Chloe kept one eye opened as she stared down at her tightly curled toes. Please, please, please don't be in the sixties. Please! she silently begged, clenching and unclenching her fists as she waited for the verdict that could not be entered into no matter how much she tried to charm the judges.
This particular judge, sneering with a cascade of cruel numbers in his possession, had made her life a living hell for the past three months. They had butted heads a few times over inconsistencies and verdicts. Once, in the throes of injustice, Chloe picked him up and threw him out the window. Such violence still had not discouraged his hardened resolve. As his verdict now popped up for her feared eye to see, Chloe felt most of the weight revealed in the reading was probably due to her heavy heart.
'58 kilos,' the scale declared.
The verdict was final. No correspondence could be entered into. And after all her hard work, pounds were not transferable to someone who really needed them, like Nicole Ritchie.
Roughly tying her blonde hair into a ponytail, Chloe shook her head and glared at herself in the mirror with newfound drive, in spite of her bloated stomach from the doughnut she'd earlier attacked.
'No,' she said out loud. 'I'll have a gorgeous body by my next holiday!'
She forced herself to close her eyes and imagine a horrific preview of coming attractions in a few months if she did not stick to this resolve. Set against the heady backdrop of white beaches, dusty purple sunsets, turquoise water and fennel-legged girls, she would be standing in a pink bikini, love handles bulging out from their hiding places and oozing like melted cheese. The gorgeous men on the beach would turn to their starving girlfriends who, although older than Chloe, thought cellulite was the name of a tiny new phone on the market. Then they would say, 'Yes, she's kind of pretty and blonde, but she's the fat blonde. So she doesn't count.'
In the middle of her fantastical story that made her insides shut closed like a Venus flytrap, Reason came a-knocking. Gosh, Chloe, it's just a few kilos! Women lose them all the time! Why the theatrics?
What about women who lost their baby weight in a nanosecond, like Gwyneth Paltrow, for instance? And they had a baby that had come out of them! Okay, fine, so those women stocked three personal trainers and nutritionists at hand, along with babysitters to keep Apple and the other one busy for mommy to train for five hours a day, but still, there were other, more normal women who managed to shake off the weight like they'd lost a sandal.
The truth was, Chloe hadn't always worried about her body and she met cruel evidence of that hidden under a packet of wax strips in her chest of drawers: the picture from last year. In it, Chloe was standing in a gold bikini posing for someone (probably Brian) in front of a green Volkswagen Beetle, smiling so widely you'd swear she had no eyes, but you'd hardly notice because her long legs blossomed from her bikini bottoms and she had such a taut stomach you could balance a house of cards on it while doing a handstand.
At the sight of the picture, Chloe sighed before stuffing it back into the drawer. But the thoughts of last year flash-flooded into her mind regardless. The dripping sunshine on her body, her unbridled self-confidence as she lounged on the beach with her sister and their boyfriends. The beautiful evenings, with Chloe in a cobra-snug dress that revealed her statuesque legs as they all sat drinking wine and watching the stars froth…
Gosh, I was a different person back then, Chloe told Reason with melancholy. Okay, so now she wasn't in the leagues of Kirstie Alley just yet, but she felt that her body could've been airbrushed, you know? Zap away the cellulite, get a toner pair of thighs so they wouldn't wobble and look chunky. And while you're at it, leaner hips would've been nice if you're not sold out.
The upcoming holiday was not the only reason why Chloe wanted a magazine-ready body, if she were completely honest with herself (usually after three slices of chocolate cheesecake). Brian's brother's wedding was coming up in a few weeks and she wished, wished, she had been more disciplined over the last year. Panic throttled her neck at the sudden thought: I'm going to be the fat girl at the wedding! (See ya, Reason. Nice knowing you.) There was no doubt about it! Her, Chloe Mackenzie, head cheerleader. Had you ever imagined it?! Back in high school, there had been more chance that she'd become a dumb-bell murderer than the fat girl. But sadly Chloe now realized: if, at the tender age of eighteen she had seen what her life had ended up as now at the age of thirty, she would have booked the personal trainer and liposuction ahead of time.
