Authors: Jenny Ruden
“Hi,” she squeaked, smiling perfect pearls of teeth. “I met the others, yes. They seem OK.” She shot us a dirty look. “I guess.” She continued blabbing, her purple phone glittering like a crown. After a breathy, “Oh. OK. I love you too,” she clipped it shut.
“Where did you hide your phone?” Liliana asked in a voice that she tried to keep measured.
“Oh. I'm allowed. We worked out a deal.”
“What kind of deal?” Cambridge asked.
I was too stunned to speak. Hadn't she thrown all her phones into the garbage bag downstairs like everyone else?
“It was my dad. He knows people. A lot of people,” she said, and smiled. “He knows I can't live without my phone. What a stupid rule.”
If I didn't hate her before, I sure did now. Judging by the looks on my roommates' faces, they did too. It wasn't because she was beautiful either. It wasn't because she was the thinnest. It was because Hollywood got to keep her cell phone.
Miss Rules-Don't-Apply-To-Me winked thenâone shadowed eyelid clamping down like a crocodile's jawâand placed the phone in her pocket. “You can type your forgivelets in my dorm! I have my laptop too.” She stood up and fondled the recently bedazzled curtains. “Just promise me you'll put someone in the jar!”
Thank God Cambridge discovered the Milk Duds right after Hollywood left.
“Ten bucks says she's stuffing her hole with candy right now,” said Liliana as a glob of Milk Duds paraded down her throat.
“But her ph-ph-phone,” I stuttered. How did she get to keep her phone?
Liliana shrugged. “I heard that her dad dropped her off in a helicopter.”
Cambridge finally relented and sunk a Milk Dud on her tongue. “I know the type.”
Yeah, we all knew the type, which is why none of us were surprised that Hollywood secured her spot as Utopia's queen in less than two hours. Campers relinquished their autonomy the way I liberated peas from fried rice. It was no shock either when, the next day, Miss Marcia asked us to pick a team captain, someone who could manage the ITINERARY and keep us motivated, Hollywood stood up and accepted the nomination from Atlanta like a People's Choice Award. She was just thrilled to be in charge of the schedule and would do everything in her power to make sure we campers were where we needed to be when we needed to be there.
“Great!” Miss Marcia screamed, bestowing the multi-paged ITINERARY in her hands like a bouquet of roses. “Everyone, this is your captain.”
Subject: Re: SORRY SORRY SORRY
dude, I get it. you're sorry. You can stop with all the emails. Geez, Bethany. It's only been three days! Is it really that bad there? Is that Hollywood girl really the spawn of Satan? Bethany, you're so dramatic! She can't be that bad. I mean, isn't she overweight? Aren't you all bonding? Are there any BOYS?
Anyway, I have a story for you. Do you remember seeing a weird papery thing up in the corner of the minivan on the drive out here? None of us were speaking to each other at that time, so I don't know if you'd noticed it. Anyway, I saw it soon after I dropped you off. Come to find out it was a nest! I showed it to Doug, and he checked his phone and told me it was a hornet's nest. Then he climbed in with his lighter and gets ready to torch it when I start to feel bad, right, because I don't SEE any hornets and I'm like, stop, Doug. Let's just wait.
So we're near San Francisco and we get out at this scenic view point near the bay bridge. Then, when I get back in the van, there's like 25 BUTTERFLIES fluttering around and Doug goes, “Dur. I guess they weren't hornets.” So I climb in and open the doors and the windows and they start to fly outâall black and yellow and white. I start crying because it's so pretty. Then I remember that book dad used to read us about the caterpillar that wouldn't stop eating. And how, at the end, he wakes up as a butterfly. Do you remember it? It was my favorite book! Anyway, my point is I love California! and I forgive you! so stop apologizing, ok?
See you in 7 weeks!
FOR ONE WEEK the campers and even Miss Marcia crowded around Hollywood and asked her how she got her hair that way (she rolls it in Diet Coke cans every night), her skin so clear (no eggs), her teeth so white (Dental Spa), and everyone looked away when her phone cheeped delicatelyâ“Hi, Daddy.”
