Chicken Caesar Salad:
One-fourth cup of croutons: 42 calories.
Three cups of homegrown lettuce: 72 calories
Five tablespoons (at least!) of dressing: 388 calories
Half a cup of diced chicken: 121 calories
…for a grand total of 623 calories, over half of that coming from the dressing alone.
I refused to eat it, of course, claiming compassion for animals as my excuse.
“You aren’t even vegetarian!” Mother protests.
“I am now.”
She massages her temples. “I thought you were over this. I thought we were over this.”
“I am over this!” I retort.
…Just not when it comes to chicken Caesar.
In the end, I win. But I know that if Mother hadn’t been running late for another meeting, I would undoubtedly have been forced to eat the entire revolting dish.
The very thought makes me slide down the wall and collapse in a panicky heap. I taste something salty, and when I take my fist away from my mouth, I see a tooth-shaped cut on my middle finger, oozing crimson. Dazed, I wonder how many calories there are in a drop of blood.
The phone rings, jarring me out of my reverie. Its shrill buzzing pierces my eardrums, but I don’t move. The answering machine picks up:
“Hi Amy! It’s Priscilla. I miss you! Are you free today? Give me a call.”
Priscilla is…was my best friend. She was the only friend who visited me last winter. But when she tried to give me a cupcake she baked herself, and I refused, her injured expression made me promise myself never to let anyone visit me again.
It didn’t matter anyway. Priscilla was the only one who ever bothered, and after that incident, Priscilla stopped calling…until now.
My stomach rumbles, and I stand up. For a second, a wave of blackness washes over me, and stars dance before my eyes. I grab the doorknob to steady myself, and it is over.
When I get to the kitchen, the first thing I do is erase Priscilla’s message. Then I look at the dining table. The controversial salad is still sitting on the table. There’s a note next to it:
When I come back, I want to see this entire salad gone.
I throw the note away and take the bowl to the backyard, tossing the salad in the compost. I’m shivering, although the sun is out in full force. My arms feel like dead squid tentacles, as I grab a shovel to cover the remains of my transgression.
As I view my handiwork, I feel a twinge of guilt. Daddy and I dug the hole for the compost bin together, and I know he wouldn’t have wanted me to use it to lie to my mother.
On the other hand, it’s lucky for me that Mother is so gullible, unlike Priscilla. Pretty Priscilla with her ready smile and arms laden with friendship bracelets. Perfect Priscilla with her penetrating eyes and her big, loving family. I bet Priscilla’s never seen a compost bin. Or a grave, for that matter.
My stomach growls again.
Returning to the kitchen, I pick out an apple, wash it, and cut it. I take two slices, put the rest in the fridge, and pour myself a glass of water. I stand at the kitchen counter and take out my cell phone, scrolling through my recent photos. As I chew on the apple, I look at pictures of my waist, hips, and thighs. Ugly. Hideous. Fat.
In disgust, I take my remaining slice and put it back in the fridge. I shouldn’t have eaten the other one, but it’s too late now.
My cell phone buzzes, and I nearly drop it. No one texts me on this phone! No one, except…
New text message from BFF, the screen reads. I open the message.
Spring break is almost over, and I know you’re busy, but I wanted to at least stop by your house and drop something off, if that’s okay. I left it on your porch.
I cautiously open the front door. The coast is clear, but there is a small box on the porch swing. Next to that is a white envelope with my name on it. I take both items inside and open the letter.
I’m sorry I haven’t contacted you in a long time. The truth is, I haven’t been able to contact anyone for a while. My parents took me to a hospital after they found me with a razor on a bad day.
Forgive me if I just freaked you out. I discovered your secret, but never allowed you to discover mine. I just kept it under the bracelets. We’ve been good at keeping secrets, Amy, haven’t we? Even from each other. Maybe that’s why we’re such good friends.
But there’s one secret I wanted to tell you. I’ve had a lot of time to think, lately, and while I was sitting in my cell, do you know what got me through those awful weeks?
Every time I felt like giving up, I’d remember you, and how you kept going, even after your dad—You kept trying to help others even when you needed to help yourself. You never wanted us to know, to worry. But I just wanted to tell you that you don’t have to hide anymore. If there is something you want to tell me, I’m here. I love you.
P.S. I know you don’t like cupcakes, so I made you something else.
I open the box with shaking hands. Inside is a ginger cookie. God knows how many calories are in it. I’m tempted to bury the entire thing with the salad. But instead, I stare at the cupcake for a minute.
I’m here. I love you.
I close my eyes, take a breath, and lift it out of the box.