# 55 – She Would Have Thought That She Would Feel Bad

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Liza cranked up the volume on the TV.  The banging and yelling faded.  “There we go.”  She could still kind of hear Laura, but now it was easy enough to tune her out.  Liza dropped the remote back on the floor and resumed her dinner.  She lay on the living room sofa watching reruns of The Big Bang Theory.  A container of chicken and broccoli sat on her stomach.  Scattered on the floor next to her were a can of soda, a napkin, the remote, a pack of cigarettes, a lighter, and an empty salsa jar that she intended to use as an ashtray.  You know, why invest in real ashtrays when you’re quitting next week?  Or the week after.  Maybe.


A Christmas commercial came on.  A family sat around a tree that was decorated in color-coordinated ornaments.  It was in the corner of a cavernous family room.  The 2.5 kids were in the middle of a sea of perfectly wrapped presents.  Mom and Dad smiled down at them from the sofa, where they sat in identical robes, drinking coffee from identical Christmas mugs.  Liza thought the girl was a chubby little loudmouth, and the boy was a brat.  Dad was probably thinking about stopping by his assistant’s house later when he ran out to get cranberries, and Mom had more rum in her coffee than coffee.  Over the years, Liza came to realize that the people who pretended to be perfect were more messed up than the people they looked down on.  Liza’s cell phone hooted.  She thought about ignoring it, but there were still one or two people in the world that she liked enough to respond to immediately.  It was Jake.
 
“WHAT R U DOING OVER THERE?”  He always wrote in caps, so it was impossible to tell when he was actually angry.  
 
“Eating dinner,” typed Liza.
 
“WITH JIM PARSONS?”
 
“Yes, care to join us?” 
 
“HAHA, I WISH.  SAM IS COMING OVER.”  Sam was Jake’s boyfriend.  He worked for the government and was on some crazy, rotating shift schedule.
 
“Ah, thanks for the heads up.  I was going to turn it down, but since I don’t have Sheldon’s noise-cancelling headphones, I think I’ll leave it,” typed Liza.  It drove Jake nuts when Liza typed long sentences.  Every message she sent came through as two or three texts.
 
“WHAT R U SAYING?  OH, SAMS HERE.  TTYL, BITCH.”
 
“:-*”
 
Liza tossed her phone on the floor amongst the other stuff.  She was glad that she’d changed her number a couple of months ago, or Laura would be blowing up her phone.  Her sister turned up tonight not long after she got home from work.  Liza was standing by the door, sorting through her mail.  She heard someone try the doorknob.  When she looked through the peephole and saw Laura, she almost exploded.  Laura disappeared over the summer, again, leaving behind Casey, her terminally ill daughter, for Liza to take care of.  Now she thought she was just going to walk back into the house, months later.  Um, no.  Liza and Laura grew up this house, but their parents left it to Liza in their will.  Laura had disappeared with Casey when the girl was a baby.  Their parents had both died in a car accident and Liza never heard from her.  Earlier this year, she showed up on Liza’s doorstep with Casey.  Liza only took them in for Casey’s sake.  The eight-year-old was sick with leukemia.
 

Liza was done dealing with Laura now that their parents and Casey were gone.  Laura was going to have to fend for herself for once.  So, Liza had gone down to the basement and moved the boxes filled with Laura’s things to the backyard.  She went back upstairs, opened the door, and told Laura that she didn’t live there anymore and her stuff was out back.  Laura freaked out, kicking the storm door and screaming at Liza that this was her house too.  Liza had shut the door and gone about her business.  She would have thought that she would feel bad.

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©iStock.com/ChristopherBernard

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# 54 – Not a Taxi

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Bruce marched along on the other side of the street. He was looking down, but he would see her if he turned his head. She needed to get out of the middle of the street. Liza’s mind had stopped functioning, but her body was working again. A van drove past and she took the opportunity to bolt back to her side of the street. She crouched behind a taxi that was parked at the curb and tried to see Bruce through the windows. He was still walking. Thank God.

She didn’t want to talk to him. Nothing good could come out of that conversation. Plus, talking to him would delay the whole process of forgetting that he existed. They hadn’t spoken since the day he was released from the hospital in the summer. When she found out from his assistant that he had returned to campus and hadn’t contacted her, she realized that they were finished. Whatever. He didn’t owe her anything. An explanation would have been nice, but she wasn’t going to chase him down to get it.

27-15,” a loud, garbled voice blared from above her. Liza hopped back from the car, and crashed into a pair of legs. As she was flying backwards, she noticed that the taxi she had been hiding behind was a cop car. Its owner was standing above her looking really pissed off as he tried to stay on his feet. Splatters of coffee flew out of the cup in his hand. They slopped over his fingers and rained down on Liza’s hair. Dread spread through her. It was the same feeling you would get when you were sent to the principal’s office or one of your parents called you by your full name.

