# 93 – Seeing Sparklers and Head-Butts

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It was late March; not bad during the day, but chilly at night.  Liza rolled down the window as soon as they got off of 95.  She leaned back against the headrest.  The air felt nice and carried the unfamiliar smell of firewood burning.  Depending on where you were in the City, your nose could be accosted by anything from stale beer, to urine, to cooking grease.  Most of the houses didn’t have fireplaces.  It was probably a good thing.  No one around here would know how to start one without a can of lighter fluid anyway.

She and Bruce had their hands clasped together on top of the console.  Liza rubbed the side of his hand with her thumb.  They stopped at a light at the foot of the off-ramp and a man limped up to the car with a sign saying that he was a homeless veteran.  Liza saw him all the time.  She used to give him a few dollars or a couple of cigarettes now and then, until Cynical Liza intervened.  Cynical Liza wanted to know where he got fresh clothes and supplies to make signs.  He was also a bit overweight.

Bruce was watching him carefully.  Liza wondered what he was thinking.  Did he miss that life?  She didn’t understand how he could, but then, living that way had always been a choice for him.  The light changed.  Bruce smiled at Liza and squeezed her hand before moving on.

Back at the house, Bruce snaked into an empty spot as if he’d been parallel parking all of his life.  “Who’s that?” he asked.

Liza followed his gaze to the front of her house.  Oh, super.  “It’s Laura.”

“Your sister.”

“Yep.”

“She doesn’t see us yet.  Do you want me to drive around back?” asked Bruce.

It was tempting.  She didn’t feel like dealing with Laura.  Liza wanted to go inside and crawl into her warm bed with Bruce.  But it looked like she was going to have to get this confrontation over, or Laura would never stop turning up.  Liza sighed.  “No.  I’d better talk to her.”  She got out of the car and headed up to the street.

Laura caught sight of her as she was passing Jake’s house.  “There you are, you bitch!” screeched Laura at an unnecessary volume.  Liza cringed.  Laura was a drama queen who was quick to air her dirty laundry in public.  She stalked down the steps.  Liza fantasized about nailing her in the face and continuing on into the house.

Little Sister was nearly as sturdy as Liza, but she was a girly girl.  She was all talk; loud, inexplicably arrogant, trash-talk.  Growing up, Liza was the only think that stopped Laura from getting her ass handed to her on many occasions.

Liza became aware that she was by herself.  She turned.  Bruce wasn’t there.  He wasn’t in the car either.  Whatever.  She didn’t need help.

Liza and Laura met on the sidewalk in front of the house.  “Where’s the rest of my stuff?” demanded Laura.  She was in Liza’s face, pointing, breathing, angry.  Liza took half a step back and tried to think of what “stuff” Laura was talking about.  “Ya better give it tuh me!” said Laura.  Liza was disgusted by her sister’s accent.  She no elocutionist either, but you would never believe that they grew up in the same house.  She wondered where Laura stayed when she disappeared for months or years at a time.

Laura leaned in, close to Liza again, and brushed her with her hand.  Liza didn’t see red.  It was more like she saw sparklers.  She grabbed Laura’s finger, stepped forward and head-butted her in the face as hard as she dared.  She didn’t want to hurt herself, after all.  Michael would have to tell you what happened next.

# 92 – Nopperabo

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The model stood in the front of the room with her hands clasped behind her back.  Liza zoned out ten minutes ago while waiting for inspiration to strike.  Bruce was drawing so slowly that the model would probably age before he finished.  Liza reminded herself that this was an assignment and forced herself to start.

She did a rough sketch, then went back to add detail.  Liza was in a weird mood, so she decided to have some fun.  She swapped out the the woman’s khakis for black jeggings.  The white blouse became a fitted hospital gown that stopped at the waist.

Liza left the face for last and filled in the detail on the body.  She drew the model standing at an angle so that the one of the knots on the back of the gown was visible over her shoulder.  A rectangular box peeked out from behind her back, presumably held by one or both of her hands.  Liza used two colored pencils to shade the shirt hospital gown-blue.  Hmmm.  Bruce was still hunched over his drawing.  There were only about ten minutes of class left.

She stared at the faceless drawing.  It reminded her of a scary story that she heard as a child.  In Japanese lore, the nopperabo were shape shifting ghosts with smooth skin where their face should be.  Though not evil, they loved to scare lone people at night.  The nopperabo could take on the features of a real person.  They would engage in conversation with someone, then revert back to their blank face.  Sometimes they would appear as someone the target knew.  Liza found the idea terrifying. 

Eh, why not?  Liza left the face blank.  She went over it all in her fountain pen.  There.  It was black and white with the exception of the blue shirt.  She was happy with how it turned out.

Class was ending.  Bruce sat up and Liza slid a sideways look at his drawing.  It was better than the picture he’d shown her earlier.  There were no physical deformities, but he’d run out of time to add detail.  It gave the model an anonymous appearance, not unlike that of Liza’s nopperabo.  Liza liked the creepiness, though she was sure this wasn’t his intent.

Bruce looked over at her drawing.  She waited for the sarcastic comment.  His eyes flicked across the paper several times.  “Can you take a picture of it with your phone?” he asked.

“Hmm…sure,” said Liza.  She pulled out her phone and snapped a picture of the ghost/model.

“Can you print the picture for me?”

