Just One More Bite
Chapter OneOBESITY. The word glared down at me in a neon green on the whiteboard of the health room as I walked in and took a seat in the far back. I was dressed in a long black cardigan, a black tank top, winter jeans and flip flops. It was nearly ninety degrees outside on the first day of September, and I already felt the sweat soak my back even though the room was air-conditioned. I stared down at my desk, trying not to notice how all the other girls were dressed in short shorts and tank tops. They all sat together, laughing and whispering. I felt so alone.
The football jerks and fall soccer stars came in and all the popular girls turned and giggled as guys winked at them. It was almost time to begin the class, and I thought no one would sit next or near to me when a tall and lean guy with longish dark brown hair and glasses took the direct seat to the right of me. Probably to make fun of me, I thought. Why else would this attractive guy sit next to me? I mean, I’m me. Fat, ugly, and short, covered from head to toe, so my flab wouldn’t show as much.
“Hi,” he said.
I tried to ignore him. But I couldn’t help from turning around to look at him.
“Are you talking to me?” I asked.
“Okay . . . hi.”
“I’m Nolan,” he said with a bright smile. Too bright for a Wednesday morning.
“Uh, Zina. Nice to meet you?”
Then, the health teacher walked in, wearing a grim look on her face. She had bleached hair and bitter gray eyes that seemed to be searching for trouble makers.
“Good morning, class,” she began with a hoarse, scratchy voice that must have been from too many years of smoking. “ I am Ms. Henderson. Welcome to health.”
She droned on about something for who knows how long. I wasn’t paying attention because all I could think about was the boy sitting next to me. He kept glancing at me out of the corner of my eye. I wasn’t imagining it either. I pretended like I didn’t notice, though.
“Zina Raynetree?” Ms. H called for attendance.
“Here,” I said plainly.
He smiled over at me, and whispered:
“Cool last name.”
For the rest of the class period, I debated whether he was being sarcastic or not. I hated my last name. And my first name. I was the gift of Hippie parents, and I wanted nothing to do with their culture of peace and drugs.
Thankfully, the day finished quickly. I asked Ember Rose to park about two blocks away from the school building, so when I went outside and saw her right in front of the main entryway, I felt furious. Maybe if I look down at my toes and run really fast, no one will notice the embarrassing, neon orange Hippie van.
I got to the car as fast as possible and slipped in, slamming the door. I slid down in my seat as a few kids pointed and laughed, shouting out:
“Sick van, yo! I feel like I’m getting high just standing near it!”
Unfortunately, Ember Rose didn’t realize they were bashing her van, so she rolled down the window and shouted back:
“Thank you, boys! Now, you have a nice day!”
They laughed; I sunk lower in my chair. We finally got moving and then it came: the “how-was-your-first-day-at-school” speech.
“How was your first day as a senior? I can’t believe my little baby’s growing up so fast!”
“It was great. Wonderful.”
Then, I realized if I said the word, Ember Rose would leave me alone for the rest of the drive.
“Groovy,” I mumbled.
“Well, that sounds fantastic! I’m glad you had a groovy day, hon.”
We pulled up to our house, and I hopped out of the van and ran up to the front porch to open the door. As soon as I was in my room, I locked the door and tore off all of my clothes. I changed into sweats and a T-shirt, wanting to cry away the rest of the bitter day. I didn’t know how I was supposed to survive this year when I was a walking nightmare with absolutely no social life.
That night, my parents had a little “celebration” dinner. Which automatically meant Chinese food. It was a privilege for Ember Rose to avoid the oven during dinner. We dined on egg rolls, General Tso’s chicken, dumplings, fried rice . . . and then fortune cookies.
I opened up my cookie and it read this:
“Enthusiasm is contagious. Not having enthusiasm is also contagious.” It made sense. I guessed. I mean, I used to be enthusiastic until I gained all the weight and kept packing it on. I had friends and popularity that was enough to get me by the first treacherous few years of middle school. But then my old friends didn’t want to hang out with me anymore because I was fat and ugly, and I made them look like losers. Well, could I blame them? After I lost my friends, I started cutting gym class and eating lunch in the janitor’s closet until the next period of the day. It was a complete and utter hell. And even though I was still a straight-B student, I had lost every ounce of hope that I would go to college, get married, have kids one day, and live “The American Dream.” Bullshit. That’s what it was.
