# 106 – Undone

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Liza heard the soft tread of shoes on the mossy brick ground.  She opened her eyes to find Bruce standing a few feet away.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Sure,” said Liza, dragging her bags closer to make room.  He was wearing beige cargo pants and a black t-shirt. It was only June, but he was already tan. The sunlight revealed a smattering of red hair hiding among the browns and whites. He looked younger than he had last year; even more handsome. Bruce sunk onto the bench with a sigh, leaned back, and closed his eyes. “Rough night, Professor?”

“Mmm hmm, my girlfriend kept me up late.” A smile crept across his lips.

“That bitch,” said Liza, smiling now too. She closed her eyes and tilted her face to the sun.

“Oh, I enjoyed it.” Bruce’s hand closed around hers. They laced their fingers together on the bench between them.

“So did she,” said Liza. She rubbed the side of his finger with her thumb. He squeezed her hand. “How come you wanted to meet here today?”

“I had an errand to run, remember?”

Liza hesitated, deciding. “What did you have to do?”

“I don’t want to talk about it,” said Bruce.

Liza didn’t say anything for a few minutes. “Fair enough,” she breathed, and she locked it away with everything else that she wished that she could un-know and undo. She put it away with sick Casey, her Mom and John’s mutilated bodies, and the adoption paperwork that Laura left on her pillow one night after a fight when they were growing up. The magazine was in there too. There were a lot of things in there.

# 105 – The Shoes Say, “Deal or No Deal?”

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Liza’s eyes flicked from the kitchen to the stairs.  “He’s in bed,” said Michael.  She frowned.  He shifted feet.  Liza pulled a rolled up magazine from her bag and tossed it to him.  It looked like one of those obscure Lit magazine that Bruce would read.  Michael flipped through the pages and it fell open to an article written by Bruce.   
 
Michael skimmed it.  He cringed inside, but was careful to keep his face neutral.  Liza was watching him.  He flipped back to the cover.  It was recent.  Michael wanted to flee back up to his room with a bottle of Bird Dog.  He was not good with this kind of thing.  If he was, his own life might have been different.  He handed the magazine back to Liza.  Say something soothing“You didn’t know that he was a widower?”  Not that.
 
Liza shrugged.  “There’s a picture in his office of a woman and a girl…I didn’t know for sure…but I figured.  I guess I was hoping they were relatives.”
 
“Did you ask who they were?”
 
“No.”
 
“Why not?”  
 
“He didn’t want to talk about it and I didn’t want to know,” said Liza, stuffing the magazine back into her bag.
 
“Why not?”  Yeah, keep pressing.  This will calm her down.
 
“I figured that he would tell me eventually.”
 
“Eventually when?  After you let him move in?”  You should have been a therapist.
 
Liza looked irritated.  “What are you trying to say?”
 
Yeah, what the hell are you trying to say?  “That you never asked because it wasn’t a deal-breaker, right?  So why should it be now?”  There.  Sounds plausible.  
 
“He wrote this months ago!  Not years, months!”
 
Shit.  “So?”
 
“SO?!”
 
Oh Jesus, try something else.  “Do you wish that I didn’t live here?”
 
“What?  I invited you to live here.  I like having you here.”
 
“And Bruce?”
 
“And Bruce.”
 
“Do you wish that we were your parents?”  Bringing up dead loved ones, smooth.
 
“What kind of question is that?”
 
“Do you?”
 
“No…that’s not the same thing.”
 
“If they were still alive, we wouldn’t be here.  Do you wish we were gone and they were here?”
 
“…No…one thing has nothing to do with the other.  Their death is what it is.  Where are you going with this?” asked Liza.
 
Uhhh… “…The wife and the kid being dead is what it is too.  It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t want to be with you.”
 
“Clearly it does!”  She patted the bag.  “Or…at least, he’d rather be with them.”
 
Bird Dog.  Little cigars.  Sleep.  “Liza…”  She stared at him like she wanted him to say something that would make it all better, but he was out of ideas.  He’d gotten the same impression as her from the article.  He closed his mouth.
 
Liza jammed her hands in her pockets.  She shook her head as she studied her shoes.  “I didn’t press it wasn’t because I knew the answer wouldn’t be a deal breaker.  I was afraid that it would be.”

# 104 – Twenty-five Years of Phlegm

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The tissues in the trashcan were filled with brown phlegm.  Fireworks flashed inside Michael’s eyes when he stood from the bed.  He shuffled across the room and cracked the window.  Cool air rolled over his face.  He stood there gripping the windowsill with his eyes closed and focused on breathing evenly.  It helped.  He was about to give sleep another try when he heard heels on the sidewalk below.
 
It was Liza.  Hadn’t she come home hours ago?  He scanned the street and found her car parked a few houses down on the other side of the street.  “Jesus Christ,” he muttered.  Michael pulled on his boots and headed for the living room.  He had to pause halfway down the steps to catch his breath again.  Liza’s hand was poised to unlock the door when he threw it open. 
 
Michael yanked her in the house and instantly wished that he’d stayed upstairs.  “Oh Jesus.”  He couldn’t handle being around people who were upset, and Liza was clearly upset.  Her bun was falling out and pushed to one side.  Stray pieces of hair clung to her forehead.  She looked old and tired.  The smell of cigarettes was so strong that even he could smell it.  
 
Liza was pretending that nothing was amiss.  He wanted to let her, but he was stunned by how much she reminded him of himself twenty-five years ago.   “Just tell me.”

# 103 – Lovers With Cups and The Fool In The Moonlight

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Bruce’s muscles were tensed and his breathing was erratic. Liza knew that he was awake, but she was willing to pretend. She didn’t know what to say anyway. Her mind raced. It was getting late and they had work tomorrow. She pushed the bad thoughts from her head and forced herself to relax. Bruce relaxed too after a while, and then he was asleep.