The cop steadied himself and flicked his fingers, sending more coffee drops into Liza’s hair. He pushed a button on the side of a radio mic that was attached to his coat. “27-15, go ahead.”

27-15, check for a fight on the highway at 32nd and Arch. Possibly one person down.” The voice sounded like the teacher from the Charlie Brown movies.

“27-15, ok,” said the cop. He bent down and yanked Liza to her feet. She squatted half way back down, aware that Bruce was still marching along somewhere behind her. “Are you looking for me?”

“No, I’m sorry. I’m hiding from someone. I didn’t realize this was a cop car,” said Liza.

“You were hiding. And you didn’t know this was a cop car… Is someone chasing you?”

“No,” said Liza. He stared at her like he was trying to decide if she was lying, crazy, or dumb. He must have decided that she was just dumb.

“All right, have a good night. Stay out of trouble,” said the cop. He hopped in his car and drove off toward Arch.

Jake materialized out of nowhere. “There’s seriously something wrong with you,” he said, shaking his head. But he was smiling.

“Where’d you disappear to?” asked Liza.

“I didn’t disappear to anywhere. What, was I supposed to lay all over the cop car too?”

“I wasn’t lying on the car. I just touched it.”

“And then you ran into…”

“Fell into.”

“Sorry, fell into a cop. I didn’t realize that you meant for me to do all those things too. Now I know for next time.”

Liza smacked him on the arm. “All right, all right.”

# 53 – Liza and Jake

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“How about him?  He’s hot.”

“We’re not looking for a hot guy.  We’re looking for an old homeless guy,” said Liza.  She bounced up and down on the balls of her feet to generate some heat.  It was unseasonably cold for late December.  They said on the news that they might actually have a white Christmas this year.

Jake got up and stood next to her.  “Uh huh, right.  Remind me why we’re out here freezing, instead of cyber shopping in front of the TV.”

“Other than that it was your idea?” asked Liza.

“Yes.”

“This guy…”

“The homeless guy?”

“Right.  The homeless guy, Michael, saved me from this guy I met online that turned out to be a nut.  But he knew my name somehow.”  Liza was getting a headache from the cold and the cigarettes.  They were at Adams Square, standing by a smoker’s station outside one of the buildings across from the park.

©iStock.com/JordiDelgado

©iStock.com/JordiDelgado

“And, you’re planning on confronting him if you spot him?” asked Jake.  He opened his coat and adjusted the shears that were dangling from his belt.  It didn’t look so much like he was trying to secure them as make them look stylish.  Liza grinned.  They looked like hairdressing scissors, which would fit the stereotype.  Jake was her next door neighbor, the one who fixed her leaky roof.  The shears were roofing shears.  He caught her expression and shot her his bitchy look.

On the night of her encounter with Michael and Brad, she went to check the back door one last time and interrupted him saying goodnight to his boyfriend.  After Sam left, they sat talking for hours in Liza’s kitchen.  Jake was a genuinely nice guy, but he was also a sarcastic ball-buster.  He teased Liza about her door locking paranoia.  She busted on him for being such a stereotypical gay guy, in such an atypical way.  When they were in his garage getting ready to leave, he searched through his meticulously organized roofing tools for a good impromptu weapon.  A hatchet would leave an unflattering lump under his coat and he didn’t want to get his new slate hammer dirty.  He finally decided on an old pair of roofing shears.  The garage was decorated with signed photographs of old-time movie actresses:  Lauren Bacall, Greer Garson, Vivien Leigh.

Jake lived alone too and they became friends in the past couple of weeks.  When Liza was unable to let this thing with Michael go, he suggested that they come down here and confront him.  It was a good idea in theory, especially with her giant, shear wielding bodyguard, but she really didn’t know what she was going to say if they found him.  Liza shrugged.

“I still think this has something to do with your man,” said Jake.

“He’s not my man.  He was never my man.  He’s never going to be my man.”  Liza took a deep breath and pulled out another cigarette.  Jake shook his head and swatted the air in front of him before she even had it lit.  “Sorry,” said Liza.  “Tell me again why you think this has something to do with Bruce?  I haven’t seen him since the summer.”

“The summer, when you rescued him from a horde of homeless people?  You think that’s a coincidence?” he asked.  Jake buttoned his coat back up and ran a hand over his wavy blond hair.  Liza wasn’t attracted to him, but she always had the urge to touch his hair.  How did he get it like that?  Did he use gel, or did it just fall into place that way after he washed it?  Men were so lucky.

“Why not?” asked Liza.

