# 56 – Bronze Statues and Bright Banners

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©iStock.com/06photo

©iStock.com/06photo

Campus was quiet and empty.  It was like being in someone’s house when they were away on vacation.  Liza had a few personal days to burn before the end of the year, so she was off until after Christmas.  She’d decided to drive over to campus and pick up her textbook for next term.  The university never closed, but few students hung around during the holidays.  Liza didn’t blame them.  The campus was an oasis of academia and Greek life in the middle of a neighborhood that could be a movie set for a post-apocalyptic film.  Not that Liza was complaining.  She liked the campus and found this aspect of it kind of amusing.  If you looked hard enough at the facade of bronze statues and bright banners, you could see the decaying ghetto that was not quite hidden by them.

Liza stuck her hand in her coat pocket.  The butterfly knife was there.  It was the same knife she’d thrown at Scary Witch Hat Guy over the summer when she was unable to get it open.  Liza practiced with it since then, and could open it quickly, as long as she didn’t catch one of her fingers on the blade.  She ran into Jim on the cross walk in front of the bookstore.  Figures.  He was walking in the opposite direction, smiling his way toward Liza.  They paused and exchanged a quick greeting, but the light was turning red and they moved on.

Liza jogged into the bookstore to escape the cold.  Professor Walker was standing in the business section flipping through a supplemental book on managerial economics.  He was the professor of from class that she and Bruce had taken together over the summer.

“Hi, Professor.”  Liza wasn’t much of a people person.  She found it an annoying obligation to talk to acquaintances when she ran into them, but she didn’t want to be rude.

“Ms. Richter!  How have you been?  Are you taking my managerial economics class next term?”  Liza was confused by his greeting, which was bubblier than any she’d received when she was taking his class.

“I’ve been ok.  Same old.”  Except that my niece died and I haven’t spoken to Bruce in months.  “I’m not.  Economics isn’t for me.  I liked your class, but I only took it because it was a requirement.  So…how have you been?”

“Excellent!  I finished and published my book.”  He waved the economics book in the air.  “I made department head.  My wife and I just had our first baby.”  Wow, Liza felt like a loser.  She considered it an achievement when she found matching clothes in the morning.

“That’s great!  Congratulations,” she said.  “Boy or girl?”

“Girl.”  His phone materialized in his hand and he was showing Liza all three hundred and twenty-three pictures of baby Sophia.  Liza knew every contour of the infant’s puffy, expressionless face after the first ten pictures.  The other three hundred and thirteen were torture.  Then Walker was talking about feedings and diaper rash.  Liza started to sweat and the edges of her vision prickled.  She shuffled sideways and slid one of the finance textbooks from the shelf.  Her eyes flicked over to the cash registers.

“Well, I’ve bored you long enough, Ms. Richter,” he said.  Damn!  After enduring all of that, she had still been rude.  She could have just zipped past and snubbed him.  But he was smiling.  “I understand that not everyone enjoys economics, but you should seriously consider taking my managerial economics class if you change your mind.  It expands on a lot of the points that you touched on in your paper, which was excellent, by-the-way.”

“What paper?”  On the evening of their last class, Liza found out that Bruce returned to campus from his “vacation” and didn’t contact her.  She was so upset that she ditched the paper in a trashcan in front of Hunter Wood and skipped class.

“Your final paper.  The one Dean Wells handed in for you at the last class.”

“Bruce went to class and turned in my paper for me.”  The confusion lifted midway through the sentence.  Liza just managed to make it sound more like a statement than a question.

# 10 – Someday

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“So, what made you decide to become a lit professor?” asked Liza.

“I don’t know.  I always loved books.  When I was a kid sometimes I would spend the whole day at the library of whatever base we were living on.  I liked being able to step inside someone else’s life for a while.  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.”

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 they regarded it as an adventure.  It probably got old never being able to lay down roots and perpetually being the new kid.  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 a year writing a novel and another year not being able to get it published.”

“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.  She forced herself to look at him.  He was staring at her.  She couldn’t read his expression.

“Someday I’ll let you read it,” he said.  Someday was good.  Someday meant that he too was hoping that 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.”  Liza didn’t know what to say.  She thought that it would be insensitive to change the topic and mean to keep grilling him.  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.