Dirk had no reason to check his phone. It was eight p.m. and the end of his shift. But that didn’t stop him from sneaking a look at the screen. He couldn’t help it. Every time he did, his heart filled with warmth from seeing his favorite photo of Liz and him. His sunglasses shielded his eyes, and her silver hair streaked with a black stripe added sass to her image. Both wore love-struck grins.
As a feeling of longing crept, threatening to dim his good mood, his phone chimed a notification. “Both of us miss you,” followed the green message icon. A video followed. Dirk pressed the screen, and the image of Liz and Cameron cuddled on the couch beneath his green-camo, fleece blanket. “Hey, babe.” Dirk loved how naturally it slipped off her tongue. It was progress. After he kissed her in the library, a timid temperament he hadn’t known existed came out from behind her typically confident personality. He, in turn, softened to assure her of his intentions. He was in it for more than a week-long fling.
Cameron chimed in, “Happy Valentine’s Day! We love you.”
Liz blew a kiss toward the camera. “We wanted to let you know we miss you and hope you’re having a great day.”
The video ended, and Dirk’s brow wrinkled. It was February 13th. Angst took over Dirk’s mood. He and Liz weren’t together for their one month anniversary, nor would they see each other for Valentine’s Day. He had the foresight to schedule a flower delivery for the latter holiday. But had Liz expected something from him for their first milestone.
“We’re getting ready to head over to Phil’s. You coming?” Dirk’s housemate, Lenny, leaned with his elbow perched on the doorframe. What Benny lacked in size, he made up for in wit.
On any other day, Dirk would have jumped at the chance to head out to the local watering hole with the guys. It passed the time and took his mind off the fact that he was hundreds of miles away from the only person he really wanted to be with. Dirk refused to allow the miles to come between them. He couldn’t be there with Liz for two of their firsts, the least he could do was call. Maybe they’d do something different, like watching the same show on Netflix and text.
He shrugged, giving away his somber mood. “I’m staying in. Gonna talk with my girl and catch up on what’s happening at home.”
“Ah yes, the girl.” A wicked glint took over Benny’s eyes. You know you can find a woman to help fill the loneliness, and the girl would never find out.
The thought of being with someone other than Liz made Dirk’ a stomach roil. Some men wanted to be with someone who freely shared intimacy with anyone willing to receive it. He wasn’t one of them. His mother taught him consequences followed kisses, and women who kissed freely usually came with more considerable repercussions.
Of course, Dirk, in his early twenties, thought his mother was trying to scare him. He was thinking along the lines of unintended progeny or an inconvenience caused by a two-week dose of antibiotics. When Dirk had an angry husband, the size of a brick house, show up at his bar stool, he learned yet another interpretation of “larger consequence.”
Fortunately for Dirk, the black eye cleared up before he went home for the holidays. Humbled by life, Dirk quietly returned to Three Creeks. Nobody was any wiser to his ignorant behavior. Tom invited him to hang out for New Year’s Eve. Dirk took it as a sign. It was time to go after the small-town girl who unknowingly held a piece of his heart in her smile.
The gray paint meant to hide oil worker’s fingerprints held more opportunities than Benny’s suggestion. Dirk tipped his head to acknowledge the invitation, “I’m good. You go on ahead and drink one for me.”
“I’ll be doing a little more than drinking.” Benny pushed off the wall and disappeared.
Dirk returned to the video. A beer or a woman couldn’t fill the hunger. He needed the people he hoped would one day become his family.
He pressed the speed dial to return the call. Nothing surprised him more than when it went straight to voicemail. Not once, or twice, but every time he tried to talk to Liz for the next two hours.