“You’re late, Ernie,” Becky says, arms folded, freckles bunching angrily around her nose. It looks like she’s been folding my laundry to pass the time.
“Um…you’ve got red marker on your face,” I tell her.
She wipes the back of her arm across her forehead, and the ink disappears. “Don’t change the subject.”
I go over to my desk and drag one of my arms across the top, knocking empty soda cans and honey bun boxes onto the floor so as to make room for the nacho platter. “What subject?”
“You were supposed to meet me for breakfast this morning. You were supposed to be my Calorie Coach, remember?”
For fuck’s sake, not the diet thing again— “Oh, you were serious about that?”
Shit. I don’t really want to, but I turn around and face Becky, and, sure enough, she totally looks like she’s convinced herself that I’ve somehow fucked her day up.
She walks around me, putting herself between me and the desk. “I tried to tell my parents that I wanted to start watching my weight, but they didn’t listen—just like I knew they wouldn’t. ‘You’re too young to be thinking about things like diets!’ they told me. My dad said I was being silly, and my mom just piled more waffles onto my plate. I couldn’t help myself, Ernie. I ate everything. I wanted to vomit after. I’d broken my own promise—you’d broken your promise.”
“Hey, wait a minute,” I say, jabbing my finger at her. “You may have asked me, in passing, to help you count a calorie here or there—the jury’s still out on that one—but I never made any promises.”
“Of course not! You never think about anyone but yourself!”
Lies! “That’s not true. I’m thinking about you right now.”
Becky looks hopeful. “Really?”
“Sure. I’m wondering when you’re going to upload back home and let me eat my dunch in peace.”
Storm clouds brew behind Becky’s eyes like some cheesy Hollywood effect. “Ernie, I…dunch?”
“Duh,” I say, rolling my eyes. “It’s the meal that’s between lunch and dinner.”
“That’s ridiculous. There’s no such thing as a meal between lunch and dinner.”
“Sure there is. It’s just like brunch, except it’s after noon and before five.”
“You can snack between lunch and dinner, you can have a late lunch or an early dinner, but there’s no actual meal between noon and five. That’s just stupid!”
“Meh,” I grunt, glancing past her and wondering if she’s the slightest bit aware that the cheese on my nacho platter is starting to congeal—and it hits me. I see what’s going on here. It’s a dominance thing. Becky can’t control her poundage, so she’s decided to try controlling me instead by placing herself in a position of power—between me and my food!
I grab her shoulders and move her out of the way. She stands off to the side, watches in grossed-out fascination as I avail myself of Tacoman’s glorious culinary handiwork.
“Don’t you see what you’re doing?” she asks quietly after I’ve devoured the topmost layer.
“What?” I ask her, my mouth full. “What am I doing?”
“You’re medicating yourself with food—you need this diet more than I do.”
“You make it sound like I’m snorting cocaine—”
“You clearly have an eating problem, Ernie!”
“And you clearly have an acute case of the nags!”
Becky goes quiet for a moment. Then she says, “I saw the photograph.”
“What photograph?” I ask.
I glance over my shoulder.
Becky pulls a piece of paper out of her jeans pocket, unfolds it. “I was bored waiting for you to get back, so I went on your computer for a while.” She holds the paper out for me to see. On it is a photograph of me and my parents from two years ago. They look so alive. And me, I’m so thin, so reasonably fit, a healthy ten-year-old—
Goddamnit! I knew I never should’ve given her my password! I grab the printout from her; I turn around again, angry, ready to attack the nacho platter with renewed vigor, but Becky grabs me, brings me face-to-face with her so that her pug nose is pressed into my cheek. She nibbles sloppily at my mouth, trying to find the right positioning—then she locks in, plants one on me like some kind of vacuum hose with eyes. Never mind that I’ve got sour cream on my lips and pinto bean skins stuck to my teeth; she’s got me in an air-tight lip-lock, one of those dirty ones where the girl basically jams her tongue down your throat and all you can do is grab onto her butt for support. It’s kind of gross…but it’s kind of cool. I mean, I’m kissing a girl. Even if it is just the Beckster.
After a while she breaks it off and steps back.
“Now,” she says, spitting a stray piece of tomato into her hand and frowning distastefully. “Wasn’t that better than nachos?”
I blink at her. “Are you trying to seduce me?”
“I’m trying to show you that there are other things worth your time, things beside food. And if you come on this diet with me, we can keep our mouths occupied in…other ways.”
She is trying to seduce me!
“I think you should know,” I say, “that offering your body to me in exchange for my going on your little diet makes you look really slutty.”
Becky throws her arms up in the air, exasperated. “Ernie, I’m not offering my whole body to you, I’m—oh, never mind! Are you going to be my Calorie Coach or not?”
“Can’t I coach your calories without touching my own? Sort of like how a P.E. teacher eats Subway while telling his students to run the mile?”
“Okay, bottom line,” Becky says. “Me or food. Choose.”
I want to help her. Kind of. But, well…nachos, you know?
My hand slides across the desk of its own accord, reaches for the computer mouse—
“Ernie! Don’t you dare!” Becky warns—
—but it’s too late. I’ve already clicked the “Send Home” button.
I sit at my desk. I’ve still got the family photo in my hand. I look at it once more before grabbing another nacho. This one’s got two pinto beans and an olive slice on it that makes it look like a face. “Stupid girl,” I tell the nacho. “She thinks my eating is the result of some sort of repressed emotion, a shitty substitute for coping with the loss of my mom and dad in that freak Wal-Mart stampede. Doesn’t she know it’s because you taste so delicious?” I tickle the nacho with my tongue. “Yes, you do. Yes, you do!”
I resume my eating, subconsciously crumbling the family photo in my hand and dropping it into the wastebasket beside the desk.