Because chapter 4 was a close second in the voting, I'm going to post it too. Please enjoy, tell your friends if you like it, and don't forget to check out "Security," the beginnings and background stories for "Hats" and "Appreciation," and the rest of the chapter/story beginnings and backgrounds for the 8 chapters to come.
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself
This morning is a blur. I remember Peter getting up for work, but only vaguely. He kissed me good-bye, said “I love you,” and left. At least, I think that’s all that happened. That’s all I remember, anyway.
I glance at the digital clock on my nightstand. Crap. 11:45. I did it again. I close my eyes tightly and try to focus on how I feel: Warm. Comfortable. My head is clear. I hold on to this moment for as long as I can before I think of Mallory. Mallory. She is the bane of my existence.
Sighing, I reach for my phone. I have no text messages. Go figure. The only people who text me are all at work. They all have jobs because they are all worth something. I think I hear Mallory stirring.
I sit up and look around our tiny bedroom. The walls are white. The bedspread is twisted around my legs. The floor is scattered with clothes. My sweatpants. I reach for these, trying hard not to fall out of bed. This is the only work out my abs ever get.
Once I retrieve my sweatpants, I swing my legs over the side of the bed. First, I slip the pants over my right leg. Then the left. I shimmy the waistband over my thighs, and finally stand. The waistband feels a little tighter than normal. Mallory is definitely awake in the other room.
I bend down to grab a shirt. The shirt on top of the pile closest to me is green. I put it on. It’s Peter’s. I look down at the Nike swoosh across my chest. Just do it. Yeah right.
I reach up for my blonde hair and pull it over my shoulders. It’s a tangled, greasy mess. I try to comb my fingers through it, but then I give up. It’s not like there’s anyone to impress anyway. I pull the rubber band off my wrist, fling my head down, and watch my hair cascade toward the ground. I grab it and throw it up into a messy bun on top of my head. There. Now it’s at least out of the way.
I walk over to the bedroom door and yank it open. Peter showed me how to fix it, but I haven’t yet. I don’t want to destroy our apartment. Chili, everywhere. Up the side of the refrigerator, all over the linoleum, inside the drawers and cabinets. I shake my head. I can’t do anything right.
Once the door is open, I look to my right. There she is. Sitting on the couch. Waiting for me. She’s wearing white underwear and a powder-blue shirt that v-necks right to the top of her perfect cleavage.
“Good morning, Mallory.”
She sneers, crossing one long, tanned leg over the other. “Shut up, you lazy bitch. It’s almost noon. It isn’t morning anymore.”
I walk over to the kitchen and flip on the light. There are still a few chili beans on the floor. I lean down to pick them up. I have to bend my knees, because I’m not as flexible as I used to be.
“Don’t bother. The apartment is a pigsty anyway. You might as well leave the mess.”
I toss the beans into the sink, trying to ignore her.
“Can I have some Cheerios this morning? Or are you going to make me eat donuts again?” Mallory didn’t like donuts. They were the mortal enemy of her hour-glass figure.
I look in the cupboards. They are full, but only because Peter works so hard. I hate Cheerios. I push them aside and reach for the box of donuts that I keep hidden behind all the healthy food that Peter buys for me.
“I knew it. You are so weak.”
I can’t help it. I don’t like healthy food, and I just can’t force myself to eat it. Who cares if I live a long life? Bring on the diabetes and the cancer and the high cholesterol. I don’t care. Maybe I’d go on a run later to counteract it. But I know I won’t. My muscles are already so tired, I can barely stand. I look at the box in my hand.
“Your sweatpants are a bit tight this morning, huh? That’s because all you do is eat and sleep and laze around all day. You fat cow.” Mallory stands up and walks over to me.
I push the donuts back and look down at my feet. I’m sick of her constant presence. I want to go back to before she was in my life. Back before I was married, and I understood why Peter would want to be with me. Life was a lot simpler back then.
“Ha. Don’t bother pretending.”
I look at her. Her bright blue eyes watch me.
She tilts her head, and her sleek, shiny, perfectly straight blonde hair seems to cascade flawlessly over her shoulders. “We both know that you can’t help it. You’re going to give in. Why don’t you eat a piece of cake too while you’re at it? For dessert?”
I know she’s right. I grab the box and rip open the lid, reaching for a powdered donut inside. I don’t look at Mallory.
“Just don’t think about the fat content.”
I turn my head, and she’s slinking back toward the couch. Her butt’s a lot nicer than mine. I shake my head, turn back toward the refrigerator and reach for my soy milk, trying not to think about what I would look like in white, cotton panties.
“I can’t believe you make Peter drink that crap, just because you don’t like milk,” she says. “He hates soy. But you are too selfish to just suck it up and drink the damn milk anyway.”
