Deidra was a quiet, thought filled child who was often taken for slowwitted or distant. The children her age could be cruel and often picked on her for her strange ways and mannerisms. She also came from a single parent home where her father took care of her. Deidra’s mother passed away a little bit more than five years earlier when she was seven years old of cervical cancer. This was reasoned by many of her teachers as the cause for her distant and peculiar behavior. Her father worked long hours in a machine shop milling parts for various machine assembly lines and various equipment, making a decent living but draining him of the skills needed to be both father and mother to Deidra.
Too many times after preparing and eating their supper, Deidra’s dad would fall hard asleep in the large living room recliner. She would follow after and clean up the kitchen after he dozed off. When she finished tidying up the kitchen, she would do her homework then awaken her father to let him know it was time for bed and that he should lock up the house for the night.
They lived on a twenty acre parcel of land which had been willed to Harvey Hold, her father, by her grandpa Earnest Hold. She loved to play around the out buildings and fields surrounding the old farmhouse. At one time her grandpa owned one hundred acres but sold some off as the years progressed to keep debt from his backdoor. Farming became a lost art and only mega farms became the large producers, making it hard for the little independent farmer to make a living. Thus the need for the acreage faded along with farm life.
Deidra was categorized as a loner. Her odd behavior kept many of her peers away from her and it wasn’t so much that she was odd but rather different from what the norm was. She had few friends, in fact most of the kids were afraid of her as is the nature of people who do not understand another’s ways. She was always pleasant even when somebody was downright mean to her. It was as if she was like a duck with water being the negativity and that negativity would roll right off her back. Many thought she was too dull to understand they were insulting her but the reality of it all was, that she would not play into their behavioral traps.
One boy observed all of this from a distance, finding Deidra very interesting and was drawn to her. He too suffered through the loss of a parent but his loss was recent. His father died in a freak accident about two months before. He had stepped off of a curb and was crossing a street by slipping in between two parked cars. Upon reaching the street he was hit and killed by a man on a motorcycle who came out of nowhere. This was on a business trip to Denver one hundred miles north of home. When this news reached the young man and his mother their life was shattered and they were still in the process of picking up the pieces.
The reality hadn’t quite sunk in yet that dad was not coming home. As far as Lee was concerned, his father was still away even though he experienced the funeral and burial. Denial was such a strong force in the boy’s young mind.
After many days of watching Deidra, Lee decided to approach her. There were times where he had wanted to step between her and those others, both boys and girls to protect her but he felt helpless with his own issues he was dealing with and not confident at all. He found himself following her home one day after school when she turned suddenly and said, “Would you like to walk with me?”
Lee approached her and when they were eye to eye he said, “I’d like to know you.”
“Well, c’mon then. I’m Deidra Hold and you are?”
“I know.” Lee replied.
“Nice to meet you, I know,” and they both laughed. It was the first time Lee laughed since his father’s passing. It felt like a weight had been removed from his chest.
“You know they’ll pick on you for being my friend,” she offered then added, “They pick on me all the time. It’s a shame they can’t get past themselves.”
Lee wondered what Deidra meant by that but didn’t question it. He just walked along with her until they got to her house on the edge of town.
“What’s your name?” she asked a second time when they got to her front yard.
“Lee, Lee Lacy. Sorry, I thought you were good with, I know.” And they laughed again as she said goodbye.
“Hope we get to chat again,” she said as she went up the walk to her house.
Lee turned down the road and headed back in the direction of his house which was in town. He knew he was going to be late but would explain that he met a friend. Mom worried about him overtime because of the loss of his father. Lee knew that and tried to get her not to worry but he figured she’d get better in time; less possessive and all that, he thought.
As for now, he was ready for the panic face when he walked in the door. She would be happy to hear that he was talking to someone, anyone his age that might pull him out of the depression she was observing but upset at being late.
She was waiting on the porch for Lee. Quickly she asked, “Are you OK? You’re late Lee. I was worried. Is everything alright?”
“Yes mom, I’m fine. I met a new friend and walked her home.” Lee explained.
