Willow, Texas is not unlike most small-sized communities across the United States. There are the typical sections of neighborhoods for different races, for the races to mix, for different economic classes, yadda, yadda. There is the city-run government, and since, Willow is the county seat for Wood County – the county governing offices are housed there.
There is a quaint little downtown area. There are at last count at least five fast-food chicken places, a plethora of doughnut stores, a mosaic of payday loan companies, two grocery stores, a Walmart, gas stations, two McDonald’s, two Wendy’s, and two Whataburgers. Churches seem to line every corner.
There is a movie theater, a ton of dollar-type stores, and a bowling alley.
Allegedly, there is an ‘old boy network’ that means the town is run by old money. There are questionable characters in leadership as elected officials and in various departments of governing bodies.
Even with all that being said, the citizens, regardless of how they feel about each other, stick together … especially when newcomers come to town.
Just ask Peter Bowden. Ask Carla Rand. Ask Billy Kaplan. Ask Kevin Severide.
Peter, Carla, Billy, and Kevin are all co-workers of sorts. They are all partners in a fitness center/coffee shop. Peter, Billy, and Carla are first cousins. Kevin and Carla are engaged to be married. All of them are in their early 30s with Peter being the oldest.
Kevin is Italian, Peter, Carla and Billy are part Caucasian/part Hispanic. All have college degrees, are clean-cut and good people. The cousins’ grandmother and grandfather are natives of Willow. They inherited some land, and because the cousins always enjoyed visiting the area when they were little, they thought why not build a business.
Though there are plenty of people who come and support the business – there isn’t another gym in the area - Kevin, Peter, Carla, and Billy have not been made to feel a part of the community – except by the local chamber of commerce, the fire department, police department, and sheriff’s department. And that was mostly because the officers, deputies, and chamber officials were members of the gym … plus the chamber officials wanted the gym’s money.
The truth hurts sometimes.
Take last Wednesday.
It was a rainy day at the beginning of the Fall season. The gym was going well. The staff was doing good. Carla was in her office working on some data entry when Billy came in.
“So, we have got a little bit of a problem.” Billy was dressed in the gym uniform – polo shirt with a logo, khaki pants, and tennis shoes. He sat down in a chair near her desk.
Carla looked up from her computer – her uniform was the same, except her hair was in a ponytail. “I'm afraid to ask.”
“I went down to city hall to pay the water bill, and the weirdest thing happened,” He took an envelope out of his pocket and handed it to her.
She opened it. It had a city seal. Skimming through it, she looked up at Billy. “Are they freaking kidding me? They are revoking the permit to sell sandwiches? What the heck?”
Billy rolled his eyes. “Weirdest thing was that as I was waiting for the code enforcement lady, guess who is walking out of her office?
Carla stopped, “Our neighbor next door?” Next door to the gym was a buffet restaurant owned by a local man, who just happens to sit on the city council. He has done nothing but give the cousins and Kevin a hard time – always giving them this look like they were from Mars or something or like they were thieves.
“Yup.” Billy shook his head. “I don’t know what more we can do to prove to him we are not here to make his life worse?”
“Who says we're making his life worse?” Kevin walked in, stepped over to where Carla was sitting, and kissed her cheek, handing her an iPad. Carla handed him the letter.
Kevin stood there reading. He looked at Billy, then at Carla. “Mr. Bennett?”
“Who else would it be?” Billy asked. “I mean, Peter made sure we had every T crossed and every I dotted.”
Carla sighed and leaned back in her chair. “I don’t get this town or its people. It's like there is this small little circle of folks … unless you were born here or married into that circle, you're no good.”
“And Grandpa and Grandma have been gone so long … we don’t have that connection,” Billy said.
Kevin leaned against the credenza. “I don’t know what else we can do. We have been out in the community, we support the schools and we do our thing. We are nice to him.”
Peter strolled in, “What's going on? You guys having a convention?” He sat down by Billy.
Kevin reached over and handed him the letter. Peter took it and started reading, and he looked up, “I'm assuming our neighbor probably has something to do with this?” Peter looked from his cousins to Kevin, holding the piece of paper up.
