Chapter Twelve; Part One
“Liz! What are you doing here?” It was Friday night, and my sister had shown up unexpectedly. Again, she got into the building without me buzzing her up. This was happening more frequently than I liked; I reluctantly decided to call the landlord first thing Monday morning during my prep hour at school to take care of it.
“Are you going to let me in?” Liz asked waspishly, taking me by surprise. She was the easygoing one in the family, the sister quick to jump in when others were fighting. I’d never heard an edge to her voice. Until tonight. “I took the bus to see you, so the least you could is let me into your apartment.”
“Come in.” I stood aside, watching Liz as she entered. She had cut her waist-length hair so that it fell just slightly past her shoulders in a shag cut. It looked cute with her pixie face and pointed chin, but my mother must have had a fit when she saw it. She thought girls under thirty should have long hair. Liz was taking her time removing her shoes, so I was able to study her more carefully. Always the thinnest of the sisters, she was almost gaunt now. She was wearing jeans which hung on her slight hips and a fitted top that was loose as well. She’d never had big boobs to begin with, but now they were nonexistent. There were dark circles under her eyes, and she looked exhausted. I vowed not to get into it with her, even though I knew why she was there. She dumped her bag by the door, waiting for me to make my overtures.
“Would you like some tea, Liz? How about some chocolate chip cookies? They’re your favorite—triple chocolate chunk cookies. I made them a few nights ago.” I observed her closely as I made my offer as I was beginning to form a suspicious thought.
“Ew, no,” Liz said, wrinkling her nose. “Do you know how many calories are in one of your special cookies? A zillion.” She straightened up and flashed me a wan grin before hugging me. It was like hugging a skeleton, and it creeped me out.
“Are you dieting?” I asked sharply, pulling away from Liz and holding her at an arm’s length. Her cheeks had hollowed out, and there was a pinched look about her face that hadn’t been there before.
“Just a little,” Liz admitted, not meeting my eyes. “After Scott dumped me, I felt I needed to get into shape. You know how it is.”
“You were already in shape,” I pointed out, steering my sister to the living room. I waited for her to sit before continuing my interrogation. “What did Scott say to make you feel you needed to lose weight?” Inside, I was seething. Scott Jorgenson was a football player with a raging ego. He was known to blow through the girls like they were nothing. I had met him once and had been less than impressed. He and Liz had dated two months before he dumped her. Since I hadn’t heard her complain, I’d assumed she’d been fine with it. Big mistake. Liz didn’t talk about her problems to anyone, which was why she’d struggled with an eating disorder for the last ten years.
“He just said, you know, that I didn’t look as good as I had when we started dating.” Liz tried to say it casually, but her tone was brittle. I wanted to hunt down Jorgenson and slice his nuts off. He was also known to be extremely nasty when he broke up with a girl, probably because of his guilty conscience. I would bet the fact that Liz wanted to remain a virgin until marriage had more to do with his dumping her than her looks. “He’s right, you know. I gained a pound while I was dating him.” Scott was six-four and almost two-fifty—not all of it muscle. He was not one to talk about gaining weight, let me tell you.
“Liz, that’s nuts, and you know it.” I was blunt because nothing else worked with my sister. Our family had learned through long, hard, painful experience that the only way to even hope to get through her obsession was to be honest to the point of rudeness. It jolted her out of her trance. “You look like you should be in a concentration camp. I bet you’re blacking out again, aren’t you?” Liz hung her head but didn’t answer. “Wait right here.”
I left the room before she could respond. I went into the kitchen and rummaged through my fridge. Fortunately, I had some leftover noodles and soup from Bona. Pho, with beef. My favorite, and one of hers as well. I heated it in the microwave while pouring a glass of skim milk. I knew it would be better if Liz had whole, but all I had was skim. She wouldn’t put up as big a fight if it was skim, anyway. I grabbed a banana, too. I put everything on a tray, including utensils. I grabbed two cookies and placed them on the tray as well. I’d be lucky if she ate one, but I’d eat the leftover cookie if she didn’t. Now, I just had to wait for the soup to heat up. When it was ready, I poured it in a bowl and carried everything back into the living room. Liz was slumped over on the couch, her eyes closed. I set the tray on the coffee table and sat next to Liz.
“Liz, wake up.” I nudged her gently in the ribs, not wanting to bruise her.