It didn't matter one iota that Cambridge went to a private school so competitive you had to get on a waiting list before you were even born. No one cared that her dad was a professor or that her mom traveled around the world. No one mentioned Liliana's brotherâsome kind of rocket scientistâeither. All that mattered to everyone at Utopia,with the exception of my dorm room, was Hollywood, whose hair dryer whirred like an alarm at five every morning. Hollywood, who after one week, had Utopians following her like she was Twitter. Needless to say, after one week I couldn't stand her. My feelings about her beloved California were pretty much cemented too. I thought the place sucked. It was foggy and cold. What a rip.
But there I was. Since I had no cell phone and no family member who would aid my escape, I had no choice but to wait for The Forgiveness Diet to kick inâand Hollywood promised me it would. All the campers except Cambridge were on it now, and given where I was, I figured I'd try. So I did. For one week. I tried to listen to Miss Marcia and the other girls. I attempted to imagine how life would be as a skinny lawyer, a lithe marketing executive, a thin fashion designer. I wondered how great life would be to be bony in Manhattan, anorexic in Beverly Hills, or slender in Santa Fe.
I even tried to take part in their nightly discussions about beautyâand they were nightly. I never mentioned the fact that when I lost weight last year, no one even noticed. Well, maybe they did a little, but the world kept on spinning. School was just as lonely, TJ just as cryptic. “Don't I look better?” I asked him. “You look a-ight, Bee.” The same “a-ight” I always got.
Early one foggy camp morning, when Hollywood saw me staring down a muffin a student had absently left on the fountain's edge, she said to me, “Don't even think about it, Baltimore.” Had she not been there, I must confess, I would have picked it upâall nonchalantâlike it was mine. Would have peeled off its crinkled skirt and plopped it straight into my mouth. But she caught me. And I was pissed. She snatched the muffinâa banana walnut, I thinkâand dumped it in the nearby trash bin.
“It's not like I ate it,” I said.
“But you were thinking about it.” She planted her hands on her hips. “Look, I'm just trying to help you, Baltimore. I am trying to be a friend.” She looked almost sincere. It was six in the morning and our luscious captain had on makeup. Eye shadow. Lip gloss. Mascara. Her skin was flawless. I was already breaking out in those annoying sweat zits along my forehead. My armpits were damp, and we hadn't even started our power walk. What I wanted was a muffin. A banana walnut muffin. I looked at Hollywood tapping a furry pen on the ITINERARY she had laminated. I wanted to kill her.
“I think if she wanted your help she'd ask for it.” Did I just say that out loud? Hollywood's eyes widened like dinner plates. “What did you say?”
Everyone turned and stared at Cambridge, who was leaning over in a stretch. When she pulled herself up, she faced Hollywood.
“I think Baltimore is just a little hungry, Hollywood. Relax.”
Hollywood gathered the gray hoodie trimmed with faux fur around her face. “It's only week one. Don't you think she could at least pretend to be motivated?”
I didn't see how anyone could be ecstatic about waking up at five o'clock in the morning. Not to mention the whole running thing. Sure I knew people did it. Rumor had it the city of Baltimore held a marathon catering to such individuals. I just didn't happen to be one of them. I enjoyed staying inside, under the covers, until my mom would beat on the door and tell me the sun was shining, as if I cared.
“She needs to lose forty pounds,” said Hollywood to Cambridge. “At least.”
“I'm not sure that's for you to determine.”
Then Hollywood reminded us, “But she's the heaviest one here. She's our best shot.”
“At what?” I asked.
But she didn't answer. This was a conversation she wanted to have with Cambridge, not me.
Miss Marcia walked over. “What's going on here?”
Hollywood dropped it, but not before she shot me a look of pure ice. My transgression, her look read, was not forgotten. In her mind, she stuck a lavender Post-it on my head with the words: DANGER, DANGER.
For one week Hollywood's face was the first I saw in the morning. Even before mine. As predictable as the roly-poly fog she swung open our door, sashayed in, and thrust apart our curtains.
The ITINERARY mandated a jog or power walk by the water before breakfast. That was the worst part of the dayâand the rest of the day didn't get much better. Question: If you saw twenty-five fat people running toward you, would you laugh? Apparently it was pure comedy to every summer school student on campus stumbling home in the morning. Even Liliana's brother, Gabe, shivering out by the lake in his skull cap and black sweatshirtâeven he laughed a little as we waddled past. Hollywood told us this was meant to provide incentive, but it only made me feel like an ass.
