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Hunger. The word groaned in my ear, lingering in my empty stomach as I watched the baker behind the counter arrange her cakes and tarts neatly in the glass display case. She had plump hands and a chubby red face, smeared with flour and blue eye shadow. Her smile was great, but uneasiness was hidden behind her coffee-colored eyes. She breathed heavily and when she finally turned around to help the customer in front of me, sweat trickled down her right cheek. Again the pain in my stomach growled, begging for something, anything to eat. I prolonged the feeling to an extent where I felt I might collapse onto the shiny, granite flooring of the bakery shop.
Why was I here? The bakery was not the place to satisfy my hunger. My sick mind tried convincing me that I didn’t need to eat anything; that I was too rotund and hideous and needed to go to the gym. I examined my fingers, shaking and bony. I need something . . . No, you don’t, my sub-conscious warned me.
“Ma’am?” the plump baker asked, a bewildered expression on her face.
I realized she was talking to me and broke away from my self-argument. Don’t do it.
“Um, I’ll have a slice of apple pie, please,” I said, drawing my eyesight away from the display case to the baker.
“All righty then, that will be five dollars,” she replied, bending over to cut a slice of the apple pie.
You are so fat. You are letting yourself go by doing this, my mind kept repeating. I felt myself growing more and more nervous as she wrapped the slice into a box and turned around to face me.
“Here you go,” she said, her smile growing unsure.
I didn’t seem to hear her because the last thing I remember was hitting the ground and seeing nothing but darkness.
When I woke up, I was under the fluorescent light of the ER. A nurse with wildly frizzy hair wearing a green jumpsuit was bent over me.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, feeling my forehead.
Everything was spinning and my head throbbed. But I lied and said:
She smiled and wanted to know if I was hungry. Hunger. I suddenly remembered what had happened in the bakery. My hand flew to my head, but the nurse calmly grabbed my wrist.
“Do not touch your head; the surgeon just stitched you up. It will take about a couple of weeks for it to heal. Let’s just relax and have a little something to eat.”
“No, no, I’m not hungry,” I said, brushing off her offer. It wasn’t an offer. More like a demand.
“Honey, you need to have something. When was the last time you ate?”
I thought about that. Maybe it was yesterday. Or the day before. I didn’t eat on Tuesday. Or Monday. I ate an apple last weekend. It was old and rotting, but it tasted like a delicacy. When it was gone, I felt sick, like I’d eaten too much.
“This morning,” I fibbed. Everything was still spinning.
“I’ll get you some oatmeal,” she said and left the room before I had a chance to reply.
I waited, closed my eyes, and opened them again. Nothing could relieve me of the excruciating pain I felt in my head. When the nurse came back, she handed me a tray with a plastic dish of oatmeal smothered in maple syrup and butter. I started to eat too quickly and as soon as I swallowed I felt sick. Desperation overcame me as I tried to keep my food down. I couldn’t eat more than two spoonfuls of oatmeal before pushing it away.
“Thank you,” I muttered, even though my stomach was churning.
“Let’s get you your medication,” the nurse said and gave me a large spoonful of a clear, gooey liquid. After I took the medicine, I felt overly exhausted and fell asleep instantly.
“Faith,” I heard a distant male voice at some point.
I tried to lift my eyelids open, but they felt very heavy. Only able to open them a slit, I saw Luke’s face, blurred in front of me.
“Luke . . .” I mumbled, blinking ever so slightly. “What are you doing here?”
“I . . . I got a call,” his voice quivered. Was he crying?
“From who?” I whispered, fighting with every inch of my being to open my eyes completely.
“Your mother. She was here earlier, but you were out cold,” he said.
“But . . . I don’t understand. Why would you come to see me?” I asked.
“Because you’re my girlfriend and you were hurt. I could never leave you like that.”
“You are . . . great,” I forced out.
“I love you so much,” he said, and I could hear him crying.
Then, it faded as I slipped back into a deep sleep. Dreams visited me that night—or morning. Doctors didn’t believe in clocks apparently. I saw Luke the first time after I’d began my journey towards “being thin.” His glowing brown eyes gazing at me. Or maybe my new slim figure. Our relationship had been based on looks at first, since he was popular and I had previously been a wallflower before my transformation. Then it became something greater. We’d spent hours together at a time. We’d gotten to know each other better. And as he’d dated me, he’d watched me shrink. First a size four and slowly a two and suddenly a zero. The entire time we’d been together, I’d never admitted my illness to him. But now I supposed he finally knew I was dying.
Outcast. Alone. Gone.
