Monday, May 31, 2021

New Story: Such a Pretty Face

 Hi all!


It’s Annabelle, back with a new book!  This is actually something I wrote and posted here many years ago, but I have significantly revised it and finished it and turned it into a book that I’m very proud of. It’s coming out in the middle of July so I’m going to spend the next month posting some of my favorite devviest chapters from it (not even necessarily including everything but staying chronological). I hope you enjoy it!  As usual, comments are appreciated, especially since a suggestion from one of the readers is behind the ending of this one.  I'll post on Tuesday from now on.


Such a Pretty Face

There are very few things in life I hate more than going to see a doctor.

Bee stings. That’s one. Cockroaches. That’s another. Anchovies—that might be a tie.

I really don’t want to be here right now.


But our company requires us to have a physical exam every five years. I don’t know why. Something to do with our insurance. I’d go without health insurance, but just my luck, I’d do that and get hit by a bus the next day. So that’s why I’m sitting here on an examining table, naked underneath an uncomfortable paper gown that barely covers me. Every time I shift on the table, a crinkling sound echoes through the room.

I picked Dr. Richmond at random from a list of practitioners covered by my health insurance plan. Also, his name is Leslie, and I mistakenly believed he was a woman. And now that I know the truth, it’s too late. Not that a female doctor would be that much better, but it would be a little better.

Dr. Richmond bursts into the examining room without even knocking, and I instinctively hug the gown to my chest. He’s older, maybe in his fifties, and stick-thin with buzz-cut graying hair. My first instinct is that I don’t like him. But I try to push that away. Appearances can be deceiving.

He’s got a clipboard in his hand and he barely looks up at me as he reads off, “Emily?”

“That’s me,” I say.

Dr. Richmond lowers the clipboard to look at me, and I can see the disgust dawning on his face. “So… you’re here for a physical?”

I nod.

He glances down at the clipboard again, then back up at me. “Do you have any medical conditions?”

“No.”

He lifts an eyebrow. “No?”

I shake my head.

He sighs. “Any medications?”

“No.”

“So what do you use for birth control?” There’s a smirk on his lips as he asks the question.

“I’m not…” I look down at my hands, wishing I were eating anchovies in a tub of cockroaches while being stung by bees. “Active. At the moment.”

He makes a noise I can’t identify, then looks back down at the chart in his hands. “Your blood pressure is high.”

Of course my blood pressure is high. Who wouldn’t have high blood pressure in this situation? “Well, I’m nervous.”

“It’s pretty high,” he says. “You’re only twenty-seven. I hate to put you on blood pressure pills at your age.”

Then don’t. “Oh.”

“I’m sure you know,” Dr. Richmond says, “that if you lost some weight, your blood pressure would come down.”

And there it is. Every. Goddamn. Time. “Right…”

“You know, Emily,” he continues, “at your weight and height, we would consider you morbidly obese.”

I freeze. “I… I am?”

“You’re quite a bit over the cutoff,” he tells me. “It’s not even close.”

Well, that’s news to me. Christ. Morbidly obese. Morbidly obese. I suppose I should have been able to guess, but I hadn’t. As awful as I felt a minute ago, I feel so much worse now. I squirm in my paper gown, feeling… well, disgusting. Morbidly disgusting.

“Have you tried to lose weight?” he asks me.

I almost laugh out loud. As if there hasn’t been one moment in my entire life when I wasn’t trying to lose weight. I am literally always on a diet. Even when I was a fetus, I was pinching off my umbilical cord to limit my caloric intake. I am always watching what I’m eating. And if I’m not watching, everyone else around me is watching. I have never consumed a mouthful of ice cream without experiencing heart-wrenching guilt afterward. I’ve ruined my diet!

“Yes,” is all I say.

“Well, you’re not doing a very good job,” he says.

And then he launches into The Speech.

If you’re a fat girl like me, you could recite The Speech in your sleep. Don’t eat so much junk food and sweets! Count your calories—remember, you want to take in fewer calories than you burn! Exercise! Drink a lot of water!

