cover

 

 

The Real Me

 

by Ann Herrick

 

Digital ISBNs

EPUB 978-1-77362-514-0

Kindle 978-1-927111-93-2

WEB 978-1-77362-515-7

 

Amazon Print 978-1-77362-516-4

 

 

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Copyright 2012 by Ann Herrick

Cover Art by Michelle Lee

 

All rights reserved. Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise) without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.

Chapter One

 

 

I curled my toes as I stepped barefoot onto the cold metal scale in Dr. Adam’s office. I exhaled, then held my breath. Maybe I’d weigh a few ounces less if I didn’t have so much air in my lungs.

I watched carefully as the numbers blinked higher and higher.

Finally, Dr. Adam marked the weight on my chart. She looked up at me and smiled. “You need to lose twenty pounds.”

Twenty pounds! Ack! I wanted to scream. “But, Dr. Adam, I think I, um, carry my weight well.”

“‘Carry’ is a good word, Mattie,” Dr. Adam said. “It’s not good for you to lug that extra weight around.” She glanced at the computer screen. “I see by your records that you’ve always had a tendency to be plump.” She printed out something. “Here’s a sample of a good diet. You should be able to lose a pound or two a week, especially if you exercise more.” She printed out another piece of paper. “Here are some exercises you might want to try. Move around. Walk more. Your muscles are too soft for a girl of sixteen.”

“I’ll try,” I mumbled, as I looked over the diet. There was totally no point in arguing with Dr. Adam. She was all business. Why did Dr. Murdock have to retire? He never said anything about my weight.

After Dr. Adam left the examination room I stepped into my jeans, sucking in my stomach as I tugged on the zipper. I pulled on my baggy brown sweater and stuffed the diet and exercise sheets into my book bag. As I stepped into the hall, Dr. Adam called out.

“Make an appointment for an official weigh-in two months from now, Mattie.”

I tried to look invisible, but it didn’t work. As I made another appointment, I thought I felt the eyes of everyone in the waiting room staring at me. I hurried out of the office hugging my books to my chest and fighting back angry tears. Ugh. Dr. Adam didn’t have to be so … so bossy.

At least my parents would sympathize. They knew it wasn’t my fault I was a throwback to my great Aunt Matilda, for whom I was named. The resemblance wasn’t limited to wide-set green eyes and frizzy brown hair. We had the same fleshy build.

I moaned to myself at the thought of exercising. Not that I minded exercise so much. It was the side effects. Like, you know, heavy breathing. Sweating. My idea of strenuous labor was picking cat hairs off the sofa cushions.

And, I suddenly realized, this afternoon I had just allowed myself to be talked into heading the refreshment committee for my Junior Prom. A couple years ago the principal decided that all school dances, including proms, had to be at the school. He said they were getting too expensive and parents complained. He insisted on student-made refreshments and decorations to keep costs down, too. So that meant, while watching my weight, I had to dig through recipe books for rich, yummy, calorie-laden cookies. I pondered the complete injustice of it all.

“Watch where you’re going, Chunk!” ordered the tall, bony, red-haired guy I had just slammed into and almost knocked over, since I hadn’t, in fact, been watching where I was going.

Startled by the impact, I dropped my book bag. Everything in it went all over the sidewalk. I frantically gathered my papers, shoved them into the nearest book and dumped the books back into the bag. I’d sort it all out later. If there was anyone I didn’t want to know about my enforced dieting, it was George Turner. He bugged me enough as it was.

Well, I would show George. I would lose twenty pounds. That wasn’t so much, really. I probably carried home twenty pounds of books from school every day. And when I was thin, if George ever dared to call me Chunk, I could just totally smile and tell him not refer to me by such an inappropriate nickname. Yeah, I would show George.

But now I had to figure out how I was going to find a guy for the prom. As head of the refreshment committee, I would have to be there. However, I didn’t want to go alone and wind up with the eighth graders, passing out cookies and punch all night.

Just how was I going to snag a guy? Sometimes it seemed as if I was the only sixteen-year-old girl in Waterside, Connecticut who’d never managed to do that. Okay, the population of Waterside was small enough that I was one out of only a couple hundred students instead of thousands, but still. Maybe losing weight was a good idea. Maybe when I was thinner getting a guy wouldn’t be such a problem. Maybe I could even find someone special. Someone like … Kevin Laconia.

