Friday, March 29, 2013

Chapter Eight: Merge (Preview)


          Both "Merge" and "Appreciation" came out of the same interview with Mark and Michelle Elton, family friends of mine since I was a little girl. I wanted to add some variation to my stories and make The First Year  more universally applicable, and I did that by talking to people who had different life experiences than I did. 
          Mark and Michelle were both married before they  married each other. We were all very happy for them, and they're a totally awesome couple, but they had some difficulties, just like everyone, during their first year. Talking to them, I understood the importance of learning to merge two different families into one. For them, it was merging family traditions, kids, discipline tactics, communication, etc. But, every relationship faces this challenge: How do you combine your life, your family, and your traditions with those of your husband? Children certainly complicate the issue, but it's something we all have to learn to deal with. 
           This story is a little closer to what they told me their first year was like than "Appreciation," but I still dramatized it for my own purposes. The names of the guilty have, of course, been changed to protect the innocent. With those things in mind, enjoy this excerpt from "Merge." 
Chapter Eight:
Merge
          Laurie stood half-concealed behind the wall, clutching the hot laundry to her chest, watching her son and step-daughter argue.
          “Where’s my money?” Vanessa asked.
          “I took it,” Jared replied. “It was pizza day at school, and I really wanted pizza.”
          “That was my money. That’s stealing.”
          “We’re family. It’s not stealing if you’re family.”
          Laurie rolled her eyes and stepped out from behind the wall. “Alright, that’s enough you two.”
          Vanessa turned her big brown eyes up at Laurie. They were filled with contempt. She put her hands on her hips, flicked her brown pony tail over her shoulder, and cocked her head to the side. “I don’t have to listen to you,” she said.
          Laurie felt a little pressure build up in her chest. Vanessa had never been thrilled with the idea that her dad was dating someone new, but things got much worse when she and Dave had gotten married. It had been a tough couple of months. “Yes, actually, you do.”
          “Why?”
          “Because I’m your step-mother.”
           Vanessa narrowed her eyes and exhaled loudly before responding. “He stole my money. He has to give it back.”
          Laurie gripped the laundry a little harder, trying to swallow her exasperation. “Vanessa, we’re family now, and families are supposed to share with each other.”
          “That’s not what we did at my house.”
          “Well, it’s our house now. Not just your house. We have to learn how to work together.”
          “Then I’ll go back to my mom’s house.”
          Dave’s wife had left him and the kids to run back to Puerto Rico with an old boyfriend a while back. Laurie was always surprised by the bitter hatred that rose in her chest whenever she thought about it. “I’m afraid you can’t do that, sweetie.”
          “Sure I can. I’ll run away, and I’ll steal your money. Then we’ll see how you like it.”
          Laurie sighed. “You can’t run away.”
          “Why not?”
           “Because you’re eleven years old, and this is your family now. You’re just going to have to get used to it.”
          Vanessa’s eyes were unblinking as she stared into Laurie’s face. “He stole my money.”
          “You left it on the counter!” Jared said. “Anyway, I only took two quarters.”
          Laurie turned her gaze on her middle son. He looked down at his feet.
          “I’ll give you two quarters, Vanessa. How’s that?” said Laurie, looking back at her step-daughter.
          Vanessa glared at Jared. “No. I want him to give me two quarters. He stole my money.”
          “It didn’t!” Jared said.
          Laurie took a deep breath and looked from Jared to Vanessa and back again. “Jared, apologize to Vanessa.”
          Jared started twisting his foot into the carpet like he always did when he knew that he had been caught doing something wrong. “Sorry, Vanessa.”
          “Now Vanessa, apologize to Jared for yelling at him.”
          “No.”
          “Excuse me?”
          “You aren’t my mother.” She turned on the ball of her foot and stomped away. 

Thursday, March 28, 2013

Chapter Seven: Shift (Preview)


          I wanted to write a story about learning to put the needs of your significant other before your own, and when Josh and I went to Hawaii for two weeks to visit his sister, I realized that kayaking would be the perfect setting for the moral of my story, as well as add some variety to my other stories. If you want to read another take on my kayaking adventure, click here
          In this story, Maggie and James are newlyweds on a Hawaiian vacation. Even though Josh and I were nearing our one year anniversary when we were there, we still needed to work on putting each other's needs before our own. I think that's something every couple always can improve on, no matter where they are in their marriage. 
          What else is there to say? I don't know. I think I'll let the story [preview] speak for itself, and if you have any more questions, let me know! 
          Full disclosure: Josh's sister and her family aren't really like this. They are vegetarians, true. But everything else is totally dramatized. Just so you know. =) 