Carla nodded, “Billy saw him coming out of the code enforcement officer’s office.”
Peter got up, “I think that is time for a one on one ...” He started walking out the door. Billy, Kevin, and Carla all exchanged glances. “Peter,” Carla exclaimed. “Pete, don’t go by yourself,” Billy said standing up. “I'm coming with you, man.” Kevin followed Peter.
Carla said, “I'm coming too.” She turned off her computer.
The four of them walked through the front doors and chatting. Before they made it to the restaurant next door, Wallace Bennett walked outside, talking on his cell phone. He started walking into the parking lot, not paying attention.
A car came flying through the lot around the same time. Kevin saw it first, “Good Lord. Mr. Bennett! Watch it! “
“Mr. Bennett!” “Mr. Bennett.” The cousins and Kevin started running just as the truck hit Mr. Bennett, and he went flying in the air and landed on the hood of a parked car.
Kevin got to him first, checked his pulse. Peter was next, “Billy, go get my ambo bag out of my truck. Carla, call 9-1-1. Where’d that car go?”
Billy went running toward the gym. Carla picked up her cell phone and moved away from the scene watching Kevin and Peter perform CPR on the man. Billy made it back with Peter’s bag – he is a paramedic part-time.
Sirens could be heard. The driver of the car had stopped, and several onlookers were around. Carla guides the ambulance and police back to the scene.
“Kev, what's up?” One of the paramedics asked. Kevin spouted off what was going on, and the law enforcement officers headed over to the car.
Around that time, Wallace Bennett started coming too. His eyes got wide when he saw Peter working so close to him. He started fighting it, “Get him away from me.”
The other paramedics had to calm him. “Sir, sir. Lay still. You were hit by a car. Peter just saved your life. Come on. We are going to get you to the hospital.”
The ambulance took off, and Kevin, Peter, Carla, and Billy stood watching. “Well … I'm going to the hospital. Anyone want to come?” Peter asked.
“I'll go ...” Carla raised her hand. “Let me get my bag.” She started running toward the doors.
“We'll stay ...” Billy and Kevin said walking with Peter toward his truck.
Peter got in, “You know, did you see him? Get him away from me. I hadn’t thought about it before … But I think there may be some racism playing in this.”
Carla came out of the fitness center at a jog. Kevin walked around to the other side of the truck and opened the door for Carla. She got in, and Kevin shut the door after giving her a quick kiss on the cheek.
At the hospital, Peter and Carla walk through the emergency room. They walked toward the room where Bennett was being held. They could hear him yelling, fussing and he was spouting off some slag.
When they heard the words, “Half Breeds,” “Spics,” “Wetbacks,” “Beaners,” “Greasers” and “Eyeties,” Peter and Carla looked at each other, shook their heads. They turned around and walked back out to the parking lot.
Once they were in the truck, Peter said, “It is not like this is new … we have dealt with stuff like this before.”
“Yeah, but it was easier to handle … we knew the people … we were back home, and handled it. But never really dealt with it, I guess,” Carla leaned against her seat.
Peter put his hands on the steering wheel. “But now we know why we are not getting any further and hitting all these hurdles, right?”
“Yeah, you’d think racism would go away … but, look at it all – George Floyd … all the others ...” Carla said putting on her seatbelt. “It is not just black people who have to deal with it … I feel for them, and I believe Black Lives matter, and I believe before we can get past it all, we have got to come together.”
Peter said, “I would have thought that he might have been a little more appreciative that we saved his life? But I know that is just how novels work out … how movies work out.”
“Fairy tales, right?” Carla said. “Reality sucks sometimes … I think I’d rather wear my rose-colored glasses a little while longer.”
Peter smiled at his cousin and patted her knee. “Yup. We are going to keep on being who we are and being how we were raised – accepting people for who they are not the color of their skin or because they are different genders or different religions or socio-economic classes...”
“Kindness is better than meanness,” Carla said as Peter started the truck.
Peter said, shaking his head, "Small towns, small minds."