Saturday, May 1, 2021

Such a Pretty Face, Chapter 2


Although there are some New Yorkers who have cars, most of us rely on public transportation. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and you don’t have to worry about cab drivers flashing you the finger during midtown traffic.

I’d prefer to take the subway. The subway clientele are several orders of magnitude crazier than the bus clientele, so it’s easier to blend in. After all, why would anyone stare at me when there’s a demented guy humping a pole? But—and it’s hard to admit this—in the last year, it’s become a bit of a tight squeeze to get through the subway turnstile. I’ve gotten worried I’ll get trapped in it at some point, which has made me shy away from the subway. Anyway, there’s a bus line that runs straight from the university to my apartment.

Today, the bus ride home is miserable. Usually, after my classes, it’s empty on the bus, but there must be some event or something going on in the city because at least three-quarters of the bus is filled when I get on it. I examine the remaining seats, contemplating my options, and finally squeeze into the outer seat of an empty double front-facing seat. I don’t like the front-facing seats because they don’t give me as much room, but it’s my only option if I don’t want to stand. And after working all day and taking classes all night, I don’t want to stand.

Of course, it’s too much to hope for to just have a quiet bus ride home.

About halfway home, these two adolescent boys board the bus. By now, people are occupying almost all the seats, and one of the few empty ones is next to me. But I’m going to be honest: there isn’t room in that seat for another person. I don’t take up two entire seats, but I take up at least a seat and a half. Maybe a small child could fit. But definitely not an adult.

So anyway, one boy pokes the other, and they snicker. They’re laughing at me—I have a sixth sense about this sort of thing. But I stare straight ahead and hope to God that they keep it to themselves and don’t feel compelled to say anything.

But like I said, I’m never lucky.

After about a minute of giggling, one boy says to me, “Hey, lady, how many fares did you pay?”

I turn my head away from him and don’t answer, hoping he’ll give up when I ignore him.

“Hey,” he says again. “Did you pay for two fares? Because you’re taking up two seats!”

Haha. Hilarious. I never heard that one before. What a creative and brilliant comment.

“You should pay a second fare,” he continues. “One for you and one for your fat ass.”

I wish I were the kind of big girl who could speak up to a jerk like that. A big girl who owns her curves like a rock star. I could tell him he’s short and that his soul patch makes him look like a pathetic loser. Or I could say something about how I’m proud of my body, no matter what anyone else thinks of it.

But I’m not that kind of girl. So instead, I sit there, my heart pounding. I’m a little nervous that everyone else on the bus is going to rally up and make me pay a second fare. I wouldn’t mind paying for two fares on the bus if it meant I’d get left alone.

Finally, I hear the voice of an elderly woman speak up from the seat in front of me: “You two kids leave that poor girl alone! What the hell is wrong with you?”

The boys laugh again, but they don’t say anything more and move to the back of the bus. Relief washes over me. They’re gone. It’s over—at least for now.

“Don’t let yourself be bothered by stupid kids like that,” the old woman says to me, turning halfway in her seat. She’s solidly built, and feisty, despite her white hair. Even though she rescued me, I cringe. The last thing I want is to talk about what just happened. Also, I know where this is going.

“Yeah,” I mumble.

“You’re such a pretty girl,” she continues, beaming at me. “Beautiful face. You just need to lose a few pounds and you wouldn’t have to deal with losers like those kids.”

“Yeah,” I mumble again.

“Have you ever tried eating a little less?”

God, this is almost worse than the two kids harassing me. “Mmm,” I say.

Her face brightens. “And then you could find yourself a nice boyfriend.”

Why does she assume I don’t have a boyfriend? Just because I’m alone on a city bus at nine o’clock at night and I’m (apparently) morbidly obese? Maybe I do have a boyfriend! Maybe I’m dating some wonderful, sexy guy, and I’m on my way to see him right now.

Except obviously, I’m not really.

The sad truth is that not only do I not have a boyfriend, but I’ve never had a boyfriend. And here’s my biggest confession of all:

I’ve never even kissed a boy.