Kevin had moved to Waterside a year ago, and I, along with the entire female population, had noticed him right away. And not just because Waterside was such a small school that all newcomers were seriously scrutinized.

I mean, what girl could resist one of the few guys at Waterside High who was not only tall and broad-shouldered, but totally great looking, with his wavy black hair and thick-lashed gray eyes? The corners of his mouth turned up so that even when he was serious he had a good to see you smile that lead even the shyest girls to think that entering his world was possible.

Unfortunately, blonde, beautiful, etc., Nicole Sandhurst got her perfectly manicured claws into him first. Nicole upheld the family tradition, established by her mother, of going with only the best looking, most popular guys. Nicole’s mother had not only been Junior Prom Queen and Senior Cotillion Queen, but at nineteen had reigned as Miss Connecticut in the Miss America Pageant. Nicole had a lot to live up to.

“Hi, Mattie.”

I almost dropped my books all over the sidewalk again. I recognized the voice of the person behind me who had said Hi. Though my heart pounded, I tried to sound composed. I turned around, but avoided looking into his eyes. “Hi, Kevin.”

It was then that I also noticed Walter Mattesky. “Oh. Hi, Walt.”

“Hello, Mattie!” Walt tipped an imaginary hat.

I knew Walt since forever. He was a good guy, but he often behaved and talked in a sort of formal way, probably because his dad wrote an etiquette column for a magazine.

Too bad I wouldn’t be walking alone with Kevin. But maybe it was just as well. I wasn’t sure I had the nerve to talk to Kevin by myself, anyway. I did want to say something, however, to break the silence that seemed to hang in the air like a limp balloon. For once a topic of conversation occurred to me. Timidly I asked, “Are you set for the game tonight?”

Okay, it wasn’t the most original question in the world, but if Waterside won, we’d go to the state basketball tournament for the first time in five years. Kevin was a starting player. Walt, who came up to my lower lip, was the team manager. He kept track of the basketballs and team jackets, and handed out towels.

“We’re ready!” Walt exclaimed, pointing his index finger to the sky.

“Ready as I’ll ever be.” Kevin smiled and raised one eyebrow. “Are you going, Mattie?”

“Yes,” I said, trying to sound matter of fact about it. I wouldn’t miss it for anything since Kevin would be there, but, of course, I couldn’t let him know that.

“Great.” Kevin squeezed my shoulder and turned to cross the street. “See you there.”

“So long,” said Walt.

“B-bye,” I stammered. Kevin actually touched my shoulder! I could still feel the warmth of his hand. I strayed off the sidewalk right into the gutter.

“Mattie, this is the way home.” Walt cupped his hand under my elbow and guided me back up the curb and around the corner.

“What?” I ran my fingers through my hair, trying to hide the fact that I was blushing. “I mean, uh, I was thinking about the, uh, refreshments for the prom and I guess I forgot to watch where I was going.”

“I wanted to talk to you about the prom,” said Walt.

“Oh?” I looked down into Walt’s golden brown, owl like eyes. “What about it?”

“As you know, I’m in charge of decorations.”

“Yes ….”

“Our theme this year is ‘Underwater Fantasy.”

“I know.”

“Well,” he said eagerly, “how ‘bout if we form a joint committee to coordinate the decorations and refreshments?”

“That might work,” I said. I had to admit that for as long as I’d known him Walt always came up with good ideas. “What have you thought of so far?”

“We could have cookies shaped like shells, starfish, even doubloons—underwater treasure aspect, you see—and make the punch green. Like seawater. What do you think?”

“The cookie idea sounds good. Let me think about the punch tonight and we can talk about it some more tomorrow.”

“Fine,” Walt said. “I’ll stop by your house on the way to school and we can talk about it then.”

“Sure. Wait! No.” I had an idea on how to get some exercise. “I’ll stop by your house on the way to school.”

“But I live a half mile farther from school than you do.”

“That’s just it. Uh, I mean, we’ll have more time to talk. And besides, I could always use a bit more exercise.” I forced a small laugh, trying to sound nonchalant.

Walt didn’t question my motives. “Fine. 7:30?”

“Great. See you then.” I smiled to myself. I had found an inconspicuous way to get some exercise. I wouldn’t have to be tempted by cookies and punch—I could think of them as shells and seawater. Also, I had more reason than ever to stick with my new weight loss plan. Kevin.

