The Publicist's Plight (Book I in The Harrison Inc. Series)

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Chapter 16

April 4th, 1999, Beverly Hills, California

“Leslie, sit up straight, your posture is making my head hurt.”

My mother stares at me with the utmost rigor in her eyes. When I do lengthen my back and sit up straight, that hardness never leaves her black irises as she continues to stare at me as if I’m subhuman. It isn’t my fault, I try to tell her—my developing breasts not only give me back pain, but make me reluctant to stand up straight in fear of being mistaken of “showing them off.”

“We need to take you to a chiropractor; that did little to assist you,” she tells me, taking a sip of her wine.

My little sister, Samantha, doesn’t say anything at my mother’s words at the restaurant table. How could she, really—she’s only seven years old, and doesn’t know the context of what mother is saying. She just follows everything she does and believes it’s righteous because Mother is doing it.

The restaurant we sit in is calm and quiet, minus the small chatter amongst people at their tables. The Four Seasons is one of the places mother loves to eat at. I hate it. It’s full of pompous millionaires and women who feed off of those said millionaire’s wealth. And every time we come here my mother specifically picks out what I have to wear. She has a strong say-so in other days, but when it’s The Four Seasons day, she picks exactly what I am to wear.

“You’re twelve and already your breasts are busting out of that shirt,” she told me this morning in my room, disdain in her voice.

“I can’t help it,” I replied shyly.

“Of course you can,” she throws a long black sleeveless dress on the bed, then a thick cardigan on top of it. “If you weighed less, you wouldn’t have that problem.”

“It’s called puberty,” I said lowly, already self-conscious about my body and its changes. I still have no idea what’s going on with me or what I’m supposed to do since Mother doesn’t like talking about it. She doesn’t like talking to me in general, however.

“It’s called obesity,” she hissed, and immediately the conversation was over with her tossing me the clothes and making me put them on.

“Hello, welcome to The Four Seasons. My name is Olivia and I will be serving you today,” a beautiful waitress with curly blonde hair greets, smiling warmly at my sister and I. “Can I start you off with anything to drink?”

“Lemonade!” my sister exclaims with glee.

My mother laughs, “One children’s lemonade.”

Olivia smiles as she writes it down in her notepad, then looks at me, giving me goosebumps.

“And for you, sweetheart?”

I look at my mother, then at the menu. Root Beer, 7-up, Shirley Temple, Sprite, Iced Tea. So many options. I look at mother again, and she’s painfully silent. Will she let me choose?

“You know what we went over, Leslie,” she suddenly tells me in Italian so the waitress won’t understand. “No juice. No soda. No iced tea.”

“But I haven’t had any in forever,” I complain in the same language. Olivia fails at hiding her confusion.

There’s an awkward silence that plagues the table. My mother doesn’t respond to me. Instead she turns to the waitress and says in English:

“She’ll have a water with a side of lemon.”

The more than familiar drink order makes my mood darken even more. The waitress shifts her eyes between the both of us.

“Are you sure? We have…flavored waters? They’re only a few calories but they taste amazing.”

My mother grimaces at the sound of the word calories, “Oh, no, no, no, water with lemon will do perfectly.”

Olivia reluctantly writes the order down after looking at me, “Alright.”

“And more wine for me?”

“Of course, miss.”

“And we’re actually ready to order,” my mother adds again.

Olivia flips the page, “Certainly.”

Mother points to Samantha, “She’ll have…my love, what did you want again?”

“Chicken nuggets!”

“The kid’s chicken nuggets,” Mother says.

Olivia jots it down, then looks at me, “And for you?”

My eyes flicker to the Fettuccine Alfredo pasta dish I saw on the menu a few minutes before: Angel hair pasta with creamy fettuccine sauce with your choice of chicken or shrimp. I’m practically salivating thinking about it, even more so considering that all Mother let me have for breakfast this morning was a quarter portion of whole grain oatmeal because “cereal is too many carbs.”

“I’ll have the fettucc—”

“Garden Salad,” Mother answers for me as if I wasn’t even talking.

Olivia stops writing for a moment, “Well…we can substitute the fettuccine sauce with pesto? Or do wheat pasta?”

Mother shakes her head and flips a brunet wave over her shoulder, “No. She’ll have the garden salad. As you can see, she doesn’t need the extra carbs.”

