Part 1- A Retrospective and Review

Part 1- A Retrospective and Review


In the beginning, there was no Ely. There was no Rev. Daniels, no Mama, no Elizabeth, no Frank. Andre was a white guy that didn’t die in a car wreck. Dakotah, however, has not changed much since the inspiration hit.

I’ve always had a creative writing streak. If I ever finish this project, I may dig up and finish the sci-fi novel I started when I was 18. From my earliest days at WU, I’ve had opportunities to stretch my creative writing legs, mainly through the EarnestP blog.

From childhood, my heroes have always been losers.(Is that a song title? LOL) Charlie Brown, The Sad Sack, Opus the Penguin, and so on. In fall 2013, a random link on Bogon’s blog led me to the webcomic Megatokyo. The struggles of Piro, one of the main characters, struck a nerve inside of me. It took a couple of nights(most of my writing is done during night shifts) to figure out what I wanted to do. I decided to write a story about a certain loser, and his trials and tribulations. This was in November, 2013.


Beginning Concepts and Names

Piro was the rough sketch from which Dakotah sprang forth, though only the hair is somewhat similar. In retrospect, physically Dakotah is a cross between myself, and my best friend from high school. Dak is actually the heavyweight of us, at 140lbs., and at six feet even, is halfway between me(6’2”) and mi amigo.

Although it has been implied throughout Part 1, an unwritten backstory on Dak(I may use this as filler in a future chapter) is that he grew up alone, and mistrustful of everyone(He sort of stated this to Vanessa, but never went into detail). If anyone is wondering, I myself trusted everyone, and was quite gullible, to my downfall! :’ )

The name of Dakotah was decided on very early in the process; to me, it’s a masculine name “softened” by adding the “h”, as an attempt by Sylvia to give him a “special” name. Lennon came from John Lennon; a Google search reveals that he lived at the Dakota Hotel in NYC until being killed outside of it in 1980. (A Google search of Dakotah Lennon results in Raca Baka being mentioned on page 4) :’ )

The story took to three distinct and separate parts pretty early in the process, as well as the climax(You all will have to wait 5-6 years to find out, at this pace) In the beginning, Dak had issues with his father, who left home while Dak was a senior in high school. The Andre character was not Andre as we know him; I never named him, but he was a white guy. The original concept had Dak having a falling out with his friend when he accidentally found him in bed with another guy.

Originally, there wasn’t a religious aspect to the story. Dak’s evangelical roots appeared after Elizabeth was added. Elizabeth and Mama were partially modeled after my grandmother, but both of them are far more vocal and opinionated than she ever was. I wanted the matriarchs strong in character, and self-sufficient, even Grandma Parker, who ran her own Mary Kay business.

I did not want this to be a religious story, although there’s a lot of religion in it. Religion was used as a way to flesh out the characters, and through New Hope, Ely, Rev. Daniels, and Mama, a way to teach Dak a new way of thinking.


Why Michigan and Kentucky, starting in 2007?

I think the Great Recession is still fresh in everyone’s minds, and Michigan was one of the hardest hit areas. As for Kentucky, well, it’s where I live, though Pig Lick Isn’t anywhere near Lewisport. I wanted to eliminate any chance of Dak holding on to his life in Michigan, and no chance for any decent work was one of the main drivers.


As a matter of fact, I absolutely made sure that Dak had no real ties to his home. With the deaths of Andre and Elizabeth, his rejection by Ely, lack of good job prospects, his eviction by Frank, the estrangement of Grandma Parker, and the burning of Elizabeth’s house, I made sure(Cold hearted, ain’t I?  :’ )) Dak had nothing to cling to. Even so, it took the convincing by the Final Boss(Mama) to convince him to go.




Andre is easily the most enigmatic character in Part 1, and it wasn’t intentional. As I said before, he was originally white. I cannot recall why I changed him to an African-American, though. I’m glad I did, because Mama is one of my favorite characters.


However, his homosexuality was a constant. After adding on to his character in later chapters, he became a walking contradiction. Here was a vibrant, outgoing young man, a pillar at New Hope, popular at school, accepted to attend a prestigious seminary, yet he was firmly ensconced in the closet, so much so that it was unknown if anyone outside of Ely(and apparently Tim, for reasons unknown. Perhaps Tim was in the closet, too?) knew of his orientation. Also curious is that he didn’t plug New Hope harder than he did. True, Dak went to a conservative Baptist church, but the least that Andre could’ve done was to tell Dak all the fun he had at New Hope.  This brings us to the real reason he was killed off……



After a bit of inspiration, I realized that a true love interest would make for a better story than having Dak finding his best friend in bed with another guy.

From the get go, I wanted someone who was quiet around school, easily overlooked if one wasn’t paying attention, but dynamic and full of life once she got away from school. Someone Dak could fall for. The early chapters had her a bit of a flirt, which I explained later as her testing him, to see if he could be trusted.(Bad call there on her part!) This, of course, backfired when Dak fell hard for her.

As I’ll explain later, anime was an influence in the writing of this. Her look was taken from a show I was watching at the time, Clannad. I simply added deep blue eyes and thick glasses to Nagisa Furukawa. furukawa_nagisa

I even referenced it as a way that Hannah and her first met.

Is she is, or is she ain’t? I myself believe that sexual orientation can come from different paths. One can be born heterosexual or homosexual(or bisexual, for that matter), or a person can enter a relationship with someone of the same sex or different sex because they love that person. It remains to be seen which path Ely comes from. Obviously, her relationship with Dak complicates things!


Sylvia and Frank

As for these two, I think most of us have seen a couple where the lady of the house, for whatever reason, is keeping up a lazy bum. Sylvia, as Elizabeth explained early on, is one that would stick with a bad known, than risk an unknown future. At one level, she does at least contribute to the family, but her lack of resolve into putting Frank in his place cripples the entire household.

Frank is probably the most one dimensional person in the whole story. I actually patterned him after a coworker here, though the Frank here at work is more profane, lol! He did what he did because he could get away with it; Sylvia actually had a say, if she pressed the issue, but she didn’t, since she’s so weak of character.


Louise and Ralph

In stark contrast to Sylvia and Frank, are the Kentuckians. Both Louise and Ralph are strong of character, and they complement each other, though for the most part it’s Louise that wears the pants. I wrote these two as foils to both Frank and Sylvia, and a means for Dak to leave Michigan. They are two type A personalities that won’t take crap from anyone, particularly Frank and Sylvia. One thing is certain, though; their love and concern for Dak is obvious throughout Part 1, unlike the people tasked with raising him.


Dak’s paternal grandmother, and her home, was a needed refuge for Dak throughout the story. Another one of the strong matriarchs, she was compelled to give Dak direction and a stable environment. In a way, she needed Dak as much as he needed her, as he filled a hole in her heart that was vacated by her husband’s passing, and by Darren’s leaving.

One of the curiosities was her decision not to get treated for her condition(probably high blood pressure). You’d think she would want to try to be treated, if nothing more than for Dak’s sake. Whether it was a gross underestimation of the seriousness of her condition, or just fatigue of living, it was an egregious error of judgment on her part. Of course, can any of us say that we’ve done better?

Rev. Daniels

I’m sure very few pastors like RD exist; I simply came up with the concept of “If I had an ideal pastor, what would he be like?”. RD is that guy. I don’t mean perfect, either, I meant ideal, at least to me. Someone that is wise, intelligent, compassionate, worldly, yet won’t compromise his core beliefs, or his faith. An excellent example is his relationship with Ely. He’s laid back enough to give her plenty of space to make her own decisions, but quickly called her out when he found out she hadn’t been straight with him about her relationship with Hannah.



Mama may be my favorite character in Part 1. Tireless, giving boundless love, yet tougher than nails when she has to be, she is the glue that holds New Hope together, and the matriarch of a successful family. Asking everyone if they were hungry was something my grandmother always did, and I guess this part of Mama is a homage to her.

She was loving, but if you didn’t do your best, you would hear it from her too, as evidenced by the chewing out the girls received while preparing Christmas dinner. The fact that all of her living kids became successful  is a tribute to her perseverance and holding them to her high standards.



Almost the exact opposite of Mama was Darren. A monster created by his folks’ lack of vision, he was only interested in his own well-being, to the detriment of Sylvia and Dak. I did flesh him out a bit in Ch#14, so that he wasn’t a Frank level jerk, but he wasn’t, for the most part, a good person. The fact that Dak stood up to him was an indicator of Dak’s growth. What will happen to him? Who knows?



Good girl/bad girl: these two weren’t conceptualized until I started writing CH#9. I realized that throwing these two girls into the mix had the potential of turning the story into a harem, so I carefully made sure that the relationships, and their reactions to each other, were legitimate, and real.

Van was the prototypical Good Pretty Girl Next Door; moral, hardworking, ect., who just wanted a relationship with a guy who was the same. Becky was a social climber that liked to use people, who, after meeting Dak, decided that(at least temporarily; I’ve known a lot of people like this) that maybe a real relationship with a good person is not a bad thing. I’m not sure if the brouhaha at the church in CH#11 detracted from the overall story or not, but it was good if for no other reason than to have Ely assess her true feelings toward Dak, and I think it did the same for Dak towards Ely, too.



Believe it or not, Hannah is loosely based on my wife’s ex! Controlling, distrustful, also a bully to others, she made an indelible impression on Ely, nonetheless. Ely considers her at the very least a bridge to the world she wants to reside in, and at most a partner to experience all the cool stuff. As Ely said before, Hannah’s there for fun.



Jean Reynolds: Probably happy that Trump won.

Jeff and Rick: Homage to Jeff Masters and Ricky Rood; I wanted a couple of met students for Dak to meet at the Halloween party for inspiration, so why not them? :’ )

Tulio and friends: wanted to introduce people that was far outside Dak’s social circle(He didn’t actually have one at that time, but I digress), and have them be buds with Dak to show him that everyone wasn’t out to get him.

Grandma Parker: used to show that Sylvia(and Dak, by proxy) aren’t close. Mary Kay Commando.

Russell, Zeke, and Hector: Dak needed someone to look up to him outside of his inner circle, and who could be more honest than a bunch of kids?

Tim: probably a mistake to write him in during the funeral. I can see him bullying Dak at school, but protesting at Andre’s funeral is too over the top, IMO.

Dylan: just a preview for Part 2, where he’ll have a prominent role.

Officer Douglas: I needed a police officer to handle official stuff, and having a member of Dak’s old church as that guy was a plus.


Other Concepts and Themes


Teachers: sorta pandering to the WU readership, lol! Elizabeth, of course, was a retired teacher, and Mr. Williams represented what I thought was a good teacher. Mrs. Johnson, the guidance counselor, was a rip-off from the guidance counselor in my school. She wasn’t very good, either.


Anime and Japanese Culture as an Influence

This is one of the main themes running in both the background and in the forefront of the story. Here are some examples.

Chapter 3: Dragonball Z DVDs that Dak got for Christmas.

Ely: Virtually everything about her has some anime or Japanese influence, from her room decorations, to the circumstances under where she and Hannah met, to her career choice. A weeb’s weeb, if ever was one!

Here’s a self-assessment, taken from dialogue in Clannad:

“I’m also shy, withdrawn, and bad at making friends.”

There is also the Halloween party, where they all dressed up as characters from The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya.

Ely also compared the mess at the church Christmas party as “Bad Shoujo Manga.” I could go on and on…….


Changes and Omissions

There are bits to the story that I changed, and kept them to show here. The first was at the beginning of CH#2. It was actually part of CH#1 originally, but I cut it off early and posted it because I thought the chapter was getting too long! Little did I know….   :’ ) I also changed the style from Elizabeth reminiscing about the past, to her showing Dak the events through an old photo album. Here’s the original:

After what seemed an eternity, her doctor felt that it was time to the baby to be born, as he felt any further delay could harm both the baby and the mother. A C-section was scheduled, and three weeks before full term, Darren Keith Lennon was born. It was then her doctor decided another pregnancy would put her life at risk, and the original surgery was expanded to a complete hysterectomy. Only four pounds at birth, Darren was given twenty-four hour care while his mother recuperated from surgery.


Fortunately, a low birth weight was the only issue Darren had at birth, and after a couple of months, he had become a bouncing baby boy. Elizabeth had planned on going back to teaching in the fall, but she and Harold decided to delay her return until Darren started school. Their only child was to get only the best that they could give.


And their best was what Darren received from his parents. Some folks, their parents included, felt that they were spoiling their son, as he was lavished with presents, not only on his birthday and Christmas, but also for getting a good grade on a test, or cleaning his room. They wanted to make sure their boy had a happy life!


Another major rewrite occurred after CH#10:

“That’s okay, I don’t want Unk to risk getting into trouble. Ely said it was their loss, anyway.”

“Ellie, huh? Is she that girl you’re crazy about? I heard she’s seeing someone else.”

“Well, yeah, that’s true.” Dakotah said, uneasily.

“What’s wrong with you, anyway?” Louise said angrily, becoming much louder. “Has this girl completely sucked the brains right out of your head?”

Dakotah was shocked by her words and her attitude. ”W-why w-would  you say that? Ely’s a good person!”

“Really? Looks like to me she stringing you along, for some reason. Maybe to make her girlfriend jealous?”

“She’s not stringing me along.” Dakotah said, his feelings shifting from confusion to anger. “Ely cares about me a great deal! What did grandma tell you, anyway?”

“It doesn’t matter what she told me! Are you calling her a liar?”

“No, but she might’ve misunderstood what I said, and you might’ve misunderstood what she said!”

“Oh, okay, we’re stupid now? What part of you being gaga over some girl that has a relationship with another girl, but lets you spend hours and hours each week with her at her place, and on the phone, do I not understand? Not to mention the fact that you left a perfectly good Baptist church for some watered down so-called Christian church, where anything is just fine and dandy, as long as you say you love Jesus, and Jesus loves you?”

Dakotah slammed the cordless phone on the receiver, stormed out of the house, and sat down on the porch step, sobbing.

Elizabeth came out a few seconds later, angry. “Dakotah Lennon, what the hell has come over you? That was your aunt you hung up on!” she scolded.

“What did you tell her?” Dakotah bellowed. “All I got from her was an earful about Ely and New Hope!”

“You will address me with respect in my own house!” Elizabeth said, furious, poking her finger in Dakotah’s chest.

Dakotah stepped back, away from his grandmother. “Respect? I don’t know anything about respect, I guess.” he said sarcastically. “I respected my mother and stepfather, and they throw me out of the house! I tried to respect the girl I love, and she pushes me off on another girl! Before I even have a chance to talk to my aunt, a woman I respected, she bites my head off, and basically says the church I go to is crap! When are people going to start respecting me?”

“Do you think you’re going to going to get respect from your aunt by hanging up on her?”

“Aunt Lou jumped my case for staying involved with Ely, and leaving 3rd Baptist for New Hope.” Dakotah said, toning his voice just a little. “Obviously, you told her stuff, or she wouldn’t have said what she said.”

“Don’t you think your aunt has a right to know what happened?”

“Don’t you think I should have been the one to tell her details of my personal life, as much as it sucks?”

The color evaporated from Elizabeth’s face. “He’s right.” she thought to herself. She looked down, took a deep breath, and exhaled. “I apologize, Dakotah.” she said in a low tone, raising her head to look at him in the eyes. “It was not my place to discuss your personal business to others, even if it was family. I will say I do not approve of your choice to leave 3rd Baptist to go to New Hope.”

“First of all, I want to say I’m sorry for yelling at you earlier.” Dakotah said.

“That’s okay, I deserved it.” Elizabeth said, showing a slight smile. “Just don’t make a habit of it, okay?”

“I’ll do my best.” Dakotah replied, softening his stance by a hair. “With all due respect, I felt that I was wasting away at 3rd. There’s no one there my age. I learned a lot there, but I always felt out of place. At New Hope, I like to feel I’m starting to make a difference. They make me feel like I’m part of a church family. I never felt that way at 3rd.”

“Dakotah, I’ll be honest with you. I don’t condone the gay lifestyle, and I never will. It’s not supported biblically, anywhere. However, I like Ely a lot, and she’s welcome here, anytime. If anything, maybe someday she’ll wake up, and snatch you.”

Dakotah smiled. “You know I want that more than anything, grandma.”

“However, that little cutie in the blue car would be a nice catch, too. From what you said, she seems to have her head on her shoulders. She likes you, correct?”

“Yeah, I guess so. She’s really nice, but you know where my heart’s at.”

“Tread carefully; you don’t want to spend too much of your life chasing Ely, and hurting this other girl in the process.”

“The last thing I want to do is hurt Vanessa. It’s bad enough she has to haul me around like Ely did. I wish I could drive!”

“Hold that thought, Dak.” Elizabeth said in an upbeat tone as she walked out of the room. A moment later, she appeared with an envelope. “Here.”

“What is this?” Dakotah said, with a trace of nervousness. He opened the envelope to find fifteen one hundred dollar bills. “Grandma!” he shouted, confused. “Where the heck did this come from?”

“Your Aunt Louise has been sending them to me since Christmas.” Elizabeth said, simply. “The original plan was to buy you a car with it, but we decided that perhaps we can use some of it to buy extra insurance for my car so you can drive it, instead.”

Dakotah was stunned. “I-I guess I have a phone call to make. I was, anyway, you know.”

“I know.” Elizabeth said, smiling. “Here, let me dial it. I know the number.”

Elizabeth dialed the number and hander the handset to Dakotah. He wasn’t exactly sure what to say; the money that Louise sent him was beyond his comprehension, but what she said was uncalled for, too.

The phone rang twice, then a third time. Dakotah began to think no one was going to answer when the heard the line click.

“H-hello?” Dakotah said, hesitantly.

“Hey.” Said a male voice, in a drab monotone.

“Uh, is this the Jones’ residence?” Dakotah said, thinking it was a wrong number.

“Yep.” said the voice.

“Ah, is my Aunt Louise there? This is Dakotah, her nephew?”

“Yeah, just a sec.” said the voice, never changing pitch.

“Wonder who the heck that was?” Dakotah though, exhaling. He steeled himself to what he knew was an unpleasant conversation.

“Hello?” Louise said, very irritated.

“First of all , I want to say how very sorry I am for hanging up on you! It was very rude of me!” Dakotah said loudly.

“Oh, I guess Elizabeth told you about the money, and now you’re here to beg for forgiveness.” Louise said, snarkily.

“That’s true, she did tell me about the money.” Dakotah said, keeping his temper in check. “However, another reason I called is to ask for your home address.”

“Why do you want that?” Louise replied, slightly confused.

“Because I need to send your money back to you.” Dakotah said plainly.

“WHAT?” Louise shouted, trying to grasp what Dakotah was saying. “Have you lost your mind?”

“No.” Dakotah replied, trying to keep an even keel. ”Aunt Lou, I love you very much. What you and Unk did is awesome, and I am not worthy of it.”

“We love you too, Dak! But you are worthy of it! We want you to have a chance to get ahead in life!

“Oh, really? The way you was talking earlier, heck, I thought I was going to Hell.”

“Louise began to consider his words, and thought for a moment. “I’m sorry that I yelled at you like that, Dak. You’re a good, moral kid, but I’m not sure you’re following the right path now. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is an abomination, and if your friend says she’s gay, and her preacher father is okay with that, then I have issues with how that church is run.”

Dakotah paused. “I’ve thought, studied, and prayed on this for several months, and this is what I believe the Holy Spirit led me to. Why was Jesus brought here? Because God loves us. God’s love is absolute, and Holy. Any form of love that is genuine, and in God’s image, must also be Holy, even if it is between two people of the same sex. If a relationship is not built of this love, but rather of lust, then it’s adultery, and a sin, no matter if it is of a man and a woman, or the same sex. Besides, ‘Judge not, that ye be not judged.’” It’s not my place to be pointing fingers at folks for whatever reason, and telling them they’re going to Hell, or that they are an abomination. God’s wisdom is infinite; let Him figure out who goes where. Jesus tells us only to love our neighbor.”

   “I’m not asking you to change your mind on the subject, but I want you to understand how I feel.” Dakotah continued. ”If you cannot accept the church I go to, then I cannot accept your money.”

Dakotah could hear nothing over the phone receiver. For a moment, he thought perhaps they had been disconnected. “Aunt Lou?” he said, hesitantly.

“You ain’t the green little geek I met last Christmas.” Louise said, thoughtfully. “That kid would’ve never stood up to me like that.”

“I guess after all I’ve been through this year, I wasn’t going to allow anyone to force their views on me anymore.” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly. I’ve lost my best friend, fell in love, got dumped, and got thrown out of the house I grew up in for no good reason. I’ve had many people say I was worthless, lazy, and stupid, but I’ve also had people pick me up, and say that I’m special, too. I used to go to a church that ignored me. Now, I go to a church that embraces me, and trusts me enough to help them reach out to the neighborhood.”

“You can put me down on the list of people that say you’re special.” Louise said. “I’ll probably never be comfortable with the beliefs your church has, but I can’t deny your personal and spiritual growth. Will you forgive me for what I said earlier?”

“I already have.” Dakotah said, smiling broadly.

“Will you keep the money?”

“Sure! This is like the most awesome thing anyone has done for me! Thank you!”

Louise laughed. ”Well, don’t spend it all, okay?”

“Oh, no! Strictly business!” Dakotah laughed, but he was serious in his intention to do so.

“Well, you have my blessing to spend some on yourself, as long as you don’t do anything foolish.”

I could take Vanessa to a movie now, like she wanted.”

“Vanessa? I haven’t heard of her.”

“She’s from church. She’s very nice.”

“Is she cute? She doesn’t have a girlfriend, does she?”

“No!” Dakotah laughed. “She only has eyes for me, for some reason. And as for her looks, I think Unk would approve.”

“That ain’t saying a lot. When Ralph was in his single years, he didn’t cull much.”

Dakotah laughed. “Well, I guess I’d better go, and tell Grandma the good news!”

“Dak, you take care, and if you ever need a place to live, our door is always open. Not too many jobs here, but that’s better than none, like it is up there.”

“Thanks, Lou, but I’m pretty good up here. Love you, and thanks.”

“Love you too, sweetie. Take care of yourself.”


As you can see, Dak came on way too strong for my taste, at least at this time. Had to make him more meek! :’ )


Looking Ahead

Not going to give much on what’s coming up on Part 2, but I will say Dak won’t have it easy in Kentucky, either! I will assure everyone that no one will die, lol!


Hope you liked Part 1; I’ll keep trying to improve my craft as I go on, and hope this will become a story you will all enjoy! Thank you all for reading it!

Chapter 15

Chapter 15

February 3rd, 2009

“Hold on, hold on, dammit!” Ralph Jones grumbled as he stumbled to the phone. “If that’s a telemarketer callin’ me at 6 AM, I’ma gonna find that sunuvabitch, and shoot him!”

Taking a deep breath, Ralph picked up the handset. “Yeah!” he  barked into the receiver, irritated.

“Ah, is this the Jones residence?” Rev. Daniels asked, unsure.

“Yeah.” Ralph growled, ready to give whoever was on the other end of the line a piece of his mind. “Whattaya want?”

“Yes. Hello.” Rev. Daniels said, quickly gathering himself. “I’m Rev. Alan Daniels, Dakotah Lennon’s pastor.”

“Dakotah’s?” Ralph said, caught flatfooted.

“First of all, I want to assure you that Dakotah’s okay.” Rev. Daniels said, confidently.

“What’s wrong?” Ralph exclaimed, alarmed. “Something happen to him?”

“Yes.” Rev. Daniels replied, calmly. “The house he was staying in burned down last night.”

“Dammit!” Ralph shouted. “So he’s okay?”

“Yes, Mr. Jones. You-“

“Just call me Ralph, reverend.” Ralph interrupted.

“Ah, okay, Ralph it is.” Rev. Daniels said, pleasantly. “You probably know that he’s been staying at his grandmother’s house with his father.”

“Yeah, Louise is all tore up about it.” Ralph muttered. “What did that worthless pile of crap daddy of his do, blow up the house making meth?”

“No, nothing like that.” Rev. Daniels said, coolly. Their utilities were cut yesterday, and they were making do with a kerosene heater when there was an accident, and the house caught on fire.”

“Dak didn’t get burnt, did he?” Ralph said, becoming worried. “What were they thinking? That ain’t nuthin’ but stupid, right there!”

“Dakotah was checked in the hospital for smoke inhalation and carbon monoxide poisoning.” Rev. Daniels said, simply. “Doctors say he’ll be fine, and should be released later today.”

“Well, I’m glad it ain’t too bad.” Ralph said, exhaling. “I reckon the old hippie made it, too?”

“He has burns on him, but he’ll be okay.” Rev. Daniels replied. Dak saved his life, if you ask me.”

“God won’t take the worthless ones.” Ralph grumbled. “Where’s Dak going to stay now? At ya’lls place?”

“He’s going to stay with us, for the time being.” Rev. Daniels said, matter-of-factly. “Honestly, though, I wish he would take his aunt’s offer, and move down there.”

“Yeah, she’s been pretty upset about that.” Ralph agreed. “It’s not the easiest job, but she says it’s not that bad. Don’t he work for you part time, or something?”

“Yes. He’s sort of a part-time secretary,” Rev. Daniels said, pausing to take a sip of coffee. “but I’m having second thoughts. I thought that giving him a job would help him out a bit, and it’s true that his being there would help me get more accomplished outside of church. However, I now feel that keeping him here is holding him back from his true potential.”

“You say anything to him yet?” Ralph asked, curious.

“I threw a little hint at him the other day, and I could tell he didn’t want to hear that.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head. “He wants to stay here more than anything, mainly to be near my daughter, I’m afraid.”

“Dak’s not that type of kid, Reverend!” Ralph shouted, completely misunderstanding the dynamics of Dakotah and Ely’s relationship. “He’s green when it comes to girls, and he’s backward, too! I’d put money on your little girl being perfectly safe!”

“It’s not that I don’t trust Dak, but you probably know she’s seeing someone else, and she’s moving away to college in the fall.” Rev. Daniels said, reassuringly. “I’m afraid he’s going to be really hurt when all this goes down.”

“So what you’re saying is that it’s better for him to cut bait now than getting his heart stomped on later.” Ralph said, thinking.

“Yeah, something like that, I guess.” Rev. Daniels said, trying to decipher Ralph’s words.

“Reckon I can talk to him.” Ralph offered. “A little man-to-man might work.”

“Couldn’t hurt, I guess.” Rev. Daniels replied, wondering if Ralph didn’t classify him as a man. “He’s asleep at the moment, though. Maybe later?”

“That’d be a good idea.” Ralph agreed. “Ain’t promisin’ nothin’ though. Louise is a much better talker than I am.”

“You never can tell.” Rev. Daniels encouraged. “From the few conversations we’ve had about you, I could tell he respects you a lot.”

“Oh, yeah?” Ralph said, surprised. “That’s pretty cool, I reckon.”

“Do you have caller ID?” Rev. Daniels asked. “Just call my cell phone.”

“Yeah. I could do that.” Ralph replied, thinking. “In a few hours, you say?”

“He ought to be up by nine or ten, I’m guessing.” Rev. Daniels replied. “They probably won’t release him until this afternoon.”

“Around ten be pretty good, then?” Ralph asked.

“Yeah. Talk to you then.”

“Okay.” Ralph nodded. “Later.”

Rev. Daniels hung up, walked down the hall, and entered an elevator, pushing a four as he boarded. A moment later, he exited the elevator, and walked to the nurse’s station.

“Good morning.” Rev. Daniels said pleasantly to the first nurse that made eye contact. “How is Darren Lennon doing?”

“Let me see.” The nurse replied, looking at a chart. “He’s stable and sedated at the moment. Are you related?”

“No, I’m his son’s pastor.” Rev. Daniels answered. “He’s been admitted in room 227. I’m guessing you’ve heard about the fire last night?”

“Bits of it.” The nurse replied. “His son was a quick thinker, piling snow on him like that. Mr. Lennon was more than likely saved from multiple skin grafts, maybe even death.”

“That’s good to know.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “I’ll tell Dakotah  when he awakens. Thank you.”

Retracing his route, Rev. Daniels made his way back to room 227. He opened the door to see Dakotah sleeping peacefully. Curled in a chair next to the bed, dozing, was Ely. Rev. Daniels smiled, and covered her with a blanket.

“I think I’ll get myself another cup of coffee.” Rev. Daniels thought to himself, as he quietly slipped out of the room.


Dakotah slowly awoke from a deep sleep. His eyes still closed, the first thing he realized was his headache was finally gone. The second thing was there was familiar female chatter around him. Slowly opening his eyes and focusing, he verified that Vanessa was standing in front of him, and Ely was seated to his right. Vanessa noticed him awake, and smiled.

“There he is.” Vanessa said brightly. How do you feel?

“I-I think I’m okay.” Dakotah stuttered groggily.

“You scared me half to death!” Ely exclaimed, trying to keep her voice down. “I thought you were dead!”

“S-sorry.” Dakotah said, taken aback. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

“I knew I should’ve made you come home with me!” Ely continued, upset.

“I didn’t know my father would set the house and himself on fire.” Dakotah retorted, gathering himself. “How is he, by the way?”

“He’s okay.” Vanessa answered, professionally. “He has 1st degree burns over 15% of his body, and 2nd degree over a softball sized area on his abdomen. He’ll be in the hospital at least a couple of weeks, they say. They also say your quick thinking using snow to put out the flames and ice down the burn area probably saved his life.”

“Everything got burned up, didn’t it?” Dakotah lamented, already instinctively knowing the answer.

“Yeah, there’s nothing left.” Ely nodded.

Dakotah thought for a moment. “I guess all the clothes I have left are the ones I wore when I got here.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Ely said, calmly. “Dad’s on it.”

“Lost the Bible Grandma got me.” Dakotah said sadly. “Picture of me and Andre is gone, too.”

“Those can be replaced, too.” Ely said, reassuringly. “A preacher’s house is full of Bibles, and I can get a copy of you and Andre printed anytime.”

“I guess I’ll be staying with you now, huh?” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly.

“Looks like it.” Ely said, smiling slightly. “It’s going to be weird, though.”

“Hey, you two can get all snuggly, now that you’re in the same house!” Vanessa said, grinning.

Dakotah’s face turned beet red, but he knew better than to say anything.

“Oh, no, we’re not, either!” Ely protested. “My girlfriend is in Ann Arbor!”

“Please, that troll?” Vanessa snarked. “Honestly, I don’t know what you see in her. You and Dakotah act like an old married couple already, and you know he worships the ground you walk on. You love him, don’t you?”

“I do, but only as a friend.” Ely replied, irritated. I would do anything for him, but I’m committed to Hannah. And where you get this troll stuff anyway? It’s not like you know her, or anything!”

Dakotah remained silent, embarrassed by Vanessa’s words, and stung by Ely’s. He began to feel sorry for Ely.

“I won’t badger you on it anymore,” Vanessa said, softening her stance. “but I wish you’d wake up someday before he’s gone to Kentucky or somewhere, and it’s too late.”

“I’m not going to Kentucky.” Dakotah interjected. “I’m staying here, and I’m going to help make New Hope a church anyone would want to go to!”

“That’s good to hear, I guess.” Vanessa said, simply. “Glad you’re feeling better, Dakotah. I have to go back to work now. See you later.”

Dakotah and Ely watch Vanessa leave without responding.

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah said.

“Why are you sorry?” Ely asked, confused.

“That Van talked to you like that.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “She’s changed.”

“It’s okay.” Ely replied, pensively. “I’ve plenty of practice defining our relationship with you, Dad, and Hannah.”

“How long have you been here?” Dakotah asked, wanting to change the subject.

“Since three, I think?” Ely replied, unsure. “Seriously, I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared in my life!”

“Sorry.” Dakotah said, full of regret.

“Don’t be.” Ely countered. “It wasn’t your fault. Hey, you saved your dad, right? That makes you a hero, to me.”

“I don’t feel like a hero.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I feel exhausted.”

“Well, duh.” Ely said, smiling. “Look what you’ve been through in the past week. I’m exhausted, and all I did was watch you.”

“What time is it?” Dakotah asked, curious.

“The clock over your head says 8:30.” Ely replied. “Why?”

“Shouldn’t you be in school?” Dakotah smiled, shaking his head. “They’re going to think you’re truant, or something.”

“I’m good.” Ely said, laughing. “Probably just some Government homework I can catch up on later.”

Dakotah smiled warmly. “Thanks.”

“For what?”

“For being here.”

“Baka, that’s what friends are for, remember?” Ely said, smiling, as she hugged him.


“Feeling better?” the doctor asked, while perusing Dakotah’s charts.

“I did before eating what passes for breakfast around here.” Dakotah grumbled. “I think it was bacon and eggs.”

The doctor laughed. “Well the hospital food can’t be classified as fine cuisine, can it?”

Dakotah shook his head, chuckling.

“It looks like you had a mild case of carbon monoxide poisoning.” The doctor said, reading the chart. “I think you’re out of the woods now. Let’s see if I can get you out of here this afternoon.”

“Sounds good.” Dakotah said, relieved.

“Have a good day, and stay out of burning buildings, okay?” the doctor said, smiling. He leaned over and shook Dakotah’s hand before leaving.

Alone in the room, Dakotah rose, and checking his gown for gaps, searched the drawers for his clothes, but was unsuccessful. Suddenly, the door started to open, and Dakotah, panicking, jumped in bed, pulling the sheet over him.

“Scared that someone’s going to see your butt?” Rev. Daniels said, laughing. Ely followed her father inside, a step behind.

“Uh, yeah.” Dakotah muttered, embarrassed. “Where are the clothes I wore here?”

“The shirt was thrown out, because it was singed.” Rev. Daniels said, still smiling. “Mama has your pants, washing them, along with your new clothes.”

“New clothes? Dakotah asked, curious.

“Mama and I called around, looking for any clothes people wanted to donate, and we acquired a dozen shirts and a coat, plus money for pants, socks, and underwear.” Rev. Daniels replied.

“You’ll have a whole new wardrobe!” Ely said excitedly.

“Mama will be here later with going home clothes.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “ We’ve got a spot reserved for the rest in the spare bedroom.”

“Wow. Thank you!” Dakotah said, overwhelmed. “I don’t know what I’d do without you!”

“It’s not just us, Dak.” Rev. Daniels said, holding his hand up. “We had about 20 people donate clothes or money.”

“I’ll have to thank everyone Sunday.” Dakotah said, happily.

“Has your mom been by yet?” Ely asked.

“No. Did someone call her?” Dakotah said, puzzled.

“Dad did about seven.” Ely replied.

“I told her you were okay.” Rev. Daniels said. “She thanked me and hung up. No disrespect, but she is a strange woman.”

“No joke.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “Anyone call my aunt yet?”

“I spoke to your uncle earlier.” Rev. Daniels said.

“You spoke to Unk?” Dakotah exclaimed, surprised. “What did he say?”

“He said he was going to call my cell after you awoke.” Rev. Daniels said. “I told him to try around ten o’clock.”

Dakotah turned around to see the time showing on the clock.  “It’s almost ten now!” he said, excitedly.

“Yes, he should be calling at any time now.” Rev. Daniels agreed. Suddenly, his cell phone began to ring. “Ah, speak of the devil!” he said, looking at the screen. “Hello? Yes, he’s right here.” He handed the phone to Dakotah.

“Hello?” Dakotah said eagerly into the phone.

“How you doing, boy?” Ralph said, somberly.

“Doing okay.” Dakotah replied, matching his uncle’s tone.

“I tell you what, when I told your aunt what happened, she ‘bout crapped herself!” Ralph boomed.

“I didn’t mean to-“ Dakotah said, trying to apologize.

“Don’t worry, Dak, she always gets over it.” Ralph interrupted. Of course, I don’t tell her about the really bad stuff I see out on the road. If’n I did, she’d never let me out of house. I’ll reckon she’ll call you later and try to get you to come down here.”

“I know.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“Well, I wouldn’t worry about it.” Ralph said, calmly. “It ain’t like I’m gonna come up there and point my .45 at your head, and make you get your scrawny little butt in my truck, you know?”

“Uh, yeah.” Dakotah said, confused.

“You know, a man has a right to do what he thinks is best, don’t matter what some silly woman thinks, right?” Ralph said, derisively.

Ralph’s words made Dakotah think for a moment. “You know, you’re right.” he said, looking at Ely and smiling. Ely returned a puzzled look.

“I know I’m right.” Ralph said, forcefully. A man’s got a right to turn damn good money just to be near the girl he loves, even if’n she got someone else, and is going to leave town to be with that person, right?”

“W-Wait, what?”  Dakotah stuttered, dumbstruck.

“Hey, it ain’t no sweat off my ass.” Ralph said, nonchalantly. Remember, boy, this is America, where a man is free and has a fundamental right to be stupid!”

“Hey!” Dakotah snapped forcefully. “I’m not stupid!”

“How do you reckon you ain’t?” Ralph drawled.

“Uh, I don’t know.” Dakotah replied, struggling for an answer. “I know I’m doing the right thing, though.”

“What makes you think that?” Ralph pressed.

“Because I’m helping Rev. Daniels ministry.” Dakotah said, finally finding some footing.

“How does that help you get where you want to go in life?” Ralph asked. “What is it that you want to do? I can’t remember.”

“I want to be a meteorologist, I guess.” Dakotah said weakly.

“More than working at a church for your career?”


“Well, you ain’t gonna be no meter whatever workin’ at that church!” Ralph said pointedly.

“Well, I’m not going to be one working at a factory, either!” Dakotah shot back.

“The hell you say.” Ralph growled. “I tell you what, boy. You come down here to live, rent free, and I’ll buy you a car, all you have to do is buy your gas and insurance. Hell, I’ll even get you a cell phone so you can talk to your sweetie whenever the hell you want. Save up your money for two or three years and you can damn near pay your own way at UK, because by then you’ll be a Kentucky resident. I went through all this with Dylan, but he wouldn’t get off his little worthless little ass. I figured you had more gumption than that. I reckon I was wrong.”

“I am a hard worker!” Dakotah cried. “I’ll show you! I’ll show everybody!”

“Dak boy, I apologize.” Ralph said, softening his tone. “I didn’t mean to make you think I’m calling you lazy. I know you’re not lazy, but I know you can do a lot more than you are, too. If you’re wanting to do God’s work, the old woman goes to a good church, and I’m sure they’ll be happy to let you pitch in.”

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah said, sadly. “My home is here.”

“That’s fine, I reckon.” Ralph said, sorrowful. “I won’t bother you no more. If’n you happen to change your mind, I’ve been deliverin’ pipe to North Dakota twice a week lately. All you have to do is say the word, and I’ll just make a little detour, and come and get you. Deal?”

“Okay. Thanks for thinking of me.” Dakotah said, regretfully. “I don’t mean to make you and Aunt Lou mad.”

“Aw, you ain’t makin’ me mad.” Ralph said, smiling to himself. “Maybe a little frustrated, but I ain’t mad. I only met you once, but I think the world of you. Just want what’s best for you.”

“Thanks.” Dakotah said, relieved. “Tell Aunt Lou I’ll call her after I get out of here, okay?”

“Got it.” Ralph replied. “Take care, Dak boy. I’ll see you around, sometime.”

“See you, Unk.” Dakotah said, before he hung up the phone.

“You okay?” Rev. Daniels asked, concerned.

“Yeah, I guess.” Dakotah said, exhaling. “Unk was trying to sell me on Kentucky, too.”

“Can’t blame him.” Rev. Daniels said. “He loves you too, you know.”

“I know.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I didn’t know he would come on so strong, though.”

“He’s a guy that’s not afraid to say what he thinks, and makes sure everyone knows it.” Rev. Daniels said, making direct eye contact with Dakotah. “I could hear his conversation from here. Can’t say I disagree with his proposal. Almost free everything is a pretty good deal, don’t you think?”

“You’re not serious, are you?” Dakotah said, shocked.

“If I was in his shoes, I would say the same thing.” Rev. Daniels said, thinking. “Not the same words, mind you, but definitely the same sentiment.”

“So you want me to go, too?” Dakotah said, bitterly.

“From a purely selfish standpoint, no.” Rev. Daniels said, solemnly. “But, as a friend, who wants the best for you, yes.”

Dakotah became numb, unable to speak.

“All I’m asking is for you to think about it.” Rev. Daniels said, sympathetically. “I have to go now. I promised Mrs. Bivins I’d go visit her today. I’ll be back in a couple of hours. Hopefully, you can go home then. Catch you later.” He turned to Ely. “Need anything while I’m gone?”

“I think I’ll be okay.” Ely replied quietly.

“Well, seeya.” Rev. Daniels said, waving slightly, as he left the room.

Dakotah stared at Ely, silently.

“It hurt him a lot to say that, but it’s the truth.” Ely said, uncomfortably.

“I know.” Dakotah mumbled.

“Can I get you something out of a vending machine?” she asked.

“No, thank you.” Dakotah replied flatly. He turned on the television, the channel showing an infomercial about the latest hair styling product. Ignoring Ely, he turned up the volume, and closed his eyes. Silently, Ely exited the room.


A shallow rap on the door woke Dakotah from a light sleep. “Come in.” he said, turning down the volume on the television.

Sylvia slowly walked in, and took a seat next to Dakotah. She looked haggard, with tousled hair, and bags under her eyes. “How are you doing, Dakotah?” she said, wearily.

“Maybe I need to ask you the same thing, mom.” Dakotah asked, concerned.

“I’m okay.” Sylvia said, smiling weakly. “Frank and I had it out again last night. I’m tired of being his maid. Disability or not, he should pick up after himself, and not be a slob.”

“Been there, done that.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“Sometimes I wonder why I stay married to him.” Sylvia pondered.

“Everyone else does, too.” Dakotah laughed.

“You seem to be no worse for wear.” Sylvia said, simply.

“I breathed in some smoke and stuff during the fire, but I’m much better now.” Dakotah said, nonchalant. “I should get out of the hospital this afternoon.”

“That’s good.” Sylvia said, not focusing fully on Dakotah’s words. “Know anything about your father?”

“Not much.” Dakotah replied, shaking his head. “I know he’s going to make it, though.”

“As much as I hate that man, I wouldn’t want him to be burned to death.” Sylvia said, serious. “You did good, son.”

“Thanks.” Dakotah said simply, wondering if his mother was sincere.

“I’m hopeful the new administration will get the auto industry going again, and I can get back to work.” Sylvia said, wistfully.

“Me, too.” Dakotah said, sympathetically. “At least you won’t be around Frank that much.”

“I’m not around him much as it is.” Sylvia said, frowning. “Mostly he stays in his den. He claims he’s a level 55 warlock now.”

“Oooooooooohhhhh.” Dakotah drawled out sarcastically.

“I guess you’re going to stay at the preacher’s now?” Sylvia asked.

“Well, home isn’t an option, is it?” Dakotah replied bitterly.

“No.” Sylvia replied, painfully. “Not now, anyway. I do miss having you around.”

“You didn’t have to pick up after Frank when I lived there.” Dakotah said, flashing an impish grin.

“That hurt.” Sylvia said, cringing.

“I love you anyway, mom.” Dakotah said, smiling warmly.

“I love you too, son.” Sylvia said, her features softening. “I guess I’d better be going. Have to pick up some barbecue for Jabba the Warlock. Call me sometime?”

Dakotah laughed. “Just come by the church between nine and one, Monday through Friday. We’re between Benny’s Used Cars and the Zippy Mart, on Madison Street.”

“I may do that.” Sylvia said, thoughtfully. “See you.” she said, walking toward the door.

Dakotah waved as his mother exited. ”It would be cool if she booted Jabba, er Frank, out of the house.” he thought.


After a short nap, Dakotah awoke to an empty room. The clock over his head read 11:50AM, and the TV was showing an infomercial about how to get rid of belly fat. Shaking his head, he turned the TV off.

Feeling his stomach rumble, Dakotah realized he was rapidly becoming famished. He did not eat much breakfast, and lunch, whatever it was going to be, did not hold much promise, either.

A sharp rap interrupted his reverie, causing Dakotah to jerk. Striding in, carrying a couple of bags, and holding a twenty ounce soft drink, was Mama.

“How’s the hero doin’?” Mama grinned.

Dakotah instantly beamed. “I’m doing pretty good. Ready to get out of here!”

“Hon, the hospital’s good at keepin’ you so they can figure out something to charge you!” Mama said, matter-of-factly.

Dakotah froze. “How am I going to pay for this?” he moaned.

“Oh, don’t worry about it.” Mama said, waving her hand dismissively. “If you ain’t got no money, they can’t take it! You just got the clothes on your back! Oh, by the way, here’s some clothes.” she said, holding up the larger bag. “I hope they fit.”

“I’m sure they’ll be fine.” Dakotah said, smiling. “ I can’t believe people would donate clothes and money for me!”

“People here at New Hope think the world of you, sweetie.” Mama said, happily. “I think of you as one of my own kids.”

Dakotah felt warm inside.

“Oh, I brought you some sandwiches, chips, and a pop.” Mama said, taking food out of the second bag. “I was thinkin’ maybe you’d be hungry.”

“Oh, that’s awesome!” Dakotah exclaimed, ecstatic. “I wasn’t looking forward to eating lunch, especially after that awful breakfast. Didn’t have any flavor to it.”

“Well, I know the lady that’s head of the food here, and she’s a better cook than I am.” Mama said, shaking her head. “It’s just that she has to cook the way the hospital wants her to cook. I shoulda asked her to cook something custom for you. It would knock your socks off!”

“I can’t imagine anyone being a better cook than you.” Dakotah said, taking another bite of his sandwich. “This is so good!”

“Now, you gonna make Mama blush now.” she said, chuckling. “You stop that!”

“This is why I don’t want to move to Kentucky.” Dakotah declared. “I have a home here, at least sort of. People care about me here!”

“Kentucky?” Mama said, slightly confused. “What’s there again? I think maybe Brother Alan mentioned it.”

“My aunt and uncle live there.” Dakotah replied. “They say there’s a good job waiting for me if I move.”

“How much does it pay?” Mama asked, curious.

“Aunt Lou says I could make 700 a week to start.” Dakotah said simply.

Mama gave Dakotah a puzzled look. “And tell me why you ain’t going down there?” she said accusingly.

“Because this is my home.” Dakotah replied, confused. Suddenly, he realized the meaning behind her words. “Wait, not you too!” he protested.

“Of course not, honey.” Mama said, softly. “I don’t ever want any of my babies to leave. Let me ask you something.”

“Okay…..” Dakotah replied, unsure.

“Where you gonna live down there?”

“At my aunt and uncle’s.” Dakotah answered. “They had a new doublewide put up a year ago.”

“Hmm.” Mama nodded. “How are you getting’ to work? You’ll have to buy a car, right?”

“No, Unk said he was going to buy me a car.” Dakotah said, almost defensively. “I would just have to buy gas and insurance.”

“So, you move down there, with kinfolk that love you enough to give you a place to live, a car, and a good job, and you’d rather stay up here?” Mama asked, raising an eyebrow.

“Yeah.” Dakotah answered meekly.

“You ever talk to Dre about the future?” Mama asked quietly.

“H-Huh?” Dakotah stuttered, confused.

“He used to pick you up and take you to school, didn’t he?” Mama quizzed.

“Y-yeah.” Dakotah replied, clueless.

“You used to eat lunch with him, didn’t you?”


“And you two never talked about what you wanted to do after you graduated high school?” Mama asked, probingly.

“I don’t remember.” Dakotah said, thinking. “We mostly just goofed around, and acted silly.”

“Dre wanted more than anything to be a preacher.” Mama said, passionately. “He never said anything to you?”

“He only asked me once if I believed in Jesus, and I told him I was saved, and went to 1st Baptist.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “He never said anything after that. I wish I could’ve seen him here!”

“He was a young man that had the Spirit.” Mama said, wistfully. “Did you know he was accepted to go to a seminary in Georgia?”

“Georgia?” Dakotah asked, surprised.

“Mmm-hmm.” Mama nodded. He was washing cars for his uncle so he could have spending money while he lived down there. The seminary had a program where he could work while studying, so he could pay his own way.”

“Why Georgia?” Dakotah wondered. “Couldn’t he do this closer to home?”

“There weren’t any quality institutions where he could do work study.” Mama said, matter-of-factly. “Brother Alan recommended it as one of the best seminaries in the nation. We went down there during spring break last year, and checked the place out. It was everything we had hoped for. He was so excited!”

“I wish he hadn’t died.” Dakotah lamented.

“What’s done is done, sugar.” Mama said with a shrug. “He’s in a better place now.”

“Don’t you miss him?” Dakotah asked, confused.

“I miss all my babies.” Mama said, pointedly.

“Where are they?” Dakotah cried, shocked. “They aren’t dead, are they?”

“Oh, no, they’re all fine.” Mama said, laughing. “Laquita lives in Milwaukee. She’s a social psychiatrist. George is an engineer, living outside DC. Monica is an assistant district attorney in Houston.”

“Wow, they’re everywhere!” Dakotah exclaimed, impressed. “Do you ever see them?”

“Once during the summer, and again at Christmas.” Mama replied, longingly. If I weren’t so busy cooking last year, I would’ve introduced them to you. Dre was the baby, ten years younger than Monica. They thought I spoiled him too much!” she said, laughing. “But you know what? I made him work as hard as any of my other kids!”

“You were pretty tough with them?” Dakotah said, surprised. “I can’t imagine!”

“Had to be.” Mama, said, matter-of-factly. “I could see there wasn’t much of a future for the kids if they stayed here. I made them understand that if they were going to receive the full fruit of God’s blessings, they had to go out and take it.”

“I wish Andre was here.” Dakotah said, sadly.

“Child, he is here, watching!” Mama said, emphatically. “So is your grandma. I talk to Dre every day, along with my sweet Eugene.”

“Eugene?” Dakotah wondered aloud.

“My dear husband.” Mama said, longingly. “Thirty years married, and snap! Heart attack. He was a good, good man. I fed him too good, I think. You would’ve liked him. He was always laughing.”

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah said, apologetically. “I didn’t know.”

“His passion was for his kids to live their dream, unlike his life, toiling away in a factory.” Mama said, emphatically. “He got to see Laquita and George get their degrees. He was so proud!”

“I wish I could’ve met him.” Dakotah said, thinking.

“You know what he’d say if he did meet you?” Mama asked, pointing her finger at him. “He’d ask you what do you want to do with your life? What’s your dream?” Mama posed for a moment. “What is your dream?” she said, gazing intently into his eyes.

“To marry Ely.” Dakotah replied, stone-faced.

Mama began to laugh loudly. “Boy, you got it so bad, it hurts to watch you sometimes, bless your heart!” she cackled. “Don’t she have a dream?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah sighed. “She wants to live in Japan.”

“That’s about far away as it gets, ain’t it?” Mama said, sympathetically.

“Yeah.” Dakotah mumbled.

“The way God works, is if you two are meant to be, it’ll happen, you know?” Mama said, encouragingly. “Ever think that you two weren’t meant to be?”

“No. Not really.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

You know, both of you are way too young to be worrying about love and such stuff.” Mama said pointedly. “So, while she’s in Japan, living her dream, what are you going to do?”

“I don’t know.” Dakotah replied, shrugging. “Help out at the church. Maybe get a part time job in the evening.”

“That doesn’t sound like a dream to me, Dakotah.” Mama said, frowning. “What do you want to do?”

“I did want to be a meteorologist,” Dakotah muttered, looking down, “but I don’t see that happening.”

“Why?” Mama asked. “Isn’t that a dream?”

“Yeah, I guess, but it’s as impossible as marrying Ely.” Dakotah whined.

“Now you’re just feeling sorry for yourself!” Mama barked, losing patience. “Young man, I ain’t a puttin’ up with that!” You’re better than that! A lot better!”

“Yeah, you say that, but you’re biased!” Dakotah snapped.

“Really? You say I’m biased?” Mama countered, indignant. “What if I told you I think you’re every bit as smart and work just as hard as any of my kids? Is that biased? Do I love you more than my babies?”

“No.” Dakotah mumbled.

“I wouldn’t lie to you, would I?” Mama pressed.

Dakotah shook his head.

“You better say no.” Mama said, emphatically. “Mama tells it like it is. Now let me ask you again. If my babies can go to school and get degrees and start good careers, what makes you think you can’t?”

“I can!” Dakotah cried. “I’m just scared!”

“Of what?” Mama asked softly.

“Of losing Ely.” Dakotah said, tearing up.

“Can’t lose something you ain’t never had.” Mama said, putting her hand on his shoulder.

“More than that.” Dakotah said, almost inaudibly. “I’m just a big screwup.”

“Now you stop that right now!” Mama shouted, shaking Dakotah. “You think if you’re a big screwup, Brother Alan would give you that job? He depends on you because you’re a quality person! Me and Brother Alan, we talk about you almost every day. And let me tell you, he thinks the world of you!”

“But he wants me to leave, too!” Dakotah wailed.

Mama sighed. “Sweetie, do you realize he loves you as his own son? That it hurts him to let you go? But he knows from the bottom of his heart that this is the best path for you to take.”

“What about the church?” Dakotah sobbed. “It’s going to suffer without my help!”

Mama took Dakotah’s hands into her own. He noticed that they were as strong as they were soft. “The Lord will provide. He always does.” she said quietly, with conviction. “As He provides for you. Consider your situation as Jesus knocking at your door. He is knocking at your door with an opportunity, and I feel that it’s your responsibility to answer it, and to give this opportunity everything you got. Otherwise, you are doing God, and everyone- me, Brother Alan, Ely, your mom, your aunt and uncle, even your grandma and Andre, a disservice. Not only that, you’d be proving that mean old man who threw you out was right. So, who’s right? Everyone that loves you, or some old goat?”

Dakotah was stunned speechless.

“Dakotah, you are more than capable of doing many great things. You go down there, work hard, save your money, go to school, get your degree, and then come back here as a high dollar weatherman, so you can help out the church with your time and your money.” Mama said, smiling. Maybe by then Ely will have moved back here. Maybe you wind up goin’ to Japan, and be a weatherman over there.”

Dakotah remained quiet for a moment. “What if I get over there, and she’s married, or seeing someone?” he said, worriedly.

