Dirk took the long way to Liz’s house, driving the outskirts of the neighborhood. He strained to see deep into the alleys and yards. Once upon a time, he was a young kid who got lost in his explorations. Dirk hoped that Cameron had fallen into the trap that catches all young boys. The one where time ceases to exist because they are having too much fun.
And then it hit. The majority of people stuck to the front of the park in the playground and a pool area. They rarely ventured toward the trees that dotted the back edge of the park. One time, Dirk took Cameron to the trail that began at the outer edge of the trees. The trail winding around the hilly terrain behind the park was perfect for exploration.
The leaves in the trees rattled, and a flock of birds appeared in the air around them. Still, no sign from Cameron. Dirk pressed forward. He and Cam walked for roughly fifteen minutes out before heading back. The moisture from the bushes soaked from the afternoon’s rain chilled Dirk’s skin. He checked his phone. So far he had walked five minutes into the hills. “Cam!” The landscape absorbed his voice.
A crippling sense of impotence taunted Dirk. He couldn’t take care of Liz and Cam. Why would he foolishly believe he could help in this situation? Because I care. Dirk grit out against the urgings to give up. He pressed forward, stepping over broken tree branches and avoiding bush limbs.
The struggle deepened the sense of urgency. No kid should be out alone in this terrain. It was his fault. Dirk growled to himself. “If I’d have known he would explore this on his own, I never would have shown Cam this trail, to begin with.”
His ear caught traces of a high pitch. It could have been a whimper. Then again, Dirk’s desire to find a sign leading him to Cam might have played with his mind.
Trying was better than doubt. One gave power; the other crippled. “Cam, are you out here?” Dirk called out.
Three successive barks answered his question. Dirk regretted his lack of foresight. He hadn’t brought bear spray or a weapon to protect himself from wild animals. A branch and his wits would have to do. He scanned the area and found a broken limb that resembles a crooked bat. Dirk stepped away from the trail and scrambled over fallen logs.
“Cam, can you hear me?”
“Dirk? I’m stuck.”
Relief. Sweet relief filled Dirk’s chest. Cam was out of harm’s way. “I’ll be right there. Where are you.”
“My foot is caught in a branch?” Cam replied.
Dirk saw indentation from the stream of water that had poured down the mountain. His eyes followed it to the side of a small cave. Off to the right, they caught Cam’s red shorts and trailed up to his camo shirt. His body was twisted as though it was trying to find the right position to pull away.
A second wave of relief added to Dirk’s strength. The Good Lord protected kids in ways parents didn’t understand. No sensible person would wear red basketball shorts with a camo t-shirt. If it weren’t for the combination of see me but don’t, Dirk would have been oblivious of the child needing his help.
Cam’s body stretched as he pulled to get away from the log. “I slid, and my foot got caught. I’m stuck.”
The dog barked its threat, warning Dirk to keep his distance.
“It’s okay, Bentley,” Cam soothed. Dirk is my friend.
Bentley’s bark softened as if to say in dog language, “If you hurt my boy, I’ll make you regret it.”
“Hold still and let me help you.” Dirk hiked along the edge of the tree to assess how he could move it. When he reached Cam, he saw that it had caught his ankle.
Again two choices. Go for help. Or stay and dig around where Cam was stuck to relieve the tension. Dirk searched for a piece of bark. He found one that was roughly the size of his hand. “Hold still while I dig around your leg.”
“I already tried.” Cam held up a stick that was as thick as his finger.
It wasn’t the time or place to tell the boy that he needed a thick piece of bark to make a shovel. Dirk scooped at the soaked soil with the park, pulling it away in sheets. It wasn’t as smooth as what he saw in the ice cream shop. He used his hand to cast the glops of mud to the side. The surrounding soil seeped into the empty space he created, adding that much more work to his task.
“How long have you had the dog?” Dirk asked to pass the time.
“Since my birthday,” Cam’s voice sounded more curious at what Dirk was doing.
“Why didn’t you tell your mom, or me for that matter?”
“I asked. Mom said we had you to protect us, but she was wrong.”
Bryce tried to explain it. John alluded to it. “Mom was wrong,” piled the weight of Dirk’s mistake on his shoulders. Cam and Liz didn’t need Dirk’s money; they wanted his presence. It turned out Dirk had more than one hole to dig himself out of. Dirk paused and stepped away from the gap between Cameron’s ankle and the fallen log…unless he tried a different approach. What if he tried picking up Cameron and altered the position of his ankle?
It wouldn’t hurt to try.
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