Chapter Seven:
Shift
          I almost gagged as I opened up the microwave and unleashed the offensive stank inside it. Veggie burgers always smelled like a pretentious bastard had been stabbed a billion times (by the animals he supposedly treated more ethically by not eating) and then left to die. But, I guess I would eat anything at this point.
          I pulled out the plate, grabbed the soft bun I had left on the counter, and slipped the patty between the two halves. What I wouldn’t give to eat an entire cow right now.
          “You have to put pickles on it, Maggie,” said Patrick, who was a perfect miniature in every way of his father and my brother-in-law, Tyler.
          “Why?” I turned to look at the skinny kid with brown Carrot Top hair who stood barefooted at the edge of the kitchen, wearing bright yellow shorts, his white legs practically glowing.
          “Because, that’s just how you do it. That’s how we’ve always eaten our veggie burgers in this house.”
          “Well, I don’t like pickles.”
          He pointed at the counter. “You left crumbs.”
          “Yeah. So?”
          “We don’t put food on the counter.”
          “Well, I do.”
          “I’m going to tell Mom.”
          I turned my back on him and took a bite out of the so-called burger. “Okay.” I waved one hand over my shoulder. “You do that.”
           I heard the eight year-old leave to go tattle to his mommy. I put down the burger and got a glass of milk. At least they weren’t Vegan. I would kill myself if they were Vegan.      
          I hadn’t eaten in nine hours. Apparently, someone had forgotten to tell James that we were on vacation. We hadn’t stopped go-go-going since we had landed in Oahu. Today, after waking up way too early, we drove around the entire island, stopping to hike up to Makapu’u Lighthouse, swim briefly in Waimea Bay, and shop around historic Haleiwa. Thank God the Dole Plantation was closed by the time we got around to that part of our little road trip, because I just couldn’t handle any more. We hadn’t gone out to eat in the name of frugality, so on top of being hot, dehydrated, blistery, and extremely tired and sore, I also hadn’t eaten since breakfast. There was a lot more sunning involved in my ideal Hawaiian vacation and a lot less moving around. I might have liked to go surfing, but that was it. No more.
          Beth, James’ older sister, walked into the kitchen, and I instantly felt the muscles in my back tense up.
          “Isn’t it nice not to eat the flesh of another living thing for once?” she said.
          I raised the burger to her before taking another bite.
          “You know, back before James joined the army, we ate meat all the time. Then we decided we needed to care more about the world around us. Those poor animals that you eat . . .  It’s just not fair.”
Sure, sure, I thought. I’m Satan. Please, go away.
          I know that we don’t exactly have money to burn, but I really wish James and I could have spent our honeymoon in a different tropical paradise. One where we stayed in a 5-star hotel, rather than in a little guest room right next door to the bedroom of an 8 year-old, in a house owned by the world’s most obnoxious sister-in-law and her equally obnoxious husband.
          “James must be in the shower. He was like that when he was younger, too. Neat, tidy, clean.”
          I swear I saw her look at my crumbs on the counter.
          “He and his brother, Brian, used to—”
          “Yeah, he’s in the shower,” I said, sensing a long and boring family story. I just wanted to eat my veggie burger in peace.
          “Did you two do anything on the list I made you today?” Beth crossed her arms over her green, army-wife t-shirt, and glared at me.
          I had just taken a huge bite, so I nodded.
          “I wrote down the best our island has to offer.”
          I swallowed. “We did pretty much all of it.”
          “Wasn’t it fun?”
          I shrugged.
          “Well, I’m sure James had fun. He isn’t as hard to please.”
          I grabbed the glass of milk that I had placed on the counter, took a sip, then put it back, turning my back on Beth to rest my elbows on the counter and keep eating. 
          “Tell James I need to talk to him when he gets out of the shower. It’s about Nickie’s school play tomorrow.”
          “Right.”
          Nickie was a 12 year-old girl who thought she knew everything about Harry Potter and never shut the hell up about it, and she was in a six grade production of The Music Man. I really can’t think of anything worse. Except, you know, the Holocaust or being on a plane when a terrorist decides to crash it or not being able to have honeymoon sex because spoiled little Patrick stays up all night playing some sort of game on his dad’s iPad.
          What a fantastic first week of marriage this was turning out to be.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Grovel

Okay people. This is not a drill. I will resume posting The First Year excerpts next week, but for now, please read this article I wrote for another blog that I contribute to.
Our very lives as we know them may be at stake.
Except for they won't.
But you should read it anyway.
Please read my Mommy Author's post. Click HERE.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Catchy Title So People Will Be Drawn To This Post

