SSBBW, Romance, Imagery, ~XWG - A woman clashes with her family, finds love, and lives her life in search of happiness. REALITY CHECK By Madeline Maple A short story in 14 chapters and an epilogue CHAPTER 1 Franny June 1, 2002 It was just barely noon and Franny was already pleased with the turnout. Since the university was in summer recess she expected the numbers to be down. Not that there were too many college students who showed up at these monthly barbecues anyway, but usually there would be a few. They would huddle in packs, looking embarrassed and afraid, barely socializing outside their own group. Having graduated the year before, Franny felt older than the college girls. Nevertheless, she would try to draw them out, and if she were feeling generous she'd try to make introductions to any eligible bachelors. But she didn't work too hard at the matchmaking. It was a supply and demand problem: too many fat ladies and too few fat admiring guys. Every straight fat girl knows well this basic ratio, and Franny knew that ultimately you've got to look out for yourself. She ambled over to the far side of the dessert table with her heavy hips swaying with every step. While absentmindedly munching on a rice krispy treat she checked out the scene. Of course Delilah was already chatting up one of the new guys: a tall skinny man wearing a Cheerios t shirt. "Geez, she doesn't waste any time," whispered Susie who had sidled up to her friend. After a pause she said, "Do you think that shirt is ironic?" "I hope not," replied Franny. "Maybe he genuinely loves Cheerios. It would be refreshing to meet a guy who's comfortable showing off what he loves." Susie took a half step back in mock surprise saying, "Girl, if he really loves a kids cereal he probably has some seriously arrested development. And that means he's probably one of those FA mama's boys who never got over their fat mom." Leaning in and returning to a whisper she continued, "You know the type? When they fuck you it feels like they're trying to climb back into the womb." "Jesus Christ, Susie, you're often this crude, but when did you get so jaded?" The conversation was cut short when the two women saw the bright yellow Cheerios shirt coming their way. Franny played it cool and pretended to concentrate on another Rice Krispy treat. She looked up as the guy spoke in a friendly tone, "Excuse me, ladies, but do you know who here is Franny?" "That's me," she replied with a big smile and an outstretched hand. "Franny Steinfeld." She noticed first his strong chin and kind eyes. He was tall. A good six or seven inches taller than her. And he seemed a little awkward in his body as if he grew too tall too fast and he never really got used to his height. She wondered to herself, Is he lanky? Or just gangly? And what is the difference between lanky and gangly anyway? But then she realized that he had been speaking and that he was waiting for her to say something. Franny quickly thought to herself, What did he just say? Did he say his name is Stan? He doesn't look like a Stan. Realizing again that she needed to say something she pulled herself together, stopped shaking his hand, and introduced her friend Susie. "Welcome to one of our big and beautiful barbecues...Stan, is it?" Franny paused to see if he would correct her, and when he didn't she thought about how un-Stan-like he was. She believed he had a more professional way about him that deserved a name like William or Jonathan but definitely not Stan. "Hey, thanks for those email directions," Stan said to Franny. "I'm new in town. Plus, I'm directionally challenged so I need all the help I can get." Stan nervously scratched his shoulder. "When I saw the info online about the barbecue, I was glad there was an email address attached so I could get directions." Franny smiled in reply and thought to herself, Am I imagining it, or is he into me? She noticed how he was looking mostly at her and barely glancing at her friend Susie. But more important than that, she saw that he was keeping eye contact just a beat longer than one would normally expect, as if he hated to take his eyes off her. Franny chanced a look at Susie to see if she was noticing the same thing. And Susie wore a sly smile that seemed to say, You got this guy on the line, do you want to reel him in? "So, Stan, what brings you to our lovely Iowa City?" asked Franny. Stan explained that he's a chemist who synthesizes more effective dish detergent and his job transferred him from Nebraska. While Stan was talking, Franny reconsidered her first impression. What she originally took for 'professional' she could now clearly see was 'nerdy.' He wore small oval-shaped glasses, a style that's going mainstream but have been cool with nerds for a while. And it was in the way he talked about his job. He focused on the work, as if he loved what he did day-in and day-out. A corporate guy would talk more about the company he worked for. Franny thought to herself, Nerdy is definitely better than corporate, but it's not ideal. She had been standing for far too long and needed a rest, so Franny motioned to the table nearby. Like the true friend she is Susie came up with a reason to excuse herself from the conversation. Franny noted that Stan barely seemed to notice her apple-shaped friend depart. Franny really didn't want to squeeze her hefty thighs under the picnic table, and she took it as a good sign that Stan sat first with his legs on the outside. It showed that he probably had some experience accommodating bigger girls. While straining a little to sit down gently and avoid rattling the table full of desserts, Franny grabbed another Rice Krispy treat. She caught her breath and waited for Stan to pick up the conversation. She was curious where he would go with it. "So...um...do you come to this park a lot?" Stan finally offered. Oh my god, this guy is so nervous it's painful, she thought. Then out loud she said, "Well, we're here every first Saturday of the month from March through October. And then in the colder months we take turns hosting a cocktail hour." It was clear to Franny she had to take the lead in this conversation or it was going nowhere, so she shared a little bit about her job at Starbucks. She joked that she's been having more than her fair share of frappucinos as she patted one of her hips that spread far from her waist. Stan said, "Starbucks are everywhere all of a sudden. Back in Lincoln it seemed like a new one would appear every time I turned around." "Yeah, they're pretty hard to avoid these days," she added. "But my Starbucks gig is just a placeholder." "Oh, you aren't planning to go career?" Stan said smiling. And for the first time since they met, Franny thought that maybe this guy Stan had an actual sense of humor. Franny smiled back and continued, "So I keep myself busy, but I don't seem to be doing what I should be doing." Stan scratched a bug bite on his knee and asked, "And what is it that you should be doing?" "Well...take today, for example," Franny replied. "I'm spending time planning BBW events while I probably should be working on my writing sample for grad school." She went on to explain that her dream is to be a writer and to go to the writing program. It was the reason she came to Iowa in the first place. But she never manages to get her act together and do much writing even though it's what she loves to do. She then gave her standard line about being too good at procrastinating. "Of course my sister Zoe gives me shit about it," Franny continued. "These days she sees herself as this focused, disciplined, goal-oriented person, and she loves to lord it over me." Turning her head to Stan, she asked, "Do you have siblings?" "Nope. It's just me." "Well consider yourself lucky," she replied. Feeling rested and fortified, Franny excused herself by explaining that she should probably mingle a bit since she feels responsible for having organized the event. "It's good to meet you, Stan. I hope you make it to the barbecue next month." They shook hands again, and Franny grabbed a brownie before heading over to chat with a couple of shy-looking first timers. --- Later that night, while getting ready for bed she mulled over the conversations at the barbecue. Her thoughts lingered on Stan. She wondered how old he was, and she tried to recall if there was any hint of crows feet around his eyes and couldn't remember any. She decided that he was probably in his late twenties. He seemed like a sweet guy, she said to herself. Did I really start bitching about my sister to him? What was I thinking? She bit her lip in frustration but soon eased the pressure remembering how hard it was to get him talking. It wouldn't be the first time I scared off a guy with my big mouth, she considered. Probably won't be the last. Not yet feeling tired, Franny stopped by the kitchen to grab a couple of leftover brownies on the way to her computer. She munched away as the familiar "You've got mail!" rang through her tiny apartment. She raised both eyebrows when she read the sender's name: Stanley Kramer. "I guess I didn't scare him off after all," she said with a curious smile.