Kevin had put his hand on my shoulder. Kevin had asked if I was going to the game. Kevin had said he would see me there.

I couldn’t wait to tell Erwina!

 

 

Chapter Two

 

 

Suddenly I realized that I was at my front door and it was locked and my phone was ringing. I fumbled with my twenty pounds of books, dug out my phone, and just barely avoided tripping over the cat.

“Move, Parmesan,” I commanded, as I juggled my phone and keys and struggled with the lock. After dropping my book bag on my toes and once again spilling my books, I swallowed a scream. I managed a civilized Hello by the fourth ring. I opened the door, gathered up my books and let myself and Parmesan in.

“Hi.” It was Erwina. “Need a ride to the game tonight?”

“Yes.” I stuck my books on the hall table. “Mom has to work this evening, so she’ll have the car.” Mom worked part time as a nurse at the local health clinic.

Even though no one was home to hear, I spoke in a low voice. “Guess what happened this afternoon.”

“Dr. Adam discovered you have a social disease?”

“Erwina!”

“Sorry. You sounded so mysterious. What happened?”

“After I left Dr. Adam’s office, Kevin Laconia walked me part way home!”

“You and Kevin alone together? Good thing Nicole didn’t see you. You look better with your scalp attached.”

“With my frizzy hair? Are you kidding?” I said. “And besides, I didn’t have to worry about a confrontation with Nicole. Walt Mattesky was there. I’m sure Nicole would have assumed I was with him. But wait until I tell you what Kevin said to me.”

Erwina sighed. “I’m waiting. What did Kevin say to you?”

“He asked me if I was going to the game!”

“And?”

“And he said he’d see me there.”

“That’s it?” Only Erwina’s lighthearted voice took some of the sting out of her words. Erwina was a true and loyal friend, but sometimes she had a way of being blunt that could burst my fantasies easier than a pin could pop a bubble.

“He’s interested,” I said uncertainly. Couldn’t Erwina understand that? Had she been with George for so many months that she forgot what it was like at the beginning of a relationship?

“Who knows? Maybe he is,” Erwina said. “What’s Walt up to?”

“We’re going to get together for the prom,” I said. I didn’t want to discuss Walt. I wanted to talk about Kevin.

“The prom! You and Walt!” Erwina laughed. “So all that stuff about Kevin was totally a decoy.”

“No. No!” I realized what Erwina must be thinking. “We’re going to work together on the prom. We’ve decided to form a joint refreshment decoration committee.” Why would Erwina get so excited about me going to the prom with Walt, anyway? In heels I would absolutely tower over him. Wanting to get off the subject of Walt, I said, “Hey, want to be on the committee with us?”

“Sure. Look, I’ve got a ton of homework waiting. Pick you up after dinner, okay?”

“Okay. Bye.” I closed my eyes. I pictured Kevin smiling at me, his hand on my shoulder.

Kevin and Nicole weren’t inseparable. In fact, Nicole had broken up with Kevin last summer when he went on vacation with his family for several weeks. She latched onto Craig, a summer guy who was now a freshman at Dartmouth. They had spent the summer cruising the streets of Waterside in his yellow Corvette and sailing Long Island Sound in his shiny blue Sunfish. However, Nicole evidently realized that Dartmouth was pretty far away and she couldn’t date a text message. So she batted her eyes at Kevin the second he returned from vacation and they were together again.

Summer was only a few months away. Nicole still made a big deal about Craig whenever Kevin wasn’t around. Maybe Kevin would see through Nicole. Maybe he would prefer a girl who wouldn’t use him. Maybe—

“I’m home!”

I whirled around. “Hi, Dad.” I hadn’t heard him come in. If he had noticed that I had been standing there with my eyes closed, he didn’t mention it.

“How was your checkup with Dr. Adam?”

My checkup. I’d almost forgotten. I pulled the diet sheet from my notebook and handed it to Dad. “I’m fine. But I’m supposed to go on a diet.”

Dad read the diet sheet and announced enthusiastically, “This diet of yours will be great for all of us.”

He patted his stomach as if it were a potbelly. As editor of the Waterside Weekly Reporter he didn’t get much on the job exercise. But he always walked to work, no matter what the weather. And he and Mom kept in good shape by jogging and playing tennis.

I always felt big and clumsy whenever I tried anything athletic. Knitting and crocheting were more my style. “Dad, you like cottage cheese,” I said. “I’m not sure if I’m ready to eliminate pasta and ice cream from my life.”