I walked into school with my hood of my favorite old sweatshirt pulled low over my head, my hair a mess, and my jeans rumpled. They were the only thing left in my closet. I threw out all of my other clothes because they were too tight, too ugly, or too old. As I made my way down the hallway, staring at the fake tiled floors, a million thoughts poured out of my mind. This was the last week of my junior year, and I felt absolutely miserable. I had my AP English and AP Pre-Calculus finals today and even though I’d studied, I still didn’t think I’d do well. Whatever. Lately, I didn’t care anymore about anything.
Summer. The heat. The blinding blue skies. I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t eat. I would sleep all day, ignore my summer assignments, and not leave the house. No more friends? Oh well. No more memories? What memories? I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t eat. I wouldn’t eat.
School. Homework. No more sleeping. Assholes. I weighed in at one-hundred and twenty-five pounds in September. I’d bought new clothes with my grandma who had complimented me on my weight loss. She was completely oblivious. I’d chosen the kind of clothes that only fit you if you’re a stick figure and only look good on you if you’re popular. When I entered school that first Tuesday, I felt like everything was suddenly better. I was skinny now. But in trade for my beauty, I sacrificed my dignity and my old reputation as a goody two-shoes. I was a b**** now. And today I would be sitting lunch at the popular kids table. I got a personal invitation from the most popular girl in school herself. How many times have I said this before? Looks are all that matter in this generation.
I was suddenly the new popular girl.
“Hey, Faith, you’re so cool.”
“You’re smoking hot, babe.”
“Whoa you look great.”
“Oh, my gosh! I love your outfit!”
“What did you do with your hair?”
“Work those shorts, girl.”
“Damn you fine.”
“Faith! Faith! Faith!”
I felt like a celebrity having microphones and cameras shoved in my face by the paparazzi. Even though it was annoying, it was better than being ignored all the time.
Most of my friends didn’t even know who the hell I was. They thought I hated school; they thought I’d love to blow any girl who’d give me the chance; they thought I was Luke the Jock, the Stereotype. I acted like I was great all the time. I complain about my favorite classes, dedicate my only free time to sports, and pull all-nighters just to text that hot b**** they thought I should date because she’d make me more popular. I had been different back in elementary school. I had been quieter and focused more on school, but then middle school hit me like a boulder. I’d thought it was cool to fail and piss off my teachers. After that bullshit, high school offered me a free ticket to the VIP seat of Drama City. Why couldn’t I get the hell away from this place?
Summer. Parties. Getting drunk. Getting high. Living “Young, Wild, and Free,” they called it. I’d gotten drunk for the first time and when my parents had found out, my father had beaten me and then my mom had started crying and begged him to stop. He did and then he’d kicked me out of the house. My friends had thought it was funny and made me sleep on the couch. Then one day, my mom had called saying I could come back. But this time, I had to be sober.
School. Wake up. Survive. Go to bed. Repeat. Senior year, only ten months of this hellhole left. And then I’d be gone. Away from all these dumbasses. The day I received that diploma, I was done. Well, if I ever even got there.
There was a new girl in school. At least I thought she was new . . . who was she?
New Girl sat with us during lunch. She laughed when I said a joke. Well, everyone did, but there was something familiar about her laugh; something warm and comforting. I was about to ask for her name when Cory shouted over the loudness of the cafeteria:
“Hey, Faith, you’re super cool. You wanna hang out with us after school today at Chipotle?”
Faith? Faith, that geeky girl from my Spanish class last year? That couldn’t be her. Junior Faith was heavier (not fat, but just . . . big) and had darker hair and was really quiet. How did she transform into Senior Faith in that short amount of time? Whatever, she was hot. Wow. That sounded shallow.
I didn’t know what to expect when I walked into Chipotle with Cory, Lilly—the most popular girl in our school—and the other kids from the “in” crowd. It felt strange being able to make jokes and actually have people laugh at them. It felt empowering for that one single moment. And then the constant compliments. It was completely bizarre to imagine that just four months ago, I was the ugly, geeky girl with no friends and no life. Now that I’d finally lost weight, I was getting the attention I always dreamed of. For the first time in years, I felt happy.
“What do you guys want?” Cory asked. He seemed to be in charge of the group most of the time.
Then I realized that this was a restaurant. With food. I couldn’t take any chances after getting my perfect body. During the summer, I started by cutting out dinner. Then slowly my afternoon snack. Then lunch. And soon, the only thing I would eat was an apple or a small salad. I didn’t want to call it an eating disorder. It was a diet. And besides, I just needed to lose the weight and keep it off.