“Huh, what?” Liz opened her eyes, blinking in confusion. “Where am I? What happened?”
“You must have blacked out for a minute,” I said, concealing my sadness from her. I’d been doing this song and dance with her for the last ten years, on and off. I couldn’t understand how such a beautiful, intelligent girl could be so stupid. “Here. Eat this soup.” I placed the spoon in her hand and closed her fingers over it. “Now.” My tone let her know there was no choice but to obey. She knew I’d force-feed her if I had to, though that was definitely the last resort. Reluctantly, she spooned a tiny amount of the broth into her mouth and swished it around five times before swallowing. I knew every bite would take as long if not longer, but I didn’t care. I’d take all night if I had to.
I watched as Liz carefully sipped the soup, avoiding the noodles and the beef. She’d eat the cabbage, but nothing else. A dirty look from me impelled her to pick up her chopsticks and place one noodle in her mouth, masticating it thoroughly. Even though it must have tasted pretty disgusting by the time she was through, she had a look of rapture on her face. I waited for the moment I knew was to come. Twenty minutes after we started, something in her clicked. She stopped being so stringent and started slurping the soup. Instead of avoiding the beef and noodles, she went out of her way to cram as much of it in her mouth as possible. Once in a while, I had to pull the bowl away from her so she would finish one bite before taking the next.
“More,” Liz whispered when she’d finished half the bowl. Eyeing her bulging stomach, I shook my head.
“Eat this instead.” I peeled the banana and broke it in half, handing her one half. True to my prediction, she shoved it into her mouth in one piece. Also true to form, she began choking. “Spit it out if you have to!” I urged, leaning towards her. I was prepared to pry her jaws apart if need be, but she got herself under control. She chewed vigorously before swallowing. When she was through, there was color in her cheeks.
“More?” She asked, making it a question rather than a request.
“Here.” I gave her half a cookie and the glass of milk. She popped the cookie into her mouth, washing it down with a swig of milk. When she was through, she sagged against the couch in a food-induced bliss, closing her eyes at the same time. By how much she’d eaten and how quickly she’d succumbed, I gauged that she’d been dieting for a week or so. If it had been longer, she wouldn’t have given in so easily. Her resistance built up over time until it was rock hard. I had gotten to her before the shit truly hit the fan, for which I said a silent prayer of thanks. Guilt washed over me. I should have checked in on her more often, given her history. It was so easy to overlook her because she never complained about anything. That reminded me, what was she doing here in the first place?
“Liz?” I nudged her again, wanting to make sure she was breathing.
“Hmmmm?” Liz asked, her eyes still closed.
“Liz!” I sharpened my voice to get her attention. It worked as her eyes popped open. “What are you doing here? Not that I’m not glad to see you, but you must have a reason for venturing away from campus.” Liz lost the little color she had, a haunted expression creeping over her face. I had a strong hunch why she was there so I decided to make it easier on her. “It’s Mom, isn’t it? She’s nagging at you to talk me out of being friends with Ned.” Liz didn’t say anything, but I knew I was right. I reined in my temper and added, “Well, give it your best shot. I’m listening.” I knew there was nothing she could say that would make me not be friends with Ned, but it wouldn’t hurt to give her a courtesy listen.
“I’ve been thinking, Margaret,” Liz said slowly, sitting up straight. “I’ve been thinking a lot about what you said. About being a loyal friend.” I didn’t remember saying anything about that, but she might be right. Too much was happening to me these days for me to remember every little detail of a conversation I had ages ago. “I think you’re right. You and Ned have been friends too long to break up over his sexual orientation. I mean, he’s the one who has to make it right with God, not you.” I was tempted to tell her that he’d already had, but I let her continue. “The thing is, you know how Mom gets.” Liz tried to smile, but she couldn’t manage it. I suddenly realized how much my sisters and I relied on Liz to take the brunt of our mother’s scolding. We rationalized that she was the one least affected by it as it rarely concerned her, but I could see how faulty that logic was. If anything, it hurt her more because it put her squarely in the middle of every family feud we’d ever had. I cursed myself for being so dense. No wonder the poor girl resorted to starving herself.
“Liz, we haven’t been fair to you, have we?” I asked gently, putting my arm around my sister’s fragile shoulders. They were tensed, as if prepared for battle. I vowed to buy her a few sessions with Wind for her birthday. Her poor body needed it. “We’ve always count on you to solve our disputes without thinking about what it does to you.”