I take a few steps to the other side of the kitchen and grab a glass. “Shut up.”
Mallory is quiet.
“Soy milk is healthier than regular milk. I just want Peter to be healthy.”
No sound from the couch.
I look around. She’s gone. She must have snuck out to go on a walk or something. I sit down to eat my donuts and drink my soy milk in peace.
“But your parents! They’re going to be so upset.”
“I know. I don’t care.”
“Peter, are you sure?”
“I don’t know what’s going to happen in our future, Christie, but I know I want to find out with you. I will do whatever it takes in order to make that happen.”
“But you will lose your friends and your family. They’ll all hate you.”
“I’m not just doing it for you. I’m doing it for us. I’m doing it for everything I believe in. I want to be our own family, even if that means moving away.”
“Isn’t that obvious?”
“Because I love you.”
“Why do you always ask me that?”
“Because I want to know. Why are you so willing to give up everything for me?”
“You are everything.”
“That’s the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard.”
I look down at the paper in front of me. C+. I look up at the computer screen. American Poetry—B. University Spanish 5—C. Postmodern Literature—A-. Politics and Media—C+. Shakespeare—B. Mom is going to ask me what my final semester looked like. Nothing special, I’ll have to tell her.
See, she’ll tell me, that’s why you should have waited to get married after you graduated.
Not like it would have made a difference, I’ll think.
She was right. Everyone was right. We should have waited.
I pull my legs up under me. It’s getting harder to sit Indian style. I need to stretch more. I won’t think about my transcript, I tell myself. Not yet. It’s not like they’re bad grades. . .
“Ooo, look at that. B’s in both poetry and Shakespeare. Why would you choose to be an English major when you aren’t even that good at English?” Mallory stands over my shoulder, looking down at the laptop on the kitchen table.
She’s right. Being an English major is impractical when you are really good at it. I’m not even that. I’m nothing more than adequate. I should have at least been adequate in a useful field.
“What is your mom going to say?”
I know what she’s going to say. She’s going to say, “I told you so.” She always does. Unless she says, “That’s not good enough” or “Why don’t you work harder?” or “Where is your ambition?” Those are the only things she ever says when I talk to her. That’s why I don’t call anymore.
“It’s not like it matters. You can hang out here with me. It’ll be fun not having jobs.”
I think about it. Maybe she’s right. I don’t like working. I can’t think of anything I want to do for the rest of my life, besides write. I won’t make any money as a writer. Peter will have to do it all by himself, but that won’t be that big of a change for him. I’m useless. Always have been. Maybe if Mallory doesn’t have a job either, at least I won’t be bored . . .
She leans over my shoulder and taps on a minimized Word document with her finger. Her hair smells like strawberries.
“Oooo . . . a story? Let me read it.”
I try to block her hand, but it’s too late. She’s opened it. She’s a lot stronger than she looks. There are a lot of muscles packed away in those thin arms.
“Ha,” she says.
I turn my head to look at her. She looks down at me. Her full, red lips curve up into a beautiful, dimpled smile over sparkling, white teeth.
“Well, it’s no Dickens,” she says, looking back at the screen. “Melville would probably be embarrassed, and I certainly wouldn’t show it to Steinbeck. But hell. He’s dead, right?”
She’s wrong. It’s terrible. I can’t make money off of junk like that. Peter will have to be a lawyer or a doctor, just so we can survive off one income. He’ll have to work hard, give up his music, and do something he doesn’t want to do, all because I am too lazy to get some well-paying job that I hate. Instead, I put that burden on him and pursue my juvenile dreams.
“I don’t know why I bother. Maybe I’ll just work at McDonalds for the rest of my life.”
Mallory laughs. “At least that way you’ll get free junk food.”
“I’ll make some kind of money if I do that.”
“And maybe Peter will love you more.”
I wish I could believe Peter when he tells me I’m worth all of this trouble.
“Hey, Christie, did you get a chance to do laundry yesterday?”
“No, Peter. I’m sorry.”
“It’s okay. I’ll just wear this shirt instead.”
“I said I’m sorry, okay?”
“I know. . .”
“I’m busy too, you know. I have a novel to finish.”
“I know, Christie. I never said you weren’t busy. I know it’s important to you.”
“You don’t have to make fun of me.”
“The least you can do is support my dreams. I support yours.”
“I don’t have any dreams. I have to make money. I can’t have dreams.”
“And you’re blaming that on me?”
“Well, it’s not like you’re earning much.”
“You’re a jerk.”
“I hate this shirt.”
“It’s not like I just leave our place a mess because I’m lazy, you know. I’m busy too.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“I said I’m sorry, okay?”
“I can just do the laundry on Saturday, on my day off.”
“I said I was sorry!”
