Authors: Jenny Ruden
We agreed that since Cambridge was the oldest, she should be permitted to pick her bed first. She gravitated toward the top bunk like it had a magnetic field. In the bathroom, I reveled in the claw-footed tub and complimentary fluffy towels when Santa Fe asked, “I wonder how many geniuses sat their butts on that very toilet?” She stopped. “Lighten up. I'm going to SEE YOU PEE!”
I tried not to laugh, but couldn't help it. Who starts a university with the initials C.U.P. anyway? Lame.
Santa Fe walked back into our room and flopped down on the metal bed next to the window. That left me with the bottom bunk.
We all three busied ourselves in silence. Santa Fe removed an electronic device from her suitcase that beeped a few times. She rapped it on the wooden desk, cursed, and it dinged some more. Cambridge hummed a song on the bunk above me. I dumped my duffle bag out on the bottom bunk and pretended to fold my underwear.
The silence was tense. I'd bet prisoners felt like this when assigned a new cellmate. Reaching into the empty pocket space where my cell phone once lived, I shuddered. Of course if I'd had it, I would text TJ. It felt strange not to be narrating everything to him. I knew he'd be curious about my roommates and, pathetically, I wondered if he'd find any of them pretty. Cambridge especially. She leaned toward preppy, sure, but there was a strength there I'd bet he'd find appealing. Or maybe Santa Fe. She had a foul mouth and didn't look older than twelve, but she was funny. More than likely, though, he'd swoon over the one they called Hollywood. Her waist measured the smallest even though her boobs were by far the biggest, which, back in the common room, it seemed all the boys had noticed. And she'd noticed their noticing.
The phone in our dorm room had been removed as well as the mini-fridge. Everything smelled of mildew and smart people. As my roommates unpacked around me, I frantically searched my mind for something to say. But it was Cambridge who spoke first, her voice jazz itself.
“I am,” I replied quickly. “I haven't eaten since breakfast.”
Her hand reached down from the top bunk and in its grasp was an espresso mocha frappe drink, the kind in glass bottles with three times the caffeine that's recommended. I hesitated. Was this some kind of test?
“Go on and take it,” Cambridge said. “My dad sewed them into the lining of my suitcase so they'd get past the bag check.” She swung her head down and smiled. “He's an expert at hiding things.”
I opened the bottle. Just then Santa Fe asked, “
Almost instantaneously, one thunked beside her. “I shouldn't drink this,” Santa Fe said, but she did drink it, and thirstily, like she had just crossed a desert. While she drank, I concentrated on her
shirt with a bleeding bullet hole centered in the cat's forehead.
“Help yourself, girls,” Cambridge offered. “There's plenty more. He stuffed all kinds of things in here. Candy. Granola bars.”
“What about you?” Santa Fe asked Cambridge. “Aren't you going to have anything?”
“No thanks,” Cambridge replied. “I really shouldn't.”
“Me neither,” replied Santa Fe, downing the last drop, “considering I'm diabetic.”
Bummer. That electronic device was a blood sugar monitor not an iPod. I hoped its beeping wasn't a warning.
No te preocupes
,” said Santa Fe. “It's under control.” She was lying on the striped, vinyl mattress with her shoes onâhot pink high-tops with black laces. If memory served right, she weighed 180, which wasn't that bad, but she was short, maybe five foot, and she carried her weight in her gut. She had nice legs, skinny ones, and her black hair oozed behind her like an oil slick. “My condition is constantly monitored by my brother,” she said matter-of-factly. “So let's keep the candy our little secret, OK?”
Cambridge mimed zipping her lips.
Santa Fe lifted her arms upward in an effort to smell her armpits. “I got the Utopia scholarship this year,” she said. “I'm Hispanic and Native, and I've got diabetes to boot. I was their dream come true.”
Cambridge tossed her a cellophane bag filled with a pink wig. “Sorry to hear that. That's a lot of boxes to check on an application.”
Santa Fe ripped into the bag. “Cotton candy! Thank you!” she sang out. “Anyway, Utopia is fine with me. It beats sweating in New Mexico all summer.”
