It was all in good fun, the office weight loss challenge. Donate a buck per pound lost for the local food bank, all while feeling good inside and out. Health in the name of charity. Sherry had donated twenty-three dollars so far.
Marissa was stiff competition, though. Not only was she trailing Sherry by only two pounds, she was also studying for her personal trainer certification exam in just three weeks. Everyone was rooting for her, even Sherry, when coworkers were in earshot. A taste more bitter than bile settled on Sherry’s tongue when she thought about how the challenge, just like everything else, probably came easy to Marissa. How could it not, with her long legs and hourglass figure, even if it was padded with a roll of fat? Sherry was certain her own roll had been larger than Marissa’s and on a shorter body, so she’d surely put in more work.
“This challenge has truly changed my life,” Marissa had announced at last Friday’s weigh-in. Then she giggled. “I know that sounds melodramatic and silly, but you all have no idea how much this has meant to me. After…well, after Willis left me, you all know I was a wreck. And I know it may not be politically correct to say this, but I’m gonna say it anyway: I believe God placed this challenge in my life to show me that challenges aren’t synonymous with defeat. And I believe He knew how to work through me during this time so I wouldn’t completely crumble. Now I want to carry that message to others. So” – Marissa raised her plastic cup of flavored water – “wish me luck! I haven’t crammed since college!”
Everyone raised their cups in support of Marissa.
Their boss Kevin shook her hand and gave her the “Weekly Loser” certificate while Laurel the receptionist snapped their photo for the break room bulletin board. Someone had already removed Sherry’s photo with Kevin from the previous week.
Now, with two days until this week’s weigh-in, Sherry sat at her desk and pored over her calendar she used as a weight and food planner. Two three-ounce chicken breasts, a fourth cup of brown rice, and a cup of broccoli divided between lunch and dinner both days should get her an extra pound down.
Her stomach gnarled up with hunger for the second time in an hour. Sherry headed for the break room.
Being a small office, no one put their name on their lunch bags or containers. Perhaps there was no need. No risk of lunch theft. They were like a little family, Kevin said. The lack of identification made it difficult to distinguish what might be Marissa’s lunch. Not that Sherry was being nosy. Just…curious. One sojourner on this weight loss journey simply looking for motivation and inspiration from another. That’s all.
The chipper welcome immediately startled and irritated Sherry. “Hi, Marissa,” she said, quickly removing her head from the refrigerator and shutting the door. Sherry clawed at her dress, pulling it down.
Marissa’s signature giggle. “Sorry, girl. Didn’t mean to scare you. Excuse me.”
Sherry stepped aside, watching Marissa grab an opaque purple container. No way of knowing the contents.
“Girl, I am half starved. All the workouts have me famished. But I guess it pays off in the end, for us and the food bank. But you know what I mean. Look at you, girl! You’ve been doing great.”
Sherry smiled and curled her fingers over the long sleeves of her cardigan. “It’s given me the kickstart I needed. And it’s made me look at myself differently.”
Like where every stretch mark, pudge, and bulge are on my body. Not that you’d know anything about those.
Marissa wrapped her manicured hand around Sherry’s upper arm.
“Let’s just keep giving them a run for their money, huh?” Marissa’s lips stretched into a closed-mouth smile. Sherry took her in, just as she had for the two and a half months since the challenge began. Marissa’s chocolate brown eyes. Marirssa’s auburn hair. Marissa’s long neck. Marissa’s clavicle. Marissa’s chiseled shoulders. Marissa’s firm biceps. Sherry dared not let her eyes venture further for fear of seeming weird.
With a gentle squeeze on Sherry’s arm, Marissa was gone. Sherry remained with her back to the refrigerator for maybe thirty seconds, maybe three minutes. Another assault from her stomach goaded her to her brown paper lunch bag that held four celery sticks, a tablespoon of peanut butter, a protein bar – with four grams of sugar – and a five-ounce apple.
Sherry returned to her desk, looked at her planner again. She crossed out the fourth cup of brown rice.
After finishing her meal, exhausted from combating the longing to ravage her food with the intensity of a jungle predator, Sherry headed to the bathroom. Her secret weapon.
She entered the second stall and relished the usual feeling of comfort, the gray walls enveloping her like the warm blankets her mother removed from the dryer and cocooned her in as a child. Only a moment of fear came at this time – this time right at the beginning, right before she leaned over and her fingernails bumped her molars – but it quickly dissolved, mixing with the contents plopping below the porcelain. Satisfaction – elation, even – consumed Sherry, filling the emptiness she created with each heave. She released a pleasured sigh upon straightening herself. Pleasure at the momentary beauty she knew she had created by her own control. Marissa isn’t strong enough to exhibit this kind of control.
Sherry nearly yelped when she opened the bathroom door to find Laurel standing there, coming in.
“Oh! Excuse me, Sherry,” she said. Sherry nodded and ducked through the doorway.
“Hey, Sherry,” Laurel said. Sherry turned. “I’ve been meaning to tell you, you’ve been killing this weight loss challenge. You look amazing.”
“Thank you,” she said. And she savored the feeling of color rising in her cheeks.
© 2016 Monica S. Ramsey
About Monica: Monica once reported for a newspaper, but now she works for the government. She graduated with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Western Kentucky University in Bowling Green, Kentucky.
She is newly married, and she and her husband plan to stay in the college town for the foreseeable future.
You can follow Monica on Twitter at @monicaspees or on her blog monicaspees.wordpress.com. Monica’s work has appeared in Zephyrus and the suspense anthology Stuck in the Middle.