Cam stopped chewing his Cheerios. Mom, where’s the calendar?” Liz’s son scanned the walls of the kitchen, searching for the calendar the same way he looked for his socks and shoes in the morning. When the calendar fairy didn’t make it magically appear, he scowled.
Think quick. Liz didn’t want to lie, but she wasn’t ready to tell Cam the truth. The week prior, Liz removed the calendar from its place on the wall and hid it in her sock drawer. Even though she tried to avoid it, the day of reckoning had come. “It is someplace around here.” There she told the truth. Then she silently prayed for forgiveness.
Every morning, Liz and Cameron talked over a cup of coffee for Liz and a glass of grape juice for Cam. Cam munched his bowl of Cheerios with bananas slowly while Lize read through their informal agenda. At the time, circling all the Saturdays Dirk would be home seemed like a great idea. This was the Saturday when Dirk was supposed to stop by. When Cam hadn’t said anything, Liz thought everything would be fine. Apparently, her son was tuned in to the routine and ready for it to return.
“How are we going to know the plans for the week?”
“We can write our to-dos in list form.” Liz silently rebuked herself, why hadn’t she thought to replace the calendar earlier? Especially when it was an easy fix. Tom ordered boxes of calendars as gifts for customers from the store. Invariably they always had extras. Liz made a note to right her mistake and pick up a calendar from the store.
Until then, they would just have to make do. Liz found a pencil in the junk drawer by the refrigerator and pulled a piece of paper off of the grocery list pad. “First, there is swim practice in the morning.” She scribbled swim practice on the list.
“Can I work at the store with you this week?”
Like Bryce, Tom stepped in to fill the hole Dirk’s absence created. He’d task Cam and Edward with small jobs like stocking the bottom shelves or keeping the candy aisle in order. To validate the request, Tom would add, “Today it’s your mom and me running the store. Years from now, it’ll be you two.” Every time Tom said it, Cam and Edward’s chest expanded with pride.
“Maybe for a couple hours,” Liz softly refused his request. Cam was a kid. She wanted his summer memories to be full of fun. He deserved to have the worms and frogs in the laundry basket mischief. “I think Maggie wanted to take you to the lake to paddleboard tomorrow.”
“Don’t forget the Lego club at the library on Thursday.”
“You have a swim meet on Saturday.” Liz tore another piece of paper from the pad. She had to make a list of snacks to bring to the meet.
“Do you think Dirk will make it?” The hopeful chirp in Cam’s voice broke Liz’s heart.
“Ah. About Dirk.” Liz didn’t want to string her son from one event to the next. Then again, Cam deserved to know the truth. The tricky part was telling him in a way that didn’t upset him. “He won’t be around as much as he used to.”
Cam set his spoon in his bowl. “I know, Mom. I was just hoping he’d come around every once in a while. He was fun to play with.”
“How did you know?” Liz had worked so hard to shield her son. What else did he know that he hadn’t shared? She hoped he didn’t know about sex. Her mind raced, the books said they were supposed to talk about that in sixth grade.
Cam’s response of “Kids talk,” did little to assuage her concerns. It compounded them. His addition of, “Dirk has been home for two weeks, mostly hanging out at the coffee shop and the library,” added to the pink burn of foolishness that poured through Liz.
Liz wanted to kick herself. She’d missed the obvious. Children mimicked their parent’s behaviors. Gossip traveled faster than a wildfire in the middle of August. Of course, Cam knew Dirk was in town. “Oh. Are you okay?”
“Can I tell you something, and you promise you won’t get mad?”
What could it hurt? Liz braced herself for whatever it was Cam would say.
“Dirk wasn’t a good protector. Not that he didn’t try. He wasn’t around enough.”
“Oh,” Liz held a straight face. She had to give Cam credit. Unlike her, Cam hadn’t been blinded by muscles and a charming personality. Regardless of her mistakes, Liz’s priority was to ensure her son knew he lived in a secure environment. “We live in a safe neighborhood where everybody watches out for each other.”
Earlier in the week, their neighbor from across the street, Becky McReedy, met Liz on the curb. Liz was near finished pruning the bushes when Becky appeared with a bag of saltwater taffy. Becky’s white hair, frizzing at her temples, comforted Liz. Before the woman appeared, Liz had been grumbling about the heat. In her head it was Dirk’s fault she was hot and miserable. Becky’s presence refuted the argument Liz held with herself. Discomfort was normal. Humidity affected everyone. Blaming Dirk was silly. Becky held out a bag of saltwater taffy. “I’ve been watching your son and his friend play all week. They are such a delight.”
The visit settled Liz. Cameron had a community of people who watched out for his well-being. Soon enough, Cameron would pick up the awareness he was being watched over at all times. Liz tried to sound cheerful when she said, “I think you and I hold our own fairly well.”
She made the mistake of sipping on her coffee just as Cam added, “Now that he’s gone, can I have a dog? I know dogs are always around to protect kids.” Liz had to chuckle at her son’s wise innocence. If only it could be that easy for Liz to find a replacement for the Dirk sized hole in her heart.
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