Home For the New Year Chapter Twenty-One

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Smart people hope for pleasant weather, but are wise enough to expect to have their plans ruined by a weird weather disturbance. Liz shuddered every time she recalled the day she went to Glacier for a hike and was caught in a blizzard that arrived three days before the widely publicized forecast.

For the time being, life blessed Liz by fulfilling her hopes for her son’s birthday party. It was a warm seventy degrees with a breeze. The aroma from Tom’s grill filled the air, confirming that summer had in fact arrived. Liz regarded the balloons tied to the backs of chairs. She interpreted their gentle wave, back and forth in the breeze, as nature’s promise to be kind for the day.

Her sister-in-law, Maggie pressed her hands on her hips and her face wrinkled in suspicion. “It’s perfect for now. But I can see a good wind surge turning those balloons into mini missiles that pop people upside the head.” Her shoulders shook with her giggle. “I know a couple of people who could use a good pop upside the head. I hope they’re here if it happens. ”

Liz refused to surrender to the anxiety that pressed on the back of her mind. Instead she focused on how well the details fell into place. “How cute is this cake?”

“Only you would be lucky enough to have a son who would want a baseball theme for his birthday party.” Maggie took a swipe at the edge of the cake and licked her finger. Her summer red lipstick accented the I got away with doing something smile. If Maggie caught a kid sneaking a taste of frosting she’d have slapped the child’s hand. It was one of the things Liz loved about Maggie, she acted like an adult, but was a kid at heart. Maggie added, “The rest of us have kids who want themes where you have to buy all of Party Central to decorate.”

Maggie was right. By all definitions of the word, Liz was blessed. Her wavy haired, wide eyed, child who always seemed to be happy was well tempered child. Although, he had his moments. Even then, Liz blamed it on hunger pains. Lately, Cameron was waking up in the middle of the night and eating whatever leftovers were in the fridge. If Cam’s appetite was any indication, a growth spurt was in his future. Even then, it made her proud. She had a son who was turning out fine, despite her being a single mother.

Liz scanned the yard one last time before going in to the house for more snacks. Her eye drifted toward Cameron who was off in the corner with his cousins playing with a wiffle ball and plastic bat. The plastic sports gear was a safer alternative to Cameron’s usual. He was responsible with his toys when it was just him and Sammy. When more kids were added to the mix, Liz saw someone acting out to impress their friends. The last thing she needed was a kid going home with a goose egg, because someone hit them with an overzealous swing.

As if to confirm her worries, her niece Vivian hit the ball with the tip of the bat. Instead of flying straight, the ball sliced to the right, ricocheted off the edge of Cameron’s wooden playhouse, and bounced across the table. The ball rolled mere inches from the cake Maggie had finished decorating in the early morning hours. Liz picked the cake up off the table for safer storage. “Maybe I should take the cake inside, for now.”

Walking a few steps behind Liz, Maggie fussed at the kids. “You need to be more careful. I don’t want to have to buy your cousin a cake because you don’t know how to hit a baseball.”

“It’s okay.” Liz wasn’t sure if her assurances were more for Maggie or herself.

Before everyone arrived, Liz had spent extra time preening . Dirk was going to be at the party, and she wanted him to like how she looked. At this point in the relationship, Dirk spoke to Liz with a tenderness. She had known him for years. In all that time she hadn’t seen the side of him he saved, it seemed for her. The changes from brothers friend to boyfriend simultaneously delighted and unnerved Liz. The same person who used to tell her to go away because she was annoying– loved her, and he’d be there any minute.

As Maggie and Liz entered the house through the back door leading in to the kitchen, Tom, who had gone into the house for more barbecue sauce, opened the front door. “Good to see you Mama Mullins.”
Liz pushed some sodas to make room for the cake and set it on the counter. Satisfied the cake was safe, Liz wiped her hands on a towel and held out her arms for a hug. “I’m glad you made it.”

Grace hugged Liz with a mother’s warmth. “ There is no other place, I’d rather be. ”

Ever since date night at the Civic Center, Dirk’s mother became the surrogate grandmother for Cameron, Vivian and Edgar. She was notorious for sneaking the kids sweets when she thought Liz and Maggie weren’t watching. One time at a barbecue at Tom and Maggie’s house, Maggie had told Vivian she couldn’t have a Coke until after dinner. Vivian replied with a compliant pout. A couple of minutes later, Maggie caught Grace passing Vivian a sip of her soda. Maggie raised a questioning brow. Grace’s sheepish, “Grandmas are allowed to break the rules,” ended the discussion and won Maggie’s admiration. From that point on, it was a game of Grace breaking the rules and Liz and Maggie pretending they hadn’t noticed.

“I hope you don’t mind if I brought a friend.” Grace glanced behind her. A familiar older gentleman popped in the doorway behind Dirk. His thin white hair was smoothed to the side. Because of his white mustache, Liz likened him to Montana’s response to Tom Selleck. Brad, like his famous inspiration, was charismatic and sweet, but he preferred denim shirts and hats.

“ Good to see you, Brad.” Liz shifted to welcome him with a hug. “I worried that you wouldn’t come around anymore after I whooped you at mini golf.”
Brad exchanged a glance with Grace. A sweet half smile brightened both their faces. “I lost on purpose. I heard somewhere ladies like a man that knows how to lose.”

Tom guffawed but stopped when Maggie elbowed him. Dirk cleared his throat and passed Liz the box he had been holding. He obviously wasn’t comfortable with the blossoming relationship between Brad and Grace. Give it time, Liz thought. It was the same advice Dirk gave her when she voiced concerns about their relationship. “ Then he’d give her a gentle peck on the lips and add, One day people will automatically associate our names together. ” When Liz moved, she heard the sound of plastic shifting inside the box. Liz saw an immediate future of dodging Legos when she tucked Cameron in at night.

Maggie confirmed it when she whispered, “It’s the tree house that comes with a light kit.”

The enthusiasm in Grace’s voice pushed aside Liz’s fear that the other foot was going to drop. That one day Dirk would agree with her earlier concerns that she was too old for him. Or that she had more baggage that he wanted to handle. She started to believe that perhaps it was her turn for a happy life.

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