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.
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.