Mama shook her head, and smiled. “Honey, the thing about life is where you plan to be is never where you wind up. You never can tell, you might find some nice girl in Kentucky. You never know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”

“I doubt that.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “Not that anyone would want me. I’m certainly not looking for anyone else.”

“Child, you ought to hear yourself talk.” Mama said, kindly. “You had the prettiest girl in town eating out of your hand, and you pushed her away. You got this real bad habit of putting yourself down. Stop. Truth is truth! You are a special young man!”

Dakotah looked down, and began to weep.

“It’s okay, baby, it’s okay.” Mama said, comforting Dakotah. “You’re just like George. He was a homebody, too. But you know, after a couple of months, he didn’t want to come back. All you need is courage and faith. Lord ain’t gonna give you more than you can handle. You have to have the faith to believe in yourself, and the courage to deal with whatever life throws at you. I know you can do it, Dakotah.”

Mama looked at the clock, and rose. “Well, I guess I’d better get goin’.” she said, smiling. “Anything else I can get for you?”

Dakotah shook his head, wiping away tears.

“Well, hurry on up out of here.” Mama said, putting on her coat. “I’ll see you around sometime soon. You be good!”

“Mama?” Dakotah blurted out.

“Yeah, hon.”

“Thanks.” he said, smiling weakly.

“You need someone to talk to, you come see me, you hear?” Mama said, grinning.

“Yes, ma’am.” Dakotah replied, quietly.

Mama smiled and waved as she walked out of the room.

Dakotah looks down, and begins to pray. “Lord, I need your strength, and your wisdom.”

Mama took a few steps down the hallway, and saw Rev. Daniels and Ely exiting the elevator.

“Did you talk to him?” Rev. Daniels asked.

“Yes, I did.” Mama replied, smiling.

“How did it go?” Ely asked, concerned.

“I told him what needed to be told.” Mama said, simply. “The rest is up to him. I’d let him think for a bit, though.”

Rev Daniels nodded. “Let’s go get something to eat.” he said, motioning to Ely.

“We just ate!” Ely said, confused.

“Let’s get some ice cream, then.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling.


Dakotah looked out the window. Light snow could be seen falling out of the steel gray sky.

“Everyone wants me to move down there.” Dakotah said to himself aloud. Even Brother Alan and Mama.” He looked up at the ceiling. “Andre, what would you say? I know what you’d say. You’d say go for it. What would Grandma say? She’d tell me to quit crying, and go to work. Mom is the only one who would want me to stay, but only because she wants a housekeeper.”

Dakotah took a deep breath, and exhaled. “Alan just wants what’s the best for me. So does Mama. Ely wants me to go because it simplifies her life, I think. I’ll never be convinced that she truly loves Hannah. When she kissed me, I knew something’s there. I just know it! If I leave, she’ll be all alone with Hannah.” He shook his head. “Ugh! I don’t want to go!”

Dakotah blankly gazed out the window. “If you two are meant to be, it’ll happen, Mama said. She said if I have faith and courage, it would all work out. I want to believe her. I guess that’s where faith comes in? I know the Bible says something about faith without works is dead, so I guess I have to do something? I’m so confused!”

“I wish Dre was here.” he lamented. “He’d say something silly, and I always felt better.” Dakotah paused for a minute, thinking. “I guess I really depended on him at school. Heck, I guess I depended on everyone. Ely, Brother Alan, Grandma, Mama, even Aunt Lou and Unk. If I stay up here, I guess I’ll keep depending on people, for a long time.” he sighed. “I know I’ll depend on Lou and Unk down there, but it wouldn’t be forever. Would Ely respect me if I stayed up here? This sucks!”

“I depended on Mom and Frank before they threw me out, too.” Dakotah continued, walking aimlessly around the room.  “I don’t want to ever feel like that again. But I still kinda feel like that, though, to everyone else. I’m tired of feeling like a worthless piece of crap. Mama is right. If Ely and I are meant to be together, it’ll happen. The best chance for that to happen is for me to make the best me I can. If Ely and I never make it, I’ll still be a lot better off than if I stay here.”

Dakotah shook his head, and exhaled. “I wish I didn’t have the dread feeling of going to my doom.” He gritted his teeth. “Yoshi! Ikuzo!”

Dakotah got on his knees at the side of the bed, and began to pray. “Lord, I’m sorry if I’m making the wrong decision, but I have to trust in the wisdom of those who love me, and believe that their wisdom is coming from you. I pray you to give me the strength, the courage, and wisdom to please you in your sight. In Jesus’ name, Amen.” Burying his head in the sheets, Dakotah began to cry.

A few minutes later, there was a light rap on the door, snapping Dakotah’s head out of the sheets. Quickly gathering himself, Dakotah took a tissue and blew his nose.

“Come in!” Dakotah said nervously, wiping his eyes. Rev. Daniels and Ely stepped inside.

“I just spoke with the doctor.” Rev. Daniels said cheerfully. They’re finalizing the paperwork so you can get out of here.”

“Cool.” Dakotah said, with a touch of melancholy.

“How are you feeling?” Rev. Daniels said, sensing something amiss. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah said, sadly. “Can I talk to Ely? Alone?”

“Are you going to propose to her?” Rev. Daniels replied, smiling.

“Daddy!” Ely shouted, indignant.

“That would be awesome, but no.” Dakotah said, smiling a trace. “I just want to talk to her.”

“Okay, sure.” Rev. Daniels replied, coolly. “I can always get into trouble here at the hospital! I’ll be back in a little bit.” Quickly, he slipped out of the room.

“Okay, what?” Ely asked, unsure.

Dakotah cleared his throat, and took a deep breath. “I think I’m going to move to Kentucky.”

Ely’s jaw dropped. “For real? Why?”

“Because your dad, Mama, Unk, and Aunt Lou all say it’s the best thing for me.” Dakotah replied, steeling himself. “I can earn a lot of money for college really fast.”

“That’s true.” Ely said, becoming numb.

“I just want to know one thing.” Dakotah said, nervously.

“Okaaaaayyyyyy, what?” Ely said, hesitant.

“Ely, I love you. You mean everything to me.” Dakotah said, staring intently at Ely.

“Oh, God, this is going to be a proposal, isn’t it?” Ely asked, filled with dread.

“No, it’s not. Listen.” Dakotah said firmly. “If there’s even the slightest chance the two of us will ever be together, I want you to confirm it now.”

“No.” Ely blurted hastily.

“There’s absolutely nothing.” Dakotah said skeptically.

“Not a trace.” Ely countered.

“What about the kiss?” Dakotah queried.

“What kiss?” Ely asked, dismissively.

“Christmas Eve.”

“You tricked me, that doesn’t count!” Ely exclaimed.

“Not my kiss, your kiss.” Dakotah retorted, frustrated. “You kissed me back, remember?”

“That never happened, and besides, I told you never to speak of it again!” Ely shouted, flustered.

“You’re awfully rattled for something that never happened.” Dakotah said, derisively.

“It was out of curiosity, there was nothing to it.” Ely said, shaking her head.

“Didn’t feel like it to me.” Dakotah said, staring intently at Ely.

“No, you felt what you wanted to feel.” Ely snapped. “Don’t get me mixed up in your fantasies!”

Dakotah paused. “So, if I left, you wouldn’t regret it?”

“I’d miss you, of course, but there would be no regrets.” Ely replied intently.

“Fine, then.” Dakotah said, solemnly. “I’ve made up my mind. I’m moving.”

Ely stared hard at Dakotah, silent.

“What?” Dakotah said, expecting a response.

“Congratulations.” Ely replied, coldly. “I’m sure you’ll do fine down there!” She strode for the door.

“Where are you going?” Dakotah cried.

“To find my father!” Ely exclaimed as she reached for the door. “I’m sure he’d want to know!”

Dakotah sighed. ”That didn’t go well.” he thought to himself.

Ely strode down the hallway, toward the elevator. As she arrived, Rev. Daniels stepped out of the elevator. Tearfully, she ran into his arms.

“He’s leaving!” she sobbed. “He’s actually leaving!”

Rev. Daniels held her at arms’ length, wiping her hair away from her face. “Why are you crying?” he asked empathetically. Aren’t you happy for him? I think he made a grown-up decision, don’t you think?”

“Yeah.” Ely sniffled. “Doesn’t mean I like it, though.”

“I don’t like it either, but it is the best choice for him.” Rev. Daniels said, kindly. “He’ll be working hard for a good future for himself. I think it’s something to rejoice about. Besides, that should make things better for you and Hannah, right? You’ll be busy in college in a few months, so it’s all good, right? Win-win-win?”

“Yeah.” Ely muttered dejectedly.

“Come on! Let’s go congratulate him!” Rev. Daniels said brightly.

“No thanks. I’m going to get something to drink.” Ely said in a monotone. “I’ll be back later.”

Ely pushed the down button on the elevator, while Rev. Daniels made his way to Dakotah’s room.

“Hey Dak, I just the news!” Rev. Daniels said enthusiastically. “Congratulations! I think that was a mature decision.”

“Thanks.” Dakotah said, flatly. “Where’s Ely?”

“She went after something to drink.“ Rev. Daniels replied, matter-of-factly.

“She really seemed upset when I told her.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I thought she would be happy.”

“Well, you are her best friend.” Rev. Daniels said, thoughtfully. “She knows this is your best course of action, but it still hurts.”

“Hurts me, too.” Dakotah said, sadly.

“And me.” Rev Daniels interjected. “And Mama too, I’m sure.

“Yeah, she said as much earlier.” Dakotah said, thinking. “Did you put her up to talking to me?”

“Nope, she did it on her own.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head. “There’s a reason she’s my most trusted advisor. ‘Those who trust in themselves are fools, but those who walk in wisdom are kept safe.’ Let me tell you this. She knows a looooooot more than she puts on.”

“I believe it.” Dakotah said, beginning to smile. “She came on real strong earlier.”

“The advice she gave you isn’t any different than what she would’ve given Andre.” Rev. Daniels said, thoughtfully. “She cares about you that much.”

“I know.” Dakotah said, nodding. “She called me one of her ‘babies’.”

“Coming from her, there’s no higher praise.“ Rev. Daniels asserted.

Dakotah smiled.

There was a sharp rap on the door. A doctor holding a folder slipped in quickly.

“Ready to go home?” the doctor asked.

“Yes, I am!” Dakotah answered enthusiastically.

“Almost everyone says that, for some reason.” The doctor laughed. “Just sign here, and we’ll get a wheelchair to take you to the door.”

“I’d like to see my father before I leave.” Dakotah said kindly, signing the paperwork.

“Not a problem.” The doctor replied. “The nurse will be here in a few minutes with the wheelchair. Have a good day!” he said, as he walked out of the room.

“I guess I’d better get dressed.” Dakotah said, smiling. “I’m so ready to get out of here!”

“If you’ll excuse me, I’ll be outside.” Rev. Daniels said as he exited the room.

Dakotah perused the bag of clothes Mama left. He pulled out his old pair of jeans and a red flannel shirt. “Ugh.” he muttered, as he dressed. “I can see why this was donated. “Beggars can’t be choosers, though.”

“Are you ready?” Rev. Daniels said, while knocking and opening the door a crack.

“Yeah, come in.”

A nurse pushing a wheelchair, Rev. Daniels, and Ely entered the room. It was immediately apparent to Dakotah that she had been crying.

“You okay?” Dakotah asked Ely.

“Yeah.” Ely mumbled, barely audible.

“Can I go see my father?” Dakotah asked while he sat in the wheelchair. “He’s in room 422.”

“Sure!” The nurse answered pleasantly.

The trip to the fourth floor was mostly silent. Fortunately for Dakotah, there was no wait at the elevator, so the trip only took a couple of minutes.

Walking ahead, Rev. Daniels knocked on the door to room 422, and stuck his head inside. “Hey, you up for some company?”

Darren Lennon waved, half-heartedly. Dakotah, being pushed by the nurse, and Rev. Daniels entered; Ely remained outside.

“There’s my son, the hero.” Darren mumbled, coughing.

“They say you’re going to be back to normal in a few weeks.” Dakotah said, smiling.

“That’s cool, as long as they’re pumping me full of the good stuff.” Darren said, managing a weak smile. “There’s no substitute for good opiates, son. Remember that.”

Dakotah shook his head, smiling. “Where are you going to stay when you get out?”

“I’ve got plenty of places to go, don’t worry about me.” Darren replied, simply. “Might get a little money from the house insurance, if Aunty Gotrocks don’t get ahold of it first.”

“That’s good, I guess.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. “Well, I mean if you get it!”

“You’re going to be snuggled up tight at the Rev’s, eh?” Darren said, giving Dakotah a sly look. He turned to Rev. Daniels. “Better keep an eye out on them!” Darren tried to laugh, but coughed painfully instead.

“Actually, I’m moving to Kentucky.” Dakotah said, noting how odd his words sounded. “Aunt Lou and Uncle Ralph is supposed to fix me up with a job, and everything.”

“Oh, yeah?” Darren said, a little surprised. “Gotta warn ya, son, those two are crazier than hell.”

“You think so?” Dakotah said, confused. “Why?”

“Just don’t get them mad, especially Ralph.” Darren said, squinting. “You oughta be alright, though. They like you a lot more than they ever did me.”

“Okaaaayyyy……” Dakotah said wondering if Ralph did something to his father in the past.

“What’s your sweetie say about that?” Darren asked, curious.

“She doesn’t like it very much,” Dakotah replied, not wanting to tell him too much. “but she knows it’s for the best.”

“Don’t blame her.” Darren shrugged slightly. “Lotta pretty girls down there.”

“Ah, okay, I’ll keep that in mind.” Dakotah said sheepishly. He looked at Rev. Daniels, who shrugged his shoulders, and smiled.

“Dudes, I hate to bail, but the latest chemical enhancements are starting to kick in.” Darren said, beginning to slur his words. “When you leavin’, son?”

“Don’t know yet.” Dakotah said, shrugging. “Probably less than a week.”

“If I don’t see you before you leave, I want to tell you thanks for saving my life.” Darren said, fighting consciousness.

“I just did what I had to do.” Dakotah shrugged. “You don’t have to thank me.”

Darren held out a heavily wrapped hand, and tried to make a fist. “Take care, son. See ya around sometime.”

“You too, Dad.” Dakotah said, and gingerly fist bumped his father.

Darren leaned back and closed his eyes; a slight smile could be seen across his lips. Rev. Daniels, with Dakotah and the nurse following, exited the room.

“I’d like to think you’ve made an impression on him.” Rev. Daniels said, encouragingly.

“Maybe. Who knows?” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “Time will tell. Wonder where Ely went to?” he said, looking about.

“Couldn’t have gone far.” Rev. Daniels replied, showing an impish grin. “I drove her here.”

The three took the elevator to the lobby. Exiting the elevator, they found Ely sitting in a chair, waiting.

“There you are.” Rev. Daniels said. “I’ll go get the car.”

Ely nodded silently.

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah said awkwardly.

“You have nothing to worry about.” Ely replied, coldly. “You made the right choice.”

“I’m sorry I made you upset.” Dakotah said, trying to clarify his thoughts.

“I’ll get over it.” Ely stated, keeping her aloofness. “It’s not like you died, or anything.”

“I’ll miss you too.” Dakotah chuckled nervously.

<”You’ll get over me. You have no choice.”> Ely said in Japanese.

“Ohhhhhh…..” Dakotah said, processing her words. <”Someday, I’m going to get my met degree, go to Japan, and sweep you off your feet!”> he responded.

“What did you say?” Ely asked, not expecting Dakotah’s reply.

“You’re not the only one who can speak Japanese.” Dakotah replied, smugly, staring deep into her eyes. Ely simply shook her head, and looked away.

Rev. Daniels parked the car outside the entrance and walked inside. “Ready?” he asked.

“You bet.” Dakotah replied enthusiastically, as they walked out in the light snow.


The trip home was mostly silent; first was to the church, where Dakotah inspected the donations of clothing. He sighed lightly when he saw everything was corduroys and buttoned shirts, but he didn’t complain openly. With Ely walking home, Rev. Daniels and Dakotah went to the discount megastore, where Dakotah bought underwear, socks, a couple of sweatshirts, and a couple of pairs of jeans. Soon, they were back at Rev. Daniels’ home.

“Are the clothes satisfactory, Dak?” Rev. Daniels asked.

Not exactly my style, but they’ll have to do.” Dakotah smiled, sheepishly.

“I think I wore something like those cords back in the ‘70s when I was a kid.” Rev. Daniels chuckled.

“I’ll have to thank everyone Sunday.” Dakotah said, looking at the clock. “I guess I’ll call Aunt Lou now.” He picked up the phone and dialed.

“Hello?” Louise answered, unsure.

“Hi. It’s me.” Dakotah said brightly. “I’m out of the hospital now.”

“Lord, you scared me half to death!” Louise exclaimed. “You okay now?”

“I’m okay.” Dakotah said, in a comforting voice. “I inhaled in a little smoke and carbon monoxide, but it’s all gone now.”

“How’s your daddy?” Louise asked.

“He’ll be okay, but he’s going to be in the hospital a couple more weeks recovering from his burns.” Dakotah replied.

“That oughta give him a preview of what’ll happen to him after he dies!” Louise said snarkily.

“He may get saved someday.” Dakotah countered. “I hope he does.”

“I ain’t holdin’ my breath.” Louise said, dismissively.

“Aunt Lou, can I ask you something?” Dakotah asked, with fake innocence.

“What is it, honey?” Louise replied, unsure.

“Is your offer for me to come down there to live still good?” Dakotah asked, grinning.

“What did you say?” Louise asked, trying to process his words.

“I’d like to take your offer, and come down there to Kentucky.” Dakotah said slowly.

“Really? Hot damn!” Louise shouted excitedly. “Hey, Ralph! You ain’t gonna believe this! Dak’s wantin’ to move down here!”

“Hell, yeah!” Ralph shouted in the background. “Let me check the schedule and the maps!”

“What made me change your mind?” Louise asked, curious.

“Everyone convinced me that what’s best for me is to move down there, work, and go to school.” Dakotah replied, still trying to convince himself.

“Well, I’m glad you’ve come to your senses.” Louise said, relieved. There’s still a few jobs left. Had a couple of kids quit this week.”

“Why did they quit?” Dakotah asked, astonished.
“’Cause they couldn’t handle it.” Louise said, bitterly. “More than likely they didn’t want to handle it. Kids today are so babied anymore; they can’t handle the real world when they get grown.”

Dakotah shook his head, not understanding how someone, given the opportunity, could quit. “So you think I could get a job there?”

“No problem.” Louise said, confidently. “I’ve been telling the brass about you. I’m sure they’ll hire you on the spot.”

“Closest place I can easily get to is Auburn Hills.” Ralph said to Louise. “I’ll be there Thursday night around 9PM.”

“Did he say Thursday night?” Dakotah cried, beginning to panic. “That’s only a couple of days away!”

“Got a problem with that?” Louise asked, impatiently.

“No.” Dakotah sighed. “It’s just really sudden. I was hoping I could at least say goodbye to everyone at church Sunday.”

“There’s tomorrow night.” Rev. Daniels interjected.

“Not many people show up on Wednesdays.” Dakotah countered.

“You never know.” Rev. Daniels said, slyly.

“So, what is it, Thursday night?” Louise pressed.

“I guess so.” Dakotah said, becoming panic stricken, looking at Rev. Daniels and Ely. “Tell Unk I’ll see him Thursday?”

“Ralph will be there in a blue conventional Kenworth tractor pulling a black flatbed with pipe on it.” Louise said, carefully. “Think you can find it?”

“Maybe.” Dakotah said, unsure.

“He’ll call the preacher’s cell phone when he gets close.” Louise said, assuredly. “Shouldn’t be a problem.”

“Okay then, I guess I’ll see you in a few days?” Dakotah said, trying to rally himself.

“Can’t wait!” Louise said, excitedly. “You’ve made my day! You won’t regret it!

“See ya in a couple of days, Dak boy!” Ralph was heard bellowing in the background.

“Tell Unk I’ll be looking forward to it!” Dakotah said, upbeat.

“I will.” Louise said. “He said he’ll keep you updated on his progress. See you then!”

“That’s good.” Dakotah said. “See you!”

“I think you made a couple people very happy.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling.

“I know.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I hope I don’t let them down.”

“You’ll be fine.” Rev. Daniels assured.

“I hate leaving so soon.” Dakotah lamented. “I won’t be able to say goodbye to the people at church Sunday.”

“Don’t worry about that.” Rev. Daniels assured. “I’m sure there’ll be plenty of folks there tomorrow. All I have to do is tell Mama.”

Dakotah looked sadly at Ely. “Only two more days…….”

“It won’t be too bad.” Ely encouraged. “You’re getting a cell phone, right? We can talk almost every day, right?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah sighed. “Maybe it won’t be too bad.”

“C’mon you two, no need to be moping around.” Rev. Daniels said brightly. “We have to celebrate! How does pizza sound?”

“Better than hospital food!” Dakotah said enthusiastically, putting his coat on.

“I’m not hungry, but I’ll go.” Ely said, quietly.

February 4th, 2009

Dakotah exhaled as he picked up the phone to call his mother. He didn’t know how she would react, as he felt his moving away would leave her all alone.

Dakotah dialed and let the phone ring, but there was no answer. Thinking that perhaps he had dialed the wrong number, he tried again.

“This better be no damned bill collector!” an all too familiar voice bellowed.

Dakotah froze in shock. “Crap, it’s Frank!” he thought, in horror. Quickly, he composed himself. “Hi, Frank. Is mom home?”

“Waddaya want, you little piece of crap?” Frank growled. “Hope you ain’t lookin’ for some place to live. Your old man dead yet?”

“No.” Dakotah muttered.

“Damn shame.” Frank said pithily.

“If mom’s not here, I’ll just call back later.” Dakotah said, gritting his teeth.

“She ain’t here.” Frank said, full of contempt. “You ain’t movin’ back here.”

“No worries.” Dakotah replied, coolly. “With a little luck, I’ll never see you again.” Dakotah hung up without waiting for a response. Exhaling loudly, he realized his heart was pounding.

Suddenly, the phone rang, causing Dakotah to jump. “Hello?” he answered, thinking it was his mother.

“Hi, Dak.” Rev. Daniels said. “How’s it going? You sound stressed.”

“I tried to call Mom,” Dakotah said, beginning to calm down. “but I got Frank instead.”

“Ooooo, lucky you.” Rev. Daniels said, lightheartedly. “You okay?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah shuddered. “Not a pleasant way to start the day. I figured that at this time of day he’d still be asleep. I’ll try again after I’m done with work. See you soon?”

Ah, no.” Rev. Daniels replied. “That’s why I called. I want you to take the day off.”

“Why?” Dakotah asked, confused. “I’m pretty much packed already.”

“Well, I’m going to be here all day anyway, so just stay there, and make yourself at home.” Rev. Daniels said, pointedly. “Besides, your mom might call back.”

“I don’t mind coming over to help.” Dakotah said, uneasily. “Does Mama need any help?”

“Mama’s fine.” Rev. Daniels said, becoming impatient. “Just stay home today, okay?”

“Is something wrong?” Dakotah asked, worried. “Did I do something wrong?”

“No, no.” Rev. Daniels reassured. “Nothing like that. I figured maybe it would be best, since Friday I’ll have to do this anyway, if you had the day alone to think.”

“Oh, okay.” Dakotah said, thoroughly confused. “I guess I’ll see you this afternoon?”

“Yep!” Rev. Daniels said, brightly. “Just make yourself at home! Later!” Abruptly, he hung up, leaving Dakotah stunned.

“That’s not like him at all.” Dakotah said, nervously. “I hope it’s not because I did a bad job Monday.”

Not knowing what else to do, Dakotah turned on the television, and began to flip through the channels. He watched a couple of old Westerns, a nature show about penguins, and a cooking show featuring lasagna. Looking at the clock, he saw it was noon, and realized he was becoming hungry. If he were at the church, he thought, Mama may be bringing him something to eat. Since he was told not to come to church, he had no other choice but to find something to eat there.

Dakotah felt weird looking through Rev. Daniels’ refrigerator, but he was sure it was okay. Besides, he was told to make himself at home. Finding some sandwich ham, sliced American cheese, and some white bread, he fashioned a simple sandwich.

His hunger abated, he decided to try to call his mother again. Taking a deep breath, he said a brief prayer, and dialed.

“Hello?” Sylvia said over the phone.

Dakotah exhaled a sigh of relief. “Hi, mom. I’m glad I caught you this time.”

“You called earlier?” Sylvia said, surprised. “Frank didn’t say anything.”

“Yeah.” Dakotah said, not surprised. “That wasn’t fun.”

“Are you at the church now?” Sylvia asked, ignoring Dakotah’s comments.

“No, I’m at Rev. Daniels’.” Dakotah replied. “Mom, I have something to tell you.”

“What is it?” Sylvia said, unsure.

“I’m leaving for Kentucky. Tomorrow night.” Dakotah said, gingerly.

“Oh, really?” Sylvia exclaimed.

“Aunt Lou says she can get me a job down there.” Dakotah said, trying to stay upbeat.

“What about meteorology?” Sylvia asked, curious.

“I’ll save my money, and when I have enough, I’ll go to school.” Dakotah said.

“Sounds like a good deal. “Sylvia said, brightly.

“It is.” Dakotah replied, wanting to believe that it was. “Unk’s buying me a car, and I can live with them rent-free.”

“That’s nice, son.” Sylvia said, cheerfully. “I’m really happy for you.”

“Are you going to be okay?” Dakotah said, his worries coming to the surface. “Outside of Grandma, there’s no one left here.”

Sylvia paused for a moment. “I’ll be fine. Just call me every once in a while, okay?” she said, her words in a comforting tone. “Or write me a letter.”

“Unk promised me a cell phone, so calling you shouldn’t be a problem.” Dakotah said. “Unless Frank answers, of course.” he added, bitterly.

“Hopefully, that won’t happen.” Sylvia said, shaking her head. “I’m surprised he answered the phone today.”

“I’ll be here at Rev. Daniels’ house. It’s next to the church, which is next to Benny’s Used Cars, on Madison St. near the Zippy Mart.” Dakotah said, slowly. “I hope I can see you before you leave?”

“Sure.” Sylvia said, simply. “Any time in particular?”

“Any time is fine.” Dakotah replied. “If I’m not here, I’ll be at church. Unk isn’t supposed to be here until tomorrow night.”

“Okay, then, I’ll call first.” Sylvia said, casually. “See you later.”

“Okay, bye.” Dakotah said, unsure of her mother’s tone. He turned on the television once again: “Let’s see…” he mumbled, changing the channels. “Soap operas, shopping channels, Congress, home improvement? Sure, why not? I might need to wire a house someday.” He began to chuckle to himself.


Dakotah was napping on the couch when Ely walked in. “I see you’ve made yourself quite cozy here!” she shouted. “I’m sure they won’t treat you this well in Kentucky!”

Dakotah quickly sat up, startled. “I can always stay here.” he said, getting his wits about him. “All you have to do is say the word.”

“That’s quite all right.” Ely said, smugly. “You need to move down there and get hitched to some barefoot toothless hillbilly girl by gunpoint!”

“If I didn’t know any better, you sound jealous!” Rev. Daniels said, laughing as he walked in the room. “You better convince him to stay while he’s here!”

“I don’t think so!” Ely exclaimed, indignant. “It’ll be nice and peaceful after he’s gone!”

Dakotah ignored Ely, and turned to Rev. Daniels. “How long have you been here?” he asked.

“About an hour.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “You were resting so peacefully, I didn’t want to disturb you.”

“I take it everything’s okay at the church?” Dakotah asked.

“Everything’s fine.” Rev. Daniels said, confidently. “Mrs. Bivins asked about you.”

“Really?” Dakotah asked, very curious. “What did she say?”

“She said even though she talked to you for a few minutes, she could tell you were a fine young man.” Rev. Daniels said, happily. “She was disappointed that you were leaving.”

“Tell her that I’ll miss her, too.” Dakotah said, sadly.

“By the way, Mama said we don’t have to be at the church until six.” Rev. Daniels announced.

“Why so late?” Dakotah asked, confused. Supper, Service, and Study on Wednesday nights always started at 5PM.

“She said she had issues with the stove. “Rev. Daniels said. “The casseroles won’t be ready until then.”

“Anything I can do to help?” Dakotah asked, eagerly.

“I already asked Mama, and she said no.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head.

“I have some Government homework to do.” Ely stated sharply, walking toward the hall. “If you’ll excuse me.”

“Is it just me, or does she have issues?” Dakotah asked, bewildered.

“As I said before, she’s losing her best friend.” Rev. Daniels said, pointedly. “For the second time in a year.”

“Hey, I am, too, remember?” Dakotah protested. “Plus, I’m the one that’s moving away to a place I’ve never been before.”

“Sometimes,” Rev. Daniels stated patiently, “it’s harder on the ones left behind.”

Dakotah pondered Rev. Daniels’ words; he thought about his Grandmother, and Andre.

“Yeah.” Dakotah nodded. “You’re right.”


At five minutes before six, Rev. Daniels and Dakotah head toward the door.

“Hold on, I’m coming with you!” Ely announced suddenly.

“Oh? You’re gracing us with your presence tonight?” Rev. Daniels mocked lightly.

“Government homework’s done.” Ely said, irritated. “Not much else to do, school wise, and I’m not working tonight, so why not?”

“That’d be great!” Rev. Daniels said, enthusiastically. “Well, come on, let’s see if Mama was able to overcome the oven difficulties!”

As the three walked to the church, Dakotah instantly noticed the parking lot was full.

“Wow, I’ve never seen this many cars on a Wednesday night!” Dakotah exclaimed. “Looks more like a Sunday!”

“It does, doesn’t it?” Rev. Daniels said, smiling.

Dakotah’s jaw dropped when he saw the entire church was full. As they walked down the aisle, more parishioners acknowledged Dakotah than they did Rev. Daniels or Ely. Dakotah gave Rev. Daniels a puzzled look; Rev. Daniels only smiled back.

Next to the altar on one side were a couple of empty chairs; on the other side was an elderly woman in a wheelchair. Dakotah did not recognize her, and wondered who she was.

“Dakotah, I’d like you to meet someone special to me, and this church.” Rev. Daniels said, warmly. “This is Mrs. Bivins.”

“Pleasure to meet you!” Dakotah gushed. “I’m so happy you could make it tonight!”

“Well, thank you, ah…..” Mrs. Bivins said, trying to remember Dakotah’s name.

“Dakotah” Dakotah said, smiling.

“Dakotah, yes.” Mrs. Bivins said, nodding. “I thank you for your patience the other day in dealing with a daft old lady.”

“I don’t think you’re one bit daft!” Dakotah countered forcefully.

Mrs. Bivins laughed. “Keep talking like that, young man, and you’ll go places!”

Rev. Daniels pointed at the chairs next to the altar. “Dak, you sit next to me.”

“Me?” Dakotah asked, nervously. “Why?”

“You’ll see.” Rev. Daniels grinned.

Rev. Daniels greeted everyone in the church and said a prayer. Dakotah suddenly felt conspicuous.

“Brothers and sisters in Christ, thank you all for coming on short notice.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “As for the regulars on 3S night, hang on, we have a special banquet after this sermon. Well, it’s not really a sermon, but I digress. Once in a while, you meet someone that you can see the Light of Christ clearly working inside. Even though our first meeting was on a sad occasion, this young man (Rev. Daniels pointed at Dakotah when he said this) made quite the impression on me.”

Dakotah’s jaw dropped, dumbstruck.

“I was delighted in the following weeks when he started attending our church, first every other week, then every week, almost taking over his Sunday School class with his thorough knowledge of the Bible.” Rev. Daniels continued. “Soon, he made the leap, and joined our church, and began to help us on Wednesday nights, immediately making an impact. Taking some young ones under his wing, he simply showed them patience and love, and soon, they considered him a big brother. Dakotah also became a big help around the kitchen, the grounds, and in the church, becoming Mama’s right hand man, as it were.”

Rev. Daniels then focused on Ely. “On a personal note, he tutored Ely several nights a week in Japanese. By first learning the language himself from scratch, and then teaching her what he learned, she impressed the folks at UM enough that she earned a full scholarship!” The congregation applauded, which embarrassed both Ely and Dakotah.

“He was told by his high school that he would never amount to much.” Rev. Daniels said, changing his tone darker. “His stepfather, unjustly in my opinion, kicked him out of the house. Not one business in this area would give him a chance with a job. But he never. Gave. Up.” he said, pausing a second between the last words.

“You wouldn’t know his personal life was a shambles on Wednesday nights as he taught bible lessons to the kids.” Rev. Daniels said, his timbre changing as if he was preaching a sermon. “He happily helped Mama scrub pots and clean bathrooms, all the while having to rely on others for transportation, at least at first. I’ve seen firsthand the meticulousness of his work, and the fruits of his labor.”

“About a week ago, after much prayer, and consulting with colleagues and friends, I decided to grow the ministry by doing more work outside of the church. To help make this a reality, I decided to ask Dakotah to be my personal assistant part time while I was out. Just from the one day he was able to work for me, I knew he had a lot of promise.”

“Unfortunately, tragedy struck twice in the past week. First, Dakotah’s grandmother passed away suddenly. She had long been a champion for his cause, and losing her was serious blow to him. As a result, his estranged father showed up out of the blue, and took possession of her house, where Dak happened to be living.”

“I can safely say that his father is not the easiest person to get along with.” Rev. Daniels continued, shaking his head. “However, Dakotah made the decision to stick it out there, and perhaps influence his father to live a more godlike existence. Alas, that was not meant to be, as their house burned down Monday night. Dakotah heroically dragged his father, who, by the way, was in flames, and put out the fire on him. The doctors at the hospital say that Dakotah saved his father’s life.” The congregation applauded loudly, while Dakotah looked down and fidgeted.

“I had arranged for Dak to stay with us at our house; unfortunately, for us at the church at least, he has accepted an offer to start a new life in Kentucky. There, while working at an automotive plastics plant, he hopes to save his money, so he can pursue his real dream, which is to be a meteorologist. Since he’s leaving tomorrow night, he said one of his regrets was not being here Sunday to say goodbye to everyone. Well, I couldn’t let him leave like that, so I, with a little help, made some phone calls, and here you all are!” Rev. Daniels beamed, as Dakotah managed a weak smile.

Rev. Daniels turned to Dakotah, smiling warmly. “Dak, I just want you to know you are an integral part of our church family, and you will be missed greatly. Surprised?”

Dakotah nodded, speechless.

“Care to say a few words?” Rev. Daniels offered.

A look of horror flashed in Dakotah’s eyes. Slowly, he turned to Ely, who was standing off to the side. She silently mouthed “Go on.” while motioning with her hands.

“You can do it, Dakotah!!” Vanessa yelled from the congregation.

Vanessa’s words snapped Dakotah out of his panic. Standing up, he caught his breath, and cleared his throat.

“Hey, Van, surprised to see you here!” Dakotah said, rushed.

Vanessa shrugged and smiled, but kept silent.

Dakotah took a deep breath, and exhaled. “First of all, I want to say I’m sorry to Russell, Hector, and Zeke, for leaving. Sometimes I guess you have to make sacrifices in order to make your dreams come true. It’s not going to be easy, but I know it’s for the best, and I’m going to miss you guys a lot. All I can tell you is don’t be afraid to follow your dreams, and don’t listen to anyone that tells you that you can’t do it.”

“Before I knew about this place, I didn’t live an easy life. I did have Andre and Grandma, but they’re both in Heaven now. Not sure if without your love, I would’ve made it. You know, New Hope is a pretty good name, because it helped give me a new hope in life. All you all did was to show me love, and I’ll never forget it for the rest of my life!” He began to tear up a little. “Thank you. Thank you all for everything!” Dakotah sat down, embarrassed and tearful.

Rev. Daniels stood up as everyone applauded. “Speaking for everyone here, thank you, Dakotah. Thank you for your service, your kindness, and your love.” Out of the corner of his eye, he spotted Mama exiting the kitchen. “Hey, Mama, supper ready yet?”

“Yes, sir!” Mama replied loudly, grinning.

“Sorry, Dak, but this is the real reason everyone’s here.” Rev. Daniels said, laughing. The congregation followed suit; Dakotah smiled, and shook his head.


Mama’s casserole was possibly her finest work that Dakotah could remember; there were no leftovers. He offered to help clean up, as per custom, but Mama refused.

“It’s your night, sugar.” Mama said, sweetly but firmly.

Dakotah frowned. “I feel like I need to be doing something!”

“It’s alright.” Mama said, smiling. “You’ll be busy soon enough!”

Vanessa walked up, smiling sweetly, and hugged Dakotah tightly.

“I’ll miss you, Dakotah.” Vanessa said, with a trace of melancholy in her voice. “We had some good times together.”

“We did, didn’t we?” Dakotah said, smiling. “I’ll miss you, too.”

“Hey, Dak, could you come over here for a second?” Rev. Daniels shouted from across the sanctuary.

“Oh, okay!” Dakotah yelled back. “Van, I guess I’ll see you around sometime, when I get back up here for a visit? Don’t work too hard, okay?”

“I’ll try not to.” Vanessa said, smiling warmly. Dakotah hurried away as Ely walked up to Vanessa.

“Where’s your boyfriend?” Ely said, snarkily. “Did he dump you already?”

“He’s working tonight.” Vanessa replied, ignoring Ely’s attitude. “I suppose Hannah is rejoicing?”

“Relieved, I think.” Ely said pointedly.

“No wonder.” Vanessa said, slyly. “A guy that worships the ground you walk on is sleeping across the hallway.”

Ely shrugged. “Not my fault he’s dumber than a rock, and didn’t choose you.”

“You know, before Dakotah came along, you were pretty dowdy.” Vanessa said, accusingly. Look at you now; you’re wearing contacts, you let your hair grow out, and it’s styled nicely. You’re even wearing makeup! Tell me that’s for Hannah’s sake!”

“Have you ever thought that I might like the way I look?” Ely said, irritated.

“And if it drives Dakotah crazy, it’s a win-win?” Vanessa said, continuing to press.

“It’s just a coincidence, that’s all.” Ely said, dismissively.

“Hmmmm…..” Vanessa said, gathering her thoughts. “If you were honest with your feelings, Dakotah would be staying here.”

Ely began to grit her teeth and fume, frustrated.

Hector walked up to Vanessa, and hugged her. “Are you coming back?” he asked, hopeful.

“I’m sorry, Hector.” Vanessa replied, sadly. “I go to another church now.”

“Who’s going to be here on Wednesday nights, now that Dakotah is leaving?” Russell asked, worried.

“I hope it’s not her!” Zeke chimed in, pointing at Ely.

“Yeah, she’s scary.” Russell agreed.

Dakotah returned, and hearing the boys’ conversation, laughed. “Easy, guys. She can be a little like Android 18 sometimes, but she’s really nice.”

“Whatever.” Ely muttered, as she began to walk away. “I’m going to see if Mama needs any help.”

“Why do you have to go, Dakotah?” Hector asked, sadly.

“Because there’s a really good job waiting on me down there.” Dakotah replied, kindly. “I’m going to save my money, and go to college.”

“What are you going to be again?” Zeke asked. “A m-m-me.”

“Meteorologist.” Dakotah said, smiling. “Like a weatherman.” It’s going to take a lot of work and time, but it’ll be worth it, I hope.”

“Will you ever come back?” Russell asked, sadly.

“I hope so.” Dakotah replied. “It’s going to be a few years, though. By the time I get back, you guys will probably be in high school!”

“Ugh.” Russell groaned, shaking his head.

“I know. I don’t like it either.” Dakotah said, full of empathy. “I‘ll tell you all one thing, though. Listen.” Dakotah made sure he made eye contact with each of the boys. “Don’t ever be afraid to dream. What do you want to do with the rest of your life? What sounds really cool?”

“I don’t know.” Zeke said, shrugging his shoulders.

“Me either.” Hector echoed.

“I wanna make video games!” Russell blurted.

“You’re too dumb!” Hector chided. “You ain’t no geek!”

“Whoa, whoa!” Dakotah interjected, holding his hands up. “Who says he’s too dumb? Hector, you’re wrong! If I can be a meteorologist, then he can make video games! I’m not smart, but I can work hard, and make my dream come true! So can any of you! I always had someone tell me I was too stupid or worthless to make anything of myself. If you can dream it, you can do it! All it takes is faith in yourself, hard work, and courage. Mama told me that herself. There’s always people out there trying to pull you down, saying you aren’t worth anything, or can’t do anything, but I’m proof that’s not so! When I get back here, I want you all to be getting straight As!”

The three boys all groan. “I don’t think I’ve ever got an A.” Zeke lamented.

“I mean it! Straight As!” Dakotah said forcefully. “You get straight As, you can get grants and scholarships to go to college.”

“I think I want to be a mechanic.” Hector said simply.

“That doesn’t change anything.” Dakotah said, remaining serious. “I figure good mechanics have to go to school, right? Cars today have a lot of computers in them, I think. It all starts with a good work ethic, and a belief in yourself, and the courage to see it through. All I can say is go for it!”

“I don’t know what I want to do!” Zeke moaned.

“That’s okay, you’re still a kid.” Dakotah said, soothingly. I was eighteen before I figured out what I wanted to do.”

“I’m going to miss you!” Russell cried.

“I’m going to miss you too, Russell. All of you. A lot.” Dakotah said, becoming misty eyed. “I don’t know who’s going to take my place, but I want you to keep coming here, and for you all to be nice to them. Even if it’s Ely.” he laughed.

“Oooohhhh, creepy girl.” Hector said, shuddering.

“She can be, that’s for sure!” Dakotah laughed. “But you know what? She worked real hard, got good grades, and in the fall, she’ll be going to college, and in a couple of years, to Japan!”

“Like Godzilla?” Zeke quipped. Everyone laughed really hard, as only boys can.

“The point I’m trying to make is even Elyzilla can achieve her dreams of stomping Tokyo by working hard, and believing in herself.” Dakotah said, smiling. You can, too!”

“I’ll be King Ghidorah!” Russell shouted, happily.

“Goku!” echoed Hector.

“Vegeta!” cried Zeke.

“Vegeta’s lame, dude.” Hector chided.

“Krillin?” asked Zeke, unsure.

“Yeah, Krillin!” Russell shouted. “He’s good!”

“Cool!” Zeke replied, enthusiastically.

“That’s the spirit!” Dakotah exclaimed, holding out his fist. He began to chant “Go!” repeatedly; within seconds, the three boys followed suit, flinging their fists skyward with the last “Go!”

“I’m going to miss you guys so much!” Dakotah said, emphatically. “Mama’s going to keep me updated on how you are doing, so don’t let me down, okay?”

All the boys nod, silently.

“Guys, I’m afraid it’s already time to go.” Dakotah sighed.

“Awww.” The three boys said in unison.

“Russell, Zeke, Hector, I love you guys.” Dakotah said sadly, hugging each one. “I’ll see you when I get back, you hear?”

Zeke, Russell, and Hector left, waving weakly, and wiping away tears. Dakotah waved back, also wiping away tears.

Vanessa walked up to Dakotah. “I’ve been watching you the whole time, and I think you could easily train to be a full time counselor.” she said, smiling. “Do you know how amazing you are? When those boys first arrived here, it was all we could do to keep them in line!”

“I’m not doing anything special.” Dakotah said, embarrassed. “Just treating people the way I want to be treated, or how I wished I was treated when I was their age.”

Vanessa looked at her watch. “Look, I have to work tomorrow night, so I guess this is goodbye for now.”

“I’m going to miss you, Van.” Dakotah said, sadly. “You’ve been a big help to me here.”

“We had some good times, right?” Vanessa asked, trying to stay upbeat.

“Yes, we did.” Dakotah affirmed, smiling.

Vanessa hugged Dakotah tightly; he reciprocated equally.

“I hope you and Ely become a couple someday.” Vanessa said, looking into Dakotah’s eyes. “I mean that.”

“Me, too.” Dakotah agreed, sheepishly.

“Don’t freak out, okay?” Vanessa whispered, a sly smile forming on her lips. “I’m just going to get Ely’s blood boiling a little bit.”

“What?” Dakotah said, confused. “What do you-“

Vanessa kissed Dakotah firmly on the lips, turned toward Ely, noted her shocked look, gave Dakotah a thumbs up, and left.

“I can’t believe she did that!” Ely seethed, shocked and angry. “And she has a boyfriend, too! Who does she think she is Becky?”

Dakotah remained silent, but couldn’t help but smile.

“Well, it’s too late to enjoy that, mister!” Ely fussed, pointing at Dakotah. “You’re leaving tomorrow!”

Mischievously, Dakotah leaned near Ely’s ear. “She’s not bad.” he whispered. “She’s almost as good as you.”

Ely gasped, and furious, hit Dakotah with both hands clenched. “Jerk!” she snapped, as she stomped out of the building.

Rev. Daniels and Mama enter the room, just in time to see Ely’s assault and exit though the other door. ”Well, that’s no way to treat our guest of honor.” Rev. Daniels muttered.

“Wonder what brought that on?” Mama said, concerned.

“Dare I ask what brought that on?” Rev. Daniels asked Dakotah.

“Ah, no.” Dakotah replied, shaking his head. “Let’s just say she had the wrong buttons pushed.”

“That can certainly happen with her.” Rev. Daniels said, nodding his head. “She’s just like her mother, God bless her.”

“I think you’ve said that before.” Dakotah said, thinking. “You’ve must’ve had your hands full!”

“I’ll treasure those days always, good and bad, just as I treasure these.” Rev. Daniels said, wistfully.

“Well, this mess ain’t gonna clean itself.” Mama said, surveying the scene.

“Can I help?” Dakotah asked.

“Dak, why don’t you go see what Ely’s up to?” Rev. Daniels suggested. “We’ve got this.”

“I don’t think she wants to see me right now.” Dakotah said, sadly.

“She probably doesn’t, but she’ll regret it Friday.” Rev. Daniels said, pointedly. “Not sure how much alone time you’ll have with her in the next twenty-four hours.”

Dakotah sighed. “Okay. I’ll go.” “See you tomorrow, Mama?”

“You better believe it, sweetie.” Mama replied, smiling.

Smiling ever so slightly, Dakotah put his coat on, and left through the same exit Ely did earlier.

“Still trying to play last minute matchmaker?” Mama asked, curious.

“Not really.” Rev. Daniels said, exhaling. “Dakotah’s leaving is extremely hard on both of them. I just want them to work out their angst together, before it’s too late.”

Dakotah walked around the perimeter of the church, searching for Ely in vain. Becoming concerned, he strode to the house, where he immediately noticed that her car was gone.

“Crap.” Dakotah cursed, kicking himself. “Where could she have gone at this hour? Ann Arbor? Should I tell Alan? No, she’s probably okay. She’s eighteen, after all.”

Dakotah walked into the house, showered, and afterward peeked outside to see if Ely returned; however, her car was nowhere to be seen. Frustrated, he plopped on the couch.

Rev. Daniels walked in a moment later with a confused look on his face. “Where did she go?” he asked, a trace of worry in his voice.

“I don’t know.” Dakotah replied, downtrodden. “She was already gone when I got here.

Rev. Daniels hummed to himself as he called Ely’s cell, to no avail. “Did you see a note, or anything?” he asked Dakotah.

Dakotah silently shook his head.

Rev. Daniels made a face as he began to write a text on his phone. “You’re technically an adult now, but I would still appreciate it if you give me a heads up as to your location.” he wrote.

“I guess I made her really mad.” Dakotah mumbled.

“Dak, it’s none of my business what happened, but I hope you two work it out by tomorrow.” Rev. Daniels said, solemnly.

“Yeah. Me, too.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I think I’m going to bed. I haven’t done anything today, but I feel exhausted, for some reason.”

“Imagine that. Stress will do that to a person, sometimes.” Rev. Daniels said, empathetically. “I’m going to watch a little TV, until she shows up. It’s not like I’ll be able to sleep, anyway. Never had to deal with something like this before.”

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah said, dejected.

“It’s okay.” Rev, Daniels said, forcing a weak smile. “I’ve seen this coming for a few months now. Just part of being a parent, I guess. Besides, having faith in God is pretty pointless, if there’s nothing in life that happens that requires for one to pray for His help, don’t you think?”

Dakotah tried to process Rev. Daniels words, but could not. Shaking his head, he began to walk to the bedroom, but stopped.

“Thanks for everything tonight.” Dakotah said, softly. “It was amazing.”

“My pleasure.” Rev. Daniels said, warmly. “You deserved it.”

“I hope you’re right.” Dakotah said, looking down. “Goodnight.”

“Goodnight.” Rev. Daniels said, looking down at his phone.

Dakotah got into bed, and stared at the ceiling. “Lord, please bring Ely home safe.” he prayed aloud in a whisper. “In Jesus’ name, Amen.”

“So this is my last night in Michigan.” he thought to himself. “I hope she’s okay.”


Dakotah spent the next few hours tossing and turning in bed, only sleeping for a few minutes here and there. Finally, overcome with fatigue, he fell in a deep sleep.

Almost instantly, Dakotah awoke to arguing in the living room. He couldn’t understand what was said, only that there was a lot of emotion between Ely and Rev. Daniels. He was tempted to go see what was being said, but he thought better of it. Finally, after a few minutes, he could hear Ely stomping into her room, and slamming the door.

Dakotah exhaled. “Well, at least she’s okay.” he thought. He rolled over to check the time; the digital clock radio on the nightstand read 2:35 AM. “Whoa.” he muttered. Relieved, Dakotah began to drift off again.

Once again, Dakotah’s slumber was interrupted, this time by someone shaking him aggressively.

“Wake up!” Ely whispered forcefully.

Dakotah sat up, trying to clear the cobwebs out of his head. Ely sat down on the bed beside him. Dakotah tried to reach for the light, but Ely grabbed his hand, stopping him. “I don’t want you to see me.”

“I’m so sorry for earlier!” Dakotah exclaimed, keeping his voice at a whisper. “I shouldn’t have said that!”

“You think?” Ely snarled, becoming furious again. “That was a total jerk thing to say! I can’t believe you said that!”

“Sorry.” Dakotah said, meekly.

“You know what ticks me off about all this?” Ely continued to rage. “It’s like you, Dad, and Vanessa never can get it! Like it or not, I’m in a relationship with Hannah! But you guys keep trying to ship us! Seriously!”

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah said, full of melancholy. “I regretted it as soon as I said it.”

“And what was Van’s deal?” Ely wailed. “There was a time she’d completely freeze up if she ever thought about kissing a guy. She really has changed.”

“She kissed me to get your blood boiling.” Dakotah said, simply. “Her words.”

“It worked.” Ely muttered, bitterly. “I drove by her house to give her a piece of my mind, but she wasn’t home.”

“I’m guessing she went to the hospital.” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly. “What’s-his-name is there tonight.”

“She’d better tell him what she did before someone else does.” Ely said, shaking her head.

“I’m sure she did.” Dakotah said, confidently. “You wouldn’t have ratted her out, would you?”

“No.” Ely replied, irritated.

“Where did you go after that?” Dakotah asked, curious.

“Detroit, to the diner.” Ely said simply.

“No way!” Dakotah exclaimed, surprised. “Did you tell your dad?”

“Yes.” Ely said, unapologetically. “He was really upset. I’d never seen him that mad before. I told him he’d better get used to it, because I’ll be in Ann Arbor in seven months.”

“That was kinda harsh.” Dakotah said, becoming perturbed. “He was worried about you. So was I!”

“I know.” Ely acquiesced.  “I’ll apologize first thing in the morning.”

“Why to the diner?” Dakotah asked.

“I had to get away from everyone, and think.” Ely said, shaking her head. “I was so angry, and I didn’t know why.”

“Did you figure it out?” Dakotah asked, curious.

“Because you’re leaving.” Ely replied, softly. “I know it doesn’t make any sense. After all, I’m going away to college in the fall, and hopefully to Japan in a couple of years.”

“I’m not happy about it, either.” Dakotah agreed. “This is my best option, just as going to Ann Arbor is yours.”

“I know.” Ely nodded.

“Would you rather both of us give up our dreams, stay here, and get married?” Dakotah said, impishly.

“Baka!” Ely said, laughing.

“I think Vanessa was trying to make you jealous, you know.” Dakotah said, grinning.

“I know.” Ely replied, shaking her head.

“Did it?” Dakotah asked, curious.

“No.” Ely replied, derisively. “I know where your heart’s at.”

“Do you know where yours is?” Dakotah asked, mindlessly.

“Idiot, how many times do I have to tell you?” Ely said, irritated. “My heart’s with Hannah!”

“No matter how many times you tell me that, it still hurts.” Dakotah said, sadly.

“Gomen. But it’s the truth.” Ely said, pointedly. I’ll tell you one thing, though.”

“What’s that?” Dakotah asked.

Ely took Dakotah’s hands into hers. “You have been my best friend these past eight months. I don’t know what I’d do if you weren’t in my life.”

“Me, too.” Dakotah said, his voice becoming soft.

“And, you have been the source of most of my trials and tribulations!” Ely said, warmly.

“Back at you!” Dakotah laughed.

Suddenly, Ely’s countenance changed, and she began to cry. “And I’m going to miss you so much!” she cried, burying her head into his chest, sobbing.

Dakotah held her tightly, and began to cry, too. Not knowing what else to do, he began to stroke her hair. Although he found this pleasurable, his heart began to fill with melancholy. After a few minutes, Dakotah realized Ely was asleep.

“Hey.” Dakotah whispered, jostling Ely gently.

Ely groaned, and slowly gaining her bearings, sat up.

“As much as I would like nothing else than have you sleep here in my arms, maybe you’d better go back to your own bed.” Dakotah said, quietly.

Silently, Ely nodded, and left.

Dakotah laid down, closed his eyes, and sighed.

February 5th, 2009

Dakotah slowly awoke, rolled over, and stretched, gazing groggily at the clock.

“Nine o’clock? Seriously?” he gasped. Unk will be here in twelve hours! Alan’s already at the church, too!”

Dakotah busied himself, making the bed, eating a bowl of cereal, and quickly getting dressed.

Putting on his coat, Dakotah walked to the church. There had been a dusting of snow earlier, but the skies were beginning to break up a bit. However, what little sun that tried to shine through had no effect, as the wind chill was still below zero.

