Red numbers flashing — screaming at me, making sure I couldn’t ignore my mistakes.
The cold metal under my feet was the only thing that kept me from believing this was a nightmare.
I gained three pounds.
With Mom always working long shifts at the hospital, and Dad forever being swamped at the hotel he managed, family dinners were a rare occurrence — which was fine by me.
But last week, Mom had a couple days off in a row, and being the loving mother she was, she made sure we had a home cooked meal each night.
Little did she know, her kind gestures were destroying me.
I was always so careful, so I figured a couple small meals wouldn’t hurt; not that I could get out of them anyways.
But a couple small meals turned into a couple small snacks throughout the day, too.
I thought if I fasted for a couple days, it would cancel out the damage.
But I was wrong.
I can’t breathe.
What started as a simple diet four years ago, soon became my life.
I need to lose a couple pounds. I’ll just stop eating sweets.
Damn, this feels good. Maybe I should cut out all junk food.
Why am I not losing anymore? I guess I’ll try cutting back my calorie intake.
The transition was so slow, I didn’t even realize my mindset had shifted.
I didn’t know how or when my diet turned into a game of numbers — all I knew was I was addicted.
Like a gambler walking into the casino every day.
Giddy with excitement; ready to hit the jackpot. And more times than not, I did.
But then there were times like this, when it felt like I’d lost everything.
I backed off the scale, letting out a shaky breath as I turned to the mirror.
Concealer was covering the dark circles under my honey brown eyes. My long, mousy brown hair was in loose curls — a weak attempt at making it look less flat and fragile.
I lifted my loose t-shirt and frowned at the waistband of my boyfriend jeans.
I could’ve sworn these were bigger last time I wore them.
Maybe I left them in the dryer too long.
My half assed reassurance did nothing to stop my heart beat pulsing in my ears.
All I could see was red.
I fucked up.
I can’t breathe.
Pressing my lips together, I looked down at my notebook on the bathroom counter.
I’d been logging everything for about a year and a half now.
At first, I was just keeping up with the numbers in my head, but it was nice to watch them go down.
I picked up the notebook and let out a humorlessly laugh as I flipped to the last page I used — ten days ago.
I was too embarrassed to even admit to myself that I’d lost control.
Clearing the thickness out of my throat, I clumsily dropped the notebook in the top drawer and picked up my phone to check the time.
I normally walked to school, and I definitely needed it today, but now I didn’t have time. I was going to be late even with a ride.
Yanking my well-worn, grey zip up hoodie off the counter, I scurried out of the Jack and Jill bathroom, into my room. Then I grabbed my bag from the foot of the bed before running down the hall to Elliott’s room.
“Elliott, wake up! I need a ride,” I called out, banging on the door with my fist.
A small shuffling sound came from the other side, followed by a muffled groan, so I continued banging and chanting his name.
I refused to open the door without him telling me to — I learned that lesson the hard way.
"What?” Elliott finally yelled, and I heard his bare feet pat angrily towards the door while he cursed under his breath.
"I'm late," I spoke in a much calmer voice when he whipped open the door.
"And that's my problem because?" He lifted his brows. "If you're already late, why does it matter if you take the extra fifteen minutes it takes to walk?"
"Because the school will call Mom if I’m that late, and you know who’ll get blamed for that, don't you?" I asked sweetly.
Even though I was turning eighteen in two months, I didn’t have my license. I never felt the need to go take the test.
Why would I, when I could get the extra exercise by walking every day?
Besides, my best friend, Kallie, didn't mind driving wherever we went, which was mainly just traveling back and forth between my house and hers.
Since Elliott didn’t have a paying job, his job was to take me to school in the morning. I told him I didn’t mind walking though, and he happily accepted that — we just kept it to ourselves.
“Gimme a second,” he mumbled before slamming the door, almost smashing my toes in the process.
I huffed before making my way downstairs.
Once in the kitchen, I grabbed the last banana from the fruit bowl, along with Elliott’s keys.
They landed there during his race to the bathroom last night. I was guessing Jackson picked Mexican for dinner again.
Elliott came bounding down the stairs, instantly looking around the living room. "Where are my keys?"
I rolled my eyes and silently threw them in his direction, walking toward the door while he stumbled to catch them.
"Take your time," I called over my shoulder. “Would you like to explain to Mom and Dad how their son can't get his lazy ass out of bed to take me to school? Or get a job, for that matter?"
Elliott glared at me as soon as I turned around and smiled, showing him I was joking.
"You try and get a job without a degree in this economy,” he pointed an accusing finger at me.
He graduated two years ago, but he accidentally missed the deadline to apply for college — twice.
The ride to school was only a few minutes, but it was long enough to have my ears ringing from Elliott’s obnoxiously loud rap music.
