“So, what made you decide to become a lit professor?” asked Liza.
“I don’t know. I always loved books, even as a kid. Sometimes I would spend the whole day at the library of whatever base we were living on. For me, reading was a chance to step inside someone else’s life for a while. You know, we moved a lot and my parents weren’t always around. My mom worked full-time and my dad would be deployed for months. Like I think I told you, I had friends, but, when you move around a lot, you never have the chance to develop close friendships.” He shrugged. “I don’t know what I’m getting at.”
“Hmm,” Liza considered this. It was a foreign lifestyle to her. She thought it must be hard on a kid to move around that much, even if it was kind of an adventure for them. It probably got old never being able to lay down roots and perpetually being the new kid. It could probably get lonely sometimes. She pictured Bruce as a child, spending the day in a quiet corner of the library reading, poking the inside of his cheek with his tongue. She smiled at the thought. He smiled back and raised his eyebrows in question. Liza shook her head. “No, I think I get it, at least kind of.” They sipped their coffees and took turns pulling pieces off a big peanut butter cookie. “When did you know you wanted to teach?”
“After I spent two years writing a novel and another year not being able to get it published,” he said.
“Ah. Sorry,” she said, “Do you still have a copy of the novel?”
He hesitated, “Somewhere.”
“I don’t suppose you’d let me read it sometime?” As soon as the words were out, she wanted to take them back. She was afraid they sounded presumptuous or pushy. They were really only acquaintances who had shared a few hours, a can of energy drink, and a kiss. Here she was, asking to read his failed novel. When she could make herself look at him again, he was studying her. She couldn’t read his expression. Had she made him sad by digging up bad memories?
“Someday I’ll let you read it,” he said. Someday was good. Someday meant that he was also hoping there would be more days.
“Do you still write?” she asked.
“Nah, I still make up stories in my head, but nothing comes out when I sit down to write.” Now he looked sad. Good job, dumb-ass. Liza didn’t know what to say. She thought it would be insensitive to change the topic and mean to keep grilling him about it. Clearly, this was a regret. His hand was sitting on the table next to his mug. It was the one with the bent finger. She reached over and rested her hand on top of his.