Alchemist Gift continued: Liz sat at the outside table and sipped her coffee while she waited for Roland. It was a little past ten. Except for a few billowing clouds the sky was clear and the air was crisp. She was glad she wore a sweater.
Brian made his rounds with the coffee pot. He got to Liz and topped off her cup. He looked down at the empty chair. “So, where’s Romeo this morning?”
“Romeo?” Liz gave a quizzical smiled. “Oh, he’ll be along. You know he’s a little pokey on Sunday. Maybe I can hurry him up. I’m hungry.” Liz reached in her purse and took out her cell phone. She pressed the familiar numbers. The phone connected and called. After two rings the timer started counting the seconds. Liz heard muffled music and then the call ended. She tried again and this time the call went to his voicemail. “Hey, where are you?” She put the phone on the table and looked up at Brian. “First music and then voicemail.”
“He was here last night, wasn’t he?”
“Oh yeah, he was here.” Brian saw Roland turn the corner. He headed for the restaurant at a quick pace. “Speak of the devil. Here he comes.”
Liz waved, Roland nodded back. He got to table and swung the ever present backpack off his shoulder , put it down and gave Liz a peck on the cheek. “Sorry, I over slept.”
“Well, you’re here now.” said Liz with a smile.
“Cup of coffee please.” Roland forced a smile for Brian.
“You bet, Casanova.” Brian took a cup from the nearby bus cart, filled it and put in front of Roland.
“Casanova? Okaay. “Liz was busy looking at the menu and Roland shot Brian a “keep your mouth shut” glare.
“Oh yeah, I told Liz you were here last night.” Brian gave Roland an impish smile and then added innocently. “By the way, how did things go last night after you left?”
“What do you say we order?” Roland ignored Brian.
“You know what I want.” Liz closed the menu and handed it to Brian.
“Eggs Benedict for me and the strawberry waffles for Liz.”
“So that’s eggs Benedict… (Brian coughed the name Arnold)…and the sweet straw berry waffle surprise for the sweetest gal around.” Brian wrote the order and continued. “You know Liz, if I was ten years younger and you were a bit older I’d do any and everything to win and keep your heart.”
Liz blushed. “That’s so sweet of you.”
“And, we’re so hungry.” rejoined Roland.
Brian nodded and headed off to the kitchen. Roland unzipped the backpack and pulled the book on alchemy.
“Come on Rol, I want to talk about us.” She put her hand on his.
“This has to do with us. I took your advice yesterday. I went to the library and finally came up with the subject for my thesis, Alchemy.”
“Alchemy” she repeated. This was the fifth or sixth stab Roland made.
“You know, how Alchemy has influenced modern chemistry, something like that. I haven’t settled on a theme yet, but I still have a couple of weeks, and then a year after that to finish.” There was a note of childish enthusiasm in his voice. Roland took the laptop out of his backpack. “Let me show you what I’ve got already.”
Liz sat back in the chair and crossed her arms. “I ‘m glad you have a topic. But I don’t want to look at that now. Remember why we’re here.” She was serious.
“Yeah, our relationship,” Roland answered like a little boy who was just scolded. He put the laptop back in the backpack. “Okay, what part do you want to talk about: the no touchy feely aspect? Or how Liz spends every waking moment at the Foster Kid’s Retreat?” There was a bit of whiney sarcasm in his voice.
“Don’t be that way, it belittles both of us.” Liz took a deep breath. “Roland, where do you see us in five years?”
“Five years? Geez, I don’t know, I guess finishing up my doctorate. Anyway, those alchemists must have been on to something. There are so many books about alchemy and alchemists. I’ve got so much research to do.”
Liz’s patience was stretched. “Listen to the question this time. Where do you see us in five years?”
“I just told you.”
“That was you, not us.” Liz’s heart began to beat harder and she felt her shoulders tense up.
Roland looked up from the computer screen. He played it safe. “Well, where do you see us in five years?”
“ Married and living in our own place at the beach or out in the country, it doesn’t matter where. You coming home from work happy to see me. Me, taking care of our kids. I could do my work out of a home office. I see us as a family. That’s where I want us to be in five years.”
Roland wasn’t quite ready for this reality check. “First things first, I’ve got to finish my thesis.” Liz was frustrated; her moment was lost and worse, it was twisted back onto itself and made into a reason for Roland to keep the status quo. She sadly looked down and sipped at her coffee. Ever oblivious, Roland went on. “If I could figure out what those alchemists were up to I could be so rich. I could make gold out of spare change and finally get a car that wasn’t a joke. Maybe even a nice condo over in Coronado.”
“Your car is fine, it’s just a little old. Coronado is nice if that’s where you want to live. We could live there.” Liz said optimistically.
Guilt ran its icy hand up Roland’s spine. “It doesn’t have to be Coronado.”
He could see himself with Liz and their kids running into Lila at the supermarket. In a burst of enthusiasm Roland continued. “ Know why I like the Renaissance? From everything I read, people back then lived a much simpler life. Not like now where everything is war and greed. Sometimes I wish I was in that other time and place.”