“You’re late!” Rev. Daniels barked as Dakotah entered the office. “I’m going to have to dock you an hour pay!”

“Oh, I didn’t know I was supposed to work today!” Dakotah exclaimed, suddenly embarrassed. “You told me to stay home yesterday!”

“That was yesterday, when we had to prepare for your surprise shindig.” Rev. Daniels countered.

“Well, your daughter was waking me up at 3AM, so forgive me for sleeping in.” Dakotah replied, with fake indignation.

“Oh? A little last minute romance?” Rev. Daniels said, smirking.

Dakotah laughed. “No. We were just airing out our feelings, and had a good cry, then she fell asleep. I had to wake her up, so she could go to her own bed.”

“Your chivalry is probably unmatched by anyone in your generation.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head.

“Like I would try anything in your house, even if I wanted to!” Dakotah retorted, smiling.

“Like you would tell me any different!” Rev. Daniels accused, smiling back.

“Are you saying I’m not telling the truth?” Dakotah asked, becoming slightly irritated.

“No, no, no!” Rev. Daniels replied, laughing, putting his hand on Dakotah’s shoulder. “I’m just teasing you. Do you think I’d let you live in my house if I didn’t completely trust you?”

“No.” Dakotah chuckled.

“However, my daughter is a different story.” Rev. Daniels sighed. “She’s very headstrong, and thinks she knows best. You probably heard our little tiff last night.”

“Yeah.” Dakotah said, looking down. “I’ve never heard you angry before.”

“I understand the importance of getting away to clear one’s head, but an eighteen year old girl in inner city Detroit at midnight is potentially bad thing.” Rev. Daniels said, somberly. “All it would take would be a vehicle breakdown, and she could’ve been in trouble. It’s that attitude that will give me gray hair in the fall.”

“I guess she’s paying for it this morning.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I’m surprised she made it to school today.”

“She has her first big test in Government today.” Rev. Daniels said. “She couldn’t miss it, since this is the last compulsory class she needs to graduate.”

“I guess I’ll miss out on her graduation.” Dakotah sighed.

“I’ll send pics.” Rev. Daniels said, empathetically. Your uncle said that he’d get you a phone, right?”

“That’s what he said, though I’d rather pay the bill for it.” Dakotah said, frowning. “They’re doing enough for me as it is.”

“They seem to be good people.” Rev. Daniels said, remaining upbeat. Type A personalities, to be sure.”

“If they didn’t love each other so much, they’d have killed each other by now.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

Rev. Daniels looked down at his watch. “Hey, you mind watching the store for a bit?” he asked, smiling. “I promised some folks I would visit today.”

“Sure!” Dakotah replied happily. “I’d be honored! I can’t think of a better way to spend my last day!”

“Great!” Rev. Daniels said, enthusiastically. “Mama ought to be here about noon today. She had to clean a house this morning.”

“She cleans houses?” Dakotah said, surprised. “She never told me that!”

“Oh, yes!” Rev. Daniels said, nodding. “She has at least a dozen houses she cleans.”

“I don’t know how she does all that, and so much around here, too!” Dakotah exclaimed, impressed.

“She’s a worker, that’s all there is to it.” Rev. Daniels said with a shrug. “I’ll be back in a few hours. Tell Mrs. Bivins I said hi!”

“Got it.” Dakotah said, saluting Rev. Daniels as he walked out the door. “Have fun!”

Now alone, Dakotah walked amongst the pews, past the altar, the Sunday school rooms, and into the fellowship hall. He noted where the mistletoe once hung, where he and Ely had kissed. Finally, he walked into the kitchen, where he had helped Mama clean up many times.

I’ll miss this church most of all.”  he thought to himself, sadly.


“You mean he left you all alone again?” Mama asked, bemused. “If’n I didn’t know no better, he was seein’ a lady somewhere!”

“I don’t think so.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I think he’s still hung up on Ely’s mother. The lady that owns the diner in Detroit wants him badly, but he totally ignored her.”

“He worries me sometimes.” Mama said, frowning. “It’s been almost fifteen years since he lost her, and I don’t think he’s let it go yet. He needs to find somebody to keep him company before Ely’s gone for good, It’s going to be awful quiet in that house.”

“He says he talks to his wife all the time, and that he doesn’t feel alone.” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly.

“I can hear him saying that, but that’s no substitute for a real woman.” Mama said, sadly.

“If that’s the case, why haven’t you found someone to replace George?” Dakotah asked, innocently.

Mama cackled loudly. “At my age, all there is out there is a bunch of old goats that ain’t worth nothin’! They just slow me down!”

Dakotah laughed. “Brother Alan says you clean a lot of houses. Don’t you think you should start slowing down?”

“Why?” Mama replied, confused by the concept. I like doin’ what I do, I like the people I clean for, and I like the money! I reckon I’ll always be doin’ somethin’ until I can’t.”

“You’re not going to retire?” Dakotah asked, concerned.

“Retiring might be alright for some folk, but I like doin’ what I do, so it ain’t like work.” Mama said, pointedly. “That’s important. I hope you like bein’ a weatherman, cause then it won’t be like work for you, either.”

“I hope so, too!” Dakotah said, smiling.

Suddenly, two long blasts of an air horn tore through the tranquility of the sanctuary.

“What the heck was that?” shouted Mama, as they rushed to a window.

As he peered outside, a chill went up Dakotah’s spine. Parked at the curb was a bright blue semi tractor, pulling a load of pipe on the trailer. The door read RJ Trucking, Pig Lick, Kentucky in silver script.

“Why is my uncle here?” Dakotah cried, aghast. “He’s like nine hours early!”

Dakotah grabbed his coat, and hurriedly strode to the idling truck. As he walked around the front, Ralph began to climb out of the cab.

“Didn’t expect you to get here so early!” Dakotah exclaimed, trying to keep calm.

“Dak boy, I deeply apologize.” Ralph said, shaking his head. “But we gotta go. I need you to get your stuff, and load up.”

“Now?” Dakotah croaked, feeling the blood drain from his face.

“Now.” Ralph said sadly, but firmly. “See, I reckon it was my own screw up. I had a brain fart and miscalculated what time I had to pick you up. My earlier figuring didn’t take in to account that I had to drive an extra 400 miles.”

“What does that have to do with me leaving now?” Dakotah asked, panicking, and totally confused.

“Because I have to be in western North Dakota by five o’clock tomorrow evening.” Ralph stated, patiently. “If they don’t get their pipe on time, they’ll find someone else that will, know what I’m sayin’?

“Yeah.” Dakotah mumbled, thinking. “Can you hang on for a little bit?”

Ralph looked at his watch. “I have thirty minutes, tops. I’m sorry.”

“I have to go call Brother Alan!” Dakotah exclaimed, and began to run toward the church.

Dakotah met Mama as he ran inside. “He’s wanting to leave now!” he exclaimed. “I have to call Brother Alan!”

“Goodness!” Mama said, surprised.

Ralph stepped inside. “I’m sorry ma’am, but it can’t be helped.” he apologized, sadly.

“Well, if it can’t be helped, it can’t be helped.” Mama said, nodding. “While you’re waiting on Dak, would you care for something to eat? Me and Dak was fixin’ to have lunch.”

“No thanky, I got stuff in the truck.” Ralph said, shaking his head. “I don’t want to trouble you none.”

“If you happen to change your mind, I have some hot roast beef sandwiches in here.” Mama said, sweetly. “More than enough for all of us!”

“Did you say hot roast beef sandwiches?” Ralph said, thinking. “Hey, that don’t sound too bad!”

“I guarantee you ain’t gonna find anything better before you get home!” Mama asserted.

“I reckon I’ll take you up on your offer, then!” Ralph said, happily. He followed Mama into the kitchen.

As Dakotah was reaching for the telephone, it began to ring. “Hello, New Hope!” he said, breathlessly.

“Is Brother Alan there?” A familiar voice asked.

“Hello, Mrs. Bivins.” Dakotah said, trying to keep composure. “No, he’s out visiting again.”

“Oh, is this Dakotah?” Mrs. Bivins asked. “I thought you were leaving today?”

“Yes, Ma’am, I guess I’m leaving in a few minutes.” Dakotah replied, staring at the clock.

“That’s odd that Brother Alan isn’t there to see you off.” Mrs. Bivins said, sharply. “I bet he’s over at Mrs. Harris’ house. All that woman does is whine and complain, and Brother Alan is too polite to tell her to get over it, and have a little faith.”

Dakotah took a deep breath. “I’m really sorry, but my uncle just arrived to pick me up, about nine hours early.” he said, straining to stay patient. “I was about to try to call Brother Alan to see where he was, because otherwise, I won’t be able to see him before I leave. Then you called. I’m sorry, but I have to try to find him.”

There was a pause on the phone for a few seconds. “Oh, I see.” Mrs. Bivins said, quietly. “Well, you have a good life, young man.”  she continued, before she abruptly hung up the phone.

Dakotah exhaled, hoping that he did not offend Mrs. Bivins. Quickly, he dialed Rev. Daniels’ phone number. He groaned in anguish, as the phone went directly to voicemail. Steeling himself, he tried Rev. Daniels’ phone again, only to get the same result. A third time failed, also.

“You better get something to eat before you go!” Mama pleaded. Your uncle says he can’t wait much longer!”

“Okay, okay, okay, I’m coming!” Dakotah said, frustrated. “Maybe he’ll show up soon.”

“Dak boy, do you eat like this every day?” Ralph gushed.

“Sometimes.” Dakotah said, simply. “I have been this week. Mama’s been spoiling me.”

“I tell you what,” Ralph exhorted, “if I has here much I’d be fatter than a tick! This is the best stuff I ate in years! Don’t tell your aunt I said that, boy!”

“Now, you don’t be talkin’ like that, you gonna make me blush!” Mama said, embarrassed slightly. “You want another sandwich?”

“Hel-heck, yeah!” Ralph said, ecstatically. The only way this would be better if’n I had some beer to chase it down with! Hurry up’n eat, Dak boy, won’t take me long to chow this down!”

Feeling sad, Dakotah ate as quickly as he could. Fortunately, he was a quick eater, having spent years fending off Frank at the dinner table. In five minutes, his sandwich was but a memory.

“Well, go get your stuff!” Ralph said, rubbing his belly. “We gotta git! Ma’am, thank you for lunch! It was really fine!”

“Wish you could stay here longer.” Mama said, smiling. “I don’t know where Brother Alan went to.”

Dakotah hustled from the church to Rev. Daniels’ house. He double-checked his room and the bathroom for anything he missed. Finding nothing, he walked into Ely’s room. Remembering all the hours they studied together, and watching television together, he began to weep. Seeing an ink pen and some paper, he wrote a quick note.”

I love you. I’ll miss you. I’ll never forget you.


Wiping away tears, he grabbed his suitcase, and went outside, toward Ralph’s truck.

“Took you long enough!” Ralph chided. “Dang near one o’clock local! I’m getting further behind ever’ minute!”

Ralph snatched the luggage out of Dakotah’s hands, and with one easy motion, chucked it into the storage compartment under the sleepers.

“Alrighty!” Ralph boomed. “Time to git! Nice meetin’ you, ma’am.” he said, nodding toward Mama. In a flash, he climbed in the truck, and revved the engine, causing black smoke to billow from the stacks.

Dakotah hugged Mama tightly, weeping. “I’m going to miss you so much!” he cried.

The ever stoic Mama began to tear up. “You go make Mama proud, y’hear?” she said, smiling weakly.

“I’ll do my best.” Dakotah said, trying to put on a brave face. “Tell Brother Alan and Ely I’m sorry I had to go so soon.”

“I’ll do that.” Mama said, wiping away tears. “Be careful, hon. Let us know when you get there.”

Dakotah nodded, climbed in the truck, and waved as the truck began to pull out into the street. He looked in the side view mirror, and saw Mama standing in front of the church, waving.

“As God as my witness, I’ll be back.” Dakotah thought to himself, while wiping away tears.


Epilogue – Part one

“Hi, Daddy!” Ely said, as she entered the living room. “Got a 100 on the Government test! Where’s Dak?”

“He’s gone.” Rev. Daniels said, sadly.

“What?” Ely cried in disbelief. “No way!”

“Yeah.” Rev. Daniels muttered. “About one o’clock, according to Mama. I missed him, too.”

“I thought his uncle wouldn’t be here until nine!” Ely said, confused.

“I thought so, too, but it seems he was far behind schedule.” Rev. Daniels said, flatly. “Mama said Dak was pretty upset, but he had no choice but to go then.”

Ely exhaled sharply, shook her head, but said nothing.

“Why don’t you get cleaned up and changed, and we’ll go out to eat?” Rev. Daniels offered, trying to change the mood.

Ely nodded, and silently trundled off to her bedroom. She spotted Dakotah’s note, read it, tore it up, and threw it in the trash.

“He’s gone now.” Ely muttered to herself. “Time to move on.”

End Part One

Chapter 14

Chapter 14

January 31st, 2009


“I appreciate you comin’ up here and helpin’ me, but you two needn’t have come up here.” Mama said, appreciatively. “I would’ve got it done soon enough.”

“That’s all right, I needed some normalcy in my life.” Dakotah said, smiling. “You always said there was no better therapy than cleaning!”

“Well, that’s true!” Mama grinned. “Especially if I said it!”

“It was Daddy’s idea for me to get Dak, and bring him over.” Ely said, polishing a pew. “He said it would be a “win-win” situation.”

“I was surprised when he called.” Dakotah said, pushing a dust mop on the floor. “I’m thankful that he did.”

“Honey, if you suffer any more hardship, I’m gonna start callin’ you Job!” Mama sighed. “You sure you gonna be all right?”

“I hope so.” Dakotah shrugged.

“Well, if things start gettin’ too crazy, you holler, and I’ll come get you, you hear?” Mama said, pointing her finger at Dakotah.

“I hope it doesn’t come to that.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I think I can make a go of it, as long as my father doesn’t get too weird.”

“Well, it looks like we’re done for a couple of weeks.” Mama said, satisfied. “Thanks for helpin’!”

“Anytime.” Dakotah smiled.

“Oh, we have to get a couple of things out of the storeroom.” Ely said, nonchalantly.

“Oh, yeah?” Dakotah said, curious. “What’s that?”

“You’ll see.” Ely smiled.


A stiff, frigid wind buffeted Dakotah and Ely as they walked to her car, threating to blow a card table Dakotah was carrying out of his hands. Ely followed close behind, carrying a folding chair in each arm. Dakotah maneuvered the card table in the back seat, while Ely squeezed the chairs in the tight confines of the trunk.

“Whew!” Dakotah exhaled, as he entered the passenger seat. “Didn’t know if that stuff would fit, or not!”

“That’s because I’m awesome!” Ely laughed, buckling her seat belt.

“I know.” Dakotah said, smiling, his voice carrying a trace of seriousness along with humor.

“Stop worshipping me.” Ely said, uneasily. “Seriously, you’re weirding me out.”

“Hey, you said it first!” Dakotah protested. “All I was doing was agreeing with you!”

“I was just joking, okay?” Ely said, irritated. “I’m just maybe a little above average, in reality.”

“I do think you’re awesome.” Dakotah countered. “You’ve helped me so much in the past year.”

“You’re just being biased.” Ely said, shaking her head. “Vanessa was, is, truly awesome, and you let her get away.”

“Stop selling yourself short.” Dakotah sighed. “You work just as hard as Van, and you’re just as smart, probably smarter.”

“If you were in love with her, instead of me, you wouldn’t be saying that.” Ely said, pointedly.

Ely’s remark stunned Dakotah. It was a bit of reality that he never wanted to think much about. He looked down, silent.

“I’m sorry, I don’t mean to hurt you.” Ely said, sympathetically. “It’s just that you’ve become a much bigger part of my life in the past few days, and I need to keep you at arm’s length, for the sake of my relationship with Hannah.”

Dakotah said nothing; instead, he chose to stare out the window, focused on a beam of sunlight that streamed from a crack in the clouds.

“Dakotah, I know this isn’t the best time to say this, but you know I’m going to be in Ann Arbor in about eight months.” Ely said, firmly.

“You don’t have to remind me.” Dakotah mumbled.

“I do have to remind you!” Ely exclaimed. “You need to be thinking about your own future. A future without me in it! In five years, I hope to be living in Japan, thousands of miles away. Where will you be in five years? I pray it won’t be here with you scrounging out a life still working part time for Dad.”

“Where will Hannah be in five years?” Dakotah said, snarkily.

“I don’t know the answer to that.” Ely sighed, wishing she hadn’t brought up the conversation. “Whatever happens, happens. I’ll just be happy for the time I spent with her, if our paths diverge.”

“You’re more worried about what’s best for me, than what’s best for you.” Dakotah said, irritated.

“I know what’s best for me!” Ely countered, losing patience. “Truth is, you don’t know what’s best for you! If you were smart, you would be moving to Kentucky!”

“I’m not moving to Kentucky, and that’s final!” Dakotah shouted. “My home is up here!”

“What home are you talking about?” Ely shouted back, exasperated. “You’re kicked out of your mom’s, and your dad’s a drunken deadbeat stoner who’s going to do nothing but use you while you work a part time job, which, by the way, you can’t even get to without my help. Me, the one who’s going to be gone in eight months! What’s going to happen then?”

Dakotah drooped his head, and began to sob. “S-Sorry. I-I’m sorry to have bothered you. J-Just drop me off at home, and you won’t have to worry about me anymore.”

Ely pulled to the curb, and put the car in park. “Baka!” she yelled. “Do you really think I’d turn my back on you? Baka! Baka! Baka!” she bawled, hitting him on the arm with each baka. “You know good and well that I would do anything for you! We’ve been through too much together!”

Dakotah silently stared at Ely, his face blank. Tears dripped off his cheeks. He began to rub his arm.

Ely unbuckled her seat belt, leaned over, and hugged Dakotah tightly, as tears began to flow. “I love you, Dakotah.” she whispered in his ear. “Not in the way you want me to love you, but I still love you, nonetheless.”

Dakotah attempted to speak, but Ely put her hand over his mouth. “Sh-sh-sh-sh. You are, for now and forever, my best friend.” she continued to whisper. “We would go to Hell and back for each other, and I think we’ve already made that trip a couple of times.”

Dakotah nodded as tears began to cross her hand. “Lord knows, you’ve had more than your share of hard times these past few months,” Ely continued to whisper. “and I think you’re going to have plenty more in the near future. When I say I want you to go to Kentucky, I say it because I love you, and I feel that it’s the best thing for you.” Ely removed her hand from his mouth and leaned back, sympathetically gazing at him, as she wiped away her tears.

“I’ve lost Andre and Grandma, and I lost mom too, in a way.” Dakotah sniffled. “I don’t know what I’ll do if I lose you!”

“You’re not losing me.” Ely said, soothingly. “I may be far away someday, but you’ll always be with me, if only in spirit. Okay?”

Ely’s words were cold comfort to Dakotah; he stared at the floorboard, mute.

“At least you’ll have a table and a couple of chairs to use when you eat.” Ely said, as she buckled her seat belt. “It’s kinda weird that they left the TV and mattresses, and took the rest of the furniture.”

“Console TVs are obsolete anymore, and aren’t worth anything.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “Nobody wants old used mattresses, either.”

“Well, the card table and chairs are a start.” Ely said, encouragingly. “Maybe we can get some more furniture for the house later.”

“Well, I wouldn’t want the church or whoever to donate a bunch of furniture, just so Dad can pawn it off.” Dakotah grumbled. “I don’t trust him at all.”

Dakotah felt his stomach tighten as they turned onto Poplar St. He looked up the street, and gasped in disbelief.

“Oh, my gosh!” Ely exclaimed. “Are all those cars at your house?”

There were four cars parked in the driveway, four parked in front of the house, and three cars parked haphazardly in the front yard. Ely parked her car in front of the house next door, and even with the windows shut, Dakotah could hear rock music blaring from his father’s house.

Dakotah and Ely exited the car, and proceeded to unload the table and chairs from it. Dakotah began the trek to his house carrying the card table, with Ely following. Dakotah stopped, and turned toward Ely, tucking the card table under his right arm.

“I’d better go alone from here.” Dakotah said, somberly. “I don’t know who’s there, and they may try something on you. It’s not like I can trust my dad to keep you safe.”

Ely thought to protest, but she felt uneasy, too. “Will you be okay?”  she said, becoming worried. “Do you need help with these chairs?”

“No, I think I can manage.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I don’t think anybody will mess with me too much. I’ll just keep a low profile, and stay in my room. Hopefully, they won’t trash the house in the process.”

“Be careful, okay?” Ely said, concerned.

“I’ll be fine.” Dakotah replied, reassuringly. “You be careful going to Ann Arbor tonight.”

“I’ll be fine.” Ely repeated, using the same tone of voice.

“Tell Hannah I said hi!” Dakotah said, smiling a little.

“Yeah, right.” Ely chuckled.

“If things get too hairy, I’ll call your dad, and have him come get me.” Dakotah said, becoming serious again.

“That’s a good idea.” Ely agreed.

“See you tomorrow?” Dakotah said, trying to maintain an upbeat tone. “Just do what you used to do, and honk your horn, if I’m not already outside waiting.”

“Got it.” Ely replied, hugging him. “Take care.”

“You too.” Dakotah said, unable to keep the sadness out of his voice.

Dakotah saw Ely wave at him as she drove past, and with both arms full, all he could do was nod in return. Sighing, he looked ahead, dread rapidly enveloping him, and began a slow walk to his father’s house.

Squeezing past a rusty old car parked under the carport, Dakotah took a deep breath, and opened the door. A combination of Van Halen and cigarette smoke conspired to knock Dakotah down as he stepped inside. Sitting at a uneven, gouged wooden table with chairs missing large amounts of foam, was a man and a woman. The man looked to be about the same age as his father; balding and overweight, he wore a short sleeve pocket T-shirt and a denim vest, and carried a lit cigarette between his fingers. The woman was thin, with gaunt eyes and long, dirty blond hair. She wore a tank top, which showed the tattoos festooned on her arms.

“Who the hell are you, and what do you want?” growled the man, menacingly.

“Uh, I-I live here.” Dakotah said, shaken. “I-I’m Dakotah, Darren Lennon’s son?”

“Son?” said the woman, skeptically. “I thought he had a daughter.”

“Kinda looks like a girl.” grumbled the man.

“You’re just jealous because he has hair.” cackled the woman, pushing the man on the shoulder.

“Have you seen my father?” Dakotah said, steeling himself.

The man motioned towards the living room, as a stereo began to blare Aerosmith.

Dakotah peered into the living room. It was completely dark, save for the lights that emanated from a stereo he had never seen before, and a couple of lit cigarettes, or something else, Dakotah was unsure. It reeked of alcohol, sweat, and smoke, and it burned Dakotah’s eyes as he strained to see his father.

“Hey boy! Wheresh my damn pishaa?” A voice bellowed out, slurring his words.

Dakotah stood there, silent, unsure if that was his father yelling above the din.

“I said, wheresh my god damned pishaa?” the man repeated, staggering to his feet. “Don’t make me come over there, and kick your assh!”

Dakotah took a step back, nervously. “I-I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he exclaimed, preparing to flee if the man tried to make good on his threat.

Suddenly, the stereo went mute, causing almost everyone to direct their attention to a shadow, sitting on what appeared to Dakotah as a couch.

“Easy, Johnson, this boy doesn’t have your pizza.” the voice attached to the shadow calmly asserted.  Dakotah instantly recognized it as belonging to his father.

“Well, shomebody better be bringing me shome pishaa, or I’m gonna be pished!” Johnson continued, grumpily.

Darren motioned his son to come to him, and Dakotah obeyed, taking care he didn’t step on anyone.

“Don’t mind him.” Darren said to Dakotah. “He always gets that way before he passes out. He didn’t even order pizza.”

“Where did all this furniture come from?” Dakotah asked, unsure if he wanted to hear the answer.

“Had a little housewarming shindig, as you can see.” Darren said, smugly. “It’s good to have high friends from low places, y’know?”

“Did we get bedroom furniture, too?” Dakotah asked, unsure if this was good news, considering the condition of the rest of the furniture.

“Yeah.” Darren said, simply. “Got a couple of bedframes, and small chests for our stuff. Ain’t much, but it’s free.”

“Cool.” Dakotah said, unsure. “Well, I’m going to go get changed and crash. Thanks, everyone!”

“Whoa, son, you can’t go in there!” Darren interjected, stopping Dakotah in his tracks. “Freddy and his old lady isn’t going to like it if you barge in on them!”

Dakotah froze, trying to comprehend his father’s words for a moment, until they finally hit home. “Seriously?” he whined.

Darren shrugged, not saying anything.

“Well, I’m going to take your room, then,” Dakotah said, irritated.

“Nope, that one’s occupied, too.” Darren smirked.

Dakotah’s jaw dropped. “Where am I going to sleep, then?” he said, becoming stressed.

“Attic’s available.” Darren said, indifferently.

Dakotah stared at his father with contempt. “Whatever.” he muttered.

“Oh, I wouldn’t go into the bathroom, either, at least for a little while.” Darren said, seemingly enjoying the torment he was applying to his son. Before Dakotah could say anything else, he pointed the remote to the stereo, and in an instant, Walk This Way began to reverberate off the walls.

Rolling his eyes, Dakotah immediately thought about calling Ely, and having her come back to pick him up. However, a feeling of stubbornness began to creep in. ”I’m not going to give him the satisfaction of running me off!” he thought to himself. Instead, he trudged off into the hallway, and pulled down the chain to the attic stairs. Unfolding the stairs, he climbed into the attic, and pulled a light switch string, which bathed the attic in a weak yellow light. Bringing up the stairs behind him, he looked about the attic, and sighed, seeing his breath as he exhaled. Although he had never been in the attic before, he knew that either his aunt’s movers, or his father, had rummaged through the contents, since everything inside had been scattered.

Dakotah’s eyes focused on a large clump of white to the side of the attic. As he inspected it, he realized it was the wedding dress his grandmother wore, many, many years ago. Finding more of her old clothes, he made a pallet on the floor, and used the dress as a cover. He checked his watch. It said 5:05 PM. “Great.” he muttered. It’s not even dark outside yet.” First saying a prayer, then apologizing to his grandmother, Dakotah began to weep.


February 1st, 2009


After an abominable night, Dakotah checked his watch for what seemed to him to be the one hundredth time. It read 5:20AM. Sighing, he sat up, shivering in the cold. It was pitch black outside, the beginnings of dawn not being due for another hour.

Dakotah’s body ached, and his head pounded. The pile of clothes he slept on had offered no comfort, and the din, although now silenced, had taken its toll through the overnight hours.

It immediately became apparent to Dakotah that he hadn’t used the bathroom in over fourteen hours. It was also apparent that getting out of the attic was an issue, as the door was spring loaded, and meant to be pulled down from below, not pushed down from above. Dakotah wondered if he could manage opening the attic door without falling to the floor, and waking everyone. He hoped his bladder could manage, too.

Sitting by the attic door while leaning back, Dakotah increasingly applied pressure with his feet to the attic door. With a grunt, he finally forced the door down, as the springs groaned in protest. Dakotah froze, hoping that he didn’t wake anyone, but he heard no response. He took a deep breath, and put all his weight on the stairs, causing it to swing to the bottom position. Once again, Dakotah paused to see if anyone stirred, and once again, was met with only silence.

Rather than cause any unnecessary noise by swinging the bottom half of the ladder against the hardwood floor, Dakotah decided to jump the final three feet. His feet landed with a dull thud; he swung the ladder up to its original position, the springs reiterated their original disapproval.

As Dakotah listened yet again for signs of awakening, he made his way to the bathroom, saying a silent prayer that no one was inside. Slowly, he opened the door. The stench assailed him instantly, and he gagged, stepping away from the bathroom entrance.

Dakotah steeled himself, and stepped inside the bathroom, turning on the light. It became obvious that few of the guests, if any, knew how to flush. It was also obvious that someone had too much to drink, as he realized he was standing in vomit. Usually, Dakotah always took his shoes off when entering his grandmother’s house, but last night he kept them on, even as he tried to sleep upstairs.

Dakotah quickly relieved himself, and made his way to the kitchen. Stepping outside, taking care to rub the vomit still on his shoes off into the snow, he realized that almost every vehicle was still parked out front, meaning that his bedroom was most likely occupied.

Taking one last deep breath of clean, albeit cold, air, Dakotah stepped back in the house, and finding the phone nestled in a nest of beer cans, began to dial.

“Dak?” the voice answered after a few rings. “What’s wrong?”

“Alan, can you or Ely pick me up now?” Dakotah asked, unsure. “I need to borrow your shower, and your washer and dryer.”


“Feeling any better?” Rev. Daniels asked Dakotah, smiling.

“Somewhat.” Dakotah answered, flatly. “My body aches, but being clean is a good start. Thanks for washing my clothes.”

“Not a problem.” Rev. Daniels said. “I had some laundry to catch up on anyway.”

“Ely not up yet?” Dakotah asked, looking around.

“Little Miss Sleepyhead isn’t used to staying up late.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head. “I know she’s a big girl now, but her not getting home until 1AM was a little unnerving. She should be getting up any time now.”

That bit of information made Dakotah’s stomach tighten, as he knew that Ely spent quality time with Hannah. He looked down, trying to keep an even countenance.

“I know it’s tough, Dak, but it is what it is.” Rev. Daniels said sympathetically, putting his hand on Dakotah’s shoulder. Dakotah nodded, not saying anything.

Ely bounded out of her bedroom, reaching for her coat and keys laying on the counter as she strode to the door. “Gotta go get Dak!” she said breathlessly. “I’m running late!”

“Hold up!” Rev. Daniels shouted. Ely turned to see Dakotah standing next to her father. Her mouth gaped in surprise.

“What are you doing here?” Ely cried, astonished. “Something happen at your house?”

“You could say that.” Dakotah said, tersely. “I spent the night in the attic.”

“Wow.” was all Ely could say.


Both Sunday school and the main service had been a struggle for Dakotah to make it through without dozing off. For the first time, he was glad to see the service end. An hour and a half later, his stomach full, Dakotah began to feel even sleepier as he finished the last strands of spaghetti on his plate.

“Thanks for lunch.” Dakotah yawned, almost apologetically.

“Something the matter?” Rev. Daniels asked, perceptively.

“It seems like you’re always feeding me lately.” Dakotah replied, frowning.

“A large part of Jesus’ ministry was feeding people, you know.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling.

“I know, but-“

“No buts.” Rev. Daniels interrupted. “Someday, God will call you to do the same thing. It doesn’t even have to involve feeding people. Someone, be it friend, foe, or stranger, will need help, and you will have to decide whether to help them or not. I believe, when the time comes, you will make the right choice.”

“I know.” Dakotah mumbled, trying to keep his eyes open.

“Why don’t you go crash on the couch, or in the spare bedroom, for a little bit?” Rev. Daniels offered.

“I may just do that.” Dakotah agreed. “I’d like to go home, and check and see if my father’s “friends” had left, but I have a feeling that I have my work cut out for me when I get there, and I’m just not up to it yet.”

“You can always stay here.” Rev. Daniels proposed.

“I’m not ready to give up yet.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I think my father is trying to test me, to see if I would leave or not.”

“I believe you’re giving yourself too much credit, in this case.” Rev. Daniels countered. “I don’t think your father cares about you very much, if any.”

“We’ll find out, won’t we?” Dakotah shrugged. “Meanwhile, I’ll take you up on your offer of the spare bedroom.”

Dakotah started walking down the hall when the phone rang. “This is interesting.” Rev. Daniels said, checking the caller ID. “Hold on, Dak, this one may be for you.”

Dakotah turned toward Rev. Daniels, confused as to who would be calling him there.

“Hello?” Rev. Daniels answered. He instantly pulled the receiver away from his ear, as Dakotah could hear a woman shouting through it from several feet away. “Yes, ma’am, this is Rev. Alan Daniels. Don’t worry, he’s here, and he’s fine. Yes, ma’am.” He held the receiver toward Dakotah. “It’s your aunt.”

Dakotah rolled his eyes, and exhaled. He took the phone from Rev. Daniels, shaking his head in the process. “Hello?” he said, meekly.

“What in the hell is going on up there?” Louise yelled, making Dakotah wince. “I just tried to call your grandmother’s, and I got cussed out by some drunk bastard!”

“I’m sorry!” Dakotah said, apologizing profusely. “That was probably one of my father’s friends.”

“Your father?” Louise exclaimed, incredulously. “I guess that worthless pile of crap is there to claim his inheritance?”

“I guess if he hadn’t showed up, his aunt would’ve taken it all.” Dakotah said, cringing at the thought of defending his father.

“Bunch of vultures picking over bones.” Louise muttered. “It wasn’t like the poor lady was rich. So, you moved out of there, right?”

“No.” Dakotah said simply, expecting the worst.

“WHAT???” Louise roared. “You can’t be serious! Why in the name of Jesus would you even spend one second there?”

“I wanted to make a go of it there.” Dakotah said, hesitant. “I didn’t want to feel like I was depending on someone. My father and I had worked out a deal, or so I thought, before he invited all his party buddies over, and trashed the place.”

“So, I’m hoping you’re done there now?” Louise said, impertinently. “I hope you learned your lesson!”

Dakotah paused for a second, dreading her reaction to his answer. “I’m not moving out. I’m going over there, and demand some respect. At least give him one more chance.”

Dakotah could hear Louise exhale over the phone. “You must like people abusing you, don’t you?” she said, frustrated. “Look, I know you don’t want to leave up there. As bad as it is, it’s the only place you’ve ever known. But knowing what I know, it’s a no-brainer to come down here, and live.”

“But-“ Dakotah protested.

“But nothing!” Louise interrupted, angrily. “People from outside the county are finding out about the plant, and they’re putting their applications in! I don’t know how much longer there’ll be jobs here! It ain’t that bad here! Lexington is a pretty big city, and it’s less than an hour away. There’s all kinds of colleges around here to study at, too. You can make yourself a good life down here!”

Dakotah paused. He knew, deep down, that his aunt was right. Down there, he’d probably make far more money than he’d ever seen. However, he wasn’t ready to give up Ely yet. He had a feeling, perhaps it was a fear, that if he moved to Kentucky, he would never see her again.

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah said firmly. “If things go bad here, and there’s no job there, then it wouldn’t be the first time I screwed up.”

Louise almost began to yell into the phone, but she caught herself. “Whatever. Can’t make a horse drink.” she sighed. “Or a stubborn mule, either. You’re as hard headed as your mother.”

“Thanks.” Dakotah muttered, stung by the insult.

“Dak, you take care, I won’t be bothering you anymore.” Louise said, resigned. “I’ll be praying for you.”

“Okay.” Dakotah said, suddenly feeling guilty. “Thanks.”

“If you change your mind, just call us.” Louise said, sadly. “We’ll come and get you.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Dakotah replied, trying to put a positive spin on things. “Love you.”

“Love you too, Dak.” Louise said. “Take care.”

Dakotah hung up the phone, shaking his head.

“Still trying to get you to move down there?” Rev. Daniels asked.

“Yeah.” Dakotah said, sighing. “She’s not happy I’m staying up here.”

“She just wants the best for you.” Rev. Daniels said with a shrug. “At least from a practical standpoint.”

“How could she know what’s best for me?” Dakotah said, becoming exasperated. “She barely even knows me!”

“I’m sure she’s thinking that down there you could make more money.” Rev. Daniels said, calmly.

“Well, there’s more important things than money!” Dakotah said, indignant.

“You’re absolutely right.” Rev. Daniels said, nodding. “But do you know what they are?”

The question stunned Dakotah. “Um. Um. The Lord. Um. Love? Family? Friends?“

“Well, those are very good.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “Of course, there are plenty more. However, those things can be found no matter where you live, right?”

Dakotah could feel his stomach drop. He stood there silent for a moment, and shook his head. “I think I’ll go take a nap.” he muttered bitterly.

Entering the bedroom, he shut the door behind him, and taking his shoes off, stretched across the bed. “Not you too, Alan.” he whimpered, as his eyes began to moisten.


“I guess I’d better get going.” Dakotah said, looking at the clock. “If those people have left, I have a lot of work ahead of me.”

“What if they are still there? It’s not like you can shoo them off.” Ely said, shaking her head.

“I guess I can get some clothes, and come back here?” Dakotah said, unsure. “If that’s okay?”

“Sure, you can stay here.” Rev. Daniels said, reassuringly. “My home is your home.”

“Okay, I appreciate it.” Dakotah said, hoping that it wouldn’t come to that.

“I’m ready.” Ely said, buttoning her coat.

“See you tomorrow at 9:00!” Rev. Daniels said, cheerfully. ”If you’re late, I’ll have to dock your pay!”

“Take it out of my ride.” Dakotah said, smiling and pointing at Ely. “It won’t be my fault that I’m late!”

“Be careful.” Rev. Daniels said, waving as they exited the house.

For the first time in several weeks, it felt warm outside to Dakotah. Sunshine, forty degrees, and a stiff southwesterly wind, gave him pause, and he reveled in it.

Soon, they were making their way back to his grandmother’s, now his father’s, house.

“I guess you had a good time last night?” Dakotah asked, hesitantly, as he was unsure if Ely would get mad at him for being nosy.

“It was fun.” Ely replied, showing little emotion. “We watched a couple of movies. It was good to get away from here for a little while.” She sighed. “I could so get used to college life!”

“I think your dad was a little worried.” Dakotah grumbled, wincing at her words.

“I know.” Ely said, ignoring Dakotah’s attitude. “He says he has faith in me, but I don’t think so.”

“Compared to my aunt’s faith in me, he has lots.” Dakotah moaned. “She thinks I’m an idiot.”

“And your point is?” Ely laughed, trying to lighten the mood. “Your aunt just wants what’s best for you, and truthfully, she makes a lot of sense.”

“I know, but-“

“But what?” Ely interrupted. “I know working in a plant isn’t for you, but-“

“What I want is to be with you!” Dakotah blurted out. “I don’t care what I’m doing!”

“Sorry, but that’s not happening.” Ely sighed. “I’m leaving in a few months. You know what would make me sadder than anything?”

“What?” Dakotah said, confused.

“Coming back here in five years, from Japan, and seeing you still stuck here, still struggling.” Ely said, sadly.

“Well, that’s just God’s will, isn’t it?” Dakotah countered, defiantly.

“God’s will is for you to be doing His work, and you be happy doing it.” Ely said, pointedly. “I doubt you’ll be happy. You’ll be missing me, miserable, and feeling sorry for yourself.”

“If that’s my lot in life, then so be it.” Dakotah said, pithily.

“If you chose Kentucky, even for a little while, in five years you could have your met degree, or at least be working on it.” Ely said, tiring of Dakotah’s self-pity.  “Who knows? You may even find someone to fall in love with down there.”

“No thanks.” Dakotah said, derisively. “I prefer girls with all their teeth, that aren’t in relationships with their cousins.”

“Baka.” Ely retorted sharply. “What about your father? What are you going to do about him? Are you going to have to sleep in the attic every night now?”

“I’m going to let my father know that he’s not going to treat me like that anymore.” Dakotah said, assuredly. “I have a right to live the way I want, too.”

“He may not think so.” Ely countered.

“He has no choice.” Dakotah puffed. “Either he respects me, or I leave, as much as I don’t want to.”

“Like I said before, it would be really weird, but I’d rather have you living with us than you sleeping in the attic.” Ely said, shaking her head slightly.

“Me, too.” Dakotah said, apprehensively, as they turned onto Poplar St..

Dakotah and Ely both sighed in relief, as all the cars from the previous day were gone. Ely pulled into the driveway, and parked under the carport.

“Thanks for the lift.” Dakotah said, gladdened. “See you tomorrow morning?”

“I’m coming in with you.” Ely announced, flatly.

“Why?” said Dakotah, alarmed. “What if he’s smoking pot?”

“I don’t know.” Ely replied, musing. “I want to stick around, in case you can’t work this thing out.”

“That’s a good idea.” Dakotah agreed. “Stay here, while I go inside and check things out. It’ll only take a moment.”

Dakotah took a deep breath, and stepped inside. It was instantly obvious to him that no effort was taken to clean up after the previous night’s revelry.

“I’m back!” Dakotah announced, hoping to get a response. Hearing none, he began to search the rooms. Fortunately for Dakotah, all the doors were wide open, which enabled him to canvass the house without worrying about walking in on something he didn’t want to see.

Dakotah exited the house through the kitchen. As he motioned Ely to come in, he propped open the door with a chair.

“What are you doing?” Ely asked, curious. “Where’s your father?”

“My father’s not home, thank the Lord.” Dakotah said, relieved. “I’m taking advantage of the warmer weather to air this house out.”

Ely followed Dakotah into the house; he reached into the cabinets under the sink, and pulled out cleaning supplies. “Good thing Grandma kept plenty of cleaning supplies in stock.” Dakotah said, smiling. “She always bought extra when they were on sale.” He handed her a pair of rubber gloves. “You don’t have to help if you don’t want to, but I’d appreciate it if you did.”

“Okay, but I’m not touching the bathroom!” Ely laughed.

Dakotah stripped the bedding off the mattresses, and loaded the washing machine, setting the water temperature on “hot”. He adjusted the thermostat to its lowest setting, and opened the windows, pulling out the cloth chinking in the process.

Ely took a couple of large trash bags, filling them with beer cans, food, and other detritus accumulated over the past day. She then wiped down the counters and tables, giggling whenever Dakotah shouted “Grooooossssss!” from the bathroom.

It took two hours, but finally, Dakotah and Ely finished cleaning the house. Dakotah shut and re-chinked the windows, and returned the thermostat to its proper setting, while Ely stored the cleaning supplies.

“I am so in need of a hot shower!” Ely exclaimed, cringing. “I’ve never seen anything so nasty as this house!”

“Well, it’s clean again.” Dakotah said, satisfied. “At least until the next party. Wonder where my father went to?”

“Does it matter?” Ely said, shrugging her shoulders. “He seriously gives me the creeps!”

“Me, too.” Dakotah nodded. “I’d almost rather have Frank!”

“I’d better be going.” Ely said, looking at the time on her phone.

“I’ll walk you to your car.” Dakotah said. “I have to take the trash out, anyway.”

Dakotah picked up two bags of trash, while Ely held the door open for him. Dakotah took a few steps, and while looking up the street, stopped just short of the trash can, and sighed.

Walking down the street, carrying two cases of beer, was his father.

Dakotah could feel his stomach tighten as he placed the trash in the trash can.

Darren looked up at Dakotah and Ely, and smiled. “Had to restock the old supply, you know.” he said to Dakotah.

“Are all those people coming back?” Dakotah said, crossly.

“Nah.” Darren said simply, shrugging his shoulders. “Getting too old to party like that every night, like I used to.”

Dakotah breathed out a sigh of relief. “That’s good. I was afraid we cleaned the house in vain.”

“Oh, you cleaned the house, eh?” Darren said as he stepped inside. “Not bad.” he said, as he placed one case of beer in the fridge. “I prefer a little clutter in a place, though. Cleanliness makes me feel a little uneasy.”

“The house wasn’t just a little cluttered!” Ely blurted. “It was disgusting!”

“Oh?” Darren said, ever so slightly surprised at Ely’s outburst. “You’re the preacher’s daughter, right?”

“Yes.” Ely replied, suddenly self-conscious.

“Son,” Darren said with a smirk. “you gotta watch these preacher’s daughters. They’re usually wild as hell, and nothing but trouble.”

Ely stared at Darren hotly, though she held her tongue.

“Ely’s not like that at all!” Dakotah protested strongly. “She’s really nice!”

“Okay, if you say so.” Darren shrugged, pausing to light a cigarette. “Don’t say I didn’t warn you.”

“Another thing.” Dakotah said, sharply. “ My bedroom is off limits. Okay?”

“Well, I didn’t invite Freddy to take your room.” Darren said, holding a hand up. “He sorta took it. Since he was kind enough to bring some of the finest weed in central Michigan to the party, I wasn’t going to run him out of there.” Chuckling, he continued. “I guess, if you wanted that room bad enough, you could’ve asked him yourself, though since he has a short temper and usually a .45 within arm’s length at all times, that probably wouldn’t have been a good idea.”

“He’s not coming back, is he?” Dakotah said, alarmed.

“Nah.” Darren said, grinning. “Yesterday was a special occasion. I usually party at other’s digs, anyway, y’know?”

“Can you let me know in advance before you have a party here, so I can make arrangements to stay somewhere else?” Dakotah said, seriously.

“Dude, if you’re looking for an excuse to shack up somewhere, you don’t need my permission.” Darren said, giving Dakotah a thumbs up. “Sorry, little girl, if it’s not with you, but I’ll tell you now I know nothing.”

Dakotah and Ely looked at each other, puzzled. “Whatever.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I’m not giving up my room to your guests, and I’m not going to clean up this house if it’s trashed like it was last night. Got it?”

“Sure.” Darren replied, nonchalant. “Whatever you say.”

“I’d better be going.” Ely said, looking at her phone. “I texted Dad a half hour ago that I’d be leaving soon, and I haven’t left yet.”

“Tell your old man I said hello.” Darren said, opening a beer. “He’s a pretty cool dude, for a preacher.”

Ely nodded, and walked outside, Dakotah following behind. Reaching her car, Ely turned and faced Dakotah.

“Are you going to be okay?” Ely asked, concerned.

“I think so.” Dakotah said, smiling weakly. “Thanks for helping me clean.”

“Let’s just hope we don’t have to do this again.” Ely said, shaking her head. “See you at 7:30?”

“I’ll be ready!” Dakotah said, happily.

“Take care, Dak.” Ely said, solemnly. “I’ll say a prayer for you.”

“Be careful going home.” Dakotah said, mimicking  her countenance.

Dakotah watched Ely drive up the street, then went inside the house. Gathering clean sheets out of the dryer, he made his way toward his bedroom, passing through the living room on the way. Darren sat on the couch, watching television, finishing off his beer.

“Get me another beer.” Darren ordered.

“Get your own beer.” Dakotah retorted. “I’m not your maid.”

“Oh, yeah?” Darren said, becoming amused. “You act like a maid.”

Dakotah chose to ignore his father, and after entering his bedroom, began to make his bed. He could hear his father softly cursing as he got up to go to the kitchen.

Dakotah smiled.


February 2nd, 2009


“New Hope Church, Dakotah Lennon speaking.” he said, pleasantly. “How may I help you?”

“Who are you? Where’s Rev. Daniels?” An elderly lady squawked over the receiver.

“”This is Dakotah Lennon.” Dakotah said, louder. “Starting today, I answer the phone and organize Rev. Daniels’ schedule.”

“Oh, like his secretary?” the lady said, surprised.

“Yes, ma’am.” Dakotah replied, courteously. “I guess you could say that. Rev. Daniels is at the hospital visiting Mrs. Preston and Mr. Park. He should be back in a couple of hours. If you’ll give me your name and number, I’ll have him call you back as soon as possible.”

“Oh, that’s all right, I ‘ll call him back later.” The lady said, cheerfully. “Goodbye.” She immediately hung up the phone, preventing Dakotah from responding.

“That was weird.” Dakotah muttered.

“Hey Dak, are you hungry?” Mama said, peeking in through the door.

“Yeah!” Dakotah exclaimed, realizing his stomach was growling. “What did you fix today?”

“I made some sandwiches from the leftover turkey from last Wednesday.” Mama said, kindly. “Is that okay?”

“Sure! Haven’t had turkey since Christmas…….” Dakotah replied, his voice trailing off as he remembered his grandmother’s spread. He sighed, and his eyes began to moisten.

“Bless your heart.” Mama said, placing her hand on his shoulder. “”You gon’ miss her for a long time yet. It’ll take a while, but someday, it won’t hurt so much.”

“I know.” Dakotah said, wiping away a tear. “This is really good. Thanks.”

“Well, it’s the least I can do for the new church secretary.” Mama said, smiling. “You know, you’ve been such a blessing to the church. You’re so good with the kids. I bet you could be a preacher or a youth minister, if you wanted it.”

“I’m not sure about that.” Dakotah said, shaking his head as a thin smile appeared. “I’d rather do my work where not many people are watching.”

Once again, the phone rang. Dakotah answered, only to hear a recently familiar voice.

“Is Rev. Daniels there yet?” the lady asked.

“No Ma’am.” Dakotah said, patiently. “I figure it’ll be a little while longer yet. Are you sure you don’t want to leave a message or phone number?”

“No, I’ll call back later.” The lady replied. As before, she hung up the phone before Dakotah could speak.

Dakotah hung up the phone, shaking his head. “I guess she doesn’t want me to know her name and phone number.” he chuckled.

“Oh, I bet that was Mrs. Bivins.” Mama said, chortling. “She calls him here all the time. She used to come to church, but she’s been bedridden for about a year now.”

“Can’t anyone bring her to church?” Dakotah said, sadly.

“No, she don’t have anybody, and the church van can’t handle a wheelchair.” Mama replied, shaking her head. “Those handicapped vans are expensive!”

Dakotah thought for a moment. “The money he’s paying me could’ve gone for a new van!” he cried.

“That’s all right, baby, ain’t no reason to feel guilty.” Mama said, soothingly. “I reckon you handling things here helps his ministry out there, and he can touch more people. Besides, she gets a CD of every sermon, so it’s not like she misses out on everything.”

“That’s good.” Dakotah said, relieved. “I still wish she could come to the services, though.”

Mama smiled. “Well, I guess I’d better be going. Time to go clean the church.”

“Do you need any help?” Dakotah asked.

“No, hun, I’m fine.” Mama replied, still smiling. “You need to stay here, and answer the phone. Mrs. Bivins may try to call again!”

“Okay, see you later!” Dakotah said, laughing. “Don’t work too hard!”

“This ain’t work. This is serving the Lord!” Mama said, winking, before strolling out of the office.




Rapping the door lightly a couple of times, Rev. Daniels stepped into the office, pulled up a chair, and sat, directly across the desk from Dakotah. “How’s it going, Dak?” he said, enthusiastically.

“Good, for the most part.” Dakotah replied. “There’s an elderly lady that keeps calling and asking for you, but she won’t leave a name or number.”

“I see.” Rev. Daniels said, ascertaining the situation. “I really need to update this old phone. It doesn’t have a caller ID display. It’s probably Mrs. Bivins.”

On cue, the phone started ringing. Dakotah reached for the phone, but Rev. Daniels stopped him, electing to answer it himself.

“Oh hi, Mrs. Bivins.” Rev. Daniels said, kindly. “Yes, I’ve been very busy today. Oh? Well, that new man is my new part time secretary, Dakotah Lennon. You’ll hear more about him on this week’s CD. He’s a fine, upstanding, hardworking young man.”

Even though Mrs. Bivins couldn’t see Dakotah, He became embarrassed after hearing Rev. Daniels’ praise.

“How are you doing today, Mrs. Bivins? “ Rev. Daniels asked. Dakotah observed him nodding, without replying, several times over the next couple of minutes.

“I see.” Rev. Daniels finally replied. “That’s good. What your doctor says makes a lot of sense. Just keep doing what she says.”

Once again there was a long silence in the office as Rev. Daniels listened to her reply. “Oh, I see. Well, take care. I’ll say a prayer. Talk to you later. Goodbye.”

“What was that all about?” Dakotah asked, curious.

“She just wanted me to hear about her doctor’s visit, and for me to give my opinion of what the doctor told her.” Rev. Daniels said. “I usually tell her to go along with what the doctor says.”

“So, she’s all alone?” Dakotah asked.

“For the most part.” Rev Daniels said, flatly. “She has a daughter that lives in Texas. She also lost a son in Vietnam, many years ago. I think I became her surrogate son.” he said, smiling.

“What’s wrong with her?” Dakotah asked, concerned.

“Oh, the usual old people stuff.” Rev. Daniels said, shrugging. “High blood pressure, diabetes, arthritis, stuff that we have to look forward to.”

“Wish we could do something nice for her.” Dakotah said, sympathetically.

“We are.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling warmly. “Just by listening empathetically, she feels her life matters to someone.”

Dakotah smiled, nodding.

“That is, to me, the essence of being a Christian.” Rev. Daniels said, thoughtfully. “The love God and Jesus gave to us, we pass on to others. Hopefully, some of them, or better yet, all of them, accept Jesus into their lives, and they spread the same love, and so on.”

“And the world becomes a better place!” Dakotah said, suddenly inspired.

“Well, the world has a long way to go, but I’d like to think we’re making the world a little better.” Rev. Daniels said, trying to temper Dakotah’s enthusiasm. “All we can do is do our best, pray, and trust in Him.”

“Makes sense to me.” Dakotah nodded.

“Right?” Rev. Daniels said, gesturing with his palms up. “Why can’t the world be as sensible as you, Dak?”

“You’re silly!” Dakotah said, as both men laughed.




“How was school?” Dakotah asked.

“Boring, as usual.” Ely replied, frowning.

“Less than four months left.” Dakotah said, trying to lift her spirits.

“I know.” Ely said, grumpily. “It can’t get here fast enough!”

“I guess we’d better get going.” Dakotah said, looking at the clock. “I need to stop by the church, and get some food for home.”

“Why can’t you eat here, like you’ve been doing the past several days?” Ely asked, irritated. You already eat breakfast here.”

“I also eat lunch at the church.” Dakotah said, pointedly. “However, there’s leftover turkey and stuff from last week, and I want to take some home for my father.”

“After all he’s done to you,” Ely said, incredulous, “and you’re being nice to him? Why?”

“Because that’s what Jesus wants us to do.” Dakotah replied, matter-of-factly. “Maybe if I’m nice to him, I can reach him, and maybe even influence him a little.”

“I know God works miracles,” Ely said, shaking her head, “but that would be a big one.”

“Your dad would say I’m putting my Faith to work.” Dakotah said, pointedly.

Ely nodded. “Let’s get going. Hopefully, he didn’t invite everyone over tonight.”

The drive home was swift, and uneventful. For the first time in what seemed forever, Dakotah felt he had a purpose. He was going to try his best to reach his father, and maybe, just maybe, show him the path to salvation. “Miracles do happen, right?” he thought to himself.

As they pulled into the carport, he noticed the house was mostly dark, save for a strange glow in the living room.

“I don’t like this.” Dakotah muttered. ”Something’s not right.”

“Do you need me to go in there with you?” Ely asked.