I smile blandly through the entire thing. And I nod a lot. But all I want is to get the paper saying I pass the physical and get out of here. And then I never have to come back. At least for another five years.

_____

 

I spend forever in the doctor’s office. He listens to my heart and my lungs, and he checks my blood pressure again. It’s still too high. But we agree I will work on losing weight (ha!) and recheck it next time I come in. Which will be never.

When I walk outside, I hear my phone ringing inside my purse. I pull it out—it’s Camille, my older sister. I know why she’s calling, and I consider not answering. But I know Camille. If I don’t answer, she will call again and again and again. And again. So I click the green button as I walk to the bus stop.

“Hey,” I say.

“Emily!” Camille always sounds like she’s shouting on the other line. She’s slightly quieter in real life, but not much. “I have great news.”

I groan, already knowing what the great news is. “Camille…”

“Don’t say no yet. He’s really nice.”

My sister is on an eternal mission to set me up on a date, which has gotten worse since her own wedding last year. She means well. But it’s been one disaster after another. No, not just a disaster. Disaster is an understatement. Every single setup has been an emotionally scarring event that has haunted me for months after.

“His name is Jack,” she says. “Rob works with him. He’s sweet. Slightly balding, but very cute.”

I give a non-committal, “Mmm.”

“Tomorrow night, okay?”

“I’m busy.”

“Doing what?”

I flinch at the astonished tone in my sister’s voice. As if she cannot envision anything I could possibly be doing on a weeknight. “You know I take classes at night on Tuesday and Thursday.”

“Oh, right.” Camille clicks her tongue. “The night after then? I’ll ask if he’s free.”

I shift my phone to my other ear. The doctor’s office isn’t very close to any bus stations, and I’m working up a sweat as I walk. If I go any farther than two blocks, my thighs rub against each other uncomfortably. “I don’t want to do this.”

“I promise, he’s nice.”

“Yeah, right.”

“Emily.” Camille lets out a huff. “Don’t be so difficult. I’m trying to help you. I don’t want you to be alone for the rest of your life.”

I stop short, right in the middle of the street. I know that’s what Camille is thinking, but she doesn’t usually say it so bluntly. She usually puts it a bit more delicately: I just want you to be happy, Emily. But now she is saying what she really thinks:

If I don’t get you a man, you’re going to be alone forever.

The thing is, I’m not afraid of being alone. Yes, I’m single. But I enjoy my life. I’m not one of those women who feels like I can’t be complete without a man.

But at the same time, the thought of being alone forever gives me a tiny pit of dread in my stomach.

“Fine,” I say through my teeth. “I… I’ll go have coffee with Jack the day after tomorrow. Not dinner. Just coffee.”

“That’s wonderful! He’s going to love you!”

I chew on my lip. “You showed him my photo?”

“Yes! And he thought you were gorgeous!”

“Mmm,” I grunt. Seems unlikely.

“Stop it, Em! You have such a pretty face.”

I would bet my right hand that this date will be an epic disaster. But I suppose there’s a little tiny part of me that’s hoping maybe it won’t be. Maybe this guy Jack and I will hit it off for a change. Maybe he’ll be my great romance.

As I stand there waiting for the bus, I allow myself to daydream just a little bit.

_____

 

I’ve been going to night classes for the last several years to get my Master’s degree in computer science. It’s difficult to be taking classes and also working full time, but thankfully (kind of), my social life hasn’t gotten in the way. I am just two courses away from finishing my degree. And as soon as I get it, I’m looking for a new job.

I look forward to my evening courses. My evenings are pretty empty, and going to the local college gives me something to do. And I love to learn—I always have. When I finish my Master’s, I’m hoping to go for a doctorate or something ambitious like that.

I never imagined myself having a doctorate in computer science when I was younger. It was never my ambition. I always dreamed of a different sort of career for myself. But that didn’t work out like I thought it would.