“Now get out, you’re making me waste precious beauty sleep time,” Elliott said matter of factly after he turned down the radio.
“Oh, is that what you’ve been doing?” I asked, scrunching my nose in mock confusion. “I think you need to try a different technique — it doesn’t seem to be working.”
He scowled at me before letting out a small snort, opening his mouth to retaliate, but the bell cut him off.
“Shit,” I squeaked, fumbling with my seatbelt.
“Have fun,” Elliott sang before I slammed the door.
Being late meant I had to go in through the office and get a tardy slip. I hated going in through the office; the secretary always smelled like stale cigarettes.
"Brylee Giddens, pleasure to see you again," Mrs. Johnson threw me a fake smile before typing on her computer.
With how much I’d been sleeping in lately, I was actually on a name basis with the high school secretary.
"This is your fifth tardy this semester, so you'll have to be here for after school detention this afternoon," she stated, pushing her salt and pepper hair behind her ear.
I still preferred Ms. Secretary.
I just sighed knowingly while Mrs. Johnson filled out my tardy slip before slapping it on the desk, and returned to her phone without another word.
I quickly grabbed the slip and scurried to class — on the other side of the building.
No matter how quiet I tried to be opening the classroom door, the loud creak had everyone stopping what they were doing to look at me.
I bit my lip and made my way to the teacher, handing him the tardy slip before taking my seat next to Kallie.
She leaned toward me, while the teacher went back to writing notes on the board we were meant to be copying.
"Sure you don't want me to start picking you up?" She whispered.
I gave her a tight lipped smile and nodded. "I'm sure, thanks though."
Kallie just shrugged her shoulders and turned back to her paper, trying to get caught up.
"Want to get some lunch with me before I go to work this afternoon?” Kallie asked while we were gathering our things. Then a guy trying to squeeze between the desks bumped her with his backpack, making her stumble into her chair.
“Learn to walk with your eyes open, you dick,” she called after him, rubbing her hip with a scowl.
He mumbled an incoherent apology without turning around, and Kallie frowned as she looked at me, hastily brushing blonde curls out of her face.
“Mr. Russell needs a coffee maker in here or something — his monotone voice put that poor guy right to sleep,” she sighed, shaking her head disapprovingly, making me snort. “Anyways, lunch?”
"I don't have any money, Kal, but I can come with you," I told her, already getting my excuse lined up.
"Oh please," she waved a hand dismissively. "Your parents are like, rich."
"Exactly, my parents. And they aren't rich, they just...manage money well," I shrugged.
We weren’t rich, but we lived comfortably.
It made me feel bad talking about it with Kallie sometimes, knowing she had to work to pay for anything she wanted.
She never complained, though. She was all smiles, tough love, and sarcasm — all the time.
"Tomato, tomahto," she nodded her head from side to side. "Either way, I'll pay if I need to."
"You know I hate people paying for me,” I frowned, actually telling the truth this time.
“If I'm hungry, you can,” I continued when I noticed Kallie about to argue. ”I ate a big breakfast though, so we’ll see."
Seniors had the option to take work release if they’d already taken most of the mandatory classes to graduate, so after second block, I made my way to Kallie’s car.
There were a handful of other students in the parking lot. Some hung around to socialize, but most scurried to their car like their ass was on fire.
The cool autumn breeze picked up while I waited for Kallie to show, so I hugged my hoodie around me tighter to keep from shivering.
Kallie finally appeared around the corner, and I lifted my eyebrows in surprise when I saw the guy who smacked her with his backpack walking with her.
I watched as she stopped and turned to him, tilting her head to the side. Although I couldn’t see her expression, I could already guess what was about to happen.
Backpack Boy’s pulled his head back in confusion as he spoke.
Kallie’s head nodded while she talked, making him laugh and shake his head in disbelief before walking to the other side of the parking lot.
Kallie turned in my direction, shrugging nonchalantly when she noticed me then unlocked her car.
“What was that about?” I asked once she slid into the driver’s seat.
Her car dinged when she started it, and I glanced at the radio as it illuminated, displaying the time and temperature.
There’s no way that’s right.
“I was right — Mr. Russell does need a coffee maker,” Kallie laughed as she clicked her seatbelt in place.
“Turns out he was half asleep,” she gestured to the direction Backpack Boy went. “He offered to buy me lunch as an apology.”
“And you said no because?” I asked, lifting my brows at her.
“Because I’m waiting for you to come to your senses, so I can steal your last name, duh,” she rolled her eyes, making me mirror her action with a small laugh.
Who, in their right mind, wants the last name Giddens? I don’t even want it.
“Besides, you can’t knock me off my feet with lunch, after literally trying to knock me off my feet — I need something more extravagant,” she shook her hands in front of her for emphasis, making her bracelets clank together.
