“I’m sorry.” She saw the struggle on Dirk’s face. Fear of offending her merged with pain. “I have to be upfront. I need a break from all this. I’m going to be around town, but not available.”
If Liz had a glass of wine, she would have poured it in Dirk’s face. The anger rose abruptly. A red hue accompanied it, coloring her perception of everything. “Is that why Bryce came to take the boys?”
It had to have been. The look of pride on Grace’s face. Was that mockery? Who else knew before Liz that Dirk would bring her back the reality that marriage and family were not in her cards; That she was a gray-haired, single mother of an eleven-year-old boy. They were probably at home laughing at her right now.
Liz opened the door to make room for Dirk to leave. She hissed, “I suppose someone better came along to soothe your bruised ego. Tell her she can have you.”
“There isn’t someone else. When would I have time for someone else?” Dirk reached for Liz’s hand.
Waves of disgust poured through her body. With the certainty of his touch inducing a painful wretch in her stomach touched her, Liz snatched her hand away. “Do not touch me.” In response to his pained reaction, she added fire to the stick of dynamite he had tossed her way. “You had three weeks for someone else. It wasn’t enough for her. Does she want more time? Is that what is happening here? “
Liz’s embarrassment added to the anger. They lived in a small town and ran in the same circles. Dirk was best friends with her brother. “Does Tom know?” Is that why she hadn’t heard from Tom?
Somewhere in the back of her mind, Liz’s logical voice murmured, the way one would talk if they were immersed in water, “Settle down, girl.” Rage batted the calm away.
“No, Tom doesn’t know I’ve lost my job. At least, I haven’t told him.” He motioned to reach for Liz’s hand, and Liz stepped away until her back bumped into the wall.
The swirling sensation in her head settled to something like the ripples in a pond. Her mind had reached a level of instability that it could handle. “Who is it? At least I deserve that much.”
“Nobody. There isn’t anyone else but you, Liz.” His voice pleaded for her to understand. “I don’t have a job. I need to look for another one. It isn’t a forever thing. I need a break. Some time to myself.”
“Is that what you expect me to say to Cameron when he learns that you’re in town? Dirk is here, but he needs time to himself.”
“No. I. He’d be used to it.” Dirk pleaded. “How can I look for a job and be with you?”
At the beginning of their relationship, Dirk told Liz that he waited to pursue her until he had a stable job. She nuzzled into his chest and wrapped her arms around him. “Baby, you are all I need.”
“Is that so?” Dirk kissed the top of her head. “Love doesn’t pay bills.”
That was the difference in their backgrounds talking. Liz watched her parents pore over bills. One would suggest softly, “If we have to, we can do without cable television.” Then they’d sit the kids on the couch. Her father would sit in the armchair across from the sofa. “Money is tight.”
“It won’t be forever,” her mother, who leaned on the arm of the chair, would add. “We’ll eat at home. Instead of going out, you could have friends over.” She’d have baking parties, and Tom had video game nights. Dirk was there along with them. Her parents always came with solutions.
Dirk not only had come to her with a problem. His explanation made it sound like her presence contributed to his hardship. Then again, she was just as guilty. Liz hadn’t sought out Dirk for help with her life.
Toward the end of the school year, the principal called because Cam was mouthy with his teacher. Later that day at baseball practice, Bryce pulled Cam into the dugout. While all the other kids practiced over the shoulder pitches, Bryce and Cam talked. Even from where Liz sat on the bleacher, she could read Cam’s subtle nods. His face, once stiffened in preparation of a rebuke, softened with the gentle wisdom, Bryce imparted.
Thanks to the solid examples Liz had from her parents and her friendship with Bryce, the truth sank in. Liz and Dirk weren’t a couple. They were friends who shared affection and intimacies. She had misinterpreted their relationship. It was her fault. The oxygen slowly returned to Liz’s brain, adding stability to her resolve. How had she not seen it all along? Because her heart got in the way. Liz made the all too common mistake of interpreting I love you to mean I want to spend the rest of my life with you. Well, all that was about to change.
Liz cleared her throat. “I’m sorry. I should have handled this better. You can have all the time you need. Don’t worry about me. Don’t worry about Cameron. Worry about yourself. We’ll be fine without you.”