I knew it was about to get a whole lot worse
CarissaâMonday, May 23â8:46 a.m.
an you tell us what you're thinking right now, Carissa Wayne? At this very moment?” The host chirped at me in his overly perky voice and a hush fell across the large room as the eager audience awaited my answer.
Standing on stage in front of the student assembly, teachers, and administrators of the Havenwood Academy while my friends, family, and townspeople eyed me with varied degrees of awe and apprehension was surreal. Having three cameras, four spotlights, and two microphones directed solely at me was discomforting. My answer to Jim Swindle, the aptly named host and ringleader of this debacle, was real.
“I'm wondering if your expense account will cover my bail money,” I announced without blinking.
The audience tittered and Jim held his smile in place. “Bail money? For what?”
Quietly, without the slightest bit of humor, I deadpanned my answer. “Someone is going to have to die for this.”
Everyone, with the exception of my family, dissolved into laughter. My family, at least, had the good sense to know I wasn't joking. Upon further review, death was actually too good for whoever conspired to set me up like this.
It was the last day of school at Havenwood, an exclusive private school for grades 4â12 in Belle Haven, a small but modern outer suburb just to the north and east of New Orleans, Louisiana. As was tradition at Havenwood, everyoneâincluding the staffâcame dressed casually to clear out classrooms and lockers in preparation for summer. Any summer classes or programs were administered from an annex location. The main campus of Havenwood went dark from June to late August. This was the
reason I was in public rocking chocolate brown, wide-leg yoga capris that sagged in the back and a slouchy pink T-shirt that read “Girl PowerâGet Into It!” My hair was snatched back in an unfortunate ponytail and my lips were adorned with nothing more than mint-flavored Carmex. My face was absent of even the tiniest speck of makeup. I had only expected to run into one or two students and then head home to start my re-coup from the grueling school year. Teaching high school sophomores AP English Literature was a job that necessitated a three-month-long break. And a subscription to the Wine-of-the-Month Club. But that's not the point. The point was . . . I had not been expecting to socialize, let alone face this ambush.
And really? There was no other word for it. One moment I was wiping down my desk with lemon-scented Pledge; the next I responded to an overhead announcement requesting my presence in the auditorium. When I walked in, I attempted to take a seat at the back. I was called to the stage by Principal Garrett. As I walked down the aisle, I saw quite a number of townspeople not affiliated with the school seated in the audience. It wasn't until I noticed my mother, sister, and two cousins alongside my best friends Taylor and Mac all seated in the front row that I knew something was up. Not one of them would meet my eyes. Nor had any of them warned me about this. Traitors.
Even then I was still naive enough to think I was winning some sort of Teacher of the Year award. But oh, my entire damn, no. They had something else in store for me. I climbed the stairs and headed toward the middle of the stage. I tried to walk with some dignity in my run-down Reeboks and prayed that my butt wasn't jiggling too much. Again, these are things I would not have had to worry about if I was in my usual armor of tailored classics made of structured fabrics with Spanx holding everything in underneath. As I arrived at the podium, bright lights suddenly shone on me and a microphone was shoved in my face.
“Carissa Melody Wayne, your friends and family nominated you and you've been chosen to appear on
Losing to Win
I blinked rapidly against the glare and cluelessly asked, “What is
Losing to Win
The host shifted in his navy blue sport coat and looked astonished. “It's a competitive weight-loss reality show! Have you never seen it?”
“No, never,” I snapped while trying to understand exactly what was going on.
The host shook his head in dismay. “You've seriously never watched the show?”
“Dude, don't be insulted. I don't watch any reality shows. I teach literature. My taste runs more toward history, documentaries, AMC, PBS; that sort of thing.”
This seemed to stun Jim quiet long enough for me to absorb what he had to say.
“Wait a minuteâdid you say a competitive
show?!” No way would my people set me up to talk about how much weight I'd gained. Would they?
Swindle found his plastic smile again. “Well, you have to admit you could stand to lose a few, Carissa.”
My jaw dropped as the audience gave a collective “Ooooo” sound. No he didn't!
“Carissa, here is a picture of you from your high school yearbook.” This time the audience reaction was a breathy “Whoooaa” sound.
I turned in dismay as the wall behind me showed a gigantic picture of me doing the splits in the air in my size 4 Belle Haven High cheerleader uniform. Now dammit, that was just mean. Battling through my emotions, I tried to look at myself objectively. I had the same thick shoulder-length sandy brown hair that curled easily around my face. Okay, maybe now it was shot through with a gray streak here and there and didn't currently look its best scraped back in a brown scrunchy. My skin was the same shade of cafÃ© au lait. My caramel-hued eyes were still wide, oval with a tilt at the end, decent lashes even without any cosmetic assistance. My lips were still somewhere between lush and full. My jaw was still a curved oval. A little more fleshy but oval. My complexion was still clear and wrinkle free. I was still five foot five with long legs, generous cleavage, and a short waist. I'd still maintained my cute. My cute had developed a few more pronounced curves here and there.
That's where the similarities between me and the smiling girl from fifteen years ago ended. Young Carissa was ready to take on the world and thought it was hers for the taking. She was 108 pounds of lean, muscled, go-get-'em. I, on the other hand, weighed at least fifty more pounds. I was far more fluffy than lean these days. My cleavage had moved past generous to cup-runneth-over a few years back. My biggest muscle was my brain and my get-up-and-go had gotten up and fled without a backward glance years ago. Life had kicked me in the ass and I hadn't quite struggled back into fighting shape yet.
I folded my arms and glared at Jim Swindle with his perfectly coifed blond hair, gleaming white teeth, and carrot-toned tan. “Yes, so I see.”
“Would you say you've put on some weight since then?”
I glared harder. “Clear-ly,” I bit out.