That sounds bad. But then again, I’m only twenty-seven. I’m not fifty. There are plenty of years ahead of me for boy-kissing.

Plenty of larger girls have boyfriends. But I’m not some outgoing girl who knows how to flirt and show off my big boobs and shake my juicy booty. I’m incredibly, almost painfully shy, especially around boys. And since they’re not exactly falling over themselves to get to know me, that means I’ve been perpetually single. I’ve been on many dates, thanks to set-ups by people like Camille, but none resulted in even a second date, much less a romantic goodnight kiss.

Do I want a boyfriend?

Sometimes. Sometimes I want it so much, it’s physically painful.

But I’ve never known anything besides being single. I’m used to it. I have plenty of diversions to occupy my time. It isn’t all that bad.




After I get off the bus, I pass the bakery next to my house. Most bakeries close early, but just to torture me, this one is open all day long. And they’ve always got amazing baked goods displayed in the window.

Today the thing that catches my attention is a cheesecake.

It’s not just a cheesecake. It’s a luscious, creamy cheesecake with chocolate drizzled on top of it. My stomach lets out a low growl—it looks so delicious. I want to break the window, grab the cheesecake, and eat it with my bare hands.

I’ve been good today—I had yogurt for breakfast, then that turkey sandwich for lunch, and a salad for dinner. But it’s left me feeling hungry and unable to resist a cheesecake.

I know how many calories must be in it. I’m the world’s expert at looking at a food item and estimating the number of calories. I’m usually accurate within fifty calories. And that cheesecake slice has got to be at least five hundred calories.

But I want it so badly, it hurts.

Resist, Emily! You can do it!

Would it be so tragic if I got a slice of cheesecake? It’s not like I eat cheesecake every night. Just one slice to reward myself for how good I’ve been this month. And it will make me feel better about what happened on the bus. One bite of that cheesecake, and I won’t be thinking about those boys anymore. Or that well-meaning old lady who made me feel even worse than the boys.

Before I can stop myself, I am marching into the bakery. A skinny kid is manning the counter, and he flashes his teeth at me. “What can I get you?”

“I… I’ll have a slice of the cheesecake in the window.”

The boy snickers. “Just one?”

“Yes,” I mumble.

A minute later, I’m walking out of the bakery with a white paper bag filled with a big heaping slice of chocolate-covered cheesecake. And now it’s all I can think about. I can’t wait to get home and devour it. And then I’ll be good for the next six months. No desserts at all.

I swear.

When I get upstairs to my apartment, I place my precious paper bag containing my cheesecake on the dining table and go into the kitchen to get a fork. I live in a “cozy” two-bedroom apartment on the Upper West Side with a single bathroom and something that the building manager called a “kitchenette.” I wish I could say that I have the place all to myself, given how tiny it is, but I don’t. So while I’m rummaging through the utensils, which are totally disorganized, my roommate Abby wanders out of her bedroom.

“You’re back!” Abby clutches her chest in relief. “I was worried. You’re usually back earlier than this.”

“Yeah…” Making those copies for Brody ate up at least half an hour, everything considered. “I’m sorry. I should’ve texted you.”

When I moved to Manhattan shortly after college, I knew unless I wanted to live in a studio apartment the size of a closet, I would have to have a roommate. That’s how Abby came into the picture. We started as roommates, but now she’s morphed into being my friend. She thinks she is, anyway. I’m not so sure.

I hear the crackling of a paper bag, and I look up sharply. Abby is peeking inside the bag I left on the dining table. “Oh, Emily,” she sighs.

I grit my teeth. I know what Abby is going to say, and I don’t want to hear it. She’s a yoga instructor and a bit of a health nut, and often I suspect that I’m more of a project for her than a friend. A project she’s not doing very well with.

“It’s just a small slice of cheesecake,” I say.

“It’s gigantic!” she says. “You shouldn’t be eating this. I’m going to throw it away for you.”

And then, to my absolute horror, she picks up the bag and tosses it in the trash.

