By half-time, Liz found herself sandwiched between Bryce and Dirk. Both leaning forward with their opposite elbows propped on their knees for support. Her drift into exclusion began with an unassuming inquiry from Bryce, “What’s it like out there?”
“Dirty and cold, but the time passes quickly,” Dirk replied. “When you’re focused on a pipe that’s so big it needs a crane to lift it, things like hours and minutes don’t seem to matter.”
Was it an explanation of why he hadn’t called? It didn’t impress Liz.
“We were installing a new pipe. The momentum was just enough for the pipe to miss the shaft. A guy was in its path. On the backswing, it hit him square in the chest. The next thing you know, he had a shattered collar bone.”
Liz tuned out after that. David was hit square in the chest by a baseball and didn’t get a chance to tell the tale. The buzzing in her ears wasn’t loud enough to erase the sense of irony. To her right and left were two men who could meet the same end. One by a baseball, the other by a pipe.
She averted her gaze toward the one thing that brought her comfort when she remembered how quickly death claims its next victim, Cameron. He and Sammy were on the bottom two steps of the bleachers practicing their launch poses. “Can you excuse me?”
Both men straightened and Liz rose to leave the row. By the time she reached the stairs, Dirk had slid beside Bryce. As best as Liz could tell, they picked up the conversation where they left off.
She smiled her apologies to the old couple who made the unfortunate choice to sit at the end of the row. They seemed comfortable in their blue and stadium seats. However, their attention alternated between the conversation they were having with the people in front of them and Sammy and Cameron. “Aww leave them alone, they were having fun.” The older man grinned his forgiveness. “One day they’re boys jumping to the moon. The next, they’ll be old like me asking for help finding his glasses.” As though he was trying to make his point he tapped the area above his ears and frowned.
Before he had time to complain about losing the glasses that weren’t on his face, his wife interjected, “You had eye surgery, so you wouldn’t need glasses.”
They chuckled. Liz didn’t know what to make of the situation. Should she laugh along with them or make an escape while she had the chance.
Cameron’s tugging on her hand solved the dilemma. Liz glanced down at him. “Mom, can Sammy stay the night? We promise to be good.”
Sammy who stood a couple of feet away averted his eyes toward the ceiling in a cute display of pretending he hadn’t heard Cameron’s request.
“I don’t know about that one,” the old man pointed at Sammy. “He likes treats before going to bed.”
“Grandpa!” Sammy huffed.
“Aww. I see why you came the boys’ defense.” Liz wagged her finger at the couple whose grins broadened at the revelation. “You’re an ally to the kids.”
The group they were with erupted in laughter. “She’s got you figured out Fred.”
As comfort with the situation settled Liz, she noticed that Fred wore an embroidered Three Creeks Badgers hoodie. Either he was a die-hard alumnus or he was related to…
Fred’s wife wiggled her fingers to wave. “As long as we’re confessing our faults I should let you know I’m Edie.”
Fred nudged his head toward Bryce who was too immersed in a conversation with Dirk to sense he was being talked about. He jutted his head toward the court. The basketball team had returned from the locker room and was running through their drills. He pointed at number twenty-four and beamed. “Bryce and Beau are our sons.”
It was one of those situations where Liz didn’t want to do the math, but she couldn’t help it. Bryce was the father of a nine-year-old boy. Beau was a high school senior. “Go ahead and say it,” Edie’s light chuckle showed familiarity with Liz’s gut reaction. “Menopause is a jokester.”
“Mom,” Cameron implored his mother for her attention. He tilted his head toward Sammy. “Sleepover?”
After all the running around the boys had done in the gym, Liz was sure they’d fall asleep in front of whatever movie they chose to watch. The silence would give her time to talk with Dirk.
“Sure, but you have to make sure it’s okay with his dad.”
Both boys bounced up the stairs and hurried to talk with Sammy’s father. Bryce’s eyes scanned the crowd until they fell on Liz, who nodded confirmation of what the boys told him. He flashed her a smile and nodded.
Everything was in order. The boys parked on the other side of Bryce and huddled together. Liz knew from the posture they were planning what they’d never get away with. Still, it warmed her heart. Years ago she watched Dirk and Tom. She was the older sister they tried tormenting, but eventually gave in to defeat and played video games or ate the cookies she baked. The names change, but the routine passed from one generation to the next.
She nodded at Edie and Fred before saying, “I should get up there before the boys get into more trouble.”
“Which boys are you talking about?” Fred joked. “Sammy and Cameron or Bryce and Dirk.”
Liz smiled warmly. “Both.”
They laughed and she trotted up the stairs. Dirk didn’t move to make room for her so she sidestepped to go to the other side of the boys. As she sat, Bryce leaned behind the boys. “Thanks for taking Sammy.”
“No problem, I’m sure the boys will have fun.”
“And, it gives me a chance to go out and have some drinks. Bryce used his elbow to point out Dirk. “This guy has a lot of great stories.”
Slowly the realization of her assumption sank into Liz’s awareness. Dirk wasn’t going to stop by her house after the game. He was going to hang out with Bryce.
***I’ll cheat and give you insight. Remember how Liz is self conscious about her age. I added a character to prove age is just a number. We’ll have to see if she gets the subtle message. The next chapter is in the queue. Once I find the pictures to match the story, I’ll post it.