“No, I think I’ll be okay.” Dakotah replied, uneasily. “Just stay here as a backup. I’ll let you know if it’s okay or not.”

“Be careful.” Ely admonished.

Gathering the food from the church, Dakotah entered the house through the kitchen side door. Immediately, he noticed that it was cold, not much warmer than the freezing temperatures outside. He also smelled the acrid fumes of some sort of burned fuel, though he knew it wasn’t gasoline. He tried to turn the lights on, but flipping the switch resulted in no response from the light fixture. Dakotah laid the food on the kitchen counter, and headed toward the glow in the living room.

In the center of the living room was his father, a beer in one hand, a lit joint in the other, huddled next to an ancient heater of some sort. Surrounding him was a half dozen lit candles.

“What the heck is going on?” Dakotah exclaimed.

“Well,” Darren drawled while taking a hit, “It appears that our dear old aunt had the utilities shut off. Gas, electric, water, phone, all of it.”

“Why?” Dakotah asked, now thoroughly confused.

“I figure in a couple of days her lawyer will show up with a lowball offer for the house.” Darren said, coldly.

“Can she do that?” Dakotah asked, trying to wrap his head around his father’s words.

“Yep.” Darren nodded. “It’ll take a couple of months for mom’s estate to clear probate. Until then, the old bitch, as executor, can call the shots. Remind me to send her a Christmas card filled with anthrax this year.”

“What are you going to do?” Dakotah asked, wondering if his father was serious about the anthrax. “You can’t just stay here!”

“Why not?” Darren harrumphed. I’ve spent months living out of a cardboard box. This is a palace!”

“You may think this is a palace, but I’m not staying here without utilities.” Dakotah retorted. “You won’t have them turned back on?”

“I could,” Darren said, shaking his head, “but I’ll have to pony up several hundred dollars in deposits. You got any cash?”

“No.” Dakotah muttered. “Don’t you?”

“I did, but I blew it all on the party.” Darren shrugged. “I have just enough for beer and “medicine”.”

“Can’t you spend that money on getting the utilities turned on?” Dakotah exclaimed, becoming frustrated.

“I must have beer and meds.” Darren answered sternly. “Keeps me from killing people.”

“What about food?” Dakotah asked, derisively.

“You can buy food.” Darren countered, mimicking his son.

“Not if I’m not living here.” Dakotah snipped.

“Oh?” Darren sneered. “You gonna move out? I don’t think so.”

“How are you going to keep me here?” Dakotah said, taken aback. “Threaten me?”

“Not my style.” Darren laughed. “I’m a lover, not a fighter. Dude, after being sent to the attic, you came back and cleaned the house. Almost anyone else would’ve left, and never come back. So, why didn’t you?”

Dakotah shrugged his shoulders. “I came here to say my peace, and to give you one last chance. I want to make living here work. I don’t want to move in with someone else, and feel like I owe them. This is supposed to be a partnership, but I feel like I’m getting used. As much as I don’t want to move in with Rev. Daniels, I will, if I can’t get any respect here. I don’t expect you to love me because I’m your son, but I demand you to respect me, as a person, or I’m out. Do you understand?”

Darren thought for a few seconds, then nodded. “You’re right. Man’s gotta respect himself, and demand respect. I know I didn’t do you right the night before last.” He paused thoughtfully for a moment, then continued. “Hell, I ain’t done you right your whole life!”

Dakotah’s heart jumped, but he chose not to respond.

“The way I see it,” Darren continued, “I need someone to help keep the place up, and pay some of the bills. Your preacher was right; a woman is good to have around, but a good woman is scarce, especially in my social circle. Hell, a good man is scarce, too. On the other hand, you need a place to call your own. I won’t say that this place won’t ever get rowdy again, but that’ll be the exception, not the rule. You can always put a deadbolt on your door if you want to keep people out. What say you? In, or out?”

Dakotah sensed a crack in his father’s aloofness. He remembered Rev. Daniels’ words from earlier. “Maybe I can through to him. Maybe even change him!” Dakotah thought.

“In.” Dakotah announced. “But this is your last chance with me, do you understand?”

Darren sat down his beer, and reached out his hand. “Deal. I’ll try to cut back on my intake a little, and scrounge up a little cash.”

Dakotah shook his father’s hand. “Maybe I can get an advance on my pay. I’ll ask him tomorrow.”

“Sweet.” Darren said, a trace of a smile slowly appearing. “Now what?”

“Guess I’m going back to Rev. Daniels’ to spend the night.” Dakotah said, simply. “I don’t care to stay here with no heat or water. I’ll see about the money, and maybe get some stuff turned on.”

“Why don’t you spend the night here?” Darren asked, raising an eyebrow. “This heater will put out enough heat to keep us warm, though we’ll have to sleep in the living room.”

“Why would I want to do that?” Dakotah said, taken aback a bit.

“I’m sure you’ve heard plenty about me from your mom and grandma, am I right?” Darren drawled.

“A little from Grandma.” Dakotah replied, becoming confused. “Mom almost never mentioned you.”

“Ouch. That hurt. Not really.” Darren said, irreverently. “Just thought I’d give you my side of the story, that’s all. Interested?”

Dakotah became nervous. He wasn’t sure if he wanted to know or not. He was sure that there was a good chance his father wasn’t going to tell the truth. “If that’s what it takes to reach him, somehow, then maybe I should stay.” he thought.

“Okay, I’m in.” Dakotah said, after taking a deep breath. “I have go tell Ely what I’m doing, though. Oh, I brought turkey sandwiches. Hungry?”

“Yeah, man. I don’t ever turn down food.” Darren replied, smiling.

“I’ll be back in a minute.” Dakotah said, walking toward the door.

As Dakotah exited the house, he instantly noticed that Ely was frowning.

“Took you long enough.” Ely grumbled.

“Sorry.” Dakotah apologized. “Had to say some stuff.”

“Since you’re not getting in the car, I’m assuming you’re staying?” Ely said, pointedly.

“Yeah, I guess.” Dakotah nodded. “He’s almost being nice for some reason. Wants to talk about the old days.”

“Yay, you.” Ely said, rolling her eyes. “That ought to be fun.”

“I’d like to think I can maybe influence him to be better?” Dakotah said, unsure.

“Good luck with that.” Ely said, skeptically.

“With God, all things are possible, right?” Dakotah said, looking for assurance from Ely.

“That’s true.” Ely replied. “Think your dad will listen to you?”

“I hope so.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “He may be spinning a big pile of poop, too.”

“That’s a high probability.” Ely agreed.

“Well, pray for me.” Dakotah said, somberly. “Aunt Jean had all the utilities shut off today.”

“Are you kidding me?” Ely exclaimed, incredulous. “You can’t stay here! It’s supposed to be ten degrees tonight!”

“It’s okay, he has a heater in there, so at least it won’t be too cold.” Dakotah said, trying to reassure her. “Think you can pick me up a little early, so I can get a shower at your place?”

“You can always stay the night with us, and I won’t have to get up so early.” Ely replied, emphatically.

“Sounds really good, but I’ll stick it out here, at least for tonight.” Dakotah said, smiling weakly. “We’ll see how bonding time with my father goes. Yeech.”

“Okay, the things I have to do for you.” Ely said, shaking her head. “See you at seven?”

“Sounds good.” Dakotah replied. “Honk the horn, if you don’t mind, in case I’m asleep, though I seriously doubt I will be.”

Ely gave Dakotah a thumbs up without saying anything, and pulled out of the driveway, giving a wave as she went up the street. After waving back, Dakotah took a deep breath, mentally said a quick prayer, and exhaled, seeing his breath in a large cloud of vapor. Shaking his head, he entered the house.

Darren had made quick work of the turkey sandwiches, as they were gone by the time Dakotah returned to the living room. Dakotah sighed, as he had hoped to eat one of the sandwiches later.

“I hope the pipes don’t freeze tonight.” Dakotah said, worriedly.

“The sink and bathtub valves are open, and the sink cabinet doors are open, so there’s less of a chance for the pipes freezing up, I think.” Darren said, not confidently. He wiped his mouth with his shirt sleeve. “What’s for dessert?”

“There wasn’t any at the church, so I didn’t bring any.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“Sucks.” Darren said, unemotionally. “Well, my compliments to the chef.”

“Mama will be happy you liked them.” Dakotah said, flatly.

“Who’s Mama?” Darren said, curious. “I take it that’s not your mother?”

“No, that’s a lady that works at the church.” Dakotah replied. “We call her that because she mothers over all of us.”

“Yeah, I wouldn’t expect your mother to do anything like that.” Darren snipped.

“Why do you say that?” Dakotah said, becoming defensive.

“Because she wasn’t much of a mother.” Darren said, flatly. “We were always dropping you off at Mom’s so we could run around, and party.”

“That doesn’t make you much of a father, either, does it?” Dakotah retorted.

“That’s been long established.” Darren said, shrugging. “She’s the type that always wanted someone to take care of her. That’s why she picked the piece of crap she has now, though I hear the shoe’s on the other foot now, serves the old whore right.”

“I don’t appreciate you calling her that!” Dakotah shouted, angrily.

“I’m not apologizing for telling the truth.” Darren said, coolly. “Anyone that spreads their legs for personal or emotional gain is a whore, don’t matter if they’re married, or not.”

“And what does that make you?” Dakotah growled, full of contempt.

“Hey, I never claimed to be a saint. Quite the opposite, actually.” Darren said, pointing at Dakotah, his voice more forceful. “I’ve used more than my fair share of people over the years. But, I’ve always been me. Syl changed her whole lifestyle because she wanted the good times I provided. After I left, she changed again, so she could get Frank. She’s never been true to herself. She’s only wanted someone to take care of her.”

“How do you know all this?” Dakotah said, confused. “Haven’t you lived far away?”

“Boy, when you’ve crossed paths with as many people as I have, you hear stuff.” Darren said, indignant. “You don’t have to live across the street. I knew Frank when we all worked together at the plant. He was a jerk, but at least I thought at the time he was a decent family man. Your mother split that family up, son. I’ve heard it from several people I trust.”

Dakotah shook his head. He knew his mother couldn’t be that bad, could she? “He’s probably lying.” he thought.

“S-she’s not a bad person.” Dakotah said, unsteadily. “I can’t believe she’s a bad person.”

“Maybe at some level, no, she’s not.” Darren said, with authority. “Me, I consider myself a bad person, and I’m not ashamed of it. Perhaps a better descriptor of her would be weak. She has an exceptionally weak personality.”

“So why did you decide to be a bad person?” Dakotah asked, bewildered.

“Well, it actually wasn’t me deciding to be bad, as much as the situation dictating it.” Darren said, thoughtfully. “So, what do you know about me?”

“Ah, um.” Dakotah mumbled, trying to remember, and find the right words. “You were spoiled when you were young. When grandpa lost his job, you had to give up all your perks, and you became rebellious. Later, you tried to settle down with Mom, then you got tired of family life, and left, never to be seen again, until a few days ago.”

“Hmmmm.” Darren said, thinking. “Those are your grandmother’s words. Your mother wouldn’t have been so diplomatic.”

“You’re right.” Dakotah nodded. “Actually, Mom never spoke about you.”

“That’s not surprising about Syl.” Darren said, flatly. “She always kept everything inside. Mom was pretty spot on about the early years, though. Do you know how it feels like to be the top dog in your class?”

“No. Not at all.” Dakotah said, wincing.

“Given the environment you grew up in, I’m not surprised, not that I’m apologizing, or anything.” Darren said, coldly.

“Wasn’t expecting one.” Dakotah said, flippant.

“Good, ’cause I’m not wired like that.” Darren said, matter-of-factly. “I know their intentions were good, and that they loved me, but I never had to struggle for anything. I had great teachers in private school that made it easy to learn, though I did have the natural talent to exploit it.”

“A lot good that did you.” Dakotah said, bitterly. “I wish I had what you had growing up.”

“If you DID, you wouldn’t be the person you are now.” Darren said, forcefully. “I’m still not sorry, either, for your current state, or mine. My experiences made me what I am today, and I have no regrets.”

“Yeah, I get that, you have no regrets about anything.” Dakotah said, derisively. “You still could have overcome the adversity of Grandpa losing his job. You still could have gotten a full scholarship at UM, or somewhere.”

“Sure, I could’ve, but I hated the system.” Darren said, defiantly. “Deep down, I knew I was headed down the same path everyone wanted me and expected me to go, and I chafed at that prospect. They said I had the skillset to be a top level engineer, or doctor, lawyer, or anything else respectable.”

“Well, what did you want to be?” Dakotah said, curious.

“A rock-n-roll star!” Darren shouted, playing an air guitar. Dakotah couldn’t help but laugh a little.

“No, seriously, what did you want to do?” Dakotah asked, feeling Darren was being evasive.

“I just wanted to do whatever I wanted, to be free of constraints of convention. At the time, I didn’t know how to do that. I just raised a lot of hell, instead.”

“Grandma said you got in trouble, several times.” Dakotah said, pointedly.

“I got away with a whole lot more!” Darren bragged. “There’s a lot she and Pops never found out about, like flying high on Ecstasy and tequila while doing 120 down Central Ave. Wonder I didn’t get killed. Good times……..”

“Well, if you loved the rebellious life so much, why did you settle down with Mom in the first place?” Dakotah asked, becoming confused.

“I really didn’t want to, but two things happened.” Darren replied. “First, my best friend was killed when he rolled his Mustang while doing 125. That shook me up pretty bad. Then, your mother got knocked up. I took these events as a sign to start growing up.”

“So, you weren’t married when I was-“

“Oh, hell no.” Darren said, waving his hands back and forth. “Hell, I was going to dump her whiney ass, but I kept putting it off for some reason, probably because she was so good in the sack.”

Dakotah winced, wishing he hadn’t heard that.

“Then, all of a sudden, she was pregnant, and Paul crashed and burned, all in the same week.” Darren continued. “Shook me up quite a bit.”

“I thought Mom was respectable.” Dakotah said, trying not to believe his father. “Aunt Louise says she was a goody-two-shoes.”

“That old hag was long gone by the time me and Syl hooked up.” Darren said, dismissively. “Truth is, your mother hated her upbringing as much as I hated mine, but she liked the perks of a comfortable life. She was able to fool that idiot mother of hers until she was knocked up.”

“I guess my conception inconvenienced you both.” Dakotah said, ruefully.

“I offered to pay for your abortion, but Syl didn’t want to do it.” Darren said, without emotion. “I guess you have her to thank for that.”

Dakotah became instantly speechless.

“Don’t get me wrong. I’m glad you’re here.” Darren said, empathetically. “Just telling it like it was back then. Anyway, the plants were hiring again, and I took it as the final sign to settle down, and be legit.”

“So, what happened?” Dakotah asked, composing himself. “Why did you give it all up, and leave us?”

“I’ll be the first to admit factory work sucks.” Darren declared. “Same crap every day. Day in, day out. Mom and Pops were ecstatic, though. They thought I had grown up. It was just a veneer, though.”

“I guess you got fed up enough one day to walk out on us?” Dakotah accused.

“It wasn’t quite like that.” Darren corrected, bluntly. “I got my wakeup call when Pops was diagnosed with cancer.” He reached over, opened another beer, and took a deep draught. “Pops always smoked. I did too, and I gave up tobacco right then and there. Weed is better for you, anyway.”

“He always sacrificed himself in giving me everything, even if I didn’t deserve it.” Darren continued. “Pops always worked the extra OT, ate bologna instead of steak, skipped on vacations, and so on, just so I could have anything I wanted. Mom too, as a matter of fact. So what was his reward? Me failing, and him getting terminal cancer.”

“You can’t blame yourself for his cancer.” Dakotah said, trying to support his father.

“I don’t.” Darren interjected. “He lived his life as he saw fit, on his own free will. I have no guilt. However, I wasn’t about to piss away my life slaving away at a job I hated, while waiting to die. There was too much to see and do.”

“And that was your excuse for leaving mom and me?” Dakotah asked, incredulous.

“Hey, your mom had a good job, and made enough to take care of you.” Darren replied, defensively. “Wasn’t my fault she hooked up with that pig. Mom could’ve helped out as a baby sitter while Syl worked, but your mother wouldn’t take advantage of the potential help. Why? You’ll have to ask her on that one. Like I said before, I have no guilt in leaving you two. Not my fault she chose the path she did. Looks like you turned out okay, maybe a little messed up. But hey, ain’t we all?”

Dakotah thought for a moment, processing his father’s words. “So, where did you go after you left? Mom couldn’t find you for the child support.”

“I went wherever the wind took me, doing whatever I wanted, for the most part.” Darren recalled, smiling. “I became very adept at living on the fat of this great land. One year, I lived in L.A. Started out living under a bridge in a cardboard box, then at a shelter. Talked my way into getting a job washing dishes at a fancy Beverly Hills restaurant, then meeting and having a soap opera actress fall for me. Spent the last four months there at her Malibu beach house before taking the 50K she gave me to buy a Corvette, and flying to Cabo. You can live very well for a while in Mexico for 50K, you know.” He took another drink of his beer, and smiled broadly.

Dakotah remained silent, not knowing whether or not his father was telling the truth.

“I know you probably don’t believe me, but I don’t care.” Darren continued, pointedly. “I lived my life as if tomorrow was not guaranteed. I had a lot of good times and sometimes it sucked, too. As my spiritual advisor once said, “The night life, ain’t no life, but it’s my life.”

“What kind of spiritual advisor would tell you that?” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“Willie Nelson.” Darren replied with a straight face.

“Willie Nelson is your spiritual advisor?” Dakotah asked, sarcastically.

“Well just say that if I’m still drinkin’ and tokin’ well up into my seventies as he is now, then it’ll be a very good thing.” Darren said, irreverently.

“I guess Jesus wouldn’t be a good spiritual advisor?” Dakotah asked, becoming serious.

“Well, I have tried to keep my Commandments.” Darren said, smiling. “I know I haven’t killed anybody, so that’s at least one.”

Dakotah sighed. “So, what now? What makes me think that tomorrow, which you said isn’t guaranteed, you pack your stuff and leave?”

“If I did that, the old bag would get the house, and I’m not going to give her the satisfaction. Darren said, soberly. “Besides, there’s some old friends that I haven’t seen in years. Gives me a chance to catch up, to see who’s still alive. Also gives me a chance to scratch that itch when it comes to you, too.”

“Me?” Dakotah said, taken aback. “What do you mean? What itch?”

“Maybe more of a curiosity than an itch.” Darren said, slyly. “Just wondering how you were doing. After all, you are my only child, as far as I know.”

“Why now?” Dakotah asked, uneasy.

“For one, I can get you in bars.” Darren said with a wink.

“I’m not even twenty yet!” Dakotah exclaimed, alarmed.

“Doesn’t matter.” Darren said, confidently. “I can get you in.”

“I don’t drink.” Dakotah growled.

“I’ll fix that.” Darren said, staring intently at Dakotah.

“I don’t think so!” Dakotah retorted.

“Whatever.” Darren muttered. “You’re just like your mother, being moral just to make yourself look good.” He pointed at Dakotah. “Deep down inside, you want to party!”

Dakotah stood up. “No I do not!” he shouted, pointing back at his father. “My best friend’s mother was killed by a drunk driver! I don’t care if I look good or not! It’s wrong, and I’m not going to start!”

“Okay, okay.” Darren said coolly, holding both hands up. “No weed, either?”

“No.” Dakotah said in a low tone, shaking his head.

“Well, that’s good.” Darren said, smiling. “I won’t have to wonder if you’ll steal my beer and meds.”

“Trust me, you have nothing I want.” Dakotah said, pointedly.

Darren looked down for a moment, as if in thought. “You know, if I were you, I would’ve moved into the preacher’s house, if for no other reason than to get closer to his little girl. I bet you two ain’t done nothin’, am I right?”

“What do you mean?” Dakotah asked, suddenly becoming nervous.

Darren rolled his eyes. “You know, sex?”

“Ah, no.” Dakotah said, embarrassed. “We’re not like that. We’re just friends.”

“Oh, she’s got someone else.” Darren said, continuing to press.

“Uh, yeah.” Dakotah mumbled.

“Dude, you’re better off over here.” Darren said, shaking his head. “Guy will kick your ass if he finds out you’re sleeping in her house.”

“I’m not worried.” Dakotah said, calmly. “She doesn’t ever come around.” Instantly, Dakotah, realizing what he said, covered his mouth.

“She?” Darren smirked. “The girl you got the hots for is a lesbo?”

Dakotah didn’t respond.

“Hey……” Darren said with a lilt. “This could work out awesomely in your favor. This other girl like you?”

“No.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “Hannah hates my guts.”

“That sucks. There was a lot of potential there.” Darren said, tapping a finger against his lower lip. “Maybe you can hook up with some whore to get her jealous? One of my amigos may know someone.”

“I’m not interested in someone else!” Dakotah said, becoming exasperated. “I love Ely!”

“Dude, you need to chuck this “love” concept.” Darren said, becoming impatient. “It makes for good song lyrics, but that’s about it. More trouble than it’s worth, if you ask me.”

“That’s what everyone says, at least when it comes to her.” Dakotah sighed.

“You don’t really know much of nothing about anything, do you?” Darren said, derisively. “So much for the Bible giving you answers.”

“Like Willie Nelson does?” Dakotah said, sarcastically.

“Do not mock the way of the Willie.” Darren retorted, pointing a finger at his son. “It will help you survive, and have fun doing it.”

“I’ll stick to the way of Jesus, thank you.” Dakotah said, self-assuredly.

“You know, you mostly act like a twelve year old, but I can see your grandmother’s influence on you.” Darren said, pointedly. “You stick to your guns, like she did.”

“Thank you.” Dakotah said, relieved.

“But you’re still dumber than a rock.” Darren said, sardonically. “You know what I would do, if I were you?”

“Do I want to know?” Dakotah sighed.

“I would be a roadie!” Darren said, happily.

“What’s a roadie?” Dakotah asked, somewhat curious.

“They’re dudes that set up and tear down the staging, lighting, and sound equipment at concerts.” Darren replied, impatiently.

“Why would I want to do that?” Dakotah asked, confused.

“Because you can see the world, and catch some good music, too!” Darren said, tersely. “Need I mention the hordes of girls that want to see the band?”

“Doesn’t sound like something I’d want to do.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“I’d do it in a heartbeat, if I were you.” Darren offered.

“Why don’t you do it, then?” Dakotah said, becoming irritated.

“Because I’m old, and it’s too much like work.” Darren said, matter-of-factly. “You, unlike me, seem to like work.”

“I’ll pass.” Dakotah said, simply. “I’ll just try to save up money, and go to school to get my meteorology degree.”

“You want to be a weatherman?” Darren said, surprised.

“Yeah.” Dakotah retorted. “Something wrong with that?”

“Well, it’s not working at a plant, I’ll give you that.” Darren said, piqued. “Sounds like a lot of work. But like I said, you like to work. I don’t know who you got that from. Maybe your grandparents.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment.” Dakotah said, smiling ever so slightly.

Using a hand towel, Darren rocked the heater slightly. Black soot rolled out of the top, causing both Dakotah and his father to cough. “I think we’ll have enough kerosene to make it through the night. I’m surprised this old heater even worked. That kerosene has to be decades old. I doubt if your grandmother even took it out of the shed.”

“Is it even safe to use in here?” Dakotah fretted.

“Yeah, if you know what you’re doing.” Darren assured. “Go crack open that window over there. Don’t want CO to get us while we’re asleep.”

“CO?” Dakotah asked, as made his way to the living room window.

“Carbon monoxide.” Darren muttered. “It’ll kill you dead if you don’t have ventilation.”

“Ah.” Dakotah said, as he first pulled the chinking out of the window, then raising the window about two inches. “Is this enough?” He shivered as he felt the cold air hit his arm.

“Yeah, I think it’ll be okay.” Darren replied, nodding. “Hey, help me drag this mattress out of the bedroom.”

“Why?” Dakotah asked, curious. “Couldn’t you just sleep on the couch?”

“I’m too old to sleep on the couch.” Darren growled.

Shaking his head, but not saying anything, Dakotah followed his father into the bedroom.

“Here, flip the mattress up, and grab the box springs.” Darren ordered.

“Why are you going to sleep on the box springs?” Dakotah said, confused.

“No, dumbass!” Darren shouted, agitated. “We’re going to set both parts on the floor, like normal.”

“Why can’t you just use the top part then?” Dakotah said, bitterly.

“I like a comfy bed.” Darren said, bristling. “Top mattress on the floor by itself isn’t good enough.”

“Whatever.” Dakotah muttered, dragging the box springs in the living room. “So much for being a survivor.” Dakotah thought. “Probably never slept outside in his life, much less under a bridge in a cardboard box.”

Father and son dragged the top mattress from the bedroom, placing on top of the box springs, about two feet from the heater.

“Isn’t that a little close? Dakotah said, concerned.

“Nah!” Darren replied, assuredly. “It may get a little warm, but that’s the way I like it! Now, if you’ll hand me a couple of cushions off the couch, I’ll be set!”

“Why do you need them for?” Dakotah protested. “I was planning to sleep on the couch!”

“Just something to prop myself up with while I drink my beer.” Darren said, smugly. “Just drag your mattress in here from your room. It’ll fit.”

“Okay, fine!” Dakotah said in disgust as he rolled his eyes. His mattress was much lighter than his father’s, which was fine with him, as his father didn’t offer to help him bring his mattress in the room.

“Hey, bring me the rest of that case of beer.” Darren ordered. “It won’t get much warmer, anyway.”

Dakotah sighed, as he walked to the kitchen. “The whole case? I thought you were going to cut back?”

“I’ll leave a couple for breakfast in the morning.” Darren smirked.

Dakotah shook his head, sat the case of beer on the floor by his father, and plopped on his own bed, covering himself up with blankets.

“Hey, it’s better than the attic, right?” Darren said, cheerfully.

Dakotah didn’t respond.

“Hey, you want to hear a story or two about the old days?” Darren said, opening a beer.

“I’ll pass.” Dakotah mumbled. “I have to get up early tomorrow.”

“Suit yourself.” Darren said, coolly. “I’ll just have to sit here in quiet solitude, just me and my beer. Maybe a little cannabis, too. There are worse things, I guess.”

Dakotah felt a pang of guilt for not wanting to listen to his father’s stories, but he shrugged it off. “I’m sure there will be plenty of time for stories in the future.” Dakotah thought to himself. He wished that he was at Rev. Daniels. “Oh well, one day at a time.” He prayed silently until he fell asleep.


Dakotah awoke to the sound of his father kicking beer cans as he made his way to the bathroom. He immediately noticed his head hurt, and it was much colder than before. “The heater must’ve gone out.” he thought.

He checked his watch. It read 1:34AM. Soon, his father made his way back to the living room, and it was obvious to Dakotah that he was drunk. “Damn, ish cold!” Darren said, shivering.

Darren stumbled to the can of kerosene, shaking it as he swayed back to the heater.

“Ah, do you know what you’re doing?” Dakotah asked, concerned.

“Shut yur mout.” Darren slurred angrily. “I done dis hunnerds of times!”

Darren opened the tank to the heater , and attempted to pour kerosene in without the aid of a funnel, causing quite a bit of kerosene to splash on the floor. Cursing to himself, he managed to mostly fill the tank. He pressed the starter lever repeatedly, with no result.

“Dammit.” Darren swore, as he got up, and headed for the kitchen. He brought back a piece of paper, rolling it in a thin tube. “Theresh more than one way to shkin a cat.” he announced. He dug a lighter out of his pocket, and lit the end of the tube. Opening the combustion door to the heater, Darren inserted the lit end of the tube inside. After a few seconds, the wick caught aflame. With the now flaming paper tube close to his fingers, he pulled the tube out quickly, and dropped it to the floor.

“Ha!” Darren bragged, standing up to make a pose. “Whosh da man?”

“Dad!!!” Dakotah screamed. “Your pants are on fire!”

The lit paper tube had landed on a puddle of kerosene, catching it on fire next to Darren’s kerosene-soaked jeans, which also caught on fire. Darren, in a panic, flailed around and kicked, knocking over the heater. The heater, which Darren had failed to replace the top to the tank, spilled its contents on the floor, reaching both mattresses. In seconds, the room became ablaze.

Dakotah grabbed his screaming, panic-stricken father, and seeing the direct route out the front door was blocked, pulled him through the kitchen and out the side door. Dakotah pushed his father in the snow, and began to pile snow on his legs and torso until the flames were extinguished.

Darren whimpered in pain. “My weed.” he moaned.

For a brief moment, Dakotah realized that he didn’t have any shoes on, and his feet had become numb. However, those thoughts were quickly vanquished, as flames began to roar through the roof. Feeling that he was too close, he drug his writhing father further away from the pyre, into the neighbor’s yard.

“Aaaaaahhhhhh, dammit, it hurts!” Darren cried out.

“Hang in there, there has to be firemen coming soon, I hope.” Dakotah said, trying in vain to comfort his father. He began to shake uncontrollably, as the extreme cold began to sink deeper into his body.

After what seemed to Dakotah an eternity, he finally heard sirens in the distance. A police car pulled in a driveway a couple of houses down, and the officer began to run toward the scene. Dakotah stood up and waved, attracting his attention. The officer diverted, and ran to them, instead.

“Dakotah?” The officer asked at a yell. “Is there anyone else in the house?”

Dakotah immediately recognized him as Officer Douglas. “No! Call an ambulance!” he cried. “My father’s been burnt bad!”

“Ambulance has already been called, Dakotah.” Officer Douglas said, reassuringly. “I’ll go get some blankets out of the trunk!” He ran back to the squad car.

Dakotah watched numbly as the entire house became engulfed in flames. Many more sirens could now be heard, and in seconds, the fire trucks arrived, and firefighters swarmed, hoses and other equipment in tow.

Officer Douglas returned, and covered Dakotah and Darren with blankets. “It’s not a whole lot, but it’ll do until the ambulances arrive.” he said.

On cue, two ambulances pulled in behind the fire trucks. Officer Douglas flagged the EMTs as they removed the stretchers. Gingerly, they cut Darren’s pants off. Darren weakly protested, to no avail.

“He’s blistered up a bit, maybe ten percent.” One EMT ascertained. “Nothing worse than second degree.” Carefully, they wrapped Darren in sheets and blankets, hoisted him in the stretcher, and loaded him in the ambulance. Quickly, the ambulance, sirens wailing, turned around, and raced up the street.

“Son, are you burnt anywhere?” one of the EMT’s asked Dakotah.

“N-no, I don’t think-.” Dakotah attempted to reply. However, he began to cough uncontrollably.

“We’d better take you in, and get you checked out for smoke inhalation.” The EMT asserted. “Check you for frostbite, too. Can you get on the stretcher? We’ll get you covered up with some warm blankets.”

Dakotah complied with the EMT’s request, loading himself on the stretcher. As one EMT swaddled him in blankets, he sat up on his elbows, gazing blankly at the inferno. “I’m sorry, Grandma.” he mouthed inaudibly, as a tear rolled down his cheek.

Chapter 13

Chapter 13

January 30, 2009

After a fitful night, Dakotah gave up, and arose at 7AM. He poured a small glass of orange juice, swallowed a multivitamin, and put a couple of pieces of bread in the toaster.

The past couple of days had been a whirlwind, and emotionally draining. Yesterday was the worst of the two, with afternoon visitation at the funeral home. Seeing his grandmother in the casket was particularly hard, and he wept openly. Though all who saw her said the mortician did a good job, she didn’t look quite right to him. “Andre didn’t either”, he thought.

Quite a few visitors were from First Baptist; most of them asked him why they hadn’t seen him in church. Almost all of them gave him a puzzled look when he tried to explain he was now a member of New Hope.

Most of the rest of the visitors were former colleagues of the various school systems Elizabeth had taught. A couple of the older ones, remembering her husband,  compared Dakotah to his grandfather when he was younger.

The only saving grace on the first day of visitation was Rev. Daniels and Ely arriving at four o’clock, and staying until it was time to leave. Rev. Daniels was quite active socially, and shared a few laughs, particularly with Rev. Higgins, with whom he attended seminary. Ely mostly clung to Dakotah; she always introduced herself as Rev. Daniels’ daughter, if anyone asked. One older gentleman surmised that she was Dakotah’s girlfriend, but she didn’t correct him, much to Dakotah’s surprise. As the man turned away, Dakotah gave Ely a puzzled look; she said not a word, shrugging her shoulders as a reply.

Dakotah buttered his toast, ate, dressed himself in the same suit he attended Andre’s funeral in, and brushed his hair, noting that it had almost reached his shoulders. “Maybe I should get it trimmed back soon.” he thought.

By 8:30, Dakotah was ready to leave. Grabbing the car keys, he stopped, startled, when he heard a knock at the kitchen door. Dakotah opened the door to find Rev. Daniels and Ely standing before him. Ely was also wearing the same clothes she wore at Andre’s funeral; without the glasses, and now longer hair, she looked stunning to him.

“Ready to go?” Rev. Daniels said, smiling.

“Yeah.” Dakotah replied, confused. “Why are you here?”

“I thought I’d pick you up and take you.” Rev. Daniels said, kindly. “Is that okay with you?”

“Sure.” Dakotah replied, shrugging his shoulders.

“Maybe a trip to Detroit later?” Ely piped in.

Dakotah couldn’t help but smile a little. “I guess so. It’ll be dark by the time we get there, though, and it’s Friday night. The city will be a zoo.”

“Think I can’t handle it?” Rev. Daniels said, teasing Dakotah.

“If you can handle her.” Dakotah laughed, pointing at Ely, “you can handle anything!”

“Jury’s still out on that one.” Rev. Daniels said, grinning.

“You guys are too funny!” Ely laughed smacking them both on the arm.

“Hey!” Dakotah exclaimed in mock indignation. “That’s no way for my girlfriend to act!”

“Oh, that.” Ely said, frowning. “I was humoring an old man I’ll probably never see again. I didn’t want to embarrass you, so don’t let it go to your head, okay?”

“I’m not.” Dakotah said, thoughtfully. “I thought you were just being nice. I appreciate it.”

“Let’s get going.” Rev. Daniels said, looking at his watch. “Lord willing, it’ll go well.”


The trio pulled in the nearly empty parking lot at the funeral home. A bitter wind and snow flurries greeted them as they exited the car, and Dakotah shivered as he clutched his coat over his thin suit.

The funeral director opened the door for them as they made it to the building.

“How are you doing today, Dakotah?” the funeral director said, cheerily. “Will this winter ever end?”

“I’m okay, I guess.” Dakotah replied flatly, shrugging his shoulders. ”I like snow, but I’m getting tired of it.”

“Is there anything I can do for you?” the funeral director asked, full of empathy.

“I think I’m okay, thanks.” Dakotah replied, sighing. “You’ve been really nice.”

“Thank you.” the funeral director said, bowing his head slightly. “If I may say, you’ve certainly been nicer than Mrs. Reynolds.”

“Really?” Dakotah said, rolling his eyes.

“She wanted me to cancel Thursday visitation, and give her a refund!” the funeral director said, indignantly. “I refused, and I told her that’s not what Mrs. Lennon wanted. She trusted me, especially after I did her husband’s funeral, and I didn’t want to violate that trust, even though she had passed. I think if you take advantage of the departed, you’ll reap in a bad way someday, don’t you think?”

You did the right thing, sir, and we thank you.” Rev. Daniels said. “I’m sure Elizabeth and Mr. Lennon is thanking you from above.”

“Thank you.” the funeral director said, smiling. “It’s good to get feedback from someone alive, you know?”


There were not many visitors in the first couple of hours; Dakotah, Ely, and Rev. Daniels spent most of their time chatting amongst themselves. The conversations wandered from Ely going to college, to Dakotah’s job responsibilities, to the potential places Dakotah would have to move to in a month. Nothing concrete came out of the discussions, as Dakotah didn’t want to face the reality of moving.

Aside from a brief “Hi, Grandma.” At the beginning of visitation, Dakotah had largely ignored the presence of his grandmother. He knew in the back of his mind she was there, yet he also felt that she wasn’t there, at least spiritually. He also felt that he was alone; his mother and Grandmother Parker didn’t feel like family, and even though Rev. Daniels and Ely were close, he knew deep down they weren’t family, either. As for his father, Dakotah didn’t think he would show up, not that he wanted him to. He had barely thought of his father over the years, and the mere possibility of him showing up made him cringe.

Dakotah glanced at his watch, for what he thought was the 100th time that day. It read 12:15, still an hour and forty-five minutes before the service was scheduled to start.

“I think this is the hardest part of the whole process.” Rev. Daniels said, putting his hand on Dakotah’s shoulder.

“Am I a bad person to be wishing the funeral was over?” Dakotah said, stressfully.

“No, that just makes you human.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “I’m sure Elizabeth is feeling empathy for you right now.”

Dakotah briefly glanced skyward, before looking down. “Miss you.” he thought.

“Oh, my gosh, it’s Van!” Ely exclaimed, almost shouting. “Hey!” she yelled, waving.

Dakotah snapped his head up, and saw Vanessa walking toward them, smiling weakly. Still wearing her nurses’ uniform, she carried fatigue in her gait, and on her face.

Vanessa hugged Dakotah tightly. He noted that she smelled of antiseptic. “I’m so sorry, Dakotah.” she said, sadly. “How are you?”

“Doing okay, I guess.” Dakotah replied, tired of repeatedly answering the same question.

“I can’t believe she’s gone!” Vanessa cried. “Do you know why she died?”

“No.” Dakotah replied, also tiring of that question, too. “Maybe the autopsy will tell us something. Where have you been? I’ve been trying to get hold of you! Work and stuff have kept you busy, huh?”

“Yeah.” Vanessa said, looking down. “I’m on my ninth straight day. Mostly twelve hour shifts, sometimes sixteen. The hospital has been shorthanded lately. I was lucky to take off to come here.”

“Whoa.” Dakotah said sympathetically.

“Dakotah, is there somewhere we can talk?” Vanessa said, nervously.

“Yeah, there’s a little snack room across the hall.” Dakotah said, becoming confused.

Nothing was said for the few seconds it took for them to reach the snack room. A table was set up with fruits, chips, and other finger foods. There were also a half dozen tables with chairs, all of them unoccupied.

As they sat down, Dakotah realized he actually missed her. “Have you eaten yet?” he asked. “Take some sandwiches with you. They’re just going to waste, anyway.”

“No thanks, I’m not hungry.” Vanessa said, looking down. She raised her head, and made eye-to eye contact with Dakotah. “I realize I’m doing this at the worst possible time, and I realize you will have every right to hate me, but I have no choice but to do this now.”

“What are you talking about?” Dakotah said, bewildered.

Vanessa took a deep breath. “I met someone new. Someone really nice. He’s a new resident at the hospital. He’s everything I saw in you, and he isn’t with anyone else.”

Dakotah was stunned for a moment. “Well, that’s really awesome!” he said, grasping what she said. “Congratulations! I hope it works out!”

“You’re not mad that I’m leaving you, that I’m telling you this on the day of your grandmother’s funeral?” Vanessa said, becoming confused.

“Well, I guess it couldn’t be helped, right?” Dakotah said, smiling a little. “Why would I be mad at you? You’re my friend!”

“There’s more.” Vanessa said, sullen.

“What’s that?” Dakotah replied, not understanding her expression.

“I’m leaving New Hope.” Vanessa said, frowning. “I’m going to start attending his church.”

“But New Hope is all that you’ve known!” Dakotah exclaimed, shocked. “What about the kids?”

“God won’t forsake those kids.” Vanessa said, plainly. “I’m sure you’ll be far superior to me in that ministry.”

“Why can’t you bring What’s-His-Name to New Hope, then?” Dakotah asked, not understanding her actions.

“Because his church has their act together, and carry out their ministry right!” Vanessa said, becoming irritated. “I’ve seen many visitors come to New Hope, see our ragtag service, and never come back! I love Brother Daniels to death, but he’s not professional, you know?”

“No, he’s not professional, he just has the Spirit.” Dakotah announced, frustrated. “Look, if that’s where God is leading you, then go, you have my blessing.” Dakotah sighed. “I’ll miss you, though.”

“I’ll miss you, too.” Vanessa said, becoming misty-eyed. “I’m sorry.”

“Good luck, Van.” Dakotah said, trying in vain to force a smile. “See you around?”

“I’d say so.” Vanessa replied, looking at her watch. “I have to go back to work. Take care, okay?”

“You too.” Dakotah said, diplomatically. “Good luck with What’s-His-Name.”

“Robert. Robert Daws.”

“Yeah, him.” Dakotah said, hugging Vanessa. “I hope you find happiness with him.” he whispered in her ear.

“Thanks.” Vanessa said, stepping away from Dakotah. “Bye.”

Vanessa turned away from Dakotah, and seeing Ely and Rev. Daniels, waved without saying anything. They waved back half-heartedly, wondering about Dakotah’s countenance.

“Well, that was interesting.” Dakotah said, scratching his chin.

“What happened?” Ely asked, curious.

“Do you know she’s leaving New Hope?” Dakotah asked.

“Yes, she came by the house last night, and told us everything.” Rev. Daniels said.

“Even the part about not liking the way New Hope is run?” Dakotah asked, trying to grasp their feelings.

“Everyone has a right to their opinion.” Rev. Daniels said, confidently. “If I took it personally with everyone that didn’t like the way I operated, I would never become a pastor!”

“Why didn’t you tell me all this earlier?” Dakotah said, curiously.

“She wanted to tell you herself, in person.” Ely said, consoling him. “It’s only right, I think.”

“Don’t worry about me, I’m okay with her decisions.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. “Who’s going to take her place on Wednesdays, though?”

“You can, if you want to.” Rev. Daniels said, plainly.

“I’m not sure if-“

“You’ll be fine.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “Would you like to have her job? If you don’t want it, that’s okay, too. We’ll figure out something. I just know you’re more than capable enough.”

Dakotah mulled over Rev. Daniels’ words for a moment. “I’ll try.” he said, hesitantly.

“Good! That’s the spirit!” Rev. Daniels said, enthusiastically.

Ely glanced  toward the entrance, and elbowed her father lightly. “Uh-oh, there she is!” she announced in a low tone.

Jean Reynolds strode toward the casket, inspecting it, and the mortician’s handiwork. Dakotah, followed by Rev. Daniels and Ely, joined her.

“How are you doing today, Aunt Jean?” Dakotah said, trying hard to be cheerful.

Jean snapped her head around, and stared at Dakotah for a moment, scowling. “It appears the mortuary is competent enough; why she would suffer the expense to be buried in such an expensive dress is beyond me.”

“If I remember correctly, this dress is similar to the one she wore while she dated Grandpa.” Dakotah replied, pleasantly.

“Sheer insanity.” Jean said, pursing her lips. “She should’ve been cremated. Funerals are such a waste of money.”

“Funerals are not for the dead, but for the living.” interrupted Rev. Daniels. “These services help us attain closure.”

“I had attained closure many years ago, not that it is any of your business.” Jean snapped. “She could’ve married into one of the finer families of Detroit, but no, she marries a soldier, and becomes a schoolteacher.”

“Nothing wrong with that, is there?” Rev. Daniels countered, smiling. “It was her right to live her life the way she saw fit.”

“She always sacrificed herself, and for what?” Jean growled. “Nothing. She had a failure for a son, and as for you,” she said, pointing at Dakotah, “what do you do? Are you even in college?”

“No.” Dakotah said, looking at the floor, suddenly embarrassed.

“Congratulations.” Jean said, looking at Dakotah conceitedly. “You are the sole result of all her labors, that and an old shack, and a run-down car.”

“Ms. Reynolds, Dakotah is highly intelligent, and an exceptionally hard worker.” Rev. Daniels said, sharply. “I assure you, someday, he will be successful in whatever venture he desires to pursue.”

“Humph.” Jean snorted. “I seriously doubt it.”

“Tell you what, Ms. Reynolds.” Rev. Daniels smirked. “You appear to be a woman of means. Why don’t you open up your checkbook, and pay for his education? He has dreams of being a meteorologist, and with your help, he could realize those dreams.”

Dakotah and Ely stared at Rev. Daniels, dumbstruck.

“Absolutely not!” Jean retorted, shocked. “I have never heard such a preposterous proposition. Technically, he is related to me, but he is not in my family line. I do not give charity, particularly to mongrels!”

Ely was about to speak her mind, but her father held his hand up, silencing her before she uttered a word. “I would rather have a mutt than a purebred, anytime.” Rev. Daniels said, gritting his teeth. “They are generally more intelligent, reliable, and loyal.”

Not showing any emotion, Jean checked her watch, and stared at Rev. Daniels. “Save your philosophical ramblings for liberal political gatherings. Now excuse me. I have some business to attend to.” She strode out of the room as she had strode in, several minutes prior, toward the funeral director’s office.

“You were incredible, Dad!” Ely giggled, barely containing herself. “You really told her!”

“I said my peace, but I doubt it sunk in.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head. “There are times Jesus tests even my Faith. We’ll just have to pray for her, and also pray that we won’t rejoice when she finally reaps what she’s been sowing her entire life.”

“Why did you ask for her to pay for my college?” Dakotah said, confused. “As if!”

“Your great aunt could easily pay your whole way. Tuition, food, books, and board, if she wanted to, without blinking.” Rev. Daniels said, thoughtfully. “Thought I’d give it a try, and see if we’d get lucky. I figured that she would respond in the manner she did, but it was worth the chance to be wrong.”

“Thanks for trying, Alan.” Dakotah said, smiling. “Woof!”

“Arooooo!” Ely howled, laughing.

“Bark bark bark!” Rev. Daniels chimed in. All three began to laugh. There were five or six others in the parlor, all of which gave the three an odd look.

“Think we’d better hit the buffet before it’s too late.” Rev. Daniels said, looking at his watch. “It’ll be awhile before we eat in Detroit.”

Dakotah, Ely, and Rev. Daniels gathered a few items off the buffet and sat down at one of the tables. Dakotah wasn’t hungry, but he thought he should eat something now, or he may get ill later.

Ely left the food on her plate mostly untouched, choosing to peck and swipe on her phone instead. She began to frown.

“What’s up, Sweetie?” Rev. Daniels asked.

“Oh, it’s just Hannah being stupid.” Ely said, sighing. “She keeps asking if I can go to Ann Arbor tonight. I keep telling her I have plans, but she’s not accepting no for an answer.”

“Keep trying, and stand firm.” Rev. Daniels said encouragingly. “She’ll give up, eventually.”

“She’s just mad because I’ve been spending a lot of time with Dak lately.” Ely grumbled. “She still sees him as a threat.”

“Does she know you spent the night with me?” Dakotah asked, sheepishly.

“No!” Ely whispered strongly, as if Hannah was in the next room, listening. “She’s not going to find out, either. No way she’d understand that!”

“Try not to make it a habit of keeping secrets from her, dear.” Rev. Daniels said, pointedly. “It’s not good for your relationship.”

“I don’t, unless it has to do with Dak.” Ely said, shaking her head. “It really ticks her off when I mention him, so I don’t. Getting so-called dumped by Van isn’t going to help, either. I had been shipping them pretty hard to her.”

“Consider your friendship to Dak one of the tests every relationship goes through.” Rev. Daniels said. “If it survives trials such as this one, then it’s a good relationship. If not, it was never meant to be in the first place.”

“Whenever I move to Ann Arbor, it should get better, since Dak won’t be around.” Ely said, hopefully.

Dakotah grimaced, but didn’t say anything. Ely caught the look on Dakotah’s  face, and sympathetically said “Sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Dakotah said, diplomatically. “I’ll be busy trying to get my own life moving. The church job is only the beginning, I hope.”

“That’s the spirit!” Rev. Daniels said, enthusiastically. “We probably need to get back, though. It’s 1:15.”

The three returned to the parlor. There were a few more visitors now, perhaps fifteen. Dakotah noticed his mother standing by the casket, alone.

“Hi, mom.” Dakotah said, simply.

Sylvia turned, hugged Dakotah, and began to cry. Dakotah, reacting to his mother’s tears, began to cry as well.

“How are you holding up, son?” Sylvia said, wiping away tears.

“I’m okay, so far.” Dakotah replied, gathering himself. “I’m not sure about later.”

“Have you ever been to a funeral?” Sylvia asked.

“Andre’s, remember?” Dakotah replied sharply, instantly irritated.

“Oh yeah, right.” Sylvia sighed. “I hate funerals.”

Dakotah felt a tap on his shoulder. “Excuse me.” the funeral director said as Dakotah turned to face him. “If you have a moment, I’d like to review the itinerary.”

Dakotah nodded, not saying anything.

“Good.” the funeral director continued. “Of course, at two o’clock, the services begin. The first row here is reserved for the immediate family.  “Mr. Lennon, you and Mrs. Reynolds will sit here.”

“Yay, me.” thought Dakotah. He noticed his mother, Ely, and Rev. Daniels sitting in the second row, and breathed a sigh of relief.

“We’ll have our services, and allow everyone to pay their last respects and leave.” the funeral director continued. “You’ll get a chance to have a few moments alone with your grandmother, then the pallbearers will take her to the hearse.”

“Oh yeah, pallbearers!” Dakotah realized. “Who are they?”

There’s several of them over there, talking to Rev. Higgins.” the funeral director said.

Dakotah looked over, and saw several men he recognized as choir members from his old church, one of which was Officer Douglas.

“We’ll try to make the graveside services brief, due to the weather, of course.” the funeral director said.

“That would be good.” Dakotah said, nodding. “I’m not really dressed for this weather.”

Rev. Higgins, seeing Dakotah, walked up to him, the pallbearers following.

“I really appreciate you all doing this.” Dakotah said, graciously.

“It’s our honor, Dakotah.” one of the pallbearers said, smiling. “Your grandma was a fine lady.”

“Shame she died like that.” Officer Douglas said, shaking his head, and sighing. “I think she could’ve been saved.”

“What?” Dakotah exclaimed, otherwise at a loss for words.

“You don’t know what happened to her?” Officer Douglas said, taken aback. “Mrs. Reynolds received the coroner’s report yesterday.”

“N-no, I didn’t.” Dakotah replied, his stomach tightening. “What did it say?”

“I’m afraid she had a stroke.” Officer Douglas said, empathetically. “A pretty severe one, the coroner said. If she had made it to the hospital in time, she could’ve been saved, at least in my honest opinion.”

“I-if I’d been there, she would still be alive?” Dakotah whimpered.

“Easy, Dakotah.” Rev. Higgins said, placing his hand on Dakotah’s shoulder.  “You cannot blame yourself for her passing. This is God’s will.”

“But I-“

“No buts, Dakotah.” Rev. Higgins said firmly. “Did you know she passed out in church three weeks ago?”

“No way!” Dakotah cried, incredulous.

“We called an ambulance for her, but she refused, saying she wasn’t going to the hospital, that the Lord would either heal her, or take her.”

“Why would she feel that way?” Dakotah said, frustrated. “It’s not like she was alone!”

“I’ve talked to Elizabeth many times over the past few years.” Rev. Higgins said, trying to soothe Dakotah. “I think the way the health care system treated your grandfather after he was diagnosed with cancer influenced her. They spent almost all the money they had trying to keep him alive, but it was in vain. I think she didn’t want to give anyone else that burden.”

“She wouldn’t have been a burden!” Dakotah protested. “I would’ve taken care of her!”

“You were the last one she would want to have troubled.” Rev. Higgins said, shaking his head. “She felt you had your whole life in front of you, and she didn’t want you to have to spend it taking care of her, instead of living your own life.”


“No buts.” Rev. Higgins repeated. “Like it or not, she made a choice, and there’s nothing you can do about it now, but live your life in a way that will make her happy while she’s watching you from above.”

“Okay.” Dakotah said, defeated.

“She was so happy when you started coming to church with her, especially so when you found Christ, and became saved.” Rev. Higgins said, lightening his tone.

“Yeah, I have to thank her for that.” Dakotah acknowledged. “She always picked me up every Sunday, even if it snowed.”

“I was at first ever-so- slightly irked when you started attending New Hope.” Rev. Higgins said, smiling a little. “I like to think I have one of the best places around for worship, teaching, and fellowship.”

“I’m sorry!” Dakotah blurted, suddenly embarrassed. “I-“

“Don’t be.” Rev. Higgins said calmly, holding one hand up. “between the fact that my old comrade is a good, God-fearing, worker for Christ, and the reports from Elizabeth on your good works at New Hope, I’m convinced you made the right decision.”

“Th-thank you.” Dakotah stuttered, stunned.

“I’m proud of you, Dakotah, and I hope the Lord continues to bless both you and Brother Alan.” Rev. Higgins said, smiling.

“I-I’ll do my best!” Dakotah said, feeling warm inside.

Rev, Higgins looked across the room at the clock on the wall. “Well, I guess it’s time to start. If you ever need anything, or need any advice, my door’s always open.”

“Thank you.” “I’ll do that.” Dakotah said, feeling relieved inside. He took his seat in the front row, sitting in front of Ely, Rev. Daniels, and his mother.

Rev. Daniels leaned forward, and spoke in a low voice in Dakotah’s ear. “I saw what that scoundrel was trying to do. He was trying to get you to go back to 1st, wasn’t he?”

“That’s not going to happen.” Dakotah laughed quietly, realizing the preacher wasn’t serious. “You can bet on that.”

Jean Reynolds briskly walked down the aisle, and sat down in the front row, one seat separating herself and Dakotah. He could feel the chill emanating from her.

Music began to play in the background; it appeared that most of the people visiting the previous day did not return for the funeral. Including family and pallbearers, there were about thirty in attendance.

Rev. Higgins stepped up to the pulpit, opened his Bible, and began to read. “ In the book of John, Chapter 14, Jesus says-“

“Hold on, people!” shouted a voice from the back of the parlor. “You can’t have this party starting yet, not without me!”

Every head in the room snapped around. Dakotah heard his mother gasp, as if she saw a ghost.

“The bastard actually showed up!” Sylvia cried, standing up, and pointing.

Striding toward the front of the parlor was a man, about six feet tall. Thin, with greasy, stringy long hair streaked with gray, a beard similar, extending four or five inches past his chin, he walked confidently,  almost regally. His face was tanned and worn, his clothes dirty, but his eyes were familiar to Dakotah. Similar to his own, and his grandfather’s, he saw them many times in his grandmother’s photo albums.

