Dirk’s serious expression while he wore a kiss the grill master apron and his backward-facing baseball cap was almost more than Liz could resist.
She had known the man in front of her for the entirety of their lives. With her brother Tom’s help, Dirk antagonized her. Dirk and Tom were the younger brothers who sneaked into Liz’s craft supplies and ruined her good scissors. They were the same teenagers who photobombed her prom pictures.
Cameron had found Liz’s senior prom picture and laughed heartily at the image. Liz and her date stood side by side in the back yard. The cottonwood tree, with its low hanging branches, provided the perfect springtime in the country background. Behind Liz and her date, Dirk and Tom wearing camouflage gear posed like they were on a mission. They both smeared the black anti-reflective paint beneath their eyes. Tom peered through binoculars at something in the distance. Dirk pointed at Liz and her date.
Somewhere along the way Dirk grew into the man who held Liz in his arms and confessed before kissing her, “I cannot tell you how long I’ve been waiting for this moment.”
When Dirk pulled the lid of the grill down and set the tongs on the hook, Liz gave in to the urge prompted by the swell of love in her heart. She kissed him on the cheek and pulled away after giving him a soft squeeze.
Dirk grinned, “If I’d have known smoked meat had this affect on you, I’d have suggested a barbecue years ago.”
“It would have been healthier than all that Captain Crunch,” Liz winked.
On the other side of the yard, Grace yelled out, “We should have one of Cameron’s arms tied at his side. It would be fairer for you, Bryce.”
“C’mon dad, show them you’re the baseball coach.”
Bryce’s jaw, set in a determined expression, seemed to have little effect on the small yellow bag landing in the hole twenty-five feet away. It clacked against the back of the board and slid off the back.
Bentley raced to secure his prize.
Cam chased after the dog, “Bentley, that isn’t a toy!”
His words had little effect. The dog darted across the yard with the yellow bag of corn in his mouth.
“Dad, can you get it for me!”
Dirk released a high squealed chirp and snapped. Bentley froze at first, coming to a complete halt. Then he moped toward Dirk. He dropped the cornhole bag at Dirk’s feet and gave him a forlorn expression.
“Cam, get me a ball. Would ya?”
Liz’s mind raced while replaying what she thought she heard. Was she the only one who heard Cameron call Dirk’s dad? She peered over at Dirk and Cameron, who conducted themselves as though nothing out of the ordinary had happened. Cameron handed Dirk a red ball. Dirk held out the bag by his fingers.
He yelled over to Bryce, “It’s wet. You may want to try a different game for a while.”
Bryce joked, “That may be what I needed to get it to stick to the board.”
The back gate popped open, and Edgar and Vivian sauntered in ahead of Tom and Maggie. The kids headed straight for Cameron and Sam. Liz’s brother held his back straight against the weight of the ice chest in his hands. “What’s a cookout without the beer!”
Maggie waved at Liz while heading over to say hello to Grace. Happiness surged through Liz’s body, sending vibrations that piqued yet another revelation. This is the second time I’m hosting the family gathering. She glanced over at Dirk, who threw the ball for Bentley before saying, “You know where it goes.”
The swell of emotions filled Liz and overwhelmed her. If she didn’t escape, she would get caught crying. “I’ll be right back. I’m going to the kitchen to get something.” Hoping she looked like she left to retrieve something, Liz hurried to the kitchen. Once inside, she glanced around the house. Dirk’s keys were on the counter by the sink. She picked them up and set them on the key rack he installed by the door. The small act of tidying set her mind at ease.
Dirk appeared in the kitchen. “Is everything okay?” He eyed her curiously.
The smell of smoke lingered on him. The scent seemed to be the trigger Liz needed to find her center. She decided that she had imagined what Cam had said. “I’m fine.”
“You seemed like you were upset,”
“No, just happy.”
“That’s a new happy,”
“It just hit me. You’ll be here forever.”
“You just now figured that out?” Dirk grinned playfully. “What gave it away?”
He had said it so many ways over the years. The question brought a whirlwind of images. How many high school seniors visit their best friend’s sister after she had a baby? Dirk held Cameron. He wasn’t as large then as he was now. He tucked his index finger in Cam’s hand and marveled, “Look at how tiny his fingers are.”
Excepting the time he was away working on the oil field, Dirk had been by the house for every holiday. He was in the fringes, hanging “with the guys,” but he was always there. They had always been together. It just took Liz this long to accept that he was more than her younger brother’s best friend.
“One day, I’m going to marry you, Dirk Mullins.”
His nod affirmed her revelation. “And we’ll have more children together.”
“When?” Liz asked.
“When what?” Dirk jerked his surprise at her question.
“When are we going to get married?” Liz surprised herself. She was the one who prepared herself for being left behind. This expectation that they would move forward was something new and heady and wonderful.
“Are you proposing to me, Liz.”
“What if I was?” Liz challenged.
“I’d say, wow!”
“Wow, is the wrong answer. You’re supposed to say yes.”
“It is a big commitment.” Dirk’s face grew serious. “I’ll have to think on it.”
Tom popped his head in the door. “They sent me in to make sure you two aren’t creating trouble.”
“You should be the first to know.” Dirk tapped Tom on the shoulder. “We’re getting married.”
“For real?” Tom asked.
Dirk and Liz nodded.
“Whoa!” Tom circled outside the door. “Dirk and Liz are getting married.”
Liz had to laugh when she heard, “What exactly were they doing in there?”
“It’s okay, they were in the kitchen.” He turned back to Liz and Dirk, “I’ll be back in a second.”
Dirk rushed to Liz and twirled her. “I love you, Liz, soon to be Mullins.” Then he kissed her like he meant it.
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