God, I'm so hungry. The thought stabbed Chloe's dark
nostalgia with a pitchfork. In true fashion, whenever one thinks
of diets and losing weight, one's stomach starts to rumble. It's
a similar woe to deciding your ill-mannered,
eats-with-his-mouth-open boyfriend is due a forceful kick out of
your life, only to have him leg it to your apartment with a
newfound politeness that makes you take him back.
Chloe headed to the kitchen and found Brian already there, sipping his coffee.
'Morning. Aren't you going to eat anything for breakfast?' she asked him.
She always envied people who could wolf down coffee and claim that it was a meal. It was so suave, so 2050 of them. But Chloe knew if she attempted to pull it off, she'd collapse within half an hour in her trendy BoKlok house of the future.
She was about to query why Brian was looking so strange all of a sudden, his eyebrows quirked to attention, when she caught a whiff of it. There was no denying what that scent was. The pop of the toaster confirmed her lurid assumptions.
George Clooney!' she gasped.
Brian was quick to retrieve the waffles and hurry them on a plate in similar vein to a frantic French chef cooking against the clock - the only difference was he was up against his carb-addicted girlfriend.
'I know, I know, George is here,' Brian soothed, knowing that Chloe assigned sexy male celebrities to her favorite guilty pleasures.
George Clooney was a honey waffle (not just appealing but sweet); Robert Pattinson, a vanilla cupcake (thanks to his pale complexion); Richard Gere, a frosted doughnut (the grey hair); Tom Cruise, a box of Tumbles (self-explanatory, really); and so on.
'Why is he here?' Chloe demanded, feeling like a dietzilla.
But she couldn't help it. After the head-butting incident with the scale and finding that nausea-inducing picture, she had lost her patience.
'He's here because he… um… loves you?' It was a long shot, but Brian hoped it would make her smile.
It didn't. Still, Chloe felt guilty as she saw his gentle eyes.
Lord knows he had been trying to help her out with her latest diet craze. Some mornings he woke her up at five as she requested so that she could jog around a few blocks. Not that she clambered out of bed, but still, he had done what she'd asked for. He made her watercress soup for a whole two days until she could barely stomach another mouthful, all the while cursing Liz Hurley who boasted about the dietary benefits. And Chloe was usually pissed off, too.
Wrapping the waffles and shoving them into his briefcase, Brian put an arm around his girlfriend.
Please don't be hard on yourself, Chloe,' he said. 'Have a waffle.'
Chloe glared at him as though he had spoken alien. 'What?'
It's just 509 calories.
'It's just…' he rustled through the cabinet for the calorie calculator. '509 calories, not so bad.'
She was tired of hearing this.
Come on, why are you doing this to yourself?
'Come on, Chlo, why are you doing this to yourself?'
You know, there are people starving in Ethiopia.
'You know, there are people starving in Ethiopia.'
She sighed. She wasn't one of them.
Brian geared into Male Logic Mode. 'Why don't you have a waffle and then eat a salad for
lunch?' he suggested.
Okay now he's making some sense, Chloe thought as her mouth watered. 'I suppose…'
Brian kissed her on the forehead. 'Great, I've left you one in the fridge. I'm off to class now.'
The waffle was delicious. Chloe practically swallowed it whole the way a snake devours a rat (no time for consumption foreplay), but then the guilt settled in and she realized she had to do something to banish all those hideous calories that would be swimming around her body, trying to latch onto her hips like they were lurching for the nearest shore.
So when Chloe's best friend Emma showed up for lunch, armed with salad and French bread, she was surprised to find that Chloe had gone for a run.
Emma chuckled. 'I'm impressed. You never were one for exercise, unless it involved…' She stopped to sift her brain. 'Actually, no, even when it involved "Trample Other Customers" sales, you still wouldn't break a sweat.'
'Be nice, I can't breathe.'
Emma laughed. 'So why the mad exercise? The only reason I exercise is when I've got a new man, but you're with Brian so… Oh my God! You're having an affair!'
Chloe's eyebrows clenched across her forehead at Emma's salacious mind.
'What? No! I'm not having an affair,' Chloe reprimanded her, busying herself with trying to breathe.
She couldn't help but notice Emma's eyebrow flick at her statement, though. Was Chloe wrong or did that look seem to say, "You're so boring?" No, she was probably hallucinating from the jog that nearly killed her.
'So then, what is the cause of all this torture?' Emma asked.