“Come on.  The bum in the witch hat who was watching you guys that time, him going to that homeless hangout, your buddy, Michael, helping you for no reason.  I don’t know.  It seems weird.  I mean, we run into homeless people all the time living here, but they usually just beg for money.  You said this guy didn’t even want to take anything.”

“I still don’t see what this has to do with Bruce,” said Liza.  “Wanna walk around again?  I’m getting cold.”

“Sure.”  They made it halfway across the street when Liza spotted him.  She froze, as if he were deer that couldn’t see her if she didn’t move.  Jake took another step before realizing that she stopped.  He turned and then followed her gaze back across the street.  “You said he wasn’t hot.”

He was wearing khaki pants and a grey hoodie.  She might not have noticed him if it hadn’t been for his distinctive walk.  “He’s not.  That’s not Michael.”

# 51 – Cookies

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©iStock.com/aimintang

Mick was ushering her down a path quicker than she would have thought him capable of moving.  She wanted to see if Brad was following, but every time she started to turn, Mick would place a hand on her back and say, “Come on!”  It occurred to her that she could be getting herself into more trouble by blindly following this random homeless guy.  Scary Witch Hat Guy popped into her head.  Mick seemed alright, but then, she had thought the same thing about Brad.  She decided to keep following him.  They were headed in the direction of her car, and the park was filled with people.  A lot of them turned and stared as Mick and Liza power walked past.  She had on heels and a skirt from her date.  Mick was wearing stained jeans, over-sized black boots, and a pea coat that looked like it had caught fire on the one side.

They exited the park and walked up to her car.  Mick motioned for her to get in.  She fished the keys out of her purse.

“You ok to get home from here?” he asked, puffing away on his little cigar.  He turned and looked behind him.

“Yes…thank you.”

“Don’t worry about it.  Get in.”  Liza got in the car, started it up, and lowered the window.  “You be careful,” he said.  He leaned down and patted the back of her hand that was resting on the steering wheel.

She had a thought.  “Hang on.”  Liza dug around in her purse and pulled out a bag of breakfast cookies and a ten-dollar bill.  She passed them through the window to Mick.

“No, no.”  He took a step back and waved his hands in front of him.

“Take it!”  Liza hated feeling like she owed people.  She also liked this guy and genuinely wanted to help, even if it was in a small way.  She thought of the two extra bedrooms in her house, but didn’t mention them.  He wouldn’t come and it probably wasn’t a good idea anyway.  “Please.  Just take it.”

He glanced behind him, then turned back to Liza.  “Ok.  Thank you.”  He took the cookies and the money, patting the back of her hand again.

“It was nice meeting you.  Thank you again for helping me,” said Liza.  “Do you mind if I ask your name?”

“Michael.”

“Michael.”  Liza laughed.  “No way!”

He regarded her, mid-puff, from under raised yellowy white eyebrows.  “That funny?”

“No.  It’s just…it reminded me of something.  Sorry.”  Nice.  Be rude to the guy who just saved your ass.  “Really.  Thank you again.”  She handed him one of the business cards that she used when she did freelance work.  It had only her name, email address, and cell number.  “If you ever need anything…I don’t know if you have access to…”

“Thank you.”  He stuck it in a pocket without looking at it, and took a step back.

Liza put the car in gear.  “It was nice meeting you, Michael.”

“Nice meeting you too, Liza.”

# 49 – Date Two

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Liza laughed.  It had been too long since she’d had a good time.  She scrutinized Brad as he talked, trying to find something about him that she found attractive.  Nothing.  She wished that she could hijack him and bring him to work, or implant him as a brother or cousin in her nonexistent family.  He’d taken her on a stereotypical date, complete with flowers and candlelit dinner.  Most women would have loved it.  Liza would have preferred a bar that served food, or some neighborhood dive restaurant.  She was dying for a cigarette, but anymore people looked at you like you were a crack addict if you smoked.  There were a lot of people out even though it was a little chilly.  She wasn’t in the mood for all the dirty looks.

They were walking around Adams Square.  Liza had resisted, but he was on a mission to make this some romantic movie date.  She figured that she would humor him before cutting the night short.  They were just finishing up their first circuit when Liza pulled out her phone.  “Oh, it’s almost ten!” Liza feigned surprise. “I should be getting home.”

He knew that she was blowing him off, she could tell.  “Ok…I had a good time tonight.”

“Me too.”  She meant it.  They looked at each other for a minute.  It wasn’t exactly uncomfortable, but the blow off was there.

“Goodnight, Liza,” said Brad.  He opened his arms and took a step toward her.  Panic washed over Liza.  She wasn’t afraid of him.  She was afraid that he would try to kiss her.  He was getting closer.  She told herself to just hug him and be done with it.  Give him a quick kiss on the cheek.  But, just like when she had tried to pierce her own ears as a kid, she couldn’t bring herself to do it.  Liza leaned toward him while he was still a couple of feet away.  She planned on hugging him at least, she really did, but she ended up kind of patting him on the shoulders.  Nice.