Afterward we devoured cantaloupe and naked wheat bread in the dining hall. We ate in shifts. Usually girls ate first, then boys. This was designed so that Belinda and Hank and Miss Marcia could monitor campers' meals closely. Calories were controlled substances here at Utopia.
Given Hollywood made us swear off egg products, the boys got the omelet chef every day while we plowed through lumpy oatmeal or Greek yogurt. After we stacked our breakfast dishes on the conveyer belt, we met in MontClaire's common room for a goal-setting meeting. Here, Hank and Belinda discussed being fat and how satanic it was, warning about our pending deaths should we not shed pounds. Then we had dance class and cheerleading. Next was lunchâmore wheat bread with one tablespoon of peanut butter, no jelly, an apple and twenty-four pistachios. Let me not forget the salad bar complete with everything except dressing, cheese, eggs, croutons; so, essentially, a table with lettuce and carrots. After lunch we swam, and I don't mean delicately dipped our toes in either. I mean we
laps back and forth in an Arctic-temperature Olympic-sized pool. Yes, I actually got in a bathing suit in front of these people. It was purple and it had a skirt. A skirt.
After the Ultimate Water Challenge portion, there was another meeting where guest speakers sambaed in to gloat about their thin lives. Sometimes I don't think any of them had ever been fat. After that, we ate dinner, which for seven straight days,
seven straight days,
was a baked chicken breast, French cut string beans, one baked potato with spray-on butter that looked orange, and one sugar free Popsicle in either red or purple.
After dinner, the male Utopians gathered with us in MontClaire Hall. Rumor had it that in addition to the omelet chef, they got two chicken breasts for dinner. Tampa Bay confessed they played a lot of basketball and were not forced to swim after meals. As a group we were supposed to encourage each other but that never happened. When it was time for nighttime yoga, all the boys competed for a spot directly behind Hollywood, whose face, I was beginning to notice, wasn't all that pretty. When Belinda dragged Hollywood to the front of the room to demonstrate her perfect downward dog, a male voice called out, “Now that's what's up.”
Before bed they made us recite a prayer like we were in Alcoholics Anonymousâsomething about a lack of carbohydrates and a higher power. Then we went back to our dorm rooms and rubbed our sore quads. Every muscle trembled. By day six, zits clustered along my forehead, cheeks, chin, and back. I tried telling Miss Marcia that I had my period. I told her if I swam one more lap, or power walked around the campus, my ovaries would fall out. Our counselor looked concerned, but Hollywood intervened.
“Menstruation is no excuse,” she said. “They don't postpone the Olympics for it.”
Like this was the Olympics.
“True,” Miss Marcia barked. “No excuses.”
Granted, this all sucked of the highest variety. None of it, however, rivaled the astonishing loneliness I felt at night after so many days without TJ. I missed him as much as the delightful cream-cheese crab puffs China Hon served on Sundays. I imagined him levitating over the gum-caked sidewalks of Baltimore, cupping a gray dove under a handkerchief. Days ago he'd tossed his graduation cap into the rafters of Baltimore Magnet High School. And I'd missed it.
As if to compensate, most nights Cambridge threw down some Fiddle Faddle or Lemonheads from her seemingly bottomless stash, but it didn't help. Not a Chinese buffet in sight. No banana walnut muffin. No TJ.
Subject: sleepless in utopia
It's been 384 hrs since i've seen u. most of those hrs I've spent swimming, power walking, aerobicizing, or avoiding Hollywood's frosty stares. But @ night we are blessed with 2 hrs to watch TV or stretch our muscles or whatever.
Usually i watch Liliana bedazzle items around our room. sometimes her brother will come by and throw sugar-free gum thru the window. Cambridge usually reads literary novels that have been assigned by her boarding school. Eventually my roommates fall asleep & i spend the next 8 hours thinking about u.
I think about b'more too and how squished together everything is. i try to name all the exits off 695 in orderâmemba how u used to quiz me on that? then I remember more stuff, stuff that happened between us and stuff that didn't.