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She sat at the foot of his bed, facing him as he did her, their legs crossed as her hairs brushed against his jeans in a sort of tickle she’d become accustomed to after quitting shaving, the tips of her fingers hooked onto his in a sort of hand hold that carried a fidget with it. His room was stuffy, even with the faint breeze of the fan going, but the dark blues that covered his walls and his sheets and made up the color of his laptop all carried a sort of comfort to it. It was familiar, enveloping, but she was wondering if she was becoming too comfortable with him.
“We don’t have to do anything in public, you know,” she spoke, her voice low, her eyes worried as she tried to sound firm.
“What do you mean?” he asked, not sure what this was about yet. She had asked to talk, she had walked into this room and sat them down an arms length apart and her brow carries the crease of anxiety that he was quick to learn to recognize.
“Yesterday, at Starbucks-” she’s remembering the look some guy gave them, like she was funny, like they were funny, like there was something laughable about her boyfriends arm around her and the way he kissed at her temple out in public. He began whispering to his friend, who seemed to find this funny as well, and it set her on edge with how much it reminded her of her days in school. Some things don’t seem to stop. “You don’t have to like, like-” the tips of her fingers went white as they pressed within the bends of his knuckles. “You don’t have to act like we’re dating in public.”
“But… we are dating,” he stated with a pause. “What’s going on, here? Did I do something?”
“You? No – I mean, I guess-” she sighed. “I saw people laughing at us.” She should have seen this coming. She’s plus sized, her nose is a little crooked, her eyes squinty, her lips too thin, her hair had damage, and here she was with someone tall and handsome and thin. She looked like a pity date, she knew that. She expected him to understand and want to avoid the public scorn he would get with her.
But instead he got angry, his brow lowered, his jaw set. “What do you mean, they were laughing?”
“They were watching us and whispering,” she explained.
If he had known, oh he couldn’t have done something, that sort of public attention makes her too anxious, but he could have said something in the moment to tell her that it didn’t matter, to not leave her in so much discomfort, to not leave her in a state of shame that lead her to starting a conversation about he doesn’t have to act like his girlfriend is his girlfriend. This arms length distance felt too far, and he let go of her hands, watching as her eyes were staring down and away in shame to watching him, a flash of worry that she had done something wrong when she felt the warmth of his palms against her cheeks, his fingers stroking along her hair, smoothing it down in a way that muffled her hearing, not that she cared.
“You are my girlfriend. I’m going to treat you like my girlfriend. I don’t care if people laugh, if people think we’re weird, if people want to be cruel let them be cruel on their own time.”
He didn’t see the image that she did, of him being the conventionally attractive one paired with the ugly fat girl. He was all bone and no muscle, his height came with a spindliness he often found himself comparing to Slender Man. He couldn’t tan, his hair was shaggy, his eyes an unappealing grey-blue. If anything? He was average, by his standards, after growing up being exposed to the physiques of athletes and movie stars and male models with sun kissed skin and bulging abs. He was nothing to look at, but he found her beautiful, and he felt attractive around her, with how often he caught her staring at him like he was the most handsome man to exist.
And yet, he can’t seem to be able to do the same for her, but this seemed like the start.
“I’m not hiding you,” he asserted.
“Why?” she asked him, in pure confusion. She grew up around the skinny popular girls, the models with flat stomachs, the actresses with hair that flowed and waved in a way hers wouldn’t, couldn’t, even after paying for a professional to style it, it didn’t look the same. She’s grown up with thigh gaps plastered along side contouring and photo filters and she was nothing like the girls that the media promoted as being beautiful, but her comparisons had another layer. She’s grown up with a mother that’s been putting her on diets since she was eight, telling her she was too fat. She was bullied in middle school, being told how no one would ever like her, called a cow, a pig, a whale. As an adult, she finds people are much less confrontational, but she’s noticed how the table in front of her in restaurants judges how she eats whenever it’s not a salad, she’s had a personal trainer push her past her limits and tell her it’s for her health, despite her being unable to move for days after. Both in confrontation and in passive gestures, she’s been told that her weight is something no one would love her for, this one wound specifically picked at for almost 20 years. She was convinced she was someone to be ashamed of.
And he was set on convincing her otherwise. He didn’t understand what she’s gone through, he’s always been skinny, food has never sat wrong with him, but he understood that she was hurt, he understood that she couldn’t see who she was. He saw someone beautiful, rambunctious, stubborn in the funniest way, considerate, someone who had a body that filled his arms like those $150 dollar teddy bears did, but came with a sweet voice and a textured laugh and so much body heat he clung to her like a cat would a heater in winter, and with all of this in mind he answered her, his hands moving to comb her hair back so he could see more of her round face, so he could hold it in his palms without any of it being hidden by bangs or a framing cut.
“I love you,” he said with an insistence behind it, pulling her in closer as she felt her back stretch, as her hands gripped onto his knees and pulled at the fabric over them, brows bent and her breath carrying a quiver, feeling more vulnerable the closer he pulled her. “I love you. That’s not something to hide. I’m never going to hide you – if any of what I do in public makes you uncomfortable then I’ll stop, but if this is about other people-“
Her face pressed into his neck, his words, the urgency he spoke them with heating her skin and overwhelming her. She didn’t know what to do with this. Her high school boyfriend kept her a secret “until she lost weight” and now, now she was being told that wasn’t relevant. Her mind raced a bit, replaying the way he looked at her as her hands wrapped around his back instead, pulling at his shirt but avoiding his lap, afraid of crushing him. She thought of all the times he’s called her beautiful, made cute little quips about how her nose was the giveaway that she wasn’t straight, how he ran his fingers through her hair so often, as if it wasn’t something grossly textured and damaged. He’s never called her ugly, he’s never called her too much, and she doesn’t know how to process that, but she wants him closer.
He wants the same. He didn’t understand what was racing through her mind, but he did know that she needed comfort right now. His hands reached around her lower back and pulled.
“Come on,” he murmured, pulling her into her lap, as she made the choice not to fight him on this and all of her weight sank across his thighs. There were no complaints, no grumbles or groans, he just held her there, hands rubbing up and down her back the moment she was settled.
They’d show each other that they were beautiful, admirable, complex in an art form of humanity and growth and rough lives. They’d show each other that they were someone to love, without shame, without criticism, that there is so much more to beauty than what they’ve been shown, than what they’ve heard praise. They were ordinary, and yet so unique, in such imperfect ways, something they understood with one another but not towards themselves just yet, but they were determined to defy the messages they were swarmed with to cherish all that was important to them in this moment.
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