Liza sighed.  “If you had a cell phone of your own,” she widened her eyes at him, “I could send it to you.”  Bruce opened and closed his hand like a mouth, but he was grinning.  Liza shook her head.  “We can stop at a drugstore and print it on the way home,” she said.

# 91 – Hunchback in Drag

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“So, are you ever going to tell me who these people are?” asked Liza. She held up the picture of the woman and the little girl. Bruce took the picture out of her hand and put it back on the credenza without a word. He went back to shifting stacks of books around on his desk. OK, I’ll take that as a no.

Liza stepped back and frowned. She supposed that this could be the ex, but then why would he have a picture of her and not just the kid? If he hadn’t been living with Liza for the past three months, she might think that he was still married. Who then? She tried to convince herself that it was his sister and niece, but she didn’t think so. Liza got a mental image of throwing the picture out the window, Frisbee style, and it breaking into a hundred pieces when it hit the big oak outside. She laughed out loud at the fantasy. Bruce paused in his search to give her a raised-eyebrow. Calm down, Dr. Evil.

A stack of books toppled to the floor. “Aha!” said Bruce. He bent down and picked up his textbook and sketch pad. “Ready for Figure Drawing?”

“I am. Did you do your homework, Professor?” asked Liza. When she got the assistant art director job at the University, Liza switched back to majoring in art. On the first night of class, Bruce walked in and plopped down next to her. Now that she knew that he was not only a professor, but a dean, she was nervous about taking classes with him. If she fell asleep during a lecture, would he put her on academic probation?

“Absolutely.” He flipped open the sketch pad to reveal a drawing of what looked like The Hunchback of Notre Dame in drag. Liza laughed. Bruce frowned and looked at the drawing. Oh shit.

“It’s good! I like it,” said Liza, with much more enthusiasm than the situation called for.

“Do you really? Who is it?”

“Yes, uh…” Think! “One of your homeless friends?”

“No.”

“Janice?”

“Don’t let her hear you say that.”

“A coworker?”

“No.”

“Student?”

“No.”

“Random passerby on the street?”

“No.”

“Your mom?”

“I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”

“All right, I give up,” said Liza.

“It’s you.” Bruce smiled and showed Liza the drawing again.

“Did you draw this the other night when we were drinking?” Hey, she’d tried being polite, but he wouldn’t cooperate.

“You’re such a bitch,” said Bruce with a grin. He walked over and kissed her. “Ready?”

“Yep,” said Liza. At least now she wasn’t nervous.

# 90 – To Endure an “I told you so”

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The car sledded down the sloped street, fishtailing between the curb and a row of parked cars.  Liza flicked an ash out the window and cursed at nothing in particular.  Bruce warned her four or five times not to park on Lippincott, now she was going to have to endure an “I told you so”.  The narrow side street sat in the shadow of her new building.  It was a sheet of ice for weeks after it snowed.  The Focus glided by a group of oblivious students who were walking in the street.  Just before the intersection, the car slid sideways and beached itself against a giant pile of snow.  Super.

Bruce was going to be here at any minute.  Liza tossed the cigarette, turned off the radio, flung the car into reverse, and hit the gas.  The car lurched backwards about a foot before getting stuck.  A spray of snow flew out from under the spinning tires and onto the sidewalk.  One of the professors from Graphic Design was walking by.  He managed to hop backwards to avoid being turned into a human snowman.  The professor scowled and gave Liza a dirty look.  Liza smiled and waved him on.  When he was past, Liza switched the car to drive and turned the wheel hard.  It sailed past the snow mountain and into the middle of the street.  Bruce and Jim rounded the corner and stopped.  Of course.

Jim said something to Bruce, waved at Liza, and skate-smiled his way across the street.  Bruce opened the passenger door and leaned inside.  “Do you want me to drive?”

Liza feigned nonchalance.  “No.  Why?”

Bruce turned and looked at the snow pile.  “No reason,” he said.  He jumped in and closed the door.  Liza refused to look at him as they coasted through campus.  She knew that he would be wearing his tongue-in-cheek smile.  At the next light, he leaned over and kissed the side of her mouth.  Liza turned and kissed him back.  The light changed.  They coasted on.  

“So, what do you want to do for dinner?” asked Bruce.  “Do you want to pick something up, or do you want to see what we have at home?”

# 89 – Homeless House Guests and Mistletoe

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Liza ran her fingers through the dark hair on Bruce’s chest.  He continued his deep, rhythmic breathing.  She wondered if he slept this heavily when he was outside, or only when he was somewhere safe.  The thought of him sleeping anywhere near Scary With Hat Guy made her numb.  Liza didn’t want him to go back there, but she wouldn’t try to make him stay if he didn’t want to.

She pushed the bad thoughts away and rested her head on his chest.  Liza knew that she would remember this as one of the best Christmases of her life.  It was because of Michael and Jake and Sam, but mostly Bruce.  It was no fairy tale, but that was kind of what she loved most about it.

Liza amused herself for a while by thinking up alternative lyrics to popular Christmas songs.  Just swap out the chestnuts and open fire with Bird Dog and cigarettes.  Deck the halls with buttons and bottle caps.  Good tidings to you and your homeless house guests.  Jake and Sam under the mistletoe.

Liza smiled.  She pulled the blanket up around herself and Bruce.  His mouth hung open a little and his five o’clock shadow was practically a beard, making him look both handsome and cute.  When she kissed him on the cheek, she lingered for a minute, breathing him in.  She laid her head back on his chest and drifted off to sleep.