Tonight is my first session of a course called Software Engineering for Web Applications. It’s curiously crowded. I figured there’d be about five people in the room like there were in the last course I took. Instead, the small classroom is nearly filled with students. Most of them are even older than me—trying to retrain or looking to get ahead in their jobs.

I wince when I see the seats in the room. The seats are the kind with little desks attached, and I’m pretty sure the desks don’t slide to the side. I hate those kinds of seats. If I’m lucky, the desk presses against my stomach and makes me feel like I’m going to throw up. If I’m unlucky, I don’t fit at all.

The question is, am I feeling lucky today?

I imagine trying to squeeze into one of the seats and not being able to fit. Everyone in the room will stare at me, either snickering under their breath or outright laughing. Or at the very least, feeling sorry for me.

There’s a part of me that is considering switching out of this course. I really, really don’t want to deal with these stupid seats twice a week. But this class sounded so interesting. Anyway, I don’t want to switch out of a class for no reason other than I’m too big to fit into the seats. Speaking of first-world problems.

I look around, hoping nobody is watching me, and I suck in my gut as I slip into a seat in the back of the room. And… drum roll, please… I fit! It’s a minor miracle. Granted, I don’t have even an inch of wiggle room, but at least I am physically in the chair. Thank God.

About eighty percent of the students in the room are male. There are a handful of women, mostly on the older side. There’s one woman sitting in the same row as me, all the way in the back, who is fairly young and attractive. She has black hair cut into a cute bob and a button nose. I don’t want to stereotype, but I rarely see many young, attractive women in evening computer science classes. This could be a first.

About two minutes before the class is scheduled to start, I’m fumbling to get a notebook out of my purse when I hear a noise coming from the front of the room. I am momentarily startled when I see a guy in a power wheelchair making his way across the room.

I’m not going to lie. Because of my weight, I get stared at sometimes. People gawk at me occasionally. Especially kids. But it would not be an exaggeration to say that every single person in the room is looking at this guy in the power wheelchair. The room goes completely silent for a good sixty seconds before they all get busy pretending like they weren’t staring.

I look too. I mean, I’m only human.

The occupant of the chair is a guy. Around my age—like mid to late twenties. His giant black wheelchair has what looks like a joystick attached, like from the good old days of Pac Man. Sneakers, blue jeans, long-sleeved checkered shirt. Short brown hair with more than a hint of red. He has a good-looking face. I wonder if people tell him that, the same way everyone is always tripping over themselves to tell me I have a pretty face, even though I have a totally ordinary, unremarkable, non-pretty face. Although this guy actually does have a pretty face.

The guy is making his way down the aisle but when he gets to the far end, next to the girl with the black bob, he’s facing the wrong way and he doesn’t have room to turn around. He sits there for a moment, waiting for the girl to notice, but she’s absorbed in her phone.

Finally, he clears his throat. “Hey,” he says. He smiles apologetically at her. “Do you think you could scoot over a bit? I need room to turn my chair.”

The girl raises her eyes. If it were me, I would have apologized and quickly moved—well, as quickly as possible, given I’m wedged in my chair. But she lets out a long tortured sigh and moves her chair about one foot to the right.

“Thanks,” he says, even though she barely moved.

It’s enough room for him to turn. Barely. He has to do what is the wheelchair equivalent of a five-point turn. But he doesn’t ask the girl to move again, and she doesn’t seem interested in being helpful.

_____

 

The lecture is good—really good. This is one of those classes that actually might have the potential to be useful for my job, although Dr. Nichols may have fooled me with his repeated use of the word “applications.”

But then when the lecture is over, things get real. And by that, I mean that I’ve got to figure out how to get out of this goddamn chair.

The chair didn’t break, at least. So that’s a plus. But it seems like during the last hour, my rolls of flesh have molded themselves to the wood of the chair, and now I am firmly wedged inside.

It’s not like this hasn’t happened before. I knew it was a possibility before the lecture started. I’m fairly sure I can extract myself, but then again, there’s always a chance I won’t be able to. And that will just be the absolute worst way to start a class.

