# 84 – PDAs and Frosting Knives

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“You gonna tell me my name?”  Michael was crouched in front of the oven, looking as if he was about to attack the turkey with the baster.

“Your name?”  Liza stared at the unfrosted cake, waiting for inspiration to strike.

“Yeah, this morning you said to ask you what you nicknamed me,” he said, closing the oven door and leaned against the counter.  There was an amused look on his face.

“Oh.  Mick.  I nicknamed you Mick.”  Liza smiled.  “You know, Burgess Meredith’s character from the Rocky movies.”

Michael let out a laugh that sounded like it was part cough.  “Jesus Christ!  Burgess Meredith!”  He crouched back down to look at his reflection in the oven door.  “Yeah, alright.”  He stood up and rubbed a hand over his face.  “I guess living outside does that to you.  Ya know, when I was young, I looked more like Drago.”

Liza stifled a laugh.  He wasn’t kidding.  Hmm…  Michael had fair skin and light eyes.  He’d probably been blond.  There was the big square jaw like Dolph Lundgren.  He would be a decent height if he wasn’t so stooped.  She could kind of see it.  Liza tried to imagine what Bruce would look like in ten years if he continued to live this way.  “Michael, can I ask you something?”

“Sure.”  A little cigar appeared in his mouth.  He lit it on the stove.

“Homeless people…do some of them want to live that way?  I mean, I know it sounds like a stupid question, but Bruce…  I guess what I’m asking is, if someone offered them a place to live, would most of them take it?”

“You’re askin’ if I think Bruce would move in here with you,” said Michael.

Liza nodded.  “And you.”

“Me?”  Surprise registered on his face, then suspicion.  “Why would you want me here?”

Liza shrugged.  “Why not?  I like you, you’re Bruce’s friend, and I have the space.”

“This wouldn’t bother you?”  He puffed hard on the little cigar, creating a grey cloud around his head.  “Or this?”  He slid the bottle of Bird Dog out from behind the mixer.  “Or, how about this?”  He smiled wide, showcasing his single tooth.

“No, but it would bother me if you died alone in some alleyway while I lived in a house with empty bedrooms,” said Liza

Michael stared at her.  He walked over and whacked her on the back, softer than he had earlier.  “I’d…think about it.  You have to ask Bruce yourself.  I’m not tellin’ you anything you don’t already know by pointing out that he makes enough at his job to buy a place to live if he wanted.”  Liza nodded.  Michael looked like he was thinking.  “Ask ‘em.  Make sure he knows that you want him to stay.  Make sure he knows how you feel about him.”  Michael gave her a wide-eyed, pointed look.

Liza ran her hand over the pocket that held Bruce’s note.  She felt guilty for leaving him hanging.  He deserved it, but still.  Didn’t everyone fear not having a declaration of love met with an immediate reciprocal response?  Liza cringed at the thought of telling him that she loved him.  Romance novels were a secret pleasure of hers since she was a teenager, but she was no good at real life romance.  Public displays of affection, sappy greeting cards, weddings, and all things Valentine’s Day weirded her out.  So how was she going to do this?  She twirled the frosting knife between her fingers as she stared down at the cake.  Maybe she would take a page from Bruce’s book, you know, figuratively this time.   

# 83 – Regret

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Pots, utensils, and food dishes in various stages of preparedness covered the surface of the counter and the table.  If kitchens had brains, hers was wondering if her parents had come back to life.  After walking off with Bruce’s note, Liza decided to be a big girl and not spend the rest of the day hiding out in her bedroom.  Instead, she was hiding out with Michael, who turned out to be a cranky tyrant in the kitchen.  The cranky part, at least, had improved when Liza presented him with the Bird Dog.

He was making turkey with pineapple stuffing, mashed sweet potatoes, asparagus, and fresh rolls (So that was what the white hook that came with the mixer was for.).  Liza was chopping vegetables for a soup stock.  Michael had been appalled when he saw the frozen pie that Liza picked up at the market, but he let it go when she told him that she was also going to make a cake.

Liza hated to cook, but didn’t mind baking and loved to decorate cakes.  The chocolate pound cake that she made should be ready for frosting when she was done chopping.  Liza tried to think of a design, but Bruce’s note kept forcing its way into her head.  I LOVE YOU.

She knew that she loved Bruce a long time ago, but hadn’t considered actually telling him.  Michael probably wouldn’t get involved with Bruce if he was in her shoes.  Her mind had that conversation on an involuntary replay ever since.

