# 11 – Parchment Paper

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“An artist.”

“Really?”

“Really.”

“What kind?”

“I don’t know.  I never got that far.  I draw pencil sketches mostly.”  She hesitated.  “They’re kind of…dark.  Some people love them, some people find them disturbing.”  She watched him closely.

He was nodding, thoughtful.  “I don’t suppose you would show me some of your drawings?”

“Sure, right after you let me read your novel,” said Liza.

Bruce bunched his lips up in annoyance, but his eyes were smiling.  He shook his head and took a sip of coffee.  “Ok, so why didn’t you pursue it?  Why don’t you pursue it?  You said draw, present tense.”

“I was planning on pursuing it at different times.  Two of my five majors were art and another was graphic design.”

“What happened?” he asked.

Liza considered.  He seemed genuinely curious, not as if he were setting her up to tease or make fun of.

She shrugged.  “I wish I had majored in art the first time around.  I was eighteen with no responsibilities and nothing to lose but time and money.  I’ve lost those anyway, and have nothing to show for it.  Anyway, my family acted like I’d said I wanted to major in sword swallowing.  So I majored in law, hated it, and dropped out.  I went back a year later, majored in art, lost my job and my tuition reimbursement, and dropped out…and on and on.”  She paused, debating. “I finally decided to give it one last try a couple of years ago.  I was half way through.  Then…I had some personal problems.  Everything got to be too much.  I ended up dropping out again.  This is actually my first term back.  I’m majoring in business administration this time.  It’s not exciting, but I can tolerate it.  I’ve been doing office work of some sort for almost a decade.”

“Why not major in art this time if that’s what you like?” asked Bruce.

“I don’t have that luxury anymore.  I have bills to pay and…”  She thought about Casey and Laura, but didn’t want to go there.  “and, I don’t know, I’m not getting any younger.”

He didn’t say anything for a while, just looked at her, poking his tongue into his cheek, thinking.  “How about a turkey sandwich?”  He stood up.  “That cookie didn’t do it for me.  I’m still hungry.  Do you want to split a turkey sandwich?”  he asked, pointing up at the counter.

“Sure,” she said.  Liza wondered if she had made him uncomfortable.  She was mad at herself for telling him about her past and making herself seem like a flake with some sort of secret drama.  Both of which were true, but still.  She promised herself that she would keep it light from now on.  Liza watched him, thinking again how attractive he was and how much she liked him.

He came back and deposited the sandwich and a can of energy drink on the table.

She laughed, forgetting her thoughts.  “Wow, coffee and an energy drink!  Are we going for a jog after this?”

He smiled.  “I couldn’t resist.  It reminded me of that first night outside of Norton, on the bench.”  Bruce spread out a napkin in front of each of them.  He pulled out the turkey sandwich and gave her half.  He took a big bite of his half and set to work on the parchment wrapper.  He removed the plastic liner, carefully pulled off the tape, and flattened it out on the table.  Next, he folded it in half, pressing the fold hard.  Then he tore the paper down the middle along the fold.

“What are you doing?” Liza asked.

“Homework,” he said.  “Since you won’t show me any of your drawings, and I won’t let you read my novel, let’s make a deal.”  He handed her half of the parchment paper, and set the other half on the table next to him.  “Draw something for me.  Anything.  Something that you won’t mind showing me.  I’ll write something for you.  I’m not sure what yet.  We’ll exchange them after class next week.”

 

Liza smiled.  She liked it.  A million pictures raced through her mind.  She almost wished that she could start now.  Her smile faded.  “Are you going to be able to get past your writer’s block?”

“I’ll force myself, but I’m not promising that it will be good,” he said, glancing down at his paper as if it might jump up and slap him.

“Ok, deal,” Liza said, holding out her hand before he could change his mind.  Once again, his giant hand enveloped hers.  He tugged her hand toward himself and rose slightly out of his chair, leaning forward.  Liza half-rose from her own chair and met his lips over the table.

 

# 9 – Fifty

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“I don’t know.  Fifty?”

“Fifty?!”  He looked alarmed.

“Forty-eight??”

“Jesus, do I really look that old?”  Bruce turned to look at his reflection in the bookstore window.

“No.”  Liza studied him as he rubbed his hand across his hair and sucked in a phantom gut.  “Hmm…how about…thirty-two?”

“Oh, yeah right.  Now you’re just trying to make up for your first guess!”

Liza couldn’t tell if he was playing or if she had really hurt his feelings.  “No, that’s my guess.  Honestly, you look like you could be in your twenties, but considering that you’re a professor and were married, I guessed high.  You must at least be in your early thirties.”

His expression was inscrutable.  Finally he broke into a wide smile. “I’m thirty-eight, but thank you.”

“Sure, just don’t forget that you had to fish for that compliment,” Liza said, grinning and cocking an eyebrow at him.  “So tell me, how old do you think I am?”

“Hmm…seventh semester freshman, evening student, full-time job, drives a Focus, likes Halestorm, drinks energy drinks…” His eyes roamed her face for a minute.  “I’m going to say…twenty-seven.”