“No, I’m glad you saw the warning signs early,” I nodded with a mock serious face, breaking it when Kallie busted out laughing.
“You’re right. There was some force behind that backpack,” she played along, still giggling.
"So, you hungry?” She asked after our laughter died down.
“Not really,” I shrugged, keeping the faint smile on my face to seem casual. “I’ll ride with you though.”
“Well,” she said as she started backing out of the parking space. “I want a milkshake.”
Knowing it would be weird if I turned a milkshake down, I pursed my lips and tilted my head to the side. “That doesn’t sound bad.”
It did sound bad. I was already up three pounds — and I was supposed to act normal drinking a big glass of frozen sugar?
Just breathe. You got this. It’s not the end of the world.
But fuck, it feels like it.
Why didn’t I just ask her to take me home? Idiot.
Soon we were seated in a booth at our go-to fifties themed diner.
“Hey y’all, I’m Maddie, I’ll be your server,” the platinum blonde standing next to us said — her obviously enhanced southern drawl made me want to cringe.
People in the south had a tendency to strengthen their accent when they were trying to sound nice.
“What can I get ya to drink?” She asked, making her voice go up an octave, like she was ecstatic to hear our answer.
I had to hold back a laugh while Kallie matched her tone, ordering our usual — strawberry milkshake for her, banana for me.
After Miss Perky walked off, Kallie turned to me and let out a frustrated sigh.
“I’m tired of this weather. Like, I’m in short sleeves — in October,” she smacked her bare arm on the table, frowning down at it.
Sometimes I forgot she lived in Colorado all her life, until her parents got divorced our ninth grade year.
I pulled my sleeves over my hands and rested them between my thighs to warm them up. “It’s not that bad.”
“Whatever you say. So, what’re we doing for your birthday?” She asked, leaning over the table with a growing smile.
“I don’t know,” I furrowed my brow. “My birthday is in two months.”
“And that’s two months to plan,” she dragged out, tapping the table with her index finger.
“It’s a birthday, not a wedding,” I laughed.
“But it’s the big one-eight, we gotta plan something!” Kallie threw her head back dramatically.
“Okay, first of all, you should only do that with numbers that end in zero, otherwise you just sound dumb,” I laughed at her glare. “Secondly, what if I just want to have a movie marathon in your room? Like we did for your big one-eight.”
Just then our server came back with our milkshakes.
"Are y'all ready to order?" She asked after sitting them down in front of us.
“I'll get the chicken tender basket with cheese fries, please,” Kallie said happily. “Lots of cheese.”
Maddie scribbled on her notepad and then smiled at me expectantly.
"I'm alright," I waved her off.
"You sure?" She asked sweetly, and I nodded with a tight smile.
"Alright, I'll get that put in. Let me know if y'all need anything else!"
“Fine,” Kallie pouted when the server was gone. “Only if there’s alcohol.”
“Fine,” I faked a pout before laughing.
As long as we didn’t go too crazy, Kallie’s mom was okay with us drinking at her house. She had Kallie young, so she knew we’d find a way if we wanted to anyways.
My mom was fine with us having one glass of wine on holidays, but that’s about it.
Kallie gasped like a thought suddenly occurred to her, and leaned over the table again.
“Maybe we can find some…you know,” she trailed off, putting two fingers to her lips before pulling away and blowing out.
“We wouldn’t even know where to begin to look for that,” I chuckled, rolling my eyes.
We’d talked about smoking before, but I knew it would probably never happen — the thought made me kind of nervous anyways.
“It can’t be that hard,” Kallie pouted.
Soon our server sat Kallie's greasy food in front of her and asked, again, if I was sure I didn't want anything.
Once I got her to go away, Kallie asked if I wanted a bite of hers.
God. I can’t catch a break.
Then my stomach growled, but hopefully the music playing in the diner hid it from Kallie’s ears.
I sighed as I looked down at her food, and with a churning stomach, picked up a fry.
After letting most of the cheese drip off, I shoved it into my mouth, trying to hide my cringe at the slimy texture.
I chewed until it was complete mush in my mouth before swallowing hard — instantly taking a big gulp of my milkshake to make sure it stayed down.
Kallie scooped some of the cheese onto her finger and licked it clean, forcing me to look away and take another sip of my milkshake to hide a grimace.
To keep suspicions low, I managed to force down a couple more fries while she ate.
The entire ride home, I was stuck in my head; wondering how long it would take me to burn all of it off.
I scrunched my nose in confusion when Kallie pulled into my driveway — both of my parents’ cars were in the driveway.
“Isn’t your dad supposed to be at work?" Kallie asked, speaking my own thoughts.
"Yeah, that’s odd," I frowned, opening my door before turning to her with a sarcastic smile. "Have fun at work!"
Even after I closed the door, I could still hear Kallie’s drawn out groan.