Someone To Love
Words slip out before I have a chance to process. “Why do you care?”
Sometimes I want to stand on the table and inform the congressman: Sir, my life isn’t about shoving millions of calories of dead cow into my body.
They were the ones who encouraged me to lose weight in the first place. When I came home crying about how fat I was after Ollie dumped me freshman year, Mom was the first to help me go on a diet. She bought me weight loss guidebooks, exercise tapes and a food scale. I would give her a special list of what to pick up at the grocery store.
I counted every calorie. Weighed every ounce. Recorded every mile. It was healthy at first. I started to lose weight. Fast. I really did need to ditch some of the weight, but I couldn’t stop even after I lost all the weight I had gained.
And everyone, I mean everyone, was nicer to me. Even my parents. But I don’t want their attention anymore. They’re more controlling with me than they were with either Mason or Royce. Dad claims I’m more prone to extremes. Mom says I’m too hard on myself. I fail to see either. I’m pretty average.
“Give me the benefit of the doubt,” he says. “I’m just saying that you don’t have to order the salad. Eat whatever you want. You used to like the Manhattan steak.”
I refuse to react. I take a small bite of lettuce, the smallest leaf I can find.
I chew thirty times, counting each one like a bead on a rosary.
It’s way harder to come up with excuses for not eating at a restaurant, and I can’t go to the bathroom after dinner either. Too obvious. So I order light and chew my food for so long that when they’re ready to go, I end up leaving half my food on the plate.
I may be a fairly average teenage girl, but I’m strong-willed. Probably more so than any of those girls who hang around with Zach. I can put up a good fight.
I smile at Mom as if to say, Please keep the congressman behind the imaginary fence. She looks at me and shrugs. I guess I’ll have to fight this battle on my own.
So I feign deafness, take a sip of water and stare at the wood paneled walls, thinking about my conversation with Ms. Day right before lunch. Having my work shown at a real gallery would be an amazing experience. It would mean that I actually have the talent to be a professional artist someday. Just being good at art in your high school classes isn’t enough. I have to test myself outside of school too.
I want to put together a portfolio, but I don’t know where to begin. My mind goes blank every time I try to think of a concept or theme for the show. I need to find my inspiration. If only I could talk to LeFeber...
“You might consider returning to Earth once in a while, Ms. Space Cadet,” Dad says. His mouth is moving, but his words are white noise. “Ground control to Olivia.”
I’m a disappointment to him. Not only am I not interested in his job, I don’t get as high grades as Royce and I’ll never be as popular as Mason was in high school.
He taps his fork on my plate, clanging the tines against the glass to get my attention. I stare at him, hoping my smoldering irises are enough to laser some more gray streaks into his hair. “I hope the rabbits across America aren’t starving...”
I scrunch up my forehead. What the hell is he talking about?
“You eat so much lettuce you must have tanked their food economy,” he says.
“Congressman Blakely,” I say, stabbing my fork into a leaf covered in sesame seeds, “I like salads, the rabbits will be just fine and, besides, I’m just not super hungry, okay?”
I started calling him Congressman Blakely about a year ago. I don’t know why, other than I thought it was funny. Maybe I was being a little mean. It’s a way for me to passively fight back in my own house. My own private revolution, for no reason other than that I’m a teenager. It’s practically my duty to get under my parents’ skin.
“Can you not be like this? I’d love to have a peaceful dinner.” Mom wipes a touch of water from her lips, then folds up her napkin into a perfect rectangle. She’s perfect. Intelligent. Tactful. Nothing—not one stray hair or wrinkled shirt—ever out of place.
I reach for my own napkin and realize it has fallen on the floor. Compared to my mother, I’m a hot mess. I’m not diplomatic in social situations, and I can barely manage to find a clean pair of jeans in the mornings. I don’t know how I ended up so different from my parents. I would be the worst politician ever.
Dad has just opened his mouth to argue again when Martin Barrios—Ollie’s father—approaches the table. Just seeing him makes me want to slink down in my chair and hide under the table. He’s wearing a black toupee slicked tight against his head and a blue suit that’s slightly wrinkled and damp from sweat. He’s fresh from the bar, face red, and too happy—way too happy for me anyway. He winks at Dad as if he knows some big secret. Not only is Mr. Barrios Ollie’s father, which is mortifying enough, he’s also worked with Dad on a big downtown renovation project, so there’s no getting away.
“Colin Blakely?” He squints at Dad and spills a few drops of his martini on the carpet. “Whoa! Don’t want to lose that,” he adds. “This is a Musso martini!”
Dad laughs. “I hope you brought that for me.”
“Why? Is this a celebration? I mean, I hope it is.” He looks at Mom. “You look lovely as always, Debra.”
“How’s Oliver doing at...” Dad pauses. “Where does he go to school again? Princeton? Or Dartmouth?”
“He’s a Princeton man. Double major in economics and Near Eastern studies.”
“That’s good to hear,” Mom says politely.
How can she keep smiling at him? I never told her exactly what Ollie’s comment was when he broke up with me, but she knows he said something horrible to me.
Then Mr. Barrios turns toward me, training his bloodshot eyes on my face.
“Olivia?” he says in faux surprise.
It’s so fake I want to laugh.
“I’m her doppelgänger,” I deadpan. “The real Olivia has been claimed by the robotics industry and is now being mass manufactured.”
I imagine a hundred little replicas of myself and shudder. I can barely stand seeing myself doubled in a mirror, let alone a never-ending assembly line of Olivia Blakely dolls.
Mom shoots me a death stare. She doesn’t like when I’m sarcastic around adults. It’s a liability. I say they could stand to loosen up. Why take everything so seriously?
“Is she?” He laughs like a factory-produced automaton. “You’re all grown up,” he says. “You’ll be a marvelous woman. You have two great brothers. And mother...”
Gag. That’s when I stop listening. I shut him off completely. I’ve heard this speech before from a hundred different politicians. He’s lost interest within seconds anyway, because I’m not important to these kinds of people other than that I’m merely something to turn into a compliment for my parents.
I check my phone. There’s a text from Sam. I answer as surreptitiously as I can. Mom and Dad don’t like when I text at the dinner table, but I can’t help myself.
SAM: Feeling better?
LIV: Yep :-)
SAM: Thinking about doing a bonfire at the beach. You down?
LIV: I wish. Dinner with my parents ;-)
SAM: Bummer. Hang out tomorrow?
LIV: Totally. I’m down.
SAM: I have a surprise for you.
LIV: OoOoO. What is it?
SAM: It’s a surprise...