“Dad.” was all Dakotah could think. He instantly became numb.

Darren Lennon stood before the casket, silent. There was the slightest murmuring behind Dakotah, but on the whole, the parlor was silent.

Rev. Higgins walked up to Dakotah’s father, and put his hand on his shoulder. Darren instantly recoiled, and took a step away from the preacher.

“”I’m sorry.” Rev. Higgins said, pulling his hand back. “You are her son, I presume?”

“Yeah.” Darren replied, coldly. “You from First?”

“Why, yes I am.” Rev. Higgins said, trying to smile. “Pleasure to meet y-“.

“Pleasure’s all yours.” Darren interrupted, scowling. “Never liked the place.” He looked about the parlor, taking inventory of the people in the seats, and seeing Dakotah, Sylvia, and Jean, smiled.

“Carry on, preacher.” Darren said, waving his hand as he plopped down between Dakotah and Jean.

It became immediately apparent to Dakotah that his father hadn’t bathed in several days. He reeked of sweat, and of alcohol. Jean began to cough, and it appeared her eyes began to water.

“Hello, Aunt Jean!” Darren chuckled derisively. “Seeing you here has me all choked up, too! Your plastic surgeon has been kind to you!”

Seething, but not replying, Jean stood up, and walked out of the parlor, dialing her phone.

“Well, that was easy.” Darren, smirked, turning to Dakotah. “Hi, son, remember me?”

“N-no, not really.” Dakotah stuttered, unable to think of anything else to say.

“You have some nerve barging in here!” Sylvia snapped angrily.

“Well, hello, Syl!” Darren said, smiling through his stained teeth. “Still hooked up with that fatass? I think he’s rubbed off on you, though. Getting a little broad back there……”

“I should have you arrested!” Sylvia barked, incensed. “There’s a cop right over there!”

“He’s not going to do anything.” Darren said, coldly. “There are no outstanding warrants on me, I already checked. Now shut up, woman! People are staring at us!” He turned to Rev. Higgins. “I’m sorry preacher, please continue.”

If there were a quiz on Rev. Higgins sermon and eulogy, Dakotah would’ve flunked it. His mind was swimming, unable to process anything. The arrival of his father, after all that had happened during the week, was too much for Dakotah to assimilate.

Dakotah wanted nothing more than to walk out of the funeral home, and keep walking. He knew, of course, that he couldn’t. He knew his grandmother would not approve of him running away from his problems, so, to honor her, he decided to stay seated. Dakotah had purposely ignored the possibility of his father’s return; even considering it was too much for him to take. Yet, here he was, and Dakotah knew he had to deal with that reality.

Dakotah’s attention was suddenly diverted to Rev. Higgins, who was motioning them to stand. Dakotah, his father, and Rev. Higgins stood by the head of the casket, waiting for everyone to pay their last respects. More than half, mostly 1st Baptist members, walked out and left, without going up front. Elizabeth’s former colleagues, remembering Dakotah’s father as a child, did come up to pay their respects, though with Darren Lennon swaying back and forth with his head down, and not acknowledging them, they didn’t know what to say.

One elderly lady did summon up the courage to say hello to him. He looked up at her, and smiled. “Forgive me, ma’am, for looking like this. I was in the middle of a spirit quest in the Andes when I heard the news. Not easy flying from Quito to Detroit, you know.”

“Oh, my!” said the lady, taken aback. “Will you be returning?”

“I’m afraid not.” Darren replied, somberly. “I have to take care of some things here.” The lady blessed him, then shuffled off.

Dakotah stared at his father, incredulous, wondering if by the slightest chance if his story was true.

Sensing his son’s gaze, he turned to Dakotah. “Well, it sounds good, doesn’t it, and that’s all that matters.” Darren said, shrugging his shoulders, and giving an impish grin. Dakotah said nothing, but continued to stare at him.

“If it’s the last thing I do, you’ll pay, you worthless piece of crap!” Sylvia seethed at Darren, pointing her finger at his face. All Dakotah could do was look down, wishing he could be anywhere else but there.

Darren leaned back, and laughed mockingly. “Hey, life is free, baby!” he snickered.

Sylvia raised her hand back as if to hit her ex-husband, but seeing the casket, thought better of it, turned, and stomped off, not saying a word. “She hasn’t changed a bit.” Darren chuckled.

Rev. Daniels and Ely were the last ones to the casket. Ely said a silent prayer, then edged up to Dakotah, putting her arm around him.

“You seem to have an effect on people.” Rev. Daniels said, holding out his hand.

Sizing up the preacher, Darren took his hand, and lightly shook it. “A special talent I have.” he said, coolly. “Have I known you?”

“No.” Rev. Daniels said, mimicking Darren’s demeanor. “I’m Alan Daniels, pastor of New Hope Church.”

“Sorry, I’m not interested in visiting your house of worship. I have no misconceptions of where I’m going.” Darren said, pointing down.

“At least you’re honest about where you stand spiritually.” Rev. Daniels said, keeping an even temperament. “If you change your mind, we’re on the west side, just down the street from the Zippy Mart.”

“If you ever start having a cash bar, I may come.” Darren said, laughing derisively. “Especially if you have happy hour during Sunday school. You could make a lot of bucks that way.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Rev. Daniels said, laughing. “Come on, Ely. We have to get in line for the procession.”

Ely hugged Dakotah, tearfully looked deep in his eyes, and left with her father without saying a word.

“Nice little kitten you have there, son. Not bad.” Darren said, nodding. “I like’m with long legs, like your mom has. That didn’t work out, though.”

Dakotah didn’t reply; he certainly did not want to share the details of his and Ely’s relationship.

“Gentlemen, take your time, but as soon as we’re done here, we’ll go to the limousine, and ride to the gravesite.” the funeral director said, suddenly nervous.

“I’ll pass on that.” Darren said, rubbing the hair on his chin. Turning to the casket and leaning forward, he held his mother’s hands in his. “Say hi to Pops for me, okay?” he said, almost wistfully. Turning, he faced Dakotah, and smiled. “Catch you around, son. Stay away from crystal meth, ‘kay?” With that, Darren sauntered out of the funeral home, leaving Dakotah alone, with only the funeral director, and Rev. Higgins.

Dakotah turned to Elizabeth. “I love you, Grandma, and I’ll miss you. Thanks for everything.” he said, becoming choked up. Dakotah turned, and looking down, walked out of the funeral home, shivering as the cold air worked its way through his thin blazer.


The next hour felt as strange to Dakotah as the previous one. He alone rode in the limousine to the gravesite, a third of the way up a nondescript row of tombstones in the middle of a five acre field. It was a place for the dead to be lost forever, Dakotah thought, especially since he was the only family member to attend the gravesite service. Aside from the pallbearers and Rev. Higgins, there were only a couple of old stalwarts from her teaching days, Rev. Daniels, and Ely. The service was thankfully brief, as the windchill continued to flirt around zero. Dak and Ely held hands and shivered as the pallbearers laid the roses upon the coffin.

After the service was over, Dakotah thanked everyone, including Elizabeth’s former coworkers. “Oh, you’re welcome, but I come here all the time.” An elderly gentleman, dressed snugly in a heavy woolen coat and scarf, replied kindly. “After all, most of my friends are here now.”

Dakotah waved to the funeral director, and pointed to Rev. Daniel’s running Camry, gathering a nod in acknowledgement. Dakotah entered the back seat, shivering uncontrollably, as he buckled up. Stretching, he exhaled forcefully.

“You okay back there?” Rev. Daniels asked, concerned. Dakotah didn’t reply; instead, he stared blankly at the floor mat.

“He’s still breathing, so it look like he’ll make it.” Ely quipped, trying to make light of the situation.

“Dakotah, are you still up for Detroit?” Rev. Daniels, asked kindly.

After a moment, Dakotah finally replied. “Yeah.” was all he could mumble.

“You sure you okay?” Rev. Daniels asked again, becoming worried, as he had never seen Dakotah in that state.

“No.” Dakotah replied simply, without emotion.

“I bet it was a shock, seeing your dad!” Ely piped in, trying to get Dakotah to talk. “He was-“

Rev. Daniels interrupted Ely, grabbing her arm while holding his index finger in front of his lips, and shaking his head.

Five miles passed, then ten, in silence. Dakotah stared blankly out the window, at the myriad pinks and purples brought about by the sunset. Ely and Rev. Daniels both said silent prayers.

Suddenly leaning back, Dakotah closed his eyes, and tilted his head back even further, as if he were looking straight up. Ely saw his lips move, and wondered if he was praying.

Dakotah continued this for a couple of more minutes; finally, he lowered his head, exhaled, and began to cry, slamming his fist against the back of the seat several times. Still, Rev. Daniels, with Ely following his lead, said nothing.

Raising his head, Dakotah stared straight ahead, toward Rev. Daniels and Ely. “I’m sorry about that.” he said, full of melancholy.

“That’s quite all right.” Rev. Daniels said in a comforting tone. “Figure something out?”

“My father…” Dakotah said bitterly, pausing a few seconds to find the proper words, “is scum.”

“Well, that’s a direct answer.” Rev. Daniels said, understandingly. “I agree, he’s not the most pleasant person, but calling him scum is a little harsh, don’t you think?”

“No, I don’t. “ Dakotah said, irritated. “You know, my mother and my great aunt are not nice people.”

“I think your mother is basically a nice person.” Rev. Daniels countered. “I think she just a little messed up.”

“You’re right about that.” Dakotah agreed, nodding his head. “A lot messed up.”

Dakotah continued, his voice gaining momentum. “But Dad was way out of line! He was rude to almost everyone, and he lied constantly. Not only that, he’s a thief, too!” he shrieked.

“Thief?” Rev. Daniels said, surprised. “I admit, the spirit quest story was classic, but what makes you think he’s a thief?”

“Because he stole Grandma’s rings!” Dakotah cried.

“What?” Ely exclaimed, shocked. “No way! How?”

“At the end when he said his goodbyes to her.” Dakotah grumbled, gritting his teeth. “He held her hands in his before he left. I couldn’t see him take them, but when I went to the casket afterward, both the gold wedding band, and the diamond ring Granddad gave to her, were gone!”

“He has a legal right to those rings, since he is, for all purposes, the only heir.” Rev. Daniels said, trying to calm Dakotah down. “Unless she stated who was to get the rings in the will, they’re his, I’m afraid, though the method with how he got them was seriously tacky.”

“Sometimes I think everyone in my family is crazy.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“He seemed friendly enough to you, Dak.” Ely offered, trying to put a positive spin on the situation. “At least he didn’t try to insult you!”

“I think I would’ve preferred it that he had.” Dakotah muttered.

“You also have to look into the possibility that he’s going to move into the house.” Rev. Daniels said, solemnly. “How will you deal with that?”

“I don’t know if I can.” Dakotah said, grimacing. “He’s not violent like Frank, at least I don’t think he is, but he’s definitely not good.”

“Well, cross that bridge if you get to it.” Rev. Daniels offered. “Pray for His help, strength, and guidance. Who knows? Maybe the two of you can work something out where it benefits you both.”

“The prayer part is no problem.” Dakotah said, pointedly. “Lord knows, I’ve done enough of that in the past few days. I just hope I get one answered in my favor.”

“Well, if He doesn’t, you have to trust His wisdom, and believe that whatever happens is for the best.” Rev. Daniels said, confidently.

“I’ll do my best.” Dakotah said, his voice full of doubt.

“I know you will.” Rev, Daniels said, encouragingly. “Now, enough of the gloom and doom. Let’s concentrate on what we’re going to eat at the diner!”

Dakotah stared out the window at the rapidly darkening skies, and the bright lights of Detroit ahead. In moments, the drone of the tires and the stress of the day overcame him, and he fell fast asleep.

Ely noticed him first. “He’s out, Dad.”

“Poor guy.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head. “If it gets any worse for him, he’d be a modern day Job. I pray things get better for him soon.”

Ely nodded her head in agreement, as the lights of the city became brighter. “I wonder how much brighter Tokyo is?” she thought to herself.



Detroit, even in times of a recession, was a busy place on a Friday night. However, Rev. Daniels was more than up to the task, as he smoothly and efficiently forded through traffic.

Dinner was held at the same diner Ely and Dakotah ate after Andre’s funeral. It was full, with people waiting in line to get in, but Rev. Daniels, who grew up with the owner, called ahead, and reserved a booth. Upon sitting down, Dakotah realized he was famished, and at Rev. Daniels’ urging, ordered a half-pound burger, onion rings, and a large chocolate shake.

“Hey, don’t be thinking I’m going to feed you like this when you come in to work Monday!” Rev. Daniels teased.

“That’s fine by me.” Dakotah said, showing his first smile of the day. “I can bring in some bologna and a loaf of bread, and be okay for the entire week!”

“I don’t think you’ll have to worry about bringing in food.” Rev. Daniels said, smiling as well. “I have a feeling Mama will be stopping by, and making sure you, well, me too, are well fed!”

Dakotah felt warm inside. “I don’t know what I would have done if it weren’t for you all!” he gushed tearfully.

“With Ely’s free ride through college, and all the work you’ve done for the church, you’ve been a blessing to us, too. Don’t ever forget that.” Rev. Daniels said, kindly.

“Everything good tonight, Alan?” a lady wearing an apron asked.

“Why, hello, CC!” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “Everything’s great, as usual. Thanks for squeezing us in tonight.”

“I’ll squeeze you, anytime.” CC said, coolly. Ely’s jaw dropped.

“Heh. I don’t know about that.” Rev. Daniels chuckled. “My feelings haven’t changed. Sorry.”

CC turned to Ely, whose face was almost as red as her hair. “Ely, isn’t it? No disrespect to your mother, but you need to tell your daddy he can move on with his life now.”

“I’m quite content with my life just the way it is, thank you very much!” Rev. Daniels said, nonchalantly.

“Content is just another word for dead.” CC said, smugly.

“Well, for someone who’s dead, I’m feeling pretty good right now.” Rev. Daniels countered, smiling ever so slightly.

“Trust me, you don’t know what feeling good is.” CC winked.

Ely put her hand over her mouth and lightly squealed “Oh my gosh!” Dakotah sat dumbstruck.

“I guess I’ll just have to stay ignorant.” Rev. Daniels said, without blinking.

“Your loss.” CC shrugged, smiling. “Maybe you’ll wise up, someday.”

Rev. Daniels cleared his throat, and gestured towards CC. “Kids, this charming lady is Carol Caminiti, the owner and head cook of this fine establishment.”

Ely looked at Carol distrustfully, without saying a word. Dakotah managed a weak “Hi!”.

“I know you’re Ely.” Carol said, pointing at Rev. Daniels’ daughter. She gave Dakotah the once over. “Alan, where did you find this stray? He doesn’t look like he’s had his shots yet!”

Dakotah looked down, silent, and embarrassed. Rev. Daniels stared at Carol, his countenance soured.

“I’ll have you know Dakotah is one of the most valuable members of my church.” Rev. Daniels said pointedly. “He’s great with the disadvantaged youth, he helps out with odd jobs, and, starting Monday, he’ll be my secretary.”

“Oh, really?” Carol said, weighing Rev. Daniels’ words.

“Not only that, he learned Japanese, just so he could help me!” Ely piped in, forcefully. “I got a full scholarship at UM because of him!”

“Japanese, huh?” Carol said, somewhat skeptical. “Say something in Japanese.”

Dakotah thought for a second. <Your hamburgers are the best I’ve ever eaten.> Note: Japanese dialogue is in between the <>

“What did you just say?” Carol said, suspicious. “You didn’t just cuss me, did you?”

“He didn’t say anything bad at all!” Ely blurted. “He said your hamburgers are really good!”

“I said it was the best I’ve ever eaten.” Dakotah corrected.

Carol laughed. “Well, wait, what’s your name?”


“Dakotah, really?” Carol said, amused. “Dakotah, you are a charmer, I’ll give you that.”

Dakotah gave Carol a confused look, not saying anything.

“Look guys, it’s been a lot of fun, but I have to go back and crack the whip.” Carol said, smiling. “Is there anything else I can get you? It’s on the house.”

“I’ll take a piece of chocolate cream pie, please.” Dakotah said, politely.

“After all you’ve already ate?” Ely said, astonished.

“I’m a little full, but I think I can handle it.” Dakotah smiled, sheepishly. “Especially if it’s as good as the rest of it!”

Carol laughed. “Girl, you better keep an eye on him.” she said to Ely. “Keeping girls away from him is going to be a full time job!”

“Don’t worry, I can keep him under control.” Ely said, staring at Dakotah. Dakotah’s face started to turn red.

“Alan, don’t take so long next time.” Carol said, putting her hand on his shoulder. “Come alone, and I’ll fix you something off-menu.”

Rev. Daniels laughed uncomfortably. “I’ll think about it.”

“Yeah, whatever.” Carol said, shaking her head. “Be careful going home.” With that, she strode back to the kitchen, waving as she left.

“That was interesting.” Ely said, staring at her father. “Will you be coming here while I’m off to college?”

“Probably not very much.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head. “As you know, I’m a pretty busy guy.”

“Dad, she probably has a point.” Ely said, her tone turning serious. “Don’t you think it’s time you considered dating someone?”

“No.” Rev. Daniels said succinctly.

“But mom’s been gone almost fifteen years!” Ely exclaimed. “Aren’t you lonely?”

“Of course not.” Rev. Daniels said, patiently. “I talk to your mother every day. And no, I don’t get an actual response, but I know she’s in Heaven, listening. Knowing that’s she waiting for me is a cornerstone of my Faith.”

Silence enveloped the table, as Ely and Dakotah considered Rev. Daniels’ words. “Dakotah,” Ely said, smiling. “would you talk to me every day if I died?”

“Maybe.” Dakotah said, thoughtfully.

“Maybe? What does that mean?” Ely said in mock indignation.

“It means that if we were married, and had children, and you died, then yes, absolutely.” Dakotah said, kindly. “However, if you moved to Japan, and I never saw you again, then probably not.”

Rev. Daniels laughed. “You understand, don’t you, Dak?”

“I think so.” Dakotah said, as the pie was delivered. “You know, someday I’d like to bring you both here, when there’s not a funeral involved.”

“Amen, Dak!” Rev. Daniels exclaimed. “I’ll look forward to it!”


The drive home was uneventful, mainly small talk between the three. However, in the back of Dakotah’s mind, was the possibility of his father taking possession of the house. Having to move out in four weeks was bad enough, but having his father move instead might be worse, he thought.

As they pulled onto Poplar Street, Dakotah knew instantly something was wrong. All the lights were on in the house, and he knew none were on when he left. As they got closer, the knot in his stomach tightened, and his heart jumped.

“The car is gone!” Dakotah shouted. “Someone must’ve took it! It had to be Dad!”

“Easy, Dak, let’s not jump to conclusions.” Rev. Daniels cautioned. “We don’t know the facts yet.”

Dakotah, followed by Rev. Daniels and Ely, exited the car, and noting that the door was unlocked, entered the house through the side entrance. Immediately, they were hit with an acrid smell.

“Ely, go back to the car, get in, and lock the doors.” Rev. Daniels ordered.

“What? Why? Are we in danger?” Ely said, confused.

“No, I doubt it, but please do as I say.” Rev. Daniels said, firmly. “I’ll explain later.”

Shaking her head, Ely did as she was told. Dakotah gave Rev. Daniels a puzzled look. “Just trust me. You’ll understand in a minute.” Rev. Daniels said, confidently.

In the kitchen, they could hear the television playing in the living room. Entering the living room, they stopped, and Dakotah’s jaw dropped.

Sitting in the floor, watching television, was Dakotah’s father; it was obvious he had bathed, as his hair looked clean, and pulled back into a ponytail. His beard was trimmed neatly, now half the length it was earlier. He also wore the same yellow pajama bottoms that Ely had worn a few nights earlier. In his left hand, he held a beer. In his right hand, a lit joint.

“Hello, son, preacher.” Darren said, casually. “I hope you don’t mind me making myself at home. Of course, it is my home. Care for a beer? Hit?” he said, extending his hand out.

“No thanks, I’m good.” Rev. Daniels said. Darren shrugged his shoulders, unperturbed.

“Where’s the car, and all the furniture?” Dakotah exclaimed, exasperated.

“Our beloved Aunt Jean had the house cleaned out and the car picked up while Mom was being planted.” Darren said coldly. “There’s the letter her lawyer left.” He pointed to a letter on the floor near Dakotah.

Dakotah picked up the letter and read it, handing it to Rev. Daniels when he was done. “Executor expenses?” he said, confused.

“Apparently, your aunt charged the estate for the private jet, the five star hotel, and whatever else she could dream up.” Rev. Daniels said, grumbling. “She used the car and the furniture for payment of her services.”

“I suppose you saw the balance?” Darren said pithily.

“Yep. Eleven thousand, right?” Rev. Daniels answered.

“Mmm-hmm. I’m sure her original intent was to auction the house, and bleed all the funds for her “expenses”.” Darren said, making quotation marks with his fingers at “expenses”. “My arrival messed up her plans somewhat, but Lord love her, the old crone is still trying to make a profit!”

“What’s going to happen now?” Dakotah said, becoming concerned.

“I’m sure she’ll put a lien on the house.” Darren sighed derisively. “However, she won’t have the cojones to take me to court, because a judge will throw her “expenses” out. She’s betting I’ll do something stupid to lose the house, have it go up to auction, and collect her money that way.”

“I take it you’re not going to be stupid?” Rev. Daniels asked, smiling.

“I like you, man.” Darren laughed. “You’re not a normal preacher, I’ll give you that. I don’t have any plans right now, just going to hang out here awhile.” He turned to Dakotah. “What about you, son? Kinda sucks without furniture, but you can stay here, if you want.”

“Only if you don’t smoke pot.” Dakotah said firmly. “I’m used to someone drinking, but I’m not going to church smelling like marijuana.”

Darren smiled wryly. “I’m not going to give up my sensimilla.”

“Why can’t you smoke it outside?” Dakotah asked, becoming frustrated.

“What, and get busted?” Darren said, smirking. “You must’ve picked up your mother’s dumbass gene, or unless me getting arrested is what you want, right?”

Dakotah didn’t say anything; instead, he chose to simply stare at his father. “I can’t believe I’m having this conversation with him!” he thought.

“It is his house, Dak.” Rev. Daniels said, calmly. “He doesn’t have to give up his vices for you, or anyone else, except for the law.”

“Actually, it is legal, since it’s medicinal.” Darren said, smugly.

“Oh?” Rev. Daniels said, intrigued. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were under a doctor’s care.”

“What’s wrong with you?” Dakotah asked, suddenly feeling guilty.

“I have severe muscle spasms.” Darren said, self-assuredly. “At least that’s what the doc put down on the paperwork.”

“I see.” Rev. Daniels said, thinking. “No symptoms since therapy began?”

“None at all.” Darren said with a wry grin. “I tell you, it’s a miracle!”

“The Lord truly works wonders.” Rev. Daniels said, the slightest trace of sarcasm in his voice.

“You should know, you’re close to Him.” Darren said, mockingly.

“I’m no closer to the Lord than you, Dak, or Jean Reynolds.” Rev. Daniels said, calmly. “I just listen to Him more than most.”

“Well, you got me there.” Darren chuckled. “I’ve never been good at listening to anyone.”

“Well, can you at least not smoke while I’m here?” Dakotah whined.

“Tobacco, or weed?” Darren laughed, contemptuously.

“Both.” Dakotah replied, gritting his teeth.

“Whether you are my son, or not, you’re in no position to negotiate anything.” Darren said, his voice darkening.

“I have a job, so I can at least pay for the utilities and my own food, and I can keep the house clean.” Dakotah retorted.

“So, all I have to do is pay for my own food, smokes, and booze, and you’ll take care of the rest? Darren snorted. “Why can’t I just get some stupid whore to do all that, plus buy my food and booze, and give me sex, in exchange for a little medicine?”

“Because if you are as smooth as you say you are, you would’ve already had one in tow.” Rev. Daniels said, condescendingly. “One thing you have in Dakotah that you can’t get with anyone else you might find is that you can trust him completely. He’s not going to steal your beer, or your pot. Your house will be clean, and the utilities will be paid, because unlike you, he’s a man of his word.”

“You know, preacher, you piss me off, but I can’t help but like you.” Darren said, shaking his head. “I don’t think I can count on one hand the people that have pegged me in my entire life, but you sir, are one. Well played.”

“I’m not playing at all.” Rev. Daniels said, simply. “I call things as I see them, that’s all. So, what will it be? Will you accept Dakotah’s terms?”

Darren looked down in thought for a moment, then raised his head, smiling. “All right, son, it’s a deal, but I retain the right to chill out here as I see fit when there’s something on TV, got it?”

Dakotah thought for a moment, then looked over at Rev. Daniels.

“Dak, it’s up to you.” Rev. Daniels said, shrugging his shoulders.

Dakotah looked straight as his father, and took a deep breath. “I don’t trust you. I don’t even like you. But I want to stay here.  I owe Grandma that much, to preserve the house, and the stuff that remains, for her sake. I also want to build my own life here, and not feel like I’m dependent on someone else.”

“You wouldn’t be a burden on us, if you moved in, Dak.” Rev. Daniels said, pointedly.

“I know you mean well, but here, I would feel like I’m in a partnership, and not just a sponge.” Dakotah replied, shaking his head. He turned to his father. “I guess I can either go to my room, or go do something away from the house, when you feel the need to party. But I won’t do it every night, do you understand?”

“Cool with me, son.” Darren said, the slightest smile crossing his lips. “I don’t party like I used to; I’m getting old, you see.” He held his hand out. “Deal?”

“Deal.” Dakotah grasped his father’s hand firmly, and shook it once.

“Oh, one thing.” Darren said, withdrawing his hand. “I’m taking my old room back. You can have Mom’s.”

“Seriously?” Dakotah said, making a face.

“Yeah. It would feel weird taking the folk’s bed.” Darren said, awkwardly. “After all, I was conceived in that room!”

“Oh. Okay.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. Suddenly, a thought flashed before Dakotah’s eyes. “Oh, wait!” he exclaimed, as he sped into his room.

“Noooooooooo!” Dakotah cried from his room.

“What’s wrong, Dak?” Rev. Daniels shouted.

Dakotah entered the room ashen-faced, holding his Bible. “The money’s gone.” he said, downtrodden.

“What money?” Rev. Daniels asked. “You mean the money your aunt had been sending you?”

“Yeah. I kept it in this Bible for safekeeping.” Dakotah mumbled. Swiftly, he turned to his father, anger welling up inside him. “You took it, didn’t you?” he seethed, pointing a finger.

“Hey, whoa, don’t look at me!” Darren said, becoming agitated. How would I know to look in there? It’s not like I’ve ever made a habit of checking out Bibles, you know!”

“Well, you stole the rings from Grandma’s hand!” Dakotah cried.

“Hey, those rings weren’t going to do her any good!” Darren said, indignantly. “Besides, as heir, I had a right to those rings! I’m surprised our aunt didn’t already snatch them!”

“All I know is that you were here before me, and the money’s not there!” Dakotah said, not calming down.

“Yeah, and the guys cleaning out the house were here before me.” Darren said, firmly. “The lawyer probably hired the cheapest labor possible to move the stuff out, and when they saw the money, they snagged it. Tell me, it was all cash, right?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah said, despondent.

“I guess your grandmother never suggested using a bank, did she?” Darren said, putting his joint out in the ashtray.

Dakotah shook his head. “No.” he muttered.

“Look, dude.” Darren said, without sympathy. “You may not believe me. I don’t care if you do, or if you don’t, but I don’t have your money, and I don’t know what happened to it.”

Dakotah looked at Rev. Daniels, who shrugged his shoulders.

“I’m sorry, Dak.” Rev. Daniels said, full of empathy. “I don’t know what to tell you. There’s no way of knowing who took the money. The main thing is that it’s gone.”

Dakotah’s head drooped, and he exhaled loudly. ”Whatever. This sucks.”

“Dak, I’d better be getting along now.” Rev. Daniels said, looking at his watch. “Would you come along for a second?”

Dakotah nodded, and began to follow Rev. Daniels. “See you around, Mr. Lennon.” Rev. Daniels said, saluting Darren with two fingers.

“Later.” Darren replied, without emotion.

Rev. Daniels exited the house, and got in the Camry, starting it.

“Where’ve you been? It’s freezing in here!” Ely said, shivering. “Phew! You stink!”

“I’ll explain on the way home.” Rev. Daniels said, apologetically. He exited the car, meeting Dakotah outside the kitchen door.

“I’d be lying if I said I was comfortable with this arrangement.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head.

“Me, too.” Dakotah said, nodding. “He can’t be worse than Frank, can he?”

“I hope not.” Rev. Daniels said, frowning. “You have to keep your eye on him at all times. From what you’ve told me about Frank, he’s a total jerk, but he’s consistent from day to day. Your father is, at least on the surface, highly intelligent, and very cunning. He also doesn’t care about anyone else except himself, and that includes you.”

“I know that.” Dakotah said, slightly perturbed.

“I know you know that, but sometimes one has to say it anyway, you know?” Rev. Daniels said, trying to make light of things. “Listen.” He continued, his countenance becoming serious. “I have a feeling his drug use goes beyond taking his “medicine”. If he asks you to go pick up or deliver a package, don’t. There could be something in there to put you in prison.”

“Really?” Dakotah said, surprised. “That makes sense. Thanks. And thanks for being there with me tonight, well, all day. I don’t think he knows how to handle you.”

“There, but for the Grace of God, go I.” Rev. Daniels said solemnly. “I see a lot of myself in him.”

“That’s scary.” Dakotah said, thinking.

“I better be going.” Rev. Daniels said, looking at his watch. “If you need anything, call me. I’ll be praying for you.”

“I’ll need all the prayers I can get.” Dakotah said, smiling, and shaking Rev. Daniels’ hand.

Dakotah walked around the car to the passenger side. Ely lowered her window just a couple of inches.

“Gomen.” Dakotah apologized. “I didn’t mean to freeze you out!”

“I’ll live.” Ely replied. “Are you going to be okay?”

“Do I have a choice?” Dakotah laughed. “Hey, thanks for being there for me.”

“That’s what friends are for, right?” Ely said, smiling. “See you Sunday?”

“Yeah, I guess we’ll have to do it like the old days.” Dakotah said, sighing. “I liked being able to drive.”

“See you, Sunday, Dak!” Rev. Daniels shouted from the driver’s seat. “Be careful!”

“You too!” Dakotah shouted back.

The Rev. Daniels backed the car out into the street, and drove off.


“Would you mind telling me why I was left in the car, freezing to death?” Ely said, curious.

“Because when I stepped foot in that house, I smelled marijuana.” Rev. Daniels grumbled. “First, I didn’t know what kind of characters were in there, so the safest place for you was in the car.”

“Who was in there?”

“Just his father.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking his head. “However, Dak’s original assessment may not be far off. Secondly, your school still has random drug screenings, don’t they?”


“I didn’t want to risk you getting suspended, especially since you have a full scholarship.” Rev. Daniels said plainly. “If the University got wind of that, you may have lost it.”

“Wow.” Ely said, shocked. “Is Dakotah going to be all right? It may be a little weird, but I would rather have him at our house.”

“He wanted to be more independent, and not be a burden to us.” Rev. Daniels said, sighing. “I pray that he made the right decision.”

“Me, too.” Ely agreed.


Dakotah took a deep breath, and entered the kitchen. He sighed as he heard the television.

Entering the living room, he noticed that his father had passed out, spilling beer on the floor in the process. Shaking his head, Dakotah rolled his father over, took a mop out of the kitchen, and cleaned up the mess. He thought about turning off the television, but he was afraid his father would awaken with the lack of noise, and he would much rather have him asleep, he thought.

Taking the clothes he would sleep in out of the pile that was left in his room, Dakotah headed for the bathroom. Turning the shower on, he sighed, and locked the door.


Chapter 12

Chapter 12

January 27th, 2009


Dakotah parked the car under the carport, and breezed into the kitchen. “Hi, Grandma! What are you doing?”

Elizabeth was sitting at the table, filling out a check. “Oh, paying the monthly utilities, Dak.” she said, frowning. “I swear, I think they get higher every month!”

“Do I have anything to do with that?” Dakotah said, suddenly self-conscious.

“A little, but you don’t impact the bill that much.” Elizabeth said, reassuringly. “That, and the extra I have to pay to feed you, are easily budgeted.”

“That’s good. I plan on paying my way, as soon as I get a job.” Dakotah said, relieved. “Oh! By the way, there’s a new department store in Auburn Hills opening, and I turned in my application there!”

“That’s great news!” Elizabeth said excitedly. “A stock boy, perhaps?”

“I don’t care. I’ll clean toilets at this point!”

Elizabeth laughed. “Be careful for what you wish for!”

“If I can clean the toilet after a couple of days of Frank using it, I can do almost anything, I think!” Dakotah said, smiling.

“I’ve always known you were a capable young man.” Elizabeth said, warmly. “How many people can self-teach themselves a hard language like Japanese?”

“Speaking of Japanese, It’s almost time to go to Ely’s.” Dakotah said, looking at the clock. “Do you need the car for anything, or is there anything that I need to pick up for you?”

“No, I’m fine.” Elizabeth said, shaking her head. “Tell her I said hello!”

“I’ll be back in a few hours.” Dakotah said, hugging his grandmother. “Love you.”

“Love you, too. Be careful.”

“Am I not always?” Dakotah said, smiling.


Weak sunshine streamed into the car, as Dakotah made his way west, towards Ely’s . It had been a cold and snowy winter; although Dakotah, for the most part, enjoyed the weather, he was ready for Spring.

The drama that was prevalent during the Christmas holidays had died down considerably; life had returned to much the same as it had been before. Dakotah continued his work with the kids on Wednesdays with Vanessa, and studied with Ely a couple of times a week. It was as if the mistletoe never existed, at least it seemed so to Dakotah, which struck him as odd. Even Rebecca, who had thrown herself at him at the party, now acted very low key around him. He surmised that perhaps she had found a new flame at school, and that was perfectly fine with him.

Dakotah parked behind Ely’s car, and made his way to the house, noting the snow beginning to melt on the sidewalk. “It’ll be frozen by the time I leave tonight.” he thought to himself.

As he had always done before, he knocked on the door twice instead of using the doorbell. “Come in, it’s not locked!” Ely yelled from within.

Dakotah entered to see Ely laying on the sofa, her feet propped up on the coffee table. “Tough day?” he asked, hanging his coat on the coat rack.

“Yes.” Ely sighed. “I had a test in English today. Modal verbs. I think I passed. Who would ever think English would be harder than Japanese?”

“That’s because you have an excellent sensei!” Dakotah said, smiling. “Need a refill on your tea?” he said, noticing the empty glass next to her feet.

“Well, aren’t you domesticated!” Ely said, laughing. “You’ll make a good house husband some day!”

“Promise?” Dakotah said, taking the opportunity to flirt.

“Sure!” Ely smirked, instantly realizing the meaning behind Dakotah’s comment. “Vanessa will be pleased to have a clean house and dinner on the table after a hard day at the hospital!”

Dakotah rolled his eyes. “Don’t be expecting wedding invitations from us, okay?”

“Oh, you two are going to elope?” Ely giggled, barely containing herself.

“Ha ha. You funny girl!” Dakotah said in a bad Japanese accent. “Seriously though, we’ve kinda gone back to friend mode now.”

“Why?” Ely said, concerned. She had her suspicions on the status of their relationship, as they had not seemed particularly close at church the past few weeks.

“I don’t really know, to be honest.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. ”We don’t talk very much on the phone any more, and on Wednesdays, everything is just business.”

“Maybe she’s just been busy. I think she’s taking a couple of extra classes this semester.” Ely said, thoughtfully. “I think she’s been working overtime at the hospital too, so probably her responsibilities are squeezing you out.”

Dakotah shrugged his shoulders again. “That’s fine with me. The less drama in my life, the better.”

Ely sighed, loud enough for Dakotah to hear her. “Is there any point in arguing about the same stuff over and over again?” she said, irritated.

“What do you mean?” Dakotah said, beginning to feel dread.

“Nothing.” Ely muttered. “Someday, we will have to part ways, and you’re going to be alone, if you don’t get serious with Vanessa.” she thought. She came to regret ever kissing him.

“I take it you haven’t heard anything from UM?” Dakotah said uneasily, changing the subject.

“No.” Ely said, shaking her head. It had been two weeks since I applied. “I have no idea how long this stuff takes.”

“Are you nervous?”

“A little.” Ely said, biting her lip slightly. “Test scores were good, grades are good, interview with the Asian Studies dean went well. I’m 99% sure I made it, but there’s always a little doubt, you know?”

“You just have to have a little faith.” Dakotah said, encouragingly.

“Faith in God I have, faith in people, not so much.” Ely grimaced.

“Do you have any faith in me?” Dakotah asked, half-jokingly.

“No. None at all.“ Ely said, stone faced.

“Oh.” Dakotah could feel the blood drain from his face.

“Got you!” Ely laughed, punching Dakotah in the arm lightly. “Yes! I can still do it!”

“Hey!” Dakotah exclaimed, realizing he’d been had.

“That’s 387 to 1, in my favor!” Ely said gleefully.

“Aah, aah, you just wait until Becky hears about this!” Dakotah stammered. “She’ll be kissing me to make me feel better!”

“Not working.” Ely said, smugly. “I heard she found someone more genuine than you!”

“Really? You’re not kidding me again, are you?”

“I’m not joking. Some guy on the soccer team.” Ely said, making direct eye contact. “Does that make you sad?”

“Not in the least. Relieved, actually.” Just then, a pang of melancholy tweaked him.

Ely noticed the change in Dakotah’s countenance. “It does bother you, doesn’t it? Why? Don’t tell me you actually had feelings for her!”

“No, nothing like that.” Dakotah said, trying to shake the feeling of sadness. “More of me being put in my place once again, I think.”

“Don’t worry what about people like her do.” Ely said, trying to soothe him. “The main thing is you have true friends and family that love you very much, and would never want to hurt you.”

“Yeah, I know.” Dakotah said, trying to smile. “Let’s just hope Soccer Guy is the answer, and both of them will be happy.”

“That’s the spirit! Besides, there’s a hard-working, spiritual girl who’s crazy for you, right?”

Before Dakotah could answer, saying something along the lines of “Gee, I didn’t know you were spiritual”, Rev. Daniels breezed in.

“Look what I have!” he announced happily, waving a large envelope. It had the University of Michigan logo on it.

“Oh, Daddy!” Ely shouted anxiously. “I hope I made it!”

“If it’s a rejection letter, I would think it would be in a standard envelope, not this huge thing.” Rev. Daniels said, trying in vain to calm Ely down. “Here. It’s addressed to you, anyway.”

Hands shaking, she began to tear into the envelope. Finding the cover letter, she quickly read the contents, and began to shriek with joy.

“I made it! I’m in!” Ely gushed.

“Congratulations! I knew you’d do it!” Rev. Daniels cried, beaming.

Ely hugged her father tightly. “This is the happiest day of my life!”

“I’m so proud of you.” Rev. Daniels said, warmly. “Your mother is in Heaven right now, smiling, I guarantee it.”

“I have to call Hannah, and tell her!” Ely grabbed her cell phone, and rushed into her bedroom.

Dakotah stood there silently, carrying a sad smile. “I guess I’d better be going, then.” He said quietly, turning to get his coat.

“Whoa, son!” Rev. Daniels exclaimed, holding his hands up. “Where do you think you’re going?”

“Home, I guess.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. “No point in me staying around, if she doesn’t need me to help her study.”

“Just a moment, Dakotah.” Rev. Daniels said, holding his hand up. “You are as much part of this celebration as anyone. I have faith in my daughter that she would make it, but I know that she wouldn’t have excelled so without your help.”

Dakotah smiled weakly. “Yeah, I know. I wonder if by helping her succeed, I lose her.”

“Only God knows.” Rev. Daniels said, sympathetically, placing his hands on Dakotah’s shoulders. You have to trust in Him, and whether the answer is with Ely, or someone else, He knows what’s best for you.”

“You’re right, but I can’t imagine anyone else, even Vanessa.”

“The thing about life is that no one knows what’s around the corner. There could be someone you’ve never met, that will be the one.” Rev. Daniels said, confidently.” Look, why don’t the three of us go out to Steakmasters tonight, and celebrate?”

“I don’t know.” Dakotah replied, disconsolate.

“Dakotah, there’s something that you and I need to discuss.” Rev. Daniels said, becoming more serious.

“What is it?” Dakotah said uneasily, noting the reverend’s change of tone.

“You’ll find out, after dinner.” Rev. Daniels smiled.

“I guess I’ll come.” Dakotah said, shaking his head while smiling weakly.

Suddenly, a shriek erupted from Ely’s bedroom. Running to her father, Ely thrust a piece of paper in his hands.

“Daddy! Look at this!” she said, barely containing herself.

Rev, Daniels scanned the document, and begin to grin broadly.

“Hallelujah! This is awesome! Thank you, Lord!” he shouted, hugging Ely.

“What is it?” Dakotah asked, curious.

“Ely’s been awarded a full scholarship!” Rev. Daniels said, beaming. “Incredible!”

“That’s great!” Dakotah gushed. “Congratulations!”

“I prayed that with my money, her money, and whatever grants we could scrounge up, we could pay her way.” Rev. Daniels said, exhaling. “Most assuredly, this is a blessing!”

“Just think, all the money I saved, and I don’t even need it!” Ely said, joyously.

“Oh, you’ll need it all right.” Rev. Daniels said, holding his hand up. “Every time you want to eat out, or go to a movie, you’ll need it!”

The letter also said that during my sophomore year, I can study in Japan!” Ely gushed. “Isn’t that awesome?”

“Better keep working, honey.” Rev. Daniels said, trying in vain to keep his daughter grounded. “I hear you’ll need a lot of money over there!”

“How long will you be studying over there?” Dakotah said, suddenly concerned.

“Who knows?” Ely said, shrugging her shoulders. “Heck, if I can get a teaching job over there, I may never come back!”

Dakotah’s heart dropped, and his stomach tightened up.

“Get your coats, kids!” Rev. Daniels exclaimed. “”If we hurry, we can beat the dinner rush!”

“I-I think I’ll pass.” Dakotah mumbled, dejected.

“What?” Rev. Daniels said, surprised. “I don’t think so!” “You are an integral part of her success, and I won’t take no for an answer! Got it?”

“Okay.” Dakotah slumped his shoulders, defeated.

“Besides, you haven’t heard my proposition!”  Rev. Daniels said, opening the front door.

“Proposition? What is it?” Dakotah said, perking up slightly.

“You’ll have to find out after dinner!” Rev. Daniels said with a wink.


The three procured one of the last open tables at the restaurant. Even though his heart was down, Dakotah had to admit that the New York Strip steak, baked potato, and salad was one of the best meals he had ever eaten.

“Want some dessert?” Rev. Daniels asked, smiling.

“I can’t! I’m stuffed!” Dakotah said, holding his belly. “Thank you for this meal! It’s the first time I ever had steak!”

The answer stunned Ely, and surprised Rev. Daniels briefly. “Now that dinner is over, shall we get down to business?” he said, firmly.

Dakotah instantly became uneasy; though he considered the reverend his friend and trusted elder, he wasn’t used to the reverend speaking to him in this manner.

“Aaaahhhh, okaaaaayyyy…” was all that Dakotah could muster.

“How would you like to become my administrative assistant?” Rev. Daniels said, smiling.

Dakotah didn’t immediately process the Reverend’s words; all he could muster was a blank stare.

“Wait, what?” Ely said, stunned.

“I need someone to keep track of births, deaths, anniversaries, illnesses, and such, plus keep tab of my appointments and answer the phone. 9 AM to 1PM, Monday through Friday, at the church office, Ten bucks an hour. How about it?”

“Dad, I offered to do that for you, and you said you didn’t need any help!” Ely protested.

“I actually did need help, sweetie.” Rev. Daniels said, looking down. However, I was being prideful, and very wrong. I’m sure you would do a fine job, but I really need someone during weekdays, while you’re at school.

“But why Dakotah?” Ely spoke sourly, not being sold on Dakotah’s qualifications.

“Dak is a good worker, and has excellent organizational skills.” Rev. Daniels said. “Plus, he’s polite, and when he has to, is good with people! Most of all, he needs a good job. It’s a win-win!” he said, making quotation marks with his fingers as he spoke.

Ely shook her head, “I don’t know. Couldn’t you find volunteers? They would be free!”

“Why are you so against Dak working for the church?” Rev. Daniels said, a little agitation showing in his voice.

“Having him next door five days a week, plus Sunday, is weird!” Ely said, aghast.

“Why? It’s not like he’s moving in with us, though we do have a spare bedroom.”


“It’s okay Ely, I’m just fine at Grandma’s.” Dakotah said, shaking his head while grinning sheepishly.  He held his hand out across the table, towards the reverend. “What the heck, it’s a deal! I’ll take the job!”

“Great!” Rev. Daniels said exuberantly. “Will starting tomorrow be a problem?”

“I have to check with Grandma to see if she has any appointments.” Dakotah replied. “Yeah, I’ll be here tomorrow, if she’s clear.”

“Good!” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “Now, who wants some dessert?”


Flurries were falling as Dakotah made his way home; a winter of bad weather had given him plenty of practice to hone his driving skills, and tonight was no exception.

A myriad of emotions coursed through him. He was elated beyond words that he finally got a job, working for a man he admired and trusted, but Ely’s reservations troubled him; why wasn’t she on his side, as a friend should be? Ely’s acceptance and free ride at UM was a direct result of his efforts, he knew, and he could feel a deep sense of satisfaction. However, Ely would be gone, perhaps forever. In retrospect, could he have done nothing, and maybe she’d never leave? Dakotah sighed.

“At least Grandma will be happy, and Aunt Lou won’t have to send me any more money.” Dakotah said to himself. “Maybe I can save up, and buy my own car.”

He drove on Elm St., which paralleled Maple St. by one block. He thought of calling his mother at some point, to tell her the good news, sometime later in the evening. He’d have to call his Aunt Lou too, he thought.

Turning on Poplar St., the snow began to pick up a bit, temporarily reducing his visibility. Slowing down, he began to look for the porch light his grandmother always left on for him, whenever he was out at night. He passed the huge 70s station wagon parked at the curb, which, since it was three houses down from Elizabeth’s, indicated he had gone too far down the street, and had passed her driveway.

Confused, Dakotah found an empty driveway a couple of houses down the street, and turned around. Retracing his route, he realized that the porch light was not on, which struck him as odd, as Elizabeth always had it on while he was away. Pulling into the driveway, and parking under the carport, Dakotah exited the car, and realized the entire inside of the house was dark.

A chill ran down his spine as he fumbled with the keys, and his heart began to race. Finally managing to open the door, he turned on the lights to the kitchen.

“GRANDMA!” Dakotah shouted at the top of his lungs. “Grandma, are you okay? Can you hear me?”

From the living room, to the bathroom, and finally, to her bedroom, Dakotah searched and yelled, but neither found her, nor did she answer.

“Where could she have gone?” Dakotah wondered aloud. He returned to the kitchen to see if she had left a note, but found none. Confused, and concerned, he decided to try his room.

As he entered the room and turned on the lights, he saw her, and gasped. At the foot of the dresser, his grandmother was lying in a heap, motionless.

Instantly panic-stricken, and unable to speak, Dakotah rolled his grandmother on her back. Not finding a pulse, he noticed her face was purple, she was cold, and not breathing. He began to immediately administer CPR.

Under his breath, he began to pray. “Please Lord, help me! Save her!  Please!” Try as he might, there was no response from his grandmother.

Dakotah ran to the kitchen to call 911. He told them of the situation, gave them his address, and ran back into the bedroom to administer CPR again.

Within a few minutes, sirens could be heard.  Stopping the CPR, Dakotah rushed to the front door, and opened it, frantically motioning to the EMTs.

“Hurry! She’s in here!” Dakotah screamed.

Swiftly, the emergency workers, carrying their gear, strode into Dakotah’s bedroom, and stopped. One EMT started setting up equipment, while the other examined Elizabeth. Dakotah stood by, motionless, unable to breathe.

Suddenly, the EMT examining Elizabeth stood up, shaking his head. “Phil, put it up. She’s gone.”

Dakotah couldn’t believe what he was hearing. “You-You’re not even going to try? Do something!” he yelled, shaking.

“Son, listen.” The first EMT said in his best soothing tone. We can’t revive her. Rigor mortis has already started. She’s been gone for at least a couple of hours. I’m very sorry.”

Dakotah stood dumbfounded, unable to move or speak. “She’s gone?” was the only thing that passed through his mind.

A hand grasped Dakotah on the shoulder, startling him, and snapping him back to reality. He wheeled around and standing before him was a middle aged policeman.

“Oh, it is you, Dakotah.” The policeman said, full of empathy. “I’m Bill Douglas. Remember, from 3rd Baptist?”

It took a moment, but Dakotah recognized the man. “Oh yeah, you’re in choir.”

“That’s correct.” Bill replied. “I know this may be difficult, but duty dictates I have to ask some questions, okay?”

“Sure.” Dakotah said, numbly.

The officer asked Dakotah the usual questions referring to when and where he found her, and so on. Dakotah answered them all fully, at least to the best of his knowledge.

“Dakotah, the EMTs are going to take her to the county morgue.” Bill said, professionally. “The coroner will do an autopsy on her tomorrow, and the funeral home will pick her up after that. You probably have no idea about who would do the services, do you?”

Dakotah shook his head.

“I’ll call Brother Higgins.” The policeman continued. “He may have an idea, and I know he’ll want to do the service.”

“Thank you.” Dakotah said.

“I guess I’m all done here.” Bill said, closing his notebook. “Is there anything I can do for you?”

Dakotah barely shook his head, still in shock.

Officer Douglas took out his wallet, and removed a small card, handing it to Dakotah. “If you need anything, my number’s on the card.” he said, sympathetically. “You take care, okay?”

Dakotah nodded. The two EMTs wheeled Elizabeth out the front door, loaded her into the ambulance, and left, Officer Douglas immediately thereafter.

Dakotah looked about the living room.  Shuffling zombielike, he walked through the kitchen, then to her bedroom, and finally his, where he found her. There was not a sound in the house, except for the occasional whirring of the furnace. He straightened the furniture the EMTs had moved, giving the appearance that no one had ever been there. He gazed at his grandfather’s picture.

“I guess you have company now.” Dakotah said, sadly. Sighing, he walked into the kitchen, and picked up the phone, dialing the first number that came to mind.

After a couple of rings, a male voice answered the phone. “Hello, Dak!” Rev. Daniels answered cheerily. “Don’t tell me you changed your mind on the job!”

“Alan…….” Dakotah tried to speak, but his voice failed him, and instead, he burst into tears.

“Dak, what’s wrong?” Rev. Daniels replied, instantly concerned. “What happened?”

“Sh-she’s gone.” Dakotah said weakly.

“Gone?” Rev. Daniels said, ascertaining the situation. “My Lord, Dakotah, how?”

“I-I don’t know.”

There was a pause on the line for a moment. “Hang on, son, I’ll be right there!” Rev. Daniels said, strongly. “Okay?”

“Okay.” Dakotah whispered.

“See you in a minute!” Rev. Daniels said rapidly, hanging up the phone.

Dakotah hung up the phone, and stared blankly at the wall for a moment. “Maybe I should call mom.” He thought to himself.

He dialed his mother’s number, hoping that Frank didn’t answer.

“Hello?” His mother answered after only one ring.

“It’s me, Mom.” Dakotah replied simply, numb.

“What’s wrong, son?” Sylvia said, immediately sensing something was very amiss.

“Grandma died.”

There was a brief pause on the line. “Oh my God, Dakotah, what happened?” Sylvia said, her voice trembling in shock.

“I don’t know. I found her on the floor in my room.” Dakotah said, slowly gathering himself. “I tried CPR, and I called 911, but when the EMTs got here, they said she’d been gone a couple of hours.”

“Are you okay?” his mother asked, not knowing what else to say.

The question angered Dakotah. “No, I’m not okay! My grandma just freaking died!” he yelled.

“Easy son, I know that, I know that!” Sylvia countered, trying to settle her son down. “I’m sorry. That was stupid of me.”

“I’m sorry too, mom.” Dakotah replied, regretting his earlier words.

“Look, son, I’ll be over in a few minutes.” Sylvia said, gathering herself. “I’m assuming that she had made plans for this day, so we need to figure out what they are.”

“Okay.” Dakotah said, suddenly overwhelmed.

“Give me a couple of minutes, and I’ll be there, okay?” Sylvia said, soothingly.

“Okay.” Dakotah replied, not knowing what else to say. Hanging up the phone for a moment, he wondered if Vanessa was busy, either at work, or at school. He couldn’t process where though. However, he felt that he needed to tell her what happened. Picking up the receiver again, he called her cell phone.

Three, then four times it rang, then it went to voice mail. Dakotah hung up without leaving a message. Suddenly, the weight of situation reappeared to him, and he began to sob.

Several moments passed. Dakotah racked his brain as to why his grandmother suddenly died, but couldn’t come up with a reason. He knew she had health problems, because of the dizzy spell she had last Halloween, but why? As far as he knew, she never did go to the doctor’s to get a diagnosis. That fact also troubled him.

Dakotah’s thoughts were interrupted by a banging of the front door. Striding quickly, he opened the front door to see Rev. Daniels and Ely standing before him.

“Oh, Dakotah!” Ely cried softly, as she rushed to hug him tightly. Stunned, he didn’t reciprocate the hug initially, but after a few seconds, held on to her with everything he had.

“Why are you here?” Dakotah said, confused.

“Why would I not be here?” Ely said, painfully, not understanding Dakotah’s words. “You’re my friend, and I love you. Where else would I be?”

“I don’t know, I figured you’d be asleep, or something.” Dakotah said, blankly.

“Dak, it’s only ten o’clock.” Ely said, gently. “I’m here for you for the duration, even if I miss school tomorrow.”

“Oh.” Dakotah said simply, his mind finally grasping her words. “Arrigato.”

“Any clue as to what happened?” Rev. Daniels asked.

“I don’t know.” Dakotah said, finally releasing Ely. “I went in my bedroom after searching the house, and I found her. EMT said she had been gone for over two hours.”