“You walked HER home? You’re only twelve Lee. A bit young to have a girlfriend, don’t you think?” Mom chattered.
“It’s not like that mom. We just met and started talking. She’s nice and could use a friend. So could I.” And Lee went to the bathroom to wash up for supper.
When he returned to the kitchen table his mother asked as she was filling his plate with green beans, macaroni and cheese and a well done burger, “Well, are you going to tell me her name Lee?”
“Oh sure! It’s Deidra Hold, mom.” Lee told his mother.
“I think I’ve heard of that girl. Isn’t she the one…they?”
“Don’t mom! She’s not odd. She’s just…Deidra, that’s all.” Lee concluded as he began eating his supper.
The next day Lee looked for Deidra at school but when he finally caught up to her she was cornered next to the lockers with Josie and Becky picking on her about something. When Lee walked up to the three of them in the hallway, Josie said, “So is this the boyfriend?”
“Well, he is a boy and he is my friend.” She said to Josie then looked at Lee and asked, “You are my friend, right?”
“Yes I’m your friend. What’s going on here?” Lee questioned.
“It’s none of your business, friend.” Josie shot back.
“Listen, why don’t you just leave Deidra alone. She’s never done anything to you.”
Out of nowhere came an older boy’s voice asking, “Are you picking on my sister,” which was followed by a punch in the right eye by a fourteen year old that was in the eighth grade; Josie’s older brother and self appointed tough guy.
“Blam!” Lee hit the floor grabbing his face.
“That was a terrible thing to do,” Deidra shouted at Fred Mueller; Josie’s brother.
“Back off or you’ll get the same weirdo.” Fred barked with his hand in a fist.
“Go ahead if it makes you feel more superior Fred Mueller.” Deidra answered calmly, regaining her composure.
Just then the bell rang signaling that lunch was over. The teachers and other students emptied the cafeteria while Lee was getting back up on his feet. Lee’s teacher walked up and asked what was going on to which Lee replied, “Sorry Mrs. Albright. I ran into Fred not watching where I was going. Lee saw that Deidra was going to interject but he waved her off with a look as to say just let it go.
Fred made a quick exit behind his sister and her friend Becky mingling in with the other students. Within five minutes time everyone were back in their classrooms and life went on.
The two friends met outside the school after the school day finished up. By then Lee was sporting a nice shiner.
“Did you go to the nurse?” Deidra asked.
“No. I’m OK. Let’s just forget about the whole thing.”
“Thanks for coming to my aid Lee. They never quit. It’s always something. I don’t know how they found out so quick that we had talked yesterday.” Deidra said as they started on their way toward her house.
“You don’t have to walk me home you know.”
“I know but I want to walk you home. I like you.” Lee said as he smiled and winced at the same time.
“When we get to my house we’re going to put some ice on that. Maybe the swelling will come down so your mom doesn’t have a fit.”
“Ok…might be a good idea,” Lee said as he thought about his mom and one hundred questions when he got home.
They were both kind of quiet after that last exchange and just walked for awhile. Lee looked frustrated and mad most of the walk to Deidra’s house.
Deidra finally decided to share something when they approached her house. She stopped walking and turned toward her new friend saying, “After we fix your eye I want to show you something.”
The boy’s eyes kind of lit up as his imagination wandered then Deidra continued, “It’s out in the field. I guess you could say it’s a special place. Come on inside and let’s help that eye out,” she said with a soft smile that lit up the boy’s heart.”
She had dark raven hair and the palest of blue eyes. Deidra was several inches shorter than Lee. An average girl in weight meaning she was neither heavy nor thin and if one was to rate her beauty, it was something that rose from her inner depths. She emitted a peace that shone like the colors in a flower. At twelve years old all the telltale signs of her blossoming into a lovely woman were there.
They went through the back screen door and Deidra told Lee to grab a chair then she went to the refrigerator to gather some ice in a Tupperware container. She got a hand towel out and placed five cubes in the cloth. Wrapping it up she made sure it was secure.
“Here…this should help.” She said as she handed Lee the freshly packaged ice cubes and sat down across from him.
“What are you thinking about Deidra?” Lee asked as she stared at him.
