The middle of June was always unpredictable. Wind, hail, and sometimes snow could be on the tail of the summer sun. Dirk hated to be negative, but experience taught him life couldn’t always be sunny. Rather than belabor the point, he relished the scent of freshly swathed hay and cherished the rays that nourished the rows of green. In five to six weeks, Dirk would drive by to see farmers harvesting wheat. Attesting that regardless of harsh circumstances, there was something at the end, to prove hardships were worth enduring.
At a remote gas station somewhere between Three Creeks and Easton, Dirk’s notifications announced the first wave of bad news. The text message from Lenny read, “I won’t be at the house when you get back. Lost my job.” Dirk wasn’t surprised. Lenny liked to goof off. The only unknown was what had he done to be let go. Was it showing up late, and the foreman followed through with his threats? Or, had Lenny slacked off and got somebody else hurt?
Dirk wanted to reply, “It’s about time.” He attributed his decision to withhold judgment to Liz, who always told him to take the high hand. “Give people dignity,” she’d say. “Even when they don’t deserve it.” Dirk naturally disagreed with her. It was a habit formed from years of taunting her. She didn’t take the bait. Instead, she followed with, “Life will grant you the courtesy when you need it.” So, he replied “Sorry to hear about it.”
For the remainder of the drive to Easton, Dirk played scenarios through his mind. They were down one housemate. Would the other guys choose someone without Dirk, or wait for him to make the decision? Or would they ask him to split Lenny’s rent for the month? Even though he could afford it, Dirk didn’t want to surrender any more money than he had to.
Growing up with a single mother, Dirk saw the impact of unexpected expenses. Grace always kept her cool. He witnessed the actual effect in his late-night trips to the bathroom. Then, Dirk caught glimpses of his mother’s worrying. She’d pore over the bills at the kitchen table, or take inventory of the items in their pantry. If Dirk had any say in the matter, he’d never live under those stresses.
Dirk rolled down the window and turned up the radio to amplify his country music road trip playlist. He raised his chin to let the hint of a chill in the breeze cool his beard. The feeling reminded him of when Liz slid her fingers along the edge. They’d only been apart for a couple hours, but Dirk already missed her. The further he drove away, the deeper the want to be with her dug at his insides.
When Dirk pulled up to the ranch style house large enough to accommodate four men, everything was dark. There weren’t any pickups parked in the street or the driveway. He thought for sure, he’d have to jockey for a good space. What is going on? Before Dirk reached the front door, his mind had solved the problem. His housemates were probably out drinking away their paychecks.
The second wave rolled in when Dirk flipped on the lights to see a living room devoid of furniture. He dropped his bag at his feet and raced through the house to look for signs of the others. The kitchen was just as empty as the living room. Dirk spoke to the empty room, and his voice echoed off the dingy white walls. “What is going on?” He had seen scenes like this in programs on the channels toward the end of the satellite tv choices. It was those Christian ones where it was the second coming, and people disappeared out of the blue. Except, in the movie, they left the furniture behind.
Dirk dug in his pocket for his phone. He brushed aside some lint and scrolled to find the number of one of his buddies from another crew. He pressed send and exhaled his relief when a voice on the other end replied, “What’s hanging?”
“Man, it’s crazy. I came home, and the house is empty.” He raced to his room and pushed the door open. His bed and dresser were still in place. So they hadn’t been robbed.
“What did you expect?” Now Dirk heard the slur in the man’s voice. “They were let go three days ago. There’s no reason to stick around.”
“Let go?” Sure, firing Lenny made sense, but Randy and Murphy were hard-working guys.
“The oil prices dropped quick. So they had to let people go. It’s all about the bottom line.”
“No notice? Just, peace out. Goodbye.” If Dirk weren’t living the moment, he would never have believed it possible. His friends were let go. Lenny, the guy who acted like he didn’t care about anyone but himself, was the only one who thought to call.
“It wasn’t that bad. We’re getting a severance package. One week’s pay for every year we work.” If Dirk were let go, it would be roughly $2,000 before taxes. The next question pulsed through his mind. “Why were his friends let go, and he was allowed to stay on?”
The answer to his question came soon enough. He hadn’t been on the deck for a half-hour when the foreman called Dirk into the office. They wanted to give him the courtesy of letting him go in person.
Since there was no point in sticking around, Dirk packed his things and headed home. He was gone and back to Three Creeks within twenty-four hours. When Dirk pulled up to the house, he saw a jarring sight. Grace’s car wasn’t in the driveway. “Not again,” he spoke to the scene in front of him.
Logic joined the conversation. His mother probably ran to the store. Grace was a consistent woman with predictable routines. She had one for when Dirk was away at Easton and one for when he was home. The one for when he was home involved more groceries, cooking, and flexible activities with Mary and Diane. Dirk hoped his homecoming wouldn’t interfere with his mother’s routine too much. Grace had six months of freedom and, most likely, six months of having to fill her time so she wouldn’t be lonely. Hopefully, he wouldn’t be there long enough for her to be bothered by him. Dirk unlocked the front door, saw the couch with frilly throw pillows on the corner, and exhaled his relief. Then he chuckled at his silliness. He would always be there for Grace, and she would be there for him.
Dirk unloaded the three boxes of his belongings on the floor of his room. For the time being, the bed and dresser would be stored safely on the patio. Coming home was a lot easier than leaving. In Easton, it was day-to-day adaptations to new situations. The stores didn’t have the beans he wanted, or the restaurant bustling with customers was friendly enough. Still, it lacked the familiar, good to see you greeting people gave at the restaurants in Three Creeks. It was almost like the people in Easton knew Dirk wasn’t going to be there permanently, so they never bothered to get attached to him.
Satisfied with his progress, for the time being, Dirk crashed on the couch and set his boots on the table. Flipping through the screens of his phone, Dirk didn’t look at anything in particular. It was enough to distract his mind. Or better worded, it gave Dirk some time to avoid the conversation he never planned to have.
Author note: I thought it best to warn you here. Dirk and Liz are about to encounter some more “opportunities for growth.” Whether or not they take them is yet to be seen.