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.”
“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.