The five-minute drive from the park to the house seemed like an eternity to Liz. Or maybe it was. She had time to be angry with Dirk for not telling her that the was assisting in the search. To feel guilty for not being grateful. To asking herself if Cameron and Dirk had switched places, how would she want an ex-girlfriend to treat her son?
Dirk’s black pickup (rolled slowly) into the parking lot. Her eyes zeroed in on the one thing she craved to see. Her son, healthy. Cameron’s wet mop of hair protruding over the top of the dashboard served as a sign. Until she saw what Dirk had reported over the phone, she wouldn’t believe that her son’s ankle was caught under a tree branch when he slid.
Every muscle in her body tensed, fighting the urge to run to the passenger side of the truck. The time would come soon enough. Her son would be in her arms. And when he was, he wouldn’t leave her sight ever again.
A fleeting thought passed through Liz’s mind. This is how Grace feels about Dirk. Her anger subsided, and she saw Dirk for who he was. A man just like any other with flaws. Liz didn’t have time to pinpoint the moment that Dirk became larger than life. Yet, she could tell the moment down to the wrinkle in the crease of his jeans when he fell. And, it was an unsightly fall at that.
The engine thudded with the shifting of gears. Moments later, Cameron pushed open the door. Liz circled around the driveway to meet him in the middle. At the same time, Dirk said something to Cameron, who returned to his seat. Dirk hopped out of the driver’s side and beat Liz to the door.
“Don’t be too hard on him,” Dirk’s deep voice pulsed through Liz’s body.
His quick defense of Cameron took her aback. It wasn’t palpable. For the time being, it was a sense. Something happened in the hills. “I want to make sure he’s okay,” she defended.
There it was. The alliance between Dirk and Cameron had changed. Dirk, the buddy, had transformed into Dirk, the protector. But why was he protecting Cam from his own mother?
A mangy dog barking from the bed of the pickup hinted at the answer. “You got a dog?” Grace never mentioned they got a pet.
Dirk wiped his chin. “You could say something like that.”
He proceeded to the passenger side door and held out an arm. Liz wanted to push him out of the way. The only thing between Cameron and her was the hulk of a man. Cameron grasped Dirk’s forearm before sliding down from the seat inside the pickup. Yet more evidence of the alliance.
Cameron leaned on Dirk while limping to Liz. He hissed through the pain, “I’ll be okay once I get some ice on it.”
Liz looked down at the source of his pain. Cameron’s legs were coated in a light sheen of dried dirt. His shorts blackened with mud were probably ruined. Answers. Liz sought answers to questions that would ease her mind. “How long were you out there alone?”
“When it started raining, Bentley ran for cover, and I tried to follow him. But the hill was too steep, and I slid.” It hit Liz, Cam’s concern about being in trouble weighed heavily on him.
“Are you okay? That’s what really matters, son.” She forced her way between Dirk and Cameron, offering her shoulder for support.
“I’ll recover quickly. You know how kids are.” Liz stopped to take a hard look at her son. He had changed.
“We’ll see about that.” She motioned to guide him to the house.
Her son looked back at Dirk. He nudged his head as though to say you’re coming too. Dirk shook his head to say, “no.”
“You can’t leave yet. We have to get to the part where you hug Mom and tell her she’s pretty.”
“What?” Liz – – – Then she noticed Dirk’s hands were shoved into his pockets.
“I’ve known mom for all of my life.” Cameron’s eyes pleaded with Dirk to adhere to his wisdom. “I promise. It works.” He pulled away from Liz, making room for Dirk. “Go ahead now.”
“Mom, let Dirk apologize.”
Liz’s lips quirked at the strange turn of events. Her son had adopted the tone of voice she used when he was at odds with a friend.
“It’s not that easy, Cam.” Dirk’s eyes softened.
“Yes. It is.” Cam insisted. “When mom is mad, I hug her and tell her she is pretty. Then she says that she loves me, and I’m still grounded. But at least she isn’t angry anymore.”
In the beginnings of their relationship, Dirk’s alliance with Cam was one of solidarity. It’s the men versus mom. They would work together to get around her defenses. It forged a friendship. Yet even more powerful, it worked. Liz used Cameron as a barrier between Dirk and herself. Cameron was there to say he would have no part of it. He took Liz’s hand and pulled on it while hopping toward Dirk.
“You two, make up.”
Dirk’s eyes connected with Liz. “I’m sorry I was trying to protect you.”
Liz’s heart hurt. Not for herself. For him. Understanding gripped Liz’s heart and ripped a large chunk of the veneer she had used to shield herself from how she felt about Dirk. One time when she was in high school, Liz overheard her mother talking with a friend about marriage. Liz had made a foray into the kitchen for a snack. Her mother and several of her friends were around the table with wine glasses and chips and salsa. The women had gathered because one of the husbands had angered his wife. While Liz foraged through the cabinets for her salty snack, she overheard her mother say, “It’s easy to love a person when they’re doing the right thing. The test comes when you see their faults.” Dirk was always trying to give her what he thought she wanted.
“I only wanted you, Dirk. It’s supposed to be you and me against the world. Not you fighting problems that don’t exist.”
“It was too good to be true.” Dirk shrugged. “You and me. I kept trying to prove I was good enough for you. “
“Seriously? I’m going to prove I love you by breaking up with you? That makes no sense whatsoever. “
Dirk stepped in to hug Liz. “Before I forget,” he bobbed his head as if to say I’m doing this to placate your son. “You’re pretty.”
She accepted Dirk’s embrace. It was the hug she secretly wished for, but wouldn’t allow herself to believe was possible. The touch where he said I’m sorry, and she was able to prove she forgave him. His tight grip spoke the words that were sure to come. Dirk wasn’t going to let her go. Liz breathed in his scent and relaxed. Finally, things were as they were supposed to be. “I love you, but you’re still grounded.”
“I told you. It works every time,” Cameron crowed. Liz took in a deep breath, and then her chest lurched. They were having waffles for dinner.
Categories: Home For the New Year