Hypnotic patterns of blue and red light painted the interior of the Dexter family’s SUV. Kevin sat in the passenger seat, staring straight ahead, wringing his hands. Steel handcuffs had left angry purple welts across his wrists and feeling was painfully returning to his blood-starved fingers.
Kevin’s father was statuesque behind the wheel. “Congratulations,” he said flatly, “You managed to get nailed by the one Trooper in this state who owes me a favor.”
The officer pulled out from behind them and stopped along side the Jeep.
“Night, Dex,” he said, waving.
“Thanks Rupert. I owe you one.”
The silence grew daunting on the drive home. Kevin found himself wishing his dad would yell at him, or something. The expected lecture, about how eighteen year old kids can ruin their lives by drinking and driving, would have been some relief from the wordless torture.
It took a few moments before Kevin realized they were heading away from town.
“Dad,” His voice sounded loud in the quiet cabin. “Where are we going?
“Someplace I should have taken you a long time ago.”
The resolute tone in his father’s voice gave Kevin the creeps. Was this how mobsters felt on that fateful last ride? If his dad wasn’t Milo Dexter, deacon at the Anchor Bible Church and all around upstanding citizen, he might seriously contemplate leaping from the vehicle.
Glowing green digits on the dashboard clock had counted thirty minutes when they began to climb a steep dirt road on a wooded hillside. A rusty iron fence with a collapsed gate soon became visible in the truck’s headlights.
“Grab the flashlight,” his father said, before turning off the engine and stepping out into the darkness.
Dex led the way into the black night. The flashlight was obviously for Kevin’s benefit as the path leading through the gate was rocky and his booze-addled brain was playing tricks with his balance. At the top of the hill, the rotting wooden limbs of a dilapidated shack stretched across an overgrown grass clearing. Kevin’s breath came unevenly as he followed his dad beyond the weathered boards and planks to a spot where a much smaller foundation jutted out of the ground like a concrete box.
“You know who this was, boy?” He pointed to the shadowy earth at his feet.
Kevin shined the light on a small mound next to the concrete box. A short stone, like a grave marker, topped the mound. The wind-worn letters spelled “Walton Dexter”.
He couldn’t believe his eyes, but there was only one answer, “Grandpa?”
“Guess you’re not so drunk after all. You know how he died?”
Kevin was too shocked to respond. It was an unwritten rule to avoid mentioning Grandpa. Everyone in town knew he had abused his wife and child and nobody ever talked about it; especially not his dad. As far as he knew, old Walton had run off and left him behind.
“He shot himself in the head, Kevin.”
Kevin opened his mouth to speak but a lump the size of a cue ball clogged his throat.
“Did it right there in that old out-house.”
The flashlight beam unsteadily traced the outline of the concrete box as Kevin instinctively backed away.
“Any idea what makes a man do a thing like that, boy?” His father eyes met his for the first time that night.
Kevin could only shake his head.
“Whiskey,” the big man said, like the word itself was poisonous.
Silence rose between them again.
“Who else knows?” Kevin asked.
“Now that Grandma and the sheriff who helped us keep it quite are dead, I guess it’s just you, me and your mother, and Jesus of course. After Momma’s nervous breakdown, I was virtually an orphan so I asked Jesus if he’d adopt me. Good thing too. I couldn’t have forgiven this man without the Lord’s help.”
Tears stung the teenager’s eyes. “I’m sorry dad.”
Dex pulled Kevin into a strong embrace. “No, I’m sorry, son. I should have shared this with you sooner so you’d think twice before making your Momma cry like mine did for so long.”
The ride home was as silent as the trek to the Dexter’s hilltop homestead had been. This time, though, the silence was comfortable; born of the mutual respect men share when their weaknesses are recognized and forgiven. In the deep quiet of that moment, Kevin decided to return to church with his parents on Sunday. He and Jesus had a lot to talk about.
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