So basically, I’d given up on my life. I no longer had any interest in anything but doing my stupid homework and avoiding as many people as possible. Which wasn’t hard since everyone kept their distance from me anyway. Good. I didn’t want to be bothered.
The next morning, my alarm sang, bitterly shaking me out of a perfectly dreamless sleep. I groaned and threw the clock against the wall, flopping over on my bed. Ember Rose came in and threw the blinds open which was her very pleasant way of waking me up.
“Good morning, Mr. Sunshine!” she said energetically.
“What’s so good about it?” I muttered bitterly under my breath.
“Oh come on, honey,” Ember Rose continued, oblivious to my misery. “Put a pep in your step!”
She left and I locked my door to get dressed. I threw on sweats and an oversized T-shirt and looked at myself in the mirror.
“Ew,” said my reflection.
I washed my face and brushed my thin hair out before heading to the kitchen for some breakfast. Rex was reading a newspaper article that dated back to the seventies. He just couldn’t seem to leave the past for some reason. I rolled my eyes, ate two granola bars and returned to the bathroom a final time to brush my teeth.
“You look fat and ugly today, Zina,” the mirror cursed at me.
“Thanks. I appreciate it,” I replied and grabbed my book bag and waited for Ember Rose to finish her five-minute yoga routine she performed every morning.
“Mooooom,” I said. “I need to go.”
“Hold on, Zina. And breathe and bend and breathe . . .” she said. “Okay, let’s go.”
We hopped in the van, and I slid as low as possible in my seat, so no one would know I belonged to this piece of the sixties that should have stayed there. Ember Rose sang along with the radio as loud and dramatic as she was, and I only hoped that they had let the kids in to the building early that way no one could see me. I felt like a laughingstock. Oh wait. I already was.
Ember Rose dropped me off in the very front of the building, and as I’d secretly prayed the entire ride there, there were only a few freshmen hanging outside in the dewy grass thinking they looked cool while they puffed some Camels.
“Have a wonderful day, Zina!” she practically shouted.
“Thanks,” I said and slammed the door shut.
I speed-walked to the entrance of the school building and flung the door open and squeezed inside just as the morning bell rang. I was swept into the smelling, ancient hallways as everyone went to their lockers and stepped into homeroom. I turned the dial of my locker several times before I finally just kicked it and it magically opened.
“Hey, nice one,” I heard someone say behind me.
When I turned around, it was Nolan, the cute-ish guy that sat next to me in health the other day. Why was he talking to me??
“Uh, hi . . . Nolan, right?” I said, shutting my locker door and turning down the hallway in the direction of my homeroom.
“Yeah, Zina? So, um . . . who’s your homeroom teacher?” he asked.
I had no idea why he was trying to make small talk with me. No one wanted to be my friend since the eighth grade and now all of a sudden this Nolan guy was interested in me? I made a mental note to not get too close with him because it was probably just a dare or a trick to embarrass me or something.
“Ms. Halls, the bio teacher,” I answered.
“Me too,” he said. “Cool.”
We walked in awkward silence for the rest of the way. Partly because Nolan got distracted by a text message, but mostly because I was having an argument with myself over what his evil plans might be. Ask me out and then take an embarrass photo of me eating. Come to my house to work on some lame project and then spread rumors about my eccentric parents and Hippies bedroom. I didn’t even know Nolan that well yet I was already coming up with ways to avoid him. Gosh, I have no life.
I stepped into homeroom and tried to sit at the rejection desk at the farthest corner of the room in an attempt to get away from Nolan. He sat next to me anyway. Ugh.
“Zina?” Nolan asked.
“Huh?” I said tiredly, looking over at him.
“Am I annoying you?”
I considered this. He wasn’t annoying. I was just being a b****.
“No, no, Nolan. I’m just exhausted,” I answered as honestly as possible.
“Oh, okay. Um . . .,” he seemed at a loss for words.
Why was he acting so shy? I’m ugly and fat; not a supermodel. I’m not popular or anything. I don’t even have any friends.
Thankfully, the bell cut our conversation off, and I zoomed to first period Economics. Well I zoomed as fast as a fat girl could.