The longer they played, the more evident it became. Whether he liked it or not Bryce had a new best friend. Ha, Kharma. Liz kept her grin hidden away in her heart. Some twenty years ago, her brother was the unsuspecting victim of a friendship he didn’t know he needed. It as only right that life repay Dirk the kindness.
Liz still remembered how it happened. Dirk knocked on the front door of their then three- bedroom modular home. Tom opened the door and there Dirk stood with dirt on the knees of his torn jeans and his hair so rumpled it would take two baths to smooth it down. “My ball rolled under your house. When I was down there I saw some of your toys.” He dug his hand into his pockets and retrieved three matchbox cars. “I thought you’d want them.”
At the time, Tom was a confirmed germaphobe. He washed his hands so much, Liz would have sworn they’d stay red until he surrendered to death. Their mother had come to see who was at the door. She wiped her hand on her calico apron. “Well, go ahead and take your cars.”
Scared eyes glanced up pleading for intervention. But their mother was one of those women who believed problems were life’s way of empowering people. She wasn’t budging. “If you don’t take them, he can have them.” She stepped closer to the door. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Dirk. I live on the other side of the park. We just moved here.”
”Well, nice to meet you, Dirk. I just baked some cookies. Would you like one?”
Dirk was smart enough to glance behind them. It was possible he knocked on the door of some weird family.
Alliances were formed in moments like this. Of this Liz was certain. Her brother had been driving her crazy. It was the summer before kindergarten and he didn’t have friends. Should she side with Tom and endure six more weeks of him tagging along behind her? Or her mother, who had the power to convince dad to allow Liz to go to the movies. Liz curled her arm through Dirk’s elbow. “C’mon in. We don’t bite. Unless you’re trying to steal my cookie.”
In the battle of friends versus germs. Friendship won. Tom pushed Liz away. “He’s my friend. Get your own.”
Dirk knocked on the door every day since then. Washing hands became less important and Tom turned into the little brother who tormented Liz with worms and frogs. Dirk and Tom were catcher and pitcher in little league and double-dated until Tom left for college.
Bryce was a lot cleaner, but he seemed to have entered Dirk’s life in a similar manner. Liz’s offer to take Sammy for the night opened the door to their friendship. Other than zealously winning at gin, she couldn’t see any character flaws in the man.
After the fifth round, she excused herself and visited the cocoa station. Several people had the same idea. They clustered around a rectangular table with stainless steel coffee urns. Folded cards identified the contents: milk chocolate cocoa, dark chocolate cocoa, vanilla cocoa, peppermint cocoa, and sugar-free cocoa. Several cans of Reddi Whip lined the edges. Liz pressed her finger to her lip as she considered her options.
She felt Dirk’s touch before the initial contact. His fingers twined and connected with hers. Then came the gentle tug. “Can I talk with you? It’ll be quick.” A quick backward flitting of his eyes gave away that he was encouraged to initiate the conversation.
“Sure.” Liz allowed herself to be guided away from the cocoa station. Knowing smiles lit people’s faces as they made room for Dirk and Liz to pass by.
He led her past the mystery section, through the DVD area, all the way to the corner of the reference area. His eyes scanned the area one last time before a shy grin transformed him into the sweet boy she recalled from all those years ago.
“About what I said earlier.”
Liz had heard him say he loved her. But it couldn’t be love, love. She smirked when he said it. Dirk was too young to know about love. Still, it was sweet. Liz gave his hand a little squeeze. “Don’t worry. I won’t hold it against you.”
He frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Her words upset him. It was the opposite of Liz’s intention. She caressed his forearm. “I mean I know it’s too soon. You don’t have to take it back. I get it.”
Dirk’s brow furrowed and his eyes darted back and forth. She could tell he was trying to read her face. “I am in love with you. I have been for quite some time.”
Liz’s heart hitched at the ferocity of his declaration. Dirk set his hand on her cheek and pressed his lips against hers. She felt fire. It warmed and then spread through her chest. Liz gasped in fear of wanting to be consumed by it. Life had given her love once and taken it. She didn’t dare ask for a second chance. Yet here it was pursuing her.
Dirk slowly pulled away. This time his brows wagged their conspiracy. There was something special between the two of them. His voice was hoarse from the passion she now knew he kept contained. “Now do you believe me?”
“Uh-huh.” Liz nodded.
He took her hand in his. “We should get back before people talk.”
Before people talk? They started before Liz and Dirk turned the first corner.