“You really don’t eat that much,” Dad said. “You just have a slow metabolism like your Aunt Matilda. You’re so attractive that only a doctor’s sensitive scale could detect any excess weight you might be concealing!”

Dad loved to exaggerate. I gave him a hug. “Only a parent could ignore twenty pounds of fat, not to mention frizzy hair that has to be clamped down with at least four barrettes.” Erwina had made me try her flat iron once, but it made my hair flat and straight, while still frizzy at the roots. Besides, I didn’t really want it straight, just not frizzy. So I didn’t even try a straightener. When it came to my hair, I was a total klutz, anyway. It was safer just to tame it with barrettes.

“Don’t put yourself down, Mattie,” Dad said. “You have beautiful eyes and your mother’s good cheekbones.”

“Who can see my cheekbones under this padding?” I clapped my hands to my cheeks and tried to make a joke of it. I couldn’t accept a compliment about my looks, even from Dad. I was taller than half the boys at school (most of the guys at Waterside were notoriously short—at least I thought so). I was sure I outweighed most of them, too. If only there were more guys around like Kevin. Next to him I felt almost feminine, even dainty. Not like some cow.

“It’s our turn to cook,” Dad said. “Why don’t you get started on the chicken and I’ll fix dessert.”

“Dessert? I’m supposed to be on a diet.”

“Don’t worry. I have an idea.”

“Well ….” I sighed. Dad and his “ideas”. There was no talking him out of them. I took the chicken out of the refrigerator, deciding to bake it instead of frying it. I decided to bake the potatoes, too, instead of fixing my usual favorite—French fries.

I vowed to myself that I’d make the diet work. I was not going to go to my own prom alone. Once I got thin, guys would notice me, I was sure of it.

Mom walked in the door just as I was thinking about going ahead and eating without her, so I wouldn’t make Erwina late for the game.

“Mom, I glad you made it.” I quickly placed platters of food on the table. “The game with Denham is tonight and I’ve got to leave in fifteen minutes.”

“Alma Turner came in with a broken arm just before my dinner break.” Mom hung her coat on a hook near the kitchen door. Her cheeks were rosy from the cold. Snowflakes clung to her dark, shiny hair that she wore coiled in a braid at the back of her head when she worked. “I wanted to stay until she was taken care of. She seemed badly shaken.”

“George’s mother? That’s too bad.” Dad kissed Mom, then set three glasses of skim milk on the table.

“Was it another car accident?” I asked. George’s father had recently had his license suspended for drunk driving after running his car off the road. He and Mrs. Turner had escaped with just a few bumps and bruises, but he’d knocked over a stop sign.

“She said she slipped and fell on the sidewalk.” Mom glanced at Dad, then turned to me. “Please be careful going to the game tonight. It is icy and there are some snow flurries.”

“Don’t worry, Mom. You know Erwina’s a good driver.”

Mom nodded.

We sat down and ate. I tried to watch my portions.

Then Dad announced, “And now for dessert!” He got up, pulled a bowl out of the refrigerator, and spooned a white fluffy substance into three bowls.

“What is it?” It looked like soapsuds. “I, um, might not have time to eat it.”

“I call it Frozen Fluff. I invented it. You’ll love it.”

“Hmm.”

“It’s amazing what a person can do with just some gelatin, skim milk, lemon juice and vanilla extract,” Dad said proudly.

I tasted a spoonful. It bubbled on my tongue, but I managed an encouraging smile. The best thing about it was that it killed my appetite.

A car horn sounded in the driveway.

“That’s Erwina! I’ll be home right after the game.” I stuck my dishes in the dishwasher, grabbed my coat and purse, and ran outside.

“Hi!” I plopped myself into the seat of the Lane’s ancient Buick. Erwina was so petite she had to sit on a pillow just to see over the dashboard. Her size, coupled with her short pixie haircut and round brown eyes, always made me feel as if I were being driven around by an elf. “All set to cheer for George?”

“You know I’ll cheer for all the guys.” Erwina grinned. Some people considered her a flirt. But it was just her nature to be friendly and outgoing. She was so short she had to look up at guys through her long, curly eyelashes. Crinkling her nose and smiling impishly were merely family trademarks.

At the school Erwina circled the parking lot twice before finding a space.