Read an Excerpt
Less is More
By Wendy Lawton
Moody PublishersCopyright © 2005 Wendy Lawton
All rights reserved.
"Mom." Abby waved her hand over the dressing room door. "Are you out there?"
"Can you come here?" Abby waited until her mom tapped on the door before she opened it a crack. "I can't even get these jeans over my hips. I don't get this sizing."
"Want me to come in and have a look?"
"No!" Abby didn't mean to snap, but there she stood, jeans jammed mid-thigh. Saddlebags of dimpled flesh bulged out on both sides, hanging over the strangulating waistband. The sight disgusted her. "I mean, that's okay. I just need you to—" A peal of laughter sounded from the dressing room a couple of doors down, followed by whispers and giggles. Must have been a group of girls shopping together.
"What do you need?" Mom asked.
Abby opened the door a little wider and whispered, "I think I need the next largest size. Not the faded ones, the dark ones." She looked back over her shoulder at the mirror and sighed. "Can you also bring the size above that?"
"Sweetheart, let me in," Mom said as she pushed on the door.
"Just a minute." Abby tugged at the jeans, pushing them to the floor where she could step out of them. She kicked them to one side and slid her worn carpenter pants up to her waist. "Okay, come in."
Mom smiled as she looked at the crumpled pile of jeans on the floor. "See? You really do need your favorite dressing room maid to hang and fold as you go." She reached down and picked up the last pair, smoothing them out. "Let's try another store."
"Okay, but I really liked that last pair of pants. I just need a little bigger size."
Mom folded the jeans without making eye contact. "Unfortunately, this store stops at that size, honey."
"What do you mean?" She watched her mother pick up another pair of jeans from the floor.
"This store only handles junior sizes. They stop with this size." Mom continued to fold.
Abby didn't know what to say. She knew that about this store. At least she'd once known that. Okay. She'd put on weight since the move. Cece's cooking. She hadn't dared step on a scale. Especially since she'd spent most of the last three months snacking while watching television and snacking while reading and snacking while writing e-mails and snacking while sending IMs to her old friends in Suwanee and, well, snacking while staring out the window. But when you didn't know a single person in the entire city besides your mother and grandmother, what else could you do?
"I hate these stores."
"You're just unfamiliar with them," Mom soothed in her best encouraging voice.
"Yeah, I'm unfamiliar, but I also hate them." She looked at herself in the mirror and hated the sound of her voice—almost as much as she hated her reflection. Who was that looking back at her?
"But don't you love the excitement of shopping in a big city? The metro culture and all that?"
"Mom, except for Guess and Gap and Nike, there are mostly old-people stores here. What teen can afford Prada, Versace, or Louis Vuitton? San Francisco is not exactly the most happening place, you know."
"Maybe part of that is because we are shopping on a weekday." Mom stacked the clothes. "Ready to go?"
They walked out of the dressing room area empty-handed. Abby didn't even acknowledge the "how did you do?" question from the dressing room attendant.
"We didn't find what we were after," Mom said. "But thanks for your help."
They took the elevator down to the first floor and wove their way through the counters and shoppers and out onto the street.
"Can we just go get something to drink? I think I'm sick of shopping."
"Sure. I could use a cup of coffee. Are you up for a mocha?"
"Maybe it will refresh us enough to get back to the task of finding you some cute school clothes."
"Cute?" Abby didn't mean to sound cynical, but she was already sick of the whole clothes thing.
"Oh, Abby," Mom said. "I know I use the wrong words, and I know shopping is no fun when you can't find the right styles and ..."
"You know it's not about style, Mom. It's about size." The words tumbled out. "I need to face facts. I've been living in a cocoon—in a fog. How could I have put on enough weight to change more than two sizes?" Just the thought of it made Abby want to cry.
Mom opened the door of the Starbucks. "Go get us a table. I'll get our coffees."