“I’ve never shared my place out back with anyone. I was looking at you to make sure I was making the right decision.” She said point blank.
“And?” He questioned.
Deidra blossomed into a wide smile and said, “Yes! You are the one whom I’ll share my secret with.”
The sound of tires on gravel told of a vehicle coming up the driveway. It was Deidra’s father coming home after work. The pickup truck door shut then the sound of footsteps on gravel, next shoes up the wood stairs followed by the rear screen door creaking as it was opened while the two kids sat quietly waiting, eyeing each other.
“Well, what do we have here?” Deidra’s father asked with a questioning face.
“This is Lee, Dad. I guess you could say he came to my aid when some of my classmates were giving me a difficult time. He took a shot to the eye for me, so I let him walk me home.” Then she laughed which only increased the puzzled look on her father’s face.
“Nice to meet you Mister Hold, Lee said, extending his hand. “It really wasn’t that big of deal and Deidra offered me some ice for my eye.” Lee stumbled with his words as Deidra’s father shook the boy’s hand.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you Lee. It’s nice that Deidra has a friend but I don’t like you kids fighting. I’m going to shower then get supper cooking Deidra. Don’t forget you have homework to do,” which was her father’s way of saying to the boy not to hang around too long.
“I won’t dad. We’re going to go out back for a little bit then Lee needs to get home.” She responded, letting her father know she had a plan.
Mister Hold left the kitchen for other parts of the house and the two kids slipped out of the back screen door. The September skies were clear and had that beginning of harvest time in the air. Things smelled good.
“Come around here. There’s a path behind the shed.” Deidra pointed out.
Lee followed after like a puppy. He really liked Deidra. She was different but in such a good way. She was, like his mom would say, refreshing. They walked down the path past a few trees that looked like they were having a conversation then out into the open field where wild flowers, thistles and other things that grew wild out of the unattended land. After they cleared one field designated by a barbwire fence, they slipped through very carefully, again, passing a clump of cherry bark oaks and there it was just before the woods began.
It was a gate but what struck Lee as strange was it wasn’t attached to a fence. It had an eight inch rounded post which was just flat on top set into the ground. There was one on either side with a hinged gate made out of what looked like pieces of rounded oak that made up the construction of the gate. The hinges were made out of iron. The gate looked old, like it had been there for maybe sixty years or more but it had been constructed well even though it was weathered from the elements and time.
Lee noticed that the path stopped abruptly at the gate and there was no path on the other side. He started to walk around the gate to observe it from the other side but Deidra called him back.
“You can’t get to the other side from there.” She explained, “You have to go through the gate,” and she smiled that comforting smile she had.
Lee looked puzzled at her instructions but cast it off as just being Deidra. He walked back and stood next to her while she unfastened the clasped which held the gate closed. The hinges creaked as she pushed the gate open toward the other side. Lee followed directly behind her and as they walked into the field he felt an overwhelming feeling of something from another place; something angelic. It was as if he was being washed inside and out from all worry, fear, depression and anxiety. It was replaced with a joy that transcends happiness at any level he had previously known.
He fell to the ground amazed by this happening, looking to Deidra in total awe. She too was feeling it but seemed to handle it better as she had been there before. Deidra walked over to Lee extending a hand to help him back to his feet. When they both were standing she said, “I feel my mother’s presence here. I believe it’s a gate that opens to heaven or someplace close to heaven Lee.”
“I…I think you might be right Deidra. I have this peace that my father’s in a good place and he’s happy but he still feels distant to me. I feel light headed from all of this.”
“OK, we can go for now and maybe come back another time,” Deidra suggested.
“Who built this?” Lee asked as they turned toward the house.
“My grandfather’s father built this. Dad says there was a small fenced in area originally but everything fell over time except the gate. He thinks maybe my great grandmother is buried out here somewhere. We looked once for a marker but never did find one.”
They retraced their steps which were no more than a dozen or so and closed the gate behind them. Lee walked around the gate to the other side checking it out for the boy’s curiosity had been raised and there was no strange feeling nor mystical surge as he had felt when they went through the gate.
“Has your dad been down here?”