She rubbed his chest. Her thoughts turned from the past to the future. She was surprised to find that she could see it, some of it, anyway. For Liza, picturing the future had always been like picturing the time before she was born. There was just nothing there. She sometimes wondered if this was a sign that she wasn’t going to be around for long.

They were living in one of the old three-story row houses not far from campus. It was early summer. Liza and Bruce were sitting at a table on a small patio that was enclosed by a high brick wall. They each had a cup of iced tea. Fluffy white clouds and towering buildings watched from the sky. Bruce was on one side of the table typing on his laptop. Liza sat across from him drawing…a comic strip? No, it looked like a graphic novel. One of the panels showed a young boy in a jester hat standing at a bus stop. He was wearing a backpack, but a full moon lit the scene. It was night.

Pots clanged somewhere inside the house followed by faint cursing. Michael. Future Liza grinned as she slid the paper across the table toward Bruce. She started on another sheet. When she looked up a minute later, Bruce was smiling at her. He was holding the drawing. Liza smiled back. He added it to the bottom of a small stack of pages that sat next to his laptop.

That was all. When she woke up the next morning, she wasn’t sure if it was a dream or a thought or something else entirely.

# 102 – Sigh

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Bruce recognized the note for the blow off that it was, but walked around campus for another two hours looking for Liza. It wasn’t until she didn’t answer his phone calls that he gave up and went home. She got like this sometimes. He thought he understood. It was like him living at the underpass, only she came home at night.

Something was different this time, maybe because he knew that the last place she’d been was his office. He had a sick feeling. It wasn’t lost on him that he’d come close to taking off on her not long ago. Bruce lay in bed thinking and listening. Michael was coughing up a lung across the hall, so he didn’t hear her when she came home.

He pretended to be asleep when she slid into bed next to him a while later.  It was almost midnight.  Liza was still for a couple of minutes, then sighed and moved closer. She wrapped her arm around his waist and laid her head on his chest. Her hair exuded the smell of cigarettes the way Michael’s pores exuded the smell of alcohol. Bruce sighed and covered her hand with his.

# 101 – Thoughts from the Top of the Stairs

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It felt like a golf ball was stuck in her throat. Her eyes were so full that she crashed into the iron railing at the top of a subway entrance. Liza took a deep breath, emptied her eyes onto her coat sleeve, and plowed on. She made it to the car. The seat was back. Damn! Bruce drove this morning. She couldn’t leave him here. Well, she could. She kind of wanted to, but she knew deep down that he hadn’t done anything wrong and she didn’t have a right to be angry about the article.

This was stupid. She was acting like an idiot, she knew. OK, so she wasn’t going to leave Bruce stranded on campus, but he would find her if she stayed in the car. He would look for her eventually. Right? Maybe? Whatever. Liza left him a note telling him that something had come up and he should take the car home without her. She’d meet him there. It was a weak excuse, but she’d bought herself time to calm down and think of a better one.

She needed a place to hide; somewhere quiet and away from people. Liza walked back to her building. It was a hulking brick thing that was an old factory in a former life. The building was locked down at this time, but she slipped in behind a janitor without having to use her own key card.

The main staircase was in the center of the building, off of the hallway. There were two other staircases on the ends of the building that could only be accessed if you worked in one of the departments that they ran through. Liza’s department was one of these.

The wooden staircase didn’t get a lot of use, even during the day.  The steps were bowed and the paint was curling off of the brick walls.  It had no heat or air conditioning.  Liza walked up to the landing outside of the roof access. She tucked her coat under her butt and sat on the top step.

Liza smoked four cigarettes in a row while the waves of emotion crashed over her. Images of Bruce writing that sappy, disgusting article forced their way into her head. She fantasized about tearing the picture of the woman and the little girl to shreds.

Liza imagined traveling back in time and killing the woman before she ever met Bruce. This, she went over in great detail. Liza was aware that these thoughts crossed some sort of line, but she couldn’t make them stop. Did it matter? It wasn’t as if she could act on them and she certainly wouldn’t share them with Bruce.

Hours passed. It was clear that she wasn’t getting over this tonight. Liza called for a cab. The woman said it would be there in half an hour. There were three missed calls on her phone. They were from the University’s main number – all calls made from inside the University showed up that way. It must be Bruce. The last call was made over an hour ago. She missed him and hated him and hoped that he was home when she got there. She stuffed the phone in her bag and went outside to wait.

# 100 – Empty Rooms and a Blue Shoebox

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Bruce peeked into the bathroom. It was empty. He sat down at his desk and organized his work for tomorrow. Five minutes went by and there was still no Liza. Bruce was sure that she’d said that she would wait for him here. He looked around the office as if maybe she’d been standing there all along and he hadn’t seen her.

Then he noticed that the library ladder wasn’t in its usual spot. Dread swept over him. He should have told her in the beginning. Maybe it wouldn’t have been that big of a deal back then. It was too late now. He shouldn’t have taken the box. That just made everything worse.

Bruce stood up and walked around the desk. It was like being in a dream where you could only move in slow motion.  When he got to the shelf, he crouched down and fished his hand around behind the row of books. He pulled out the blue shoebox. It was still there. He opened it. Nothing was missing. He was just being paranoid. But where was Liza?

Now he was worried. What if something happened to her? That was ridiculous. What could happen to her? He’d left her sitting in his office. Maybe she had decided to walk to class without him.

Bruce took the documents from the shoebox and locked them in his filing cabinet. He went to the door and looked out into the waiting room. Empty. Janice was off today and no one else was around. He jogged out to the sitting area and tossed the box into the fireplace. Bruce grabbed his coat, book, and sketch pad from his office and headed out to look for Liza.