriending him.”
“What about you, Daddy? Kenny likes you. Why can’t you invest in him?”
“Dixie, I’m not sure you understand the implications for our church. There will be men on the board questioning me as it is. They will question my position on homosexuality for sure. If I spend time with Kenny they might think I condone his behavior.”
“Dad, that’s ridiculous! If you spend time encouraging a person going through a divorce or an alcoholic they wouldn’t think you condone those actions. Just that you care about people. Besides, why do we think it’s our job to condone or condemn anyone. What is it about homosexuality that freaks people out? He’s just a person. Don’t you see a person when you look at him?”
“A person with fingernail polish and eyeliner.” He chuckled softly. “Dixie, you are the most headstrong person I know. Can you not see how far outside of their comfort zone you’re asking people to go?”
“I guess so.” She tossed her head. “I just don’t see why we wouldn’t want to for another person’s well being. He has a heart, Daddy, and it’s hurting. Why wouldn’t we want to meet him there? Did Jesus not meet every one of us in our most unpleasant places? Sometimes I look at our pretty, dressed up church and I wonder if we’ve forgotten what we were.”
Her dad looked at her with a strange expression. He didn’t say anything for a moment. Then he pulled her into a tight hug. “You’re somethin’ girl, you are somethin’. Now go on and settle down. Take your mind of off Kenny for a while.”
She kissed his cheek and smiled. “Okay, Daddy.”
On her way up the stairs she passed Daniel and Muriel coming down. She stroked her fuzzy headed little nephew and said goodbye to her brother.
Muriel put a gentle hand on her arm as they passed and smiled with her customary tenderness. “Be patient, Dix.”
She patted Muriel’s hand and smiled back. She wasn’t very good at being patient. Sighing, she headed to her room. Pumpkin was waiting for her, stretched out luxuriously, as only a cat can, across her bed.
Dixie shut the door. Sitting beside Pumpkin she sighed again. Her furry friend stretched, showing her his cream colored belly, yawned and greeted her with a soft meow. “Hello, little muffin,” she cooed, scratching his belly. Stress melted like butter with Pumpkin around.
A soft tap broke the silence. Dixie involuntarily sighed again; she had to stop doing that. “Come in.”
The door opened just enough for her mother to be seen. “May I come in?”
Dixie nodded, unsure if she could keep the edge out of her voice.
Her mother came in and stood by her dresser. “Dixie, why do you insist on bringing that young man here against our wishes?” Her voice was soft and pleading.
Dixie remembered her father’s words; “you need to respect the feelings of your Mother and brother.”
“I’m sorry Mother, I just thought we could make a difference to him. He’s lonely and he seemed to like our family. He doesn’t have a family anymore. Don’t worry, I won’t bring him back.”
“I hope you realize now what a mistake it was to give him a ride and befriend him.” Her mother seemed insistent on driving her point home.
Dixie flared. “No Mother, I don’t. I didn’t say I was going to stop being his friend. I just said I wouldn’t bring him back here.”
“Dixie, dear,” her mother measured her words, “please consider what being friends with a person like that young man will mean to you in this community. Will mean to us. I think it will cost you more than you realize.”
“Mother,” Dixie felt weary, “can’t we just let this go. I know how you feel about it, and you know what I think. We’re not going to see eye to eye and I’m too tired to argue right now.”
“I’m worried about you Dixie, that’s all. I don’t think you’ve thought through this carefully. You’re impetuous and headstrong.”
“And I don’t think you have taken time to see things from Kenny’s point of view. How would you feel if you had been abandoned by your family?”
“What do you expect his parents to do Dixie? Good, moral folks with a son, a son, like that.” She fairly spat the words.
Dixie looked at her shocked, she didn’t bother to correct her mother’s misconception of Kenny’s family. “Mother! You’re not saying that you would do the same? You wouldn’t kick me out of the house if I said I was gay would you?”
She saw emotions she couldn’t read flicker across her mother’s eyes. Her mother said in low, resolved tones, “I certainly would.”
Dixie’s head spun. “Seriously? I don’t even know what to say to you. I can’t imagine being so cold. You must have a heart of ice, Mother.” She swallowed the lump in her throat. “Please, leave me alone.”
She saw hurt wash over her mother’s face. Why couldn’t they just get along? Why were they always at odds?
Her mother’s mouth moved as if she wanted to say something. Instead she slipped out of the room without a word, and shut the door behind her.
Dixie curled up next to Pumpkin on the bed, hot tears slipping down her cheeks.