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One size does not fit all.
"Not women like me," I muttered as I tried to wriggle the cotton peasant skirt over my double-wide-trailer hips in the cramped dressing room.
I don't know what possessed me even to set foot in that hot new mall boutique. I should have just continued on my normal way to Payne Tryon, the second home to big women everywhere. But the flowing boho-chic outfit on the larger-than-standard twig mannequin in the window caught my eye. Its flared and tiered fullness beckoned me with its ample waves of "one size fits all" material. Only the waves weren't ample enough, and the material in question didn't have one whit of rayon or spandex in it. A blend is forgiving and will stretch. One-hundred-percent cotton will not. And didn't. As I said, I should have known better. Places like that aren't for big women like me. Notice I didn't say "plus-sized." I hate that term and refuse to use it.
My name is Freddie--short for Fredericka. Fredericka Heinz. Yes, like the ketchup. A sturdy German name, for a sturdy German girl descended from good, sturdy German peasant stock. Jawohl!
My father, who'd never be confused for a peasant even on his worst day, longed for a son to carry on the family name but got me instead. It's been downhill for me ever since.
At last I managed to free myself from the constricting skirt. Turning my back to the mirror, I quickly pulled on my big-girl uniform of black pants and black tunic, eager now to escape the claustrophobic cubicle. Hopefully, I wouldn't run into the Paris Hilton-lookalike salesclerk on my way out.
No such luck. She flicked her platinum hair and gave me a bright, lip-glossed smile. "Well?"
"Not really me," I mumbled, handing over the traitorous skirt draped over my arm.
We both knew I was lying, but at least she didn't suggest I'd be better off at Payne Tryon, like the last snippy salesgirl when I tried to shop in a regular store.
"About time you got back." My boss, Anya Jorgensen, folded her arms across her silicone-enhanced chest, tapped her stiletto mules on the tile floor, and glared from me to the bakery's wall clock, which showed I was seven minutes late from lunch. I drop-kicked her skinny butt out the door, pausing only long enough to smash a banana-cream pie into her perfectly made-up face.
Well, I always did have a great fantasy life.
Pulling on my requisite white coat and shoving my hair up into the white hat Anya always insisted upon, I murmured, "Sorry.
My errands took longer than I thought." No way was I going to let her know about the skirt debacle. Not Anya. Especially not Anya.
"Well, hurry up." She thrust a pink order form at me. "We got a rush for a birthday cake. They're picking it up at five."
I stared down at her precise black lettering. "But I still have another birthday cake for today, plus the Wallace wedding cake to decorate for tomorrow morning."
"So you'll have to work a little late. You could probably use the overtime . . ."
The bell over the front door jangled. I scooted toward the swinging double doors to the kitchen, where I set the order form down on the floury counter and released a heavy sigh as I drummed my French-manicured nails on the countertop. My nails are a little shorter than I'd like, but I learned early on you can't work in a kitchen and have gorgeous, long fingernails. So instead, I have gorgeous short fingernails, thanks to my weekly manicure indulgence. Hey, I may not be body beautiful, but a girl's got to play up her assets, right? And this manicure was fresh, because I actually did have someplace to go that night.
Any other Friday, Anya would be right about my plans. I usually picked up Chinese or pizza on my way home and settled in for the evening with a good book or my Alias DVDs. I love watching Sydney Bristow kick some serious bad-guy butt. Plus, that
Vaughn is really easy on the eyes. Tonight, however, I had other plans. That's why I'd dared to don the peasant skirt on my lunch hour. Drop-dead gorgeous Jared Brown from church had actually invited me to a party.
Okay, so he hadn't invited me specifically. He'd asked a whole group of us from church to come, and I'd happened to be on the outer fringe, getting ready to leave the nine-thirty service.
Jared pointed to me and said, "Hey, don't you work at Jorgensen's?" He smiled, revealing dimples so deep even a girl like me could fall into them and never come out. "Think you could bring one of their great cakes?"
It was the first time Jared had ever noticed me, and I wasn't about to pass up that chance. Even if my pass to the party was a cake--a cake I'd pay for, of course, but that I still had to bake and decorate. Along with this last-minute birthday cake and tomorrow's wedding cake.
I sighed again.
My fellow baker, Millie, who was boxing a standing Friday afternoon order of her fabulous oatmeal-raisin-chocolate-chip cookies, gave me a sharp look. "You need to start standing up to Anya. Learn to say no."
Shane, our intern, grunted. "Hah. In what universe?"
"Watch your mouth, young man," Millie said.
"Sorry." He shot a contrite look my way. "I wasn't trying to be mean."
"That's okay. You're right. It would have to be a parallel universe before I got the nerve to stand up to Anya."
Shane crossed the space between us in two eager strides. "I could do one of the cakes for you, Freddie. That way you wouldn't have to stay so late."
My eyes flicked to the double doors. "I don't know. Anya would have a cow. She hasn't decided if you're ready to graduate to cakes yet."
"She wouldn't even know. Come on," he pleaded. "You know she never comes back here in the afternoons."
"He's right," Millie harrumphed. "Wouldn't want to get her fancy designer shoes dirty." She peered through the face-sized window on one of the swinging doors. "Besides, she's busy yakking on her cell, like always. Give the boy a chance."
Jared Brown's deep dimples flashed before my eyes.
