Dirk moaned when Cameron jumped in the mud puddle. He had won points with Liz only to lose them in a matter of seconds. Her last words were, “Don’t let him get into trouble.”
When Dirk tried to balk, she added, “You’re more of a buddy than a parental figure. He’s in shenanigan mode every time you’re here.”
It stung Dirk’s ego, but he deserved it. “If you want more Dirk and Cam days, you have to stay out of the mud.” He closed the pickup door behind him.
Cameron stopped and examined the bottom of his pants. Splotches of mud created a line of brown dots trailing up to his knees. “I can try to throw them in the hamper before mom sees them.”
Bryce scowled at Sammy, whose foot was raised and ready to mimic what Cam had done. “You’re going to go places, buddy.” Then he snapped and moved his finger in a circle to Sammy, who looked like Cam’s splash was a challenge. “And it will be to your bedroom without your games for a time out. “
Sammy harrumphed and walked around the slush puddle.
“Cameron, you make sure to wipe your feet before we go inside.” Bryce had spent so much time with Liz and Cam; he used the different variations of the child’s name to influence him. Dirk, who was still in the phase where he sought the Cam’ approval, wondered if he could pull it off it he practiced.
When Cam rubbed his feet on the red carpet inside the door to the ice cream parlor, Dirk made a note to watch and learn.
“You can have whatever you want. The only rule is it has to cost less than five dollars.” Bryce tilted to talk to Dirk. “I made the mistake of forgetting the last part once. It was shortly after I left Callie.” He shuddered. “Sammy threw up all over the place.”
Bryce’s reassurance helped with the string of tension in Dirk’s chest. Parenting wasn’t something downloaded at conception. It was trial and error and every once in awhile someone threw a nugget of wisdom to help.
“Can I have whatever I want?” Cam gave his best please say yes grin.
“Anything under five dollars,” Dirk echoed Bryce’s response.
“Aww.” Cam’s pout followed by, “I never get what I want,” sent a pile of rocks to Dirk’s stomach. He had won Cam over by proving he was an ally. Yet, Dirk had to shift gears. If he didn’t, his relationship with Cam could turn into a wedge between Dirk and Liz.
“Call me crazy trying to save you from ice stomach,” Dirk shook his head.
“Ice stomach?” Cam, Sammy, and Bryce asked at the same time.
Dirk gave himself a pep talk and hoped Bryce wouldn’t sabotage his efforts. Fake it till you make it. “Yeah, haven’t you heard of it. I got it once when I was a kid.”
At this point, the lady on the other side of the ice cream counter stifled her reaction by pressing her lips together. Dirk thanked her with his eyes. “It was horrible. If the stomach ache wasn’t bad enough, my feet were so cold the doctor said I was lucky they hadn’t frozen solid.”
“Whoa!” Sammy and Cam faced each other with wide eyes.
“Did you know about Ice stomach, dad?” Sammy’s mouth dropped so far he looked like he was impersonating a cartoon character.
“I’ve heard about it.” Bryce shrugged. “But I’d never met anyone who actually had it.”
At this point, the lady behind the counter had her hand on her stomach to hold in a laugh.
Concern crossed Bryce’s face. There was something in his eyes that said he was concerned about more than Dirk’s made-up disease. Dirk skipped his attention back and forth between the woman and Bryce. His mind snapped with revelation. On Friday night, Bryce admitted that Liz was helping him with a lady. The next ding of realization came with remembering it was Bryce’s enthusiastic, “Let’s give Liz a break and take the boys out for some ice cream,” that brought them to the ice cream shop. Dirk cleared his throat and pulled back the charisma. It was his intention to pull the line with Cam, not outshine his friend.
He pressed his hands together. “How about this. You and Sammy can go first. Cam and I will go in the bathroom to get cleaned up.”
“But I am clean,” Cam argued.
“Well, we can get clean again.” Dirk tapped on Cam’s shoulders to get him moving in the right direction.
“We’ll go with,” Bryce followed behind Dirk.