“Not recently Lee but he did come a few times after my mom passed away. He doesn’t feel it like we did.” Deidra responded. “Maybe it’s an age thing,” she added.
As they returned to her house Lee said, “I never felt like that before today. In fact I was downright sick over my father’s passing and haven’t talked to anyone about my father since he’s been gone. It’s a nice feeling to know he’s in a good place.”
When Deidra and Lee approached the house, Lee added, “I better get home Deidra. My mom’s going to have a fit.”
With that, Lee took off in the direction of his house. Fifteen minutes later he walked in through the backdoor. He was an hour late which was earmarked by the cold plate of food sitting on the table. His mother waited quietly in the living room for his explanation.
Walking into the room he said, “I’m sorry mom. I lost track of the time.”
“What on earth happened to your eye young man?” His mother blurted out when she saw the shiner he was sporting.
“I fell down in gym mom. It’s no big deal.” Lee lied to keep things minimized.
“I understand the eye but not calling? I’m sure there is a phone at this girl’s house; you were with that girl I’m assuming. Consider yourself grounded for a week.” She said in a calm distant voice.
“I want you home directly after school for the rest of the week. No negotiations until then. Am I understood?”
“Yes mom,” Lee said and went to his room without eating which was entirely his choice. It was there he brooded for a time, not because he was grounded as he felt he deserved it but because he would not get to see his new found friend.
As he sat at his desk in his room starting to work on his homework he realized he had not argued about the punishment which was a first for him. Lee knew he was wrong and also knew he could have called but he was inconsiderate and accepted the punishment without a fuss. He wondered if his experience at the gate had anything to do with his attitude. Telling the lie made him feel very uncomfortable.
He felt like changes within him had taken place. They were good changes that gave him solace as he had been in a state of major depression but somehow what happened a few hours earlier had brought light to the loss of his father. This bit of gloom would soon be over and Lee made a mental note not to get into this kind of situation again. It was only the right behavior to follow.
The rest of the week went by slowly as does any period of time when constraints are put on a person. Lee got to see Deidra in school but they really only had time to chat during lunch when everyone walked through the cafeteria line for their meal then found a place to sit and eat it. The two of them would find a corner table so they could talk. Sometimes they were joined by a few of the less popular kids and other days they were alone but not without being hassled by the girls who gave Deidra a hard time in the hall the week before.
Lee was miffed at why they were so persistent to be annoying. Josie made sure to swing by with her food tray in hand followed by her friends in order to make some derogatory remark as she passed. This infuriated Lee but Deidra just told him to let it go.
“They will tire of their foolishness in time,” She explained.
“I know but it ticks me off that they can’t find something better to do.” Lee countered as he looked at them a few tables over from where the two friends sat.
On Friday at lunch Fred Mueller tripped a small kid named Charlie and he fell face first into his tray of food. Fred laughed like a hyena. Lee approached Fred but a teacher who was monitoring the cafeteria stepped between them and told them to move on as she helped Charlie to his feet. Looks were cast about by both boys and it looked like trouble was brewing down the line. Lee had had just about enough of the older boy’s aggressive behavior always directed at those weaker than him. Deidra try to explain to Lee before classes resumed that Fred would eventually get his due even though they might not be there to witness it. Life had a way of balancing out the good and bad which was created by each individual. Lee seemed to understand all of this she was saying but still wanted to sock that jerk right in the mug the way he did Lee earlier in the week.
Deidra waited after school near the tree where the two would chat briefly before returning home however, Lee never showed up that Friday afternoon. There was no way that Deidra could have known he was called into the principal’s office. He hadn’t done anything wrong but rather was questioned about the lunchtime incident between Charlie Radtke and Fred Mueller. Lee explained to the principal that it was a deliberate trip by Fred whereas the principal told Lee that it would be addressed and thanked him for his honesty.
After awhile Deidra left figuring that Lee had his fill of her preaching to him about turning the other cheek. She walked her normal route home taking the path that weaved along the river. She wondered if her turn the other cheek attitude was a magnet for trouble because as she moved along the path she felt like she was being watched. Her inner hunch was correct as she rounded a few very large oaks which held the river bank in place. When there was heavy rain it would hit this side of the river’s bank hard and there was evidence of the ground below the bluff she was on being washed out over time. It was about a fifteen foot drop to the river.
