Whenever discouragement threatened to pull him under, Dirk took a page out of Liz’s book and gave himself a talking to. He knew the first step would be hard. That’s how it was with beginnings. Dirk ground the back of his heel into the ground. But why were the second, third, and subsequent steps as difficult?
Liz, his mother, Cam, and Sammy were less than 200 feet in front of him living their best life. Kids of all ages and sizes running in all directions hid Dirk’s presence. The scent of chlorinated water and sunscreen dominated the air. Josh Rollins approached Dirk, where he stood at the curb. “Who are you here to watch?”
Josh was in one of the classes between Dirk and Liz. Like Liz, Josh went away to college and returned with a degree that qualified him for the high paying jobs. He managed the parks and recreation system.
“Cam Harper.” A streak of pain shot through Dirk’s chest.
“That kid is a phenom.” Josh shook his head in what Dirk thought was disbelief. “Who would have thought Liz Harper would have a child that athletic. She was the one who faked injuries to get out of p.e. in high school.”
“I know. Go figure.” In that moment, Dirk envied Josh in his royal blue polo shirt and khaki shorts. He worked at an important job. A job that wouldn’t lay him off when the price of oil dropped. Back when they were younger, things like rent and electricity bills didn’t bear as much weight on decisions. Dirk’s arrogance tricked him into believing he had the upper hand. The comparison between Dirk and Josh added to his uneasiness. Foolish decisions from his past contributed to his present discomfort. The career path Dirk chose ate up the time he could spend with Liz and Cameron. Josh’s job afforded him more. On top of that, he was also friends with Bryce and Sammy.
Dirk hadn’t thought beyond the crippling fear that he wouldn’t be able to provide for Liz and her son. So it came as a complete surprise when she politely told him using colorful words to stay away from her son. A falling out with Bryce followed. Again it was one of those out of the blue conversations. “Look, I’m a single dad. By nature, I hang out with other people who have kids.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Dirk was gruff. He missed Liz. He missed getting excited about pizza rolls. Never in a million years had he imagined he missed watching cartoons with blue-haired characters shooting fireballs out of their hands.
“Single people live differently. You’ve chosen a life that won’t mesh.”
“I didn’t choose this. Liz did.” Dirk threw his hands in the air. “I just needed a break.”
“That’s the problem. Try explaining that to a kid. Sorry son, we can’t go to the park. I need a break. Or sorry, we can’t go for ice cream. I need a break. Kids don’t understand breaks.” The indignation in Bryce’s voice accented his, “They’re looking for you to be there. All. The. Time.”
Now Dirk was on the outskirts of the park, on the outside of the family, looking in. Josh was in the midst of what Dirk wanted. Dirk crossed his arms in front of his chest and leaned against the side of his pickup. “Do you think Cam has a chance at state?”
“Chance?” Josh whistled, “He’s the number one swimmer in the state. As long as he stays healthy, Cam is a shoo-in.”
A fleeting moment of pride followed by remorse struck Dirk. He heard about Cam’s games through Liz, Bryce, and his mother. Even then, they talked more about the team as a whole. Had he attended any of Cam’s games, he’d have known the boy’s athletic ability. Kudos to them for keeping the boy humble.
“How do your kids fit in the picture?” Something Liz had taught Dirk was to take an interest in other people’s kids. “My kids swim to stay in shape for football.”
In other words, they weren’t in contention for the state meet. Still, Josh’s proud smile justified the question. Dirk’s politeness opened the door to a conversation.
“Zachary’s arm turns that ball into a missile. The high school coach lets him practice with the team.” Josh said a lot of other things about his kid.
Dirk nodded and said, “uh-huh,” and “nice” in all the right places. All the while, he kept an eye on Liz and the boys under the white tent. The only time he lost focus on the conversation was when his mother appeared in the middle of the sea of squealing kids and doting parents.
Josh averted his gaze toward the crowd. “Ah, I should let you go join your family.” He held out his hand for a shake, “It was good catching up.”
“Yeah, it was.” Bryce’s reminder that people with families formed alliances formed a wall that held back Dirk’s instinct to followup with, “We should keep in touch.” He didn’t belong in the family-friendly category anymore.
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