"Okay, you can do the carrot cake." I handed him the order form and Jorgensen recipe book. "And don't forget--when you make the cream cheese icing, add a couple drops of almond extract." The almond extract was my special touch--it set our cream-cheese icing apart from all the other carrot cakes in town. I checked my supplies in the walk-in. Still plenty of lemon curd left over from the lemon-chiffon wedding cake I'd baked earlier in the week, plus half a flat of fresh raspberries. I decided to make a lemon raspberry cake for tonight's party. And while the lemon sponge cake was baking, I'd begin icing the wedding cake in the pretty garden-lattice design the bride requested. Tomorrow, before Anya arrived to transport that cake to the reception, I'd finish it off by applying the fresh daisies and yellow rosebuds to the base, crowning the top tier with the delicate rose nosegay topper the florist would deliver first thing in the morning.
I attached the beaters to my industrial-strength mixer, my face flushing as I thought how impressed Jared would be with my cake.
I've perfected the fine art of leaning.
Leaning is the secret of big girls everywhere, especially at outdoor activities involving food. Like tonight's party.
"No thanks," I smiled and said to Pastor Chuck when he offered me a seat in one of those flimsy white plastic outdoor chairs. "I need to stretch."
And stretch I did. Then leaned some more. Against the patio wall, a tree, or the back of the house. I'd gotten quite good at balancing a paper plate in one hand and eating with the other. This pretty much limited me to carrots, celery, grapes, and the occasional drumstick. But that was a good thing, because it preempted those knowing looks from everyone that translated into, "Well, no wonder she's so big. Look at what she's eating."
I'd just wait until I got home to dig into a burger, a little potato salad, and maybe just a sliver of the Sara Lee cheesecake I'd squirreled away in the farthest recesses of the freezer.
From my invisible corner, leaning against the far end of the patio wall in my second loose black skirt and top of the day--I'd changed into a fresh set I keep at work--I watched Barbie and Ken and all the giggling twenty-something girls, in their cute capris and tight camisoles, oohing over Barbie's ring. Barbie and Ken were the guests of honor at the party, the former leaders of the singles group--now newly married. (He was the singles pastor; she was his right-hand woman and social director.) Their names weren't really Barbie and Ken, but they were so disgustingly perfect and adorable, with their tanned California hard bodies, bleached teeth, and perky, upbeat demeanors, that I'd christened them that in my head. I nibbled on a baby carrot and let my eyes roam the yard.
Potlucks and barbecues are the only outdoor activities I do. I shun all the rest--camping, hiking, jogging, and especially any kind of water sport. I know better than to inflict my big, white, twentynine-year-old self in a bathing suit upon the unsuspecting world. It's not a pretty thing.
Besides, even though I'm a born-and-bred California girl, I can't handle the heat. So when family or friends are frolicking at the pool in the blazing heat, I usually escape to my room with a good romance novel or go to a matinee. Invisible in the darkened coolness of the theater, I indulge in a large buttered popcorn, a Diet Coke, and a box of Junior Mints as I pretend I'm the girl on the silver screen who gets the guy. Tonight, though, instead of the silver screen, I'm watching Jared and all the girls clustering around him, wishing I were one of them. But not just one of them. The one.
I glance down at my big, sturdy calves and know it will never happen.
When I first arrived, I'd hoped to be able to present my to-die-for lemon raspberry layer cake to Jared, who'd be so overcome by the mouth-watering sight and scent of my culinary work of art that he'd overlook my overblown physique and fall head over heels.
Unfortunately, Jared was nowhere in sight when I pushed through the backyard gate, see-through Tupperware cake tote in hand.
"Ooh, is that the cake?" Shauna, the lean marathon runner whose metabolism allowed her to eat like a horse yet never gain weight, was practically drooling. "It looks yummy." She relieved me of my masterpiece. "Jared told me where he wants it. Thanks."
She jogged away.
I considered tackling her and fighting her for the cake, but I knew I'd never be able to catch up with marathon girl.
Now, stomach rumbling, I crunched on another carrot and stared at the almost decimated cake on the table near Jared. One of his groupies giggled and reached her hand up to wipe a speck of frosting from the side of his very kissable mouth.
All at once, something loomed in my peripheral vision. I turned to see a tall, majestic African-American woman in a turban sweep across the backyard, her vivid, multicolored silk caftan billowing in her wake.
There was nothing invisible about that woman. She owned that room--I mean yard. I watched her as she moved from one cluster of people to another, talking and laughing and passing out business cards. I just stood there with my mouth open. That gorgeous Amazon was bigger than me. A good size 22. Easy. Maybe even a 24. But she didn't let that stop her from filling her plate right in front of God and everyone.
"Mmm, I love ribs," she said, selecting a couple from the buffet table, along with a generous helping of green salad and a dollop of potato salad. I looked longingly at the juicy, succulent ribs on her plate, then down at my little pile of carrots and grapes.
"Hey." She approached Jared, who was sitting on a durable metal patio chair, chatting with the gaggle of skinny, giggly girls.
"You with your fine self--you mind giving up your seat for this big, beautiful woman?" She grinned and nodded at one of the flimsy plastic chairs nearby. "And sitting on that instead? There's no way that puny thing'd hold me, and I don't feel like wearing my ribs today."
My cheeks flame on her behalf. Didn't she know everyone was staring at her? And how could she admit that to Jared, of all people? But he flashed his dimples and gave up his seat, executing a little bow to her in the process. Then, to my astonishment, he pulled up the plastic chair, scooted next to this bold Amazon, and struck up a conversation. Within moments he was roaring with laughter.
What I wanted to know is how come her fat looked so much better than my fat?