Since deciding he was the man of Liz’s life, Cam had become more vocal about not needing her protection. This time it was protection from the sun. Cameron squirmed and wiggled while complaining. “Mom, it’s cold, and it’s cloudy. Why are we wasting time on sunscreen?”
Poor kid, Liz thought, he’s about to learn he only has a fraction of the strong will he most likely inherited from me.
Skies blotted by clouds threatened to delay the events. Liz suspected the slight chill added to Cameron’s misperception of being invincible to the elements. “Whether or not you agree with me, your skin is important. Please, hold still.” Liz continued spreading the waterproof coconut-scented lotion on her son’s shoulders. Satisfied that he would be fine for the time being, Liz patted his shoulder. “Now you’ll be like a duck. The water will slide away.”
“Until the wind blows dirt all over it,” Cameron pouted.
He’s upset, Liz reminded herself. Although Cameron hadn’t said much about missing Dirk, Liz noticed the wary expression that crossed his face when he saw other boys with their fathers. Guilt wagged its finger at Liz, adding weight to her heart. Her foolishness hurt her son. She dug into her pocket and retrieved a ten-dollar bill. “Would a snow cone from the concession stands make it better? “She quickly added, “You’d have to get one for me, of course.”
“Really?” Cameron perked.
“You’d help me out. I’m feeling like something sweet would make me feel better.”
Cameron took the bill. “Watermelon? Right?”
Liz preferred grape, but she had to give her son a little victory. While people didn’t have control over the things that happened in life, they had the power to soften the pain of circumstances. She smiled to emphasize her gratitude for his kindness. “I can almost taste it, thank you.”
Pride, mixed with love, filled the empty spaces in Liz’s heart while she watched him bounce away in his flip-flopped feet. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Sammy divert his course to intersect with Cam before they reached the line. Liz hoped that Cameron remembered these times. The times when snow cones and friends were all a person needed to push aside a sour attitude.
Bryce was on the pool deck coaching the next round of kids for the 50-meter butterfly race. Cam had a good hour and a half wait before his next race. Liz stuffed Cam’s handheld game system in her bag. When he needed to focus, she’d hand it to him to play Swimmer. It was a simple game. Cameron merely needed to press a button to move the swimmer forward. The challenge came when the virtual athlete was passed by the swimmers in the other lane or dodge an obstacle. She used the game to help Cam visualize before his race. It only took a couple of minutes, and the boy who couldn’t sit still morphed into a focused athlete determined to do his best for the set amount of time it took to win a race.
“I’ve been looking all over for you.” Grace wobbled to balance. The gray fabric portable chair she was carrying swung with each shift in Grace’s movement.
Liz surveyed the area around them. Fabric tent tops designed to shield people from the sun dotted the grassy area around the pool. Some kids sat under the tents with their parents and coaches. However, a majority of them ran between the tents and chattered about things that were important to kids. All the activity buffered the rising discomfort in Liz. When Dirk ended things with her, she thought for sure that was the end of her friendship with Grace.
It must have been written all over her face because Grace’s face twisted into her mother’s I know something grin. “Please tell me you trusted me to come.”
“Set your chair here, next to mine,” Liz made an act of making room for Grace among the cluster of towels, ice chests, and discarded swimming gear. “I didn’t know what time you were coming or for how long.” Summer swim meets were a day-long event, beginning at eight in the morning and ending somewhere after three o’clock.
“What time was Cameron’s first race?” Grace unfolded the chair, set it on the ground beside Liz’s, and pressed on it.
“He had a race an hour ago. His next race will be in another hour.” One pool served as the staging area for kids from five years old all the way to eighteen. Cameron was in four events that were spaced hours apart.
“Good, that will give us time to talk.” Grace patted Liz’s chair.
“About?” Hundreds of possibilities raced through Liz’s mind. All of them involved an uncomfortable conclusion.
“I have known you since you were Cam’s age.” Grace made a show of looking in the direction where Cam and Sammy were waiting for their snow cones. “Granted, it was indirectly, because Dirk and Tom were friends. But still, I was on the outskirts of your life watching you grow up. You were a neat kid, but I like you more as an adult. You’ve always been a fun person, but now I see you as someone relatable.”
“That was not what I expected,” Liz admitted. “I thought you were going to say.” Her eyes darted to the top of the tent as though the words would magically appear. When they didn’t she shrugged, “I don’t know. I thought you’d say that…”
“For the sake of my idiot’s son comfort, I’d keep my distance.”
Liz bobbed her head. “Maybe.”
“Or that I’d ask you to give him a second chance.”
“That was a possibility.”
“No, I’m here for purely selfish reasons. I like you as a person. I’d like to keep you as a friend.”
The tightening in Liz’s throat threatened to cut off her breathing. She coughed to relax the reflex. In the well of emotion rising within her, her appreciation for Grace as a person rose to the surface.
“Think about it,” Grace pushed to make her point, “I saw you more than him anyway.”
“True,” Liz smiled.
All of the reasons why things wouldn’t work with Dirk justified the friendship between the two women. In friendship, age didn’t matter. What mattered was the gift of being able to lean on someone while offering a supportive hand to them. Not to mention, friends didn’t care about job status. People didn’t take breaks from friendships because they were temporarily unemployed. They leaned on them. By extending her hand in friendship, Grace shone a magnifying glass on the fissures in the relationship between Dirk and Grace. It was nice that they tried, but there were too many things against them.
Liz leaned toward Grace. I’m glad. Cameron needs a grandmother to run to when he thinks I’m being too mean. Grace gasped and gripped Liz’s hand. “I believe that is the nicest thing anyone has ever said to me.”
A moment of silence passed.“In fairness, I should warn you. Dirk has this gift of allowing you to think you won the fight.” Then she tilted her head to point toward the edge of the park.