Dirk had to replay the message because the first time he zoned in on the first two words. Liz’s relieved, “Hey, Baby.” The affection in her voice triggered an even deeper wanting in Dirk. This thing between them had to work. She was only a couple hundred miles away-a little under a four-hour drive. So close, yet so far. The distance seemed even greater when he listened to the message a second time through. “Hey, Baby. I’m sorry I missed your calls. Cam was sick, and I was in the back of the house, taking care of him. I didn’t see that you called. I’ll check in later, and I love you.”
Dirk’s heart warmed at her I love you, but it was fleeting. Cam was sick enough for Liz to be unaware of his calls. She also hadn’t called Tom. It was something they’d talk about when he returned home the next time. Liz wasn’t in this alone.
Lenny appeared with a small package in his hand. “Your girlfriend is marking her territory.” He tossed it with a flick of his wrist, causing the box to wobble in Dirk’s hands.
“I’ll remember that the next time you want me to share the cookies.” Lenny’s joking bothered Dirk. Dirk suspected that it was because his housemate was jealous. He stayed out late but never came back talking about a woman. His phone correspondence entailed sharing dirty memes with his friends. As a result, Dirk kept the details about him to a minimum. There was no point in Liz hearing about a person she’d never meet.
Dirk used his pocket knife to slit through the transparent tape that sealed the package. Plastic bags filled with air protected…a pair of heart boxers? Dirk shoved them to the side. If Lenny saw them, he’d never let a dirk hear the end of it. The cookies Dirk hoped to receive were next in the box. A dozen chocolate chip cookies were in one plastic container. Dirk’s favorite, miniature monster cookies, were in the other container. He loved that Liz went out of her way to make what he liked.
An extra-large, blue hoodie, was the next gift in the box. Dirk wouldn’t wear it until he got home. There was no point in risking getting oil on it. The stuff was everywhere. Beneath that was a picture. He recognized Liz because Cameron colored her hair with a silver crayon. There were two smaller boys beside her. First, who was the other boy? And where was Dirk in the picture? Dirk answered his own question. Nowhere. He wasn’t around enough for Cameron to consider him worth drawing.
Dirk checked the time. Liz had to be home. Relief filled Dirk when she picked it up on the first ring. “Hey, Baby.” Her voice was thin from exhaustion.
“I missed hearing your voice.” He did too. The entire time they were apart, Dirk replayed her voice messages and videos. He tucked his phone beneath his ear and carried his package back to his room. He expected Liz to say something similar. Instead, she said, “I’m so tired I could cry.”
“Is everything okay with Cameron?”
“No,” she sniffed. “I took him to the doctor, and he has influenza. The medicine works for a while. As soon as it burns off, the fever returns. If that isn’t bad enough, Sammy and Bryce have it.”
“Is Bryce there?” Dirk’s level of concern rose a couple notches.
“No, but he calls every couple of hours to check-in. I sent over some soup.”
That was just like Liz. She needed help but was using the last of her energy to send aid to someone else.
“I don’t mean to sound insensitive, but doesn’t he have someone in his family to help him out?”
“His parents left for Arizona on Wednesday. In other words, Bryce was leaning on Dirk’s girlfriend for support.
Dirk swallowed hard to tamper down the jealousy. It wouldn’t get him anywhere. “Do you want me to let you go?”
“No, I feel better when we talk,” Liz murmured. It was almost as if she was uncomfortable with the vulnerability. But that didn’t matter to Dirk because she wanted him, and he’d make her feel comfortable with wanting him.
Author note: because this chapter is short, I’ll post the next one on Wednesday.