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Old 11-19-2017, 05:15 PM   #327
Join Date: Apr 2007
Posts: 361
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Default Balls of steel!

Half an hour later, Kelly slammed the door of Lierman’s lab behind her and leaned against it with a sigh, just like in so many of the old black-and-white movies she’d watched in the past.

As she had hoped, Caleb was working in his computer at the table in the corner.

“What happened? What did you just do? Are you all right?”

“I don’t want to talk about it. Where are those doughnuts?”

Caleb pointed to the table, where the pink box sat in its obvious glory. Only three of the five were left (Caleb!!), and Kelly dove into one—a glazed cake Crueller—in something like desperation, or frustration, or exhilaration, or something like that. That didn’t stop her from appreciating how crispy it was on the outside, and how moist and clean on the inside. It made her feel cleansed, and free, on the inside. It melted in her mouth fast enough to reach for another one post haste, a chocolate-iced cake as yummy and fresh as the Crueller. Caleb, of course, was watching, but for once it seemed he was putting his smart-ass tongue in check, probably because she wasn’t giving him the answer he wanted.

Kelly invited Caleb to join her for lunch at the dining center. He knew enough about her finances to understand the significance of the request.

“Why? What the hell happened in there?”


“Holy shit, Kelly!” a shit-faced Gail exclaimed. “Juss tell us! What the hell didya say to her?”

It was the aftermath of Sunday brunch almost a week later, and Kelly was sitting at the table recounting the story, Gail with both elbows on the table—her chins resting in her hands in an effort to maintain rapt attention—and her mother snugly wedged between the buffet and the table again across from Kelly, one hand resting on top of her squished-up belly and the other glued to her over-filled goblet of red wine. This week there was a bevy of others as well: Jenn and Crystal, Elektra, Marla and Monet—but no Wade. After another disappointing loss on the road, he’d gone out drinking with his teammates, and that was after he and Kelly had shared a six together shortly after the late-night arrival of the team bus. He’d begged off brunch around 6am with as drunk a text as Kelly had ever received, undoubtedly delivered as he knelt in miserable supplication before his dorm room throne.

Wade’s absence—connected as it was to the misery of another road loss, which Wade was destined to spread to the rest of them—hadn’t phased Kelly at all. She was enjoying being the center of attention, dragging out each statement of her conversation with Lennox like she was presenting a soap opera—or more like she was 14 years old relaying a conversation over the phone to her best friend. The other eight girls had long finished their meals, but from time to time she’d stop to pick over the remains of hers, kind of like she needed a little bite of fuel to power through the next little bit of the story.

The past week had been a diet disaster for Kelly. After leaving the lab she’d torn through a pile of offings at the dining center like she hadn’t done since she and Wade had blown through the buffet of buffets over the summer in Vegas, figuring she had to justify the expense, and anyway, at this point wasn’t she entitled to a release? From there she’d gone straight out to that week’s “inputs” shopping, where for the first time she’d taken Lierman’s intimations to heart and finally used that expense account to pad her own meals for the week. Not that she hadn’t already been doing that in the lab with the extra granola bars and bananas and, of course, PinkBox doughnuts these past couple of weeks. But this time she added bagels, cream cheese, fruit, oatmeal, cereal bars, Ramen noodles, candy—everything a girl needed in her dorm room—especially when she owed so much to her roommates for all the snacks she’d stolen these past weeks. Not that they’d ever complained, or that they ever would think to. But there was a reason Marla and Monet were around the table that Sunday, too.

She’d fully intended to jump back on the wagon on Tuesday, and given a couple of weeks where PinkBox doughnuts had gotten the best of her, in her mind she did. Only looking back had she realized how poor a job she’d actually done. Tuesday morning's moderation ended in a total breakdown Tuesday night at the hands of the Buford College vending machines. And though Wednesday was pretty good, she’d melted down again Thursday night at the vending machines, then piled on at dinner with Wade at the Silver Saddle after—especially since he was actually paying for once. Friday she’d blown it from the get-go with a blueberry bagel binge breakfast and a granola bar parade at the lab, and nothing about that night and the weekend had gotten any better: the bulk of Friday and Saturday she bounced from shop to shop looking for the best deals the best of her meager Thursday paycheck could withstand for new winter shirts and pants. It was time-consuming, exhausting work, and even her fit legs were sore by the end of Saturday. The temptation of cheap easy (yummy!) meals at the drive-thru was too much to resist.

Kelly’d told herself she was getting pants. But mostly it was leggings that she could really afford. She was wearing her best pair now, and though they’d taken up more than she hoped of her check, and though absolutely nothing about them was Phi Gamma, for now she didn’t regret it. She’d worry about that later! She hadn’t allowed herself to wear leggings since before she’d lost all that weight two summers ago, and she’d forgotten how oh-so-comfortable they really were.

Even now as she slipped her last half a meatball past her lips she thought about how much thinner these leggings made her feel—even as her conscience reminded her it was definitely not the case!

“Come on, Kelly! Get to it. I’ve got to get ready for a date.” That was Elektra.

Elizabeth had made profiteroles that morning, and Kelly scooped some of the remains of their soggy pastry and chocolatey melted vanilla ice cream into her mouth with a big grin. She always forgot about profiteroles until her mother whipped them up. They were her absolute favorite!

Elektra drummed her fingers on the table, but her demeanor wasn’t nearly as annoyed as her words suggested. Her face suggested she was having as much fun with this as Kelly was.

“Please, dear,” Elizabeth added. “You’re gonna give me a heart attack!”