“Hmmm. I should call Brother Higgins, and tell him what happened.” Rev. Daniels said, thinking aloud. He pulled out his cell phone, and fumbled with the screen a few seconds. “Sweetie, can you help me out here?” he asked, sheepishly.

“Sure.” Ely replied, swishing her fingers over the screen. “Here you go, it’s dialing.”

“She talks me into buying one these smart phones, and I’m too dumb to work it.” Rev. Daniels said, shrugging his shoulders. “Hello?”

As Rev. Daniels began to speak to Rev. Higgins, Sylvia pulled up, locking her brakes as she hit a patch of ice, nearly hitting Rev. Daniels’ car.

“Dakotah, I’m so sorry!” Sylvia gushed, crying, as she hugged her son. “What’s going on?”

“Brother Daniels is talking to Brother Higgins, grandma’s preacher at 3rd Baptist.” Dakotah answered. “Maybe he knows something.”

“How do I hang this thing up?” Rev. Daniels asked, slightly irritated.

“Press the red phone symbol on the screen.” Ely replied, patiently.

“Brother Higgins had already been contacted by the officer in charge of the investigation regarding her death.” Rev. Daniels said. “Did you talk to him, Dakotah?”

“Yes, he goes to 3rd, and he knew grandma, too.” Dakotah said without emotion.

“Brother Higgins didn’t have any info on, if any, funeral arrangements she made.” Rev Daniels said. “If we do find anything out, we’re to let him know, so he can do the services.”

Turning to Sylvia, Rev. Daniels continued to speak. “Mrs. Howe, I presume? I’m Alan Daniels, pastor of New Hope Church. I wish we could’ve met under better circumstances.”

“Me, too.” Sylvia replied, without emotion.

“I guess we need to start looking for some information.” Rev. Daniels said, taking a deep breath. “Dak, do you have any ideas where she might have kept her personal papers?”

There’s a school teacher’s desk in the living room where she kept her bills and stuff.” Dakotah said. She usually wrote her checks here in the kitchen, though.”

The four of them went to the desk, and found it locked. “Do you know where the key is?” Sylvia asked Dakotah.

“Yeah, I think it’s in this little drawer here.” Dakotah replied, opening a small drawer in a compartment atop the desk. He reached inside, and found a small key. “I think this is it.” he announced.

Dakotah took the key, and put into the lock, turning it successfully.

“Let’s get everything, and put it on the kitchen table.” Rev, Daniels suggested. “We can look through it all there.”

The four of them began to sort through the large assortment of papers contained in the desk drawer. Not much was said, as no one was in the mood for small talk.

Sylvia stopped sorting, and looked at Dakotah. “Dakotah there’s someone we need to find soon, and tell what happened.”

“Who?” Dakotah replied, without thinking.

“Your father.”

Dakotah froze. His father was someone he rarely ever thought about. He had no memories of him, and wouldn’t know what he looked like, except for his grandmother’s photographs, and they were taken long ago.

“I’m not sure if he could be easily found.” Sylvia continued. “He owes me fourteen years of child support, and the cops couldn’t find him then when he skipped out.”

Dakotah didn’t say a word, choosing instead to resume searching through papers.

“I’m sure it’s a lot easier to find someone now, the way everyone is in a database somewhere.” Rev. Daniels said.

“I think I found something!” Ely said, animatedly. “Dad, look at this!”

Ely handed the document over to her father, who scanned the contents.

“Very good, Ely!” Rev. Daniels said. “These are documents from the funeral home on Orchard Avenue. It appears she prepaid her funeral.” He handed Ely his cell phone. “Would you text Brother Higgins, and tell him we found the funeral home documents?”

Continuing to peruse the papers, Rev. Daniels pulled several documents out of a large manila envelope. “Here we go. This looks promising.” The others stopped as he began to scan the documents. “Here’s the deed to the house, and the will. This letter looks important.”

He began to read the letter. “To whom it may concern. If you are reading this, I’m probably either dead, or severely incapacitated. If either is the case, please contact my sister Jean. Her phone number and address are below. She is both my power of attorney, and executor of my estate, depending on the circumstance. Thank you, and God Bless.”
Rev. Daniels looked at Dakotah. “Dak, do you want to do the honors?”

“I don’t understand.” Dakotah replied, puzzled.

“I think you should call your aunt.” Rev Daniels said, patiently.

“It’s past eleven PM, so I guess we call her tomorrow?” Dakotah said, unenthusiastically.

“I think you should call her now, instead of the morning.” Rev Daniels said, persuasively. “I think it’s only right that she finds out as soon as possible, and you should be the one making the call.”

“Me?” Dakotah said, uneasily.

“Yes. You’re her relative, and the one who witnessed what happened.” Rev. Daniels said compellingly. “I understand that it won’t be easy, but I think it’s the best way, don’t you?”

“Okay.” Dakotah replied, his voice tinged with dread.

Ely patted Dakotah on the back. “It’ll be okay. You can do this.” she said, soothingly.

Dakotah arose from the chair, and walked slowly to the phone. Taking a deep breath, he dialed.

“Hello?” An elderly woman’s voice answered.

“H-hello, is this the R-Reynolds residence?” Dakotah stammered.

“Yes it is.” The voice snapped. “Who is this? You are not Elizabeth Lennon!”

“N-no. “I-I’m Dakotah Lennon, her grandson.” he replied, timidly. “You probably don’t remember me.”

“No.” she replied, irritated. “Well, what is it you want, calling me in the middle of the night?”

“I-I’m afraid I have bad news.” Dakotah said, swallowing hard. “Grandma passed away earlier tonight.”

There was a pause on the line. “I see.” she said, not changing her tone. “Have you found her effects?”

“Effects?” Dakotah said, confused.

“Yes, effects.” she replied, becoming cross. “Her will, her deeds, and such.”

Dakotah was taken aback by her attitude. “Oh, yes. She left your phone number on a piece of paper with it.” he said, flatly.

“Put the documents where you found them, and leave them alone!” the woman said angrily. “I will attend to them when I get there. You shouldn’t have been snooping around things that are not of your concern!”

“How else would I have found you?” Dakotah exclaimed, flabbergasted. “You weren’t in her address book!”

“Regardless, as her executor, I advise you to return the documents to their proper place.” she said, unperturbed. “I’ll be there in the morning to collect them, and begin the process.”

“Okay.” Dakotah replied, trying to shed his frustration. “Do you have any idea when you will get here? Maybe I could fix a brunch?”

“I have not ascertained an exact time of arrival yet.” she said, without emotion. “When I do arrive, I will collect the necessary documents, and leave.”

“O-Okay.” Dakotah replied, not knowing what else to say. “See you.”

Mrs. Reynolds hung up the phone without replying. Dakotah, stunned, looked at the receiver, then hung it up, shaking his head.

“What’s wrong?” Sylvia asked.

“I don’t know.” Dakotah replied, trying to get a grasp on what was said. “She said she would be here sometime in the morning. She didn’t sound very nice.”

“Maybe she was in shock.” Rev. Daniels offered. “People sometimes act odd when tragedy strikes.”

“Maybe.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. “She said to put all the papers back in the filing cabinet, and she’ll get them when she arrives.”

Rev. Daniels nodded, and began to gather the paperwork.

“Are you staying the night here?” Sylvia asked.

“Yes, I don’t have anywhere else to go.” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly.

Sylvia began to say something, but thought better of it, knowing his answer before she even asked the question.

“ I guess I’ll live here. Don’t know why I would not be.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. “With my new job, I think I can afford the utilities, the food, and the gas.”

“You have a job?” Sylvia said, surprised.

“Yeah, I guess I’m his part time secretary.” Dakotah said, pointing to Rev. Daniels.

“I suppose that next Monday might be a better time to start, since this week will be occupied.” Rev. Daniels said. “Don’t assume that you’ll be living here, long term. Unless you’re the beneficiary in the will, the one who actually gets the house could evict you, or sell the house outright. Just a word of caution.”

The words made Dakotah uneasy, causing him to sigh. “I hope not. I don’t know what I’d do!”

“I guess I’ll be going home.” Sylvia announced, yawning. She hugged Dakotah lightly, and he embraced her in a similar fashion. “You take care, sweetie.” she said, smiling weakly. “Let me know if you need anything, okay?”

“Okay, mom.” Dakotah replied feeling that she wasn’t wholly sincere. “Love you, and thanks.”

After Sylvia left, Rev. Daniels turned to Dakotah. “I get the weirdest vibe between you two.” he said, grimacing. “It’s like her being here with you is the last thing she wanted to do, and that you didn’t want her here, either.

Dakotah thought for a moment. “I’d say that’s an accurate observation.” he sighed. “I guess she came here out of guilt. Honestly, I wish I never made the call to her.”

“I wish I had some concrete advice to give you, aside from praying for His help to guide you.” Rev. Daniels said, placing his hand on Dakotah’s shoulder. “Time will tell whether or not you two become close again.”

Dakotah nodded. “At least I have you guys here. I don’t know what I’d do.”

Well, we’re here for you, forever and ever!” Ely exclaimed, hugging Dakotah tightly.

“Remember, I’m only a phone call away, 24/7/365.” Rev. Daniels said, looking straight into Dakotah’s eyes. “My door’s always open, too.”

“Thanks.” Dakotah replied, relaxing a bit. “It means a lot to me to hear that. When the four of us were at the table together, you two felt more like my family than she did.”

“I’m sure she loves you, even though you may not feel it.” Rev. Daniels said, encouragingly. “Given time, you two may get close again.”

“”I don’t know, it feels like I have no family left!” Dakotah cried. “Mom abandoned me, my father is who-knows-where, I have an aunt and uncle that I only remember meeting once, and now my grandmother’s gone!” He began to weep.

“I know, Dakotah, losing a loved one hurts like nothing else.” Rev. Daniels said, putting his arm around Dakotah. “When I lost Ely’s mother, it took every bit of faith and strength to get through the pain. God only knows why people pass on before we think they should. I surely don’t have any answers. Nevertheless, we’re still here, and we must go on, for their sakes, and our own. As for me, I had a four year old that depended wholly on me, and I couldn’t forsake her, no matter what.”

Rev Daniels put his hands on Dakotah’s shoulders, and looked him in the eye. “As for what you should do now, I don’t have any easy answers. You know and I know that the gig at the church is only a temporary thing. I don’t see you as my secretary twenty years from now, and I think you don’t want that either, do you?”

Dakotah shook his head, without saying anything.

“The part time job at the church is only a step, the first step of a long journey for you. I hope, if meteorology is what you want to make your life’s work, then do whatever it takes to make it so. You have the skillset and work ethic to succeed.”

“I-I don’t know.” Dakotah stammered, shaking his head again.

“I’ve seen you with those kids on Wednesdays, I’ve seen you doing chores at church, and most importantly, I’ve seen your work with Ely. Once you’ve set your mind to do something, you never give up until you finish it.”

“Dad’s right, Dak.” Ely agreed. “If it wasn’t for you working with me and pushing me, I doubt I would impress UM into giving me a full scholarship.”

“Once things settle down, and you find some stability in your life, you’ll have to look inside yourself, pray for guidance, and figure out what you want to do with the rest of your life.” Rev. Daniels said. “Besides being married to my daughter!” He continued with a smirk.

“DADDY!” Ely shouted, slapping her father in the arm. Dakotah’s face reddened, but he couldn’t resist smiling a little.

“Don’t even think it, buddy!” Ely ranted, pointing her finger at Dakotah.

“On second thought, maybe that’s not such a good idea after all, Dak.” Rev. Daniels said, rubbing his arm. “She seems to be as mean as her mother! I think you should steer clear of her!” He gave Ely a wink, causing her to roll her eyes.

“Seriously though, harness the energies you use to help others, and concentrate them on yourself.” Rev. Daniels said, changing his tone to a more serious one. “Find your passion, and make it so.” he continued, pointing forward.

Dakotah took a deep breath, and exhaled loudly. “My head is starting to hurt. This is too much to take in.”

“I’m sorry Dak, but I just wanted to emphasize that this isn’t the end of the world.” Rev. Daniels said. “I think right now you should try and get some rest.”

“I’ll try.” Dakotah replied, unsure whether or not he could.

“Well, I guess I’ll be going.” Rev. Daniels said. “Remember, if you need anything, just call.”

“Be careful going home.” Dakotah said, a wave of worry passing over him. “I’ll call you tomorrow, after my aunt arrives, and we figure something out.”

Dakotah turned to Ely, and held her hands. “Thanks for coming. It really meant a lot to me.”

“I’m not going anywhere.” Ely said, her eyes piercing his.

“Huh?” Dakotah blurted, confused.

“What are you talking about?” Rev. Daniels said, surprised.

“I’m staying the night here with Dak.” Ely said, firmly. “I can’t just leave him here alone after what happened!”

“Ah, you have school tomorrow, remember?” Dakotah said, protesting slightly.

“I’m good on all my classes, and besides, I have a free ride at UM!” Ely replied, confidently. “I can afford to take the day off, so I can keep you company.”

“Alan, is this okay with you?” Dakotah asked, noting that Rev. Daniels hadn’t offered an opinion.

“Sure, I don’t see why she couldn’t, if you don’t have a problem with it.” Rev. Daniels said, thoughtfully. “As long as you two behave, and not fool around, of course!”

“Fooling around?” Ely said, indignantly. “Not happening!”

“Like she said, she has her life in order.” Rev Daniels said. “She’s old enough to make her own decisions.”

“Okay.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. “Sure. Why not?”

“Good.” Rev. Daniels said, beginning to smile a little. “Now, I mean it, you two. If something happens, I’ll have to get my shotgun out of the closet, understand?”

“Daddy, you don’t even own a shotgun!” Ely protested, rolling her eyes.

“Have you been snooping in my closet?” Rev. Daniels retorted, mocking her. “I don’t think so!”

“I-I don’t think you have anything to worry about.” Dakotah said, confused.

“It’s okay, Dak, I was just teasing.” Rev. Daniels replied calmly. “You, I trust. Others, no so much.”


“Call me if you need anything, okay, Dak?” Rev. Daniels repeated.

“Will do.” Dakotah replied, fatigue beginning to set in. “Be careful going home.”

“Be careful, Daddy, love you. “ Ely said, hugging her father.

“Love you, too.” Rev. Daniels said, hugging her back. “Be good. See you tomorrow.”

Rev. Daniels walked out in the cold, snowy night, entered his car, and slowly pulled out into the street.

Dakotah and Ely stare at each other for a moment, without saying anything.

“Can I get you anything?” Dakotah asked, otherwise at a loss for words.

“Something to sleep in would be nice.” Ely replied.

“Something to sleep in?” Dakotah asked, becoming confused.

“Yeah. I don’t want to sleep in these clothes.” Ely said, patiently. I’d like something cozy.”

“Grandma has nightgowns, but I-“

“No!” Ely shouted, horrified. “I’m not wearing her clothes!”

“Didn’t think you would.” Dakotah said, trying to calm her down. “I have some pajamas, but I don’t think they’ll fit you.”

“Ooh, that sounds good!” Ely said, contentedly. “I’ll try some on!”

Dakotah, with Ely following, entered his room, and opened a dresser drawer, pulling out a blue pair of pajamas.

“I’m going to get a shower.” Dakotah announced, pulling a pair of briefs out of another drawer.

“Whitey tighties?” Ely giggled. “I should’ve known!”

“What about it?” Dakotah exclaimed, his face becoming beet red. “They’re comfortable!” He quickly folded the underwear inside the pajamas, out of view.

Gomeni. I think it’s cute!” Ely said, smiling. “I’ll see if there’s anything I can wear.”

Dakotah entered the bathroom, locking the door behind him. Exhaling, and shaking his head, he showers quickly, and dresses. He checked his face for any growth, and finding none, he stepped outside.

Ely stood before him, wearing a yellow pair of pajamas. The sleeves extended past her hands, and the bottoms were baggy, the drawstring making a huge bow in front.

She’s really cute like this.” Dakotah thought to himself.

“These’ll work.” Ely announced.

“Can you get around without falling all over yourself?” Dakotah asked.

“I look silly, but I’ll be fine.” Ely reassured. “Question, though.”

“What?” Dakotah said, curious.

“Why did you lock the door when you took your shower?”

The question caught Dakotah off guard. “Wh-why? How did you know? Did you try to come into the bathroom?”

“As if!” Ely exclaimed, shaking her head. “No, I heard the lock click when you locked it. Did you think I was going to peep?”

“N-No!” Dakotah stammered. “I-I always have locked the bathroom door, especially when I lived at home! Frank never knocked if he needed in there, he just barged in, and did his business.”

“I’m sorry, Dak.” Ely said, changing her tone. “I didn’t mean to come across like that. It just stuck me as odd, that’s all.”

“That’s okay.” Dakotah said, staring blankly. “Look, I can’t even think right now. I have to go to bed, and try to get some rest. Aunt what’s-her-name will be here tomorrow, and I have to be ready for when she arrives.”

Dakotah slipped under the cover, and Ely did likewise. Immediately, Dakotah sat up, and stared at Ely.

“What are you doing?” he shouted, alarmed.

“Getting in bed, silly.” Ely said, puzzled. “What am I supposed to do?”

“My bed?” Dakotah said, his mind spinning.

“Do you really think I’m going to sleep on the couch, or God forbid, in your Grandmother’s bed?” Ely retorted.

“I-I-I uhhhh, it never occurred to me you’d sleep here!” Dakotah said, flabbergasted.

“Well, here I am, so calm down, lie down, and try to get some sleep!” Ely exhorted.

“O-okay.” Dakotah said, obeying Ely’s commands. “I’m sorry, but I’ve never shared my bed with anyone before. It’s really weird.”

“I guess I can understand that, since you never really had any friends.” Ely said softly. “I used to have friends from church over for sleepovers, but that kinda stopped a few years back.”

“This is usually the time I spend thinking before I fall asleep.” Dakotah said, barely above a whisper. “It’s really quiet, and I feel the most peace at this time.”

“Oh my gosh, it’s cold in this bed!” Ely said, beginning to shiver. “Why is this house always so cold?”

“Grandma kept the thermostat low to save energy, since she was on a fixed budget.” Dakotah said. “I agree, it can get cold at first, but with all these blankets, It’ll get warm, eventually.”

“Roll over on your side, please!” Ely said, pushing Dakotah.

“Why?” Dakotah asked, doing as she asked. “I’m not taking up too much of the bed, am I?”

“You’re going to be my heat source!” Ely said, snuggling up behind him, her arms folded up between her and his back. “Ahhh, that’s better!”

Dakotah laid there, speechless, and unable to move, his brain barely processing what was happening. All Dakotah knew at that moment was the girl of his dreams was lying in bed behind him, close enough to feel her breath between his shoulders.

“Are you okay?” Ely whispered, sensing something amiss.

Dakotah shook his head slightly, not saying anything.

Ely reached up and touched Dakotah’s shoulders, causing him to twitch. “My gosh, you’re so tense.” she spoke, and began to rub on his shoulders. “I’m sorry, all of this is too much, isn’t it?”

Dakotah first began to sob, then wept openly, still not saying anything. Ely stopped rubbing his shoulders, and slid her arms under his, hugging him from behind tightly.

“It’s okay, let it all out.” Ely whispered in Dakotah’s ear. “I’m here.”

Dakotah shook his head. “Y-You won’t be.” he said, under his breath.

“What do you mean?” Ely said, confused. “Where would I be?”

“Less than a year from now, you’ll be in Ann Arbor.” Dakotah said, between sobs. “And a couple of years from now, you could be in Japan!”

Ely released Dakotah from her grasp, and rolled on her back, away from him. She took a deep breath, and exhaled, shivering a bit since she was on the cold side of the bed. “You feel like you’re going to be all alone in the world, aren’t you?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah mumbled, wiping away tears.

“As long as I draw breath, you will be my best friend, and I will always hold a special place in my heart for you.” Ely said, looking at Dakotah. “But don’t you think I have the right to live my dream?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah muttered.

“Besides, you’re not alone. There’s Vanessa, and-“

“I don’t care about Vanessa!” Dakotah wailed. “You can’t make me want her any more than I can make you want me!”

Ely sighed, not saying anything.

“Besides, she’s been weird lately.” Dakotah continued, sniffling. “We hardly ever talk at church anymore, and we don’t talk on the phone like we had. She didn’t even return my call tonight.“

“I’m sure there’s a good reason, Dak.” Ely said, soothingly.

“Maybe she figured out what kind of loser I am.” Dakotah whined.

Ely became frustrated at Dakotah, but chose not to say how she felt, biting her lip in the process. After a couple of moments of reflection, she spoke.

“You’re only a loser if you’ve given up, if people have given up on you.” she said, squeezing him from behind again. “There’s a lot of people in your life that care deeply about you. For instance, how much money has your aunt from Kentucky given you?”

“Thirteen or fourteen hundred dollars.” Dakotah said, again wiping away tears.


“Why what?”

“Why would your aunt send you all that money?”

“Because I needed transportation.”

“Okay, that’s the literal reason.” Ely said, patiently, “But why would she help you?”

“Oh. Yeah.” Dakotah said, gathering his wits. “I guess she loves me.”

“She thinks you’re worthy enough to be helped.” Ely said confidently. “If you were a loser, do you think she would risk that much money on you?”

“I don’t guess so.”

“Right. If dad thought you were a loser, would he offered you, and only you, a job?” Ely said, her voice gathering momentum. She sighed. “And do you think he would keep playing matchmaker if you were a loser?”

“Heh. Guess not.”

“Would Mama offer Andre’s bedroom for you to stay in if you were a loser?”

Dakotah shook his head, not saying anything.

Ely took a deep breath, and began to tear up. “Dakotah Lennon, even though life may take me to the other side of the world, I will never, never, ever forget you. If I needed you, you would come, to Ann Arbor, even to Japan, no matter what it took.”

“You better believe it.” Dakotah said, choking up.

“I honestly don’t think Hannah would do that, as much as we love each other.”

“That’s because you made the wrong choice.” Dakotah said, beginning to smile.

“Time will tell, won’t it?” Ely said, laughing a little. “But, if you were a loser, would I be here spending the night with you?”

Dakotah pulled away out of Ely’s grasp, and rolled toward Ely, so that he was now facing her. “Thank you, Ely. I love you.” he whispered.

“We believe in you, Dak.” Ely whispered back. “You just have to overcome all those years of brainwashing, and believe in yourself.”

“I want to believe what all of you are saying, but it’s so hard.” Dakotah said, wiping away a tear.

“You know, I usually don’t talk spiritually, since my dad is a preacher. ” Ely said, still whispering. “But God is behind you too, if you have faith in Him, and yourself. Pray. Pray for His strength, and guidance, and He’ll help you get through this rough stretch.

“It’s kinda weird hearing you talk like that.” Dakotah said, smiling.

“Hey, I’m not totally the rebellious preacher’s daughter, right?” Ely said, beginning to laugh.

“Whatever!” Dakotah said, joining in the laughter.

Ely rolled over to the side of the bed, and picked up her cell phone. “It’s 2:17!” We’d better get some sleep!”

“Yeah, I don’t know when my aunt will be here.” Dakotah said. “I’m assuming she’ll be driving in from Rochester in the morning.”

“I’ll have Daddy pick me up in the morning. I don’t want your aunt thinking we’ve been sleeping together.”

“I guess we will be sleeping together, huh?” Dakotah said sheepishly.

“Literally, yes, but you know what I mean, baka!” Ely said, swatting him lightly.

“Well, I ‘ll set the alarm at 8:00.” Dakotah said, reaching over to adjust his alarm clock.

“I’m setting my phone to go off at 7:30.” Ely said, swiping her fingers on her phone. “I’m not taking any chances.”

“Okay, then.” Dakotah yawned, the weight of the evening finally overcoming him. “Sweet dreams.”

“Goodnight, Dak.” Ely whispered, snuggling behind Dakotah again.





“How about tomorrow night?”




January 28th, 2009


It seemed that Dakotah had just closed his eyes when he heard the doorbell ring. Slowly getting his bearings, he closed the bedroom door behind him, and stumbled his way through the dark house to the front door.

Still groggy, his heart began to beat faster as he reached for the doorknob. “Who the heck could it be at this hour?” he thought to himself.

Standing before him in the predawn gloom, was an elderly woman, immaculately dressed in an expensive black woolen coat and matching hat.

“Dakotah Lennon, I presume?” asked the lady.

“Yes, I am.” Dakotah replied, the combination of the subfreezing temperatures and the situation at hand instantly snapping him to. “Won’t you come in?”

Dakotah quickly turned on the lamp on the side table, as the lady stepped inside. “I’m sorry, I don’t know who you are.” he said, apologetically. “Would you like a seat?”

“No thank you, I won’t be long.” the lady said, matter-of-factly. “My name is Jean Reynolds. I am Elizabeth’s sister.”

“Really?” Dakotah exclaimed, surprised. ”Don’t you live in New York, somewhere? How did you get here so fast?”

“Yes, Rochester, to be exact.” Jean said, disinterested. “Simply, I hired a private jet and flew to Flint, where I rented a car, and drove the rest of the way here. Now, where are the documents?”

“Oh, they’re over here, in the filing cabinet. I’ll get them-.”

“Thank you, no, I shall retrieve them.” Jean said, interrupting Dakotah. “I wish you hadn’t tampered with them.”

“We didn’t know who to contact!” Dakotah exclaimed, becoming irritated. “The filing cabinet contained the only papers with your contact information on it!”

“We?” Jean said coldly. “Who’s “we”?”

“Ah, it was my mom, my pastor, and his daughter.” Dakotah replied, becoming defensive. “Everything’s in there.”

“I would hope so.” Jean snapped. “If everything’s not In order, I will not hesitate to contact the proper authorities.”

Dakotah became nervous, even though he knew no one had done anything wrong. He chose not to say a word.

Jean quickly scanned the filing cabinet, retrieved the manila envelope, and looked over the contents. “They appear to all be here. I’ll pass these on to my lawyer.”

“I-If you need anything, just ask, and I’ll do my best to help.” Dakotah said, timidly.

“That would be advisable.” Jean said, indifferently. “I’m leaving now, to meet with my lawyer, and the funeral home. I will return later today. See to it that the house remains in its’ present condition.” She wheeled around and exited through the front door, leaving Dakotah speechless.

Watching his great aunt get into a black Escalade and pull away, Dakotah turned, and headed toward his bedroom. He almost opened the door, but stopped himself, and knocked instead. “It’s me.” He announced. “She’s gone now. May I come in?”

Ely opened the door, revealing a made bed, herself fully dressed, and makeup applied perfectly. “That is not a nice lady.” she stated plainly.

“Tell me about it!” Dakotah exclaimed, shaking his head. “I was wondering if she was going to call the cops on me!”

“I’d better call Dad, and have him pick me up.” Ely said, feeling uncomfortable. “I don’t want to be here when she returns.”

“I’ll take you home.” Dakotah countered. “I need some fresh air, anyway.”

“Thanks for keeping me hidden.” Ely sighed. “If she saw me in your pj’s, I would have died.”

“Thanks for making the bed.” Dakotah said, beginning to smile. “I began to wonder if she was going to start counting the silverware!”

Hurry up and get ready then, and take me home!” Ely said in a rush. “Knowing that woman, she’ll be back in an hour!”

Ely exited the bedroom as Dakotah entered it, closing the door behind him. Making sure he didn’t lock the door, he quickly changed.

“Okay, I’m ready.” Dakotah said as he left the bedroom. Pausing, and peering into the living room, his eyes began to moisten.

“What’s wrong?” Ely asked, concerned.

“Grandma always had her morning news shows on TV every day, while drinking a cup of coffee.” Dakotah said, wiping a tear. “It’s really quiet now.”

“You can do the same thing, before you come to the church. Ely said, trying to console him.

“Nah.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I always hated those shows. All they had was bad news, and that depressed me. I have enough trouble in my life without hearing about other’s problems.”

“That’s an odd thing for you to say, since you’re always helping others in need.” Ely said, curiously.

“If I can help them, that’s one thing.” Dakotah countered. “But I can’t fix the world’s problems, and with the news, that’s all you hear.”

Ely looked up in to Dakotah’s eyes. “I always pray for them. Don’t you?”

“Yeah, but it doesn’t seem to do any good.” Dakotah replied, avoiding eye contact.

“You don’t know that, do you?” Ely said, pointedly. “What if your prayers help one person? It would be worth it, right?”

Dakotah shrugged his shoulders, and nodded. “You’re right. Ely?”


Dakotah clutched Ely, and held her tightly. She reciprocated in kind, patting his shoulders.

“Thanks for everything.” Dakotah said, whispering into her ear.

“Anytime.” Ely whispered back. “Now let go of me, so I can breathe.”

Gomen.” Dakotah said, releasing her instantly.


Dakotah took Ely home, stopping on the way at a fast food restaurant drive through for breakfast. He had planned on cooking breakfast at home, but his aunt’s arrival, and her attitude, changed his plans. In short order, he pulled into her driveway.

“Let us know what happens, okay?” Ely said, emphatically.

“You’ll be the first one I call, I guarantee it.” Dakotah said, smiling a little.

“What about your aunt in Kentucky? She doesn’t know anything about what happened, does she?”

“No.” Dakotah replied, shaking his head. ”I’ll call her this afternoon, after she gets home from work. I don’t know if Unk’s home, and their son is, well, weird.”

“He must really be weird, if you say he’s weird!” Ely said grinning.

“Hey! Pot calling the kettle black!” Dakotah said in mock indignation. They both laugh.

“Ely reached across the seat, and grasped Dakotah’s hand. “You be careful, okay?”


“Call me?”

“Yep. Thanks.”

“See you.”

“See you.”


Flurries accompanied Dakotah as he made his way home; there were isolated slick spots on the streets, but he traversed them with ease.

Arriving at his grandmother’s, he parked under the carport, and entered through the kitchen, as he had a mere 14 hours prior, before his world turned upside down. Dak listened for a moment to the silence, and sighed, but felt that it was no time to be distraught. Gathering the cleaning supplies under the sink, he set about cleaning the entire house, as well as he knew how. Elizabeth kept the house fairly clean, but with the lights on, he saw high places that needed dusting, and cobwebs in the corners of the ceiling. Nothing in the house escaped his scrutiny, from vacuuming, to scrubbing the bathroom and kitchen.

It only took a couple of hours for Dakotah to clean the entire house, as it wasn’t that dirty to begin with. Out of breath, he sat at the kitchen table, looked about, and sighed. He had busied himself earlier, not allowing himself the opportunity to think about his immediate future. However, now that the tasks had been completed, he began to consider his situation.

“What’s going to happen to me now?” Dakotah said to himself aloud. “Will I get kicked out of this house, too?” He thought that maybe he could eke out a living if he stayed there rent free, but if his aunt charged him rent, living there on $800 a month would be impossible. Although both Rev. Daniels and Mama had offered him a place to live, he didn’t feel comfortable taking them up on their offers. He certainly couldn’t go back to his mother’s! There was also his Aunt Louise’s offer to move to Kentucky, but he cringed at the thought of moving down there, away from Ely.

Dakotah heard a vehicle pull up the driveway, parking behind Elizabeth’s car. He looked out the window, and saw that it was the same Escalade as earlier. He opened the kitchen door, noting that not only his great aunt exited the SUV, but also two men and one woman as well.

“Come in this way!” Dakotah beckoned. “The walkway’s clear here!” He noticed that all four were professionally dressed and carried small briefcases, which made him uneasy.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were coming, or I would’ve fixed you some coffee, or something.” Dakotah said, anxiously. “If you wish, I’ll start a pot.”

“That won’t be necessary.” Jean snapped. ”We will do our business here, and leave.”

One of the men and the woman each pulled out a clipboard and their smartphone, and began taking notes, and snapping photos. The man was inspecting furniture, while the woman went through every room of the house.

“The other man, dressed in a black suit and a black wool overcoat, turned to Dakotah. “You’re Elizabeth’s grandson, I presume?”

“Y-Yes.” Dakotah replied, uncomfortably. “What are these people doing?”

“The lady is a realtor, and the gentleman is an antiques appraiser. “The man said with a confident air. “I am Mrs. Reynolds’ lawyer. We have to appraise the house and contents, in order to put it up for auction.”

Dakotah almost became woozy. “A-a-auction?”

“Yes.” The lawyer continued, coolly. “According to the will, Mrs. Reynolds is the executor, the one in charge of making sure Mrs. Lennon’s wishes are carried out, and any debt she may owe is paid.”

“Okay, I know that.” Dakotah said, shaking his head in disbelief. “Why an auction?”

“The will states that all of her material possessions be auctioned off, and put into a trust, with your father as the sole beneficiary.” the lawyer announced. “Of course, that’s minus any debts your grandmother may have, and any expenses generated in the process of executing the will.”

“Why are you telling him this?” Jean said angrily to her lawyer. “None of this is any of his business!”

“On the contrary, Mrs. Reynolds.” The lawyer said, remaining calm. “Dakotah is in the will as well, if you recall. All personal effects, such as her diary, and her photo albums, are to become his.”

Jean harrumphed without saying a word.

“You currently live here, correct?” the lawyer asked Dakotah.

“Y-yeah.” Dakotah stuttered, his mind swimming.

“I’m afraid you will have to vacate within 30 days.” the lawyer said in a monotone.

Dakotah was in shock, speechless.

“However, there is one exception,  that will alter the proceedings.” the lawyer continued.

“What?” Dakotah replied, weakly.

“If your father can be reached, and we haven’t been able to do that yet, he has the option to keep the house, and pay the debts.”

“If I remember correctly, no one has seen him since Harold Lennon passed.” Jean said, with an air of superiority.

“Pretty much.” Dakotah offered in a low tone. “Mom’s been trying to find him for years.”

Jean straightened her shoulders, and pointed at Dakotah. “Unless by some miracle you father happens to show up, in thirty days I expect you to have vacated these premises, is that clear?”

“Y-yeah.” Dakotah muttered, looking down.

“And another thing, young man.” Jean, continued, condescendingly. “Ms. Hawkins and Mr. George are documenting the condition of the house, and the contents therein. If any of it is damaged, or missing, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law. Do I make myself absolutely clear?”

“Just who are you, anyway?” Dakotah shouted, becoming furious. “You’re not one bit sad that Grandma died!”

“How I grieve is none of your business.” Jean snapped, scornfully. “I have seen this day coming for many years, and I have taken the steps necessary to mitigate any damages resulting from her passing. This is purely business. I don’t know you, and I don’t want to know you. All you are to me is a potential loss to my bottom line, and I will not allow that to happen. Do you understand?“

“Yes.” Dakotah replied, stunned, but unbowed. The other three, having witnessed the exchange, were also stunned.

“Well, are you finished?” Jean said, irritated. The three professionals nod, without saying a word.

“Good.” Jean continued, completely ignoring Dakotah. “We’ll discuss this on the way to the office.”

Jean turned, and walked out of the house,  the three professionals in tow. Within seconds, the Cadillac could be heard roaring down the street.

Dakotah collapsed in a kitchen chair, cradled his head in his hands, and wept heavily for several minutes. After gaining his composure, he called Rev. Daniels.

“Hello?” Ely answered, anxious to hear what happened.

“Hi.” Dakotah replied, downtrodden.

“What happened?” Ely said, alarmed.

“I always thought that Frank was the worst person possible. I think my aunt is even worse than him.”

“No way.” Ely replied, shocked.

“All I am to her is someone who could mess up this precious house, like I’m some cockroach, or something.” Dakotah stated, becoming angry again.

“What?” Ely said, not understanding. “Why?”

“She and her lawyer gave me thirty days to move out of the house, and if anything happened to it, they would have me put in jail.” Dakotah said, bitterly.

“Wow.” Ely said, shaking her head in disbelief. “I’m so sorry, Dak.”

“They are going to auction everything off, with the money going to Dad, unless they find him, and he decides to keep the house.” Dakotah said, numbly.

“Your dad?” Ely said, incredulously. “Do you even remember your dad?”

“Barely.” Dakotah said, sighing. “Like they’re going to find him, anyway.”

“I’m so sorry, Dak.” Ely said, full of empathy. “What are you going to do?”

“I don’t know. I don’t know.” Dakotah said, his mind drawing a blank. “You don’t want me there, and staying at Mama’s-“

“It would be really weird, but my dad would take you in an instant.” Ely interrupted. “If you had no place to go, I would just deal with it for a while until I moved to UM.”

“There’s also Mama’s.” Dakotah said, sensing Ely’s unease. “Staying in Andre’s room would give me the creeps, I think.”

“And there’s Kentucky.” Ely said, stating the option neither of them wanted to talk about.

“Yeah. I definitely don’t want to go there.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I’d have to give everything up if I moved there.”

“That’s not saying much, sorry.” Ely said, pointedly.

“I have my friends and my church. I don’t need much else.” Dakotah said, defiantly.

“I hope you’re right.” Ely said, sighing.

Dakotah looked up at the clock. “Speaking of Kentucky, my Aunt Louise should be getting home from work now. I need to call her, and tell her what happened, even though I’m going to hear her try to sell me on moving down there.”

“Well, you owe her that. “ Ely said, matter-of-factly. “I’ll pass the word to Dad. I’m sure he’ll be calling you soon.”

“Thanks. I’ll call Rev. Higgins first, and see if he knows when the funeral is.” Dakotah said, thinking.

“That’s a good idea. Let us know, in case Dad doesn’t already know.”

“Will do.”

“Take care, Dak. I’ll be praying for you.”

“Thanks, you too.”

Dakotah hung up the phone, and, finding the phone book on the desk, looked up the phone number to 1st Baptist. After three rings, a lady answered the phone.

“Hi, this is Dakotah Lennon. Is-“

“Oh, Dakotah, I’m so sorry what happened to Elizabeth!” the voice on the line gushed.  “Do you know what happened yet?”

“No, I don’t.” Dakotah said, feeling the pain of recalling the previous night. “Is Brother Higgins in?”

“No, I’m sorry, he’s in a business meeting.” The receptionist replied unhappily. “Can I take a message, or is there something I can do?”

“When he finds out when Grandma’s funeral is, can he call me?”

“Oh wait, I have the visitation schedule right here.” the receptionist said. “It’s from 2PM to 6PM Thursday, and 10AM to 2 PM Friday, with the funeral at 2PM Friday. Didn’t you know that?”

“No, no one told me.” Dakotah said, sadly.

“You haven’t had contact with the funeral home?” the receptionist said, confused.

“No, her sister’s in charge of the preparations. I haven’t heard a thing.”

“Not to be insulting, but Brother Higgins said your aunt is…..odd.”

“She’s probably the most cold-blooded person I’ve ever met.” Dakotah said,  plainly. “Thanks for the info.”

“You’re welcome.” the receptionist said, warmly. “Oh! I have an incoming call. Take care, Dakotah.”

“You, too.”

Dakotah wrote the visitation and funeral times down, knowing that they were already etched in his mind. Taking a deep breath, he called his aunt, hoping that she would be the one answering.

“Hello?” a familiar female voice answered.

“Hi, Aunt Lou.”

“What’s wrong?” Louise immediately replied, sensing something amiss.

“Grandma passed away last night.” Dakotah said, solemnly.

“Oh my gosh!” Louise exclaimed, shocked. “How?”

“I don’t know.” Dakotah said, tiring of this response. “I found her on the floor last night, but it was too late.”

Louise paused for a moment. “So, what happening now? What are you going to do?”

“I called her sister in New York, and she came over and took over all the arrangements.” Dakotah said, plainly. “The funeral’s Friday.”

“Oh, that’s good. How are you?”

“Not so good.” Dakotah said, becoming downcast. “My great aunt’s lawyer says I have to move in thirty days. If they can’t find my father, or if he doesn’t want the house, they’re going to auction off the house.”

“Well, I don’t see that happening.” Louise said. “ What are you going to do?”

“I have no idea.” Dakotah said, bracing for what her opinion would be.

“I do. Come to Kentucky.” Louise said, forcefully.

“Thank you, no.” Dakotah said, tersely.

“Give me one good reason why not?” Louise said, becoming instantly irritated. “You’re still pining for that little gay girl, aren’t you?”

“It’s more than that.” Dakotah said, keeping his anger in check. “I have a job now.”

“Really?” Louise said, surprised. “Where?”

“At the church.” Dakotah replied, not know how she would react.

“Doing what? How much?” Louise said, becoming disappointed.

“Answering the phone, and stuff.” Dakotah said, his voice losing momentum. 200 a week.”

“You’re kidding me.” Louise said, exasperated. “That’s it?”

“Well, it’s only twenty hours a week.” Dakotah said, becoming defensive.

“Dak, you could be making 600-700 a week down here, plus insurance, vacations, even bonuses on top of that!”

“Sounds okay, but I think I’ll make a go of it up here.” Dakotah said, wishing the conversation was over.

“I think you’re making a big mistake, Dakotah.” Louise said, slowly regaining her composure. “These jobs aren’t going to stay around forever.”

“I’ll be okay, Lou, promise.” Dakotah said, trying to reassure her. “By the way, you can stop sending me money, since I have a job now. I’m not sure when I can pay you back, for all you’ve done so far, but I appreciate all the help you’ve given me.”

“Well, you’re supposedly a grown man.” Louise said, digging at Dakotah. “I’m not coming up there to drag your butt down here.”

“I know you love me,” Dakotah said, trying to regain his aunt’s confidence, “but give me a chance, okay?”

“Fine.” Louise said, sighing. “If you get your hind end in a sling, I may bail you out. Maybe.”

“I’ll keep that in mind.” Dakotah said, beginning to smile a little. “Thanks, Lou. Love you.”

“Love you, too, turd.” Louise said, still slightly perturbed. “You take care of yourself, and I mean it! You better call us if you need anything, you hear?”

“Got it. Bye.”

“Bye.” Louise hung up the phone, and muttered to herself, “I’m going to string that boy up, one of these days. He’s become as dumb as his mother!”

Dakotah breathed a sigh of relief, as he looked out the window. The sun began to peek out under the clouds near the horizon, leaving a pattern of reds, pinks, and purples.

“What a difference a day makes.” he sighed to himself.

The phone rang again; this time, it was Rev. Daniels.

“Tough day, eh, amigo?” Rev. Daniels said, with empathy.

“Yeah, you could say that.” Dakotah replied, suddenly feeling exhausted.

“Listen, don’t worry about what you can’t change.” Rev. Daniels said, trying to raise Dakotah’s spirits. “My advice is to pray for strength to get through the next few days. After the funeral, maybe after you finish a couple of days at church, we’ll get together, and figure a way to get you through this mess. Sound good?”

“Alan, I think those are the best words I’ve heard all day!” Dakotah cried, a wave of relief flowing over him. “Thank you!”

“Not a problem.” Rev. Daniels said, chuckling. “It’s what I do.”

“I’m tired.” Dakotah said, realizing the amount of stress he’d been under.

“It’s early, but go fix something to eat, and get some rest.” It’ll do you good.”

“I think I’ll do that!” Dakotah said, also realizing he hadn’t eaten in six hours.

“Good night, Dak. I’ll talk to you tomorrow. Call me anytime if you have any concerns, okay?”

“Thanks, Alan.” Dakotah said, grateful. “Good night.”

Dakotah fixed himself a grilled cheese sandwich, and poured a glass of iced tea. Sitting at the table he clasped his hands together, and bowed his head.

“Lord, thank you for this meal. Thank you, Lord, for blessing me with people who love me, and all the help they’ve given me. And Lord, please tell Grandma I miss her. In Jesus name I pray, Amen.”

Chapter 11

Chapter 11

December 15th, 2008

“Grandma, do you have Aunt Lou’s phone number?” Dakotah asked.

“Yes, I do, Dak.” Elizabeth replied uneasily. “Why do you ask?” Dakotah had been shut out so far on finding a job, and had been becoming increasingly frustrated. “I wonder if he’s going to ask if they’re still hiring where she works.”  she thought.

“I want to ask her if it’s okay to use a little of the transportation fund to get some Christmas presents and cards.” Dakotah said. “Everyone has been so nice to me this year, and I want to give something back.”

“That’s nice of you to think that.” Elizabeth said, nodding her head in agreement. “What did you have in mind?”

“Mostly cards, but maybe a small gift for Ely and Vanessa, and maybe you?” he replied, slightly embarrassed.

“No gifts for me, please, I have too much stuff as it is!” Elizabeth said, laughing a little. “You’re getting something for both girls? Won’t Vanessa get jealous?”

“Vanessa’s just a friend at this point.” Dakotah replied, pointedly. “Ely’s still my best friend, so I’d like to get her something too! Vanessa isn’t the type to get jealous, anyway.”

“I worry about you, sometimes. I don’t want to see any of you get hurt. Just be careful, okay?”

“Grandma, you sound like I’m headed out to war, or something!” Dakotah laughed.

“Dak, you’ll find out that love can be more hazardous than war.” Elizabeth said, without cracking a smile. “Here’s her phone number. I keep it in this organizer by the phone.”

“Thanks, Grandma.” Dakotah said, not fully understanding her words. “Love more hazardous than war?” he thought. “I don’t think it will kill me!”

Dakotah called the number in the organizer. He hoped she wouldn’t get mad at him for asking, and tell him not to use the money for Christmas.

The phone rang three times, then a fourth. Dakotah wondered if there was anyone there. He was about to hang up the phone, when he heard a click, then silence.

“That’s odd, the phone hung up on me!” Dakotah said, surprised. “I’ll try again.”

Once again, the phone rang and rang. On the sixth ring, the phone clicked again. This time however, there was a voice on the other side.

“Hello.” said the voice. It was male, low, and colorless.

“Ah, hi!” Dakotah said, thinking perhaps he dialed the wrong number. “Is this the Jones residence?”


“Is Louise there?” Dakotah said, slightly relieved. “This is Dakotah, her nephew.”

“I don’t know. I haven’t seen her.” The voice replied, without a trace of emotion.

“This must be Dylan.” Dakotah thought. “He sounds weird. Maybe he don’t like talking on the phone.”

“Well, would you have her call me when she can?” Dakotah asked politely.

“Okay.” With that, the line went dead again.

“What the heck?” Dakotah said, perturbed.

Instantly after he spoke, the phone rang. The caller ID said Ralph Jones.

Not knowing what to expect, answered the phone. “Hello?”

“Hi, Dak!” a more familiar voice said over the phone. “What’s up?”

“Oh! Hi, Lou!” Dakotah answered, relieved. “Who was that I talked to on the phone earlier?”

“That was your cousin Dylan.” Louise said, apologetically. “He’s not too good with talking to people he doesn’t know.”

“Oh, that’s okay. Dakotah replied. “I’m like that too!”

“So, what’s on your mind? Ready to move to Pig Lick?”

“No, not yet.” Dakotah said, sighing.

“Still ain’t found a job yet?”

“No, still trying, though. Grandma says it’s the worst she’s seen in 25 years.”

“Well, the plastics plant is still hiring.” Louise said, still trying to sell the idea of Dakotah’s relocation. “We’re having trouble keeping people.”

“Why? Is the work that tough?” Dakotah wondered if he was physically able to work there.

“No, not at all.” Louise said, shaking her head. “Problem is with the Japs that own the plant. They talk funny, and their ways are a bit weird, and most folks around here can’t handle that.”

Dakotah had a brief thought about himself and Ely making a go of it down there, but he quickly dismissed it.

“I get along with them just fine.” Louise continued. “If I can get along with Ralph’s people, I can get along with anyone!” She laughed.

‘I’ll keep it in mind, as a last resort.” Dakotah said. “I really don’t want to leave everyone here, if I can help it.”

“I understand.” Louise said, even though she didn’t. “So tell me, Dak, why did you call, if you don’t want to move here?”

Dakotah took a deep breath. “I wanted to know if I could spend a little transportation fund money on Christmas.”

“How much did you have in mind?” Louise said, curious. She wondered if Dakotah would badger her for freedom to spend money on dates and things, but he had kept his promise, so far.

“About fifty or sixty dollars.” Dakotah said meekly.

“That’s not too much.” she said, surprised. “How about a hundred, instead?”

“Oh, no, I don’t need that much!” Dakotah protested. “All I have are a couple of presents, and some cards to buy. That’s all!”

Louise laughed. “I think you’re the first teenager I’ve ever seen turn down money! You have my blessing if you need a little more.”

“Thank you.” Dakotah said graciously. “I will pay you back, someday!”

“You don’t have to pay me back.” Louise said, smiling to herself. “Just go and do your best, succeed, and that will be payment enough.”

Dakotah was at a loss for words. “T-thank you.”

“Question: are you going to get anything for your mother?” Louise asked.

“I-I don’t know.” Dakotah stammered, caught off guard. “Part of me wants to, but it still hurts a lot when I think about that night.”

Louise thought for a moment. “Dak, I’m not going to tell you what to do. One could say to forgive her, but my question would be would she do the same thing again if history repeated itself?”

“I don’t know. I guess she would.”

Louise laughed. “Okay, I changed my mind. I’m going to tell you what I would do. I would send or give her a card, and in it, I would tell her how I feel about everything. You still love her, don’t you?”

“Yeah.” Dakotah said, a light coming into his head.

“Then make sure you put it in the card, so that she knows this without a doubt. Make sure also that she knows how hurt you are too, though I think she knows this, too.”

“Okay.” Dakotah said, thinking about what he would say.

“Now, time for the good and juicy dirt!” Louise said, grinning. “What are you going to get for your girlfriend?”

“I-I don’t know.” Dakotah said, once again blindsided by Louise’s query. “I don’t really have a girlfriend.”

“What about that looker you were seeing? Louise said, annoyed. “She dump you? Or are you still fawning over that other girl?”

“Vanessa?” Dakotah replied, uncomfortable. “We’ve gone out to the movies a couple of times, and out to eat after church on Wednesdays, but that’s about it.”

“Do you not talk to her on the phone? Hold hands? Kiss?”

Dakotah exhaled, wishing the conversation would either end, or go to another subject. “Sometimes, no, no.”

“What’s wrong with her?”


“I’m sorry, but you are the slowest mover I’ve ever seen! Me and your uncle were doing it on our second date!”

Dakotah’s face turned beet red. “Aunt Lou, why did you tell me that? I thought you were this conservative Baptist! Haven’t you heard of True Love Waits?”

“First, we didn’t have that program when I was your age.” Louise said, pointedly. “Besides, as far as I’m concerned, that program is for the parents, not for the kids.”

“Why?” Dakotah said, confused.

“Because it gives the parents the impression that Bobby and Julie aren’t messing around, even though they probably are. You’d be surprised how many girls at our church wore the ring, only to get pregnant within the year.”

“It’s not like that at New Hope.” Dakotah said, defensively.

“Maybe they use better birth control up there, who knows? Secondly, I was a total rebel, through and through, and a horny one at that! When I saw your uncle, well, he looked a lot better back then.”

Dakotah wanted to end the conversation, but didn’t know what to say.

“I think you still have it bad for that other girl, don’t you?” Louise said confidently. “You’d be smooching on her, if you had the chance!”

“She’s my best friend. We’ve been through a lot together this year. It was her idea to pair Vanessa and me up in the first place.”

“You’re avoiding the question, which makes you guilty!” Louise said, full of bravado. “I’m sorry, kinda, that I’m talking to you this way, but I don’t want to see you hurt, and if you keep fooling yourself, you will be, I promise you.”

“I’ll be okay.” Dakotah said in a monotone, long tiring of the conversation.

“Just make sure you get your so-called girlfriend a nicer present than your so-called best friend.”

“Got it.” Dakotah said, simply. “Lou, what do you get an elderly woman that wants nothing, and has everything?” he asked quietly , finally changing the subject.

“You mean Elizabeth? I don’t remember, does she have a lot of houseplants?”

“Not really.” Dakotah replied.

“You could get her an African Violet.” Louise said. Those are pretty, and they’re easy to care for. The local home improvement place up there should have them.”

“Oh, thanks! I think she’d like that!”

“One last thing, Dak, before I fix myself something to eat.”

“What’s that?”

“Get yourself something with some of the money. You can consider it your Christmas present from us.”

“Really? Thank you, Lou!”

“Just make sure you buy something more than a box of pencils, so to speak. I trust you.”

“Love you.”

“Love you too, Dak. You’d better call me on Christmas, and tell me what you bought!”

“I will! Goodbye, and thanks again!”

“’Bye, Dak! Take care!” Louise hung up the phone, and exhaled. “That boy is a mess.” she thought to herself.


December 22, 2008

The sun had started peeking out from behind the clouds, as Dakotah headed east on Grange Hall Road. The landscape turned from gray to a brilliant white, as snows from the past few days reflected the sunlight. The scenery elated Dakotah; it had been a snowy season so far, and more snow, the better, he thought.

Today had been an adventure of sorts for Dakotah; he was returning from Ann Arbor, first to the anime shop that Ely occasionally visited, and then to the mall there. Since his grandmother didn’t own a GPS, and asking Ely for directions would tip her off to his plans, he instead went to the library, and found the locations and directions to his destinations online.

The roads were clear that day, as the road crews did a very good job of keeping the roads clean. Still, Elizabeth warned him to look out for black ice, and other slick spots along the way, as the temperatures remained below freezing throughout the day.

The sixty-something miles he had traveled one way was by far the furthest he had ever driven. The time alone on the road was a revelation, as for the first time in his life he truly felt free. Behind him were issues of not having a job, of being in a romantic triangle, of having a mother that forsook him. It was just him, the car, the snowy fields, and the radio playing oldies.

From a gifting standpoint, the trip was also a success. For Vanessa, he found a silver cross pendant at one of the department stores. For Ely, he found a plushie at the anime shop that he hadn’t seen at her house. He also found an African Violet at the home improvement store; since he was going to Ely’s today, he would leave the violet there for Ely to babysit until Christmas, when he would give her the plushie, and then take the violet to his grandmother.

He also found cards for Rev. Daniels, Mama, and his mother; his mother’s card simply read “Merry Christmas, Mom: I love you.” He wasn’t sure how to give it to her yet. He thought perhaps early Christmas morning, while they were asleep, he’d stick it in through the mail slot, and hope that Frank didn’t find it first.

Seeing the town in the distance, Dakotah sighed. “Well, it was fun while it lasted.” he said to himself.