I stare at myself in the mirror, my shirt lifted up around my boobs. I poke my stomach with my left hand. I pinch my love handle. I shake my hips and watch the resulting jiggle. Disgusting.
I look up at my face. My eyes have dark circles under them. I wish they were a different color. Most people’s eyes are blue, or green, or brown. Mine. . . they just are. I don’t know how to explain them. They’re a boring blue-green-grey color that doesn’t have a name. Occasionally they can be kind of pretty, but only when I bother putting make up on. But really, what’s the point?
I glance at my hair. It looks almost brown.
“You really should shower.” Mallory sits on the bathroom counter painting her nails. They’re long and blood-red.
I could shower, but it’d probably just be a waste of hot water.
“It might make a big difference if you actually try. Although, it probably won’t.”
It won’t. I’ll still be disgusting, even if I’m clean. I look back at my stomach. I drop my shirt and push my fists into my waist. What should be my waist. It doesn’t curve in. It’s just fat. I push until I can feel rib. It hurts, but I want to feel my bones. At least I know I’m not a complete whale if I can feel bone.
“Maybe if you went out and exercised more.”
It wouldn’t help. I’ve always been on the chubby side, even when I was the most active. I have my dad’s stomach. It will never be flat. It will always be pudgy.
“You know, that’s why Peter is ‘tired’ all the time,” Mallory says, sliding off the counter and lifting her shirt up to reveal a perfectly flat stomach and a tiny waist. She tilts her head and looks at her perfect figure.
I can’t draw my eyes away from her.
“You don’t look like one of those Victoria’s Secret girls.” She drops her shirt, grabs her boobs, and bites her lip. “You don’t look like any girl. You’re even fatter than those fat Greek statues that are supposed to be the old standard of beauty.”
I turn and look at myself from the side. I suck in my gut. There is still a pocket of pudge. I start shaking because I’m sucking in so much. I release. I look like a pregnant woman. I push out my stomach slowly. Three months. Five months. Nine months. There. With my stomach out as far as it will go, I look like I’m nine months pregnant.
“Maybe you should just have a baby. Then you could eat for two, and no one would judge you.”
I’m glad I’m not really pregnant. I’d be a terrible mother.
“Why are you so upset, Christie?”
“I’m not. I just don’t know why you won’t let me buy any of the food I like.”
“Because you get upset when you think you’ve been eating unhealthy.”
“That’s not true, Peter. I’m happier when I eat chocolate chips and peanut butter. I hate celery.”
“I’ve seen how you look at yourself.”
“You aren’t happy, and it isn’t healthy.”
“Why do you care?”
“Because I love you, and I don’t like to see you judge yourself like that.”
“Yeah, sure. I know the real reason is that you don’t want me to get any fatter.”
“That’s not true.”
“Then why won’t you put your arms around my waist anymore?”
“What are you talking about?”
“What waist? I know you’re thinking it.”
“Are you crazy?”
“You don’t think I’m sexy.”
“Yes I do.”
“How long will that last? Only as long as you keep buying Cheerios and celery and forcing me to eat them like a freaking food Nazi!”
Okay, it’s time to go, I tell myself. Simple commands. That’s what I need to take care of myself.
I lean down to adjust my running shoes. This is happening. I open the front door. Mallory is standing there.
“Hey, lazy. Where you going?”
I look at her. She’s in a sports bra and yoga pants. Her blonde hair is pulled up into a pony tail. Somehow, it looks a lot classier than mine does.
She looks past me into the apartment. “You can’t leave the place looking like this. Peter works so hard, and this is how you reward him? By letting him come home to this mess?”
I try to push past her.
“Come on. Going on a run won’t make you feel better. Stay here with me. We’ll eat some ice cream, maybe watch a movie. Sounds good, right?”
I give up. She knows what I want to hear. I turn back into the apartment. Looking around, I decide I really should clean before I watch any movies. There are crumpled up pieces of paper everywhere. I can’t help it. I’m a stereotypical writer. I look at all of my work and shake my head. I’ll tackle that later. But, if I’m not going to run, I at least have to pick up some clothes or something. I go to the bedroom and start cleaning.
“What are you doing?” Mallory has followed me.
I fling a pair of shorts over my shoulder and reach for Peter’s blue polo.
“I thought we were going to watch a movie.”
“I’ll watch a movie after I clean for fifteen minutes,” I say.
Mallory laughs. “Put those clothes down, dumb ass. No matter how clean this place gets, it doesn’t change the fact that Peter left his family’s business for you, and all he gets in return is your ugly mug and fat ass. Let’s watch A Beautiful Mind.”
“He loves me,” I say.
“I know he loves me. He says so.”
I drop the clothes. Fine. She wins. Again.
“What did you do today?”
“Did you write?”
“What did you eat?”
“It’s none of your business.”
“Christie, what’s wrong?”