“Uh, Cory, I’ll just get a water. I’ll pay separately,” I said.
“No, no, Faith, I’ll buy you a water. It’s no problem,” he answered.
Well that sure made me feel special. Even though I wasn’t eating anything, I was still having someone else pay for it. I wondered if all the popular kids were used to this kind of stuff.
“I won’t eat anything either,” I heard someone behind me say.
When I turned around, I saw Luke. He looked more attractive this year than any other year I remembered. He was taller and more muscular with a deep tan. I always sort of liked him and in eighth grade, I had the biggest crush on him ever. But then I gave up when I realized he would never like a girl like me. Plus Lilly was his girlfriend last year, and I had no doubts that they were still together.
“Suit yourself, man,” Cory answered. “Why don’t you and Faith find a table for us?”
I instantly felt nervous. Because that meant I would have to talk to Luke. And we never really talked before and besides, I used to like him. How awkward. Thanks Cory.
“Uh, how about here?” Luke asked, pointing to a long table by the window.
“Sure,” I said, looking at the floor. I didn’t really care where we sat, just as long as we weren’t alone for too long. Gosh, how much food was Cory ordering?
Me and Luke just sat across from each other. I was pretending to look busy answering a text—really I was typing gibberish into Search bars—as Luke waited for me to say something. The funny thing about sitting with him was that he didn’t compliment me on my clothes, my hair, my body, or how cool I was. He just sat there and glanced at me everyone other second with those beautiful brown eyes of his.
Finally, Cory came over with Lilly, Aiden, Bella, Tanner, Anthony, and Leila to eat. The whole time everyone was talking and eating, and I was just sitting there with my water bottle, wishing Luke would just say something to me. He was killing me.
“So, what did you do this summer?” I asked him.
I thought we both froze because we realized we were talking now. Where did that confidence come from?
“I went to Detroit to visit some family and then I went to the pool to hang with some friends. It was pretty mellow actually,” he said before adding: “And, uh, you?”
I told him how I spent the summer with family and friends, even though I really didn’t. I just slept and didn’t eat. But I couldn’t tell him that. It wasn’t his business anyway.
“Cool,” he said before giving me a smile.
And when he smiled at me, I swore that time stopped for a moment. Well at least until Lilly offered me some of her salad. I rejected of course and didn’t talk with Luke for the entire rest of the time we were at Chipotle.
When I got home, I went straight to my room to begin my homework. Yep. They gave us homework on the first day of school. It sucked big time.
“Faith, did you need me to sign any forms?” my mother asked when she came up the stairs.
I handed her a packet that she needed to read over and sign. Even adults get homework from our schools nowadays. How stupid.
“By the way, how was your first day?” she said, sitting down on my bed.
“Pretty good,” I said. I told her everything leaving out the fact that I was now part of the popular group.
“I’ll be back in a little bit,” she said, scanning the papers. “I’m glad you had a good first day, honey.”
Well sort of.
I wanted to say something to Faith, but she seemed insecure around me. I didn’t know why though. She talked a lot and laughed and wasn’t afraid at lunch today, but when she sat across from me at Chipotle, she was silent; looking everywhere except in my direction. Everything was running through my mind. Compliment her shirt. Say hi. Ask how her summer was. I was about to give up when she looked up and asked me about my summer. She seemed shocked like she didn’t believe she’d said something to me. Shit. Now she was talking to me. What was I going to say?
“Uh, I went to Detroit. Visited some family. Pool. That was fun. It was pretty mellow, yeah,” I lied, leaving out the part where I got drunk and was kicked out of my house for a month. “And, uh, you?”
“Pretty much the same. I hung out with my friends and family, um, yeah,” she answered.
I smiled at her, searching her eyes. She really had beautiful brown eyes.
Later on, I was walking home, my mind wondering off to Faith. I kept smiling like an idiot and when I entered my house and plopped down in the kitchen, my mother was surprised.
“Somebody’s happy today,” she noted as she moved around, opening cabinet doors and washing her hands. “Why?”
“This girl . . .,” I began.
“Oh, I get it. You like her?” Mom asked, leaning against the counter.
“What’s her name? Are you going to ask her out?”
“Mom, it’s the first day of school. And besides, Faith’s shy,” I said.
“So her name is Faith? Is she new? I’ve never heard that name before.”
“No . . . she’s just . . . different now. She’s been hanging out with us.”
“Have fun, sweetie,” Mom said, growing distracted by the dinner she was preparing. “Just be careful.”
“Sometimes it’s hard to, Luke.”