While I’m contemplating the situation, I hear the guy in the wheelchair clear his throat again. He’s looking at the girl with the black bob. “Hey,” he says.

“Hey,” she says as she packs up her belongings.

“Listen.” He scratches at his ear, and that’s when I noticed his fingers are curled. “I… I can’t take notes, and I was wondering if there’s any chance that maybe I could photocopy yours after class?”

Black Bob stares down at his hands. He’s got them back on his lap, and I can see deep grooves between the tendons in his hands. It’s obvious why he can’t take notes.

“I’m sorry,” Black Bob says. “I’m kind of in a rush. I’m meeting some friends, so I just… I can’t get involved in this. Sorry.”

“No, it’s okay,” he says. “No problem. Thanks anyway.”

She slings her purse over her shoulder. “Good luck with that.”

As she’s walking away, I see the guy roll his eyes. And then, for a split second, his eyes meet mine. I don’t want him to think I was staring, so I almost look away, but then he smiles at me. He has a great smile. It’s this impish grin, like I caught him doing something he shouldn’t have been doing.

“It’s a mixed bag in night school,” I say.

“Yeah.” He glances across the rapidly emptying room. “I can see that.”

I squeeze my hands together. “I can help you if you want. Like, you can photocopy my notes if you want.”

His blue eyes light up. “Hey, thanks. That’s really nice of you to offer. I appreciate it.”

Well, it’s not like I have anywhere to be. “How do you want to do this? I can bring them to you next time or…?”

“Actually,” he says, “there’s a copy machine down the hall. They gave me the code so I could use it. Do you have a few minutes?”

“Sure,” I say. It’ll be my good deed for the day, considering I’m not taking part in the charity run. “No problem.”

Too late, I remember about being stuck in the desk. Oh God, now I have to get up while this guy is watching me. Not that he seems terribly judgmental, but still. It’s so much worse to do this with an audience.

I plant my two feet firmly on the ground. I grip the desk with one hand, and the seat with the other. I suck in my gut as much as I can, then do my damnedest to stand up. I can feel my face turning red with some combination of exertion and embarrassment. A bit of sweat breaks out on my brow. Who needs to go to the gym when you’ve got chairs to stand up from?

And then, with a loud pop, I am suddenly free. The chair has lifted from the ground during my efforts and it falls over to the side. It’s not the best possible outcome, but it’s not the worst either.

I hazard at a glance at the guy in the wheelchair. He just smiles at me again. And not a smile like it’s hilarious I was stuck in a chair or a pity smile. Just a nice, friendly smile.

Fortunately, his own chair is turned the right way this time, and he’s got a clear path out the door. I follow him, but he’s regretfully kind of fast in that chair. I have to sprint to keep up with him.

“I’m Brody, by the way,” he tells me.

“Oh,” I puff. I’m starting to sweat. Good thing I’m wearing black.

He gives me a crooked grin. “This is the part where you tell me your name.”

“Right.” My cheeks turn red, but I swear, it’s mostly because I’m so winded. “I’m Emily. Sorry, I just… would you mind… slowing down?”

“Oh!” He eases his hand off the joystick of his chair. “Geez, I’m sorry. I wasn’t even thinking about it. Are you okay?”

I nod. “Yeah, I’m fine. It’s just… It’s been a long day.”

He starts up again, slower this time. Now we’re going at a reasonable pace. “Is this your first class here, Emily?” he asks me.

“No,” I say. “I’ve taken one or two every semester. I took Database Management Systems last year.”

“How was it?”

“Not the best,” I admit. “Sort of dull.”

“What a shock.” The guy, Brody, laughs. And you know what? He has a very cute laugh. I can’t help but think that if he weren’t in that chair, Black Bob would have done whatever he asked of her and gone with him for drinks after.

Brody had acted like the copy machine was just down the hall, but it turns out he has absolutely no idea where it is. We end up wandering around the floor for what seems like at least fifteen minutes. I’m starting to sweat again, and my thighs keep rubbing against each other, and with each step, it gets more and more painful. I almost cry with relief when I finally see the copy machine.