He was right.  Exactly.  Liza pursed her lips.  She was more competitive than a soccer mom on steroids and didn’t like losing; not even at this little guessing game.  “How did you know that?”

“I guessed.  How would I know?”  He looked amused.

“I don’t know.  Can’t professors look up student records?”

“Yes, we can, but you never told me your last name and apparently Liza is a nickname.”  She smiled.  He had tried to look her up.

“Elizabeth.”

# 5 – Class 2

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Traffic was light.  Liza arrived on campus almost an hour before class.  She could have gone home first, but she didn’t feel like dealing with Laura.  A little garden with a seating area lay tucked on one side of Norton Hall.  It was out-of-the-way and didn’t get much use.

Liza tossed her bags onto an old marble bench and slumped down next to them.  She fished a cigarette from her purse, making a mental note to try to quit again next week.  Her eyes were killing her from staring at spreadsheets all day.  She closed them and sat enjoying the peace and the nicotine buzz.  A minute later she heard the soft tread of shoes on the mossy brick ground.  She opened her eyes to find Bruce looming over her a few feet away.

“Mind if I sit down?”

“Not at all,” said Liza, dragging her bags closer to make room.  Today he wore jean shorts and a cheery bright shirt with little fruit people walking across the front.  He was sporting an impressive five o’clock shadow and one eye was closed slightly more than the other.  He looked dead tired.  “Rough night, Professor?”

“Are you in any of my classes?” he asked.

“No.”

“Are you ever going to take any of my classes?”

“Literature?  I’d love to, but no.”

“Then it’s Bruce, and, to answer your question, I did have a rough night.  The storm kept me up,” he said.  “So, if you would love to take one of my classes, what’s stopping you?”

“Well, unlike you, I don’t work here.  My employer only pays for business classes.  Even then, they only pay half…”

“Ah, point taken,” he said, eyeing the energy drink that she produced from one of her bags.

“I feel bad drinking this in front of you,” she said.  “You look like you need it more than I do.”  She cracked open the can, took a swig, and held it out to him.  He looked from her to the can and back again a few times before accepting it and taking a big sip before handing it back.  Just then Halestorm blared from Liza’s phone, signaling an incoming call.  She pulled it out of her pocket.  It was Laura.  The smile slid off of her face.  She looked at the phone for a minute before rejecting the call.

“Who’s Laura, if you don’t mind me asking?” said Bruce.

“I don’t mind, but it’s a long story and I don’t want to talk about it,” said Liza.

“Fair enough,” said Bruce.  They were quiet for a minute, passing the energy drink back and forth, enjoying the beautiful summer evening.  “Just tell me this – is Laura your girlfriend?”

Liza looked at him, not comprehending at first.  “Oh!  No, Laura isn’t my girlfriend.  I’m not gay,” she said with a smile.  Ok, so maybe he was interested.

“Boyfriend?  Husband?” he asked.

“No and no.  You?”

“No.  Not anymore.”

Liza hesitated.  She wasn’t sure if it would be rude to ask or rude not to ask.  “Do you mind if I ask what happened?”

“I don’t mind, but it’s a long story and I don’t want to talk about it,” said Bruce with a grin.  Her heart melted.  There was no doubt that he was handsome; greys, five o’clock shadow, sleepy eyes and all.  When he smiled, he looked unbelievably cute; younger than she figured him for.  She couldn’t stop herself from smiling back at him.

“Fair enough,” said Liza, passing him the can.

# 3 – Bruce

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Liza plopped in the driver’s seat and yanked the door shut.  It was nine-thirty.  The three hour evening classes killed her, but they were all that she could manage right now.

Liza downed the warm remnants of an energy drink that she found in the cup holder.  The air conditioner wasn’t working again, so she rolled down the windows as she pulled out of her spot on 2nd Street.  Liza quickly zoned out to the rhythmic stop and go of city traffic.

As she sat at a light a few blocks later a man walking down the street caught her attention.  She noticed his steady, deliberate walk.  Then she noticed the orange t-shirt.  She wondered where he was going.  There were parking lots and bus stops on campus.  The light turned green and she crept forward, careful to stay behind him.  Why?  Like he was going to recognize her car?

Someone behind her leaned on their horn and sped around her, yelling as they passed.  He turned his head just as she came abreast of him and they locked eyes.  Shit!  Busted twice in one night.  He stopped walking and turned to face her, crouching down slightly to peer through the window of her tiny Focus.

“Want a ride?” she asked.  He shrugged his shoulders but walked up to the car and opened the passenger’s side door, unleashing an avalanche of junk onto the street.  Mental head slap.  So much for making a good first impression.  Maybe he was into being stalked by a woman who lived like a sixty-year-old truck driver.

He passed his books to Liza and bent down to scoop up her junk from the street.  He tossed armfuls of stuff back in the foot well:  empty takeout containers, a tube of mascara, receipts, crumpled cigarette packs, a softball, a broken phone mount, a butterfly knife, a stack of business cards, and one of Casey’s glittery art projects.  The last he laid carefully on the dash before jumping in and arranging his long legs around the junk and taking his books back.

“Hi, I’m Bruce,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Liza.”