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Care Package

Note: This short story is being incorporated into my friend Allison's blog, in which she's using the week of April Fool's to have her character, Taliana, explore and interact in different worlds, in situations where things are not what they seem.

It seemed like the start of a bad joke.

What happens when you put two women in a room together, one so skinny even small-sized clothes billow around her, the other with enough weight to make up two people?

Except I, the fat one, didn’t see any humor in the situation. At least, not until the care package arrived.

For our first month living together, I simply wished the college housing authorities had assigned someone other than Cindy as my roommate. I toyed briefly with the idea of asking to swap, but what could I offer as a reason? That Cindy’s mere presence seemed like judgment, with her angular hips, elegant collarbones, and a silhouette so thin she sometimes seemed almost two-dimensional, as if she had stepped straight out of a fashion magazine? That when I stood next to her in my spherical body, I worried my mass would draw her in and crush her?

Nor could I say how much it infuriated me when I realized we shared the same morning ritual. Get up, go to the bathroom, then step on the scale, I imagined for the same reason: to see if the numbers crept up. Except why did she need to worry? She could use a few extra pounds! But me, if I put on the dreaded freshman fifteen, I’d tip closer to 300 and than 200 pounds, and I couldn’t bear the thought.

Then a week before Halloween, I came back from class and found Cindy sitting at her desk, a care package open in front of her filled with Halloween candy, pumpkin bread, mixed nuts, and peanut butter cookies.

My mouth watered while jealousy flared. My parents, far too conscious of my weight, would never send me such a package. I would love to dive into those treats, but Cindy did not seem interested.

I managed to ignore the scene until she said with a big sigh, “I hate having to force myself to eat cookies just to keep my weight up.”

I paused in pulling out my homework to look at her in disbelief. Had I heard her right? Had she seriously complained about needing to gain weight, to me of all people? I debated letting it go, but all my resentment of the past month boiled up.

“You do know I’m fat, don’t you?” I asked, more sharply than I meant. “Do you realize how insensitive it sounds for you to complain about eating cookies?”

Her carefully made up dark brown eyes grew wide as she looked back at me. “I - I’m sorry,” she stammered. “You don’t seem that fat to me, but it’s hard for me to judge, because everyone weighs more than I do. I wouldn’t have said anything, but I’m so depressed that my parents are still trying to control what I eat. I know they’re worried about my health, but I really hoped I’d get away from that by being at college.”

It sounded exactly like something I’d say, but for different reasons. My anger deserted me, leaving me embarrassed at my own outburst. “My parents do the same thing, but in the other direction. Do you want to see what they sent me for a care package?”

She brightened, looking curious. “Sure.”

I pulled out the box I’d gotten a couple of days before. It had sugar-free candy, sugar-free jam, low-fat crackers, and a pumpkin-scented candle. I didn’t say anything, just watched Cindy’s expression as she took it in. To my surprise, she started laughing.

At first I only grinned, but when the absurd irony of the situation caught up with me, I, too, laughed, hard enough that I had to sit on my bed and wipe tears from my eyes.

Eventually we both quieted, apart from a few stray giggles. I felt better than I had in a long while. I couldn’t remember the last time I’d laughed so much, but more than that, “I’ve never told anyone how awful my parents are about my weight.”

Cindy shook her head. “Me, either. Most people don’t want to hear about my weight problems anyway. They just think I want to be this thin and must be happy, but I’m not.”

“Why aren’t you?” The concept of being thin and unhappy baffled me.

“My hormones are all screwed up because I’m underweight, and I’m not gaining bone density like I should. I’m cold all the time, I have to make myself eat a lot, and if I sit on anything without cushions, it hurts. And I don’t have any kind of figure.”

A pang went through me as I remembered what I’d said. “I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

She shrugged and started eating the cookie again. “It’s okay. I’m sure it’s hard for you, too.”

“Yeah, in different ways. I don’t have a figure, either – at least, I don’t think round counts.” She returned my grin. “I have a hard time fitting in seats and buying clothes, and I’m embarrassed to eat in front of anyone.”

“Me, too! I have to eat so much, and I feel like a pig.”

I considered a moment, my whole worldview shifting. Who would have thought I’d have so much in common with a skinny girl? It made me glad, though, to finally be able to share some of those feelings.

“Let’s make a deal,” I said finally.

“What’s that?”

“Let’s help each other remember that our parents aren’t here, and we should be the ones deciding what to eat, not them. And we can remind each other to eat what we need, no matter what other people think, and to try not to obsess about our weight.”

Her smile lit up the room. “Deal.”

“So, would you like a pumpkin candle?”

“I actually love candles,” she said, laughing again. “And feel free to anything in my stash.”

As I picked out a mini Snickers, I suddenly knew that whatever happened with my weight, I was going to enjoy college a lot more than I expected.

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