I hold my notebook out to Brody, who looks at me like I’ve lost my mind. “Could you make the copies for me, please?” he asks me.

My cheeks burn. Obviously, a copy machine would be challenging for him. “Oh, sorry.”

“No worries.”

“Sure,” I say, trying to hide my embarrassment. I lift the top of the copy machine and put the first page of my notes face-down on the screen. I press “print” and it prompts me for a password. Before I can ask, Brody recites, “Four-two-six.”

I type it in and the machine whirs to life. “How’d you get the password?” I ask him.

“Oh, I know people.” He winks at me. “Now you won’t abuse it and make like a zillion copies, will you?”

“No,” I say. (Although between you and me, I had been thinking I might use it for occasional photocopying needs.)

“Because if you do, I may have to turn you in to the campus police,” Brody says, grinning at me. “Abuse of the copy machine is a pretty major offense around here.”

I know he’s kidding, but I swear, after he says that, I’m too scared to even consider using the copy machine for my own purposes.

There are three pages of notes, so I get them copied and try to hand the pages to Brody. He starts to take them from me with his wrists but thinks better of it. “Could you put them in my backpack? Please? It’s on the back of my wheelchair.”

There’s a small gray backpack hung off his wheelchair, which I unzip to slide the notes inside. I notice his neck has a long, well-healed scar that starts just below his hairline and disappears into his shirt.

“Thanks a lot,” Brody says to me. “I really appreciate it.”

“No problem,” I say. Even though my thighs are still burning.

We face each other for a minute, and I’m staring, but I can’t help it. Brody’s blue checkered shirt makes his eyes look dazzlingly blue. There’s a thick belt that goes across his belly, which I guess is to help hold him in the chair, although he doesn’t look like he’s in any danger of falling out.

“How are you getting home?” he asks me.

“Bus,” I say.

“Oh, me too,” he says. “Uptown or downtown?”

“Uptown.”

“Downtown,” Brody says regretfully.

I feel a twinge of regret, too. I don’t have many friends, and Brody seems like a nice guy. But it’s getting late, and I’m sure he wants to get home. Anyway, it’s better to keep things simple.

 To be continued...

18 comments:

  1. I remember the first iteration of this story! So excited to read the revised version come mid-July. Thanks for posting, Annabelle! Already looking forward to next week. :)
    -EJ

    ReplyDelete
  2. Wow. Love it..thank u.
    Can't wait to read it all.
    SA

    ReplyDelete
  3. Thank you! I've been missing you and your stories!
    The kindness that oozes out of every pore your male leads never fails to make my knees go weak and eagerly anticipate the next chapter! :)

    ReplyDelete
  4. Yeay! I'm so glad you're going back to this one. I really enjoyed the first draft, and I can't wait to see how it ends.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I hope I have fixed the issues, happy to give you a preview any time!

      Delete
  5. Oh I remember this story. So glad to see it revised. Can't wait for the book.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I remember this one too! Yay! I can’t wait to devour the book. Also...can we submit a formal request for the ending of The Bitch? 😏

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Oh my god!!! I LOVED how that story started!!! Yes please, mamma Annabelle!

      Delete
    2. I second that request! Or I guess it’s a third vote.

      Delete
    3. It's probably not going to happen, unfortunately. I've struggled a lot with the likability of my protagonists, and I suspect writing a book about a bitch would be two steps backwards...

      Delete
  7. I loved that story when it was first posted, even though high quads aren't really my thing. You're so great, thank you for posting agai!

    ReplyDelete
  8. I really liked this story before but already am happy that you have made Emily more likable. Wasn’t she kinda rude to Brody before about the notes. Can’t wIt to see what changes you make. Can’t wait for the book. Thanks as always

    ReplyDelete
  9. I really liked this story before but already am happy that you have made Emily more likable. Wasn’t she kinda rude to Brody before about the notes. Can’t wIt to see what changes you make. Can’t wait for the book. Thanks as always

    ReplyDelete