Abby sat down at the small table in the corner by the window. Her chest hurt. Was she having a heart attack? Don't be stupid. You don't need to become a hypochondriac on top of everything else.
"Here we are." Mom set the drinks on the table. "I'll get napkins. You didn't want something sweet to go with the coffee?"
Abby shook her head, pressing her lips together. She needed to shake this mood. It was one of the few days she and Mom had stirred to go out together. Was she going to let her disappointment ruin everything? Mom didn't deserve it.
She looked at her mother, standing to the side so a businessman could get his cream. Why couldn't she be slender like Mom? Mom looked as pretty as ever—her dark brown hair and blue eyes setting off a great complexion. Cece always called it Snow White coloring.
Ever since Dad ...
Abby stopped midthought. She still couldn't bring herself to say—or even think—that word. Ever since she and her mother had moved to San Francisco to live with Cece, Mom had hardly been able to eat. Abby was the exact opposite. She couldn't seem to get enough. Emotional eating. Dr. Phil had a guest on his show last month who called it that.
"Here you are." Mom laid a napkin down on the table for her.
"Did you ever come here when you were my age?" There. Change the subject.
"Starbucks?" Mom laughed. "They didn't have anything like Starbucks when I was growing up."
Abby made her silly "duh" face. "I know that. I meant Union Square."
"Sure. This is where Cece always took me shopping. Here or else Market Street. Sometimes my dad joined our Easter shopping trip. It was a big deal because we'd go into the Emporium and watch the baby chicks hatch."
"I don't know if they still do it, but they used to have an Easter display with eggs in something like a showcase that hatched into tiny chicks right before our eyes."
"Not real live chicks ..."
"Uh-huh. They were fertile eggs, and it must have been warm like an incubator and—"
"Oh, Mom. Can you imagine what the ASPCA would say about that these days?"
"I don't know. I guess I never thought about it. But how we loved to watch." Mom seemed to sort of drift off. The childhood memories must have been easier than thinking about Dad. "Cece always made me dress up for shopping—gloves and all—and we'd take the bus downtown. We'd stand there in the store and watch the baby chicks for the longest time."
Mom juggled her coffee from hand to hand. She didn't complain about hot coffee in paper cups this time, but Abby had heard the objection enough times to know what Mom was thinking as she finally put the cup on the table to let it cool some.
Abby savored the chocolaty taste of her drink.
Things changed so fast. No one even saw it coming. If she and Mom hadn't moved to San Francisco, she'd be shopping with Jen and Michelle at the Mall of Georgia. School clothes shopping with best friends worked so much better, because they'd drag you all over the place until you found something that worked. Jen would know exactly what to do to camouflage all this weight. She'd drape something or wrap something or help find an accessory that would pull the eyes away from the bulging areas.
"You look like you're miles away," Mom said.
"I guess I was." Twenty-five-hundred miles, to be exact.
"So what were you thinking?"
"About Jen and Michelle."
Mom waited for her to go on.
Abby loved her mother. She did not want to make her feel bad. What could she say? Shopping is more fun with girlfriends? That she'd much rather shop at a modern mall than downtown San Francisco?
"I was thinking that if we were shopping at the Mall of Georgia, Jen would bug us to do the bungee-swing thing. We'd finally give in ..."
"You wouldn't," Mom said in that voice as she set her coffee down.
"Not for reals. But we'd get in line as if we were going to until Jen would finally let us off the hook. She was more scared than we were, but she always had to force herself to at least consider doing something daring."
"You really miss them." It was not a question.
Abby nodded. "You miss your friends, don't you?"
Two college-age girls walked in carrying artists' black portfolio cases. They wedged their cases between the window and a chair and walked up to the counter to order. Abby liked the way the larger girl dressed. If she could find a V-neck sweater like that—not too short —it might help smooth over some of the problem areas.
"Oh, sorry, Mom."
"I know this move and all these changes have been hard on you." She bit the corner of her mouth. "Maybe we should have stayed put ... stayed with our friends, but I couldn't seem to get away from memories no matter how hard I tried."
