# 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.   

# 75 – Incognito Do-gooding

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It was after three o’clock in the morning.  They were watching Frankenweenie.  Well, Bruce was watching Frankenweenie.  Liza was pretending.  She was watching Bruce.  Questions flooded her head.  What happened last summer?  Was it something she did, or was it all about him not wanting her to find out that he was homeless?  And why the hell was he sneaking around helping her?  The econ paper, sending Michael to rescue her from Brad, the other day in the garden…was there more?  She thought of the story that he had written for Casey.  What else had he done?  And WHY?  He didn’t want to see her but he’d appointed himself her guardian angel?  Liza didn’t get it.

She had a feeling that if she pressed him for answers, that he would leave.  That wouldn’t work.  She was determined to pay him back.  He didn’t want to go out with her.  Fine.  She could deal with that as long as he never found out how she felt about him.  He didn’t want to tell her his life story.  Whatever.  She didn’t need to know.  He wanted to periodically turn up and help her with his incognito do-gooding.  That wasn’t OK.  She didn’t like owing people.  She definitely didn’t want to owe Bruce.  So, she was going to do some guardian angeling herself.  It should work out well.  It seemed as if he needed just as much help as she did.  Plus, she might eventually convince herself that she was only helping him to make things even.

Damn!  He was watching her out of the corner out his eye.  She was busted and transported back to that first night in class.  He laughed and shook his head.  Liza turned her head and adjusted some stray strands from her messy bun to hide her smile.  Damn.  This was bad.  This was really bad.

# 73 – Like A Homeless Survivorman

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“Wow, I’m impressed.  You’re a writer/professor/carpenter.  Anything else?” asked Liza.  The shelves were really nice, wood with metal brackets anchoring them to the wall.

Bruce smiled and turned his head.  “No, I think that’s everything.  Well, unless you want to count the skills I’ve acquired being homeless.  Maybe I should do an urban version of Survivorman.”  Jake froze.  Liza laughed, then stopped when Jake gave her a look.

“Wait,” said Liza, “it’s OK for me to laugh at your gay plumber jokes, but not at Bruce’s homeless guy jokes?”

“Mine aren’t as bad!” said Jake.

“Maybe not to you.  It doesn’t bother me that you’re gay, but I don’t need the visuals that come along with some of your jokes!” said Liza.  Now Bruce started laughing.

“I don’t know what you three are giggling about down there, but dinner’s ready,” called Michael’s rough voice from the top of the stairs.  All three turned and saw a puff of smoke glide down the steps before dissipating around a light bulb on the ceiling.

# 72 – Like a Pseudohermit

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Liza was dragging big time by the time she got home.  All she’d done was stop by the cemetery and hang out at the mall for a couple of hours.  She felt like she’d just completed one of those mud runs that Jake was always training for.  Maybe she wasn’t meant to function like a normal human being.  Hadn’t it always been her dream to be a successful, un-famous artist so that she could rarely leave the house and keep any schedule she wanted?

A wave of junk rolled out of the car with her.  A golf ball clacked down the curb toward the sewer.  Where the hell did that come from?  That was probably what got stuck under her gas pedal on the bridge.  She made a mental note to clean out the car the next time she managed to get a spot near her house.  Or, you know, she could park in the driveway out back, but that would be too easy.

Liza paused outside the front door.  She didn’t know who was inside.  Jake’s truck was down the block, but he could be at home.  The smell of cooking food hit her as soon as she stepped inside.  A mountain of clothes were piled on the sofa, clean and meticulously folded.  Oh Jesus, even her bras and panties.  Sam was in the dining room fussing over place settings.  Michael was cooking what looked like a pork roast.  It smelled amazing.  His clothes were still a little ragged, but they looked clean.  Bruce and Jake came up from the basement.

“Hi,” said Bruce.

“Hi.”

“Hey, Bitch!” said Jake.  “Just in time.  Come and see the shelves that the Professor made for you in The Hole!”  Liza tried to smother her happiness as she followed the two of them back down to the basement.

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# 69 – Eggs and Other Lives

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“I don’t suppose you’ll tell me?” asked Liza.

“How he became homeless?”

“Yes.”

“No.”  Another little cigar materialized in Michael’s hand.  He lit it and began puffing away.  He was staring at her.  “I wish I could.  It’s not for me to tell.”

“I know,” said Liza.  Damn.  All right, let’s see what he was willing to tell her.  “How long have you known him?”

Michael shrugged.  “I donno…a couple of years.”

“Where does he,” Liza made air quotes, “live?”

You know that.”

“The underpass?”

“Yes.”

“Still?” asked Liza.  Michael nodded.  She felt sick.  “With Scary Witch Hat Guy?”

Michael raised an eyebrow and pursed his lips, then barked out a laugh.  “Ray?!  That what you call him?  I like it.”  He smiled, his pearly tooth and topaz eyes flashing in the moonlight.  “No one’s seen him.  You must’ve scared him away.”

“Bruce told you about that?”

Michael nodded.  “Told me about that.  Told me about how you would drive him after class.  Told me about the picture.  He really likes you.  He never talks about his other life,” said Michael.

“His other life?”

“You know, at the college.  I don’t care.  Some of the others give him a hard time.  They don’t get it.”

She flashed back to being whacked with a copy of Robinson Crusoe.  “Sc….Ray?” she asked.  Michael nodded.  “Do you live at the underpass too?”

“Sometimes.”

“What don’t the others get?” Liza asked.

“Nice try.”  Michael gathered his empty bottle and little cigar butts.  “Any other questions?”

“Would you get involved with him if you were me?”

Michael tried to deflect the question.  “He’s not my type.”  Liza stared at him until he looked away.  He was quiet for a minute.  “If I was you?  Probably not.”  He shuffled into the kitchen.  Liza followed.  She locked up and shed her snowy boots on the mat.  Michael deposited the butts in the trash can, rinsed out the beer bottle and placed it on the counter with the other recyclables.

Liza stood behind him, watching.  It was late.  She should be heading to bed with the fresh batch of thoughts that would keep her awake.  “Good night.  Don’t…please try not to feel funny.  I’m glad that you guys are here.  This house is too big for one person.”

Michael turned and leaned on the counter.  He was drying his hands with a paper towel.  “Do you have eggs?”

Eggs?  “Yes.”

“Good.  I’ll make omelets for breakfast tomorrow.”

“You don’t have to.”

“I want to.  I used to like to cook.  I had a real life once too.  We all did,” said Michael.  He seemed more sober.  Liza nodded.  Something else to think about.  She turned to go.  “He cares about you.  A lot.  It’s just…all the stuff that comes with this.”  He waved his hand down his body, showcasing the tattered clothes that he refused to let Liza clean for him.  Liza nodded again.

“Good night.”

“Night, Liza.”