When I wake up the next morning, I’ve got an email from Brody: “So sorry about last night. Do you want to have lunch?”
I can’t imagine why he’s apologizing. Well, maybe because I had to clean up vomit. But he did nothing wrong. Yes, the night was horrible, but it wasn’t his fault. It was Sean’s fault. Well, Sean and that stupid couch.
I agree to lunch with Brody, but I have a pre-lunch before I head over. I figure if I eat something first, I can eat like a bird around him. Is it a bad thing that I still don’t feel comfortable eating like I want to around my boyfriend? Will I ever feel comfortable doing that? Maybe someday.
I buy pizza from the Mike’s Pizza three blocks away from my apartment. I get three slices, double cheese, no toppings—luckily, it’s early so there aren’t any other customers on line to give me dirty looks. I bring it back upstairs because Abby seems to be gone, but naturally, she walks in just as I’m digging into my first slice.
“Emily,” she says in this incredibly disappointed voice. “You were doing so well with your diet.”
I was? No, I wasn’t. That’s not even remotely true. “I’m hungry,” I say lamely.
“If you throw that away,” Abby says, “I’ll make you a delicious carrot soup.”
Oh my God, not carrots. Anything but carrots. Sorry, Abby. You’ll have to pry this pizza out of my cold, dead hands.
“No, thanks,” I say.
Abby sighs and sits next to me at the dining table. “By the way, Emily,” she says. “I’ve been meaning to talk to you. About Brody.”
I raise my eyebrows. “Yes?”
“Listen,” she says in this slow, careful voice. “I’m sure Brody is a very nice, special man. But… well, do you really think it’s ethical to… well, you know?”
I have a bad feeling about this conversation. There isn’t enough pizza in the world to make me feel better about this conversation. I wipe a glob of cheese from the side of my mouth. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“Emily,” she says. “It’s very kind of you to take him out and be a friend to him. But, well, there are laws about what you can do with an individual who’s… you know, impaired. It’s just not right.”
Oh God. I was right. This is the worst conversation ever.
“He’s not…” How do I put this? Maybe it’s best to be blunt. “He’s not retarded, Abby.”
She just shakes her head at me.
“He’s not!” I insist. “He works and… and he lives alone and…”
“I’m sure he does,” Abby says, her voice dripping with condescension. “And that’s wonderful for him.”
I hate her. “He’s a quadriplegic,” I say. “His disability is entirely physical.”
“Look, Emily,” Abby says. “I’m not judging you. I think it’s fine for you to be friends with him. Just… be careful.”
With those words, Abby marches off and a minute later, I hear the shower running. I keep going over in my head what I wish I’d said to her, and I end up devouring the pizza in like sixty seconds. I’m so freaking pissed off.
I’m still stewing on the bus ride over to Brody’s apartment, although I make an effort to calm myself down. I don’t want to be angry when I see him. He’s had a bad enough weekend himself.
Except as I’m approaching Brody’s building, I see none other than Sean exiting. Sean, with his red hair and his stupid, dopey grin. I’d bet anything that when I’m not around, he ribs Brody about having a fat girlfriend. I can honestly say I hate the guy. I despise him for what he did to Brody, even if Brody himself was able to forgive and forget.
When Sean sees me, he gives me a big friendly wave. Like we’re great buddies. My blood boils. How could he smile at me after the shit he pulled last night? Isn’t he humiliated?
“What’s wrong, Emily?” he asks me with a wink. “Hung over?”
I glare at him. “Me? Why would I be hung over?”
Keep your mouth shut, Emily. No good can come out of telling off your boyfriend’s brother.
“True.” Sean winks at me. “I can tell you’re a lady who can handle your alcohol.”
I know that I’m usually this humble little mouse, but for the first time in my life, my rage gets the better of me. Sean needs to know how wrong what he did was. He literally ruined his brother’s life and he acts like it’s no big deal. Like it’s all one big joke.
“Listen to me,” I say. “What you did to Brody last night was horrible. I mean, really, really despicable. You’re his brother and he needed your help, and you completely let him down!”
The smile fades from Sean’s face. “I don’t think this is any of your business, Emily.”
“Maybe not,” I admit. “But I love Brody and it’s hard to watch you hurt him this way. You’d think after your drinking was responsible for the accident that landed him in the wheelchair to begin with, you could learn to change. For his sake as much as for your own. It seems like the least you could do after wrecking his life.”
There. I said it. I hope Brody appreciates my standing up for him.
And I hope this wasn’t a horrible mistake.
Sean stares at me, his pale skin turning bright red the same way Brody’s does. His blue eyes narrow at me. “What the fuck did you just say to me?”