Abby didn't say anything. It was the same for her, but memories were good and helped her stay close to Dad.
"I thought it would be a good idea to get away— new faces, new places ..."
"But I loved the old places, old faces," Abby said.
Mom pulled the cardboard sleeve off her coffee and opened the lid to take a drink. "I'll confess. I felt battered by sorrow. The thought of coming home to my own mom sounded so good. To eat in her kitchen, to show you my old city ... I don't know ..." Mom ran a hand through her hair.
"Well, I like being with Cece." And she did. When Abby was a baby she couldn't manage to say "grandma," but she heard Dad call her grandmother by name —Elsie. Mom had said it wasn't long until Abby started saying her own version of Elsie—Cece. The name stuck.
"So do I." Mom began tidying the table.
"Are you about ready to go?" Abby asked, slurping the last noisy bit of her mocha through a coffee stirrer.
"Uh-huh." She stuffed the napkins and the cardboard sleeve into her cup. "About all these changes, Abby ... nothing is forever."
"You don't have to tell me that, Mom." Abby made a soft snorting sound as she got up to put their stuff into the trash. "That's the understatement of the year."
Mom nodded her agreement. "But what I meant was that we still have our house in Suwanee, and there's nothing to say we won't end up back there. We can pretend this is an adventure—a new start. Okay?"
An adventure? Abby didn't know how to respond to that. "Let's try one more store." Abby dropped her voice. "See that girl over against the window ... the one in the dark sweater? I'd like to try to find a sweater like that."
Finding a sweater that actually fit was about all the adventure Abby could take at this time. Losing her dad, losing her friends, losing her church, and losing the body shape she was accustomed to was all she could handle right now. Who was she kidding? It was way more than she could handle.
In just a week, school would be starting back home at North Gwinnett High. She wondered who would have her old locker between Jen's and Michelle's. Maybe when she got back to Cece's, her friends would be online and she could chat for a while. The three-hour time difference between California and Georgia made it tough to connect sometimes.
As she walked toward Macy's West beside her mother, Abby knew that she needed to make some real live friends.
* * *
"Mmmm, that smells good." Mom slid into the chair to the right of Cece. "Like something you used to make when I was little."
They always ate in the oak-lined dining room— three places set at the end of a heavy walnut table that could have comfortably seated eight or ten. Cece sat at the head, Mom on the right, Abby on the left. Abby wondered what it had been like after Grandpa died when Cece had eaten alone at the head of the table. How lonely.
But tonight Cece was happy as she finished preparing dinner, talking to Abby's mother the whole time. "It's Tater Tot Casserole. I gave you the recipe, Karen. Remember? I got it when you were in ... was that third grade or fourth grade? Let's see ... you had that teacher who came from Indiana. Remember?"
"It was third grade, Mom."
"That's right. I should have remembered. You had that purple sweater vest you loved." Cece stirred something in the kitchen. Abby could hear the spoon scraping against the metal of the pot. Her grandmother often remembered dates by what grade Mom had been in and what she'd worn.
Cece put a 9 x 12 pan on the table. "Anyway, the PTA came out with a cookbook based on the best-ever potluck recipes. You loved this one—all cheesy."
Mom laughed. "Abby, believe it or not, this is comfort food for me. How I used to love these kinds of dinners."
Abby looked at the dish. She hated it when food got all mixed together. At home in Suwanee, Mom used to laugh when she talked about her mother's cooking style and regale them with funny Cece-cuisine stories. Apparently, when Cece was a young wife—before she and Grandpa had enough money to buy fancy packaged food—Mom remembered that her mother used to make bread from scratch and serve plain vegetables and whatever small portions of meat they could afford.
Abby smiled. There was nothing quite like the advent of TV to ruin good healthy food in those days. In the sixties, as Grandpa began to move up in the family business, Cece finally had money to buy all the advertised-on-TV designer foods. Mom would laugh as she recounted the lineup: Spam, Hamburger Helper, Velveeta Cheese, Bosco, and Cheese Whiz on Hi Ho Crackers. Brand-name cuisine.
