Liz checked the clock. 10:30. Cameron and Sammy laid sprawled out on a mountain of blankets in front of the television. She pressed the power button on the remote and watched the screen shrink until it was completely black.
Cameron mumbled in response to something she guessed was in his dreams and rolled over.
Even though they’d kick off the covers in the middle of the night, Liz did her best to tuck each of the boys in. Seeing them rest peacefully brought memories of her childhood to her. Tom and Liz played for hours on the living room floor. When they were little he played with his cars and she worked in crafts. In their teen years, video games and friends were added to the equation. Warmth merged with a tinge of sadness. Her son would never know the joys of a younger brother or sister.
A soft knock at the front door pried Liz away from the adjective scene. She tiptoed across the living room and slowly turned the knob. The door cracked before allowing a stream of cold air in. Worried that the sound would wake the boys, Liz chose to suffer the cold and continue with the slow opening.
When the crack was wide enough, Dirk wearing a beanie and his dark blue, Carhart jacket awaited her on the other side. “I wanted to come by and say goodnight.”
Liz held her lips to her fingers and opened the door wider to invite him in. They could talk in the kitchen. Dirk craned his neck. When he saw the sleeping boys he mouthed an apology. Liz used to it being just her and Cameron thought for sure the rustling of Dirk’s clothes would have woke the children. They didn’t stir. When they were in kitchen and out of earshot, Dirk’s spoke with a breathiness that said he had been doing everything within his power to be quiet. “I had to see you.”
Liz searched his eyes to try and figure out why to prepare herself for what he had to say. “Why? Did something happen?”
“Nah, I didn’t plan on going to the bar tonight.” The scent of the cold lingered on Dirk’s jacket. He pulled off his gloves and shoved them in his pocket. “But I didn’t feel right about telling Bryce I didn’t want to hang out with him. He doesn’t get to go out much.”
“I can imagine,” Liz replied. And she could. Like Liz, Bryce was a single parent. Taking care of a child eliminated a lot of possibilities for socializing. The only reason he sat by her at the game was because Sammy and Cameron were friends.
“Just so you know, I don’t mind going out with you and Cam.” He reached for her hand and squeezed it. The firm touch exhilarated yet centered Liz at the same time. It feels like we’re a family when we’re together.”
“Ah, thank you.” Until Dirk mentioned it, Liz never thought having a son would be an issue. Then again, it wasn’t like she dated since Cam was born. She was too busy taking care of her son and working her two jobs.
“I thought I’d let you know, so you wouldn’t worry about how I felt.” Dirk leaned forward and kissed her on the cheek.
When he pulled away, Liz touched the spot where he touched her. With its tingle, the soft reminder of how sweet he could be filled her heart. In one way or another Bryce had always been a fixture in her life. Even when she went away to college, he was at the house when she came home for visits. Until he left to work in the oil fields, Liz thought he’d always be there. He wasn’t gone and she already missed him.
Dirk caressed her jawline with the back of his hand. His eyes bore the intensity of someone trying to remember a picture. His face softened and he said, “I should get going.”
“You came over to tell me that you like going on dates with Cam and me?”
“No, I came here because talking to Bryce opened my eyes to things I hadn’t seen or even considered. Did you know he hasn’t been on a date since his divorce.” Liz was starting to feel guilty. She had misjudged the situation. Dirk didn’t go out with Bryce to party. Instead, he saw that he was needed and gave Bryce the gift of his time. “I should have known something was up when he was interested in oil worker stories. He doesn’t get to hang out with people because he lost his friends in the divorce. ”
The pained expression in Dirk’s eyes touched a place in Liz’s heart. He had always been the guy to take the new student under his wing or hang out with the person who couldn’t play because they broke a bone. She asked herself, why hadn’t she seen it earlier.
Dirk pulled out his gloves. As he began placing his right hand in the opening, he said, “ I told him we could hang out some more some other time because I had to get here at a decent time had to say goodnight.”
Liz rolled her eyes. “You could have texted.”
Dirk’s lips quirked into a mischievous grin. “Since I’m already in hot water for forgetting to text for the past three weeks, I figured I’d use it to keep warm.”
If Liz wasn’t careful, Dirk would figure out his charm worked and he’d use it against her.
He gave her a quick peck on the lips and said, “Let me get out of here before I do something we’d both regret.” He threw her a wide grin and hurried out the kitchen door.
Liz stood in her kitchen, grinning like a schoolgirl while staring at the door that Dirk closed softly behind him. She got the feeling that he acted like he was bumbling, but he knew exactly what he was doing to her. And as hard as she tried to resist, he’d probably get what he wanted.