Dirk inhaled. Bryce was just as challenging as Cam. He took his chance to address the obvious when the door slammed shut behind him. “You should ask her out.”
“Who?” Bryce pretended to watch the boys.
“The lady behind the counter. You have a thing for her.”
Bryce scratched the back of his neck. Otherwise he seemed unconcerned about the woman who had him looking anxious moments prior. “Having a thing for someone doesn’t mean you ask them out.”
Dirk pressed the knob to help the boys pull out the paper towels to dry their hands. They smashed them into a ball and shot the crumpled remains of their handwashing in the trash like it was a basket.
“That’s right we’re only supposed to ask out people we don’t find attractive,” Dirk rolled his eyes.
Bryce pulled open the door, and the boys scampered to the glass display with all the flavors. With the boys distracting her, Dirk took a good look at the lady. The red and white pinstripe apron hid her figure, so he couldn’t tell if she was slim or athletic. Her auburn hair was pulled into a messy ponytail. The hair at the nape of her neck had broken loose and frizzed. She was cute, but not Dirk’s type. Dirk preferred women that projected a little sass with their smarts.
He whispered, “I always took you to be the type that would like the athletic type. She’s kind of cute.”
“Are you kidding me. We are going to talk about this here?” Bryce hissed.
“Why not?” Dirk smiled at the woman. He glanced at her name tag; it read April. “Hey, April. I’ll just have a Turtle sundae.”
“Good choice,” April set the cardboard dish on the counter and dug the ice cream scoop in the tub of vanilla ice cream.
“I’ll have one, too.” Bryce flashed April a grin.
“You like to live dangerously,” April winked at Bryce.
“I’d say he does,” Dirk agreed. “He hangs out with me.”
April laughed and dropped a large scoop of ice cream in the bowl. “Or it could be the other way around.” She dipped the scooper back into the ice cream.
“You should hang out with us sometime and find out,” Dirk suggested.
“I might do that,” April dug and rolled the ice cream again.
Bryce left Dirk at the counter with April and headed for the register to pay for the ice cream. The other confectioner rang them up and handed Bryce the boys’ ice cream.
“We’ll be back to talk,” Dirk nodded to April, who handed him the two sundaes. He was determined to get Bryce a date. He hoped the ice cream would soften his friend’s resolve.
While the boys chattered and ate their ice cream. Dirk sat in the chair next to Bryce to continue the conversation he was obviously trying to avoid. “What was that about?”
“Don’t try to avoid me. You and I both know you’re interested in April.”
“Yes, but I’m not in a place to entertain a relationship.”
Dirk leaned away from Bryce to get a better look at the man who decided they were best friends the first time they met. “What kind of a place are you in?”
“I have issues from the divorce. You know baggage. Until I’m sure, I’ve resolved them; I don’t want to get serious with anyone.”
Pointing with his spoon, toward the back of the ice cream parlor, Dirk suggested, “Maybe you need someone like her to help you resolve them.”
“You helped me, it’s only fair I repay the favor.” Dirk set his spoon in the ice cream. They had to solve this problem quickly. The boys’ were almost done, and he didn’t want his ice cream to melt.
“Don’t make the mistake I made. Put down your issues and go after what you want.”
“It’s not that easy,” Bryce spit out. “Women are complicated.”
“Life is complicated,” Dirk pressed. “The crazy thing is happiness is enjoying the simple things. Like hearing the change in a person’s voice when they’re happy to see you. She was happy to see you. Why are you going to let that go?”
“I’m done. Can I throw this away?” Sammy held up his empty paper bowl.
Bryce exhaled his relief at the disruption. “Sure Bud, you go ahead.”
Sammy slid out of his seat. Cam slurped the last bit of ice cream off of his spoon and followed behind him.
“Trust me. This is the voice of experience.” Bryce used his napkin to clean a smudge on the table Sammy left behind. “I’d rather think about what may be than what I ruined.”
Dirk knew he couldn’t do anything about it with the boys, but he intended to show Bryce that he was wrong.