I glugged my drink. “I've always wanted to visit there,” I told her. In fact, I'd nearly asked Jackie to drive through New Mexico before our road trip took its most unpleasant turn. Santa Fe laughed and wrapped a tail of cotton candy around her finger. “I don't live in Santa Fe. Counselor Carrot Top couldn't pronounce Albuquerque, or spell it either, so I went with Santa Fe. Sounded exotic.”
She launched her espresso drink into a metal trash can then belched a few bars of what I was pretty sure was a Shakira tune. “
,” she expressed. “Thanks so much for the candy, Cambridge. You sure you don't want to sample your own goods?”
Cambridge sighed. “It seems that since I'm here, I might as well try and lose a few pounds. That's what everyone is expecting anyway.”
“True, true” observed Santa Fe. “But you can't start a diet in the middle of the day. Tomorrow is the official first day,
? What happens in Utopia stays in Utopia.”
Cambridge fondled a box of Goobers. “I don't know about that.”
Santa Fe continued kneading the cotton candy like dough. “
Entra mÃ¡s profundo
, friends. That's what my brother's always saying. You have to fall in deep inside a situation to understand itâor something like that.”
“Your brother seriously followed you to fat camp?” asked Cambridge, confused.
Santa Fe rattled the window's curtain and stared at the campus below. The sun was out now, its light settled on her face and shiny hair. She looked so young. Thirteen maybe. Her navy blue braces glittered when she smiled. “No, he's at genius camp. When I got a scholarship to fat camp, he didn't want me to be alone. He applied to all of CUP's summer programs. You can imagine my surprise when he walked in one day talking about some string theory cha-cha, blah-blah-blah-ing about rocket science math camp, waving his acceptance letter around like some girl's panties. Me and Mom couldn't believe it. He's smart, alright, but a real slacker.”
She looped the cotton candy around her neck like a necklace. “By the way, I'm Liliana Delgado,” she said. “I almost told you guys not to laugh at the name, which means thin one, but I forgot where I was. Anyway, if I can ever get out of Albuquerque, I want to design clothing for thick tweens one day. I'm a mad seamstress.”
When she unzipped a leather carrier, I assumed she was removing the blood sugar monitor again. Only this time she whipped out a deluxe bedazzler. She reached for the curtain and fired a few rounds at the old crusty material. Twenty silver studs materialized. “Check it out.”
I admit it was a nice touch.
We all laughed as Cambridge produced candy from her bag as easily as TJ pulled cards from his sleeve. I could get used to this: lazy mornings, bedazzling curtains, clean towels in the bathroom. Cotton candy. What a life. Why, at California University of the Pacific, we'd even have a refrigerator and cell phone. Likewise, if we visited a vending machine during the night, it wouldn't result in a penalty of the fifty push-up variety.
Just as Cambridge dug deeper into her Mary Poppins bag, promising us a box of Milk Duds, I heard the clonk, clonk, clonk of heels in the bathroom. Within seconds, our door swung open revealing Hollywood, who didn't even have the courtesy to knock.
WE HAD BEEN in our rooms for less than twenty minutes and already our suitemate had changed outfits. Hollywood now wore a dark-pink velour sweatsuit with a ruffle on the butt. Tiffany hearts dangled off her wrists and neck like rabies tags.
“I brought this over,” the starlet informed us and presented a jar the way Vanna introduced a puzzle. “It's our forgiveness bucket. I thought we could join forces. Forgive everyone we can think of and give our team an advantage.”
Her beautiful smile only underscored how idiotic she looked standing in the center of our room with a fishbowl. This was no Carolina Chicken bucket eitherâthe jar looked official, a glittering one like in the commercial. “The Forgiveness Diet says inspiration is important for weight loss.”
“I tried that diet,” I blurted. “How long before it works?”
Hollywood rolled her eyes. Evidently she was asked this question a lot.
“The entire city of Los Angeles is on that diet. It will work if you work it. I'm already down eighteen pounds.”
Eighteen pounds! Where was my eighteen pounds? Maybe I did it wrong. No question this girl followed the directions. I bet Hollywood had even bought the book!
“Have you?” I started. “Um. Like the stuff you put in a jar. The directions said â¦” This was ridiculous. I could barely speak a sentence. Oh, forget it. “How long did it take for the diet to kick in, Hollywood?”
