Liz was no stranger to heartbreak. She met it when David died. First, the passing of the love of her life, then the denial from his parents that she was pregnant with his child. As far as David’s parents were concerned, Liz was a groupie trying to capitalize on their son’s rising star status. Over time, the truth revealed itself. David had a girlfriend; one they preferred; who lived in Miami down the street from them.
It was Liz’s first lesson of two choices. Either she allowed the circumstances to embitter her…or she shook off the residue of disappointment and moved on. At the time, it was a no brainer. Move on and be a good mother.
Once again, Liz found herself hovering the thin line between the same two choices. At first, Liz wobbled toward hardening her heart toward men. They were a species that could not be trusted.
Then one time, she was in the hallway, and the memory of Dirk kissing her pushed to the front of her mind. Her chest tightened with sadness, and the gripping in her throat threatened to choke her. Liz reached out and touched the wall for balance while quietly gasping for breath.
Liz forced herself to recall the unpleasant memories. In the months they had been together, she had been alone more than they had been together. A vision came to her of times in the beginning when Dirk hadn’t called. What she was living now was no different, with the exception being Liz told him never to speak to her or her son ever again. Unlike what she lived with David’s parents, she had control over this situation. The grip loosened, allowing the air to return to Liz’s lungs. She was there. On the precipice of finalizing her choice. No man would ever have the power to hurt her or her child’s heart ever again.
The door to Cam’s room opened, releasing a soft crack. Her son, with his hair tousled and eyes half open with the weight of sleep, stumbled into her. Cam bumped his head into Liz’s chest and wrapped his arms around her back. His groggy “Morning, Mama,” pulled Liz back toward the line.
Once upon a time, all men were this sweet child who loved their mothers unconditionally. Something happened on their journey to adulthood to influence them to make decisions that hurt others. She couldn’t imagine how the awkward dance between men and women looked through Bryce’s eyes. And then there was her brother who would walk on water for his wife and children.
A third choice came to Liz. Harboring anger would only hurt her. With it, her lungs expanded, and Liz inhaled the first full breath she had taken in, she didn’t know how long. It was sweet and electrifying. Most important, she regained her senses.
After breakfast, Liz turned to Pinterest to distract herself from the loneliness. Not expecting company, she wore her leggings and a loose top. Cameron wore his usual, long basketball shorts and an oversized t-shirt. Liz’s lips stretched into a peaceful smile. Saturday morning was starting to feel good again.
Liz swiped through the ideas on her screen. Most of the time, she pinned and was satisfied with promising herself to take the time to try one of the projects. This time, her search for a craft that would be easy and wouldn’t take up too much space would help Liz fulfill the promise. When picture after picture of painted rocks filled her screen, she took it as a sign. “Cam, look at this.” Liz held out her tablet for him to see the images.
Engrossed in the game on the screen, Cam ignored her and continued pressing buttons to manipulate the character.
“I suppose I better get used to it now,” Liz murmured under her breath. In a couple of years, Cameron would be a teenager, and Liz would get promoted to the annoying mother’s rank. She remembered going through the phase when she was in middle school. Liz pulled the tablet back on to her lap and scrolled through a couple more pictures.
Cameron plopped on the couch beside Liz, jostling her. “What did you want me to see?”
“Oof. When did you get so big.” Liz couldn’t help smiling at the change from distracted to interested.
Her son shrugged and wiggled his eyebrows, so they looked like caterpillars dancing on his forehead. “I think last month.”
They laughed at his joke. Then Cameron leaned in to see what was on the screen. Liz scrolled to the image she wanted to see. It was the picture of rocks painted to look like ladybugs and flowers. “Could you hunt for rocks, so I could make some of these?” The stones on the screen resembled something they could find in a riverbed. It would be a great day trip, and on the following days, Liz would have something to distract herself when Cam was out with his friends.
“Sure.” Cam pointed at a ladybug with a mischievous half-smile. “I want one like that.”
“I can try,” Liz tapped the picture to save it.
A “Woohoo, is anybody home,” through the screen door pulled at both their attention.
Cameron jumped and ran for the door, with Liz following closely behind.
“I brought you a little something,” was all Cameron needed to hear to be prodded to open the door.
Grace’s friend, Mary, waited on the other side with a plate of cookies. “I thought I’d bring a little something to cheer you up.” She tapped her purse. “If you’re up to making a pot of coffee, I brought my special creamer.”
A laugh bubbled from Liz’s chest. “Bailey’s before dinner.”
“It is creamer with a kick,” Mary corrected. She stepped through the doorway and followed Cameron’s lead to the kitchen.
Mary set the plate on the table and peeled away the Saran Wrap covering. Cameron took a cookie off the plate.
“Just so you know,” Mary boasted. “This is Diane’s secret recipe. She doesn’t know I found it in her cookbook and took a picture of it with my phone.”
A sly expression morphed Cameron from polite host to a kid trying not to get caught with his hand in the cookie jar. He snatched two more cookies off the plate and darted out of the kitchen.
“Don’t ruin your appetite,” Liz called after him.
“I won’t.” The rumbling of furniture being jostled into position gave away that Cameron had returned to his game.
“I heard about what happened and wanted to bring something by to cheer you up,” Mary pulled Liz into a hug.
At first, Liz didn’t expect the gesture, and she awkwardly fumbled to return the hug. By the time she was straightened, Mary had stepped away. Oddly enough, the affection made Liz feel better. It was the heart, not the delivery that mattered.
“You may be too young to remember this, but once upon a time, a long time ago, Gary and I separated.” Mary’s voice cracked, hinting that she was older than she appeared.
“That had to be a long time ago,” Liz poured water from the carafe into the coffee pot.
“We were in our forties,” Mary sat in the chair closest to the counter.
Liz didn’t want to say that she may not have been born yet, which made the story much more appealing. Mary separated from her husband at a time when it wasn’t as popular. She spooned the beans into the filter, giving Mary the freedom to speak.
“Gary must have been going through one of those mid-life crisis phases that everyone always hints at. Why is it men go through those but not women?”
“Men are too busy playing around to think about the people they’re hurting with their selfishness.” It was out of Liz’s mouth before she had time to think about what she was saying. At the same time, a surge of anger toward Dirk gripped her chest.
“You may be right,” Mary twisted the cap of the cream. “My experience is they come to their senses. It’s almost like men have to make a mess to know they had something clean.”
It made sense. Cam was responsible for his dishes and his clothes. His toys must have fallen into a different level of organization in Cam’s mind. Half the time, Cam didn’t pick up his toys until he wanted the space for something else.
She poured the coffee into two cups and brought them to the table. Mary added the cream and slid a cup in front of Liz. The sweet scent of the cream rose with the steam from the lightened brew. Before taking a sip, Mary said, “I knew when you sent Dirk back to get his mother, you two were meant to be together. It will be interesting when he figures it out.”
“It will be too late,” Liz declared. “I’m done with him.”
“Really, now?” Mary sipped her coffee while keeping her eyes trained on Liz.
“Yes,” Liz insisted.
Mary set her cup on the table and reached for a cookie. “You know the saying, the person who pushes the hardest is the first to fall.”
“Mom, I know the perfect place to find rocks. Can I go to the park?” Liz alternated her glance between Cameron and Mary. Apparently, she wasn’t in as much control as she previously thought. Determined to be the one still standing at the end, she took a sip of coffee to choke back the bitterness. “Just promise you’ll be home in time for dinner.” To ensure Cam gave the wanted response, she added, “We’re having waffles for dinner.”
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