THIS IS A WORK OF ORIGINAL FICTION
It will be serialized over the next several days…the ending will be marked in the classic styling…
“You look great, Danny!” Emma squealed, upon opening her door to him. He said he’d ‘made some changes in his life’ when he called. She hoped to see a smaller waist size, but she was taken aback by the striking results. His trimmer frame allowed for more refined style in dress too, which she distinctly noted. She fingered the collar of his Oxford shirt and ran her hand partway down his chest, showing infinitely more affectionate contact than he’d received from her before, but he didn’t feel the spark she intended to ignite.
“Thanks. I’m still an ‘extra large,’ but…”
“No. You look unbelievable. You look like that guy from Guardians of the Galaxy.”
“Ha! You aren’t the first person to say that. Hell, I guess maybe it’s true,” he chuckled, puffed up and a little vain, not at Emma’s endorsement, but rather Cori’s original observation. He formerly considered Emma his ‘dream girl,’ but he couldn’t drive thoughts of Cori from his mind, in defiance of Emma’s best efforts. She talked up his sense of chivalry, his intellect, his career success and modest financial stability; all things she’d always been attracted to. Her perpetual thoughts about his new shape and image went largely unspoken, but she left definite implication that he’d now completed the picture she wanted to see. This new, improved version of Dan pleased her, and she was pleased with herself, for drawing the attention of what she newly viewed as a virtually flawless man. He read the smug satisfaction on her face, and felt more offended than when she used to look at him with mild chagrin, and dropped hints she’d be ‘all in’ with him, were he only a hundred or so pounds lighter. Then, he assumed the burden of incompatibility as an individual failing. Now, he saw his lack of unity with her for what it essentially was; what all relations between people were; a two-way street.
“I’ve had a great time, Danny,” she wistfully sighed at her entry door, and took a half step closer to him, willing him to take his hands from his pockets and place them on her. But he didn’t.
“Yeah, it was alright.” He backed up to re-establish distance.
“Was tonight not how you thought it’d be?”
“No. It went almost exactly how I imagined.”
“But you’re not happy…”
“Can I ask you something?”
“The first couple times I took you out…were those great times?”
“Of course they were.”
“But before, you never told me so when I brought you home. You said, ‘Well, I’ll talk to you soon,’ or something. And after that last time…you just stopped answering my calls and texts. So what’s changed?”
“I’m a better match for you now because I look better. Right?” Her stunned lack of direct answer validated his guess. “Em, I hope you find what makes you happy. I’ll see you around.” He walked back to his car, and she looked after him, questioning where she’d gone wrong. She didn’t even get a goodnight kiss. He decided in that moment that he definitely wanted Cori, and had, really, since they’d met. His own insecurity made him narrowly classify her as ‘just a friend,’ and steadfastly hold onto that typecasting to avoid risk and grief. Now, she was an all consuming desire, and he had to tell her so. If she didn’t reciprocate, and he had to get over her, he’d search for someone else who would love the man he was now; the completed version, history and all, without letting the history distort their present and future. Cori taught him that’s what he required and deserved. That was his most paramount reason for loving her; she saw his whole person, not a group of parts to be added to and subtracted from.
“Cori?!?! Is that you?!” Jim coughed in delighted disbelief.
“It’s me. Well, actually I’m a fraction of the woman I used to be,” she wisecracked.
“You’re a knockout!”
“Well, thank you. That’s what I hear,” she said, thinking of Dan’s consistent assenting manner, not Jim’s newfound esteem.
“Wanna get something to eat? Sit together? Ditch this place and go somewhere alone?”
“Yes, I’m starving. Sure, let’s sit together. But we’ll see about that last question after we see how the first two work out,” she realistically contended. She walked along the buffet table with him, choosing small portions of the healthiest choices available, and treating herself to a small slice of Dutch apple pie.
“You sure you want that?” he warily asked.
“Um…yes. Dutch apple pie is my favorite dessert of all time,” she professed, acutely aware that Dan would never question her selection. He wouldn’t even passively suggest she deny herself a reward. He trusted her judgment. “Smell it…it smells heavenly.”
“Aren’t you…y’know…concerned about putting weight back on? You’ve clearly worked really hard…”
She eyeballed him with a mixture of authentication and defeat. “Can we talk about something?”
“How come you were so keen for me to come to this?”
“I wanted to see you.”
“I miss you. We used to…and now we’re back to talking on the phone at work like before I ever met you and…”
“So were you expecting the disgust you used to have at first? You were evidently pleasantly surprised it didn’t happen this time…”
“Of course, I was pleasantly surprised! You look as gorgeous as I always knew you could be.”
“Uh-huh. You’re pretty enamored of how I look now.”
“I definitely am.”
“What if it changes?”
“Do you plan to lose more?”
“No. You think I need to?”
“No. I was just…what do you mean by ‘what if it changes?’”
“Weight loss is tough. There’ll be some ups and downs. You seem really into how I look, and there’s a very real possibility that it could change.”
“Isn’t knowing I like how you look motivation to keep the weight off?”
“I dunno, Jim. If I told you I liked something new, but hard to control about you, and you knew it was a major obstacle that kept us apart in the past, would unrelenting anxiety about our relationship’s dependence on this fluid aspect of yourself be a good source of encouragement for you?”
“Cori, I loved…I still love your wit, your character, your graciousness…all the things about you that matter…”
“How I look…my body, and my image of it matter. It’s naïve and ridiculous to act like they don’t. If they really didn’t matter, you’d have… Would you be this happy right now if I looked the way I used to?”
“I’d be happy, but I don’t know if I can measure the amount of happiness I’d feel…”
“Would me taking a piece of pie bother you more or less if I was the Cori you expected to see here tonight?”
“Uh…I don’t know what the right answer is there…”
“If I eat this pie, and you can manage your not-so-secret dread that I’ll gain the weight back, what? You’ll take me out on some run-of-the-mill restaurant dates, and judge me if I order anything rich? Point out wiser choices, then order better tasting stuff for yourself? Order health food at a pasta joint or a steak house to shame me into ‘the right choices?’ You know what it’s like to have someone who’s never had to govern his choices evaluate yours? It sucks. And what if I do gain a little weight back? What if it all comes back? Then where are we? You go back to closing your eyes and swallowing hard to conjure the picture you wished went with the voice on the phone while I have to watch you do it? Would you just be unfaithful? Or end things?”
“I don’t know, Cori. You’re asking me to look into the future. I don’t know what would happen if you…”
“That dodge tells me all I need to know. I gave up plans to be here tonight, and I haven’t felt right about it the whole time…I gotta go, Jim. Bottom line…I have somewhere better to be, and we need to maintain our professional relationship for work. That won’t happen if I sit here with you much longer.”
She moved her plate to a separate table and ate alone, but assured, then walked away. She predicted a painful rebuff from Dan, as he’d gone out (at her behest) with his Pedestaled Past Potential, who was sure to be smitten with him and his contemporary, rugged good looks. But Cori would take any shot now, anyway; she had a pressing need to unburden herself. She unequivocally wanted Dan, and if he wouldn’t be her steady, she’d at least hold him up as her new standard of comparison for someone new.