“It’s true!” I shoot back. I refuse to back down. “Brody acts upbeat about it, like it’s no big deal, but it is a big deal! How could you do that to someone and then just keep on drinking?”
Sean shakes his head and snorts. “Wow,” he says. At first, I’m sure he’s going to shoot some insulting comment at me about how fat I am, but instead he says, “I can’t believe Brody is such a fucking liar.”
“Brody is not a liar,” I say.
“Listen, sweetheart,” Sean says. “I didn’t cause Brody’s accident. He did. He was driving. He was drunk off his ass as usual and slammed his car into a tree.”
Now it’s my turn to stare. I thought Sean was awful before, but now he’s proving himself to be a liar too. “I don’t believe you,” I say. “Brody would never do that. He’d never drive drunk.”
Sean laughs. “He most certainly would. And did. Multiple times. You didn’t know the guy back then, but I don’t think he was sober once through all of high school. All he did was drink, party, hook up with girls. He’s lucky he didn’t flunk out.”
That doesn’t sound like Brody. But it meshes very well with the guy Camille described going to school with. The guy who got suspended for fighting in the hallway. Who was kissing a girl he couldn’t even remember in his yearbook photo.
Still, I have good reasons to believe he’s lying. “That makes no sense,” I say. “Brody never even drinks at all.”
“Right,” Sean says with an irritatingly smug look on his face. “He never drinks. He won’t touch it. Haven’t you ever thought that was weird? It’s because he doesn’t trust himself.”
For a moment, I’m at a loss for words. He’s right—I always did think it was a little odd how he’d never even have a small glass of wine when we went out. I guess I had assumed it had something to do with Sean, but maybe I was wrong…
No, this is crazy. I’m not going to believe Sean over my boyfriend.
Sean sticks his face in mine. “You don’t believe me, do you?”
I shake my head.
He folds his arms across his chest. “Well, fine. Let’s go upstairs together and ask him what really happened.”
And that’s when I actually start to believe it. Because Sean just seems so sure, and this is definitely not just a game of chicken. We get into the elevator together and I realize that he has every intention of going through with this.
Brody answers the door right away. His face lights up when he sees me, but he frowns when Sean appears from behind me. “What are you doing here, Sean?” he asks.
“Thanks for helping me get dressed this morning, Sean,” Sean says mockingly as he pushes past me into this apartment. “I’m going to repay you by telling lies about you to my girlfriend.”
Brody blanches. “What are you talking about?”
I shut the door behind me. Everyone is sort of quiet, and I feel like they’re both waiting for me to say something. “Brody,” I say. “Who was driving the car on the night that… that you got hurt?”
Brody glances at Sean, then he lowers his eyes. “I was.”
Sean claps his hands together. “Fantastic,” he says. “I am just so glad we got that cleared up. I’ll just let myself out, Brody, so you can explain to Emily why you lied to her. Later, Bro.”
Sean slams the door rather roughly when he leaves the apartment, loud enough that both of us jump. Brody’s blue eyes are still downcast. He looks miserable. It’s almost enough to make me want to let him off the hook. Almost.
“I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth,” Brody says quietly. “I’m really sorry.”
“Because you got caught,” I can’t help but say.
He looks wounded. “No. Not because of that.” He sighs, and nods his head in the direction of the living room. “Could you sit down? Please sit down so we can talk.”
I oblige him, only because my ankles are killing me. I sit down on his sofa, still trying to grasp what happened. “Why did you lie to me?”
“You know what sucks?” he says, lifting his eyes to look at me. “I did this really stupid, awful thing to myself… I fucking crippled myself for the rest of my life. Because I was 19 years old and I was an idiot, and I had a drinking problem. And now because of this dumb thing I did when I was a kid, I’m in a wheelchair and I need help just to get in and out of bed and to get dressed and to… to make love to my girlfriend…” He blushes when he says that. “And not just that, but for the rest of my life, I have to tell everyone that the reason I’m in this position is because of my own stupidity. Because I drove drunk and I steered right into a tree.”
I raise my eyebrows at him. “So you lie about it?”
His eyes swell with tears. “I’m sorry, Emily. I’m crazy about you and I was afraid you’d lose respect for me if you knew. I was a really different person back then.”
I don’t know what to think. On one hand, he lied to me about something pretty important. And like they say, once a liar, always a liar. How can I trust anything he says from now on? Camille told me herself that he couldn’t be trusted—it looks like maybe she was right, after all.