Liz did not want to seem impatient with or critical of Roland. His wanting to have a better car and a home was a step in the right direction. “We’re in the here and now. You can’t live in the past, and why would you want to?”
“I think I might be happier. People had to be nicer to each other to survive.”
“You really think so? You’re not happy now? You know it doesn’t take much to be happy, that is, if you want to be.”
“That’s not fair. You say we never spend any time together. When we do we’re either in bed fooling around at your place or I get to watch you read or talk about something that happened five hundred years ago. We never go anywhere, just to go. That was the whole point yesterday about going to the street fair, just to walk around, holding hands and looking at all the things and different people.”
Roland kept up his silent strategy. He nodded, he pondered, he felt the stubble on his chin, he thought about the Lila. “Is this all about not moving in together?”
“Partly. This is more about me feeling like I don’t exist in this relationship. You said that I spend more time with the kids than I do with you. I can remember when you first got serious about me you’d be down there volunteering all the time.”
Roland sipped his coffee. “I went down there with you not that long ago.”
“It was two years ago at their Christmas open house. All you did was stand around and eat cookies and drink eggnog.”
“To tell you the truth, it was kind of depressing.” When he saw Liz flinch he added. ”I don’t mean for me, I meant for all those poor kids.”
“So, why don’t you come down with me once in a while, it wouldn’t kill you. You used to all the time.”
“I suppose I did.”
“What do you mean you suppose.” Liz was still floored by Roland’s ‘depressing’ comment.
Roland took Liz’s hand. “You were so hot and we just started to see each other. I figured what better way to get to … you know, the romantic part.” Roland followed what he thought was a compliment with his cutesy smile that usually made Liz smile back.
Liz was exasperated. “My god, you are one selfish idiot. I’m so blind.” She pulled her hand away from his.
“Come on now, don’t be a grump. I didn’t mean anything by it. Lots of guys do stuff like that.”
“No they don’t. Selfish idiots do things like that. It seems that neither one of us is very happy.”
Roland leaned in and took her hand again. He spoke softly and moved his head back and forth until they made eye contact. “Lizzy love, you’re the only one for me.”
“That’s not how you make me feel. If I was hot then, what am I now?”
“You’re still hot. Honest. I didn’t realize how hot you were until this last couple of weeks of no sex.”
Brian appeared at the table with a tray and folding stand. He served Liz and Roland their breakfast. “There you go, do you guys want more coffee or anything?”
Liz pushed her chair out from under the table. “Make mine to go.”
“Okay, to go it is?” He looked at Brian. “yours too?”
“No, just mine,” Liz said flatly.
Brian nodded, turned to the bus cart, grabbed a Styrofoam box and handed it to Liz. He wanted to say something but he just shrugged and took the stand and tray away with him.
“Come on, Lizzy love, I didn’t mean anything by it. I wuv woo.”
A pearl gray BMW double parked in front The Edelweiss. Lila got out of the passenger side, stepped onto the sidewalk and leaned over the railing.
“Oh yoo-hoo there, Roland” Everything she did was exaggerated, the way she spoke and her gestures, her smile. “I have something you left at the apartment last night. Lila held out her hand with Roland’s cell phone in it, and put it on the table. “You are really good at keeping your word. You said you’d be here patching up your relationship at brunch and here you are. Kudos.”
Roland was speechless and horrified and Liz sat wide eyed trying to understand what was going on.
Lila continued in a catty and overly innocent way. “I just want to say it was a night to remember, your guy here is a real stallion.” She glanced at Liz. “Oh, you must be Liz, poor Liz.” Lila looked over at Roland. “Here’s a little something for your time.” Lila reached into her pants pocket, pulled out a Krugerrand and flipped it to Roland. He made a clumsy but successful catch and held the coin in his hand without even looking at it. “And now, just like that woo- woo.” Lila got back into the car and headed off.
Roland cleared his throat and took a sip of water. “Now, before you jump to any conclusions I was going to tell you what happened.”
Tears came to Liz’s eyes, “Don’t bother. I can’t believe you did this.
And I was so worried about you.”
“It’s not what you think, honey.” Roland could barely look Liz in the eyes. “This is what happened.”
Liz’s emotions shut down, she went to the place she made deep in her soul where it was safe and warm and where her hopes and dreams could be kept alive. She spent her unsure childhood coping, not only with her need to be loved and belong but bolstering her self-worth. She felt herself slipping back to that refuge and once inside its walls she was able to deal with this blow to her world. Liz tried to stay calm but the hurt and the anger were too strong. “Don’t bother. For all the time and love I’ve given you, this is my payback. But I know it’s not me, it’s you.” Her voice was firm and steady and she glared into Roland’s eyes.
“I can explain.” Roland pleaded. He absently slipped the coin in his pocket and did the same with his cell phone.
“There’s nothing to explain.” Her calm and serenity were not what Roland expected. He really didn’t know what to expect, certainly not this stoic acceptance. “I’m sure with the higher education that I helped support you’ll figure it all out.”
