Oblivious that she was about to be contradicted, Grace chattered away as she zipped her over-sized, red, down coat. “I was going to say something about going to the Civic Center, but you beat me to it. Or better worded, Liz did.” The seatbelt clicked, and she tilted her head as though to say, “We can go now.”
Dirk turned the ignition and slowly shifted his head to tell his mother, in light of what she had just divulged, what she didn’t want to hear. “Mom, I don’t know how to tell you..I’ll just say it.” Except he didn’t say it. He waited as though she’d read his mind or change hers. The whirring of the engine filled the space. Grace blinked hard. She did that when she was holding her tongue. Dirk released a breath. Better to get it over with. He said,” Liz is waiting for us at the Civic Center.”
Grace waved her hand, and her finger pointed at the house. “But, you said…”
Dirk cut her off, “I said I came back to bring you to the Civic Center. I didn’t say anything about Liz not being there too.”
Her eyes darted to the clock on the dashboard that read 8:19. Grace whimpered, “But the date night started at seven. If we go pick up Liz, all the food will be gone.”
“Liz is waiting for us at the Civic Center.” A cloud of awkwardness swirled through the cab, filling all the empty spaces until Dirk was forced to acknowledge it. “We got there, and Diane and Mary mentioned that they expected you to be there too. So Liz told me to come back and get you. I’m sorry. You and I really hadn’t talked about it, so I didn’t know it was important to you.”
“Whenever you come home, it’s important to me, Honey.” She spoke with her sweet variation of let me help you connect the dots voice. “And, we always go out to community events together. That was until you started taking up with Liz.”
Dirk wasn’t about to tell his mother that he had been “taken up” with Liz since high school. It was only recently that he had acted on the compulsion. The slight pucker of her lips was more disappointment than he could handle. If there was one thing, Dirk disdained more than anything, it was disappointing his mother. She had raised him on her own without help from her family. In return, Dirk strived to prove he was worth the sacrifice. “Let’s talk about this on the road.” He shifted the car into reverse and averted his attention to something less stressful, the rearview mirror, then the road ahead of them.
“Mom, you realize I’m a grown man and that one day I’d get married.”
“Yes, but I thought it would be with someone. How do I say it? More suitable.”
A flare of heat surged up Dirk’s face. He tempered the instinct to defend Liz. “Can I have an explanation of more suitable?”
“Oh, I’ve offended you.” Grace sighed and turned her gaze toward something outside the window. “I didn’t mean it like that. It’s just.” She rushed her words. “Liz is a single mother.”
“You’re a single mother.”
“Which means I know what I’m talking about. Single mothers are hard to date. In one way or the other, the child is wedged between the couple and pushes them apart.” She leaned to rub the side of his arm. “I don’t want you to grow attached only to have things fall apart.”
Dirk didn’t know what his mother was talking about. Liz’s son Cameron made it easier for them to get along. They were never bored. Besides, living the world again through a child’s eyes added vividness to the mundane. Then when he went to bed or played with a friend, it was Liz and Dirk’s time. Sometimes they watched a movie; others, they washed dishes together.
Something darkened the edge of Dirk’s picture of a life with Liz and Cameron. At first, Dirk couldn’t put his finger on it. Then it clicked. Every once in a while, when Dirk was younger, he saw his mother with men. They’d sit beside her on the bench at his athletic events, or they’d talk to her at church. His mother wore a euphoric grin for some time. It was always followed by a period of sadness. They ate a lot of macaroni and cheese, and she went to be early. The base of his neck pinched, and tension tightened his back with the ever-increasing awareness that he may have been the cause for the disappearance of the men. Was it something he said or did? Or, had his mother sacrificed her happiness to take care of her son. He thought it best to stew on the revelation. Dirk and his mother would have time over the week to discuss what happened.
Astonished that it was still there, Dirk parked the pickup in the same spot he had when he arrived with Liz. He hurried around to the passenger side and offered his elbow to his mother for support. “Are you sure you want me to come along?”
“Mom!” he exclaimed, “We’re already here. Do you want a steak sandwich or not?” Pain flitting across her eyes softened Dirk’s approach. “Of course, I want you to come along. It wouldn’t be the same without you. I love you, mom.”
She offered him a weak smile. I promise I won’t be any trouble. “I’ll find my friends, and you can find me when you’re ready to go home.”
“You are never trouble, mom.” By this time they reached the door, Mary and Diane greeted Grace like she was a long lost friend returning for a visit. “We thought you’d never get here.”
“I wasn’t sure I wanted to come, but Dirk talked me into it,” Grace grinned.
Dirk set on proving to his mother that he valued her pretended to be annoyed. An easy grin followed the soft eye roll to let them know he respected their friendship. “Why don’t we get you some dinner. Then you can come back with the girls.”
All three women giggled as Dirk guided his mother toward the food stand to get her plate. She shifted her shoulders to the beat of the music. “If you would have told me that Guy Bennet and the Drifters were playing, I might have come without you.” Her comment restored the light, easy feeling between them.
Just then, Dirk saw Liz standing at the edge of the dance floor. She was talking with Maggie. Both women giggled at something. Out of the corner of his eye, Dirk noticed a man set his attention on Liz. He nudged his friend and pointed at Liz. The friend nodded, and the guy strolled across the room like he owned the building. Dirk stiffened. It was a test. Whether it was a test of Liz’s faithfulness or Dirk’s claim was yet to be seen.
The guy was three feet away from Liz when she looked up. Her eyes roamed the room, completely overlooking the guy and landed on Dirk. A fourth of July fireworks display would have been dull compared to the brightness of her smile. Her elation at finding Dirk was unmistakable. As far as she was concerned, he was the only man in the room. The man had motioned to get her attention and froze with his hand in the air. He pivoted to go back in the direction from where he had come. Dirk was sure of one thing. He loved Liz with every essence of his being.
Dirk’s mother tugged on his arm hard enough to pull him toward her direction. She leaned in and said, “Forget about everything I said in the car.”