Abby laughed every time her mom told the stories. Even the names sounded funny to her. Abby looked at the food on the table. Somehow it didn't seem all that funny now.
Here in Cece's house, Abby had to remember to take out the trash every single night, because it was stuffed to the brim with bulky boxes and packages that took up space. Cece liked nothing better than combining packaged, prepared foods into some kind of concoction with a perky name.
"And for dessert I have that Jell-O you love with the coconut, miniature marshmallows, and Cool Whip."
Mom laughed and bumped Abby's foot under the table. Her laughter sounded good to Abby. Mom had rarely laughed in the last seven months. If it took a weird mishmash of food to make her mom laugh, then let the feast begin.
Abby thought about her jeans fiasco today. She knew this kind of food wasn't helping. Cece's three major food groups seemed to be carbs, fat, and sugar. Back in Suwanee, Mom used to steam vegetables, broil meat or fish, or do fun things like pasta primavera. Healthy stuff.
Fat lot of good it did to focus on healthy eating, though. Dad had still died of a heart attack. And all anybody could say was, "But he was so young, so healthy." It hadn't seemed to matter. The doctor explained that it was a defect in the aorta or something. Massive was the word they kept using.
"Abby, aren't you going to have some casserole?" Cece waited, spoon in hand.
"Might as well." It hardly mattered what you ate anyway. When she lifted her fork to her mouth, she found it actually tasted pretty good despite the lumpy, crusty appearance—sort of a cross between hash browns, beef Stroganoff, and macaroni and cheese.
"Your grandpa used to say this kind of food really sticks to the ribs." Cece handed her a biscuit—the kind that popped out of a refrigerated can, ready for the oven.
By the time Abby stood up to clear the table she felt stuffed. Grandpa knew what he was talking about—this stuff stuck to the ribs, all right. If one could still feel one's ribs, that is.
"Abigail," her mom called from the living room, "Want to watch Less is More with me?"
"Sure, give me a minute to waddle in there." That was supposed to be a joke, but somehow it didn't seem so funny tonight. She and Mom had gotten addicted to the reality fitness program last season, and it was still fun to watch the reruns. The show picked six overweight, out-of-shape people and put them on a regimen and followed them for twelve two-week segments. As the weeks passed, you got to know the people and their struggles and you began to root for them. Each contestant had a personal trainer and a personal food coach chosen for him—so it was a team thing. "I've already seen this one, but maybe some of the wisdom will sink in," Abby said.
Cece joined them as they watched. Each contestant had to compete in a footrace together for this episode before his weigh-in. All the participants were together only twice during the season. The rest of the time, each team had their own camera crew that followed them at home. The competition and interaction made this episode fun.
As the race sequence ran, Abby decided it felt a lot more comfortable watching from the couch than straining to finish a five-kilometer race. But as she watched the hard work and the pounds lost, she wished she could do the same thing. Somehow she needed to take control of her life—or at least one part of her life. As the episode closed, she found herself praying, Help me, Father. I want to find my way again. I may not win a race, but help me at least get back in the running.
"Are you going up already?" Mom asked as Abby kissed her.
"Not to bed yet, but I want to go online and read a little before bed. Good night Cece." She blew a kiss to her grandmother as she headed upstairs.
"Dear Dad," she typed once she was back in her room with the door closed. "Time for another e-mail. Okay, I know you no longer check your e-mail, but a girl can pretend, can't she? LOL."
Abby found some strange satisfaction in writing these e-mails to her dad. His address still worked at AmericasMart. At least she assumed it did—her email never got returned as undeliverable. Sometimes she'd picture him—still sitting at that big wooden desk in the leasing office—reading her e-mail.
Excerpted from Less is More by Wendy Lawton. Copyright © 2005 Wendy Lawton. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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