Dirk hadn’t been home for an hour when his mother came back from Cam’s baseball game. Her cheeks were pink from the sun, and her eyes bright with pride. “I got to the game in time to see Cameron hit a home run.” She dropped her purse on the floor by the door. “He’s a fast little runner.”
When Dirk left for Easton, he noticed that Cam had grown. Cam’s head landed in the middle of Dirk’s chest when he gave Dirk a hug goodbye. Dirk exhaled a breath. Every chance he either found or created, Cam had Dirk in Liz’s backyard or at the park catching or throwing a ball. “The boy is a coach’s dream. He’s a natural athlete. Besides that, he likes to work on his game.” Over beers afterward, Bryce thanked Dirk for supporting Cam. It was almost as if Bryce were Cam’s father, and Dirk was the friendly uncle.
Cam still tested Dirk. Especially at bedtime. “Are you sure you wouldn’t want to play a quick round of Mario Kart? I promise I won’t knock you off the Rainbow Road this time.”
Invariably, Dirk gave in. It was hard for Dirk to be strict with Cam. Especially on the nights when Cam was in his pajamas and leaned against Dirk to watch a movie. Cam would bury his toes into the couch cushion and just watch whatever came on the screen. Liz made sure it was appropriate for her son. No on-screen killing, kissing, or graphic fighting. In those instances, Dirk sided with mom and Cam begrudgingly complied with Liz’s edict.
A boy had to know he had an ally in the world. Or at least that was what Dirk wanted when he was a kid. Someone to support his dreams and show that boundaries were there for protection. Not that he didn’t appreciate his mom, but having a man around would have made the successes that much sweeter. Yes, he was disappointed to have missed the home run. His thoughts added a p.s. Bryce deserved most of the credit.
Grace removed her shoes and placed them neatly in the shoe caddy beside the door. She tapped them as though the extra touch would ensure they were safe until she returned to retrieve them. Then she crossed the living room with a natural stride. The scene was comfortable and familiar until she said, “I mentioned to Liz that you were going to be home.”
“You didn’t have to do that,” Dirk cringed inside. “How did you say it?”
His mother paused at the doorway between the kitchen and the living room. She wriggled her lips the way she did when she was trying to remember something. “I think I said something about wishing you’d get home sooner so you could see the home run.”
“So you didn’t tell her I was home, per se?” Dirk knew it was stupid, but he had to try. He hoped his mother would affirm Liz’s ignorance of what he intentionally avoided sharing. Losing a job, even if it wasn’t his fault, was humbling. Liz didn’t need to see that side of him. If Dirk had any say in the matter, she wouldn’t.
“No, but I said you’d be here sometime in the day.” Grace perched her hands on her hips. “Don’t you growl at me, young man.”
The latter part of her statement surprised Dirk. He was about to snap back when she said, “We both know when you don’t like something I said you do this thing with your throat. It sounds like the beginnings of a lion’s roar. Except it’s human-sounding.”
Dirk opened his mouth to object and stopped mid sound and changed his course. “I didn’t want her to know I was home.”
“Oh, for heaven’s sake, why not?” Grace circled back into the living room and sat in the chair across from the couch.
“I was hoping I’d have another job when I told her that I lost my job in the oil field.”
“Where exactly would this new job come from. Because if it’s from around here, word will get out before you left the interview.”
It was a slight exaggeration, but Grace was right. Especially in the case of Liz and Tom. They were always at the store, and people liked to chat when they rang up their items at the register. In this instance, it wouldn’t be gossip. Dirk could see someone asking Liz if she was happy he was home. “Maybe I shouldn’t have come home so quickly.”
Even as he spoke, Dirk knew his only option was to return to Three Creeks. The owner of the house in Easton agreed to waive the termination fee if Dirk left the apartment. “I have a waiting list for renters. The sooner you’re out, the sooner I can have new tenants.” Eager to make money, the guy who looked like he’d break with a strong wind helped Dirk load his furniture in the back of his pickup.
“Rip off the bandage so you can get the pain over with. Tell Liz the truth about what happened.” Grace said it like transitioning back to his old life would be easy, which was furthest from the truth for Dirk. He didn’t go to college or trade school.
“It isn’t that easy, mom. Telling something bad is way easier if you have something good on the other side.”
“This is a test,” Grace leaned forward the way she did when she was telling him something she wanted him to remember. “Relationships have their good times and low times. The low times show what a person is really like. If you hide this, how are you going to know what Liz will be like when you have a serious problem?”
On the scale of problems, not having a job ranked fairly high. In school, the teacher usually gave small quizzes before an exam. Cam complained about it all the time. Dirk wished for a quiz. Maybe a dent in the car or a broken piece of furniture. Up until this point, the tests with Liz where her insecurities.
“I’ll call her later today,” Dirk promised. “I just have to figure out how to go about it.”
Grace popped out of her seat and headed back to the kitchen. “Just say it.”
“Just say it. Yeah. Right,” Dirk echoed. “If only it was that easy.”