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Just You Weight
97.4 was the number displayed on the small blue screen of the digital scale. Effie stared down at it, blinking to make sure she had seen it right, and then frowned, shifting her weight over the cracked and scratched surface of the worn scale. She sucked in her breath and stood up straight, hoping to get the last .4 pounds to knock off of the number. With her cheeks puffed out, she looked back down and saw it unchanged, only flickering from the overused battery. For the fifth day in a row the number had been the exact same, and the thirteen thick black marks that made up each of the digits looked so grotesque that it made her want to throw up.
With her stomach churning dangerously, Effie quickly stepped off the scale, and breathed a sigh of relief when the numbers disappeared and the screen was just a light blue; she wasn’t sure what would have happened if she had to look at those numbers any longer. A light bulb had gone out from the vanity above the sink, making the light in the bathroom much duller than usual. It felt colder than normal, and her bare feet suddenly felt numb from their place on the icy tiled floor. She wrapped her arms around her naked torso, her over-exposed ribs creating imprints in her skin, and softly stepped onto the small shag rug that lay on the floor in front of the shower. On the granite counter of the sink lay her small, pocketbook calendar; in the bottom right corner of the small boxes of each day was a red number written so small that it was almost impossible to read. She picked it up with the care of someone holding an infant and wrote 97.4 in Sunday’s box. She didn’t even need to look at the boxes from the rest of the week because she had memorized them already, but she did it anyway:
.7 pounds in one week. Lia was going to kill her.
The thought made her stomach flip, and her mind shut off, giving her body free reign. It immediately fell into the all too familiar routine; her hands turned on the shower full blast, her knees folded under her body in front of the toilet, and her fingers found their way down her throat.
A knocking on the door ripped Effie out of her trance, and for a moment she was frozen on the ground, staring horrified into the toilet that now contained the contents of her stomach, strings of bloody saliva dripping from her fingers.
“Effie?” her mom called from outside the bathroom.
“J-just a second!” Effie stammered, blindly reaching out and flushing the toilet. When she pulled away, the strings wrapped around her wrist got caught on the handle and the worn thread ripped, leaving the friendship bracelet she and Lia made a year ago lying limp on the floor. Effie wiped off her hands and wrapped a towel tightly around herself before opening the door.
“What, Mom?” she asked as casually as she could, despite her pounding heart, “I was just about to take a shower.”
The look on her mother’s face made Effie’s stomach flip again before she even heard the news, “Effie,” her mom said in a small voice, “Lia’s in the hospital.”
As far as Effie was concerned, there were only two things a hospital was designed for: birth or death. Babies belonged to the first category, and the cancerous or those of old age belonged in the second category. The putrid air was mixed with old, rotting bodies, fresh blood, and a strong, household cleaner trying to mask the scent of the dying. There was no place for a girl like Lia in a hospital. Pretty girls didn’t need this place, and Lia was the prettiest girl Effie knew. Pretty girls didn’t need IV’s to pump liquid into their bodies to keep them hydrated; they didn’t need beeping monitors to make sure that their hearts were still beating. Pretty girls didn’t need clipboards condemning them to a condition, or nurses to escort them to the bathroom so that they didn’t throw up. Pretty girls didn’t die. Pretty girls didn’t need anyone or anything to tell them how to live because they figured it out; her and Lia, they figured it out and they knew how to live and be pretty and the hospital was trying to ruin it.
“Effie Parker?” a nurse called out to the waiting room. Effie shot up in her seat and quickly walked over to the nurse.
“Yes? Can I see Lia now?” she asked anxiously.
The nurse hesitated a moment before answering, “You’ve been told why she’s here, right?” the nurse asked.
Yes—Lia was there because the hospital didn’t understand what they had to do in order to live. But Effie just nodded instead.
The nurse paused again to study Effie for a moment, and then turned away, “Room 203. You have twenty minutes.”
Effie didn’t even say thank you before hurrying over to Lia’s room. She wasn’t even scared when she walked in, only mad that her beautiful best friend was in a hospital at all.
But when she saw Lia, she stopped frozen in her tracks. The girl in the bed was not the same one she had spent her days with for the last year; she was not the beautiful, flawless girl Effie had always envied, had always looked up to and strived to be like. The girl in the bed was so pale she was almost blue; her once long, thick gold hair was thin, stringy, and void of almost all color. Her eyes—her beautiful, bright blue eyes—were a dull grey, scarily sunken into her bony face.
She looked dead already.
“Effie, thank God you’re here,” Lia said. Had her voice always been that strained? That worn?
Effie cautiously walked over to the bed, resting her hand on the railing. “H-how are you?” she asked, trying not to sound as scared as she felt.
“Awful,” Lia said with a pout. “They’re trying to kill me, Ef. I don’t know what to do. Do you see this?” she asked, pointing accusingly to the tall glass next to her. It was filled with a thick, brown liquid; it looked like a chocolate shake. “They’re forcing me to drink these,” Lia said miserably, “They won’t tell me how many calories are in them, but they’ve got to be at least 600. Maybe even 800. I can’t do it.”
“That…that sucks.” Effie wanted to hit herself on the forehead. Her best friend was miserable in the hospital, and all she could say was ‘that sucks?’
“It’s terrible, Effie. I can’t drink those things. I don’t even want to think about how fat they’ll make me.”
Effie thought about how Lia’s stomach had caved in when they were trying on bathing suits at Target last weekend. At the time, she was so impressed and envious of her friend’s hollow stomach; now, thinking about it made her want to throw up again. “Lee,” Effie said slowly, inching closer to the head of the bed, “They won’t let you out unless you drink them.”
“No,” Lia corrected her, “They won’t let me out unless the glasses are empty.”
Effie froze again, knowing what her friend wanted her to do, “Lia…”
“Effie, you can go home and throw it all up. I can’t. I have to ask permission to go to the bathroom, and a nurse has to come in with me. It’s so humiliating.” By now, Lia’s eyes were welling up with tears, but Effie would not break. She couldn’t. “Please, Effie. Please, if you love me, you would do this.”
Effie stared at the shell that was her best friend, and her eyes followed the tubes sticking out of her tiny arm, and her ears took in the sound of the monitor that was making sure her heart was still beating. And when she looked at Lia—her Lia who was 88.5 pounds since last Friday—Effie knew that one day the girl in the bed could be her.
“I’m sorry, Lee,” Effie said, shaking her head, “I can’t do that to you. If I do it, I’m letting you die.”
Lia stared at her in shock, “What are you talking about, Effie?” she said incredulously, “I’ll die if I gain any more weight; you know that, and you will too.”
Effie almost laughed; she had believed that for the past year, had lived and breathed those words. Now, she just felt like a fool.
“We can’t do this anymore,” she said quietly, “We’re going to die. You’re dying already.”
Angry tears spilled over onto Lia’s hollow cheeks, “So you’re on their side?” she said, her voice cracking, “You’re taking their side over your own best friend’s? How could you?!”
Warm tears began to roll down Effie’s face too, but her voice was steady, “I’m sorry, Lia. I know you don’t understand yet but-”
“SHUT UP!” Lia screamed, “Shut up! Not you too. I can’t deal with it from you.”
Effie pushed limp strands of hair from her friend’s wet face and placed a careful kiss to her forehead, “One day, you’ll know why I had to do this,” was all she said before turning around to leave.
“If you walk out of those doors right now,” Lia warned, “We are done. You know I’m all you have.”
Effie didn’t stop or look back; she walked out of the room and shut the door carefully behind her, and didn’t stop walking until the sounds of the beeping monitors, dripping IVs, and echoes of hollow stomachs were far behind her.