“I think her body looks just fine,” Olivia says in an attempt to defend me. I smile slightly until I see Mother frown.

“No, it doesn’t. She’ll have the garden salad,” she repeats.

“O…kay,” Olivia is hesitant. “And what dressing?”

“Ranc—”

“No dressing. And um,” she looks at the menu again. “Take out…the tomatoes, olives…croutons, cheese and onions. And also no pepper.”

“So just…leaves?” Olivia says with an attitude that my mother catches; she has a knack for that.

Mother places her well-manicured nails on the table and stares at her. Samantha, who was coloring in her coloring book, stops her artistic session and looks at Mother. I look down at my hands.

“Yes. Leaves.” Her smile is anything but friendly.

Olivia smiles back forcefully, “Alright. Got’cha. And for you?”

I see mother’s eyes flicker towards me for a moment with a hint of self-satisfaction before she focuses her gaze onto Olivia.

“I’ll have the Spaghetti with tomato sauce. Grazie mille,” she orders, pronouncing each word in perfect Italian accentuation.

With one simple nod, Olivia writes down mother’s order and carefully takes each of our menus away. When she’s completely out of our sight, Mother looks at me angrily.

“How many times do I have to remind you of what you are to eat?” she whispers.

I don’t say anything. Mother rolls her eyes and watches Samantha color on the decorative piece of paper. She then picks up a crayon and assists her. As they are carried away together by their laughter and merriment, I look around nervously. It’s eighty-six degrees outside, but for some reason there’s little of a difference in here. The cardigan I’m wearing, the one Mother made me wear, adds another five degrees to my body heat; I’m sweating like a pig.

I slowly unbutton the buttons of the thick, gray sweater and slip it off my shoulders, placing it on my lap with my bag. Cooler air touches my bare skin and immediately I feel more relieved. I cross my arms over my chest self-consciously and look around me. An old lady with gross skin and shedding hair spots me and smiles an odd, creepy smile. I smile back politely.

“What are you doing?”

My head swings back in my mother’s direction. Her hands are on Samantha’s long, shiny braid as she was re-braiding it before she saw me.

“What do you mean?”

“Your sweater.”

“It’s hot. That’s why I took it off.”

She leans forward and bores her cold eyes into me, “Did you forget what I told you? No one wants to see you with your skin all out! Remember what the doctor said, Leslie, you’re 185 pounds. At twelve. Do you think that’s cute because I think that’s pretty disgusting, right?”

My face tingles in embarrassment. I see the same old lady who I smiled at watch as my mother reprimands me.

“Right,” I answer anxiously while slipping my cardigan back on.

“Have you been using the cream I’ve been giving you? For lentiggini?”

I nod.

“It doesn’t look like it. They haven’t gone away yet.”

I don’t say anything. Instead I lift my cardigan sleeve and look at the freckles that cover my skin. They’ve lightened a bit because of the cream Mother has been making me use, but there isn’t a huge noticeable difference, especially not in terms of what she wants to see.

Olivia comes back with our drinks, and after about twenty minutes, a different waiter comes up to our table with our food on a brown platter.

“Alright, one kid’s chicken nugget meal for the little princess,” he says, setting down the plate in front of a smiling Samantha. “Spaghetti for…”

“Right here,” Mother says, and he sets down the plate of delicious, steaming pasta in front of her.

“And a garden salad?”

“That’s for her.”

I can tell he thought the salad was for my mother, but still, he sets the plate of dull, green salad in front of me. I can’t even look at it without feeling my stomach rumble viciously, knowing that this won’t fill me at all.

“Do you want any dressing for that?” he asks me.

I shake my head.

“Oh…alright. Well, can I get you anything else?”

“That will be all. Grazie.”

The waiter smiles at the sound of my mother speaking Italian. Every time we go out to dinner she’s insistent on speaking Italian to show off, dismissing the fact that her accent is already proof enough.

He leaves, and we begin to eat. But by ‘we’ I mean my mother and Samantha. Samantha struggles with adding ketchup onto her plate for her chicken nuggets and fries while my mother places a napkin on her lap, and does the same to Samantha while she isn’t paying attention. I stare down at my plate of plants.