“Abby!” I cry.

“I’m trying to help you, Emily,” she says in her calm Yoga Abby voice.

“I don’t need your help,” I growl. “It was one small slice of cheesecake.”

“Listen.” Abby smiles at me. “Can’t you let me make you a dessert? I’ve got a delicious recipe from my Vegan cooking class that’s less than a hundred calories for two servings.”

Let me assure you, Abby does not have a “delicious recipe” from her Vegan cooking class. She baked me a Vegan cupcake once, and I almost broke a tooth on it. When she makes something on the stovetop, I stay in my room because the smell is so bad. But she’s trying, so I don’t say anything.

“Please?” Abby asks.

My shoulders sag. “Honestly, I’d rather just go to bed. It’s getting late and I’m exhausted.”

She nods and puts a hand on my shoulder. “Be strong, Emily. You can do this—I believe in you. I’m here for you.”

“I know.”

And then she hugs me. Of course, her skinny little arms only get three-quarters of the way around me.

We retire to our separate bedrooms. I sit on my bed, wincing as the springs creak under my weight. There’s an indent in the center of the mattress where the springs have permanently collapsed from the impact of my sleeping on it every night. I think about my diet. How I watch every single morsel that goes into my mouth, and somehow it doesn’t seem to matter. I just keep gaining. I don’t know what comes after morbidly obese… horrifically obese? Shockingly obese? Whatever it is, I’m on my way there. No matter what I do.

So I may as well do what I want.

I get up off my bed. I open the door to the bedroom as quietly as possible—Abby is nowhere to be seen. I tiptoe into the kitchen and open the garbage can. I pull out the white paper bag and sneak it back to my room.



I’m sitting in a normal chair in my evening class today. I arrived very early and swapped out a chair from a different classroom with one of these chairs. I’m not taking another risk about not being able to get up.

I also sit on the end, on the same row as the door. Partially because it was easier to drag the chair in. But also, this way I could leave extra room for Brody to get inside and not have to do like ten maneuvers to get his chair to turn around. My entire life involves maneuvering around tiny spaces and feeling awkward about it, so I sympathize with his frustration. I want to help the guy.

It pays off. Brody shows up and sees that I’ve left a spot for him next to me, and he looks thrilled. He flashes me a smile that makes his whole face light up. He has one of the most infectious smiles I’ve ever seen—it’s almost impossible not to smile back. “Hey, Emily,” he says.

He remembered my name. “Hey, Brody.”

“You remembered my name,” he says. He looks as pleased I felt.

Because I’m going to be photocopying my notes for Brody at the end, I spend a little extra time on them. Usually, I take decent notes, but these are especially good. A few times during the lecture, I look up at Brody and he grins at me.

At the end of the lecture, Brody respectfully allows me a few seconds to heave myself out of my seat before he clears his throat. “Hey, Emily, I hate to bother you again…”

“You want to copy my notes,” I say.

He smiles again. Christ, he’s cute when he smiles. Even cuter than Jack. Except Brody isn’t gay. Granted, I couldn’t tell with Jack, but in retrospect, the signs were there. Brody isn’t gay though—you can just tell. I would bet my life savings.

“Yeah, I would,” he says. “Please?”

I notice he says “please” a lot. Even though it’s proper etiquette and you’re supposed to say please, let’s face it, most people don’t say it. But Brody always does. Considering how much he has to ask for help with things, I guess it’s a good habit to have. He was raised right.

“Of course,” I say.

“Thanks so much,” he says. “Your handwriting is really good. Your notes are excellent.”

“I’m glad it helped you,” I say.

For the second time, we make the harrowing journey to the copy machine. I watch Brody as he pushes his hand into the joystick on his chair and his lower body bounces with the imperfections on the floor. I’m curious why he needs that chair. If I had to guess, I’d say he’s paralyzed. He goes a little slower this time, so I don’t have to jog to keep up with him but I’m still walking more briskly than I normally do. Most people don’t realize I can’t move as fast as they can, because I’m carrying around more weight. And once again, we’re having trouble locating the copy machine. I never realized how big this building was.