She knew what he meant, as long as that was all that he meant.  Liza wasn’t as clueless as people thought.  She knew that a homeless guy was no catch, but that really didn’t bother her.  Liza wasn’t looking for someone to take care of her.  She had a house, a car, and a job that paid enough for her to cover her expenses.

What worried her was the part of Bruce’s story that she didn’t know.  She had tried to put it out of her head, but another conversation kept finding its way into her head.  When he thought that Bruce had taken a vacation, Smiley Jim…Professor Crozier had said that he deserved it after “everything”.  Her brain felt overloaded.  Jim and Michael yammered away while the woman and little girl from the picture looked on silently.

“What?!” barked Michael.  Liza must have been staring.  She shook her head and tossed the last of the vegetable pieces into the pot.  Michael stomped over to inspect her work, wiping his hands on a towel that dangled from his waistband.  He dug through the pot frowning.

“Good!” said Michael, flashing his tooth and whacking her on the back.  “Now…since I don’t want you ruining Christmas dinner with your mood.”  Liza raised her eyebrows.  He pretended not to notice.  “I’m gonna give you some unsolicited advice.  If you love him, then keep going.  You’re gonna have problems, but they’ll be nothing like the regret you’ll have to live with forever if you end it.”  Michael slid a bottle of Bird Dog from behind the mixer.  He took three huge gulps and then went back to his sweet potatoes.

# 82 – The Whole Astrology Thing

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If you buy into the whole astrology thing, you know that Cancers are ruled by their emotions.  This was true in Liza’s case.  Not only that, it usually took her a while to identify her feelings about something, so she was constantly caught off guard by her own reactions.

When Liza read Bruce’s words, she felt like she might burst into flames and pass out.  She didn’t, but neither did she respond in an appropriate amount of time.  Then she pulled a Bruce, sneaking a glance at him out of the corner of her eye.  He was staring at the notepad, working his tongue around the inside of his cheek.  She couldn’t think of anything to say.  Liza tore the page from the notepad and walked out of the room.

# 81 – More Paper

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Liza woke up this morning with her head resting on Bruce’s chest.  His arms were wrapped around her.  She lay there with her eyes closed, not wanting to get up, thinking about everything:  sitting in the garden before econ class, the parchment paper, Casey’s story, the econ paper, her escape from Brad, the past few days.  When she’d finally opened her eyes and peeked up a Bruce, she saw that he was watching her out of the corner of his eye.  His stare was intense.  Liza didn’t know how to interpret it.

Just then, Michael had stomped into the living room.  A little cigar dangled from the corner of his mouth.  He was wearing her mom’s old powder blue apron.  A lobster claw oven mitt covered each hand and he was holding a sizzling frying pan.  “Come on and eat.  You two can lay on the floor all you want later.  I need to clean up so I can start Christmas dinner, Liza needs to go to the supermarket before it closes, and you need to go invite Jake and Heath,” he said.

“It’s Sam,” said Liza.  “Jake and Sam.”

Michael stared at her from behind a haze of smoke.  He shook his head and stomped back to the kitchen.

“Oh, I get it.  Haha.  Real cute,” she said to his retreating back.  “Ask me some time what I nicknamed you.”

Liza tore through the supermarket and liquor store.  At home she deposited the groceries and four bottles of Bird Dog on the kitchen counter and went to find Bruce.  He was sitting at the desk in her drawing-room.  The crumbled papers had been flattened out and placed in a neat pile on the corner of the desk.  At the top of the pile was one of the many unfinished sketches of Bruce.  Liza cringed.  He sat bent over a yellow notepad, writing furiously with her fountain pen.  As she rounded the desk to stand next to him, he flipped the page and continued to write.  Then he sat back and slid the notepad toward her.

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# 80 – Peanut Butter and Beer

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Liza speed walked through the supermarket with Michael’s list.  It was good to be shopping for more people than just herself.  She felt compelled to buy things other than peanut butter and beer.  That reminded her, she needed to stop at the liquor store on the way home for Michael’s Bird Dog.

She was uneasy about contributing to his habit, but she wasn’t naive enough to think that she could stop him.  Anyway, he had done more housework in the past few days than Alice, Tony, and Mr. Belvedere put together, and he was cooking Christmas dinner.

Liza had come to enjoy Michael’s presence in the house, smoking and muttering included.  If Jake was the brother she never had, Michael was her long-lost father.  John had been nice, but they weren’t close.  He was just there, like the sofa or refrigerator.  But Bruce was different from anything.  There was nothing to compare him to.