Chloe unwrapped the salad, before dishing it onto plates for them. 'I weighed myself today and I'm fifty eight kilos.'
'So what?' Emma cried. 'You look fabulous!'
Chloe threw a piece of butter lettuce at her friend. 'Don't lie to me, Emma. You've known me for thirteen years, but I want you to be honest. You can say it, I'm looking fat.'
'What?' Emma shouted, throwing the piece back at her.
Chloe was so hungry from her jog, she popped it into her mouth, trying to convince herself it was Jon Bon Jovi. (A muffin. The hair?)
'Even Brian must've been repulsed the other day,' Chloe continued.
'What happened?' Emma asked, a flash of concern in her eyes.
To Chloe's shock, she found tears burning the inside of her nose but she prevented them from spilling into her eyes. She and Brian had been sitting on the couch watching Entourage and Chloe was nursing a bloated stomach from having eaten fried chips so she felt really uncomfortable, like those old men who have to undo their pants after lunch. Yeah, really sexy. When Brian had pulled her closer to him, Chloe had flinched, turning into a piece of steel and wishing she didn't look three months pregnant. The incident made her feel mournful of the Old Chloe, the one who posed in front of Volkswagen Beetles on Route 62, against the backdrop of luscious vineyards in the Western Cape, looking like she could grace a quirky fashion shoot for Marie Claire.
'What did he say?' Emma asked gently. 'Did he say you're fat?'
At her horrified look, Chloe was quick to respond. 'No, he never said anything like that!' she said. 'It's just how I'm feeling around him: fat and pathetic.'
'Chloe, you look gorgeous as ever! Don't be silly.'
Chloe forced herself to smile, but it was like trying to peel a naartjie with her toenails.
'You look great,' Emma insisted. 'I don't know why you'd think otherwise. Now, eat some French bread, because it's yummy.'
Chloe mumbled and shook her head.
Emma gave her a reprimanding look. 'Chloe, you've worked out already today. You need food.'
And so, Chloe's Styrofoam arm was twisted. Not only did she reach for a hunk of bread but she lathered it within an inch of its life with butter, wishing she had more resolve.
'But forget about me and tell me how your date went the other night,' she demanded through frantic bites.
As someone who had been seriously relationshipping for two years, it was always refreshing for Chloe to hear the latest on what was transpiring in the dating world. Partly because she got tired of using soap operas as the only dating insight, but also because it was the only way to keep up to date with the single life that often felt like it required a telescope to be viewed.
'It was okay,' Emma said, with a shrug. 'He was tall, sexy, a mama's boy. Those are the best. But then he suggested we have coffee and a movie, simultaneously, which was a bit of a bummer.'
'Because of what it means,' Emma said.
Feeling uninformed, Chloe frowned again. 'Er, what does it mean?'
It seemed in the singles' dating world, everything meant something. She had to admit that sometimes being the only taken woman in her group of closest friends was like trying to fit into size six Guess jeans. Chloe would battle to stuff her muffin-top hips into the waistband, in the same way she would try show her friends that she was still svelte enough to fit in with their conversations; that she had not lost her allure just because a man saw her tweezing out grey hairs from her temples. In the same way one is advised to keep their arms down when running from a wasp so it doesn't catch your scent, with single friends Chloe often found herself huddled into herself, praying they would not catch a whiff that she was so not like them anymore.
Sizing a man up in five minutes, dating hidden variables, the nine levels of seduction mastery. It all sounded like something out of an erotic business textbook. Often Chloe found herself nodding through the conversations, hoping that she would not be outcast as the taken girl who could not understand the formula for playing hard to get or finding the best way around "x", "x" being the spot guaranteed to take a man to a new level of seduction.
And no, it wasn't the obvious body part anymore.
Nope, not the one higher up, either.
Emma now confidently shrugged. 'A man who wants to watch a movie while having coffee is either crap at making conversation or he just doesn't want to talk on a first date.'
'Ah, so it's like he doesn't want to make the effort,' Chloe observed.
Chloe beamed, glad to have caught on. 'So he's just not that into you?'
As she expressed it and Emma's face became a frown, Chloe knew she had taken it one leap too far.
'Hold your pants up,' Emma said, with a laugh. 'It doesn't mean he's not that into you. Just that he isn't clued up on social interaction. Or he's hiding something sinister, hoping that if he doesn't make too much conversation he won't accidentally let slip that he speaks to his mother about his sex life or collects stuffed animals.'