Dakotah noticed Rev. Daniels car was not in the driveway when he arrived. Ely’s car was, however; Dakotah sighed in relief, as he had nowhere to drop the violet off.

“Konnichiwa!”  Dakotah announced cheerily as Ely opened the door.

“Konnichiwa, Lennon-san!”  Ely replied back, mirroring Dakotah’s attitude. She took a deep breath when she saw the African Violet. “Oh, are those for me?” she exclaimed, excitedly.

“No, these are for Grandma.” Dakotah replied, taken aback by Ely’s enthusiasm. “I didn’t know you liked flowers that much.”

“Oh, I love flowers!” Ely gushed.

Dakotah began to think perhaps he made a mistake in choosing her Christmas present. “I can get you one too, if you like. They don’t cost very much.”

“No, that’s okay.” Ely said, shaking her head. “I love plants, but they don’t love me. They don’t last very long before they die. I guess I have a brown thumb!”

“Well, would you mind babysitting this one until Christmas? I’ll pick it up that morning, while I’m making my rounds.”

“You’re coming here Christmas morning?” Ely said, surprised.

“I’m sorry, I wasn’t thinking!” Dakotah said apologetically. “Is that a bad time?”

“No, but shouldn’t you be spending some of it with Vanessa?”

“She has a big family, and almost all of them will be in for Christmas.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I’d just feel weird there.”

“But her mom and dad like you a lot!” Ely protested. “Sometimes, you have to give yourself some credit!”

“I know, but I’m planning on giving this to her at church Christmas Eve.” Dakotah said, pulling a small box out of his pocket. He opened the box, showing the pendant to Ely. “Think she’ll like it?”

Ely gasped. “Dakotah, it’s beautiful! How much did you pay for it?”

“I went a little over budget, about forty dollars, but it was on sale!” Dakotah said proudly. “Think I did okay?”

“I need you to go shopping with me!” Ely said, laughing. “I can never find bargains like that!”

“Promise?” Dakotah said, smiling.

Ely smiled. There was an ease between them that Dakotah certainly didn’t have with Vanessa. “I doubt that he’d ever flirt with Vanessa the way he did with me just now.” Ely thought to herself.

“Dakotah, can I ask you something?” Ely asked softly.

“Oh, boy, this is going to be a doozy, I can already tell!” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“If Vanessa tried to kiss you, would you let her?”

Dakotah laughed nervously. “Yeah, I guess.”

“Think you’d like it?”

Dakotah’s face turned red. “I-I don’t know. Maybe. If she didn’t have bad breath, or something.”

Ely laughed. ”Baka. You know good and well that someone so meticulous as her wouldn’t have bad breath!”

“Yes, it’s been established by everyone that Vanessa is as close to perfect as possible.” Dakotah said, rolling his eyes.

“Don’t you realize that she has the eye of almost every single male, and even a few married men, at the hospital? Yet, for reasons only known to God Himself, it’s you she’s picked?”

“I didn’t pick her.” Dakotah said almost inaudibly.

“I know who you picked, but I’m not available.”

“That’s been long understood.”  Dakotah said pointedly. “But don’t you think I have the right to be alone, too?”

“I know how it is to be alone as much as you do.” Ely replied, sympathetically. “I know I don’t want to ever go there again, so forgive me if I try to bring a little love in your life.”

Dakotah sighed. “You bring love in my life every single day, but you probably don’t want to hear that.” he thought to himself. “There’s nothing to forgive. I know you want what’s best for me.”

“And Vanessa’s the best out there, in my opinion.” Ely said, continuing her efforts.

“I know that, absolutely.” Dakotah replied, tiring of the conversation. “However, I may have a thing for annoying redheads, instead, even if they are inferior.”

“Oh? Annoying? Inferior?” Ely shrieked in mock indignation. ”I’ll show you annoying!”

Ely strode over to Dakotah, and began to tickle him. “What did you get me for Christmas? Did you get me a necklace? Maybe a ring? Earrings? Is this annoying enough for you?”

Dakotah, being extremely ticklish, fell to the floor, laughing hysterically. Ely pounced on top of him, sitting on his back while continuing to go for his ribs. At that moment, Rev. Daniels entered the kitchen, and stared at the commotion.

The preacher cleared his throat, causing Ely to jump to her feet, panic-stricken, and embarrassed. Dakotah lay prone on the floor, trying to catch his breath.

“I thought you two were supposed to be studying Japanese.”  Rev. Daniels said with a mostly straight face, the traces of a smile beginning to appear. “Is this some cultural study that I’m not aware of?”

“Oh, no sir.” Dakotah said sheepishly while trying to catch his breath.” Ely was just demonstrating how annoying she could be.”

“She is good at that!” Rev. Daniels said, chuckling. “She takes that after her mother!”

“Mom used to tickle you?” Ely said, recovering from her embarrassment.

“All the time. But I’d be careful, if I were you. After one such night of her tickling, you were conceived, I think.” he said with a wink. Ely’s jaw dropped, and her face became as red as her hair.

Dakotah didn’t know what to think, but he carried a goofy look on his face, which Ely noticed. “Don’t get any funny ideas!” she snapped, backhanding him across the arm.

“Oh, those are very pretty!” Rev. Daniels said, noticing the African Violets. “Are those for you, sweetie?”

“No, those are for Dak’s grandma.” Ely said. “He wouldn’t tell me what he got me, the punk.”

“I guess we’d better get to work.” Dakotah said, looking at the clock. I’ve been out all day, and Grandma’s probably wondering where I am.”

“Well, I’m getting out of this suit, and getting into something more comfortable.” Rev. Daniels said. “Dak, why don’t you call your grandmother up, and update her? Probably will ease her mind.”

“That’s a good idea. I’ll do that.” Dakotah said, nodding his head.

“If you’ll excuse me.” Rev, Daniels said as he left to go to his bedroom. Closing the door behind him, he walked over to the nightstand, and picked up a framed photograph. It was of a young woman with red hair. Behind her were several flower pots with African Violets in them.

“There are times when I miss you so much, honey.” he said, wiping a tear from his eye.


December 24, 2008

“Dak, do you have Vanessa’s present?” Elizabeth asked her grandson.

“Yes, Grandma, I have it right here, in my coat pocket.” Dakotah sighed.

“In your coat pocket? After all the trouble I went through wrapping it fancy?” Elizabeth shrieked. “You’re such a boy, sometimes! Don’t you know that a lady appreciates things that are done with an extra flair?”

Dakotah pulled out the present from his pocket, and examined it. “I think it’s okay.” he said with a shrug.

Elizabeth took a deep breath, inspected the present, exhaled, and gave it back to Dakotah. “The ribbon is a little crumpled, but passable. Please don’t do any more damage to it, okay? She won’t think it’s very special if the paper and ribbon are messed up.”

“I’ll do my best, Grandma.” Dakotah said, mentally rolling his eyes.

“Dakotah, just because you two aren’t officially boyfriend-girlfriend does-“

“What does “officially” mean? We’re just friends!” Dakotah said tersely, interrupting his grandmother.

“First of all, don’t you interrupt your elders when they are speaking!” Elizabeth said, irritated. “I thought you knew better than that!”

“Sorry.” Dakotah said, remorsefully.

“Secondly, I wish your grandfather could’ve taught you how to be a gentleman, and how to treat a lady! He definitely wouldn’t have put a nicely wrapped present in his coat pocket!”

“I would’ve liked to have known him, too.” Dakotah said, wistfully.

“Anyway, you’d better get going.” Elizabeth said, trying not to reminisce. “Don’t want to be late for the party!”

Dakotah hugged his grandmother tightly. “Love you, Grandma. Thanks.”

“You be careful out there. It may snow later. Give the girls a hug for me!”

“Okay, no problem!” Dakotah said, grinning.

“Behave!” Elizabeth said, pointing at Dakotah, and smiling.

Dakotah laughed. “I will, promise! Bye!”

Elizabeth waved without saying a word. She watched Dakotah pull away from the curb, and drive up the street. Suddenly, as she was turning, she blacked out, and fell. Regaining consciousness a few moments later, she checked to see if anything was broken. Fortunately, only her shoulder felt sore, as best as she could tell.

“Might have to go to the doctor, after all.” she thought.


Dakotah drove carefully  as he made his way to New Hope. He looked at the clock in the car. “This time last year, I was giving Carl my pork chop. Now, I’m driving a car to a church gathering where I’m going to give a girl who likes me a Christmas present! Things can change quickly, I guess!” he thought to himself, smiling a little. Thinking about that night a year ago, his mother came to mind. “Miss you, Mom.” he said aloud.

He pulled smoothly into the church parking lot, and exited the car. A stiff wind out of the West tried to push his spider-like frame away from the church, but he was determined, and forced himself through the door.

The heady aroma of chili met Dakotah head on, and his stomach began to grumble. Thoughts of hunger quickly dissipated, though, as a trio of young teenaged boys approached Dakotah, grinning.

“Hey, Goku!” the tallest of the boys said to Dakotah. “Beat up any aliens lately?”

“Yeah, I beat up your mom.” Dakotah deadpanned, barely cracking a smile.

“Goku! Goku! Goku!” the other two boys chanted, thrusting their fists in the air.

“That was cold, Dak!” The first boy said, laughing.

Dakotah and the other boys began to laugh.” Well, Zeke, you asked for it!” Dakotah said.

“Hey, what’s Mama cooking tonight? It smells good!” asked the second boy.

“Mama’s not here tonight, Hector.” Dakotah replied, shaking his head. “The girls looked up this chili recipe on the internet, and made a batch. We get to try it out tonight!”

“Oh, man.” The third boy said, shaking his head. “Have you tasted it yet? Is it any good?”

“Nope. Smells good, doesn’t it, Russell?” Dakotah said, trying to sell the boys the chili.

“Yeah, but I’m hungry!” Russell said, rubbing his belly.

“Me, too!” Zeke exclaimed.

“It’ll be all right.” Dakotah said, trying to comfort the boys. “Have a little faith in the girls. I’ve eaten their cooking several times, and I’m not dead yet!”

The boys laughed nervously. Dakotah hoped he got through to them.

“So, our cooking hasn’t killed you, eh, Dak?” a familiar voice announced behind Dakotah. “We can fix that!”

Dakotah turned around to see Ely glaring at him. Dakotah realized why the boys were nervous, as Ely had heard every word.

“Don’t worry, guys.” Ely said, soothingly. “Dad ate some a little bit ago, and he said it was the best he ever tasted.”

“Would he say anything else?” Dakotah asked, knowing he was going to get it.

“Keep it up, funny guy, and you’re going to find rat poison or broken glass in yours.” Ely said coolly, as she turned and walked back toward the kitchen.

“Was that the preacher’s daughter?” Hector said, wondering if she was bluffing.

“Yep. She’s also my best friend.” Dakotah said, smiling.

The boys looked at Dakotah in amazement.

“Dude, you’re some kinda tough!” Russell exclaimed, impressed.

Dakotah smiled. There was much apprehension from Dakotah when he started coming to Wednesday Bible study, as old fears about being taunted surfaced. However, with Mama’s and Vanessa’s help, he was able to connect with the kids, especially the three before him. They looked up to him like a big brother, and respected him when he taught Bible lessons. It also didn’t hurt that he knew Dragonball Z as well, if not better, than they did.

“I bet you’re glad she’s not your girlfriend!” Zeke said, laughing.

Dakotah laughed. He could’ve made a comment about wishing she was his girlfriend, but that would just confuse them, he thought. They had him paired up with Vanessa from the beginning, and if they wanted to think that, then that was fine with him.

“What did you get Vanessa for Christmas, Dak?” asked Russell, excitedly.

“Did you get her a ring?” asked Hector. “Yeah, you had to get her a ring, didn’t ya?”

“No, I didn’t get her a ring.” Dakotah replied, slightly embarrassed.

“Well, what did you get her?” asked Zeke, impatiently.

“Promise you won’t rat me out?” Dakotah whispered, motioning them closer.

“Yeah, we promise!” Hector whispered, with the other two joining in.

“I got her a Vegeta action figure.” Dakotah whispered with a straight face.

The three boys howled. “Dak, you’re so stupid!” Zeke laughed, trying not to make too much commotion.

“Hey guys, c’mere!” Dakotah said, motioning the boys to follow him.

The boys groaned, wondering what else Dakotah had up his sleeve. “Dude, can we eat already?” Russell asked, beginning to whine a little.

“Just a second.” Dakotah said, walking over to where his coat was laying. He reached inside, and pulled out three thin book sized presents, and handed one to each of the boys. They all looked at him, confused.

“Open them. A little something from me. Merry Christmas.”

They looked at each other for a split second, and at once began to tear into the presents. Inside each was a Dragonball Z DVD.

“Thank you, Dak! Thank you!” they all gushed.

“Now all I ask you to do is take care of these, and share them with each other, okay? That way, it would be like getting three DVDs.”

The boys nodded their heads in acknowledgement. Hector began to cry.

“What’s wrong, Hec?” Dakotah asked, concerned.

“I-I didn’t think I’d get anything for Christmas!”  Hector cried.

Dakotah began to tear up, as well. “All I can say is enjoy, dude.” He held out his hand, and each boy gave himself and each other a high five. “Now let’s get some chili!”

The boys ran toward the kitchen, leaving Dakotah alone. He said a silent prayer  for all the boys to get something else for Christmas. Suddenly, Vanessa came from behind, and hugged Dakotah with one arm from the side.

She gazed into his eyes, and smiled. “Do you realize how awesome you are?” she said.

“It was just the DVDs I got from my mom last Christmas.” Dakotah said, embarrassed. “I wasn’t out any money on them.”

“But you gave from the heart, and that’s all that matters.” Vanessa said, squeezing him. “Let’s go eat while there’s some left! It’s very good, if I do say so, myself!”


Christmas Eve supper at New Hope went smoothly; Rev. Daniels said the blessing, and everyone ate their fill. Vanessa’s assertion of the chili’s quality was correct, as seconds were given out until it was all gone.

The members of Dakotah’s Sunday School class had earlier agreed to have a post party party, with dessert, and a Dirty Santa gifting game. Almost everyone from the class was there, nine in total.

“Just make sure you clean up and lock up before you leave.” Rev. Daniels told them before he left.

Dessert was simple, cake and ice cream bought from the local grocer. Dirty Santa produced a lot of laughter, as some of the gifts could be classified as odd. Dakotah finished the game with knee-high striped socks. Dakotah himself brought a 20-pack of AA batteries to the game.

“Batteries?” Ely had asked him earlier.

“Everyone uses AA batteries.” Dakotah said simply. “They’re very practical.”

Dakotah was showing his socks to Vanessa, when Ely called out from the kitchen. “Dak, Van, can you come help me, please?”

The two promptly rose from the table, and made their way to the kitchen. As Dakotah entered the kitchen, with Vanessa close behind, they saw Ely at the table facing them, holding her hand up, palm out.

“Stop right there, you two!” Ely shouted, grinning. Dakotah and Vanessa looked at Ely, confused. She pointed up at the top of the doorframe, above Dakotah’s head.

Taped to the top of the doorframe was a sprig of mistletoe.

“Pucker up, you two!” Ely laughed.

“W-what do you mean?” Dakotah said, his face becoming beet red.

“You two are under the mistletoe, so you have to kiss each other, silly!”

The other students had heard the commotion, and were now watching the drama unfold.

Panic seized Dakotah. “K-kiss?” he stammered. He looked at Vanessa, who was embarrassed and speechless.

“Go on, go on!” Ely continued to coerce, motioning with her hands.

“Kiss! Kiss! Kiss!” chanted some of the other students. Dakotah’s heart was racing; kissing Vanessa wasn’t the worst thing in the world, far from it, but being in the middle of a spectacle like this was mortifying, and he was sure Vanessa felt the same way, too.

Dakotah looked into Vanessa’s eyes; she had a sheepish look on her face, to which Dakotah guessed was “let’s get this over with”. He nodded to her, and she nodded back.

Amidst cheering,  Dakotah took a deep breath, closed his eyes, leaned forward, and puckered. He felt a light peck on his lips, then nothing.  He waited a couple of seconds before opening his eyes, then saw Vanessa looking down, and stepping away.

“Are you okay?” Dakotah asked, but Vanessa said nothing, and took another step back, away from the door.

Dakotah glared over at Ely, anger creeping up from within. He was surprised to see her countenance not  gleeful, but becoming rapidly sad. “I hope you’re satisfied!”  he thought to himself. If it were only the three of them, he would have said it aloud.

He was in the process of turning around to check on Vanessa, when Rebecca Jennings nudged Vanessa aside, stood in the doorway next to him, looked up, and smiled.

“It’s my turn.” she said seductively. Pressing her body against his, she  pinned him against the doorframe, and kissed him, very passionately.

Dakotah was too much in shock to squirm, much less try to get away. After what seemed like an eternity, she released her hold from him, and stepped back.

“Merry Christmas.” Rebecca said, smiling.

Dakotah smiled back, ever so slightly, not able to speak. He looked to his right, and saw Ely, beginning to fume. He looked to his left, and amidst the students, was Vanessa, beginning to tear up. Looking down, she began to stride quickly away, across the meeting area, and into the hallway where the classrooms were.

Dakotah was frozen in place, indecisive, for a few seconds. Gathering his wits, he instinctively followed Vanessa into the classroom area.

Rebecca turned, and was about to follow Dakotah, but Ely grabbed her arm, and spun her around.

“I don’t think so!” Ely barked.

“What’s your problem?” Rebecca said, snarkily.

“Don’t you think you’ve done enough?” Ely said, exasperated.

“What have I done? All I did was take advantage of the mistletoe, and kissed him!”

“You call that a kiss? Did you check his tonsils, too?”

Rebecca smirked. “For someone who’s inexperienced, he has a lot of potential. You should’ve taken advantage of it, while you had the chance.”

“You know Dak and I aren’t like that!” Ely protested. “We’re just friends!”

“Really?” Rebecca said, becoming bemused. “He was eating out of the palm of your hand, until you dumped him on Miss Perfect.”

“What’s wrong with that? Ely said, defensively. “They are good together!”

“Are they?” Rebecca said, shaking her head. “A blind guy can see he’s not really interested in her, and she’s not trying to make him interested.”

“So, what’s your angle, Becky?” Ely said, pointing her finger at Rebecca. “He’s not cute, popular, or rich!”

“That’s mean of you to say that!” Rebecca said, taken aback slightly. “He’s not a hottie, but he’s not a dog, either!”

“No, he’s not bad looking, but you still haven’t answered my question. Why is someone like you, who’s socially upwardly mobile, throwing yourself at one who is the opposite?”

Rebecca sighed. “Look, I admit, I’ve been playing the social game at school for a while, and I’ve become good at it. But people in student council, the rich kids, the jocks, they’re all the same to me. They’re boring, shallow people who are just interested in what people think of them.”

“And you’re not one of them?” Ely said derisively, rolling her eyes.

“Does your dad know that you’re becoming like that troll at UM you’re seeing?” Rebecca said, jabbing back at Ely.

Ely seethed; she wanted nothing more than to smack that smirk off Rebecca’s face, but thought better of it.

“This has nothing to do with Hannah!” Ely said, raising her voice. “Why do you want Dak? Is he some trophy you want to make you feel superior?”

Rebecca exhaled, tiring of the conversation, and Ely’s attitude. “I wish you’d believe me when I say that I’m not out to hurt Dakotah. He’s different. I mean, he’s smart, he’s geeky, but he acts really mature, too, like an older guy.”

Ely had to admit to herself that Rebecca was right about Dakotah’s personality. Having spent most of his life around adults, he naturally acted like one in manners and speaking, for the most part, though Ely also knew there was a childlike element to him, too.

“What you say is true.” Ely acknowledged, though still not letting her guard down. “But I still have my doubts about your true intentions, especially after the way you came on to him!”

Rebecca laughed “Well you two have him locked into a shell. All I did was open his eyes to the possibilities!”

“I don’t think he’s ready for such a relationship all at once.” Ely said, shaking her head. “You mess with him like that, and he could open himself up to be really, really, hurt. I’m not going to let that happen, if I can help it!”

Rebecca sighed. “I don’t want him to get hurt either, Ely.” she said, her countenance becoming serious.” I’m tired of people that are superficial and false. I want something…..genuine!”

Ely sighed. “Look, Becky, I want to believe you. Part of me wants to hope you really care about Dak, but knowing your past, I still have a lot of doubts.”

“You know, you’re the only person at school who can call me that, and get away with it!” Rebecca said, smiling. “But, I’ve also known you for a long time, Liz, and I can tell you have feelings for Dakotah, too!”

“He’s my best friend, and I care about him, that’s all.” Ely said, shaking her head.

“Deny it all you want, that’s okay with me. But I won’t forgive you if you change your mind and go after him, because we all know it’s you he really loves.”

Ely shook her head, not saying a word. She wondered where Dakotah and Vanessa were.

“I hope they are doing okay.”  she thought to herself. “This is turning into a bad shoujo manga.”


Dakotah’s mind was still twirling as he followed Vanessa down the hall. “I can’t believe Rebecca kissed me!” he thought to himself. “What the heck was that all about? It’s not like she likes me, or anything!”

Vanessa entered the room where their Sunday School class was held, and shut the door behind her, leaving the lights off.

Dakotah slowly entered the room; the only light source being the glow from the streetlights reflecting off the snow outside.  In the corner, he could begin to see the outline of Vanessa, sitting in a chair. Without saying a word, he sat down next to her. The wind could be heard howling outside, but still it wasn’t enough for Dakotah not to hear her muffled sobs.

“Hey,” Dakotah whispered softly. He reached out and lightly laid his hand on her shoulder. She instantly brushed it away.

“I’m sorry.” Dakotah whispered again, almost inaudibly.

Nothing was said for a moment; Dakotah tried to think of something to say that would comfort her, but could not. Instead, he began to ramble whatever came to mind .

“I don’t know why Ely did that.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “She should’ve known better, Heck, she knew it would embarrass us! It kinda ticks me off, you know? And Rebecca, why did she do that? I don’t get her at all!”

“Did you not enjoy that?” Vanessa sniped.

Dakotah was taken aback, as he had never heard her use that tone of voice before. “I remember seeing you freaked out, me being mad at Ely, and then there she was. I was as shocked as anyone!”

“It didn’t look like you were shocked.” Vanessa said, her words tinged with jealousy, which was also new to Dakotah. “You certainly weren’t pushing her away!”

“I didn’t know what to do!” Dakotah exclaimed, becoming exasperated. “Until tonight, I’ve never kissed anyone before!”

“It was my first kiss, too.” Vanessa said, dejectedly. “It wasn’t what I had hoped for, as a first kiss.”

“If I were going to kiss you, it would have been somewhere by ourselves. It would have been special.”

“If.” Vanessa muttered.

Dakotah sighed. “Vanessa, you are so awesome. You have been my rock the past few weeks here. There’s no way I could’ve interacted with those kids without you backing me up.”

“But.” Vanessa said sadly. Dakotah could see the pain in her eyes, even in the low light.

“We’ve also had good times going out!” Dakotah said encouragingly, trying lift Vanessa’s spirit. “The movies were lame, but we had fun anyway, right?”

“But.” Vanessa repeated, more forcefully.

Dakotah took her hands into his, and gazed into her eyes. “I care about you very, very much. It hurts me to see you like this.”

Vanessa pulled her hand away from his. “But you don’t love me.”

“I do love you.” Dakotah countered.

“Small “L”, not capital “L” Vanessa countered back.

“You already knew that from the beginning.”

Vanessa sighed. “I mistakenly involved you into my selfish desires. I’m sorry.”

“What do you have to be sorry about?” Dakotah exclaimed, confused. “You’ve done nothing wrong! I do not regret one second I’ve spent with you!”

“You’d rather had spent them with Ely, or maybe even Rebecca, don’t you? Vanessa replied, becoming tearful.

“Look. Ely doesn’t want me.” Dakotah replied, noting Vanessa’s fragile psyche, but becoming irritated, nonetheless. “She has a relationship with someone else. And why do you keep bringing up Rebecca? I’m not interested in her!”

“You and Ely have that spark when you two are together!” Vanessa said tearfully and forcefully. “We don’t have that! Rebecca is aggressive, and she’s very capable of seducing you!”

Dakotah rolled his eyes, and sighed. “Now you’re giving me no credit of having any self-control, that any pretty little thing can throw herself at me, and I’d go gaga? Gee, thanks.”

“My point is that you don’t like me.” Vanessa said, beginning to cry. “I’m just pathetic.”

“Are you kidding me?” Dakotah said, incredulously. “If anyone in this building is pathetic, it’s me. A year ago, I had exactly one friend, who wound up getting killed. My mother ignored me, my stepfather hates me, my father is who knows where. I can’t find a job, and I can’t afford school. I’m not good looking either, to boot!”

“I think you’re cute.” Vanessa said.

“You’re beautiful!” Dakotah said, accentuating the syllables as he spoke. “You work really hard! You’re very smart, way smarter than I am, plus you’re polite, considerate of others, and God-fearing. It is a blessing to me to have you as one of my closest friends!”

“You say I’m all that, and yet you still don’t love me. I’d call that pathetic, if you ask me.”

Dakotah sighed. He and Vanessa were at an impasse, and Dakotah didn’t know what to do or what to say. He then realized he had her present in his pocket, and took it out.

“Vanessa, I’ve been waiting for the right moment, but it hasn’t worked out the way I wanted. I’m sorry that tonight has been a mess, but here. Merry Christmas.” Dakotah looked down, and held the present out for Vanessa to see.

“Why are you giving me this?” Vanessa said, tersely.

“Because you’re my friend, and you mean a lot to me.” Dakotah said in all seriousness.

Vanessa frowned. “I don’t want it. Give it to Ely or Rebecca.”

“Ely’s already getting a plushie, and Rebecca’s not getting anything.” Dakotah said, dismayed. “It took a while to find this! I don’t know if you’ll like it, but at least I cared enough about you to get you something!”

“Maybe I can’t give my heart to you yet.” Dakotah continued. “I still have to prove to Ely that I’m better for her than Hannah. If she still rejects me, I can move on with my life, knowing I tried my best.”

“That’s like me trying to prove to you I’m better for you than Ely, isn’t it?” Vanessa said, coldly. “A silly concept, isn’t it?”

Dakotah shook his head, eyes beginning to tear, without saying a word.

“I’m going home.” Vanessa said, retrieving her coat. “Tell your grandmother Merry Christmas for me.”

“I’ll do that.” Dakotah said, choking up. “Merry Christmas.”

Vanessa exited the classroom, striding quickly down the hallway toward the exit, with Dakotah following.  Nearing the exit, Vanessa met Ely and Rebecca, who were entering the hallway from the meeting area.

“Van, I’m sorry!” Ely said, apologetically.

Vanessa strode past Ely without saying a word.

“Van! Please wait!” Ely shouted in vain.

Dakotah stepped in front of Ely. “Let her be. She doesn’t want to talk to anyone right now.”

Vanessa pushed hard against the door, and exited into the Arctic blast. Dakotah turned to the girls, lips pressed tight.

“Ely, I guess we have some cleaning up to do before we leave.” Dakotah said, tersely. Everyone else had already left.

“Yeah, I guess so.” Ely said, dejectedly.

“I’ll help.” Rebecca offered, trying to smile.

“I don’t thi-“ Ely started to say.

“Rebecca and I have some things to talk about.” Dakotah interrupted. “Go ahead and get started. I’ll be there in a couple of minutes.”

Ely glared at Rebecca, then left without saying a word.

“Ah, about earlier…..” Rebecca said, awkwardly.

“Yeah, about earlier.” Dakotah said, warily. “Please explain.”

“I saw an opportunity, and took it.” Rebecca said simply.

“Even though you knew you’d be hurting Vanessa?”

“She was setting herself up to fail, anyway. She’s way too timid to ever make a move on you.”

“Maybe that’s what we agreed on in the first place, until Ely and I sorted things out once and for all.” Dakotah said, assuredly. “We both felt the risk was too great.”

“There has to be a little risk in life, or it’s not worth living.” Rebecca said, pointedly.

“That’s true.” Dakotah said, frowning. “But you don’t hurt your friends in the process.”

“Like I said, she was going to get hurt, no matter what. Ely has your heart, and there’s nothing Vanessa could do to change that.”

“And what makes you think you could?” Dakotah said, curious. “Besides, why me? Why am I suddenly irresistible to you?”

“Because you’re real, not fake, Dakotah. All of the guys I know are superficial, and view me as a trophy.”

“Don’t you see guys the same way?”

“Yeah, for a while, because that’s how I thought the game was played.” Rebecca said, without emotion. “You’re different. You actually care about people. I guess I want you to care for me, too”

“I do care for you, but just as a friend.” Dakotah said, sympathetically.

Rebecca went up to Dakotah and put her arms around him, holding him close to her. “I can give you what Ely won’t give you, and Vanessa can’t  give you.” she purred. “Someone that can actually love you the way you need to be loved.”

Dakotah chuckled, and pushed Rebecca away, holding her at arm’s length. “I’m flattered, really I am.” Dakotah said, his brief smile fading rapidly. “I don’t trust you, though. Trust is everything to me. I’ve been hurt too much in the past by people I’ve trusted. I’m sorry, but you have a bad track record, and I find it hard to believe that you’d change just for me. Ely, I trust. Vanessa, I trust. You? Uh-uh. Maybe someday you’ll earn my trust, and we can build something from there.”

“You hurt Vanessa when you kissed me, and whether or not you felt it was justified, I feel it was a bad time for you to confess your feelings in front of everyone.” Dakotah continued, making sure he kept eye contact with Rebecca. “I can’t let you treat my friend like that.”

“Sorry.” Rebecca said, dejected.

“You’re still my friend, and I will forgive you, if you make it right with Vanessa.” Dakotah said warmly. “Right now though, you need to get home. Snow’s starting to drift out there.”

“You’re right. I’d better be going.” Rebecca said, nodding her head while looking out of the window. “I’ll try to call her before Sunday.”

“Good. C’mere.” Dakotah said, bringing Rebecca close, then hugging her tightly. “Merry Christmas.

“Merry Christmas!” Rebecca said, smiling a little. With that, she put on her coat, and left.

“Well, wasn’t that just cozy.” Ely said, having witnessed the scene in secret. I’m sure she’s already planning the name of the baby.”

“If it’s a girl, I’ll make sure it’s named Elizabeth.” Dakotah said, rolling his eyes.

“If it wasn’t Christmas Eve, I’d smack you!” Ely said, not understanding Dakotah’s demeanor, as they made their way back to the kitchen.

At the threshold leading into the kitchen, Dakotah stopped, and removed the mistletoe that Ely had placed earlier. He looked down at it, twirling it around  with his fingers.

“You know, you caused a lot of trouble tonight.” Dakotah said, pensively. “What possessed you to put this mistletoe up, knowing how much it would embarrass us?”

“I just wanted to push you two along a little.” Ely said, looking down. “I’m sorry if I hurt you.”

“I’m used to it.” Dakotah said, tersely. “Being embarrassed used to be a way of life for me. However, Vanessa isn’t used to it, and I think you hurt her really bad. You may have even ruined any chances of us becoming a couple.”

“Oh, she’s just upset a little.” Ely said, nonchalantly. “She’ll get over it.”

“If you saw the way she acted towards me in the classroom, you might think differently.” Dakotah said, becoming irritated. “She kept pairing me up with you or Rebecca, and rejecting any words I had to say.”

Dakotah reached into his pocket, and pulled out Vanessa’s present. “She didn’t want this, either.”

Ely gasped, at a loss for words.

“She told me to give it to you or Rebecca.” Dakotah said, sadly. `”All the trouble I had to go through with asking Aunt Lou for the money, of having to pick it out, and Grandma wrapping it, all for nothing, because you had to meddle.”

“I-I’ll straighten it out.” Ely said, shaken. “I’ll call her when I get home, and make her understand why I did what I did.”

“I hope you’re right.” Dakotah said, softening his countenance a little.

“You didn’t help the situation either, by not pushing Rebecca away!” Ely said, suddenly becoming angry. “And you were complaining about the possibility of Vanessa having bad breath? Do you know how many boys that slut has shared saliva with?”

“All I remember about her kiss is that I know she did it.” Dakotah protested. “Honestly, I was too much in shock to do much of anything. I was still trying to get my head straight after kissing Vanessa.”

“That wasn’t much of a kiss, if you ask me. Looked like a couple of kindergarteners playing spin the bottle.”

“It wasn’t the time nor the place for that.” Dakotah said, defensively. “If or when we take the next step in our relationship, it will be on our terms, not yours. Same goes for me and Rebecca.”

“If you mess around with Becky, you’ll get hurt.” Ely said, gritting her teeth. “Don’t come to me for comfort when you get your heart broken!”

“You’ve already broken my heart, so she can’t do too much damage.” Dakotah replied sharply.

Ely looked at her feet, without saying a word.

“It’s not like I trust her at this point, and I made sure she knows that.” Dakotah said, plainly. “She says she’s changing her ways, and all she wants is someone who’s not in it just for themselves. Honestly, I don’t think Rebecca knows what she wants. We don’t have anything in common, other than church.”

Dakotah thought for a brief  moment. “I guess the same could be said for Vanessa, too.” he said, with a hint of sadness.

“What do you mean?” Ely said, confused. “You two are great together!”

“We do make a great team.” Dakotah agreed, tying up the bags of trash. “But I don’t think she’d ever go to a comic-con.”

“I’d think she’d go anywhere with you!” Ely said, encouragingly.

“Yes, out of politeness, because she likes me, but I’m sure she wouldn’t like it. In some ways, she’s more conservative than I am.”

“You’re not as conservative as you think.” Ely said, putting away the pot and pans. “You’ve loosened up quite a bit since I first met you.”

Dakotah thought back to that day in the hallway, on his birthday. It felt like years ago. “Yeah, I guess so. Do you think you’ve changed since then?”

“Nah. I’m the same old me.” Ely laughed.

Dakotah smiled. “If only you could see yourself back then.” he thought to himself. “You’ve changed your hair, you wear contacts, your clothes are far more stylish than they were when I was in school. Yeah, you’ve changed, alright.”

“What are you thinking about?” Ely asked warily, noticing that Dakotah was staring at her.

“Just noting how pretty you’ve become.” Dakotah said, sincerely.

“You’re seriously messed up.” Ely replied, shaking her head. “You can’t possibly compare me to a girl who could win Miss Michigan if she entered.”

“No way she could win.” Dakotah said with a straight face. “She couldn’t sing if her life depended on it!”

Ely laughed as she started to sweep the floor. “She is tone deaf, isn’t she?”

“Rebecca can really sing, though.” Dakotah said, knowing he was about to draw Ely’s ire.

Ely hit Dakotah in the head with the broom, making him yelp, though it didn’t really hurt.

“I knew that was coming.” Dakotah said, brushing some fuzz off his head

“Maybe you should go after Becky, since you seem to like pain.” Ely said, picking off some lint Dakotah missed.

The two finished cleaning the kitchen, shutting the lights off as they entered the meeting area.

“Major drama on Christmas Eve is starting to be a tradition with me, I’m afraid.” Dakotah sighed. Do you remember me telling you what happened last year?”

“About supper at your mom’s last year?” Ely answered. “Yeah, I remember.”

“As messed up as things got here, I wouldn’t trade it for last year.” Dakotah said, wistfully.

“That’s because you have me in your life now!” Ely said, smiling.

“You better believe it.” Dakotah said, nodding. He stopped, and turned toward Ely.

Ely stopped, and looked back toward Dakotah. “What are you doing?” she said, confused.

“There’s one last bit of unfinished business here.” Dakotah said, smiling awkwardly. He took the sprig of mistletoe out of his pocket, and placed it over his head.

“You’re not serious!” Ely exclaimed, shaking her head. “You know I’m not going to do that!”

“I’m just seeing an opportunity, and deciding to take advantage of it!” Dakotah said, his face becoming red.

“You’re asking me to kiss those lips after Rebecca touched them?” Ely said, indignant. “I’d probably catch herpes!”

“Okay, okay, you can kiss me here instead.” Dakotah said, pointing at his cheek.

Ely sighed. “Fine, but this is as just friends. Don’t take this as if I’m in love with you, or anything.”

Dakotah nodded, grinning. He leaned over to receive her kiss, as she stretched upward to meet him. As she was about to apply the kiss, he shifted, cupping his fingers under her chin, and directed her lips onto his, lingering for a couple of seconds before letting go.

He expected her to slap him hard across the face instantly, and he felt that he deserved it, too. However, no slap came. Her eyes flashed anger for a second, then softened. She leaned upward, touching his cheek with her fingers, and kissed him again, staying there longer than the first one.

The shock of the second kiss went through Dakotah’s body, all the way to his toes. After they parted, he was unable to breathe for several seconds.

His eyes focused on Ely before him. She appeared to him to also be in a state of shock, her eyes full of emotion, unable to speak.

“Uhhh….yeah.” Was all Dakotah could muster.

Ely’s eyes began to focus, her mind accessing the situation. “This never happened. Got it, “just friend”?” she said, showing a slight frown.

“Ah, okay.” Dakotah said, not wanting that reaction from her.

“Things are the same as they always are.” Ely said firmly. “I have Hannah, and you have Vanessa.”

“Maybe.” Dakotah said, shrugging his shoulders. “She might not want me now, considering I’ve smooched two other girls.”

“She will not know of what happened here, nor will anyone else!” Ely shouted forcefully. ”Promise? If you tell her that we kissed, you can forget being friends with me!”

“I won’t tell her, I promise.” Dakotah said, unsure of whether she was bluffing. “I don’t want her to get hurt, either.”

“Good.” Ely said, satisfied with his response. “Let’s go home.”

“One question.” Dakotah asked, stopping her before she reached the door.


“Did you like it?”

“Like what?” Ely said, as she pushed the door against the force of the wind, drowning out any chances of further conversation.

Dakotah got in to the car, snow already drifting halfway up the hubcaps. Driving home, he looked up into the black sky.

“Lord, if I die before I get home, I’ll arrive in Heaven satisfied with my life!” he said aloud.


Christmas Day, 2008

As a repeat of last year, Dakotah rose to the smells of breakfast cooking. This time though, the sight of his grandfather gazing back at him from the dresser didn’t faze him. Next to his grandfather’s picture was a freshly made copy of Andre and him at graduation in a brand new oak frame he bought with the transportation fund. He briefly wondered if his grandfather and Andre were talking about him in Heaven, but he quickly dismissed it, and looked out the window.

The sky remained grey, with an occasional flurry, which was fine with Dakotah. As he made his bed and got dressed, he pondered the events of the previous night.

“You may have sworn me to secrecy, but I’ll never forget that kiss!”  he thought to himself. Thinking about Vanessa tempered his elation, as he wondered how he could repair their friendship. Rebecca briefly came to mind as well, but he quickly shuttled those thoughts away.

Today’s itinerary was a busy one; breakfast with Grandma, home to drop his mother’s card off, on to Mama’s to give her Christmas card, then to Rev. Daniels for lunch, and to exchange gifts. Picking up the violet, he then would surprise his grandmother that afternoon.

He wanted to call Vanessa up, and wish her Merry Christmas, but didn’t know when the best time was. “Maybe after breakfast.” he thought.

He entered the dining room, where Elizabeth was finishing placing the silverware. “Merry Christmas, Grandma!” he announced cheerily.

“Well, you’re up and at it early!” Elizabeth beamed. “Merry Christmas! Breakfast will be ready as soon as the biscuits are done!”

“Need any help?” Dakotah asked.

“Sure! Get the food off the stove, and put it on the table.” Elizabeth said, cheerily.

“It looks good, and smell even better!” Dakotah exclaimed.

“Did you expect anything any different from your grandmother?” she asked, laughing.

Dakotah laughed. It had been a mostly care-free eight weeks living at his grandmother’s. Although he missed his mother, having no Frank to berate him daily had been a blessing. Elizabeth’s insistence to do the vast majority of the housework left him with plenty of free time, a lot of which he spent studying Japanese. He had found early on he had a knack for the language; now, he could read most of it, and he was beginning to understand conversations, though he didn’t understand most slang and regional accents. As a result, he was far ahead of Ely in fluency, which was perfectly fine with him.

Soon, the table was set, and Elizabeth placed the plate of biscuits on the table.

“Grandma, it seems a shame that all this food is on the table, and only the two of us to enjoy it!” Dakotah said, thoughtfully.

“Most of it will heat up well, so it won’t go to waste.” Elizabeth replied. “Dak, will you say the blessing?”

“Sure!” Dakotah said, cheerily. He had come a long way in the past year in speaking in front of others, particularly such things as blessings. “Dear Lord,-“

Dakotah was interrupted by the doorbell ringing. He and Elizabeth were both puzzled by the timing.

“I’ll go see who that is.” Dakotah said, rising out of his chair.

“The Christmas Guest, perhaps?” Elizabeth said, curious.

Dakotah opened the door to see Vanessa standing before him. It was evident even to Dakotah that she had mostly a sleepless night; even the meticulous application of makeup could not cover the bags under her tired eyes.

“Vanessa! Come in! You’re just in time for breakfast!” Dakotah said animatedly, motioning her toward the dining room.

“No thank you, I can’t stay long.” Vanessa said flatly.

“Merry Christmas, Vanessa!” Elizabeth said, happily. “Won’t you join us for breakfast? Christmas Guest indeed, eh, Dak?”

“I’m sorry, Elizabeth, but I can’t stay. I just stopped by to talk to Dakotah for a moment.” Vanessa said, sadly.

“But dear, you’re as pale as a ghost!” Elizabeth protested. ”Won’t you at least have a biscuit and jelly, maybe some hot chocolate?”

“She won’t give up unless you eat something.” Dakotah said, smiling. “She’s like that to everyone!”

Vanessa sighed, then smiled slightly. “It does smell good. I might have a little something, after all.”

“Good!” Elizabeth said, joyously.” Dakotah, get her a plate!”

Breakfast ensued with small talk about Vanessa’s job and school, and the Wednesday night Bible study class they led. Vanessa ate quickly, finishing first even though she did most of the talking. She patiently waited on Dakotah and Elizabeth to finish.

“You two go on, I’ll clean this up.” Elizabeth ordered, as Vanessa and Dakotah began to help.

“Can we talk, someplace private?” Vanessa asked. “I think my car won’t take long to warm up.”

“We can go in my room. Grandma won’t care.” Dakotah replied, pointing to his room.

Vanessa nodded, and followed him into his bedroom, sitting at his desk while Dakotah sat on the bed.

“Rough night?” Dakotah asked, sympathetically.

“I think I dozed off for a couple of hours.” Vanessa said, shaking her head. ”Look. I have some things to say. Forgive me if I’m not coherent, but I’m exhausted. Eating breakfast is making me sleepy.”

“Want to switch places?” Dakotah offered, smiling. “Bed’s pretty cozy.”

“It looks wonderful, but I have to leave soon. I’m needed to help cook.”

“Okay, shoot.” Dakotah replied. “What’s on your mind?”

“First, I want to apologize for last night.” Vanessa said, looking into Dakotah’s eyes. “I was being rather childish and spiteful towards you.”

“You don’t have to apologize.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “You were hurting.”

“It was no excuse, Dak. You were the only one to come looking for me, to see if I was okay. And for your concern, I bit your head off, and insulted you.”

Dakotah reached forward, and took her hands into his. “I forgive you, Van.” he said, looking deep into her bloodshot eyes. ”Last night is in the past. Our friendship is more important than whatever craziness happened last night.”

“Ely called me last night, and we talked it out. We’re okay now.” Vanessa said, beginning to smile a little. “I think her heart is in the right place, even though she’s messed up in the head a little, sometimes!”

“You ain’t lying, there!” Dakotah laughed.

“Becky even called this morning, to check on me. She didn’t offer an apology, though.” Vanessa said, shaking her head.

“I believe that. I believe she’s a lot more off in the head than Ely, if you ask me!”

“She’s just young.” Vanessa said, thoughtfully. “Doesn’t help that her parents have given her everything she ever wanted, too.”

“That makes sense.” Dakotah said, thinking. “Me rejecting her advances probably came as a shock.”

“Maybe. Or it may make her more determined. We’ll see.”

A thought flashed in Dakotah’s mind. “Oh! I just thought of something! Hang on!”

Dakotah reached into the closet, got out his coat, took Vanessa’s present out of the pocket, and handed it to her.

“Merry Christmas.” he said, warmly. “Forgive me that the wrapping is all messed up. Grandma would have my hide if she knew how it looks.”

Vanessa smiled. “That’s fine. It always gets torn, anyway.”

She opened the box, and gasped. “Oh, Dakotah, it’s beautiful! You shouldn’t have!”

“You’re worth it.” Dakotah said, grinning.

Vanessa put the pendant on and looked in the mirror, admiring how it looked on her. Wheeling around, she put her arms around him and hugged him tightly.

“Thank you.” She whispered into his ear. “I love you.”

“Love you too.” Dakotah whispered back. “Glad you like it.”

Vanessa released from her hug, but didn’t let go, gazing into his eyes from only a few inches away, her own eyes full of emotion. As the seconds passed, Dakotah thought she was going to kiss him. He was unsure of whether or not to kiss her first, but doing so would start something he wasn’t ready for, he thought.

Vanessa smiled, and backed away. “I almost got carried away there.” she said, sadly.

“Can’t say I wouldn’t have liked it.” Dakotah said kindly.

“I wanted nothing more than to give you one better than Becky did.” Vanessa said, looking down. “It’s not time yet, though.”

“I agree.” Dakotah nodded. “Who knows? Maybe someday, eh?”

“You won’t know what hit you when that day comes, I promise!” Vanessa said, smiling.

“I bet I would, too!” Dakotah said, laughing.

Vanessa smiled. “I’d better go. They’re probably wondering what happened to me.”

“Tell everyone I said hi!” Dakotah said, as they left the room. The two of them went to the kitchen, where Elizabeth was washing dishes.

“Thank you for breakfast!” Vanessa said, smiling broadly. “It was really good!”

“Thank you.” Elizabeth said, nodding her head. “I’m always happy to get good company.”

Vanessa put on her coat, reached in her pocket, pulled out a card, and handed it to Dakotah. “It’s not as nice as what you gave me, but Merry Christmas.”

“Thank you! I’m sure I’ll like it.” Dakotah said, curious as to the contents.

“Don’t open it until I leave, okay?” Vanessa asked.

“Got it. Call you later?”

“You better.” Vanessa said, smiling. “Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas!” Dakotah and Elizabeth said in unison as Vanessa left.

“I think I like her as much as Ely.” Elizabeth said. “Maybe even more so. She has a levelheadedness about her that I really like.”

“Yeah, she’s rock solid.” Dakotah agreed, nodding.

“I was talking about her personality!” Elizabeth teased, jabbing him in the ribs.

“Grandma!” Dakotah protested, embarrassed. “That’s what I was talking about, too!”

“Not to put you on the spot, but I doubt if you’ll find better than her.” Elizabeth said, becoming serious.

“I know.” Dakotah said, nodding his head. “Everyone says that, even Ely.”

“You don’t feel that way?”

“I do in my head.” Dakotah replied, stoically. “But not in my heart. Not yet.”

“Well, you’d better make up your mind.” Elizabeth said, “She’s not going to be around forever.”

“I know.” Dakotah said, thoughtfully. “I guess I need to go get ready to make my rounds. Are you sure you don’t need any help?”

“I’m fine, Dak. Make sure you don’t pick out anything wrinkled to wear!”

“I can dress myself just fine, Grandma!” Dakotah laughed, shaking his head, as he left the dining room.

Entering his room, he opened the card that Vanessa gave him. Inside was a twenty dollar gift certificate to the local Christian bookstore, and a letter folded inside. Dakotah unfolded the letter.

“Every day that I’m with you, I feel that we grow closer. I think if I knew you were to set aside your feelings for Ely for good, I would fall in love with you. If I could know someday that we would be together for the rest of our lives, I would be the happiest girl in the world.”

               Merry Christmas

               I love you


Dakotah folded the letter, put it back into the card envelope, and sighed, shaking his head.


Dakotah took a deep breath as he pulled out onto the street; it was only a couple of minutes by car to his mother’s house, but already it seemed like hours. He had not been by there since he was kicked out almost two months ago. Sometimes he had an urge to go there, but always panicked, and stayed away.

Dakotah had picked out a simple card for his mother, not much more than “Merry Christmas” and I love you, Mom.” Inside the card, he repeated the text with his own handwriting. He wasn’t up to confronting his mother about that night, especially via a Christmas card.

As he turned onto Maple Street, the lump in his throat began to enlarge, and the knot in his stomach began to tighten. Everything that was so familiar to him over the years seemed odd to him now, as if he were as stranger.

Finally, he saw his mother’s house, with the car parked under the carport. Dakotah decided in advance not to park in front of the house; instead he parked across the street, a couple of houses down. As it was only 9 AM, he hoped that they would still be asleep, and he could deposit his card without alerting them to his presence.

Quickly, Dakotah crossed the street, and started walking up the sidewalk to his house. Heart pounding, and unable to breathe, he noticed the front porch was still snow and ice covered from earlier snows. Unperturbed, he stepped catlike upon the porch, and pushed the envelope through the mail slot, spinning in his tracks and exiting off the porch in only a couple of seconds.

The task accomplished, Dakotah quickly strode down the sidewalk and across the street to the car, glancing over his shoulder to see if anyone was opening the door. Not seeing anyone, he entered the car, being careful not to slam the door. He started the engine and pulled out onto the street carefully, taking care not to spin his tires.

Dakotah breathed in deeply, and exhaled. “I’m glad that’s over with!” he said to himself aloud.


Next stop for Dakotah was Mama’s; she lived to the north about fifteen miles from Dakotah’s old house, and about ten miles east of New Hope and the Daniels’ residence. Dakotah made quick work of traveling there, as the roads were clear.

Dakotah had only been at Mama’s once, as a passenger with Vanessa, to ask for advice on teaching the Bible study class. He was initially unnerved by the myriad photos of Andre, but Mama’s explanation helped him understand. “Child, these are memories of good times, not a reminder of the one bad time!” she said. Still. he didn’t have the courage to see Andre’s room; Mama had left it as it was on the day he died.

As he approached Mama’s, Dakotah noticed cars parked all along both sides of the street. Children were having snowball fights, and teenage boys were playing football in the 20 degree weather. Dakotah wondered if this was a good time to pay his respects to Mama on Christmas, due to the hive of activity there. He quickly decided to forge ahead, since he already got her the Christmas card, and he really wanted to see her today.

Dakotah parked the car in front of a vacant lot a half block from her house, and proceeded to walk there. He wondered if his mother had found her card yet. As he approached the house, he saw a football whizzing through the air, on a collision course with his head. Instinctively, Dakotah raised his hands and managed to catch the ball, though the cold weather and the velocity of the ball stung his hands enough that he let out a yelp.

“Good catch, man!” said one of the teens.

Dakotah tossed the ball back to the teenager. “Is Mama here?” he asked.

“Is your mama here?” asked the boy, cracking a smile. “I don’t think you’re gonna find your mama here!”

“No, not my mama!” Dakotah said, laughing a little. “Ramona Phillips! I always just call her Mama.”

The young man squinted at Dakotah. “Uh huh. If you say so. Yeah, she’s here. She run us out of the house!”

“Okay, thanks!” Dakotah said, and headed up the walkway to the house.

“You better watch out, man!” the teen yelled, giving Dakotah a funny look. “When she gets to cooking for a lot of people, she gets crazy!”

“I’ll keep that in mind!” Dakotah yelled back, giving a thumbs-up.

There was no point in knocking at the door, as people of all ages and sizes kept a steady stream in and out. Most of them ignored him, though some gave him a friendly wave.

“Weren’t you at Andre’s funeral?” more than one of them asked. When Dakotah answered in the affirmative, they always either shook his hand, or said Merry Christmas.

The living room was loud, hot, and full of people. A large Christmas tree hugged against a wall, covered heavily with lights, ornaments and tinsel. Underneath was a small mountain of presents. He scanned back and forth looking for Mama, but didn’t see her. As he made it closer to the kitchen, he could somehow hear her over the din. It was apparent she was shouting.

“Don’t let that turkey overcook!”

“Vonesha! Stir those beans!”

“Anyone seen the marshmallows? Gotta get the sweet taters in the oven in five minutes!”

“NO, NO, NO! The rolls ain’t done risin’ yet!”

Dakotah gingerly opened the door; a blast of heat even hotter than in the living room made Dakotah sweat instantly.

Mama, detecting the door opening, began to wheel around. “I told you kids dinner ain’t ready yet! I’ll-“ At that moment, she saw Dakotah standing before her, mouth agape. Her countenance immediately softened.

“Baby, what on Earth are you doing here?” Mama said, slightly confused. All the girls in the kitchen stopped what they were doing, and turned their attention to Dakotah.

“Oh, I’m sorry! I didn’t mean to interrupt!” Dakotah said, apologetically. “I just wanted to give you this card, and wish you Merry Christmas!” He took the card out of his coat pocket.

Mama quickly wiped her hands on her apron, and took the card. “You all get back to work!” she barked. “We only got an hour before it’s time to eat!”

“I won’t keep you.” Dakotah said, feeling out of place. “I know you’re busy.”

Mama read the card, and the note Dakotah placed inside. She smiled warmly, and placed the card on top of the refrigerator. She hugged Dakotah tightly, holding on for more than a few seconds. Dakotah noted she smelled of sage.

“Bless your heart.” Mama said, tearily. “I’d adopt you, if I could! You gonna stay for dinner?”

No, I have to go, I’m afraid.” Dakotah said, shaking his head. “I’m having lunch with Rev. Daniels and Ely.”

“Really?” Mama said, surprised. “I figured you’d be visiting Vanessa and her people today!”

“There’s going to be a lot of people over there, most of them I don’t know, and I’d feel out of place.” Dakotah said, uncomfortably. “Besides, she already had breakfast with us at Grandma’s”

“More than here?” Mama asked. “You act like you’re right at home here!”

“Yeah, but there isn’t anyone here sizing me up, wondering if I’m good enough for Vanessa.” Dakotah said, pointedly.

“Well, I think you’re plenty good enough for her.” Mama said, smiling. “Don’t you let anyone tell you no different, you hear?”