“What do you think of Dr. Nichols?” Brody asks me.

“He’s pretty good,” I say. “I like the lectures so far.”

“Are you trying to get a Master’s or a doctorate?” Brody asks me.

“Just a Master’s,” I say. “For now. You?”

“Ditto,” Brody says. “I’m a code monkey now and this is the only way I’ll ever get to advance at work.”

I wonder what sort of work he does. A lot of people with a disability like Brody’s might just stay home and do nothing. I appreciate his ambition.

“Oh, I know,” I say. “That’s my situation too.”

“Not that I don’t like my job,” he says. “But I’ve got higher aspirations, you know? I’ve been on kind of a hiatus from the degree and now I’m trying to pick things up again. I took some classes at Queens College but those mostly sucked. Anyway, it’s too big a commute from where I live now.”

I look at him in surprise. “Are you from Queens? Like, originally?”

Brody nods and raises his eyebrows at me. “Yeah. Are you?”

“I am!” I say excitedly. It’s the first time I’ve felt like we aren’t just making awkward small talk. “Where in Queens?”

“Fresh Meadows.”


Brody grins at me. “Did people ever ask you growing up how you managed to get into the city all the way from the Caribbean?”

“Yeah, all the freaking time,” I laugh.

“Where’d you go to high school?” Brody asks.

“Townsend Harris.”

Brody gasps. “You’re kidding! Me too!”

“Well, it’s the only decent high school.”

“That’s for sure,” Brody snorts. “Hey, what year did you graduate?”

We determine we were two years apart in high school—he was a junior when I was a freshman. I try to remember from my freshman or sophomore years if I saw a guy zipping around the halls in a power wheelchair. Seems like the kind of thing I would have remembered. But I’m drawing a blank.

“Of course,” he says, “you were an underclassman while I was a super cool senior. So we couldn’t have interacted unless I was, like, pushing you down the stairs or something.”

I stare at Brody in surprise. He doesn’t look like he’s in any position to be pushing anyone down any stairs, although maybe he was a little more mobile back in high school. That doesn’t seem like something he’d have done at any age though. Maybe it’s just his face deceiving me, but he seems like one of those genuinely nice people.

“I’m kidding,” he finally says when he sees the shock on my face. “Seriously though, what’s your last name?”

“Davison,” I say.

“Emily Davison.” He rolls my name over his tongue. I have such a boring name, but I like the way it sounds when he says it. Some of my irritation over not being able to find the copy machine wanes.

“What’s your last name?” I ask him.

“Nolan,” he says. And before I can comment, he says, “Yeah, I know, Brody Nolan. Could I be any more Irish?”

“Could be worse,” I say. “Your name could be… Seamus Murphy.”

“Or Flynn McMahon.”

“Or Finley O’Sullivan.”

Brody finally laughs. “Okay, you’re right. Could be worse. But Brody Nolan’s pretty bad. Especially with my face.”

I look at Brody’s face. As I’ve said before, he’s got a pretty attractive face. He’s really good-looking. So I have absolutely no idea what he’s complaining about. He doesn’t even look Irish aside from the hint of red in his hair, not that Irish guys are intrinsically bad looking or anything. “What do you mean?”

“I have freckles!” Brody says.

I look closer, close enough to smell his spearmint breath, and my own breath catches just a bit. It turns out he’s right. He has light freckles, mostly over the bridge of his nose and over his cheekbones.

“They’re practically invisible,” I point out to him.

“They were horrible when I was a kid, but they mostly faded when I hit puberty,” he explains. “But if I went out in the sun without sunscreen, I’d have a serious recurrence.”

“Well, I wouldn’t have noticed them.”

“Most people don’t.” Brody shrugs. “But that’s because most people aren’t paying much attention to my face, you know?”

You can’t accuse Brody of not having self-awareness. He’s right—you see a guy in a power wheelchair and his face isn’t the focus of attention. Nobody looks at my face either, except to tell me how exquisitely pretty it would be if only I dropped a hundred pounds.