Okay, so I'm going to take a break from posting chapter excerpts from my collection of short stories, entitled The First Year, in order to promote another blog that I contribute to.
It's called Mommy Authors, and this month, I wrote about Religious Addiction.
Follow the link and check it out. Let me know what you think.
Also, don't forget to vote for the best title for my upcoming book. There is a poll on the right side of my recently-updated blog page.
Thanks for your continued support, and here's an artsy picture I took, just for fun.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Chapter 6: Reminder (Preview)


     Life can get busy. Work and extended family often get in the way, among other things, and sometimes this causes your relationship to suffer. When you don't focus on having fun together, or having conversations with each other, sometimes you start to forget why you married him/her in the first place.
     One night, my family came to visit us (I was finishing school in Provo, UT), and we had a game night. I never forgot why I married Josh, but seeing him with my family--so charismatic, funny, and loved by my parents and siblings--made me completely fall in love with him all over again. 
     This experience inspired me to start writing a story about remembering how wonderful your significant other is. It started out as one thing (hand-written, in the back of my notebooks while I wasn't paying attention in class) and then turned into something totally different. But, the message is still the same. 
     So, here is some background, for what it is now: I grew up in Corvallis, OR, and I always went to River Rhythms in Albany every summer with my family. These are outdoor concerts that feature local and slightly more famous musicians (I saw the Dixie Chicks there before they got big). When we moved back to Oregon, I wanted to share that part of my childhood with Josh, so we went to a Ricky Scaggs concert. The concert inspired me, and it gave me some variety to my previously-written stories, so I decided to take the game-night lesson and move it to a different location. 
     This location didn't work with the story I had already partially written, so I started from scratch, and now here's the first little bit of how that story ended up (emphasis on falling in love over and over again):

 Chapter Six:
Reminder
      Blake looked up from his book just in time to see a man in khaki shorts, sandals, and a zoo-keeper hat walk by, looking very granola as he meandered toward the stage where the blue grass band warmed up. Blake inwardly groaned. When Witnie got back from the Porta Potty, this was all he would hear about.
     “There are so many hippies here, Blake.”
     “Am I going to be offered pot?”
     “Is that hair under that woman’s arm?”
     He could hear it now.
     Witnie wasn’t exactly the out-doorsie type. She was from New York, where she wore little black dresses, tall heels, went to fancy dinner parties, and never attended outdoor concerts that featured Ricky Skaggs. Blake was a country boy who grew up on a grass-seed farm twenty minutes east of Albany, Oregon. Naturally, when they visited his family, Witnie often did nothing but complain.
     To be fair though, his family likewise did nothing but complain when he and Witnie were in town. They didn’t like Witnie much. Between the 40-minute showers, the wine at dinner, and her refusal to hold and coo over the pet duck, Pansy, they couldn’t have imagined anyone worse for their only son and brother. Witnie of course had many other wonderful qualities, but it was difficult for Blake to remember them when all he heard during their visits was “Witnie kicked at Pansy again,” “Make Witnie stop using all the hot water,” and “I can’t think of anyone I’ve ever met who is so prissy as Witnie.” It was getting hard to defend her.
     “That was the least disgusting Porta Potty I’ve ever been in,” Witnie announced as she reappeared next to their blanket on the grass.
     Blake looked up at his wife. She wore white short shorts, a loose black tank-top with shiny, metallic, gold trim around the neck, and big black sunglasses. “Wow. That’s a huge compliment, coming from you,” he said.
     She slipped off her gold flip flops, pushed her glasses on top of her head, and sat next to him, flipping her dark brown hair over her shoulder. “So, when is this thing supposed to start?”
     Blake tore his eyes away from her and nodded toward the stage. “They just finished sound check. They’re due to start at seven.”
     She may have been embarrassing as soon as she opened her mouth, but he had to admit that he was proud of all the jealous looks college-aged guys threw his way as they passed by. A tall, dark haired, slim, tan beauty with ice-blue eyes was certainly something to gawk at. Yeah, that’s right, he thought. My wife is smokin’ hot. Just don’t stick around long enough for her to kick a duck or point out a hippie’s armpit hair.
     “Is there somewhere I can buy some food?” she asked, rubbing her shiny long legs. “You know, food that hasn’t been recycled?”
     Blake rolled his eyes. “Up the hill. Follow the smell of fried.”
     “Hmm,” she said as she got back to her feet. “I’ll be back.”
      Witnie was constantly on a diet. That was another thing that infuriated his mother. She had tried time and again to stuff more pie and mashed potatoes down Witnie’s throat than could feed a third-world country, but Witnie always refused the unnecessary carbs. He couldn’t imagine what she was going to find to eat at the Albany River Rhythms. Maybe a Diet Coke, if she was lucky. 