Liz had leant Roland money during these college years. It was a sore subject with him, and this is the first time she brought it up. “ I’ll pay you back.”
“You can never pay me back.”
Roland had never felt Liz so cold towards him. “I said I would and I will, I promise.”
“You say a lot of things.”
Brian returned to the table with Liz’s breakfast in a Styrofoam container. Liz stood and when he handed it to her she burst into tears. “Thank you.” she could barely get the words out.
“Oh no, what it is sweetheart?” Brian hated to see Liz crying. He put his hand on her shoulder.
“I’m sure Roland has some explanation.” She gave Brian an awkward hug and kissed his cheek. “Goodbye” she whispered.
Both men watched Liz leave. Once beyond the iron railing she handed the container to the sleepy eyed homeless man, named Freddy who graciously accepted his daily bread.
Brian looked at the stunned Roland. “Oh man, you screwed up royally. I’ve known you two for a long time. I don’t know who to feel sorrier for, you or Liz. I’m leaning towards Liz.”
“Man, this isn’t fair.” Roland looked at Brian for some kind of support or manly understanding.
Brian scratched the back of his neck and slowly answered. “Fair? You whine about everything. You’re so dense. You cheated on a girl who loved you, really loved you. She would and did anything you asked her to and a lot of times she did things without you asking. You wouldn’t know a good thing, even if it hit you over the head.”
Roland sat there numb and silent staring at his empty coffee cup.
Brian continued, “You know why you can’t come up with a thesis? You’re stuck being one of those perpetual students, that, and you’re completely self-absorbed. I couldn’t help over hearing what you said about how depressing it was to be around the foster kids. Gee, you wouldn’t want to go there and cheer them up, would ja? Probably not. You know Roland, the only bummer about looking out for yourself all the time is, that’s who you wind up with: yourself, usually quite alone.”
“Jesus, cut me some slack, I just lost my girlfriend.”
“No Einstein, you didn’t lose her, you drop kicked her out of your life. Ya see, there you go again, I just lost my girlfriend. Did you think that she lost the last six or seven years of her life to you.”
“Okay, okay, I get it.”
Brian handed Roland the check. Roland looked at the bill and stood, slung the backpack over his shoulder and reached into his pocket. When he pulled his hand out with a twenty dollar bill the coin Lila tossed to him also came out, fell to the floor and rolled hitting Brian’s shoe.
Brian picked up the coin. “Where’d you get this thing?”
Roland was still in a daze. “Oh, Lila gave it to me this morning
for helping her last night. I didn’t even look at it, what is it?”
“She came here?” Brian was surprised.
“Good lord, you didn’t stand a chance. ”Brian judged the weight, then rubbed it between his thumb and forefinger. He looked at the imprint and even the edge. He dropped it on the table several times and smiled when he heard the dull thunk it made when it hit.
“It’s a fake, it could be polished bronze or a gold wash, it’s a pretty fair copy of a gold Krugerrand. I’ve been collecting them for my retirement. I’ve got a couple of dozen, this one just doesn’t feel like the others. And there’s a mold line around the edge.” He handed it to Roland.
“This is perfect, just perfect. “What am I supposed to do?”
Brian stated what he thought was obvious. “I don’t know; run after Liz and beg her to take you back? That’s something you’re going to have to figure out all by your lonesome. Good luck, see you around.”
Roland stormed out from behind the iron railing onto the sidewalk. His head throbbed and his ego hurt from Lila, Liz and Brian using it for a punching bag. He approached Freddy who was standing on his corner smiling at the breakfast Liz gave him. Roland was mad at the world. He felt impotent and in a rare fit of pique Roland slapped the container onto the ground.
“Dude, why’d you go and do that? I’m hungry; a lot of us out here are hungry.”
“Get a life.” Before the words left his tongue Roland was immediately upset with himself at his unexpected ugly attitude and despicable action. For every action there is a reaction. Freddy, hardened by the streets, grabbed the unsuspecting Roland by the arm and swung him around into the metal door frame of the cell phone outlet store, pushed his face against the glass and held him there.
“I got a life, asshole.” He twisted up Roland’s arm a little more and pressed Roland’s face against the cold glass.
“Sorry, sorry, I got my own problems.”
Freddy let Roland go. “Well, I’m glad to hear you do, asshole.” Freddy turned back to the spilt breakfast. Fortunately for him the waffles and most of the strawberries were held in the container by the extra whipped cream.
Roland, escaped down the street as fast as he could.
To read the Alchemist Gift book from the beginning click here.
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The Alchemist Gift is a book about the lives of people in the Renaissance and the alchemy that brought them together with its repercussions on our modern-day hero, Roland.
I am writing the novel Alchemist Gift online in real time. I will share a few paragraphs of the book with each blog. I am still writing the book. I’d like to know how you like what you are reading. Please use the comments section to share. If you make suggestions in your comments, I may incorporate your ideas into the book. We hope you will enjoy the process as much as I do, follow the saga and share it with your friends and colleagues.
2013 Mark D. Giglio, www.theartofgiglio.com
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