Dirk always believed growing up in Three Creeks was one of those hidden blessings, a gem in a cave men had visited but forgot. Working in the oilfield, hundreds of miles away from the place he called home, confirmed it. Max, a burly guy from Nevada often told stories of antics committed against teachers he and his classmates reviled. Dirk listened with a quiet remorseful smile. The story added to his homesickness.
Before Dirk left for this three-week stint, he sat by the fire and chatted over a beer with his high school history teacher. Mr. Wilder talked about the history of the oil worker in Montana, while complimenting Dirk on following a legacy of hard working men in their community. “To be honest…” Mr. Wilder paused his musing after his wife placed a second beer on the table beside him. He thanked her and redirected his attention back to Dirk, who reveled in the pleasant turn of events. He barely passed Mr. Wilder’s class with a C-, which came after some intense study sessions with Liz, who had come home from college to visit her family. “I always took you to be the type of person who started their own business.”
This was news to Dirk. When he was in Mr. Wilder’s class, the man who always wore cardigans, even now as they sat across from each other in his living room, never mentioned possibilities to his students. He always brought up their past. “Doing what?”
“I’m a man dedicated to reminding people of other’s successes and failures. It is up to you to pave the future. If I taught you well, it will be a better one. If I failed, you are doomed to repeating mistakes.”
Dirk thought about that one conversation the entire three weeks he was away from Three Creeks. How does one acknowledge the harbingers from the past while focusing on the future?
He also thought about the sweet kisses he shared with Liz after she relented to his insistent pursuit of her. Tom was right. Liz’s Achilles heel came in the form of a nine-year-old boy with skin that had a golden hue, dark, wavy hair, and hazel eyes.
Ironically, Dirk shared her weakness. Cameron served as a reminder of what Liz liked. His father was a baseball player who was three years older than Liz. He died when a ball hit him square in the chest. The man’s heart exploded instantly. At 5’11 and two hundred pounds, Dirk leaned toward hefty. Dirk tried not to let the physical differences dissuade him. If Liz was brave enough to date a man of color, things like appearance didn’t matter. She looked at the heart. If anyone were to ask Dirk he’d say his was good. He did his best to do right by people.
It was the same heart that swelled with pride when Dirk entered the high school gymnasium doors. Since graduating, they had remodeled the concession area. Wood-textured linoleum replaced the dingy gray carpet and a walk-in fridge added more space, making it a place that accommodated visitors. Off to the right of the entrance, trophies lined in chronological order guided the eye to the basketball court. Music blared and the echo of bouncing balls and screeching shoes added to the whirlwind of welcome homes and good to see yous.
Each conversation brought Dirk closer to what his heart sought after: the welcome home smile from Liz. The one where joy morphed her brown eyes into a golden amber.
Dirk’s eyes searched the stands for Liz. Wanting to surprise Liz, Dirk hadn’t told her what time he’d been home. He said that it would be some time, early on the weekend of the twenty-sixth. “I’ll know where to find you.” It was a half-joke and honest truth. He had known Liz long enough to be able to predict what she was wearing by reading the weather and the day of the week.
She rolled her eyes, “I’ll hold a box of Captain Crunch in the back for you.”
The joke opened the door to Dirk’s claim, “I’ve grown up. You’re going to be pleasantly surprised when I show you how the next time I’m here.”
It was next time.
Dirk found Liz in the middle of the stands. Cameron was to her left. He stood on the navy blue bench and hopped down. He seemed to be alternating turns with a boy from his class. Liz spoke to him with brows raised to emphasize the warning. Dirk knew the expression because she used it on Tom and him when they were annoying middle schoolers.
Prickles rose in Dirk’s assessment of the scene when the man sitting beside her said something to Cameron. Whatever it was pleased Cameron, who shoulder shrugged his enthusiasm to the other boy. Liz turned to talk to the man sitting beside her.
Dirk searched his mental Rolodex. Who was the man, and why was he sitting beside Liz? Then awareness filled Dirk’s gut with dread. Recognition of the new high school baseball coach brought a recollection of Mr Wilder’s warning. “Those who ignore the past are doomed to repeat it.”
Dirk had committed the same mistake as Cameron’s father. He didn’t think to call Liz to assert his intention; To remind her that she was the ray of light in his grungy, oily, demanding world. By the time he finished his twelve hour shift, a good meal and hot shower dominated his focus. It never occurred to him to give her a call.
Dirk had repeated a history in which Liz was all too familiar. He had left Liz to fend for herself.
***Let me know what you think. I’ll have the next chapter up in a couple days.