“Hey,” Brody says. “Are you by any chance related to Cammy Davison?”

I freeze. He’s talking about Camille, of course. Back in high school, everyone called her Cammy. Then she went to college and reinvented herself as Camille. It shouldn’t surprise me he knew Camille—she was very popular. “Yeah, she’s my sister.”

Brody’s eyes widen. “Wow, you’re Cammy’s sister? That’s… surprising.”

He doesn’t have to say what he means by that. Everybody is always surprised I’m Camille’s sister. Because she’s beautiful and I am… me.

Brody notices my expression. “I just mean… she had blond hair, right? And you… you have darker hair.”

Right. Because that’s the only difference between me and my sister. It isn’t like I’ve been through years of people telling me how pretty my sister is. If she’s skinny, why can’t I be?

I would have thought somebody like Brody would be more sensitive. But apparently, he thinks just like everybody else.

We turn yet another corner. My thighs are starting to hurt. Why are we having so much trouble finding this copy machine each time? When I get home, there’s going to be an angry red rash all over the insides of my legs. He doesn’t get it. All he has to do is push that joystick.

Brody is looking down the hall and frowning. “Wasn’t it right here?”

“Obviously not,” I snip.

He scratches at his chin with his curled-up right hand. “Maybe it was in the other direction…”

Oh no. I am not walking all the way back the way we came. My thighs will literally start bleeding. I mean, does he think I have all night to do this with him? I’m sure he wouldn’t drag Cammy all over the floor trying to find a copy machine. No, Camille is the sister everybody loves and I’m the one people take advantage of. Like by bugging me for my notes every single lecture. I’m the only idiot who would agree to do this.

“I’m sorry,” I say in that same clipped voice. “I have to get going. I can’t spend half an hour wandering the hallways with you after every class.”

That infectious smile dies on his lips. “Oh…”

“Sorry,” I say. “Maybe you should ask somebody else next time.”

“I apologize,” he says quietly. “I don’t want to be an imposition. I’ll just ask Dr. Nichols to give me copies of the notes from now on. I won’t bother you again.”

“Well, that just makes more sense,” I say, pushing away a stab of guilt in my chest. “He’s the professor, so I’m sure his notes are better than mine.”

Brody nods and flashes me a tight smile. “Yeah.”

He looks so hurt, I immediately want to take it all back. I shouldn’t have been mean to him. I’m just feeling cranky because my thighs hurt so much, and also I went out on a date with a gay guy last night. And then when he compared me to Camille, that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I didn’t feel like he was taking advantage of me. He seems like a nice guy. He probably barely even knew Camille.

As I stand there, trying to figure out if there’s something I can say to make it right again, Brody does a one-hundred-eighty-degree turn in his wheelchair. He zooms down the hall to get away from me as fast as he can, and I can tell he’s never going to talk to me again. And that thought makes me really sad.

To be continued... 


  1. Great chapter but I got ahead of myself with my comments last time. There’s her snarky self about the copies 😆

  2. Great chapter but I got ahead of myself with my comments last time. There’s her snarky self about the copies 😆

    1. No, but you were right... she's much nicer to him in their initial meeting. In the original version, he asks her to help him, but in this version, she volunteers.

  3. Can't wait for the next week! I love the nicer version of Emily!
    Thank you!

  4. Ohh i remember this the first time around—really made me pissed at Emily. But I like her haha I guess it's a pretty natural reaction. We're only human. And I remember why I liked Brody so much; he's cute! So cute. And sweet. Looking forward to seeing how it goes the next chapters! Really excited. Your writing is always so so good, I wish I had half of your creativity to make those scenarios. Thank you for posting and keeping us happy over here, haha
    Looking forward to the next update!

  5. So nice! I didn't read it the first time, but I'm really enjoying it now. Can't wait to find out how things go for them. I really feel for Emily. Well, at least Brody will give her some looooove she deserves, heh