“It’s OK, I’m used to it.” She tried to smile again, and I felt a fresh pang of guilt. She shouldn’t have to be used to such things—especially not at her age. She should be worrying about boys and grades and what she was going to do when she graduated.
“You won’t get it from me any more,” I said firmly, massaging her shoulder. It was like trying to massage granite. “As for Mom, well, I’ll tell her not to go through you, any more, so you won’t have to be the bad guy. How does that sound?”
“Would you really, Margaret?” Liz asked, her face lighting up. “That would be great.” It took so little to please her—I vowed to do it more often. “I should be going. I have a study group in half an hour.” I glanced at the clock, seeing that it was eight o’clock.
“I’ll drive you where you need to be,” I said, standing up and holding my hand out to her. Helping her off the couch was like moving a feather. “Come with me.” I walked her into the kitchen, still holding her hand. Partly out of affection, but mostly so she wouldn’t fall. As soon as we walked into the kitchen, I made a care package for her to take with her. I filled it with more of the cookies, fruit, cheese, and crackers. When she protested, I said she could share with her study buddies. That put a stop to her complaints, and she slid the package into her backpack to take with her.
“Liz, are you happy?” As I asked the question, I realized I had no clue. What else about my sister didn’t I know?
“Su-sure,” Liz stuttered, not quite able to say it smoothly. “I mean, school is tough, and there’s this guy I like who doesn’t even know I exist, but that’s normal, right?”
“Any guy who doesn’t notice you is an idiot,” I said, giving her a brief hug before heading towards the front door. “Come on. You gotta go.”
On the way to where Liz had to be, I let her chatter. I wasn’t used to being the recipient of her confidences, but it was a welcome change. Her voice was lighter, he attitude was more upbeat, and I had a feeling that she would stop the dieting nonsense. Just in case, however, I planned on calling her every few days and grilling her about what she’d eaten. Oh, I knew that I couldn’t force her to eat unless I was with her, but I was going to check up on her just to remind her that somebody knew what she was doing. I’d go over there with more food if I had to, but I wasn’t going to allow her to slip through the cracks any longer.
“Thanks, Margaret. You’ve been a real help.” Liz leaned over and kissed me on the cheek before hopping out of the car with her bag and her goodies. I watched as she bounded towards the apartment building where her study group was held. Once she was in, I turned on the car and got out of there. I thought of nothing other than my sister on the way home.
“I’m seeing Ted tonight, Wind. What are you doing?” It was Saturday afternoon, and I was chatting with Wind as I studied the clothes in my closet. I wanted to be sexy without being slutty, and I still hadn’t decided if I was going to sleep with him or not.
“I have a date, too,” Wind said smugly, dropping her voice as she did. That meant her roommate was home and Wind didn’t want her to overhear. I understood as Katie was a leech who wanted nothing more than to be Wind’s best friend. Unfortunately for Katie, she was a meat-loving, pop-listening, atheist woman who held little to no interest for Wind. Wind was looking for another rooming situation because her lease was up in two months. She had a few leads and couldn’t wait to escape Katie’s clutches.
“That’s great, Wind,” I said, focusing on her for a minute. Wind didn’t have an easy time dating because of her height and her—for Minnesota—esoteric beliefs. “Who is he?”
“A guy I met in my yoga class. His name is Brett. He builds kinetic sculptures and lives in Uptown.” Her voice was gooey, which I hoped meant she was over Lucifer. Her next statement shattered that hope, however. “Say, Margaret.” Her voice was elaborately casual, which meant that she was about to say something she didn’t think I’d want to hear. “Seen much of the devil lately?” Her false laughter hurt my ears, and I remained silent. I didn’t want to egg her on, and besides, I hadn’t seen hide nor hair of God or Lucifer since the last showdown. Maybe it was wishful thinking on my part, but I liked to believe that they’d given up interfering in my life. I said it was wishful thinking, but a girl can hope, can’t she?
“Look, Wind. You know Lucifer’s no good for you. Concentrate on Brad. I guarantee you’ll be better off for it.” I was about to get off the phone when I remembered my sister. I mentioned it to Wind, outlining the situation. She immediately agreed to do a few sessions with Liz, and she refused to be paid.