As Deidra made the turn, Josie and her two comrades close behind were waiting for her.
“Where’s your protector now weirdo?” Josie shouted out.
“Listen…I’m not looking for any trouble and I really don’t know what I ever did to you that you’re so upset with me.” Deidra countered.
“We can’t stand how uppity you think you are.” Josie screamed as she lunged forward at Deidra whereas Deidra met her with a fist in the eye. It wasn’t what she had wanted to do but it was affective enough to have the girls back off. They needed to know she had boundaries and enough was enough.
“I’m sorry I hit you but you just won’t listen. Now leave me be please. I didn’t search you out. You came to me looking for trouble and I don’t want any trouble.” Deidra shouted then moved past them down the path toward her home.
Josie sat on a stump holding her eye and cursed out her two friends by saying, “Why didn’t you jump that bitch when she hit me?”
“Well, you started it Josie. You got the same as her boyfriend got from your brother. We’re getting kind of tired picking on Deidra anyway.” Barbara told her.
Becky also said, “Yeah, this is getting old and we’re going to get in trouble. We need to find something better to do.”
“You two can go choke. You’re not my friends anymore” Josie screamed as they walked away.
Saturday morning brought being grounded to an end. Lee had breakfast at the kitchen table along with his mother who had prepared oatmeal with a touch of honey. It was extremely quiet at the table when finally his mother spoke, “I hope you don’t feel I was too hard on you Lee but your father is no longer here to give you guidance.”
And she began to tear up when Lee responded with, “Mom, I had deserved the grounding. I was wrong not to let you know where I was. It’s not going to happen again.”
“What are your plans for today?” His mother asked.
“I’m going over to Deidra’s house for awhile. She’s just a friend mom and don’t stare at me. I did my punishment for not letting you know where I was. Now, I’m telling you where I will be.” Lee said in earnest.
“OK, fair enough. I’m going grocery shopping. Let me know if you’re eating lunch over there, will you?”
Lee said, “Sure mom. I might if I’m asked but I’ll call and let you know before noon what’s going on.”
He gave her a kiss on the cheek and bounded out the backdoor. His thoughts were far down the road while his mother’s were still at the table thinking about how her son was growing up so fast.
While Deidra and Lee’s friendship grew over the next couple of months Josie found someone new to pick on for awhile. Winter arrived and departed. She eventually won back her friends by treating them to malts downtown or having them over for sleepovers. Life seemed to regain a certain balance once again.
When spring returned Lee and Deidra would sit out on her property and talk for hours under a cherry bark oak and sometimes they would go through the gate; not often but sometimes, as they felt it was a special place and should be treated as such.
School ended for the summer and each had a birthday a month apart; breaking into the magical teenage years. The friendship grew very strong. One particular day in mid July, Deidra and Lee went through the gate. Overcome with the same celestial feelings both kids dropped to their knees just as much in adoration as in finding a steady hold on the ground. It was at this place that Lee felt a strong connection to his father. He explained it later as an understanding within of what happened to his father to end his life and an immaculate peace and love which put things into perspective. Everything was good.
School started the first week of September and life flowed for a time. Fred Mueller was no longer a part of the equation having moved on to his freshman year at the high school. Then old behaviors rose to the surface again and Josie was bent on revenge for the sock in the eye from Deidra last late September. She wasn’t even interested in bringing her crew in on what she was planning. This was something she intended to do all by herself.
Josie was in the same grade as Deidra and in the same class that Deidra had. The previous year they were in different classrooms throughout the day. This year Josie had opportunities to be aggravating all day long if she wanted to. She didn’t stir things up. In fact she put on a good act of ignoring Deidra with an occasional hello. Her idea was to build up some normalcy which would get Deidra’s guard down at some place in time. Josie was a big boned girl. She was also about four inches taller than Deidra; a bigger girl overall. That intimidated Deidra somewhat so this new aloofness puzzled Deidra.