Chloe's smile hovered. 'Well, with your track record that kind of man would fall into your life.'
Emma laughed. 'Oh, Chlo, you're so lucky you're out of the dating scene and that you have Brian and that you're happy…'
A shaft of darkness flittered across Chloe's face and she sighed. I wonder if he's happy, though. Stuck with all fifty eight kilos of me, she thought.
And soon you're going to be going to his brother's wedding, right?' Emma asked, shaking her head in amazement when Chloe confirmed it. 'Can't believe Brody the eternal bachelor is tying the knot.'
Chloe laughed. 'Same here. Everyone thought he'd sooner open his own Playboy mansion.'
'Who was lucky enough to lasso him?'
'Some law student who studied in the U.S.,' Chloe said.
'Ahhh.' Emma's voice became a sarcastic drawl. 'Playboy investment banker meets his social match. Someone pretty enough to make him look good, but also socially acceptable so that she doesn't climb too high up the ladder, relegating him to her shadow.'
Chloe smirked. 'Sad, but true.'
'So you've met Brody, right?'
Chloe nodded, putting the kettle on and feeling her hands shake a bit. 'Yes, he came to visit a few months ago, but just for a day. He was too busy to stay longer because he had to go view a two thousand square meter house for his lady.'
'Two thousand… And you didn't bother to introduce me?' Emma chided.
'Is that the life you would have wanted, Em?'
'Um, yeah? With that kind of money, I wouldn't mind turning in my scrubs and becoming a lawyer,' Emma shrieked.
Emma worked as a vet because, as clichéd as it sounds, she wanted to help animals and make a difference. She would have found a way to save the dolphins, but living in the city there weren't many of those around. So she happily settled for saving pets and zinged with passion for what she called her soul purpose, rather than her job.
Yes, it made everyone sick upon hearing it.
'Emma, are you serious?' Chloe asked, above the sound of the roaring kettle. 'Would you really throw everything away just for a suburban lifestyle with a handsome man and a two thousand square…'
At Emma's challenging expression, Chloe stopped herself. 'I'm not helping to win my argument, am I?'
Emma laughed. 'No, you're not. Don't get me wrong, I love what I do, it's just… sometimes I think it would be nice to have a fabulous lifestyle.'
'Well, the Mulhollands certainly think so,' Chloe said.
Emma, intrigued by what could have been a soap opera family, rested her heart-shaped face on her hands and stared up at her friend with glossy eyes the color of burning wood. 'So tell me, what are Mom and Dad like?'
Chloe poured the tea and glanced at Emma nervously. 'I don't know. I'll be introduced to them for the first time at the wedding.'
Aha, so that explained the latest diet obsession, Emma thought.
'Well, they'll just adore you!' she said supportively.
Chloe hoped they would, but she was freaked out about it. Fear clutched her chest and weirdly enough made her crave an Orlando Bloom in Lord of the Rings (a yoghurt biscuit. He was so pale and had such blond hair in that movie, Chloe often wondered how lactose intolerant people watched it without feeling gross discomfort).
She knew the biscuits were in the bottom cabinet - that's where Brian always kept his secret stash, hidden in empty soup or whole grain cereal boxes. Now suddenly, she couldn't wait for Emma to leave for temptation to be unleashed.
'So what have you got planned for the day?' she asked, trying to stop her mouth from watering.
'I have to pop into work,' Emma said. 'My colleague has a family problem to attend to so I said I'd take his shift.' She glanced at her watch and let out a mournful sigh. 'Seems I'd better be off.' She finished the last of her tea. 'So, I was thinking, Saturday night? How about we hit the party scene?'
Chloe smiled but felt her chest seize. 'I don't know. I think I have something on with Brian.' Before she could edit the words, they were tumbling out of her mouth.
'Okay, well let me know, maybe you can get out of it,' Emma said with a lashing of naughtiness in her eyes. 'It's been ages since we went out.'
'I'll sure try,' Chloe mumbled, walking her friend to the door, knowing there was no way she would be going out with the wasps on Saturday night.
Thankful to be alone, she raced to the kitchen cabinet and tore off the biscuit wrapper as though it were the shirt of a delicious secret lover.