“I’ve gotten help,” Brody says to me in this soft, pleading voice. “I saw a therapist after my accident to talk about my drug and alcohol problems. I’m past it, I swear to you. I don’t drink at all now, as you’ve probably noticed. I know I can’t be responsible with it, so I just avoid alcohol entirely. It’s probably, you know, a genetic thing. Sean’s the same way, and our dad has had issues in the past too. Not that I’m making excuses.”
“I don’t know,” I murmur. I feel my resolve weakening slightly. Brody really does seem like he’s made penance for what he’s done. And I can understand why he’d be embarrassed to tell people about it.
“I thought you’d understand, Emily,” he adds. “I mean, with the issues that you have…”
My head snaps up. “The issues I have? What issues? You think I have a drinking problem?”
“No, of course not,” he says quickly. “I meant your issues with, you know…”
My heart is pounding in my chest. In my heart, I know what he’s going to say, but there’s a small part of me that hopes he’ll say something else. Like maybe he thinks I have a gambling addiction. Or that I watch too much TV. “With what?”
Brody looks away, his normally pale face bright red. “Nothing. Never mind.”
“No,” I press him. “Say it.”
He lets out a long sigh. “With food, okay?” He studies my face. “You think I don’t realize you’ve been cleaning out my fridge every time you come here?”
Even though he’s not capable of doing it, I feel like he just slapped me in the face. I can’t believe he just said that to me. My fingers actually start to shake with anger. All this time, Brody acted like he was fine with my weight issues—like he didn’t even care. But now I know the opposite is true. Brody has a big problem with my weight, and he’s been biting his tongue to keep from saying anything.
“Don’t worry,” I say to him, as I start the laborious process of rising from the couch. Christ, it’s gotten harder to do that lately. The last thing I need right now is a repeat of what happened last night. It would certainly prove Brody’s point. “I won’t touch your fridge ever again. I promise.”
Brody’s eyes widen. “Hey, I didn’t mean it that way. Look, I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have said anything.”
“No,” I say, finally getting to my feet. Thank God. “It’s better you did. It’s better I know how you really feel.”
“Emily, I love you.” His eyes actually start to look a little bit moist. Good trick. “I just worry about you. It’s not healthy to—”
“To be so fat?” I blurt out.
He sucks in a breath. “No! Well… yes. But—”
“Well, lucky you,” I say. “Because it’s not something you have to worry about anymore.”
I brush past him, but Brody follows me. I recognize that if he gets to the door before I do, he could block my only exit. And he’s fast in that damn powerchair.
“Emily,” I hear him pleading. “I swear I didn’t mean it that way. Come on, please don’t go. This is crazy. Please, Emily. I love you.”
And you know what? Even though he’s swearing up and down that he loves me, he never tells me that he thinks I’m attractive. Because the truth is that he doesn’t. He’s not blind—he knows I’m a morbidly obese girl who broke a guy’s couch yesterday just by sitting in it. Nobody could possibly really think I’m attractive. Brody’s just lonely and he figured he couldn’t get anyone else. He even admitted it.
But now he’s sick of his girlfriend being so goddamn fat. And he’s going to be like everyone else—nagging me about every crumb that I eat. And let me tell you, that’s the last thing I need in my life right now. Or ever. I’m better off getting out now. So is he.
And just to prove my point, when I leave Brody’s apartment, he doesn’t follow me.
Camille was right—he did end up breaking my heart.
When I leave Brody’s apartment, I go shopping. I buy a chocolate cake, a sack of salted caramels, a heart-shaped box of filled chocolates, a box of donuts, and just so I don’t get sugar overload—a sack of fried chicken. The snot-faced kid operating the cash register at the supermarket gives me a look when I’m paying, but I don’t give a shit.
Abby isn’t home when I get back to the apartment, which means I can indulge at our dining table. I empty the contents of my brown paper sack and I start to eat. I admit, I don’t take a lot of time to savor the food, but that’s not my style.
About halfway through the chocolate cake, I start to feel a lot better about the whole thing. That’s what I love about food—it never has a bad day or is judgmental—it’s always there, and it’s always good.
How the hell could Brody compare his drug and alcohol issues to my overeating a little? That’s total bullshit. Eating a chocolate cake does not make you steer your car into a tree. This cake isn’t going to potentially kill me.
I finish about three-quarters of the food, and stash the rest in my room. The last thing I want right now is a lecture from Abby—if she started in on me, I would almost definitely say something I’d regret.
My phone chirps with a text message. I pull it out of my purse and look at the screen. It’s Brody, of course.
So sory. U r perfect. Luv u. come bcak?
I shake my head. It was a mistake to get involved with Brody. Now that my belly is full, I feel like I can think straight. He’s a liar and a judgmental asshole. I can’t go back there after the things he said to me today.
I just can’t.