# 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.

# 46 – Class 10

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“Liza!  It’s good to see you again!”  said Janice. “How are you?”  Today her stark white hair was trussed up in a series of braids.  She was wearing an indigo blouse with an asymmetrical neckline and a black pencil skirt.  Purple contact lenses replaced the glasses.  Liza hoped that she was this cool when she was Janice’s age.

“Hi.  It’s good to see you too.  I’m…ok,” Liza lied.  She forced a smile on her face, but she had a feeling that it looked more like a grimace.  “How’ve you been?”

 “I’ve been well.  The summer was slow, especially with the Dean gone for the past few weeks, but now that he’s back and the new term is about to start, things are picking up…”  Liza didn’t hear anything after that.  It took a lot of effort, to keep the smile/grimace on her face.  He was already back.  She felt like a total dumbass for breaking down and checking on him.  Janice was looking as if she expected her to say something.  Wait, what were they talking about?

 “Uh, oh that’s good,” said Liza.  Janice looked delighted.  Apparently that had been an appropriate response to whatever she had just said.

 “Are you two walking over to class together?  I’ll let him know you’re here.”

 “No!” Liza hissed.  Janice looked taken aback.  “I’m…not going to class tonight.”

 “Isn’t this the last class?”

 “There’s no final…just a paper,” said Liza.  Partially formed thoughts stampeded through Liza’s mind.  Why hadn’t she thought this through?  She realized that it hadn’t occurred to her that Bruce may have already returned to work and hadn’t contacted her.  Liza felt stupid all over again.  She wasn’t going to be able to hold it together for long.  How was she going to get out of here without running into Bruce or making an idiot of herself?

 “Oh,” said Janice.  She looked confused.  Of course she did.  Liza had just turned up for no discernible reason.  Liza heard movement from behind the office door.  “Well, I have to get going.  It was really nice seeing you again.”  Janice opened her mouth to say something, but Liza was out the door.  Her face burned as she jogged down to the first floor.  At least she didn’t get lost this time.  Jim was downstairs, but he was on the other side of Hunter Wood’s huge foyer.  Liza got away with a quick wave as she jetted out of the building.

She didn’t know why Bruce was acting this way, and she wasn’t going to waste any more time figuring it out.  She was done with him.  Her niece was dying.  She was in trouble at work.  Her house was falling apart.  She needed a good grade on this paper, but screw it.  There was no way that she was going to class if he was going to be there.  She tossed her paper into a trash can at the curb without breaking her stride.  Five minutes later she was racing down the highway with a cigarette dangling from her lips.

# 44 – Class 8 and Everything

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She replayed this over and over in her mind.  She was still perched on the marble bench.  Liza checked the time on her phone.  Why did she get to class this early?  Bruce said in his note that he probably wouldn’t be here.  I guess not.  What would people think when the Dean of the College of Liberal Arts showed up looking like Rocky?  What would he say?  Pardon my appearance.  I got beat up by a pack of homeless people last week?!  She wondered how he was doing.  Who was going to help him?

Liza bunched her lips together and shook her head.  She didn’t care.  She didn’t care.  To hell with him.  Liza jammed her hand into her bag and pulled out an energy drink, a cigarette, her sketch pad, and pen.  It was a nice evening.  She would sit out here and draw until class.  Two cigarettes later, she was still staring down at a blank page.  She sat back and looked around.  Jim was smiling his way toward her in khakis and a blue polo shirt.  Super.  She’d never seen this guy before that day in the kitchen, and now here he was.  “Hey, Jim…er…Professor?” said Liza.

Jim paused and smiled down at her.  She broke out into a sweat.  Did she just called a professor by his first name?  Was he a professor?  Why was he so tall and why did he have to stand so close?  Liza involuntarily slid away from him.  He continued to beam down at her.  “Hello!  It’s good to see you again…”

“Liza.”

“Liza.  It’s good to see you again, Liza.”  Jim extended his hand, and Liza shook it.  “How is Bruce?  I haven’t seen him lately.”

“Oh.  Um, Bruce is well.  I saw him the other day.  I think he said that he was going to take a little vacation,” said Liza.  She was seriously annoyed with Bruce, but she certainly wasn’t going to cause problems for him at work.  He’d never done anything to her except confuse her.

“Really!?  That’s excellent!  He deserves it after everything.  Good for him,” smiled Jim.  “Well, I have a class to teach tonight.  And yes, to answer your question, I am a professor.  Professor Crozier.  But everyone calls me Jim.  It was good seeing you, Liza.”  He smiled off to class, leaving Liza with one word echoing in her head.  Everything?

# 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.”