Home for the New Year Chapter Seventeen

“I need to remember to thank Bryce for mentioning this. He has some great ideas.” Liz could hardly contain her delight.

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The weather forecast predicted sleet. Instead, a soft dusting of snow marked the steps of the people who arrived before Liz and Dirk. She admired the white lights twined around the trees that lined the walkway to the civic center. Several times she snuck glances at Dirk to make sure it was really him. He ditched his typical heavy-duty jacket and wore a double-breasted wool coat. A leather pattern stitched on the flaps gave it a soft western effect. A sense of euphoria filled Liz. She hadn’t felt this carefree since her first years at college. “It is almost magical,” Liz gushed.

Dirk squeezed her hand, sending a stream of warmth through Liz. “I’ve been waiting so long for this day. I can hardly believe we’re here.”

His tender grin added to the effect, making Liz’s heart flip in her chest. “We just heard about this last night.”

“Remember that time you went to prom, and I stayed the night with Tom?”

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“No. Yes. Maybe.” Liz remembered the prom. She didn’t remember Dirk staying the night.

“You wore a peach dress with sparkly things all over the chest.”

“Silver beading?” Liz half asked half corrected.

He stopped and set his hands on her shoulders. “Yeah. You’re more beautiful now than you were that night.” He kissed her on the forehead and pulled her in for a hug. “I am the luckiest guy alive.”

Liz had seen flirty Dirk, territorial Dirk, cranky Dirk, and her brother’s best friend, Dirk. Appreciative Dirk was a new person to her. “Why do I feel like I need to be suspicious?”

“The only thing you need to worry about is me beating you at mini-golf.”

“Mini golf?”

“Yes, I went on the event page to see what date night entailed. It turns out they have live music on the stage, a dance floor, and a mini-golf course along the perimeter of the building.” He crooked his arm through her elbow. “Let’s go have some fun.”

When they were inside the building, they saw couples scattered around the edges of the room, at what Liz guessed were the different holes. The ones who were waiting for their turn chatted with other couples. The sweet scent of sauce merging with smoked meat made Liz’s stomach grumble. She had spent so much of her day preening, she hadn’t had time to eat. The irony was, she ended up rewashing her hair and loosely curling the ends. Her makeup wasn’t that much different, either. She chose a deeper shade of eye shadow for a nighttime look. Otherwise, everything was her status quo look of barely-there blush and lipstick.

Dirk led Liz to the area to pay for their tickets. Liz immediately recognized Mary Walker and Diane Fleming, sitting behind the table. The two women who were in their mid-sixties were mainstays of the community. If there was a committee, Mary served in some capacity, and she always did it with a smile. Liz got tired, just watching her. Diane volunteered at the food bank and visited the store often to pick up supplies for meal baskets.

“Look who’s home,” Mary beamed at Dirk. “I bet your mother must be thrilled.”

“She talks about you the whole time you’re gone,” Diane added. “It would have been sweet gesture if you could have brought her along.”

Liz stiffened her face to hold back the cringe. It wasn’t from a dislike of Dirk’s mother. She was a sweet woman who doted on her only son. Before Dirk expressed interest in a relationship, Liz saw herself walking the same trail. Her discomfort came from the awareness that she needed this date with Dirk. Up until now, Liz wondered if she was more of a convenience than an interest. The simple effort of wearing nicer clothes and cologne proved Dirk was, in fact, courting her.

If Liz wasn’t holding Dirk’s hand, she might have missed the flinch. It was a subtle twitch followed by an overcompensation to relax. He released her hand briefly and recaptured it.

There were times to push to win, and there were times to accept defeat. Liz’s gut told her the latter was the better choice. She released the tightness of disappointment and found the loose feeling from lack of expectation easier to carry. “How about this…” She touched the inside of Dirk’s elbow. “Let’s go get your mom and make this a group date.”

Mary and Diane exchanged a quick glance. Diane sputtered, “I didn’t mean to imply that you were ignoring Dirk’s mother.”

“We just wanted you to know she brags about you.” Mary was trying to help, but it was too late. The cow was out of the barn, so to speak. They touched on Dirk’s only weakness. He wouldn’t have had fun knowing his mother was home alone while he was out enjoying the night with her friends.

“Call her and tell her we’ll be there in fifteen minutes,” Liz commanded.

“Is that enough time to get ready?” Dirk asked.

“You’d be surprised at what a woman can do when she’s under pressure,” Liz replied.

“Ladies, we’ll be back.” Dirk set his hand on the small of Liz’s back, and they reversed their course to go to the pickup.

He stopped just outside the door. “Are you sure about this? You’d have to wait an hour for dinner.”

Tom and Maggie rounded the corner. They were laughing about something. Dirk alternated his gaze between Liz and the approaching couple. “I have a better idea. Why don’t you go in with them, and I’ll come back with mom.” He blurted his response to Liz’s frown, “It will go quicker. You know she’ll start talking to you and that will slow things down.” He gave her a quick peck on the forehead. “I promise. I’ll be right back.”

The only thing Liz could do was watch him scamper down the path. Tom and Maggie followed after him with their eyes. Tom asked, “What was that about?”

Liz murmured, “You just witnessed my sense of obligation interfere with my first date in ten years.” She didn’t know whether to be angry with herself, to say I told you so, or just learn to get comfortable with her fate. Under her breath, she muttered, “This was Bryce’s stupid idea.”

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