Cambridge sat up in bed. Her legs dangled to my left. “Don't tell me you actually think it'll work.”
“Well â¦,” I replied. “No?”
“It totally works,” snapped Hollywood. “My father endorsed it.”
Cambridge laughed. “My father endorses a lot of bullshit too. That doesn't make it effective.”
Hollywood's neck turned pink. Then red. Less than two minutes, and we'd already pissed her off. “How do you know it doesn't work, Cambridge,” Hollywood asked. Each word was like a slap to the face.
“Please,” Cambridge returned. “I'm not that dumb.”
Liliana, picking at her nail polish nervously, interrupted, “The chick who won
last season went on the diet. She lost ten pounds in two weeks. My brother saw her on a commercial. He said she looked like she could use a feeding tube.”
winner was a bit of a sore spot back home because she'd beat out The Levitator.
Hollywood sighed. “She lost twenty-five pounds on The Forgiveness Diet, not ten. And your brother's wrongâshe looks great.”
IMHO, last year's winner, didn't really need a diet at all. It was Eugene Gold, the meanest judge, who brought much media focus to the singer's butt, which he'd termed
“What about you, Santa Fe?” asked Hollywood. “Have you tried the diet?”
Our roommate flicked a layer of nail polish into the radiator vent. “I think I'll try it tomorrow,” she said. She lowered her chin and stuck out her tongue in order to sample the cotton candy looped around her neck. “Tomorrow is a much better day for forgiveness.”
This not-so-secretive lick did not go unobserved by Hollywood. In fact, Hollywood was now examining Liliana like a menu written in a foreign language. Her petite nose crinkled. “Is that candy around your neck? You brought cotton candy to a weight loss camp?”
Liliana let go a whistle. “Now how did thatâ”
“But why?” Hollywood asked. “Don't you want to lose weight?” She looked from Liliana to Cambridge, then her eyes settled on me. “Don't you want to lose weight?”
This was a fantastic question that none of us attempted to answer.
In the silence that followed, I waited for Hollywood to draw a chalk line between us. Not that she needed to. It was
obvious that our team was a tad divided. Just in time to even the score, Atlanta, the girl with the giant Bumpit in her hair, walked in.
“They brought in CANDY?!” Atlanta balked, her hair jolting.
“My brother did it,” Liliana confessed. “Gabriel gave me the candy. You can throw it out. No big deal.”
Hollywood softenedâa little. “Your brother's stupid,” she said. “This is an opportunity to be taken very serious.”
,” Cambridge corrected. “Camp officially starts tomorrow anyway. Let's just drop it, OK?”
Hollywood returned her gaze to the forgiveness jar. “I was just trying to help. I want our team to win.”
What I gathered from this girl in the whole hour I'd known her was not only did Hollywood like to win, she needed to. Some girls just have a scent about them that makes them naturals for sports or tiaras or homecoming courts. She was one of them. She was pretty with her honey-brown hair, big green eyes, and what seemed a more than adequate bra size, but she was also organized. Her sweatsuit was immaculate, so was her luggage, which she'd neatly piled in a corner during orientation. Even all those phones she had forfeited to Hank's trash bag seemed disinfected with Purell. I hated myself for liking her outfit, for caring about that stuff, but I did. She was definitely the thinnest on our team too, which lent her a certain authority, which she wielded like a professional.
“Take it from me,” Hollywood started, “the diet works.”
Atlanta made a noise like a drain sucking up bath water. “Oh, come on guys. Do it for the weight loss! I forgave everyone I could possibly think of. It was so easy.”
Hollywood crossed her arms. “She was motivated.”
Atlanta smiled wide, pleased with the compliment tossed to her like a dog biscuit.
“How about I just leave the jar here for a bit,” Hollywood coaxed. She placed it gingerly on our dresser. “In case you get inspired.” Then Hollywood's eyes centered on me. First my face. Then my stomach. “Think about it.”
Only as soon as Hollywood and her sidekick turned around to leave, a sound bubbled up. It was a pinging, a tinkling noiseâlike a Disney song. Like a ringtone. Then, very casually, Hollywood withdrew a violet rhinestone cell phone from her pocket.