Before Dakotah could answer, Mama swiveled, and stared at a teenage girl. “What are you doing, Monesha?” She thundered. ”You have to butter the rolls before you bake them! You ain’t gonna make no good woman for no man if you can’t learn how to cook! Especially a fine young man like this one!”

“Sorry, Auntie Ramona.” The girl said apologetically. Finding the butter, she began to slather the rolls.

Dakotah bowed his head down, embarrassed. “I guess I’d better go.  Merry Christmas, Mama. Hope everything comes out right!”

“Merry Christmas, Dakotah. Don’t you worry about Mama. I have it under control! You be careful out there, you hear?”

“I will! See you Sunday!” Dakotah sliced through the crowd in the living room, and exited, the cold slapping him rudely across the face.


Dakotah made his way west, under stubbornly overcast skies, toward the Daniels’. He wondered to himself what Ely’s mood would be like when he arrived; would she be distant, or close? He hoped it would be the latter, but he knew better than to expect it.

He pulled up in front of the house, and after inserting Rev. Daniels’ card and Ely’s plushie into his coat pockets, walked up the freshly swept walkway to the front door.

“Merry Christmas, Dakotah!” Rev. Daniels greeted before Dakotah could reach the door.

“Merry Christmas, Alan!” Dakotah answered cheerily.

“Boy, Dakotah, you smell good!” Rev. Daniels commented as Dakotah passed. “What kind of cologne is that, anyway?”

Not know of what Rev. Daniels was talking about, Dakotah sniffed his forearm. “Oh, I must’ve picked that up at Mama’s.”

“Mama’s the best cook in town, in my opinion.” Rev. Daniels said.

“Today, she wasn’t doing any cooking, just ordering the girls around.” Dakotah said.

“She’s just training the next generation of fine cooks, just like she was trained.” Rev Daniels said.

Dakotah nodded in affirmation of Rev. Daniels’ words.

“I heard you were in a kissing contest last night.” Rev. Daniels said, suddenly.

The statement caught Dakotah off guard. “Uhhh, sorta, I guess.” he said, becoming embarrassed.

“Now, I’m all for a good time, but that was a little much, don’t you think?” Rev. Daniels said, his countenance turning serious. “Feelings were hurt, and I don’t like that.”

“I didn’t, either.” Dakotah said, becoming defensive.

“Ely, would you come in here, please?” Rev. Daniels said, raising his voice. Dakotah felt uneasy.

Ely walked in, looking down. “I’m sorry about last night.” she said, subdued. Dakotah had never seen her like that before.

“I had already forgiven you.” Dakotah said, feeling strangely, since they had already “made up” last night. “Alan must not know what happened between us last night.” he thought. “Alan, everyone has hashed things out already. Do you not know this?”

“I know Ely talked to Vanessa last night, but I’m not convinced that she resolved anything.” Rev. Daniels said, pensively. “She may be older than either of you, but she’s been pretty sheltered emotionally.”

“Vanessa stopped by this morning, and we had a little talk.” Dakotah said, beginning to smile. “We convinced her to stay for breakfast, and I was even able to give her the pendant! She’s pretty happy, if you ask me!”

“That’s good.” Ely said, still subdued.

“Well, I’m glad that’s settled!” Rev. Daniels said, becoming relieved. “The last thing I want is bad feelings in my church.”

Dakotah walked over to his coat, and removed the card and the wrapped plushie. “Here you go.” he said, as he handed them out. “Merry Christmas!”

“I had no idea what to get you, Alan.” Dakotah said, smiling sheepishly as the preacher opened the card Dakotah had given him.

Rev. Daniels read the words Dakotah had written inside. “You know, it’s time like these that make all the trials and tribulations of being a minister worthwhile.” he said, smiling warmly.

“Did you go to Ann Arbor to get this?” Ely said, flatly, showing little emotion.

“Yes, I did.” Dakotah said uneasily, noting her odd behavior. “Do you like it?”

“Yeah. It’s great.” Ely continued in her monotone voice. “Thank you.”

“Merry Christmas.” Rev. Daniels said, as he handed a package to Dakotah. “Ely picked it out, and I paid for it, so it’s from both of us!” he said, laughing.

“It’s some sort of Gundham series.” Ely said. “Got it on sale.”

“Cool!” Dakotah said, pleased that he received a nice gift, but concerned that Ely was still acting strangely. “Thank you very much!”

“Glad you like it!” Rev. Daniels said happily. “Food about done, Sweetie?”

“Cheese is starting to brown.” Ely said.

“What are we having?” Dakotah asked, curious.

“Potato boats!” Rev. Daniels said, smiling. “Ely and I have them every year. Her mother used to make them all the time, so we remember her on Christmas by making them ourselves.”

“That’s neat.” Dakotah said. “They smell good!”


Lunch was served, eaten, and cleaned up in thirty minutes; Rev. Daniels and Dakotah did most of the talking, while Ely spoke only in short sentences, never once trying to continue the conversation. This unnerved Dakotah to no end, as Ely usually instigated most of the conversation.

“I guess I’ll be heading home.” Dakotah said, looking at the clock.

“You don’t have to leave yet, Dakotah.” Rev. Daniels said. “I’m not leaving to my folks for another hour yet.”

I’m going to Hannah’s now.” Ely said, simply.

“You are going to be back in time for dinner, aren’t you?” her father asked.

“Yes, that’s why I’m leaving now.”

“Walk you to your car?” Dakotah asked, gingerly.

Yes, if you insist.” grumbled Ely.

“Be careful going home, Dakotah. Merry Christmas! ” Rev. Daniels said.

“Don’t want to forget this!” Dakotah said, picking up the violet. “Merry Christmas!”

Ely and Dakotah put their overcoats on, with Dakotah tucking the violet under his coat. Instead of walking to Ely’s car, she turned, and walked to his grandmother’s.

“Okay, what’s up?” Dakotah said, warily. “You’ve been acting weird all day!”

“I hate you, Dakotah Lennon!” Ely barked.

Dakotah was unable to speak, not believing what she had said.

“There was always this barrier I put between us to make sure you didn’t get too close, and you shattered it!” Ely said, angrily.

“I’m sorry!” Dakotah said, not knowing what else he could say. “I didn’t realize that it was such a bad thing!”

Ely stared hard at him, deep into his eyes. “I do not want you to come here anymore. Do you understand?”

“W-what?” Dakotah stammered, trying to grasp what she was saying. “What are you talking about?”

“You crossed the line.” Ely said, coldly. “I don’t want you here anymore.”

“Hey, you kissed me back!” Dakotah said, protesting. “Doesn’t that mean anything?”

“All the more reason for you to stay away. If we can’t be just friends, then we can’t be friends at all.”

“What about your studies?” Dakotah cried, beginning to panic. “Who’s going to help you?”

“I’ll be fine.” Ely said, emotionlessly. “I appreciate all you’ve done, but I can go at it alone now.”

“What about church?” Dakotah said, his heart pounding. “Do you want me to stay away from church, too?”

“No. The church needs you, Dakotah.” Ely said. “We just won’t sit next to each other anymore. Sit by Vanessa, or even Rebecca, I don’t care!”

Dakotah was speechless. He felt his insides begin to melt. He looked up at the cold steel sky, and began to trudge the final steps to the car. He wheeled around toward Ely.

“I will always, always, always love you!” he shouted defiantly. Ely remained poker-faced, not even offering the slightest twitch. Dakotah entered the car, and buckled up, Starting the car, he looked one last time at Ely, who had already turned and was walking toward the house. Numbly, and trying with everything in his power to concentrate, he carefully pulled out into the street.

Passing her father silently, Ely entered her room, picked up the plushie Dakotah gave her, and fell into her bed, sobbing.

A couple of moments passed; suddenly, a light rap on the door broke the silence.

“What’s wrong, Sweetie?” came her father’s voice from the other side of the door.

“Nothing.” Ely answered, her voice cracking.

“May I come in?” Rev. Daniels said, patiently.

Ely went to the door, and opened it, turning her face away from her father.

“All right. Nothing, eh?” Rev. Daniels said, his suspicions confirmed. “You’re just in here, bawling your eyes out. Move along now, nothing to see here, is that right?”

Ely remained silent, staring at the floor.

“Let’s try this again.” Rev. Daniels said, his voice adding a little urgency. “What happened?”

“Ely took a deep breath, and exhaled. “I told him never to come here again.”

Her words took him aback. “Come again?”

“I told him he’s too close, so he needs to stay away.” Ely said, sniffling.

“I see.” Rev. Daniels said, ever so slightly raising an eyebrow. “So, what really happened last night?”

“Nothing!” Ely said, becoming defensive.

“Right.” he said, starting to become irritated. “After all these years, you’re going to start lying to me now?”

Ely’s face turned pale. “I’m sorry.” she said, weakly.


“Dad, I don’t know why you’re butting into my personal life!” she wailed.

“Because I consider Dakotah to be a good friend, and a valuable contributor to the church.” he said, pointedly. “If he did something dishonorable to the point where you had to ban him from here, I need to know about it!”

“H-he didn’t do anything bad, Dad, I promise!” she said, evasively.

“For goodness sake, Elizabeth, what did he do, then?” he said, exasperated.

“He kissed me, Dad!” Ely’s face instantly became red.

“Aaahhhhhh….” Rev. Daniels nodded.

“Then I kissed him back.” she said, quietly.

Rev. Daniels let the words sink in, and then, he began to smile. “You know, maybe I need to keep a closer eye on him. Three girls in one night! He’s becoming quite the playboy, don’t you think?” he said, beginning to laugh.

“It’s not funny, Dad!” Ely shouted, becoming flustered.

“Lord help you, you’re such a mess!” he said, moving aside a stray lock of hair from her face. He placed both hands on her shoulders. “Look, sweetie, I know this has put you in a pickle, but kicking Dakotah out of your life is not the answer.”

“I feel like I cheated on Hannah!” Ely cried.

“That’s an interesting concept, but since you are not married nor engaged to her, I wouldn’t call that cheating. You two are dating, which is the process of finding out if a couple wants to spend the rest of their lives together.”

Ely didn’t say anything, pondering what her father had told her.

“Let me ask you this, if I may.” Rev. Daniels continued. “What did you feel when Dakotah kissed you?”

Ely paused for a moment, her face began to flush. “I liked it. I liked it a lot. It scared me!”

“The possibility of a relationship with him messes up your plans, doesn’t it?”

“Yeah.” she nodded. “Everything I’ve worked for in the past couple of months is messed up because I was so stupid!”

“I don’t think you were so stupid as much as you were for once being honest with your feelings.” he said, grasping her hands. “I wonder how Dakotah felt when you kissed him?”

“He was probably in Heaven.” Ely said, shaking her head.

“Probably so.” Rev. Daniels nodded. “You gave him Jacob’s Ladder, and you promptly kicked it out from under his feet. That’s a long way down, isn’t it?”

“Yeah.” she said, looking down. “He probably feels horrible right now.”

“Sweetie, I’m not saying Dakotah is the answer.” he said, lifting her chin up. “In fact, last night should clarify how you feel about Hannah, right?”

“Yeah.” she said, numbly.

“Ely, this is a process that will take some time. I’ve never told you this, but it took your mother a year before she finally chose me.”

“No way!” Ely said, shocked.

“Way.” Rev. Daniels said, chuckling. “I was against a football player from Michigan. Last I heard he’s not doing too bad. Owns a car dealership in the U.P.. Point is, she followed her heart, and chose a poor, scrawny, theology student with a bad sense of humor.”

“Poor and scrawny, huh?” Ely said, beginning to crack the slightest smile. “Are you saying Dakotah is now like you was then?”

“No. I had parents that loved me and supported me.” he said, his countenance turning serious. “Your mother was the first real challenge I ever had. Dak’s life hasn’t been as easy, as you know. However, there’s something special about him that I can see through his shaggy hair. This is why I don’t want you to push him away, at least not right now. He always says you need him, but I think he needs you just as much, if only as a friend. Besides, you really don’t want him to go away, do you?”

“No.” Ely said, beginning to tear up.

“Then go after him!” Rev. Daniels said forcefully. “Tell him you’re wrong, and beg him for forgiveness. I’m sure he will!”

“I’m supposed to meet Hannah at 2!” Ely said, beginning to panic. ”I’m going to be late if I go after Dak!”

“Go. Call her up, and tell her family showed up. Dakotah’s like a son to me, sometimes.”

“Dad’s that’s creepy.” Ely said, giving her father an odd look.

“Yeah, I guess I can’t have my son and daughter kissing.” He deadpanned. “Future son-in-law, maybe?”



It was all Dakotah could do to concentrate on driving; Ely’s statement had shaken him to the core. “Is something wrong with me?” he thought to himself. ”First mom, now Ely? Who’s next? Vanessa? Grandma?” Nothing seemed real to him anymore.

He didn’t feel like going home, but there was nowhere else for him to go, either. In his mind, he wasn’t in the proper mental state to go to Mama’s, or Vanessa’s. Besides, as cold as it was, his grandmother’s violet wouldn’t last long in the car, anyway.

He wondered again if his mother received his card, or if Frank found it first, and tore it up. At the moment, he didn’t care one way or the other. It was just another reminder of another heartbreak to him.

As his grandmother’s house came into view, he noticed some at once both familiar, and odd. It was his mother’s car! “Why is she here?” he thought, panic gasping him quickly. “Is it because of the card?”  He wasn’t sure if he was ready to deal with her yet.

Dakotah parked the car in the carport, and after retrieving the violet, entered the house through the kitchen entrance. There, sitting at the table, was both his mother and grandmother, having coffee.

“Hello, honey.” his mother said, forcing a small smile. “Merry Christmas.”

“Merry Christmas.” Dakotah replied, stone-faced.  He sat the violet on the table in front of Elizabeth. “I’m sorry, Grandma. You said you didn’t want anything, but here. Hope you like it.”

“Well, isn’t that nice!” Elizabeth chirped happily. “It’s beautiful, Dak! Thank you!”

“I’m glad you like it.” Dakotah replied, his countenance softening ever so slightly.

“I’ll have to go find a proper pot for it.“ Elizabeth said, looking under the sink in vain. “Perhaps there is one in the attic. If you’ll excuse me.” With that, she puttered out of the room, leaving Dakotah and his mother alone in the kitchen.

The feeling of tension and awkwardness was palpable. “So, honey, how are you doing?” His mother asked, not knowing what else to say.

“Fine.” Dakotah replied, even though he wasn’t. Earlier in the day, he would’ve at least welcomed her, but that was then. Now, he just wanted her to leave.

“That’s good.” Sylvia said, looking into the face of a son she didn’t recognize.

Dakotah wanted nothing more than to go someplace alone, and cry. However, his mother was there, and it seemed like there was something else she wanted to say. He just wished she’d hurry up.

“Thanks for the card. It meant a lot to me.”

“You’re welcome.” Dakotah said simply.

His mother took a deep breath, and exhaled. “Son, you have every right to hate me, but I’m here to ask for your forgiveness for everything I’ve done, and everything I needed to do, and didn’t.”

“I forgave you long ago, mom.” Dakotah said, matter-of-factly. “I love you, remember?”

“Oh, son!” Sylvia exclaimed, tearfully. She walked over to him and embraced him. At first, he resisted, but his emotions got the better of him, and he hugged her back, tightly, and began to cry, not just because of his mother, but for the absurdity of his whole life.

“I’m sorry, son.” she said, releasing him. “I wish I could make it up to you, somehow.”

“You can’t. Not as long as Frank is in the house.”

“I’m afraid I’m stuck with him. We spent too much money in the past, and now we’re up to our eyeballs in debt. I have to have his disability check to pay the mortgage.”

“I’m afraid I’ll never step foot in that house again as long as he lives there.” Dakotah said, pointedly.

“Would you mind if I come over and visit sometimes?” his mother asked.

“I don’t mind at all, as long as Grandma says it’s okay.”

“She already has.” Sylvia said, smiling a little.

“You can call too, I don’t mind.” Dakotah said, softly.

“Well, I’d better go. I have to check on the ham for dinner.” Sylvia said, headed toward the door.

“Having dinner this year?” Dakotah said, curious. They had always had their Christmas meal at lunchtime before.

“Frank’s boys are coming over, and spending the night. Wish me luck.” she said, grumbling.

“I’ll pray for you.” Dakotah replied, suddenly feeling sorry for her.

Sylvia scurried out of the house, into her car, and by making a U-turn, began to make her way home. From the porch, sighing, Dakotah watched her disappear up the street. As he was about to turn to go inside, he heard a familiar honking, only far more furious than usual. Ely pulled up, and parked where his mother had been, only a few seconds prior. Dakotah’s heart began to race, and he felt a lump quickly grow in his throat.

Ely popped out of her car, hustled up the walk and the steps, stopped before Dakotah, and bowed deeply.

“Gomenasai.” she said, raising up to gaze deeply into his eyes.

“W-what are you doing here?” Dakotah said, dumbfounded.

“I came here to tell you that I was wrong, to say I’m sorry, and to ask you to be my friend again.” Ely said, sincerely.

“Is there any reason I should trust you at this point?” Dakotah cried, becoming exasperated. “You’re no more rational than my mom!”

“I know, I know, I messed up.” Ely acquiesced. “Between you and me and Hannah and Vanessa and Becky, I’m so confused! I don’t know where you and I fit in all this.”

“I will always be your friend until the day I die.” Dakotah said, taking her hands into his. “But you hurt me.”

“I know. I’m sorry. My head was telling me it was for the best, but my heart was telling me it wasn’t. They say our hearts can lie to us, but our minds are pretty stupid too, sometimes. Dad opened my eyes, and made me realize I need you as much as you need me.”

Dakotah’s eyes widened. “Your dad? How much does he know?”

“He knows everything now, including the kisses!” Ely laughed. Dakotah groaned in embarrassment.

“He said he had his own trials when he was dating Mom.” Ely continued. “He’s definitely shipping us, in case you haven’t figured it out yet.”

“I’m glad he doesn’t hate me for kissing you.” Dakotah said, relieved. “I’m glad he likes me. I think he’d be a cool Father-in-Law!” He laughed for a split second, then caught himself, as those words were but a fantasy to him, and not to be shared. His face reddened a bit.

Ely raised her hand. “Easy. Don’t get carried away. You’re not even my boyfriend.”

“I know.” Dakotah said, shaking his head.

“Look, I don’t know where this is going between any of us. All I know is that I need our friendship. Will you forgive me for earlier?”

“Done.” Dakotah said, smiling.

“I can’t promise I’ll never hurt you, but I’ll never turn my back on you, okay?”

“”And I’ll do the same.” Dakotah replied, almost at a whisper.

They embraced, holding each other tightly, Ely shivering as she realized how cold she had become.

“You two get in here out of the cold!” Elizabeth shouted, opening the door a little. “You’re going to catch pneumonia!”

“That’s okay, Elizabeth, I have to go.” Ely said apologetically. “I wish I could stay, though!”

“I cooked plenty, if you change your mind.” Elizabeth said. “I always cook extra on Christmas in case someone unexpectedly shows up.”

“I’ll be having dinner at my grandparents, thanks.” Ely replied. “I have to go, though. Merry Christmas!”

“Merry Christmas, dear.” Elizabeth said in a grandmotherly tone. “Be careful out there. The roads become slick after dark!”

“I will. I’m an extra careful driver!” Ely said brightly, giving a wink and a thumbs-up.

Elizabeth laughed, and Dakotah smiled. “Call me when you get home, okay?” Dakotah asked.

“Sure thing! Bye!” Ely hurriedly made it to her car, and smoothly but quickly pulled out into the street. Dakotah watched her until she was out of sight, then came inside.

“I think you have some explaining to do, young man.” Elizabeth said, tersely.

Dakotah swallowed hard. “Okay.”


“So she came by to apologize for a misunderstanding?” Elizabeth said, skeptically.

“Yes.” Dakotah said simply. He didn’t want to go into details about the kisses, or Ely banning him from her life, and calling the whole thing a misunderstanding was, at the core, the truth.

“Dakotah, this whole thing with Ely and Vanessa is weird, but since they are seeking you out to apologize to, or whatever, I’ll not question the matter further.” Elizabeth said, shaking her head. “I do wish you would let Ely go her own way, and pursue Vanessa. She is mature, works hard, and has her act together. Ely is a nice girl, but she’s so flighty!”

“Ely’s more fun than Vanessa, and we have more in common.” Dakotah countered.

“A lifelong relationship is not solely built on fun.” Elizabeth said pointedly.

“Grandma, it’s not like I’m going to marry either one of them this week!” Dakotah protested.

“Just pointing out that in the long run, stability is preferable over a good time.”

“I understand.” Dakotah said, wanting to end the conversation. “How much longer until dinner?”

“Oh, about an hour, I guess. Why?”

“I was going to call my aunt, and wish her Merry Christmas.” Dakotah said cheerily, relieved that no more talk about the girls was forthcoming.

“That sounds nice! Tell Louise I said hello!”

“Will do!” Dakotah replied, retrieving the phone number from the organizer. He dialed the number, wondering if Dylan was going to answer again.

“Howdy!” bellowed a familiar voice after the second ring. “Merry Christmas!”

“Unk!” Dakotah exclaimed, pleasantly surprised. “You made it home for Christmas!”

“Yep!” Drove 1400 miles through six states in 24 hours to get home! I’m a mite wore out, but I’m here!”

Dakotah could hear Louise in the background, but he couldn’t understand what she was saying.

“Your aunt was wanting to know how your Christmas is going! I hear you been having to beat girls off with a stick!”

“Well, I don’t know about that.” Dakotah said, slightly embarrassed. “Tell her everyone liked what I got them! Mom even came by for a bit!”

“Oh, yeah?” Ralph said, interested. “You might want to tell this to Louise, yourself.” He gave the phone to a surprised Louise.

“Merry Christmas, Dak!” Louise said. “What did you tell Ralph a minute ago?”

“Mom came by, and we sort of made up.” Dakotah said, unsure of his aunt’s reaction to the news.

“You’re not moving back there, are you?” Louise said, suddenly concerned.

“Not unless Frank leaves, don’t worry.” Dakotah reassured. “I’m pretty happy where I’m at, right now.”

“Still plenty of job opportunities at the plastics plant.” Louise offered.

“There are still some possibilities out there.” Dakotah said politely. “Maybe in Ann Arbor.”

“Dak, that’s pretty far!” Louise said. “Don’t know if it would be worth your while to commute that far to work.”

“I can always take him to the oil fields! They start off at 60K a year!” Ralph said, loud enough for Dakotah to hear in the background.

“No you will not take him there!” Louise shouted back. “There’s somebody dying there almost every week!”

“I think if worst came to worst, I’d pick the plastics plant.” Dakotah said, trying to settle his aunt down.

“Well you have more sense than your uncle, which isn’t saying a lot,.” Louise replied, toning her voice down. “So, everyone like their stuff?”

“Yeah, everyone did. Your advice on the African Violet was great!”

“Good! Well, I have to get back to fixing supper! I’d give your uncle the phone, but he’s already passed out on the couch!”

Dakotah laughed. “Merry Christmas, Aunt Lou!”

“Merry Christmas, Dak! Tell your grandma I said hi! Call me sometime, okay?”

“Got it. Love you!”

“Love you too!” Dakotah hung up the phone.

“Still trying to sell you on moving down there?” Elizabeth asked.

“Yeah, she says there’s still plenty of jobs there.”

“I hate to say it, but you may have to, if things don’t get better.”

“Well, here’s hoping that things do get better.” Dakotah said. “The last thing I want to do is leave my family and friends.”


Dinner was delicious, and uneventful; baked ham, mashed potatoes, and no phone calls nor visitors highlighted the meal. After they cleaned up the dishes and pans, Dakotah called Vanessa’s home, where he received a playful scolding from her father for not showing up. Vanessa, completely exhausted, explained that her family made a big deal about the pendant Dakotah gave her, and they expected her to bring him over for a get-together sometime soon!

Soon after, Ely called to say she was home, but didn’t give much in the way of details, especially her afternoon with Hannah. Dakotah felt it wasn’t the time to press for details, so he dropped the subject. Ely announced she had a busy day tomorrow, so she bid goodnight.

Dakotah retired to his bedroom, and put a DVD Ely gave him for Christmas in the player. After ten minutes, he was fast asleep.

Chapter 10

Chapter 10

November 2nd, 2008

Dakotah heard a familiar car horn, and smiled. He was looking forward to a bit of normalcy after the high drama of the past month.

“Ely’s here, grandma!” Dakotah announced. “I’ll be back later! Tell Brother Higgins I said hi!”

“I will.” Elizabeth replied. “You need to come by our church once in a while. Brother Higgins has been asking about you.”

“Okay.” Dakotah said, in a noncommittal tone. New Hope felt far more like his church home than 3rd Baptist, even though he was baptized at 3rd.

Dakotah stepped outside; the weather had turned colder, with overcast conditions and a light breeze making it feel more so. “Can’t wait until it snows!”  he thought to himself.

“Ohayou!”  Dakotah greeted his friend, cheerfully.

“Good morning.” Ely said emotionlessly, repeating Dakotah’s greeting in English.

Dakotah frowned. “Something the matter?”

“No, not really.” Ely shrugged. “Why?”

“You don’t seem your cheerful self this morning.” Dakotah said, buckling his seatbelt.

“No, I’m okay.”

“Okay, if you say so.” Dakotah acquiesced, dropping the subject. “I think Grandma wants me to go to church with her, sometime.”

“I can turn around, and drop you off at your grandmother’s.” Ely said flatly.

The words stunned Dakotah. “No, thank you. New Hope is my church home now.” Dakotah wanted to ask what her problem was, but he thought better of it.

“Well, everybody will be glad to hear that.” Ely continued in her monotone voice.

“Aren’t you glad to hear that?” Dakotah cried, frustrated.

“Of course, silly.” Ely replied, her voice beginning to add color. “I’m sorry, I’m not myself today. Bear with me, okay?”

Dakotah exhaled. “Any particular reason why?”

Ely pulled into the church parking lot, and parked. She reached over, and brushed Dakotah’s cheek with her fingers.

“It’ll be okay.” she said, smiling sweetly, while carrying a sad look in her eyes.

Dakotah shook his head while exiting the car. “Women.” he muttered inaudibly.

They walked together to the church entrance, where Rev. Daniels and Mama were greeting parishioners and visitors.

“Oh, there’s my babies!” Mama shouted happily. “Come over here, and give Mama a hug!”

Beaming, Dakotah strode over to Mama, and they hugged tightly. “Good to see you, Mama. You doing okay today?”

“Doing fine, praise Jesus.” Mama said, smiling. “Brother Daniels told me about you getting kicked out! What’s wrong with those fools, anyway? You alright, sweetie?”

“Well, I can’t say I’m not hurting inside, but I’m good.” Dakotah replied. “I’m blessed that my grandmother took me in.”

“Well, honey, if you ever need a place to stay, you come over to my place, you hear?”

“Could I have Andre’s room?” Dakotah said, grinning.

“Absolutely.” Mama replied, tearing up. “He’d be smiling from Heaven if you did.”

Dakotah smiled. He noticed Ely had already gone inside. Noticing Rev. Daniels was alone at the moment, He approached him.

“Brother Alan, can I ask you something?” Dakotah said, still smiling.

“Sure, Brother Dakotah.” Rev. Daniels replied. “What’s on your mind?”

“I want to join your church. How do I do that?”

Rev. Daniels beamed. “That’s fantastic! You’ve made my day! Hey, Mama! Dakotah wants to join our church! Are you good with that?”

“Why, sure, Reverend!” Mama shouted happily. “That’s wonderful!”

“I guess you’re in.” Rev. Daniels said, shaking Dakotah’s hand. “Welcome to New Hope!”


Dakotah took his regular seat in the Sunday school classroom. He was surprised that Ely wasn’t there yet; he had wanted her to be there when he asked her father about joining the church. “I’ll just surprise her when she comes in, if someone else doesn’t tell her first.” he thought to himself.

However, it was Dakotah that was to be surprised. Ely entered the room with Vanessa Blan, and instead of taking their normal seats, with Ely sitting next to him, Vanessa sat beside Dakotah, with Ely seated next to Vanessa.

Dakotah squirmed uncomfortably in his seat. He looked over toward Ely, only to have both girls smiling at him. He smiled back, sheepishly.

“Something’s up.” he thought to himself.

Whatever positive feelings Dakotah had a minute ago dissipated like mist on a hot August morning. He realized why Ely had been acting odd this morning. “She’s setting me up with Vanessa!”  he thought, panic creeping up inside.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Vanessa’s personality; she was upbeat, cheerful, polite to everyone, and always eager to help those in need. She was also very good looking; tall, blonde, with pale blue eyes, perfect skin, and a nice figure. Vanessa also had a superlative work ethic, keeping a part time job at the hospital while studying nursing full time at the local college. She also contributed a lot of work for the church, too. In Dakotah’s mind, she only had one fatal flaw.

She was not Ely.

Sunday school passed with Dakotah’s mind swirling; he felt all at once betrayed, flattered, and railroaded into something he wanted no part of.

“I’m not ready for this.” he thought. He began to regret his decision to join New Hope, but he quickly quelled those thoughts. “I will not run from adversity, especially in my new church home! Lord, give me strength!” Dakotah prayed silently to himself.

The three of them made their way from Sunday school class to the main auditorium.

“I heard someone has joined our church today!” Ely exclaimed.

Dakotah, still in a daze, said not a word.

“Cat got your tongue?” Ely continued, smiling.

“Oh. Uh, s-sorry.” Dakotah stuttered. ”What did you say?”

“I heard that you are officially one of us now!”

Dakotah quickly gathered himself. “Oh, yes! I finally made the plunge! I had been praying about this for a while now.”

“I had hoped you would join our church for some time now, but it’s still a surprise that you actually did it!” Ely said. She started toward Dakotah as if to hug him, but she stopped herself short, and reached out with her hand.

Dakotah shook Ely’s hand, noting that it felt strange to do so. “I guess I’m not the only one with a surprise up their sleeve, huh?” he said, smiling awkwardly.

“I’m so happy you decided to join us, Dakotah!” Vanessa said, giving Dakotah a light hug. “I’m looking forward to us working together on church functions!”

“Me, too.” Dakotah said, giving Vanessa a weak smile.

“As a matter of fact, Wednesday nights we gather underprivileged children from the local neighborhoods, bring them in for a meal, and teach them about the Bible and Jesus!” Vanessa continued excitedly. “I would be delighted if you joined us!”

“Ah, I kinda already have plans for Wednesday nights.” Dakotah said, grimacing. Lately, Mondays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays were nights Dakotah went to Ely’s to help her study Japanese. “I’m sor-“

“Dakotah, helping the church reach kids is more important than helping me with my studies!” Ely interjected, her voice strained. “I’ll be fine without you. Help Vanessa, instead!”

“I’m sorry; I didn’t realize you already have commitments.” Vanessa said, apologetically.

“It’s not a commitment.” Ely said firmly. “He was just helping me with my Japanese. I think helping with the kids is the best thing for him.”

Dakotah looked at Ely, confused. “Are you sure?”

“Yes! New Hope needs you!” Ely said emphatically. “You’ve helped me a lot, but I’m getting to the point where I don’t need your help as much.” She looked intently into his eyes. “Go.”

Dakotah looked over to Vanessa, and gave a nervous laugh. “I guess I’m yours.” he said, biting his lip. Ely winced at that remark.

“That’s great!” Vanessa said enthusiastically. “I understand that you don’t have transportation. Want me to pick you up?”

“Sure.” Dakotah deadpanned, unsure of what he was getting into.

Church service became a series of small embarrassments for Dakotah. First, Ely had Dakotah sit between her and Vanessa, who had moved from her usual place with her parents. Next, Rev. Daniels announced Dakotah’s joining the church, and had Dakotah stand up, resulting in the congregation giving him applause. Finally, he stood next to Rev. Daniels, and shook everyone’s hand as they exited the church. Rebecca Jennings gave Dakotah a big hug instead of a handshake, which garnered a hateful stare from Ely.

After everyone had paid their respects, Dakotah turned to Ely. “Well, I’m glad that’s over with.”

“Did you like your hug?” Ely accused.

“It was okay. Yours are much better.” Dakotah replied simply, noticing Ely’s attitude. “Are you ready to go?”

“Yes, but you’re not going with me. I’m going to see Hannah.” Ely said in all seriousness.

“Oh. O-Okay.” Dakotah said, stunned. “I guess your dad can take me home, when he’s done.”

“Nope. He has a church business meeting. It usually takes a couple of hours.” Ely walked over and put her arm around Vanessa, who was standing nearby. “Here is your ride home!”

Vanessa smiled weakly, and gave a small wave.

Dakotah shrugged his shoulders. “That’s fine with me, if that’s not too much bother, Vanessa. I live on Maple- no, wait, Poplar St. now. It’s about twelve miles from here. Is that too much trouble?”

“Not at all, Dakotah. It would be my pleasure. This way, I’ll know how to find you Wednesday.”

“Well, gotta go! See you two later!” Ely said, walking quickly to her car, and driving off in a rush.

Dakotah and Vanessa looked at each other, trying to figure out what they witnessed. “Okaaayyy……” Dakotah said, puzzled.

Shaking her head, Vanessa led Dakotah to her baby blue Cavalier. “Forgive me, but the car is messy, and I haven’t had a chance to clean it.”

Dakotah opened the passenger door, and sat down, buckling up. “It doesn’t look bad at all.” he said, looking about. Aside from an empty water bottle, the car seemed almost spotless to him.

Pulling out of the parking lot, Vanessa took a deep breath, and exhaled. “Dakotah, can we stop somewhere, and talk? I’m afraid I’m not very comfortable with holding a conversation while driving.”

“Sure. There’s a park near my house.” Dakotah said, wary of what she wanted to talk about.

The miles passed silently; Dakotah’s mind quickly wandered from thinking about Ely, to Vanessa, to working Wednesday nights at the church. None of the thoughts put him at ease.

He noticed Vanessa’s driving style was more conservative than Ely’s, too, as if she were taking a driving test. She smoothly pulled into the empty park parking lot, and deftly parked the car. Clouds had begun to break up, and sunlight streamed into the car, keeping them warm.

“Okay, here we are.” Dakotah said, forcing a slight smile. “What’s on your mind?”

“First, I want to apologize for earlier.” Vanessa said, meekly.


“Yes, for setting next to you in Sunday school, and at church.”

“I didn’t mind you sitting next to me.” Dakotah said, beginning to feel empathy for her. “I was just surprised, that’s all.”

“I also want to explain everything.” Vanessa continued. “Yesterday, while at work, I ran into Ely. She asked if we could talk later, and I agreed, curious as to what she had on her mind. Needless to say, I was shocked when I heard she was having a relationship with another girl, and not you!”

“Trust me, I was shocked, too.” Dakotah said, nodding his head.

“She told me what Brother Daniels had guessed. He’s very perceptive, you know?” Vanessa began to blush, embarrassed.

Dakotah’s face reddened also, as it began to dawn on him what she meant. He was also at a loss for words, and stared down toward the floorboard.

Vanessa was staring toward her feet as well. “Mom and Dad always taught me to take the time to see what was inside a person, and not to judge a person by what they looked like.” She realized what she said, and panicked. “Oh! I didn’t mean to say you’re ugly, or anything!” she said, flustered.

“Oh, that’s okay!” Dakotah said, laughing uncomfortably. “No one’s going to compare me to a Jonas Brother, and I’m good with that!”

“Jonas Brother? Ewwwww…..” Vanessa said, shaking her head. She took a deep breath. “Dakotah, when I look at you, I see a kind, smart, God-fearing guy, a person who would do whatever it took to help someone in need. Someone I could trust.”

Dakotah became embarrassed again, and remained silent.

“Can I ask you something?” Vanessa said, very nervously.

Dakotah nodded.

“Do you love Ely?”

Dakotah paused for a moment. He didn’t want to hurt Vanessa, but he felt she deserved the truth. “Yes.” he said, almost inaudibly. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry.” Vanessa said softly, trying to ease his pain, as well as her own. “I see fake people every day. Knowing I can trust you, and believe you, is comforting.”

Dakotah thought for a moment. “I don’t see how you can trust me. If our positions were switched, I certainly wouldn’t trust you.”

“Why?” Vanessa said, stunned. “Because I’m supposedly this good looking female? Do you think I’m that vain?”

“I’m sorry! I didn’t mean it that way!” Dakotah exclaimed, realizing that he hit a nerve. “It’s not like that. I mean, almost everyone I’ve ever trusted has hurt me. Heck, even my own mom has turned her back on me!” He began to sob. “You know, when I realized Ely was pairing us up, I felt betrayed.”

Grasping Dakotah’s words, Vanessa anger faded instantly. “Oh Dakotah, please forgive me! I’m so stupid, sometimes! I should’ve known this was too soon, but Ely convinced me you were ready to move on!”

Dakotah took a deep breath, and calmed himself. “It’s okay. It’s okay.” he said, looking up at Vanessa. “Everything has been kinda crazy in my life lately, and I’m just wiped out inside. None of this is your fault. I think she’s trying to convince herself, too.”

“You don’t think she’s committed to Hannah?”

“She told me herself their relationship is more on having fun and stuff, and ours is more like leaning on each other.”

“Sounds like two halves of a whole relationship, You have to have both, I think.” Vanessa laughed. “Of course, what do I know? I’ve never had a boyfriend. I’ve always been too busy with school or work or church to notice anyone truly special. Until now.”

Dakotah laughed nervously. “Well, I guess in reality, I’ve never had a girlfriend, though I thought I was close.”

Vanessa reached over, took Dakotah’s hands, and held them into her own. She stared deeply into Dakotah’s eyes; he instinctively wanted to look away, but didn’t.

“Part of me wants to say ‘You’re closer than you think.’” she said sweetly. “But saying that would be disrespecting your feelings. I want you to trust me as a friend before we even think about having a relationship. It wouldn’t be fair to me to invest my feelings in something you had no intention of reciprocating, either.”

Dakotah pulled his hands away from her grasp, and looked down, pondering what she said. “I-I’d like to be your friend. I’m not ready for a relationship, though.”

“Would you want to do things with me, like go see a movie, or something? As friends, I mean?”

Dakotah gave a weak smile. “Sure. I’d like that.”

Vanessa smiled warmly back.


Vanessa pulled the car to the curb in front of Elizabeth’s house. The thought had entered Dakotah’s mind to have her drive by his mother’s house, but he thought better of it, as he felt he wasn’t emotionally ready for that yet.

“Thanks for taking me home.” he said as he exited the car. “You drive a lot better than Ely!”

Vanessa laughed. “Thanks! Pick you up here at 5 Wednesday?”

“Are you sure you need me there? I’m not sure I would be any good with kids.”

“You’ll be fine, I promise! I’ll be there to help!”

“Okay, I’m trusting you here!” Dakotah said, laughing.

Vanessa took Dakotah seriously for a second, then realized he was just making a joke based on their earlier conversation. She smiled and shook her head as she pulled out into the street.

Dakotah had made it halfway up the walkway when Elizabeth stepped out onto the porch. “Uh-oh.”  Dakotah thought.  “Might as well tell her now. Everyone’s going to know about us soon.”

“There you are.” Elizabeth said, trying to grasp the situation. “Where’s Ely?”

“I can explain.” Dakotah said, walking with his grandmother into the house. “It’s a long story…….”


“Good afternoon, Louise!” Elizabeth announced with a forced cheerfulness over the phone. ”How are you all doing? It’s been a while since we last chatted!”

Louise Jones became instantly ill at ease. Dakotah’s grandmother rarely called, only to verify that she had received her letters, never as a social call. Her intonation was off, too. “We’re all fine, Elizabeth. Is something the matter? You seem troubled.”

“You could say that, though I think, all in all, it is for the best. “ Elizabeth replied, exhaling. “Frank and Sylvia kicked Dakotah out of the house Friday night. He’s living here now.”

“What?!?” Louise shouted, incredulously. “Why? It couldn’t have been anything Dakotah had done! Is he okay?”

“Dakotah’s fine, though he almost got in a tussle with Frank. Fortunately, Ely and I intervened, and he wasn’t hurt.”

“Ely is Dak’s girlfriend, isn’t she? How did you two stop El Blobbo?”

“I shot him between the eyes with bear spray.” Elizabeth chuckled slightly.

“He’s lucky I wasn’t there. I have a concealed carry permit.” Louise said humorlessly.

“By the way, Ely is just a friend, not his girlfriend.”

“Really? I thought they were head over heels with each other!” Louise exclaimed, surprised.

Elizabeth sighed. “I thought so too, until he told me earlier today. She’s apparently been seeing someone else the entire time.”

“What? Dak had better watch out, or that guy’s going to cream him! What is she doing, anyway, trying to play him for whatever reason?”

“Actually, Ely’s significant other is female.”

“Come again?”

“I said, Ely has a relationship with another girl!” Elizabeth said, keeping her voice low so Dakotah couldn’t hear her.

“You’re kidding me, right? Isn’t she the daughter of a preacher? I wonder if he knows about it? Talk about being shocked!”

“It seems that he not only knows about it, he condones it as well.” Elizabeth said, gravely.

This ain’t no Baptist church, is it?” Louise said, bewildered. “I know my church would run her off, and her preacher daddy, too!”

“Our church doesn’t believe in salvation for homosexuals either, unless they repent, and go straight.” Elizabeth said, agreeing. “To make matters worse, he’s leaving 3rd Baptist to join her church!”

“That’s not good. No tellin’ what else they’re teaching over there. These are different times we’re living in, isn’t it?”

“Yes.” Elizabeth said, shaking her head. “I don’t think Ely’s set out to use Dakotah, so to speak. I think the poor boy was trying to grasp anything to give his life meaning, and she became the center of his universe. I’ve had conversations with Ely several times in the past few months, and she’s never given me any inclination that she’s anything other than a kind, hardworking, intelligent, moral girl.”

“Except that she’s in a relationship with another girl, and my nephew thinks that being a third wheel is just fine.”

“We have to start praying for them. They are just young, naïve, and still trying to figure out what they want out of life. Don’t you remember those years?” Elizabeth asked.

“No. As far back as I can remember, I’ve always was too busy trying to survive. Never had time to think about the so-called possibilities of life.” The thought irritated her.

The thought of her sister turning her back on her own son infuriated her. “And exactly where was Sylvia during all this? I have half a mind to come up there, and beat the crap out of her!”

“Now Louise, even if you are serious, you don’t strike me as a person who resorts to violence.” Elizabeth spoke firmly, trying to calm Louise down. “Deep down, I believe she wanted Dakotah to stay, but Frank was having none of it. He had all Dakotah’s stuff out on the lawn by the time I arrived. Sylvia was on the porch, crying, but not saying anything. Whenever I tried to converse with her, Frank kept interrupting, and cursing me. It wasn’t very long before the kids arrived, and then it went rapidly downhill from there. Sylvia simply went into the house, and never came out again.”

“She never did have any backbone.” Louise muttered. “If Frank tried that on me, I’d have thrown him out instead.”

“Now that Dakotah’s living with me, I have a proposition. How about we use part of the money to buy insurance on my car, so he can drive now?” Hopefully, he can go where jobs are, and then save money for his own transportation, and also school.”

Louise thought for a few seconds. “That’s not a bad idea, Elizabeth, but I’d like to talk to him first. Have you told him about the money yet?”

“No, I haven’t, as you wished. Let me fetch him.” As if on cue, the vacuum cleaner roared to life in the hallway. Laying down the receiver, she strode toward the din.

“Dakotah!” Elizabeth shouted, exasperated. Dakotah immediately shut the vacuum off. “Didn’t I tell you cleaning the house is my job?”

“I’m sorry, grandma.” Dakotah apologized. “I was just trying to help.”

“First of all, I don’t clean house on the Sabbath. Secondly, even though I know you’re just trying to help, but I’ve been cleaning this house for almost fifty years, and I’m not going to let anyone else do it for me. You can keep your room tidy if you want, but the rest of the house is mine. Understand? “

“Yes’ ma’am.” Dakotah said, looking down. “I felt the need to be busy, that’s all.”

“I understand.” she said, smiling. “I came to tell you your Aunt Louise is on the phone, and wants to speak with you.”

“Aunt Lou? Really?” Dakotah exclaimed, his face brightening. “I guess you told her, huh?”

“Yes. Now go! She’s waiting!”

Dakotah rushed to the phone and picked up the receiver. “Hello? Aunt Lou? Are you still there?”

“Hi, sweetie.” Louise said, full of empathy. “How are you? I heard you’ve had a rough time of it. Are you okay?”

Dakotah paused for a moment. “I’m okay, I guess. I’ve been better.”

“Well, I can’t believe they did that to you! If your uncle wasn’t delivering pipe in North Dakota right now, he’d be on his way up there to clean house!”

“That’s okay, I don’t want Unk to risk getting into trouble. Ely said it was their loss, anyway.”

“Ellie, huh? Is she that girl you’re crazy about? I heard she’s seeing someone else.”

“Yeah, unfortunately.” Dakotah said, dejectedly. “She’s trying to fix me up with one of her friends from church, though.”

“You don’t sound too enthusiastic. Is she ugly?”

“Oh, no, she’s quite pretty. I think Unk would approve.” Dakotah said, with little emotion.

“Your uncle is a truck driver, Dak. They don’t cull much.”

“Well, he did pretty good with you, Lou!” Dakotah cried out.

Louise had to laugh. “Well, even a pig can find a flower in the pen every once in a while!”

Dakotah laughed as well. “Vanessa’s really nice, but I’m not sure if I’m ready for someone else. All I feel inside is pain right now.”

“This Ellie really threw you for a loop, didn’t she?”


“Ely. That’s her name?”


“They named her after a town in Nevada?”

“I think it was Minnesota, actually.”

“You love her, don’t you?”

Dakotah took a deep breath. Telling people his feelings wasn’t becoming any easier. “Yeah. It’s hard to explain. I feel so at ease with her, like I’ve known her all my life. When we’re together, it just feels so good, you know?”

“I know just how you feel.” Louise replied. “I had to explain something similar to your grandmother Parker when I decided I was moving to Kentucky with Ralph!”

“How did that turn out?”

“She didn’t understand why I was quitting college to be a housewife to a trucker. I’m not sure she ever has, any more than I understand why you would fall for some girl who’s involved in another relationship. I know she still loves me, even as I love you, and that’s all that matters.”

“I love you too, Lou.” Dakotah said, tearfully. “I’m glad that you were able to visit last Christmas.”

“Me, too, Dak.” Louise said, smiling. “Your uncle thinks that you’re a great kid.”

“I’m not exactly a kid. I’m nineteen!”

“You are to us, you little fart!” Louise said, laughing. “You know, anytime you want to come down here to live, we have a spare bedroom in our new doublewide!”

“Thanks for the offer, but I’ll just stay here with Grandma. She needs me.”

“Didn’t sound like it to me earlier. If you hadn’t shut off that vacuum, I think she would’ve pinched your head off!”

“Well, I’m trying to figure my place here, but she’s pretty much all alone. There’s plenty here I can do a lot easier than her, like mowing the grass.”

“I think what you need to do is find a paying job. They’ve just started up an automotive plastics plant near here, and I was hired there about a month ago. Pay’s pretty decent, and they’re still hiring! Being a high school graduate, they’d hire you on the spot, I’m sure!”

“Sounds interesting, but I’ll pass. I know that there’s not a whole lot going on up here, but maybe Grandma can take me further away from home to look for work.”

“Why don’t you take yourself?”

“Because I don’t have a driver’s license. You have to have insurance in order to get a license. Frank wouldn’t pay for insurance, and Grandma doesn’t have enough money to buy any, so I’m stuck.”

“I don’t think so!” Louise said, almost giddily. “You see, your grandmother and I have been holding a little secret from you. Ralph and I have been sending a little money to Elizabeth every month to help out on your transportation.”

“What?” Dakotah exclaimed, trying to grasp what Louise was saying.

“Well, the first thought was to buy you a car with the money, but that would take a while, so why not instead put you in your grandmother’s car, and pay the extra on insurance? She wholeheartedly agreed, of course!”

Dakotah thought for a moment. “Lou, do you know how much it costs to insure someone my age? That’s a lot of money!”

“I’m sure we have enough to cover it. She presently has 1500 dollars. Think that’s enough?”

Dakotah couldn’t grasp what his aunt had said, unable to believe what he heard. “How much?” he said, weakly.

“1500 dollars.” Louise said, laughing a little.

“Oh, Aunt Louise, that’s too much money!” Dakotah shouted, becoming panicked. “I really don’t deserve it!”

“You take that money, or I’m going to come up there and smack some sense into your head!” Louise shouted back, becoming impatient. “You absolutely deserve every penny! You’re a good kid, and are long, long overdue for a break! Take the damned money, and make something out of your life, you hear?”

Dakotah was stunned into silence. Suddenly, he began to weep. “Oh, Lou, thank you, thank you, thank you! I’ll make you proud of me, I promise!”

“I know you will, Dak. We wouldn’t have done it otherwise. Now, could you hand the phone over to your grandmother? I need to discuss some things with her.”

“Ah, yeah, sure. I love you, Aunt Lou. Thank you.”

“I love you too, sweetie. I’ll be checking in from time to time to make sure you’re not blowing the money on girls!”

Dakotah laughed. “Not a problem.” He looked at Elizabeth, and pointed to the phone. “Here, Grandma, Lou wants to talk to you.” Goodbye, Aunt Lou, thanks for everything!”

Dakotah handed the phone to his grandmother, shaking his head in disbelief.

“I don’t think I’ve ever seen him that happy before.” Elizabeth said, emotionally. “Thank you.”

“After all that’s happened, he needed a really good day.” Louise said, wiping tears from her eyes.


November 3rd, 2008

Ely popped into her father’s home office, finding him occupied on church paperwork.

“I think you work more on that stuff than you do on your sermons!” Ely said, pointedly. “I think you need a secretary!”

“We can’t afford a secretary.” Rev. Daniels said, firmly. Besides, I get a better feel for what’s going on in the church. The Lord writes the sermons.”

Rev. Daniels pushed himself away from his desk, and turned to face Ely. “Going to get Dakotah soon?” he asked.

“Yeah.” Ely said, dejectedly. “I hope he isn’t angry with me. I pretty much dumped him with Vanessa yesterday.”

“Your intentions were good, but your execution was a bit heavy-handed.” Her father said. “He did have that deer-in-the-headlights look about him.”

His words did not console her. “Dak has to hate me now, dad! He probably feels I abandoned him, especially after what happened a couple of nights ago! I’m such a terrible person!”

Rev. Daniels put his hands on Ely’s shoulders, and looked into her eyes. “Sweetheart, all of this is new to you both. Mistakes like this are made all the time, even by folks much older than you. Just tell him how you feel, and explain your actions. He’ll understand, and forgive you.”

“You think he will?” she asked, unsure.

“Absolutely.” he said,  smiling. “The one thing you’re forgetting is the most obvious thing of all. He loves you very, very, much.”

Out of the blue, a car’s horn began to blare. Both Rev. Daniels and Ely both rushed to the window to see what the commotion was about.

“That’s Elizabeth’s car!” Ely exclaimed, confused. “I hope everything’s okay!”

Ely rushed out of the house to find Dakotah, alone, grinning broadly.

Ely’s jaw dropped, and for a moment was unable to speak. “W-where’s your grandmother?” she stammered, confused.

“She’s home, watching TV.” Dakotah said, barely containing himself. He took out his wallet, removed his driver’s license, and handed it to Ely. “What do you think? Does it look like me?”

Ely was speechless. “How?”

“My aunt and uncle sent Grandma money for the insurance.” Dakotah said, still grinning. “Awesome, isn’t it?”

Rev. Daniels joined the two outside. “Congratulations, Dakotah! What’s the next step?”

“Tomorrow, I’m going to Oxford Township and look for work, I guess. My aunt offered to keep me in gas and insurance as long as it takes, but I want to find something soon, so I can pay her back.”

“Sounds like a good plan.” Rev. Daniels replied, smiling.

“However, tonight, if it’s okay, I’d like to take you both out to dinner.” Dakotah said, weakly. “Grandma said it was okay if I use a little extra fund money this time.”

“Dak, I’m sorry, but we couldn’t-“ Ely started to say.

“Absolutely!” Rev. Daniels said enthusiastically, interrupting Ely. “Just don’t get us killed, okay?”

“I got a perfect score on my driving test.” Dakotah replied, laughing. “I’m a very careful driver!”

“Ely barely squeaked by on hers.” Rev. Daniels said, winking at Ely. Ely said nothing, but gave her father a dirty look. “Give us a few minutes to get ready, okay, Dakotah?” he continued. “Come on in, and make yourself at home.”

“Okay, I’ll just wait in the living room.” Dakotah said.

Out of view from Dakotah, Ely followed her father into his bedroom. “I think that answers your question on whether he’s upset.” he said, quietly.

“I don’t like the idea of him taking us out to eat.” Ely said.

“Why? We’ve fed him plenty of times. I’ve even financed a couple of your jaunts. Look, from my days as a young struggling pastor, when someone offers you free food, you take it!” he said, smiling.

Ely frowned. “I never dreamed he’d get his license anytime soon. The whole concept of him driving around town is weird.”

Rev. Daniels thought for a moment. “Could it be you like the idea of him being dependent on people, immobile?”

“That doesn’t make any sense. I want what’s best for him!”

“Are you sure?” He was about to say something, but caught himself. “Just make sure you absolutely know where your heart is when it comes to Dakotah. You’re weaving an ever more tangled web, and a couple of people could get hurt if it all goes wrong.”

“I know. The current path is the best for all concerned.”

“Just don’t try to force things, okay? Relationships are organic in nature, and can’t be built like a house. Now go change. He’s probably wondering what’s taking us so long.”

A few minutes later, they met Dakotah in the living room. “Have you picked out a place yet?” Rev. Daniels asked.

“Do you like strombolis?” Dakotah asked. They both nodded. “Great! There’s a sandwich shop over on 17th St. that mom and Frank used to get strombolis from! They always smelled so good!”

“I didn’t know you ate strombolis.” Ely said.

“Oh, I never ate them. They just got those for themselves.” Dakotah said matter-of-factly. Ely and her father looked at each other, and shook their heads. “Oh look, the sun’s coming out!” Dakotah said, as they made their way out the door.