“You could hook me up with Lucifer as payment,” she said jokingly. At least, I hoped she was joking. That’s the way I chose to interpret her comment, and I refused to consider that she might be serious.
“Let me know how your date goes,” I said to Wind just before hanging up the phone. Then I turned my attention to what I was going to wear.
The problem was that I had a dilemma. I knew I shouldn’t sleep with Ted, but I also knew if I went over to his house, I was in danger. I wasn’t the kind of woman who played coy, and I wanted him. However, I sensed that he was something more than a one-night stand, which meant I should get to know him better before hopping into the sack with him. I sighed. Wasn’t sex supposed to easier after the sexual revolution? Wasn’t that the whole idea? Instead, it seemed to be more complicated than ever. I didn’t want to return to the days of mandatory virginity until marriage—like that really happened—but I also thought there were too many choices these days. There had to be a nice medium between Madonna and whore. I didn’t think sex had to be sacred each and every time, but it should be something more than scratching an itch.
I shoved those thoughts to the side as I contemplated my wardrobe. I also gazed at my midriff which was thickening ever-so-slightly. I knew that in a few weeks, my sexy clothes would be history. Not that I’d be wearing smocks and muumuus any time soon, but I’d definitely have to put the form-fitting togs aside. I pulled out the red dress, the one I’d worn to dinner with Alan and considered it. It was by far the sexiest piece of clothing I owned—and the one which covered up the most—and I had to wear it now if I wanted to wear it at all. I hesitated as I knew I’d most likely end up sleeping with Ted if I wore the dress—it was that powerful—but I finally pulled it out of the closet and dropped it over my head. No panties and no bra. I contemplated not wearing hose, but even I didn’t dare to be that forward. I pulled on the same pair I’d worn that night with Alan—hey, I considered things clean until they actually stunk.
I frowned as I stared at myself in the mirror. Oh, not because I looked hideous or anything like that, but because the dress had absolutely no give. That meant I’d have to be careful what I ate for dinner, or I’d be popping out of the dress. However, the millimeter increase in my breasts made the dress look even better, so I kept it on. Looking this good was worth the sacrifice of a good meal, wasn’t it? Ted damn well better think so, or he’d be going to bed alone tonight. I turned to look at my ass and concluded that it looked fine as well. In fact, I’d never looked better before in my life. I hated to say it, but I had that glow that pregnant women seemed to have. I guessed it came from creating life inside of you. I wouldn’t know, but I had it, and I was going to work it to my advantage.
I carefully pinned up my hair in an elaborate bun, fastening it with a festive Taiwanese ornament. I let a few strands artfully drape around my face, giving me an ethereal look. A little kohl around the eyes and Diva lipstick was all the makeup I wore. It was amazing what a change of the packaging could do to the appearance and to the sentiment. Instead of feeling brash and sassy as I usually did, I felt softer and more vulnerable. Not in a bad way, however. I should amend that to more open. Receptive. Feminine. I sincerely hoped Ted appreciated the effort as I normally took five minutes getting ready to go out.
I checked my bracelet watch. Seven-thirty. I had to be at Ted’s at eight, so I better leave. I hated to be late with a passion and would rather be early. It’s part of my Taiwanese legacy as Taiwanese events never started until at least half an hour after they said they would. It drove me crazy when our family would arrive on time—because my mother was a stickler for time—and be the first ones there by at least twenty minutes. I vowed at an early age that I would never be late for anything. Fortunately for me, most Americans frowned upon tardiness as well, so my mania for being on time suited me well in mainstream America.
I slipped into my black Saturn, feeling dainty as all hell. I tossed my velvet clutch bag into the passenger seat, buckled up for safety, and roared away. I had a three-pack of condoms tucked into my cute little purse because I’d made up my mind. I was going to have sex with Ted tonight if the situation felt conducive. I knew a lot of women didn’t like planning ahead because they didn’t want to look like sluts, but I’d rather be thought of as a slut than be caught unprepared. Of course, I couldn’t get pregnant as I already was, but there were always diseases. I had been tested immediately after I caught Gary with his ho, but it was best to be tested six months after the scare, which meant I had four months or so to go. Besides, even though I liked Ted, I didn’t know where he’d been. Plus, his ex had been a cheater as well. So, for both our sakes, we had to be protected. Ah, sex in the new millennium—a lot like sex in the nineties.