Perhaps she’s outgrown her need to annoy me, Deidra thought.
Lee had been working on an eighth grade shop project. It was a Friday night after school when he stayed to put the final coat of varnish on a hard rock maple tray he had made for his mother. Deidra said she needed to get supper on for her father so she couldn’t wait for him to finish or she would be late. Lee told her he’d come over on Saturday and they could go fishing down by the river or Planter’s Lake which was about a mile from Deidra’s house. They had a date although the word date was not to be used in front of Lee’s mom or Deidra’s father.
Around six pm Deidra’s father called Lee’s house and talked first to Lee’s mother then to Lee. Deidra had not come home yet and he wondered if she was visiting over there. When everyone realized she was missing the police were called. By mid Saturday many in the small town realized they had a missing girl from their area and several small search parties combed the river and two wooded areas near town. There was no one to be found nor any evidence giving the authorities some type of lead. It was as if she had just vanished.
Two weeks had passed with still no sign of Deidra. Lee was sick with worry. The police had questioned him twice as he was her closest friend. They continued to check the river area fearing she might have fallen in. There was also speculation of abduction but there was nothing to go on in any direction. The authorities were totally coming up empty.
Lee rose from his bed one morning and called Mister Hold on the telephone to ask if he might come over and search the areas where he and Deidra would spend hours talking. He wanted Mister Hold to be aware that he was on his property.
“Anything you can think of that might help me find my daughter is fine with me Lee.” Deidra’s dad reiterated.
Within an hour’s time Lee walked around the side of the house past the shed and followed the path across the acreage to where the red bark oak stood. He paused there for a few minutes remembering their laughter and more serious times when they shared their feelings about the loss of their parents.
Lee looked past the tree to where the old gate stood a couple of hundred feet away. He moved in the direction of the strange phenomena. When he got to the gate he opened it carefully and walked through. Once again he was taken almost off of his feet by the light feeling that he had entered into a place which was filled with the spirit of that which makes everything work.
When he was in this place there were never any worries upon his heart however, this time he felt an odd feeling which was similar to the very first time he had entered with Deidra. It was like he knew of his father and that his father was safe except this time his feelings were of Deidra; that she was safe. He sat quietly for a time and a realization came to him similar to the second time he had feelings about his father except it was Deidra talking to Lee and explain she was in a better place.
An image came to Lee that Deidra’s body was in the river. He began to cry. Lee had lost his best friend but now he knew where she was. He gathered himself and returned to the house to have Mister Hold call the police.
“I don’t know how he knows but he says he can lead you to where she is at. No…no, I don’t think he had anything to do with it,” Deidra’s father said then hung up.
“Thanks, Mister Hold,” was all Lee could muster up as they waited for the police.
A couple of hours later and around a mile down river they found Deidra’s remains. Her body had gotten lodged beneath some fallen tree branches which were under the water’s surface. There were questions that needed to be answered after the coroner found some interesting evidence later that day.
In Deidra’s right hand was a piece of material which resembled a part of a belt which was flowered in appearance and looked like it had been torn from a shirt, blouse or dress. After a few days Josie Mueller was called in for questioning as were several other students including Lee. Lee had told the police the material looked familiar to him and after awhile he told them he thought he saw Josie wearing something which had that floral pattern on it.
Josie finally confessed that she had laid in waiting for Deidra along the river trail. It was her intentions to even the score for the sock in the eye she got the previous year. When she surprised Deidra she pushed her too hard and Deidra lost her footing near the bank. As she fell, she grabbed hold of Josie’s blouse and ripped the waist belt off. Josie ran in panic back to her place where she buried the blouse in the backyard. She thought it would all go away; that the river would hide the evidence.
Lee lost his best friend, Josie messed up her young life and a father lost his daughter due to bullying, peer pressure and foolish decisions. Lee’s in his forties now but every so many years he returns to the town where he grew up and visits the Hold’s farm. The gate is gone and so is Deidra’s father but the new owner allows Lee a walk out by the red oak tree and has witnessed him standing a couple of hundred feet or so out in the middle of the field, paused for a time with a smile on his face.