Alchemist's Gift

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Such As We Are Made

The rain stopped. Roland hit every red light on his way back to his granny flat. It was a little after one-thirty. He pulled under the carport. He didn’t know how to feel. The evening seemed so bizarre. Lila was so pretty but also terrible. He might be part of a half-million dollar robbery.

Before tonight, he couldn’t even imagine himself doing anything like this. And now acting as if nothing had happened… well, he didn’t think that was really going to work. Something had happened; something he had let happen. And so what if Liz wound up in Chuck’s bed? That was no reason to betray her. Brian was right. He should have acted as if Liz was there with him. Roland hated the fact that he had tossed his ethics, self-respect, and relationship for a three-hour adventure that came to a bad end.

Roland sat at his dining table and thought about the first time he met Liz. It was in Mr. McCloud’s sixth-grade class at Normal Heights Middle School. Mr. McCloud assigned Liz the empty desk next to his.

At recess, the girls in the class gave Liz a lukewarm welcome. The quiet new girl, with her completely uncool pink unicorn-emblazoned backpack and her matching pink outfit that was two years out of date. The fact that she didn’t even have a cell phone had set her apart.

At lunch, Roland had sat in the cafeteria and ate his sandwich. He watched Liz push her orange tray along on the narrow lunch line counter. It was pizza day. Liz recognized some girls from the class and walked over to their table.

“Okay if I sit here?” Liz asked with a smile.

Lindsey rolled her eyes at the other girls. “Sorry, these seats are saved for our friends.”

Liz nodded and turned away. She heard the girl’s giggle. “Nice backpack,” said one of them in a loud whisper. Liz looked back and forth at the strange faces. Roland gave an unsure wave and Liz smiled. She went to his table.

“You sit next to me in class.”

Roland nodded and looked at the piece of pizza. “Yeah. Those girls--Lindsey, Brooke, and Heather… they’re not very nice.”

“I noticed.” Liz picked up her pizza and took a bite.

“What school did you come from?”

“Roosevelt Middle School.”

“Where’s that?” Roland wrinkled his brow.

“It’s on Park Blvd.”

“Was it cool?”

“I wasn’t there very long.”

“I guess your parents must move around a lot.”

“I do.”

Roland gave her a quizzical look again.

“I don’t have a mom and dad. I just moved in with my new foster parents. We live on Meade Avenue.”

“What’s that like?”

“Okay, I guess. At least these last ones seem pretty nice. What about you? Where do you live?”

“On the corner where Felton meets Monroe.”

“Is that close?” Liz sipped some milk.

“I walk to school. I guess it’s close.”

On his way home that day Roland saw Liz up ahead, walking by herself. Ahead of her he saw Lindsey, Brooke, and Heather. Heather looked over her shoulder and said something, and they slowed their pace until Liz caught up.

Roland watched Lindsey drop behind and walk next to Liz. Roland picked up his pace until he could hear what they were saying.

“That’s such a pretty pink backpack. Can I see it?” Lindsey said with a smile.

Liz slipped it off her shoulder and handed it to her. Lindsey laughed and tossed the backpack to Brooke, who ran a little ahead, and Heather got on Liz’s other side. It turned into a game of keep-away. The backpack was tossed among the three tormentors, just beyond Liz’s reach.

“Catch it if you can, Pinky,” Lindsey taunted Liz.

“Yeah, Pinky,” echoed the other two.

Liz became upset and was on the verge of tears. Mrs. White, Liz’s foster mom, had just bought the backpack the night before last. It was the first new backpack that Liz had ever owned. Heather saw the look on Liz’s face and held the backpack out for her to take. Then she snatched it away at the last second and tossed it to Brooke.

Roland jogged up to the four girls and put his hand on Lindsey’s arm.

“Don’t touch me, creep.” She pulled away, and the other two stopped to look. Brooke held the backpack up over her head. She was just that much taller than Liz that even jumping up for it, Liz still couldn’t reach it.

“I’ll tell my dad you hit me,” Lindsey hissed. “And he’s a lawyer.”

“Give it back. What’s the matter with you girls?”

“Well, if she wants it back so bad maybe she should call her mommy.” Lindsey faked an epiphany. “Oh, that’s right! She doesn’t have a cell phone.”

Roland ran up to Brooke and jumped for the backpack. She threw it out into the street. He dashed out, grabbed it, and handed the backpack to Liz. Liz took it and clutched it against her chest.

“Why do you have to act like b--witches?” The three girls got back in step ahead of them. Roland added, “She doesn’t have a mother either.”

Brooke’s and Heather’s shoulders noticeably drooped. Lindsey stood up that much straighter.

“Come on, girls. Let’s run. We can go to my house. My mom will make us smoothies.” The three girls trotted down the alley between 34th and 33rd. streets.

“They’re kind of jerks,” said Roland.

Liz didn’t say anything for another block. “Why did you have to tell them I don’t have a mom?”

“So they would be nicer to you, I guess,” Roland shrugged. “If you want, I can walk with you tomorrow too.”

“I’d like that. See ya in homeroom.” Liz turned down Meade Avenue when she saw the apartment building.

Roland related the story to his mom and dad at dinner.

Mr. Hughes wrinkled his brow. “You know that girl Lindsey’s dad is Bradley McCoy, the lawyer. You didn’t hit her, did you?”

“No, Dad. I touched her on the arm to get her attention. Like this.” Roland tapped his father on the arm.

“You know what I told you about sticking your neck out for other people.”

“You did the right thing, sweetheart,” said Roland’s mom. “You did look both ways before you ran out into the street, didn’t you? I worry so much about you when you’re not here.”

“Yeah,” he fibbed. Roland asked to be excused. He had lost his appetite.

He didn’t have much of an appetite now, either. He looked in the refrigerator and pulled out his last beer. His mind buzzed with Lila, Liz, the gold coins, his thesis, his eerily real dream, and unsettling hallucinations of Renaissance men and women who bullied their ways into his life.

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