“Don’t look so somber,” she tells me, twirling the pasta with her fork. “You should be thanking me. For one, I saved you from ordering that knock-off Italian dish you like to call Fettuccine Alfredo. And second, you should also be thanking me for saving your health. Now, instead of being 190 pounds by the end of the day, you’ll be 180 pounds,” she places the pasta in her mouth. “You’ll be 130 in no time,” she says nonchalantly. “And you can tell you father that it was his fault for feeding you whatever he wanted that I had to do this. He doesn’t take into consideration how hard this is for me.”

My mouth is watering at the pasta she’s eating, but I know I won’t ever taste pasta as long as my mother is around. So instead, I take light out of a dark situation and stab my fork into my salad.

“Wait,” she says.

She takes my fork, then takes Samantha’s unused one and uses them both to gather about three quarters of the salad on my plate and places them on an empty bread plate by the salt shakers. Now I’m left with a quarter of salad left; less than half.

“You eat quarter portions,” she reminds me.

She’s right. I do eat quarter portions, and I was dumb enough to think that I could get away with it this time. Last night it was a quarter amount of broccoli, this morning it was a quarter amount of whole grain oatmeal, and now, it’s a quarter amount of salad.

I’ll be 130 pounds in no time.

I take my fork and put a bunch of salad in my mouth. It’s almost tasteless. Eventually I find no reason to eat the rest. If I’m going to lose weight and be the set goal mother wants me to be, it’s better to eat less and less than just cut portions, right?

When everyone is done with their food, Mother gets up.

“Come, Tesoro. To the bathroom,” she calls to Samantha. Samantha jumps down from the seat and grabs mother’s welcoming hand. The diners smile as the beautiful little girl with the long beautiful braid and beautiful dress skips along with her mother, a beautiful Italian woman that manages to gather stares from every man she passes. But she ignores them, because the only thing that matters is her daughter, Samantha.

The only thing that matters to her is Samantha.

“Hey.”

I jump at a woman kneeling down by me. She jumps to at how easily I’m startled.

“Sorry to scare you,” she whispers. “I just…I just wanted to bring you this.”

She holds up a white bag in her hand. When I smell what’s in it, the rich scent of Fettuccine alfredo, I decline persistently.

“Oh, no, no, no, I-I can’t accept—”

“No, it’s fine, I swear. The woman over there paid for it.”

She points to the old woman who smiled at me earlier. She smiles again, and I return it.

“Please. Take it. It’ll fit in your bag.”

The smell is so tempting it makes my hands shake with anticipation. I look back at the restrooms before taking the bag from her, her slender fingers small in comparison to my chubby ones. The bag is heavy, and somehow it makes me excited

“Thanks,” I say to her as I shove it in my bag.

“You’re welcome,” her smile drops a little. “A growing girl like you shouldn’t have to go through that.”

“No, it’s fine ’cause I’m not the normal weight for my age and—”

I stop myself when I realize I’m actually defending my mother.

Olivia looks like she’s going to say something, but sees my eyes flicker up to my mother approaching. She quickly gets up and starts gathering the dishes.

“Are you ready for the check?” she asks her.

Mother nods, “Yes. I’ll be paying with credit.”


I wait until my mother and sister are fast asleep that night.

When the lights in the house are off, I run under my bed and pull out the bag with the dish inside. When I open the bad, there is the carton filled with pasta, a small bag of garlic bread, and a smaller carton, too. When I open the smaller carton, there’s a huge piece of chocolate cake with cream frosting. I lick my lips as if I can savor it already.

I tip-toe downstairs to the kitchen and place the pasta on a plate before putting it in the microwave. My heart beat gets faster and faster at the risk of Mother coming downstairs and seeing what I’m doing. Before the microwave can ding, I open it and take the hot plate of pasta out and carefully carry it upstairs. Then, I devour it. I scarf down the pasta like it’s the last meal I will ever have. The sauce and shrimp paired with the garlic bread is so amazing that there are no words for it.

I tell myself not to look in the mirror of my closet while eating, because if I do, it will make me feel “disgusting” as Mother calls me. Scarfing down pasta and garlic bread is the complete opposite of her diet regimen.

I reach into the bag for a napkin, but end up just grabbing the bunch and placing them on the floor. But there is a yellow piece of paper that doesn’t belong. A note.

I take one last bite before reaching for the note and opening it. On the note is something so simplistic yet impactful at the same time:

You’re beautiful – Olivia.

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