“Oh, all right!” Kelly sighed, washing the creamy sweetness out of her mouth by savoring a sip of Chardonnay—which despite the temporary acrid combination of sugar and the dry wine in her mouth left her palate feeling clean and refreshed, the way she’d known it would, especially after following up with a sip of ice water. There wasn’t that much left to tell anyway.

“Well, surely you guessed it,” Kelly shrugged. “I told her how many of you girls had signed up for her class, and that if she didn’t change my grade to an A they were all gonna drop her course at the last minute and she’d be out of a job.”

Silent shock gripped the table. In the meantime, Kelly picked out another bite of pastry from her dessert bowl and popped it into her mouth.

“Holy shit!” Gail breathed before sitting up and tossing off her glass of Chardonnay, shaking her head at the hard finish before leaning back in her chair, the drinking hand flat on the table with the glass poking up from between her fingers. “You blackmailed her!!”

“No way!” Monet breathed.

Gail shook her head.

“Didn’t see that coming! Nope! Not at all! Not from you,” Gail continued, shaking her head. She spread her legs to make room for her belly so she could scoot forward, then reached for the Chardonnay bottle and refilled her glass.

“No way,” Monet added, again.

“Balls of steel!” Elektra noted. She lifted her glass of ice water and clanged it against Monet’s wine glass in approval.

“Balls of steel!” Monet echoed, taking a sip of her red.

Kelly might have smiled, but her mind was stuck at Didn’t see that coming. There it was again! Did no one give her credit?

As it was, it hadn’t occurred to her that what she’d done was actually blackmail. Wasn’t that some kind of crime or something? She hadn’t felt the least bit uncomfortable with what she’d done until just now.

“Well, it was your idea,” she demurred to Gail.

“Oh, no,” Gail asserted with enebriated exaggeration. “No it wazn’. My idea wz for you to help her out with her classes, then maybe she’d help get you admitted again in the Fall, juss like Lierman wz trying to do for you. Thiss iss something completely different!”

Marla, who’d mostly looked confused up to this point, finally piped up. “What do you mean admitted in the Fall?”

Kelly and Gail had already explained Kelly’s problem near the outset of her story and sworn the rest of the girls to secrecy, but apparently it hadn’t registered with Marla. Elizabeth, who looked well on her way to her afternoon nap had the same question pasted on her face. So Gail briefly explained the history again.

“The biggess part I can’ believe,” Gail added after she finished, “iss that you asked her to go back and change your grade. I didn’ know you could eben do that. How did you know?”

Kelly shrugged again. “I didn’t.”

“You didn’!” Gail exclaimed.

“Balls of steel!” Elektra proclaimed and raised her glass again.

“Balls of steel!” echoed Monet, with raised glass, and this time Marla and Gail followed right on her heels, with Kelly and Elizabeth not too far behind, tossing off what they each had left. And though for Kelly this was nothing—she’d been sipping a single glass of wine all the way through lunch—for Elizabeth it was nearly half a glass. She hummed with an mm-mmm! as she swallowed it all down, then finished with a smile and a glazed look that told Kelly it wasn’t long now before Elizabeth would begin her purposeful descent into alcohol-induced oblivion for the afternoon. Were it not for her mother, Kelly likely would otherwise have basked for a while in the warm praise of her peers. But instead, heaviness settled onto her heart, especially as she watched her mother lunge forward to refill her glass. It wasn't easy for her: she had to smush her huge seated belly into the table edge and grasp the bottle of remaining red with her fingertips.

It was a heaviness Kelly was tired of feeling every week, and this week she was finally going to do something about it. She knew she had to speed things up.

“I asked her to change the grade because that was what I wanted,” Kelly said. “Lennox called it ‘reinstatement.’ All I said was, ‘I want you to change my grade to an A.’ And she said, like, ‘You mean, reinstatement?’ Like she was amazed or something. So I, of course, acted like I’d known all along”—a skill Kelly was long-practiced at—“and looked it up later on Aphrodite.” Aphrodite, of course, was the university’s online registration website, which also contained the student handbook.

“OK. Sure. But is she gonna do it?” Elektra asked in her distinctive South Georgia drawl. Shoo-ur. “Or am I gonna have to drop it and find a different class for my easy A? Just tell me what I’ve gotta do.”

“She said she had to think about it.”

A chorus of groans and grumbles erupted from around the table. Even Jenn and Crystal joined in.

“After all that, that’s all she said?” Monet. “Fuck! You mean you don’t even know how this is gonna turn out? How are you so calm!? I’d be a fucking wreck!” She made the point by tossing off her own (almost-empty) bowl of red like she needed the buffer against anxiety.

“You know, I’m really not. I feel great about it, if you can believe it. Truth is, I don’t think there’s really much for her to think about. Seems to me she’s gonna go for it.”

“I sure hope so,” Elektra shrugged. “In all honesty her class sounds kind of cool. Whoever knew you could take Home Ec in college?”

Elizabeth laughed, sending her chins aquiver. “Sweetie, it wasn’ all that long before I went taschool thass about the only thing we girlz went taschool for!”

“Well if it means you could do all this”—Elektra swept her arm Vanna White-style above the table—“then you can count me in.

“But for now,” she added, patting the table with both hands as she stood to her feet, “I’ve gotta jet.” She was looking at her phone as she said it. “Gail, Mrs. Kingsley, as always, this was truly amazing.”

“Please. Call me Elizabeth.”

Yes. Please do, the daughter thought. These days hearing her last name just made her think about her father.

“Done. Thanks, Elizabeth. Kelly, you’re my hero.

"Balls of steel!”
Author of Something's Gotta Give and What I'd Like to Say...
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