CROSS CITY — Two days before his last Christmas, Chad Reed had a feeling.
It was date night for the Reeds, Dec. 23, 2009. The couple had just picked up the last few stocking-stuffers for their boys and were headed north on U.S. 19 to meet friends.
The Dixie County sheriff's captain drove and his wife, Holly, sat next to him in the middle of the pickup; she always sat there. Reed looked at her.
"He said, 'I need to tell you something real serious,' " she recalled. "I said, 'Is something wrong?' "
" 'No, I just don't know how to tell you this,' " he said. " 'Something bad is going to happen. I don't know what it is, but I need you to know everything is going to be okay.' "
Twenty-two days later, John Kalisz drove his van up that same stretch of road in Dixie County. The 56-year-old former roofer rolled into a Cross City gas station, hours after authorities say he killed two women in Brooksville.
Reed and other deputies, alerted to watch for Kalisz's van, pulled in around him. Moments after Reed stepped from his car, Kalisz fired a pistol out of his driver-side window.
That seemingly predestined single slug found the corner of Reed's mouth. He died that night.
Reed, his wife said, had a sixth sense. The 33-year-old often said he wouldn't live to 50. He had picked the casket in which he would be buried.
But not until weeks after his death did Holly remember what her husband had said. It gave her peace, she said, and strengthened a faith in God that has carried the 34-year-old through the 13 most harrowing months of her life.
Kalisz admitted on Thursday in a Dixie County courtroom filled with Reed's weeping family members and friends that he had committed murder. He agreed to spend the rest of his life in prison.
Holly forgave Kalisz. With tears in her eyes, she told him so in court.
Faith, she said, pushed her to demand that in the plea agreement Kalisz consent to meet with her and her two sons, C.J., 10, and Caden, 6. So he can know who Reed really was, she said, and so she can share her faith with him.
"The Lord sent his son to die on the cross for our sins," she said. "The least I can do is attempt to witness to him."
In this community of 1,800, an outspoken belief in God is a way of life. Etched into a pair of stone tablets, the Ten Commandments rests atop the stairs of the county courthouse. On the 12 miles of U.S. 19 Kalisz traveled within Dixie County before the shooting, he passed 16 churches.
Much of what happened in the days before and after Reed's death, she and others said, did not occur by accident.
"It was like everything was put in place," said Holly's mom, Sue Chewning, "before this was allowed to happen."
Because of a schedule change, Holly had the afternoon off the day before Reed was killed. She and her husband of 12 years spent that time together, and that evening, she invited family over for dinner. She cooked one of his favorite meals: chicken marinated in Italian dressing, carrots, potatoes, crescent rolls, macaroni and cheese, and green beans.
The morning he died, Reed insisted the family share a rare breakfast at the dinner table. He made C.J. and Caden late for school because of an impromptu wrestling match in the living room.
Then, after Holly dropped off the boys, she went home because she had forgotten her cell phone. Reed was still there, and she sat and talked with him as he finished shaving.
"The Lord knew, bless His heart," she said, "so that we had that time."
Holly, a nurse, seldom could talk to her husband on the phone during the day, but in the hours before he was shot, they spoke three times.
"The last thing we said to each other was I love you," she remembered. "We always said that."
Still, not a single day is easy for Holly or her family.
Reed missed C.J.'s first big tackle and his first touchdown in youth football. When C.J. intercepted his first pass, he looked at his mom.
"The only thing I could see in his eyes was he wanted his daddy to be there," she said. "That's a hurt you can't fix."
Reed was born in Steinhatchee, 30 miles west of Cross City, but he's a son to this town. Memorials, small and large, pepper the landscape. From the portion of U.S. 19 dedicated in his honor to the engraved star necklaces family and friends never remove to the plastic plaque on the cash register of the local Subway that thanks the business for sponsoring the Chad Reed Memorial 5K Run/Walk, his memory lives everywhere here.
Rick Gooding, owner of Rick Gooding Funeral Home, buried one of his best friends in a solitary grave site that Holly has fashioned over the last year to look like President John F. Kennedy's plot in Arlington.
Gooding drove Reed's corpse back from the Gainesville hospital where he died and, alone, he prepared the body for burial.
"It was different in that it was like doing it for one of my own children," Gooding said. "But I wasn't going to let anyone else do it."
Sometimes, Holly said, what happened doesn't feel real. She wished her husband would come back to her.
"It's the evening time when you expect him to be home," she said, "and it just doesn't happen."
John Woodrow Cox can be reached at [email protected] or at (352) 848-1432.