“Some of your friends and family are caring and concerned enough that they thought you needed this push.”
“Is that what we're calling it? âCaring and concerned'? Okay then.” I sent a laser beam side eye toward the front row where said friends and family shifted uneasily.
“Carissa, about how much did you weigh in that picture?”
“Somewhere between 105 and 110, why?”
“It just so happens we replaced a section of the stage with a built-in scale and you are standing on it. How much do you think you weigh now?”
I flushed hot and then cold and then hot again. I looked to the side for an opportunity to escape. Someone had to be kidding me with this! I could only assume that someone among friends and fam was getting quite the check from this stunt. But this kind of humiliation could not be smoothed over with a payday. I was standing in front of an auditorium of people plus cameras struggling not to cry. The best I could come up with was a shrug and a shake of my head. I knew I was overweight; I had no idea by how much. Nor did I care to know.
“We're going to put your weight up on the screen, if you don't mind,” Jim said in that annoyingly cheerful voice.
“And if I do mind?” I asked, still hoping to make this all go away.
“I'm afraid we're going to do it anyway,” he replied gleefully. “Are you ready?”
I just shook my head and quickly swiveled toward the screen. One beat, two beat, three beats . . . and there it was. 188. One hundred and eighty-eight pounds?! Gasps rolled through the audience.
I blinked twice and the offending number in bold black font was still there. “What?! That can't be right.”
“I'm afraid that is your current weight, Miss Wayne.”
All I could do was stand there in shocked denial. There was no way I had gained over seventy pounds in fifteen years. No. Possible. Way. This day sucked. And since I couldn't figure out how it could possibly suck more, I turned back around to see what was next.
That's when he asked me how I was feeling and I told him someone needed to die. When the audience settled back down, he continued.
“All jokes asideâhere's the deal. You and five other contestants will compete for around four months. You'll be given a trainer, a nutritionist, and a workout partner. Not only do you earn money for each weight milestone you achieve, you earn money and points for winning competitions, for challenges, and in other ways we'll reveal along the way. At the end, if you and your partner have the highest point total combined with the greatest weight loss, you split one million dollars!”
Half a million dollars? That was at least pause worthy. “Besides this humiliation, what's the catch?” I asked sardonically.
“The catch is that your entire life for the next few months is going to be filmed. If you agree to do the show, you get a check for ten thousand dollars today. Because your community and your family and friends have been so outgoing and welcoming, we're going to base the show here in your hometown of Belle Haven, Louisiana!”
It was beginning to come clear to me now. This assembly of half the town, the nervous but eager smiles of everyone around me: my decision was about more than me. If I agreed to this craptastic nonsense, the town, the school, and everyone around gained from it. If I refused, the lights and the cameras and the revenue packed up and went elsewhere.
Jim turned toward the cameras. “This small town in the storm-ravaged Gulf area of Louisiana is one of the many areas suffering through the economic downtown. With the combination of Hurricane Katrina, the oil spill, and the recession, areas like these have struggled to regain their way of life. In our own small way,
Losing to Win
partners with the cities where we host our shows. Not only by spending our time and money here, but also by showcasing the community and hopefully bringing some tourist attraction. We've spoken to your local government about ways to support Belle Haven industries. We will patronize restaurants that work with local sustainable foods, and of course our cast and crew will stay here for the majority of the filming of the show. Just one of the many ways that our network invests in small-town America.” He completed his spiel and turned back toward me. “So what do you say, Carissa, wouldn't you like to give a little something back to the city that you love?”
Nothing like having epic guilt heaped upon your head in front of town and family. “I take it I have to decide right now in front of everybody with the cameras rolling?” I asked rhetorically. I already knew the answer. That was the whole reason behind the staged ambush: to put me in a position where I couldn't say no without looking selfish. Someone was going to pay and pay dearly for this when all was said and done. I raised my head up, threw my shoulders back, and looked directly into the cameras. “Fine, I'll do it.”
The place erupted into cheers and whistles while I struggled not to shoot the finger at everybody. I was the one standing on stage looking my absolute worst discussing things that were best kept between me and my physician.
“That's great, Carissa! You've made a great decision. Would you like to meet the other contestants and your partner?” Swindle smiled extra wide. So wide, I was struck with a wave of dread. He was up to something. As bad as these fifteen minutes on stage had already been, I knew it was about to get a whole lot worse.
I closed my eyes, took a bracing breath, and smiled. “The faster we do it, the faster we're done. Bring it on.”
Underneath the heavy stage makeup, Jim's eyes lit up with approval. With a nod, he turned toward the left wing of the stage. “Up first is a housewife from Maine who went to Belle Haven High School with you. She says the two of you competed for everything back in the day, from prom queen to head cheerleader. She's determined to win this time. Please welcomeâ”
“Suzette Pinchot,” I muttered under my breath as Jim announced her as Suzette Pinchot-Allendale. My high school nemesis. To say we were competitive was an understatement. There wasn't anything I wanted that Suzette had not attempted to take, break, or steal. The only reason she married Jerome Allendale was because I started a rumor that I liked him. Even though nothing could make this moment suck less, it was some consolation that when Suzette walked out on stage, she had clearly put on more weight than I had. She was virtually unrecognizable as the curvy Creole siren she used to be. Her once lustrous black curls were frizzy and hanging in her face. She and I eyed each other from a distance and exchanged the briefest of nods.
“The next contestant hasn't been back to Belle Haven in over twenty years, though he remembers it fondly. He used to pull Carissa's pigtails and call her âKissa Wayne.' Please welcome Xavier James to the show.”
I could only weakly wave at XJ. I hadn't seen him since middle school. He still had the playful smile and laughing eyes, but I wouldn't have known him. He was bald, short, and nearing three hundred pounds, unless I missed my guess.