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Chapter 5: Commitment (Preview)


     This story was another creative writing assignment: Write 10 pages of straight dialogue--no dialogue tags, scene descriptions, or thought fillers. Write a dialogue between two people, add nothing else. 
     It actually turned out to be a lot easier than I expected, and I also learned that dialogue is my forte. Not only that, but when I realized I could fit it into my book about the first year of marriage, I was pretty excited. So, I went back in an added those things that I wasn't allowed to put in before, and voila.
      This story isn't actually about the first year, per se, because the couple in question is engaged, but I think it still fits. It highlights an important theme: Trying to figure out your relationship with your parents and in-laws once you've flown the nest and started your own family. 
     You don't just gain a husband or wife when you marry: You gain an entire family. However, the most important thing is to be committed to your spouse first and foremost. Your relationship must come before all others, no matter what, if you are going to really make things work (though, it does help to have those other relationships in tact!).
     So now, I hope you enjoy the first portion of chapter five, "Commitment."

Chapter Five:
Commitment
      “Well that was fun,” Mom said, climbing into the passenger seat and slamming the door of my black Jeep Patriot behind her.
     I didn’t know what to say. I stared at my hands, knuckles white on the steering wheel.
     “What’s the matter, Parker?” she asked.
     I clenched my teeth. “Are you serious?”
     “There is no need to be rude.”
     “Sorry.” I reached for my seat belt, wishing I had the guts to tell off my mother, knowing that she was the one person on earth who could truly scare me.
     “It’s not as though I had a choice.”
     I rolled my eyes and took off the parking brake. “Didn’t you?”
     “Of course not.”
     “Well thanks,” I said, as I eased the car away from the curb. Sometimes, I really missed my old stick shift. It made me feel better to gun the engine at times like this, which was so much harder to do in an automatic.
      “You are being rude.”
     My face started getting hot. “Like you were rude to Vanessa?”
     Instantly, the car, icy cold from sitting outside on a January night, grew even icier. “Don’t you dare,” she said.
      One of the things Vanessa admired about my personality was that I didn’t let things bother me. I didn’t fight. I just let go. She was wrong though. It very much bothered me that she and my mom couldn’t get along. I couldn’t stand that my mom didn’t respect or trust me enough to make my own decisions, and I hated that I had to hold back what I was really thinking, only because my mom wouldn’t bend, regardless of what I said. That’s why I didn’t usually fight. There really was no point.   
     “And for the record, I was not being rude. I merely commented on the poor-quality of your fiancĂ©e’s cooking.”
     I turned sharply onto Main Street. “First of all, she was trying to impress you. She just tried something a little too complicated. Second–”
     “Impress me? Hmph.”
     I saw her cross her arms over her chest out of the corner of my eye as I turned on to Fifth. 
     “She’s never going to do that, is she?”
     “What?”
     “Impress you.”
     “Oh please.”
     “Come on, Mom. Just admit it. You’ve never liked Vanessa.”
     “I liked her just fine when she was a friend who would help you with your college papers.”
     “She’s more than that now, and you’re just going to have to accept that.”
      “She just isn’t good enough, Parker.”
     I squeezed the steering wheel. “How do you know that, when you haven’t even taken the time to get to know her?”
     “I don’t need to take any time.”
     “Why not?”
     The brakes protested as I slowed for a red light. The engine hummed idly as we waited. My eyes started to sting, but I was in control. I had to stay in control. The light finally turned green, and I eased out into the intersection, my fingers cramping as I clutched the steering wheel. “You’re not being fair,” I said.
     “She is a horrible cook. That’s all I need to know.”

Monday, March 4, 2013

Chapter 4: Trust (full)


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. 

Trust
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself
 Lev. 19:18
         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.”
“Why?”
“Isn’t that obvious?”
“No.”
“Because I love you.”
“Why?”
“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  . . .
         “What’s this?”
         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.”
“I wasn’t!”
“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.”
“So?”
“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.
         “Who? Peter?”
         “I know he loves me. He says so.”
         “Bullshit.”
         I drop the clothes. Fine. She wins. Again.
◦◦◦
“What did you do today?”
“Nothing.”
“Did you write?”
“No.”
“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.
         “Christie, don’t—”
         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.”
“Hey!”
“Wow. It looks great in here. What happened?”
“Thanks. I spent all day cleaning.”
“You . . . what? What’s that smell?”
“Dinner.”
“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!”
“Ha.”
◦◦◦
            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.