“Goodnight.  Thank you,” she said.  She walked away without looking back.  Liza decided to block him on the dating website where they had met as soon as she got home.

# 40 – The Karma Fairy

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Liza skipped lunch and left work an hour early.  She grabbed a cup of coffee from a lunch truck outside of St. Francis.  This morning’s rain chased the humidity and cooled everything off, leaving a perfect summer afternoon.  She decided to enjoy it for a few minutes.  A short stone wall ran around the outside of the building.  It had probably been built to contain a small garden.  Now it was basically a giant trashcan.  Liza hopped up and lit her cigarette.  What an awesome aunt, she thought wryly.  All she needed now was to swap out the coffee cup for a bottle in a brown paper bag.  She tried to push the bad thoughts out of her head for a few minutes.  The sun felt amazing.  Liza dropped her sunglasses in place and turned her face up.

Casey was a sweet kid.  Quiet.  Thoughtful.  She never gave anyone a hard time.  What was hard was the leukemia.  While most children grew up, Casey deteriorated.  It was hard to watch.  Liza wasn’t sure if she couldn’t handle it, or didn’t want to.  Then there was the other thing.  She loved Casey, but had never been interested in kids, she felt uncomfortable around them, and had managed to avoid them up to this point in her life.  Liza and Casey usually ran out of things to talk about quickly.  Their conversations were awkward and forced.  Yet, Casey loved Liza.  She acted as if she were a “cool aunt”.  All the while, Liza half hoped that Laura would come back and free her.

Liza wished again that their parents were still alive.  She took a long drag before flicking the cigarette into the street.  It didn’t seem right for a kid to have such a short, miserable life.  This is why Liza always thought that karma was a bunch of bull.  It was just something weak people invoked to make themselves feel better when bad things happened.  Casey didn’t do anything to deserve this.  Laura sure did, but Laura was one of those people who always seemed to land on their feet.  Maybe the karma fairy had made a mistake.  Liza sighed.  She slid off the wall and headed into the hospital.

# 29 – Class 7

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Liza’s head was barely functioning by the end of the night.  Macroeconomics was one of those courses that tricked you into thinking that it was interesting, but a few classes in, the formulas and charts had you checking to make sure that you hadn’t accidentally enrolled in a class for economics majors.  Unless you were Bruce, who always looked like he was watching the series finale of his favorite TV show.  That night, he’d stayed behind to speak with the professor about one of the case studies in the text.  Liza went outside to have a cigarette while she waited.  She sat on a bicycle rack and watched Bruce and Professor Walker through the window.  They were deep in conversation.  Bruce had a wide stance with one leg and hip thrust out.  His arms were crossed, though he gestured a lot.  He was wearing jeans and a wrinkled black t-shirt.  Liza smiled.  If she was going to go out with a professor, she was glad that she’d found one who broke the stereotype.  Walker, not much older than Liza, was sporting wire rimmed glasses and a full beard.  He looked like he was wearing a professor costume for Halloween.

She flicked her cigarette at the butt can.  The two men were still talking, so she lit another.  Bruce kept looking out the window.  Was he looking for her?  Suddenly she felt silly and wondered if she should leave.  More than once, Bruce had said that she didn’t have to drive him.  It occurred to her now that he didn’t want her to drive him.  Maybe he hadn’t come right out and said so to spare her feelings.  That would suck.  It wasn’t an entirely far-fetched idea either.  She had yet to see his house.  Liza wondered if the woman and the little girl from the picture were part of the reason.  Liza did a mental shrug and forced it all out of her mind. She got the sense that the woman and little girl were permanently out of the picture.  Bruce obviously didn’t want to tell the story, and as long as they stayed out of the picture, she didn’t really want to hear it.

Liza resisted the urge to light up a third cigarette.  She stood up and paced around in front of the bike rack.  She would never admit this, but Thursday evening was the highlight of her week now that her life was a series of repeating tasks.  Liza dreaded watching him disappear through Adams Square at the end of the night, and she thought about him often during the week.  She looked at her watch.  Almost half an hour had gone by.  She felt stupid and decided to go home.  She wheeled around towards the parking lot and there was Bruce coming toward her.  “Were you waiting for me?”

Shit!  Did he want her to be waiting for him, or did he not want her to be waiting for him?  “No, I was smoking and…checking my phone,” said Liza.  Yeah, that was plausible, because she totally had to lurk right outside the building to do those things.

“Uh huh,” said Bruce.  He was smiling.  “Shall we?” he asked, holding out his hand.