“What do you mean?”
“Why won’t you do anything to make yourself happy?”
“You just want me to be someone I’m not.”
“Don’t be ridiculous.”
“I’m not a writer. I’m not a hard worker. I’m not a health nut. I’m not a happy go-lucky whack job who walks down the street smiling all the freaking day. Why can’t you just love me for who I am?”
“Because you’re shitty the way you are,” says Mallory.
I force myself to open the Bible. It’s been weeks since I’ve read it. Peter told me I should. He thinks I need to work harder at taking care of myself. I don’t know why, but he thinks this will help. It’s not like God has time for a little piece of crap like me anyway.
My hands shake, and my eyes sting as I touch the cover. I look at my name embossed on the leather. Peter got this for me for my birthday. A month after we got married. I’m still not used to my new name.
“What are you reading that for?” Mallory is standing in the doorway, watching me on the bed.
I ignore her.
“It’s not like that’ll help. You’re a lost cause. Remember that paper?”
I think about the paper I plagiarized. I went to the professor, confessed, got an F, did everything I could to make up for it, but I still feel bad about it. Mallory knows that bringing it up will make me want to stop reading.
I clench my teeth and let the book fall open. It takes me to Matthew five.
“This is the most ridiculous thing you’ve done all day. You should just turn the TV back on. You’re too lazy to get anything out of this.”
I can’t help but agree with her. I read verse 44 anyway. Love your enemy. Mallory is my enemy. She hates me, she persecutes me, she curses me. She has every day for months.
“You’re ugly, stupid, clumsy, and useless.” Mallory starts to sound scared. “Nobody loves you. Your mom is disappointed, your husband only puts up with you. He’s a good person. You’re not.”
I sigh. I’m tired of fighting. With Mallory, with Peter, with God. I just want to feel happy again. But I can’t. I don’t know how.
“You aren’t worth it. You aren’t worth love.”
I keep reading. On to Chapter six. Then seven. I want it to make me feel better, so I don’t give up. I keep pushing.
“What’s the point?”
I flip over to John three. I read verse sixteen. I’m part of the world. That means God loves me. Me! He loves me so much, he let his Son die for me. I am worth that. I am worth saving.
“Christie, listen to me. Why are you doing this?”
I focus everything on the words in front of me. Her voice almost fades as I try my hardest to ignore her.
“You don’t deserve to be happy. You won’t be.”
I look up at her. “I hate you,” I say.
She smiles, because she has my attention again. “I’m glad you’ve come to your senses.”
I feel red-hot inside. Hating Mallory won’t help. I’ve always hated Mallory. I have to do something more, so I jump off the bed and lunge at Mallory’s throat.
“You are a wonderful person!” I yell as I constrict her airway.
She is clawing at me, trying to rip me open with her red fingernails.
“You pick on me because you don’t like yourself.”
She breaks free, falls to the ground, tries to crawl away from me.
“You have so much more to offer the world than your looks.” I get on top of her, my knees straddling her, and she falls flat on her stomach.
“Stop, please, stop!”
“You are beautiful! Not compared to anyone else, but in your own way. You have inner beauty. You have an inner strength,” I say, as I pull her hair.
I let go of her hair, close my eyes, and start pummeling her with everything inside of me.
“I love you . . . you amazing . . . fun . . . genius . . . person!” I’m panting.
Then, I feel nothing. I open my eyes. She’s gone. I get up off of my knees and poke my head into the living room. Nothing.
“Hello?” I call.
No one responds. I turn back around. On the wall is a picture of Peter and me on our wedding day. I look beautiful. I smile.
I turn around again and head for the kitchen table. I open the lap top and click open my story. I start writing. The words make me smile. I might not ever get it published, but at least I like it. It makes me happy, and that’s what is important.
“Hey, honey, I’m home.”
“Wow. It looks great in here. What happened?”
“Thanks. I spent all day cleaning.”
“You . . . what? What’s that smell?”
“Dinner? It’s not chili, is it?”
“It’s baked potatoes. I’m about to open a can to put on top of them.”
“Do you want me to do it?”
“No, I can.”
“Alright. Be careful!”
I look over my shoulder. Peter is lying in bed. I can only see his bare feet from here. They’re crossed at the ankle. His white socks are lying on the floor. Peter doesn’t like wearing white socks. He likes patterns and colors.
“Do you want me to do laundry tonight so you can have clean socks for tomorrow?”
Peter laughs. “I have plenty of socks.”
“But all your favorite ones are dirty.”
I hear the bed creak as he gets up. He is coming to me. There is a smile on his face. I feel one start on mine as I watch him get closer.
“It’s okay.” He kisses me. “I’m just happy to be home.”
“Are you sure?”
He kisses me again. “I love you.”
And I trust that he does.