Home for the New Year Chapter Nine

Dirk wasn’t about to let Liz squirm away that easily. He went to sleep every night talking to her in his mind. Now that she was within his grasp he wasn’t going to let her go. They arrived at the Cocoa-catch-up together, as a couple, and they were going home as a couple. Then again, Bryce needed a friend.

Dirk’s eyes bounced between Liz and Bryce. One expecting dismissal, the other anticipating confirmation of their new friendship. He couldn’t say no to either. “How about this…” He let his eyes drop on Liz. Then his lips quirked into an I got you smile. “Bryce can join our game of gin. Then I’ll have a witness to prove I beat Liz.”

Bryce’s mouth opened slightly as he mouthed the words, “Oh.” He waved away the invitation . “I don’t want to interfere. I’m sure somebody around here knows how to play pinochle.”

“Are you sure?” Liz nudged Dirk with her elbow. “Or are you afraid to see your friend cry?”

If Dirk hadn’t already been in love with Liz, he would have fallen for her right there. He told her about Bryce’s search for a group of people that would accept him. But, he hadn’t asked her to take part in the acceptance. Bryce was about to have his wish for friendship granted. Dirk hoped his friend was ready. Liz was a whirlwind that took the shape of a beautiful woman. Sometimes keeping up with her exhausted him.

“You that good?” Bryce quirked a brow. 

“Hmm mm,” Liz walked toward the room. “Some people say my great grandma Gertie whispers other player’s card in my ear.” She walked ahead of Bryce and Dirk to scope out a table for them to play. Some people were set up at the rectangular tables where people normally studied or read quietly. Smaller makeshift tables had been placed in front of the easy chairs, making it easy for two people to play a game. Cameron spotted Sammy in with a group of boys. They were setting up a Chutes and Ladders game.

An empty table, not too far away from where Sammy and Cameron played, made it easy for Bryce, Dirk, and Liz to watch the boys while playing their game. 

“Hey, we thought you were getting a fourth player to join us.” Bryce’s father called out from a corner of the library. A large picture of a singer holding a book was taped to the shelf beside him. With her finger pressed against her lips it looked like she was sushing him. Bryce gestured Dirk and Liz. “They’re playing rummy.”

Bryce’s father nodded and turned back toward his friends.

Dirk took in the scent of old paper and thought back to all the times when he was a kid, and the librarian shushed him. He set the games they brought on the floor beside his chair while Liz shuffled the cards.

“So hows this work?” Bryce asked. 

Liz passed Dirk the deck and he doled out the blue playing cards. “Easy. If I win, she cooks.” He released the last card with a little extra something to make a slapping sound on the table with the card. “If she wins, I pay for breakfast.”

“What about me?” Bryce scattered his hand in front of him. “Because I have a feeling both of you are going to be losers today.”

Liz’s I told you so smirk grated at Dirk’s ego. He pulled on his ear. “That depends what do you want for a prize.” 

Bryce picked up the ace of hearts from the table and replaced it with a jack of clubs. “I’d like breakfast. Sammy and I get tired of burned toast.”

“Fair enough,” Liz picked up the jack and set down a two of spades. 

Why was she going along with Bryce’s request? An uneasy tug tightened Dirk’s chest. He exhaled a slow breath. Hoping he’d find the answer he looked into her eyes. The I told you so was gone. Tenderness mixed with a little spark had taken its place. She was simply glad to be at the Cocoa catch-up with Dirk. He mattered. A light easy feeling filled his chest and Dirk fought the urge to grin. She had him wrapped around her finger and she probably knew it. There was no point to letting her know how tight she could wrap him. 

The next thing Dirk knew Bryce slapped his cards on the table. “Gin!”

Dirk glanced down at this cards. How was it possible? They had played for maybe five rounds. He was still three cards away from building a strategy. His blink said as much.

To which Bryce replied. “I told you I was going to win. You two are too busy making googly eyes as each other to know what card was in your hands.” 

Liz’s face reddened. “I was not.” 

Bryce raised his brows in challenge. “Are you going to follow through on the bet?” 

She glared at Dirk to say this is your fault. Then she sputtered, “I suppose. But nothing goes on the stove before ten a.m.” She paused to frown. Then she pointed at Dirk, “You’re bringing Captain Crunch for the boys.” 

Dirk rose from his seat and kissed her on the temple. “Things like this are why I’m in love with you.” The gravity of what he said didn’t hit him until he returned to his seat.

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